Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Drinker's Peace
Added some interesting (to me) links to the archives to your lower right; McCaffery, Charles Stein, Johanna Drucker, Carolee Schneeman, others. . .

Enjoying a strong bout of social paralysis -- don't be offended if I am or have been incommunicado lately.

So, I'm wondering if an argument has been made concerning the Language writing assertion of the collaborative model of reading texts -- whether the insistence on the reading of the text (the agreement or contest of its meaning/significance/etc) -- whether the isolation of the (initial?) reading act as the site of collaboration forecloses other sites where the 'collaboration' can be more fruitful -- Ngugi talks both about the collaborative writing, performing, rehearsing, etc of I Will Marry When I Want, and also how his first novel in his native language, Devil on the Cross, was distributed by the peasantry and would be read aloud as a kind of performance in bars -- an emphasis on orality here -- whether these kinds of collaboration would be possible if the 'collaboration' is isolated as being between a writer and a reader on the page (the writer has homecourt advantage) -- Yasusada could be presented as a different view, with the medium including the persona behind the curtain -- another view that has become more central to what I'm trying to do w/ 1001 Sentences: the idea of memory being the proper medium for the piece -- closer maybe to Ngugi & Yasusada, as the thought of the ideal medium shifting from the page to elsewhere, the desire for obliqueness in the work dissipates somewhat . . .

Have I mentioned the great reading last week w/ Noah Eli Gordon, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, and Eric Middle Name Baus? Superb. Late night reading has been Noah's recommendation, Stephen Rodefer, whom I had not yet read . . . I'm glad to be steered into him.

Monday, March 27, 2006

RIP Buck Owens

'29 - '06

RIP Ian Hamilton Finlay


Nice introductory piece on Finlay by Brian Kim Stefans here at (where else) Jacket. Also recommended: this piece by Mark Scroggins at Flashpoint. Also, interview with Nagy Rashwan at Jacket.

Getting close to paper writing time for the semester -- three papers this time. Here's the forecast:

One essay that's going to focus on this bizarre Pound essay in a book called Machine Art & Other Writings -- a collection of unpublished (maybe unpublishable) essays from early in Pound's Italian years. Anyway, this one essay, the opener and title piece, focuses on Pound's desire to coordinate the noises made in factories in order to make a kind of music -- to both increase production and soothe the workers. An odd piece. Since the class I'm taking is focused on the interface between Romanticism and Modernism, my plan is to focus on the what could be called the typical Modernist elements underlying Pound's ambitions here: the recognition of music being made not of emotion (it's not expression) but of sounds; the non-disassociation of art and industry (new, and better forms, are to be found in industry); the assumption of the ability to master and control something like the noises of a factory: expansion of the artistic will, etc. So I think, for contrast, I'll be bringing in some Romantic passages; I'm seeking to find poems/texts in which both music and industry are present: I'm curious whether they will be (as I assume) presented as antinomies. I'm also wanting to bring in a passage from a Siegfried Kracauer book where a firm trains its typists to Wagner, and incrementally speed up the music until at the end of the training the new typists can outperform the older, higher salaried ones.

I think my other two papers will focus, in some manner, on Aime Cesaire. The paper for Jameson's Sartre class will focus on Sartre's Black Orpheus piece, which most find troubling -- I'm gonna try to recoup parts of it through reading it in conjunction w/ Sartre's huge study of Genet, in which identity and artist creation are analyzed to a much greater degree, and the emphasis is on becoming and metamorphosis and doing, as opposed to certain Negritude elements (mostly non-Cesaire) that have been taken to be more essentialist. I'll probably bring in texts by Breton, Fanon and Mudimbe, among others.

