Friday, December 28, 2007

Perils are great now, powers are great now. I am all anticipation.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Missouri Ozarks railroad map, circa 1890. Douglas County is where all of my family resides (in Ava, the county seat); Taney County is where I went to college (near Branson). This map rules. You can click on it to make it larger. That's what he said . . .

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

So, Kate & Maggie put together a great book party for Complex Sleep this Thursday. In the spirit of welcoming the book to reality, I didn't read from it but rather read to it, so it would know its place in the world.

Afterwards, there was an extended noise making session using multiple instruments and voices. Kate's list of participants include me, Ken Rumble, Matt Mullins, Patrick Herron, Brian Howe, Ashley Howe, Maggie & occasional visits from Joe Donahue, Chris Vitiello & David Need.

I set up my iPod with its little recording device and taped most of it, then spent the next day recovering on the couch, listening to the tracks and compiling them together into five tracks.

So, here it is

Lucipo, the "When Do I Get My Costs Cut" EP

Here is the track list:

1) See You Later Allen Ginsberg (Libations)
2) David's Last Blues
3) This Is a Rumble Rumble
4) Hardcore Time
5) Tony, & then David, Opening the Door

Lots of great sounds in there. I uploaded the five tracks here.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I think one reason craft, as a pursuit, gets a bad rap in a lot of poetry circles is that it gets lumped in with a lot of mechanical, repetitive, uninspiring work; craft as a vehicle for extending the old guard by its own terms.

Thinking today about teaching poetry writing, especially to MFA students (something I've never done), the argument I found myself presenting to an imaginary contemporary was something like this: craft, like anything, can be perpetually up for negotiation. I also think that, to get some things written, and to get to a certain in-ness of one's own writing approach--I'm a big believer in the notion that a medium, like a style or approach or stance, usually has to be endured for some time in order to offer up whatever fruits its got--anyway, I think there's also a time for bluntly embracing one's current creative prejudices and convictions and seeing where that can go.

But, I would think time spent in an MFA program would be well spent testing one's notions and stances. So I imagine pushing students to seeing the craft involved in identifying what I've called pivots, but also just simply, on the level of style, instances where information can be left out in order to allow connections to be implied as opposed to declared. To just come up with a possible example:

the mountain in the distance
looks like a tennis ball over a trailer hitch
and suggests the aptness of intelligence
to find a form that cannot quite
render the underneath discrete

Ok, not the most inspired of lines, but something off the top of my head to use. I can imagine myself taking these lines and suggesting to a student a way of crafting them towards an indirectness that, hopefully, can allow the connecting thought to exist, but less overtly:

A mountain is off in the distance;
someone has placed a tennis ball
over the hitch of their trailer.
The driver is dreaming and alert
to suggest an intelligence of his own.
There may be an aptness to our forms;
one may find pleasure in rendering
the underneath nearly discrete
as one finds pleasure upon waking
to the realization they had
fallen asleep with so little effort.

I'm unsure if these lines are better (though I prefer them), but, in the pursuit of crafting lines that render the initiating thought or comparison implicit rather than explicit, it also becomes an opportunity to push further into the original connection of mountain = tennis ball = almost-covering function of form. Instead of registering the mountain = tennis ball comparison in the form of a simile, mere proximity and sequencing makes the comparison implicit; this isn't to say that one should go through all of one's similes and turn them into proximate statements. That would be mechanical in the most uninteresting of ways.

Instead, the idea of inserting some kind of synaptic gaps into the train of thought becomes an opportunity to see what else the imagination can bring into the original triadic thought (actually, my first thought was to just compare a mountain to a tennis ball on a trailer hitch, then the next thought was to come up with a generalizing statement that could connect the two images on something other than a vague visual similarity in color and shape). Ok, so to put some space between the mountain and the tennis ball, I first just, blankly, state the existence of the mountain without detail; simply registering information. I now would like to introduce the tennis ball image and allow the reader to have the small pleasure of "discovering" the superficial visual similarity. But, to just have another blank statement like "there is also a tennis ball over . . ." would be too transparent to have an effect, I think. So, as a misdirection of sorts, the tennis ball image is embedded in the speculative guessing about who placed it here. Overtly (prosaically?), that is the purpose of the line, but subvertly (poetically?), the purpose is the small image echo.

