Monday, January 31, 2005

As good of an explication of the term daimon/daemon in Don Byrd's Maximus book (which I highly recommend):

Both Erechtonius and Hermes, as well as Cecrops, [Jane] Haarrison tells us, are daimons, and they are prior to Olympian gods and the 'rationalistic' Homeric heroes. The complexity of such figures, the daimons who are represented in phallic and serpentine forms, is that they are associated with both fertility rites and funeral rites. She resolves this paradox by the fact that the daimon is "the representation of collective emotion," and, t hough he is "a life-daimon, a spirit of generation, even of immortality," he becomes associated with funeral rites because he embodies "the immortality of the race, the people of a locale, rather than personal immortality."

Guy Davenport introduces daemon figures in his discussion of various poetics, especially regarding Olson and kingfishers -- extending that idea to introduce various bird-daemons such as Keats' nightingale, Poe's raven, etc.

Jane Harrison:

. . . in primitive communities this collective emotion [of which the daimon is the representative] focuses around and includes food interests and especially food-animals and fruit-trees. In consequence of this the daimon is conceived in animal and plant-form . . . Dionysos grows out of the sacrifice of the bull or the goat, or out of the sanctification of the tree.

My interest in this isn't all clear to me, though I sense it is a reimagining for myself of imagery not in a horizantal means (from a stable point gathering more images that reaffirm that point) but in a vertical means (from a less stable point re-approaching old images in a way that alters the point). One piece in Sex Hat, called "Dead Birds: a Meditation," arises from trying to do this -- it's basically my tracking of bird-imagery and bird-related statements in my reading of the last year. This coelesced out of coming across or rereading several pieces in a short time: Guy Davenport's discussions of bird-daemons DH Lawrence's introduction to one of his collections in which he compares poetry to either forward looking larks or recollecting nightingales; Olson's Mayan letters to Creeley, especially the anecdote of the huge bird that was brought down by local kids; a section of Ronald Johnson's Book of the Green Man in which maggots enter a dead bird's beak and start spreading, simulating a 2nd life for the bird (this being evidence to a hunch that while RJ's stated major myth is that of Orpheus that among other myths acted out in his poetry is that of Christ's resurrection -- at least in my reading -- it is a myth that I'm trying to re-access vertically), and an Eliot Weinberger essay in which a bird, being the perfect combo of wind and bone, is the ideal model for a poem.


The celebration of death and resurrection which is associated with the traditional rites of passage bears much more directly on the social life of the group than on the spiritual life of the individual.

and later, Byrd again:

Maximus stakes his paradise on perhaps the most fundamental intuition of Indo-European culture: that the absolute is to be known only through the endless process of resurrection and death whcich is imaged in the turning of the seasons.

I'm currently in the process of writing a piece called The Orphic Needle which is, quite literally, a combination of Guy Davenport's syntax and Ronald Johnson's vocabulary. This process for me hopefully acts out the myth of resurrection, as these works that are so important to me take on a 2nd life for me in combination. Of course that moves these works towards the personal, but that seems a necessary movement to make for any sort of the close attention that I believe is necessary for a vital art.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

New Typo!

Check out my piece on Lyn Hejinian, as well as work by:


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Hey! Holy Hell! Mayhew digs my book, & has I think the same reservation that I (now) do too. Really good review. Generous & sharp. What more can you ask? The book just came out last spring but I already feel that I've gone through about three incarnations as a writer and reader since then, with the faith that the further I explore my assumptions about writing, and the more I delve into my reading obsessions, the more my writing will separate itself from whatever the period style(s) happen to be. I'm actually feeling more confident the last couple days in my writing then I have in a while, and I think a chunk of that owes to thinking through my aims and approaches in order to come up with some sort of halfway intelligent response to some questions Tim Peterson raised. Also, more and more poets that didn't make sense to me before are starting to: Steve McCaffrey, Charles Bernstein among them. McCaffrey especially. He's looking like a future obsession.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Listening to Steve McCaffrey do this amazing sound poem "Midnight Peace" on LINEBreak, I think I've finally nailed it down: the new Animal Collective album is a combination of Can, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Beach Boys and Steve McCaffrey. I've almost completely dropped listening to new music (can't afford it), but Sung Tongs is pretty killer.

Holy cow, it's 4:30 and no sleep in sight. I'm too jitterbrained to read, too old to just start drinking. So I blog. Sounds like a 2006 country song. I've been working through the ideas presented in the comments over at Thomas' blog. Good discussion, though it got weird quick when I jumped in. Note to self: cleverness is only a middling substitute for a good case. Another note to self: few people outside of Arkansas are as into arm-wrestling as you are.

I scored better on my Lit GRE than I thought I would. Some relief.