In my Negritude class, I'll also be focusing on Cesaire, but more directly with Notebook of a Return to a Native Land, how he expands and contracts the subjective consciousness there, and also focusing on this influence on one of his primary translators, Clayton Eshleman. Sartre and Breton will probably be ghost presences in this paper, but I think mostly to contrast their approach to Cesaire, which is to assimilate into their programs (they have niches he can fit), and Eshleman's I think more complex and fruitful stance -- he decided to spend years co-translating Cesaire to better understand the particularities of his poetry, and discusses the strangeness of having the act of his translation becoming a large influence on his own writing, which ends up w/ Eshleman not only being influenced and altered by Cesaire, but also influenced and altered by himself.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Stunningly terrific evening last night -- Ron and Selah both read superb work, and then afterwards at the Blue Door we were treated with more terrific performances from Carl Martin, Patrick Herron and Lester Oracle.

Ken Rumble generously asked me to introduce Ron for the reading last night -- below is what I cooked up:

Silliman Intro

If you ask me, it seems that the majority of conflicts – whether political or personal or aesthetic – are over what gets to go without saying, what becomes the assumed ground on which official conversations play out. Ron Silliman’s poems are perpetually compelling I think for how they investigate elements of language use that are usually taken for granted in most forms of writing.

To quote Chinese Notebook:

Under certain conditions any language event can be poetry. The question thus
becomes one of what are these conditions.

Ok, so Silliman is compelling, and compelling is good. But, also, Silliman’s poems are moving and important for how this continual investigation is raised to the highest art through formal innovation and his astonishingly sustained commitment to direct perception and engagement.

To quote Toner:

Or else grading restaurants
not by the food
but what
you learn walking back
to the john.
Frosted panes
here on dawn windows.

To paraphrase our reader tonight, introducing a poet is a specific form of behavior. (Or, another paraphrase: the only thing wrong with Ron Silliman’s poetry is that there’s nothing wrong. It’s all abundance. And it’s also all precision.) For those in our audience unfamiliar with the poet, I’m hoping to present a few of the lenses I conjure for myself when confronting such a vast and innovative body of work.

Here’s an angle: Jed Rasula has discussed Silliman in conjecture with Ornette Coleman, the great saxophonist, who realized new worlds of artistic possibility when he discovered that, in addition to or instead of playing the right notes, he could also play “mistakes.” Similarly, it is my conviction that the poet we are about to hear read tonight brings not only poetic “mistakes” into play in his poems, but, as far as I can tell, the basic situation of a human writing down poetry is also brought into play, as well as – and I think this is important – the situation of another person reading that poetry: an active, committed intelligence is evoked, situated not only in specific political and social contexts, but also situated in specific sentences. Silliman’s flashlight sees itself / being seen / seeing itself / seeing things.

Another angle, from CD Wright: “Of all the Language Poets, Silliman’s express-line writing was and is the one that stuck to my ribs. It was so thingy, so specific, so formally radical, so hard-headed, yet witty, and now and then, in spite of itself, lyric.”

Maybe one thing I would add to this apt description: if you can keep up with him, listen to how Silliman mines the spaces between his sentences/engagements: somehow he conjures up wit and lyricism not only in his sentences and lines, but also in the spaces between them.

To briefly illustrate this notion, let me quote from his poem “Demo”:

A dog in a muzzle might receive tenure (note please how this joke exploits
caninism (note please how this line, following two iambs and the twist of the
trochee turns on the single syllable might)).

On March 4, 1985, I killed my father and slept with my mother (it’s February 26th).

Punk rock sunglasses frame Mrs. Reagan’s face . . . diaphragm of the vowel expands and contracts.

The logic of morning (is no logic) is complete.

Ron Silliman was born in 1946 in the great state of Washington. He has written and edited over twenty books, including some of the most important titles of the last 30 years: Tjanting, The New Sentence, Ketjak, In the American Tree, Demo to Ink, and N/O, among others. His excellent memoir, Under Albany, has recently been published by Salt, and his poetics weblog has become a kind of Drudge Report for the poetry set; in fact, in the time it’s taken me to read this intro, approximately 1780 people have clicked onto Silliman’s Blog, four fights have broken out in the comments field, and at least one person has exposed themselves in one manner or another.