I have a plan to get rich. I'm going to compile and market a cd full of what I call 'full circle' country songs. These are songs, very dear to me, in which a seemingly insubstantial verse and chorus are presented at the beginning of the song, but then the verses become more substantial and the chorus does too, though the chorus remains the same throughout the song. I have a deep, deep love of country music. I'm a very sentimental person, so country songs tap into that, both in the songs themselves, and the fact that they remind me of my past, which I'm quite sentimental about.

Favorites of the genre:

The Walk, by Sawyer Brown

Down our long dusty driveway
I didn't want to go
But I set out with tears in my eyes wondering
Daddy took me by the hand
Looked out at the school bus and his little man and said
"Don't worry boy it will be all right"

Cause I took this walk you're walking now
Boy, I've been in your shoes
You can't hold back the hands of time
It's just something you've got to do
So dry your eyes I understand just what you're going through
Cause I took this same walk with my old man
Boy, I've been in your shoes

Down our long dusty driveway
I set my mind to go
I was eighteen and wild and free and wondering
Daddy took me by the hand
Looked at the world and at his grown man and said,
"Don't worry boy it will be all right"

Cause I took this walk you're walking now
Boy, I've been in your shoes
You can't hold back the hands of time
It's just something you've got to do
So dry your eyes I understand just what you're going through
Cause I took this same walk with my old man
Boy, I've been in your shoes

Down our long dusty driveway
This time we both would go
He had grown old and gray
And his mind was wandering
Daddy took me by the hand
Said, "I know where we're going and I understand
Don't worry boy it will be all right"

Cause I took this walk you're walking now
Boy, I've been in your shoes
You can't hold back the hands of time
It's just something you've got to do
So dry your eyes I understand just what you're going through
Cause I took this same walk with my old man
Boy, I've been in your shoes

Where've You Been, Kathy Mattea

Claire had all but given up,
When she and Edwin fell in love.
She touched his face and shook her head,
In disbelief, she sighed and said:
"In many dreams I've held you near,
"Now, at last, you're really here.

"Where've you been?
"I've looked for you forever and a day.
"Where've you been?
"I'm just not myself when you're away."

He asked her for her hand for life,
And she became a salesman's wife.
He was home each night by eight,
But one stormy evening, he was late.
Her frightened tears fell to the floor,
Until his key turned in the door.

"Where've you been?
"I've looked for you forever and a day.
"Where've you been?
"I'm just not myself when you're away."

They'd never spent a night apart,
For sixty years, she heard him snore.
Now they're in a hospital,
In separate beds on different floors.

Claire soon lost her memory,
Forgot the names of family.
She never spoke a word again,
Then one day, they wheeled him in.
He held her hand and stroked her hair,
In a fragile voice she said:

"Where've you been?
"I've looked for you forever and a day.
"Where've you been?
"I'm just not myself when you're away."
"No, I'm just not myself when you're away."

Love Me, Collin Raye

I read a note my grandma wrote
Back in 1923
Grandpa kept it in his coat
And he showed it once to me
He said boy you might not understand
But a long long time ago
Grandma's daddy didn't like me none
But I loved your grandma so

We had this crazy plan to meet
And run away together
Get married in the first town we came to
And live forever
But nailed to the tree where we were
Supposed to meet instead
I found this letter and this is what it said

If you get there before I do
Don't give up on me
I'll meet you when my chores are through
I don't know how long I'll be
But I'm not gonna let you down
Darling wait and see
And between now and then
Till I see you again
I'll be loving you
Love me

I read those words just hours before
My grandma passed away
In the doorway of the church
When me and grandpa stopped to pray
I know I'd never seen him cry
All my 15 years
But as he said these words to her
His eyes filled up with tears

If you get there before I do
Don't give up on me
I'll meet you when my chores are through
I don't know how long I'll be
But I'm not gonna let you down
Darling wait and see
And between now and then
Till I see you again
I'll be loving you
Love me

This next one's a little looser with the form, but still a classic.

Don't Take the Girl, Tim McGraw

Johnny’s daddy was taking him fishin’
When he was eight years old
A little girl came through the front gate holdin’ a fishing pole
His dad looked down and smiled, said we can’t leave her behind
Son I know you don’t want her to go but someday you’ll change your mind
And johnny said take jimmy johnson, take tommy thompson, take my best friend bo
Take anybody that you want as long as she don’t go
Take any boy in the world
Daddy please don’t take the girl

Same old boy
Same sweet girl
Ten years down the road
He held her tight and kissed her lips
In front of the picture show
Stranger came and pulled a gun
Grabbed her by the arm said if you do what I tell you to, there won’t be any harm
And johnny said take my money, take my wallet, take my credit cards
Here’s the watch that my grandpa gave me
Here’s the key to my car
Mister give it a whirl
But please don’t take the girl