But tonight we are here to listen to a poet who I consider one of the key writers of the last thirty years, one whose poems I turn to when I seek to reinvigorate my notions of form, one whose poems I reread in order to interact with an utterly relentless and committed perceiving intellect. Please join me in welcoming Ron Silliman to the Desert City Poetry Series.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

I came of age as a poet with the belief that poetry -- like art, money, good clothes -- belonged to other people: professors, poets out there, other younger poets who had more literate backgrounds or families & better educations: a "they" who seem still to me in my less confident moments to be almost born into poetry (“my undergrad professor was Robert Kelly/Paul Hoover/Cole Swensen/etc”), which is not an inherently bad thing at all, but which does perhaps suggest the possibility of thinking "poetry belongs to me/I belong to poetry" which makes "poetry is mine to fuck around with" a more ready conception than a conception of poetry as out there (or, more exactly, up there), and that one has to earn one's right to it: "poetry belongs to them--how do I become them?"

Poetry was always out there, away from where I was, even just geographically: in Enumclaw, WA (pop. 10K, recently in the news when a guy died from getting humped by a horse), there was no native sense of art/literature, and to bring in the psychological realities of class: the only child of the day and night janitors of my elementary school: we lived about 30 minutes outside of town: a cultural 'we' wasn't ready at hand: which isn't self-pity, but me thinking about the strategies I've taken to try and acquire a sense of belonging in this art form that I dig: didn't find it in community college (the only real option for me, economically): a beginning of it at College of the Ozarks (Zach Schomburg, Tim Van Dyke and a bunch of other artsy weirdos were my crowd) (Hard Work U -- college for working class kids -- the school itself pretty amazingly culturally out there [Christian college next door to Branson] in the larger cultural picture, but our little group of people were great): surprisingly, though, this sense dissipated while in Arkansas’ MFA program: the kind of poetry I was interested wasn't 'native' to that locale at that time (my conception of poetry, cobbled together hodge-podge, was mostly Ashbery, R. Waldrop, T. Raworth, M. Palmer, C. Swensen, etc: Arkansas’ was mostly D. Gioia, M. Kumin, Dave Smith, B. Collins): playing in bands and hanging out with that crowd substituted for the kind of cultural vacuum that I found the MFA program itself to mostly be for someone with my poetic inclinations.

So, just objectively speaking, this creates a psychological effect -- the desire tobe in poetry's grasp supercedes, I think, the desire put it to innovative means. I wanted a sense of belonging-to poetry, of being in the mi(d)st of it; I think that might be a large part of my impulse to immerse myself in Olson, Pound, Stein, WCW, Zukofsky -- if poetry isn't going on where I'm at (if that avenue of belonging to poetry isn't open), then I will find my own method of belonging: a historical grasp. If I out read everyone else, then they have to let me belong.

It has just been being in Chapel Hill that I've been somewhere where poetry seems to be at (it's not just 'out there' anymore, but also 'here').

I also find myself more willing to question presumptions about poetry, because there is less struggle of just feeling that I'm there with poetry. I suppose the blogworld also contributes to this. Some publishing success helps as well -- the personal dilemma is now less how do I make a claim for myself to have the right to poetry? than what do I want to do as a person in/for poetry, and how will I be doing it?

I think this is on my mind because now I am going thru a similar thing with theory and lit crit. That being, it's very Other to me still -- it's something 'they' do -- but (and I could always be mistaken), it seems the majority of my classmate peers are very at home in it, though most are 5-8 years younger than me -- 22 years olds with a comprehensive grasp of Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, Kristeva, etc. I want to break through this feeling of alienation from these traditions, so I can decide what will be of use for me. It does help to be located at a place where theory is at, though. Taking a Jameson lecture course at the same time as reading him goes a long way towards dampening that old alienated feeling.

So while I have some impulse of trying to dive into recent traditions like I've done w/ poetry, to earn that sense of belonging to those traditions, it's not as compulsive. If I was at a school where theory is less 'in the air', I'd probably only have that digging recourse in order to access a sense of belonging. But since it seems to be all around me at Duke, it creates a different psychology in me; 'they' still do it, but that 'they' is right next to me.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Here are the notes I read from/veered from for the blogs, boards, etc panel I was on. Some of this stuff I didn't get to, some of it I expanded on. I think my main points were: cognitive mapping, function of prestige, 'archival wars'.

My main focus is gonna be: the transfer of editing norms and practices and values from a page-bound medium to a screen-bound medium.

First, a diversion:

· The great grandfatherly Marxist critic Frederic Jameson has posited the need and value of an art that can serve as a kind of ‘cognitive mapping’ to help people more actively engage contemporary culture

· To illustrate, he draws a contrast between cities that either alleviate or amplify anxiety by virtue of their grids, markers, etc. Basically, cities that seem to either aid or hinder one’s sense of their structuring

· Jameson’s argument is practical, that one needs a sense of where one is situated in order to act in an effective manner.

· I think this notion of ‘cognitive mapping’ may be relevant to how poets, especially ones just coming into the arts and cultures of poetry, can function

· To speak generally, I also think the online poetry worlds can potentially generate, over time, for participants, a flexible cognitive map of what is currently going on: I’m mostly thinking of blog culture here: what people are reading, what books are coming out, what controversies and/or trends are occurring this week, gossip, politics, etc. One isn’t necessarily as reliant on institutions like the New York Review of Books, Poets & Writers, etc., for a sense of the current climate. One could argue that institutions are uniquely invested in perpetuating the reputations of poets and/or styles they have previously endorsed, even if those poets/styles are no longer found to be relevant; one could call it the “Rolling Stone magazine” effect

. So, the online poetry culture could be a means of making a map of what is going on, and what has been going on. Theoretically, one could choose for one’s self what blogs or sites one will rely on to generate one’s cognitive map. Surely, in no sense will this map be completely accurate or thorough, but

. I believe it is a preferable map to the kind of top-down imposed maps that, as fledgling writers and readers, many of us were or are subject to, from both professors and various prestige and money granting institutions.

. I think that this possible personal shift away from institutional based mapping to a conceivably more collaborative one (in an individual by individual basis) could be a decisive factor in how poems will be published and distributed in the future, which I will be getting to shortly

. There are certainly downsides to the online poetry world. For instance, it seems to attract an inordinate number of complete asses, and, in odd ways, reward their very assdom. Many of us have our own examples. I’m pretty sure I may be, for more than one person, one such example. Regardless, I think the online world is a vital component of what is interesting and exciting in poetry right now.

. Back to the main focus: Editing Online Journals

. I’d like to note eight reasons why I think editing an online journal is worth the time and effort

. First, one’s overhead is low enough so that you don’t need institutional support to have a fairly widely read journal; I think it is inherently healthy that people who haven’t already been accepted by current systems (that is, have nice teaching gigs, have won random poetry prizes) can assert their own views as to what poetry is and in what contexts it can circulate; this is not completely unique to online journals and sites, of course, but the relative cheapness of running a site is an encouragement to become an editor, while I think the costs and logistics of a print journal can be a deterrent

. Second, as issues (or installments) accrue, online journals become perpetually accessible databases; I wouldn’t be surprised that the discovery of Jacket and its vast archives of features and texts isn’t a rite of passage for many writers

. Third, as long as past issues are accessible, they are always in print

. Fourth, the relative flexibility of the medium allows for work that explores sound and visual elements

. Fifth, relative immediacy: work can be transferred from writer to editor to reader quite quickly

. Sixth, almost no online journals have much prestige in an institutional or academic sense, which helps discourage prestige hounds, who are usually bad writers and bad people

. Seven, scale: because of relative ease of access, the pool of who can submit and who can read the journal expands: the potential not only for a more global audience, but for the presentation of a context for poetry that is at least a gesture towards a perspective that is not claustrophobically American;