Same old boy
Same sweet girl
Five years down the road
There’s going to be a little one and she says it’s time to go
Doctor says the baby’s fine but you’ll have to leave
’cause his momma’s fading fast and johnny hit his knees and there he prayed
Take the very breath you gave me
Take the heart from my chest
I’ll gladly take her place if you’ll let me
Make this my last request
Take me out of this world
God, please don’t take the girl

Johnny’s daddy
Was taking him fishin’
When he was eight years old

There's also a Patty Loveless "How Can I Help You to Get By" or something song, but it plays its hand too obviously, so it's non-classic. Hard to think of rock songs that do this. Maybe "Cat's in the Cradle," but it's more of a bitter reversal than full circle (which is probably why Ugly Kid Joe covered it but Billy Ray Cyrus didn't). "He Stopped Loving Her Today" seems like it could be, but I think the guy's dead the whole time. The Sawyer Brown lyrics tear me up just reading them.
Just in from Rome: making it new can refer not only to the writing of poems but also the reading of them.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Held in sway by Michael Winkler's Where Signs Resemble Thoughts in the Rasula/McCaffrey edited Imagining Language:

All of the 'word-images' (ideographic images generated by the spelling of words) are prodcued from the same configuration or matrix of letter-points. The matrix is based on a circle of letters organized around a pentagram of vowels. Each of the twenty-six letters of the Alphabet is associated with a specific point on the perimeter of a circle. Lines are drawn to interconnect these letter-points according to the spelling of the word printed below each image.

Above image taken from here. The above apparently only captures a large fraction of the page; the statement reads "From the source of their origin, the spelling of words recall mystical shapes." The image formed from the word "shapes" is a star. Now I'm going to dive back into Don Byrd's Olson.

*not limited to American poets!

"Hidden Gardens" (Twenty-Four Hour Hyakuin Renga). Alec Finlay, et al. Jacket 26.
"Dear Needed" Matthew Henriksen. Unpleasant Event Schedule. January.
"What Is the Correct Subject?" Sarah Manguso. Octopus #4. January.
from "Goat Songs Concerning Certain Dispensations" Standard Schaefer. GutCult #6. January.
from "Campanology" Marcus Slease. Never Mind the Beasts. January.
"What the Tree Said Lifted" Dale Smith. Octopus #4. January.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Inspired by Jordan's lists, I think I'm going to begin compiling my "Bestest American Poetry 2005." Because I'm the happy person's David Lehman. It'll just be a link to hopefully 75 poems online that are published this year that I think deserve your and my attention. Updated whenever I find a new one. I guess some might get booted if I'm cramped for room? Who knows. Not really a competition, but hopefully just a compilation of poems on-line that I really really like. I was motivated to this by Matthew Henriksen's new poem up at Unpleasant Event Schedule. As soon as it's archived I can add a specific link to it to the list.

May as well start the list with a couple of my favorite pieces from the newest Octopus. & Standard Schaefer's excellent suite of poems in the new GutCult.

*not limited to American poets!

"Hidden Gardens" (Twenty-Four Hour Hyakuin Renga). Alec Finlay, et al. Jacket 26.
"Dear Needed" Matthew Henriksen. Unpleasant Event Schedule. January.
"What Is the Correct Subject?" Sarah Manguso. Octopus #4. January.
from "Goat Songs Concerning Certain Dispensations" Standard Schaefer. GutCult #6. January.
"What the Tree Said Lifted" Dale Smith. Octopus #4. January.
Terrific reading the other night at the always exciting Desert City Reading Series/Blue Door combo. Standard Schaefer was in town for the reading and we managed to stage some serious drunken male bonding between us, Chris Vitiello, Ken Rumble, Patrick Herron and Randall Williams. Leigh and Kathryn and Violet and Sophia were all game for a little while, but there's just so much testosterone you can take. Slept til four the next day, then it was soon time for the reading, which was fabulous. Marcus has a good report over at his blog. The process of a bi-lingual reading was so engaging, and unfamiliar, as to leave me unable to express platitudes about the poetry itself -- it was a great way to tune your senses, of noting how subtleties in the phrasing of the Spanish, the move from el amarillo to mas amarillo, can't really be captured in a phrase like "the yellow would then be/yellower."

Standard read a single poem, an excellent bestiary piece that he later poo-pooed as slight but that struck me as brilliant, specifically in its shifting through tonal registers -- not just arbitrarily dropping from high to low like so many recent poems, but more full Ashberian thought movements through different registers, some of which would take ten lines and some one or two. It had all the qualities of the best Ashbery pieces without really sounding like an Ashbery piece, unless there's some Ashbery poem out there that cultivates a middle ground between "Into the Dusk-Charged Air" and "The Instruction Manual."

Afterwards and Todd and Laura Sandvik's The Blue Door afterparty/afterreading Tanya Olsen did three excellent monologues -- I'd been listening to David Antin at Penn Sound, and some of the similar qualities came across, the casually perfectly framed anecdote, the conversational address. One piece talked of moving next door to a little girl with two moms -- the girl was confused by the speaker because the speaker has a boy's haircut but a girl's voice. It very lightly moves through difficult territory. Another piece conflates the speaker having a relationship with Lisa Marie Presley and Joyce's The Dead.

Some great conversations throughout the night, including Marcus and I talking about the fecund space between the period and the next sentence in prose, about how difficult it is to find such a pivot spot in verse. Chris and Randall were screening 8mm film that just got back from developing in a backroom the whole night, highlights including really stunning black and white footage of leaves and branches, and a UFO-esque chandelier, all shot by Chris, and Randall's completely genius footage of the front yard of a woman in Virginia who has upwards of 20 cats, all on leashes, all tied to their crude little cat houses.

On heavy listening rotation: both my country mixtape, which will hit the mail soon, and my super buddy Robert Bell's Winter Mix cd. Similar to the space between sentences, the space between songs in a mix cd or tape is where the real artist does at least half the work. Robert is the one person I know who I will admit makes better mix tapes/cds than I do. His Winter Mix has been my reading/writing companion for over a month. The tracks:

Here's the mix list:

1. Jandek- Remain the Same
2. John Martyn- Go Out and Get It
3. Syd Barrett- Dark Globe
4. Eno and Cluster- Broken Head
5. Nikki Sudden- Feather Beds
6. Alan Vega- American Dreamer
7. Swell Maps- Helicopter Spies
8. Roxy Music- Editions of You
9. Townes Van Zandt- Waitin' Around to Die
10. The Clash- Gates of the West
11. Skip Spence- Little Hands
12. Jandek- Nancy Sings
13. The Great Unwashed- It's a Day
14. John Cale- Thoughtless Kind
15. Damned- Jet Boy, Jet Girl
16. Christian Death- Romeo's Distress
17. Nico- Frozen Warnings
18. Richard and Linda Thompson- The Calvary Cross
19. Daniel Johnston- Ain't No Woman Gonna Make a George Jones Outta Me
20. Alan Vega- Goodbye Darling

That's impressive range, from Alan Vega's (the singer from Suicide) solo album (produced by Ric Ocasek!) to The Great Unwashed (discussed in this blog months ago, an early 80s side project for the Kiwi rock pioneer Kilgour bros from The Clean) to
maybe my favorite Syd Barret and Richard Thompson tracks to Skip Spence's haunting opening track from Oar, which reminds me I need to get some Moby Grape on CD when my ship comes in.

The most recent really solid mix cd I've made was titled In Egypt, for Paul. This was in November. It had a similar vibe and a family resemblance to Robert's, though I like Robert's more.

In Egypt

1. The Great Unwashed -- Through the Trees
2. GBV -- E5
3. The Kinks -- Tears of a Clown
4. Eno -- Stuck by this River
5. Pere Ubu -- Over My Head
6. Richard & Linda Thompson -- Calvary Cross
7. Spacemen 3 -- Walking with Jesus
8. Will Oldham -- The Weaker Soldier
9. GBV -- Hit
10. The Beatles -- The Ballad of John & Yoko
11. The Clean -- Beatnik
12. Wire -- I Feel Mysterious Today
13. Love -- The Castle
14. The Only Ones -- Out There in the Night
15. Richard Hell -- New Pleasure
16. Davendra Banhart -- Dogs They Make Up the Dark
17. Television -- Venus
18. West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band -- I Won't Hurt You
19. The Great Unwashed -- Yesterday Was
20. Velvet Underground -- Some Kindsa Love
21. Bob Dylan -- Love Minus Zero/No Limit

Some kindsa love are mistaken for vision -- Lou Reed

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Byrd's opening chapter on Olson's imagining of space, fact and stance has been illuminating, a good companion to my reading intuitions. Some of his explications of Olson I can't help but finding relevant to recent things that pool in the ditches beside my brain's dimly lit parking lots.

I found myself upon Jackson Mac Low's death writing a poem in response, which is something I hadn't done before, or since. I'm much much more familiar with--and have invested much more energy and time in--Guy Davenport's work, for instance, but did not find myself compelled to writing a poem. The key to me writing the poem in response to Mac Low's death was perhaps selfish; one model for myself is for my writing to not just to appear before my present and past selves but future ones as well. It is in this way that I was trying to point myself towards a memory of Jackson Mac Low, a fuller memory than the one I currently maintain. Anyway, there's two lines in the short poem about how "an imaginary circumference / centers the body" which refers, maybe again only privately, to my sense of Mac Low's compositional processes as a guide to moving poetry away from being an extension or expression of one's worldview. Mac Low as a model for my desire for my writing to move beyond my own psyche. Tim Peterson raised a relevant question, asking who's body I was talking about, and I responded "the body in the abstract," hoping to let Tim know that I wasn't meaning Mac Low's actual physical body. Tim responded "but Tony, there's no such thing" which frankly I found kind of annoying at the time, but I'm sure he found my poem upon the death of someone dear to him annoying and perhaps presumptuous as well.