. Eighth, lastly and maybe most exciting: there is ample opportunity, since the online medium is still developing its norms and practices, to reconsider and reinvent what it means to be an editor/poet/publisher/etc.: I’ve been editing this online journal, Fascicle, for two issues, which I’m hoping will eventually coalesce into a context that can do a number of things: account for innovative poetics on a global scale, effectively incorporate archival material, survey interesting tendencies in poetry as they arise, and give ample space to poets who are exploring interesting intersections between poetry and other artistic and discursive forms. To again highlight the economics of the project: my total overhead so far, w/ a student version of Dreamweaver and purchase and upkeep of the domain name, is about 300 bucks. (Less than it costs many of us to come to AWP.) Which means Fascicle’s contributing editors and I can be as editorially ambitious as our energies and abilities allow, and I could still financially support the site when I was working in a coffee shop and as a text editor last year (when I first started the project), and can still support it financially as a grad student now. And I don’t think the relative economic independence and reinvigorating potential of online editing are unrelated in the least. And I think it is the relative ease-of-access for the interested, un-affiliated, un-officially-endorsed editor that could be part of why I find the sort of cognitive maps I find forming online to be more interesting than many of those that occur in print.

. The questions I want to leave you with are very basic:

* What is getting published online more than is getting published on the page, and vice versa?

* What texts from print culture are being archived and accessed online? (Do we see more texts from an ‘experimental tradition’ being archived online than from say a ‘formal’ or ‘narrative’ tradition? If we do, will this have a future effect on what is assumed to be ‘mainstream’ and is circulated as such? Will the ‘anthology battles’ of the sixties be replayed as the ‘archive/history’ battles of this decade?) (That is, for poets just-now-coming-into-being, would a digital archiving bias in favor of experimental works alter the way recent poetic history is perceived?)

* In terms of journals, what editing norms are getting carried over from print journals, and what editing norms are not? Are things like tables of content, issues, etc., necessary online?

* Are there fundamental differences between who edits and/or distribute texts online and in print? Or is it less print and online as competing cultures so much as institutional and DIY? There is the possibility that as online journals become more and more 'legitimate' (legitimately dangerous?) to institutional entities (MFA programs, money/prestige bestowing institutions, etc), that perceived differences between DIY and institutional online sites will become blurred (since production values and distribution aren't so dependent on access to money, and it'll be more difficult for 'legit' poetry websites and 'illegit' ones to be distinguishable)?

* Is there a fundamental difference in the readership of online and print texts? Or what is the difference between those who access primarily insitutional sites like or National Poetry Foundation, and those who access blogs and independent web journals?

* Do the 'uninitiated' access the insitutional poetry sites more often, while the 'initiated' rely more on the free agents? Is there a battle going on if that's the case?

* How are institutional and DIY/blog/etc cultures already interacting?

* What does it mean when an institutional site recruits or imitates poetry bloggers -- is it to acquire more 'street level' relevancy? (National Poetry Foundation inviting Ange Mlinko to guest blog at their site . . .) (Or having 'guest bloggers' at all . . .)

* What does it mean when poetry bloggers refer to institutional connections and/or prestige -- is it to demonstrate or amp up their . . . (what? importance? institutional capital?) (Is this why I link to my Academy of Am. Poets bio from my blog? Or Silliman links to various existing profile/bio pages? etc)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Returned from Austin yesterday evening, profoundly happy to be back home. Three nights is the longest Leigh and I have ever been apart since we started dating, and I was beginning to go thru some serious withdrawals by Sunday . . .

It was my first AWP, and had a better time than I could have anticipated. Jordan's right, the vibes were great all around, and a lot of it has to be due to people like Dale, Hoa, Scott, Farid and the other Austineers. Dale and Hoa let me crash at kind of the last moment, and it was especially sweet as a recently married human to spend some time in a happy family home. I kind of blatantly look up to Dale & Hoa on many levels, as poets, publishers, editors, but especially as people & parents. Leigh and I have a handful of couples we see as guides in how we'll want to approach family life: Leigh's parents, Skip & Patty Hays, Dale & Hoa, others.

I couldn't get over my kind of 'hick comes to the bigtop' giddiness at seeing poets I've admired from afar, to get to talk some with them, in flesh & blood, like people.