In any case, Byrd's discussion of Olson offered up to me language that more clearly articulates what I was trying to say by "abstract." Byrd: "Abstraction is a matter of use. Concrete nouns, even proper names, can become abstract when they occur in forms dissociated from space, in 'the universe of discourse,' for example." So that was the use of the word "body" that I was attempting to use in the poem, and trying to explain by "body in the abstract" -- not a body in space, but the body as it is presented in discourse.

Also in Byrd's opening chapter is a presentation of the Hopi model of the manifested world and the manifesting world, which Byrd claims Olson adopted. Byrd presents the manifested world (that which can be measured, such as the earth, recorded history, and the like) as a horizontal axis, and the manifesting world (not only "some indeterminate course of future events" but all that is usually regarded as subjective, such as dreams, thoughts, desires, faiths, etc.) as a vertical axis. Olson regarded this vertical axis as the "growth potential of the earth;" in my understanding I'm taking that he means the vertical contains the seeds or models for the horizontal. It seems intuitive to think that where these two axis meet, where history and myth meet, would be a site of huge interest for Olson.

I admit I have a little bit of trouble picturing this model, or at least to reconcile it in a static image; for whatever reason I want to picture the manifesting world as not just the seed for the manifested world but also as a response to it. To do so I have to picture the manifesting world not as a vertical axis but as some sort of continuing orbit around the horizontal axis that represents the manifested world, with this orbit affecting the horizontal axis and altering it as it moves through time. Or maybe I should try to picture parallel lines: one for the manifested world, one for the un-manifested, and the manifesting world as some agent between the two. Or the manifested world as cloth, the manifesting world as needle and thread.

I believe it was Gary Sullivan who coined the aphorism about poetry being especially equipped to deal with the non-events of our lives. A very vertical axis statement, one that's stuck with me for months.

To continue with the Houlihan-Silliman combo of yesterday: would I be off in considering both to be almost exclusively interested in the manifested world, or the horizontal axis? Silliman's work that I've read (Tjanting, The Age of Huts, N/O, Toner, Bart, I think one or two others) seems primarily obsessed with direct observation of the world as it is perceived and language as it used (a subset of the world), which could also be said of Houlihan in a much more limited way. Silliman pursues his interest in a much more subtle, careful manner, so even if there's a similarity in my presenting both as this type I want to note that I recognize there's a tremendous x 2 difference in the degree to which they pursue their orientation. For instance I would bet that in all of Silliman's work he is fully aware of when he is using the word "body" and means the "body" in space (the world as perceived) and when he means the "body" in discourse (the language as it is used), and I'm sure the careful reader can tell the difference as well, in a case by case instance. My limited exposure to the poetry and criticism of Houlihan leads me to believe that she wouldn't be cognizant of the difference in her own work, or in the work of others.

Received the last part of Leigh's trio of perfect Christmas gifts: Maximus! I made a note on the blog a few months ago about wanting to focus 2005 on saving up to purchase the cornerstones for my library, cornerestones that I've had to get by on library loans. Well, Leigh got three of them for Christmas: Maximus, The Cantos, and The Geography of the Imagination. And the bookshop in Chapel Hill had "A" for just 15 bucks. So all's left to fill out my plan is a getting a copy of Bottom: On Shakespeare.

Also stumbled onto this site today, which I'm sure will occupy me for awhile. Time to scoot back into the kitchen and continue reading Don Byrd's Olson book while listening to the country mix tape I made. I'm going to have to make a copy for myself before I mail it off, or else I'll never mail it off.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Interesting to see Ron Silliman bring up WCW’s “perfection of forms added to nature” statement. Back in September I thought my way through this statement, and Silliman’s revision (“perfection of forms intervening with nature”) to form a statement that I keep tucked in the back of my head: “perfection of verbs as a fulcrum of being.” The main idea being for me to make myself vulnerable and changeable by what I try to write; writing being the means to attempt a perfection of verbs (big verbs like seeing, thinking, feeling, faking).

If one view of myself is a collection of verbs, and the quality of those verbs, then I do think reading and writing poetry can be a means of being altered. Jonathan Mayhew’s excellent remarks, on how a reviewer’s obligation to perceive a work closely will organically lead to forming an honest appraisal, are applicable here. I think Mayhew would agree that a reviewer would ideally not only look at a piece closely with all the reviewer’s faculties and assumptions, but also with an openness that would render a reviewer vulnerable to having her or his faculties and assumptions about art altered. I think that is what causes the strong reaction to Houlihan – she looks at work outside her present system and refuses to have her system altered by what she finds.

A counter example of this would be Guy Davenport: looking at his poetry and fiction, it is clear how his close, extended looks at Pound, Olson, Brakhage and others form his aesthetic. You can’t assume that he went into looking at Pound or Joyce with the same assumptions he came out with. (I have a piece coming out in Typo basically deriving from how Stan Brakhage’s ideas on vision became my guide to reading Lyn Hejinian’s My Life. Entering both Brakhage’s films/writings and Hejinian’s work has given me a permanent tweaking.) Like John Latta, I was rather appalled by Silliman’s dismissal of Davenport, but it doesn’t bug me now. Or at least it doesn’t emotionally anger me now. It seems from my perspective to be similar (on a smaller scale) to Joan Houlihan’s reactions to the Best American Poetry, which also doesn’t bug me emotionally: both seem to me to demonstrate an unwillingness to fully enter territory where one’s values/aesthetics/assumptions are not confirmed. Understandable! But something to work against. A clue to this unwillingness? perhaps the appeal to political reasons for dismissing a body of work (“New Criterion?!” he exclaims, tossing Da Vinci’s Bicycle against the wall; “Not adopting arguably commodifiable/patriarchal New Critical models for reacting to the world with language?!” she exclaims, tossing In the American Tree against the wall, etc.) which reminds of the Ezra Pound debate back in the day on this blog, where I took potshots at not exactly the refusal of Pound the figure but more the eagerness to refuse his work outright because he doesn’t pass some political test. Or, more ridiculously and recently, the possbility of dismissing Zukofsky because he and Celia may have existed in a domestic world that some people wouldn’t want for themselves.

I’m not too interested in playing psychologist, though it’s tempting to wonder if Silliman has difficulty reconciling Davenport’s publishing in the New Criterion and unabashed support of (then) fringe figures such as Louis Zukofsky, Ronald Johnson and others. Or if Houlihan is unwilling to embrace poetries that refuse to fit into a model of achievement, poetries that refuse to offer themselves up to her internalized notions of good writing (if the writing passes the Jarrell test maybe). So Davenport’s (purported) politics becomes a reason to dismiss his work; the experimental writing community’s (purported) elitism or disengagement from the real world (deriving apparently from its politics) becomes a reason to dismiss their work.

As I’ve noted before, part of the reason I keep coming back to Silliman as a contentious figure is that he’s someone whose poetry I in the large greatly admire, and yet: I find myself recoiling from many of his statements on his blog. This is a strange thing to reconcile for me. I don’t want to just resort to separating the life and the work. It may be impossible, but I want to pinpoint some exact point where my views and the ones he states on his blog diverge. Henry Gould has an excellent post up right now that shades towards this situation. I think there’s a symbiotic relationship between the life and the work; for a serious artist at some point the life and the work transform each other (Silliman is certainly an artist whose work and ideas about art I take seriously; Houlihan seems to take herself seriously but I don't find myself taking her poetry or her arguments all that seriously, at least not as anything other than foils [in the old sense, right, a contrast that helps illuminate the gems]) . I would think that the ideal is for the mutually transformative relationship between the life and work to be continual. A definition of artistic stagnation could very well be when an artist’s life and her/his work merely confirm each other.

Increasingly I get the feeling that my aims in writing are getting a little clearer. Most of my earliest writing, up to and including Invisible Bride, is a desire to assert my presence in the world, to not be anonymous. There is some of this impulse in Sex Hat as well, which is in some ways a revision of Invisible Bride in that it is again a presentation of an aesthetic, but a somewhat more considered aesthetic and hopefully more skillful presentation. Demonstrating my newest chops. In writing IB and SH, a poetics would influence me in terms of language usage; I would admire an aesthetic, attempt to internalize it, and then incorporate it into my work. Which is an important part of apprenticeship, I think. But it is also working on the level of effects; less a direct treatment of “the thing” (to paraphrase Thomas and I think also Ben Lerner, “all that is on my case”) than a direct treatment of my idea of the reader’s expectations. Which is a kind of anxious position. I’ve spoken to Chris Vitiello about this, about my worries of becoming just a collection of effects, which seems most problematic for me not necessarily in terms of quality of work, but in sustaining some extended project or work. More importantly, it is problematic in having my writing be an element of my life and not something that I have to separate myself from my life in order to maintain. The main difference between IB and SH is that Sex Hat is aiming at a more sophisticated audience, simply because my idea of a reader’s expectations has changed. My aims are mostly the same, of producing some complex of effects, but my views of poetry and audience have altered and that has altered my approach. Sex Hat does though inch towards the direction I want to be heading for, the investigation and ‘putting on’ (both senses of the phrase) of value systems I do and do not endorse.