Some random highlights:

1) Watching Zach Schomburg absolutely kill at the LIT reading on Friday night -- deadpan, hilarious, frightening -- I think this was the first time to see Zach read since we were undergrads at the prestigious backwoods Christian work school College of the Ozarks in the late nineties -- somewhere there's a very smart publisher who is going to be very happy when they do Zach's book.

2) Hearing Sandra Miller and Lisa Fishman at the Ahsahta group reading -- the whole reading was enjoyable, but I seemed to get in an absolute groove with these two readings. Sandra especially, who has a reading style that more or less suspends time so she can sculpt with it. Killer stuff.

3) New books! Limited myself to buying just four: new books from Peter O'Leary, Sarah Manguso and Laura Moriarty, and Norma Cole's Spinoza in Her Youth. Was gonna get Joshua Clover's new one, but it sold out.

4) The Philip Lamantia tribute panel, run by Joe Donahue, John Yau, Andrew Joron and Garrett Caples -- each paper was really good, illuminative, and then the film clips afterwards (Lamantia reading work later in life) were terrific.

5) Getting to see old friends like Zach, Adam Clay, Matt Henriksen, newer friends I've gotten to know a bit the last few years, and to meet a lot of people I only knew online. Especially good to meet both Tony Robinson and Joe Massey in person -- I had a hunch we'd get along just fine in person, and I think that was the case. If nothing else, I think they're great dudes.

6) Got to hang out w/ Sandra Miller and Ben Doyle quite a bit on Saturday -- Ben's Radio, Radio, along w/ Clover's Madonna Anno Domini, was one of the reasons I had the Whitman marked in my brain as a grad student as the only contest I really wanted to do (that, and the distribution via free copies, and the cash). So we met up after the blogs, etc. panel I was on in w/ Josh Corey and others, at which I was sickeningly hung-over for (I think I started go into free-association mode at a couple of points); great talk over good grub.

Ben has recently joined Mark Levine to be one of the editors at University of Iowa Press' Kuhl House series, and I think I can let the happy cat out of its bag: my book, provisionally titled Amplifier for Hercules (or, possibly still, Sex Hat, tho less likely now post-Gardner), will be the first product of Ben's ample and yet supple editorial loins, to be published in Fall of 07. I couldn't be happier, obviously -- some great titles in Iowa's catalog (Ed Roberson, Cole Swensen, Michael Heffernan, Bin Ramke), the Kuhl House titles are really nicely designed, and Ben is someone who has great taste in writing (of course I'd think that), and is a terrific poet himself. And, happiest, after hanging out for a while in Austin, it's clear that he, like Sandra, is both a badass and a sweetheart. I found out the good news Wednesday night about the book, so the timing couldn't be better to get to meet Ben. I can't believe my good luck -- Amp for Herc (my new nickname for it) is ridiculously ambitious, and a few presses told me they liked it but it was too big for them to do (tho this was in response to earlier, and in my opinion much inferior, version) , so I feel lucky 1) that a young guy like Ben with an eye for strange stuff is able to be an editor at a press like Iowa, 2) that Ben, and then Mark, dug the manuscript enough to want to do it.

All smiles in Tost town.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Rest in Peace

Kirby Puckett
(March 14, 1961 - March 6, 2006)

They're taking away my childhood heroes. First Richard Pryor, now Kirby.

Dear Edgar Martinez, Alvin Davis, Xavier McDaniel, Will Clark, Kenny Easely, Steve Largent, Eddie Murphy, Don Williams, Bo Jackson, Brian Bosworth, Dr. J, Bret Hart, Goose Gossage, Eric Davis, Dale Ellis, Don Mattingly, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Gus Williams, Jim Zorn, Roddy Piper, Downtown Freddie Brown,

Please be careful!


Friday, March 03, 2006

Stuart has good things to say about World Jelly here. Thanks, dude.

from 1001 Sentences


He who mystifies may weep instead.


Sentimentality is another instrument for innovation.


Weeping is almost always an intellectual response.