Recently, my main influences in this direction have been Jack Kerouac’s haikus, Chris Vitiello’s Irresponsibility, and K. Silem Mohammad’s flarf poems. A large part of the appeal of the Kerouac and Vitiello work is its engagement with the world, how the poetry becomes an essential fabric of the life. The sensation of a shared world is intense, as is the sensation that the shared world is this world. My “World Jelly” is I think situated in its approach somewhere between my view of Irresponsibility/Kerouac’s haikus (they manifest themselves as very different works aesthetically but for me share a similar impulse, a direct engagement with the daily life and the values found there) and my view of a work like Silliman’s N/O or Hejinian’s Happily (which also manifest themselves as very different work aesthetically but which I approach as investigations of language systems), all mixed with my own views as to the biggest appeal of Mohammad’s use of flarf (the use of language that does not generate from one’s aesthetics or values).

I can’t quite articulate or map out the impulses behind “World Jelly,” which is probably necessary for me to keep writing it. As I think I’ve noted before, an impulse for me is to get things wrong. What I mean by this is to try to write my way into unacceptable statements and have them hold up as realized parts of realized poems. I’m not exactly sure of the impulses behind this impulse – part of it is a reaction to a tendency (real or imagined) I find in my peers to try to get their poems right, to write from and towards areas of agreement. To write in a way that reflects the correct politics and aesthetics. This means poetry that implies certain aspects about the poet: I agree this is elegiac, I agree this is a system to be subverted, I agree language has these limits, etc. I want my writing to occupy a space where it is more than an expression or extension of my worldview (to a great degree Invisible Bride is an expression of the worldview I had as I wrote it, though perhaps just 1% is anything approaching autobiographical). Here’s a section of "World Jelly" I wrote last night:

No more monkeys in the darkness
all’s been ground
all is molasses

Happy banker
where’s your daughter

Grasping solitude

What leaves like a flood
comes back like flowers
combing your hair

Do not turn into me

I followed you all summer
falling onto my knees
gathering mud one wants
nothing so
much as clarity

This umbrella
does not belong to me

Here is the end
of the dog’s rainbow
omniscient and adolescent

Listen to it speak
you who also settle

This is clarity
speaking from Rome

My hope is that this writing is simple, straightforward and on some level would derive from a psyche that would not be socially acceptable to me. Part of it is intended to be political, to implicate myself in statements or impulses that I would not accept. Like John Lennon says, I trust my intuition. A lot of my writing in Sex Hat and "World Jelly" shade towards areas that could be labeled sexist or racist or (especially) cruel to animals. Part of this is simply acknowledging buried parts of me that I want to exhume. Part of it is my curiosity: if I write a sexist statement in a poem does this make me a sexist? I write androgynous and/or homoerotic sentences in my poems. Does this make me bi? Or repressed? Even if it’s a conscious decision? If I want my writing to be more than an extension of my psyche, then I need to go to statements and values that I don’t want my psyche to claim. It seems such a huge mistake to confuse one’s writing with one’s psychology, or a poem for a poet’s psyche. But the act of exhuming . . . this is clearly not completely thought out. One of my impulses is to try to take on as large of a writing biography as possible, to write from a consciousness larger than my own. This is a lesson I take from Yasusada, but apply in a different way. The impulse to write a Doubled Flowering is a Shakespearean one: the impulse to write from a consciousness that includes Edmond, Edgar, The Fool, Lear, Cordelia, Gonereil and Kent. Gabe Gudding has an excellent essay floating around in FlashPoint somewhere; in it he articulates very well an overemphasis on private languages and statements in contemporary poetry. An overemphasis on private language is an overemphasis on one’s personal psyche.

My responses to Mohammad’s flarf poems are varied and for me rather complex. A huge appeal is the view of world and language that Mohammad’s poems embody, venturing into worlds where (one would assume) the poet’s aesthetics/values/assumptions are not verified; by this I mean I am thrilled by Mohammad’s willingness to risk voicing these values and aesthetics. I wonder if his personal political and social assumption have been altered by the process of writing these flarf pieces. "World Jelly" is also trying to do this in its quieter way, but instead of Google I’m just basically trying to write myself into those areas that would be Googlible. Hopefully without the attendant hand-wringing of confessionalism.

Concurrently with 'World Jelly" I’m also working on a Google piece called “Speaking from Rome” that works from Ezra Pound’s WWII broadcasts and the Pisan Cantos. That’s a different monologue to try to wiggle my way through. It opens like this:

Ezra Pound speaking from Rome.
Jesus speaking from the cradle.
Ronald Reagan speaking from beyond the grave.
The Book of Revelation from Rome to Waco.

The pattern in which wars are made.
The environment in which wars evolve.
Applications are made and permissions granted.
The pattern in which that split is made.

Not one war, but wars in plural.
There’s one war but there are two fronts.
Feminine in singular, masculine in plural.
Not one war-related costume.

The enormous tragedy of the dream.
The making of the dream talisman we have followed.
Science has been a tragedy of errors.
The enormous room is crammed to overflowing.

Look to what you can remember.
You can remember that we were strangers.
Let each soul look to what it sends on for the morrow.
What you can take on the train.

Hopefully writing Invisible Bride, Sex Hat, "World Jelly" and "Speaking from Rome" will begin to alleviate the division between my life and my writing, which will mean I can eventually put this blog to rest. Writing and reading poetry in my ideal formulation keep me engaged with the world at the level of language and I won’t have to use the blog to make up for the lack I have found up to now in my engagement. My compulsion to write on this blog has lessened for awhile, which is a happy thing. I’d like to use the time spent reading blogs more directly on writing now that for the time being I see the task(s) before me in a manner that approaches clarity.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Brilliant day yesterday. Had a nice time reading with Jon Thompson at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, chatting with Jon, Leigh, & Joe Donahue afterwards. Joe tipped me to a Jed Rasula book I was unware of. After some wedding registry spying and munching came back home & poured myself a little Wild Turkey on the rocks and nursed it while working on a country/Americana mix tape. Side 1 is done. It's gonna be killer: Don Williams, Hank Snow, Memphis Jug Band, George Strait, Statler Brothers, Ella Jenkins, Townes Van Zandt, Dylan & the Band, Tanya Tucker, Kelly Willis, among others.


The new issue of Free Verse is up. Three pieces from my "Dead Birds: a Meditation," the entirety of which will be available as a prose essay-of-sorts in the next issue of Effing Magazine. Also in this issue of Free Verse is work from Adam Clay, Laura Carter, Stan Mir, WB Keckler and Trevor Joyce. Also a review of the soulful and daring Aaron McCollough.

Some new classics over at Spaceship Tumblers: Kent Johnson, Eugene Ostashevsky. Also musical numbers by Tequila Ted Kooser and Robert Peanut Brittle Pinsky.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

My general happiness and health have greatly improved since I stopped working at the coffee shop. It's strange, before grad school I was able to work whatever demeaning/demanding job and have it not really phase me. Really unrewarding jobs like working in a pickle factory, or cleaning condos. I'd be tired, but it wasn't soul killing. I think it's an esteem issue. I didn't really have the self-view to really be bothered by being talked to like an idiot/robot/mindless-person-behind-the-counter until recently. Objectively, the coffee shop was easier, and better, than most of my pre-grad school jobs. But it just drained me psychologically. It's like being stuck at a party for 8 hours where everyone either talks down to you, or is dismissive, or very demanding. The work itself was actually fine. Making lattes and stuff is pretty fun. But the level of verbal discourse. I even tried out my surly barista persona. That helped, but not enough. Now I'm doing text editing at home. The projects are emailed to me, and I email them back. Very nice. I also had a new project over the holidays, writing out reading comprehension passages for middle school children. The passages are supposed to be interesting and also very easy to read. So far I've written on mummies, venus flytraps, skyscrapers and volcanoes. Writing one on bigfoot right now. It's great. Someone should write some poems on the Tollund man they found in that bog (just kidding Seamus!).

Please check out the recent offerings at Spaceship Tumblers. Great stuff from Tim Van Dyke, Marcus Slease, Laura Carter, Sabrina Orah Mark, Aaron McCollough, Zach Schomburg, Billy "Vodka" Collins, and more. Rumors are the Graham Foust will be performing some Michael Jackson soon.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Guy Davenport was probably my favorite writer. An incredible prose writer, sort of a 20th century John Ruskin. The Geography of the Imagination is my Bible; it's a collection of forty essays, ostensibly on a wide range of topics including Zukofsky, Pound, Marianne Moore, the history of table manners (from eating clay onward), etc., while casually presenting a view of art in which the great Modernist innovations of Pound, Olson, Brakhage, Gertrude Stein and others are the logical and spiritual extension of primitive and classical cultures. He's also the most bizarre and interesting fiction writer I know, with his approach some mix between Pound's vortex and Brakhage's intuitive juxtapositions. He said he learned to write fiction by watching Brakhage's films. Because he views writing and drawing as more or less the same (I think he refers to the glyphs for 'to write' and 'to draw' being essentiall similar) he views each individual page as a canvas where images (both verbal and visual) interact and correspond. I'm applying to Ph.D. programs in order to become the poor man's Guy Davenport. He lived almost exclusively off of Campbell's soup, beef jerky and Snickers. He kept a bowl of sugar water in his kitchen for wasps, hornets and ants. He won the genius grant and introduced me to the three poets I've been reading obsessively the last couple years (Olson, Zukofsky, and Ronald Johnson). In the introduction to his latest book, which is four meditations on the still life in paintings, he apologizes to experts for the ignorance in his essays and explains that the book is intended for the common reader and intelligent children.

Rest in peace.
Late night in Fayetteville.