Similarly, I would like to have the superficial visual similarity between the two images be the occasion for a more metaphysical speculation about form and perception in general; I would like to have a little space between the two images and the metaphysics, so allow the experience of reading to be closer the the experience of discovery than of passive reception. So, the obvious direction to go is to put something in the gap suggested earlier, of who put the tennis ball on the trailer hitch; this leads me to introduce a generic driver, who is daydreaming as he drives. In terms of overt information, this is a small and obvious piece, and perhaps not very poetic, but also does a small but important piece of work: it suggests the situation of the speaker: the speaker is also on a highway, either as a driver or passenger.

So, I have placed the figure of the dreamy driver after the two initial images; I would now like to bring my little metaphysical speculation before the poem trickles too far into new data and images to interrupt any sense of connection. So, the speaker asserts an "intelligence of his own" for the driver, which in isolation may be worth little, but at least grants a minor spin to daily suggestions of the blankness of commute and any normative notions of intelligence. But, the lines work mostly as transition: not every line has to weigh the same, or do the same sorts of work. I generally think of poems as cumulative experiences; where your immediate attention is focused is not always the same spot that gets at you: there can be an undertow that ends up being read as a kind of happy accident.

Anyway, so the speaker turns from the specific driver to a generalized "we" statement: there may be an aptness to our forms. Again, general almost to the point of nonsense, but it points towards further clarification: the pleasure in almost rendering what lay beneath the form imperceptible. And so, in terms of registering this general observation, I find it more effective to not have it explicitly stand on its own but to embed it with the observation concerning the pleasures of waking up; there is a certain gap in the comparison, which is what further or previous lines could take as an opportunity to fill in a poetically effective manner.

So, my argument is that craft can also be a way of reimagining and essentially rewriting one's original impulses and usages. I think this notion of craft, of trying to write in interesting gaps between images and statements that themselves can be filled in some (hopefully) imaginative manner, is something I took from spending a couple years reading and re-reading little else but Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery.

I'm not writing lines really like the above right now, but I think it's very much in the mode of what I was doing with Invisible Bride; the notions concerning re-writing, revising and re-staging, though, are very applicable I think to what I'm trying to do in my writing right now.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Great review of Complex Sleep in the local Independent here, by Jaimee Hills.

"Perhaps the feat of Tost's experimenting is to create a poem that is unsummarizable, indescribable, one that we can only experience—which is to say the way every poem should be treated. These poems demand that we meet them as we would music."

Also, warm words for the book here and here from the two people whose blogs most influence and instigate my own critical and poetical thought.

Also, if you're in the area, you should come out to Kate & Maggie's house the 13th for the book shower.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The schools had already proved one or two points which need never have been discussed again.

In essence, religion was love; in no case was it logic.

Reason can reach nothing except through the senses; God, by essence, cannot be reached through the senses; if He is to be known at all, He must be known by contact of spirit with spirit, essence with essence; directly; by emotion; by ecstasy; by absorption of our existence in His; by substitution of his spirit for ours.

The world had no need to wait five hundred years longer in order to hear this same result reaffirmed by Pascal.

Saint Francis of Assisi had affirmed it loudly enough, even if the voice of Saint Bernard had been less powerful than it was.

The Virgin had asserted it in tones more gentle, but any one may still see how convincing, who stops a moment to feel the emotion that lifted her wonderful Chartres spire up to God.

The Virgin, indeed, made all easy, for it was little enough she cared for reason or logic.

She cared for her baby, a simple matter, which any woman could do and understand.

That, and the grace of God, had made her Queen of Heaven.

The Trinity had its source in her,-- totius Trinitatis nobile Triclinium,--and she was maternity.

She was also poetry and art.

In the bankruptcy of reason, she alone was real.

Henry Adams
from "The Mystics"
Mont Saint Michel and Chartres

[spacing by TT]

In Captivity, By Camille Guthrie. Subpress. 2006. 61 pp.

In his first Cinema book, Gilles Deleuze discusses a certain logic of placement in Kurosawa: “One does not begin with an individual, going on to indicate the number, the street, the locality, the town; one starts off, on the contrary, from the walls, the town, then one designates the large block, then the locality, finally the space in which to seek the unknown woman [. . .] one starts off from all the givens, and one moves down from them to mark the limits within which the unknown woman is contained.” If I were to pursue a more extended look at Guthrie’s poetry, I’d likely pair up the above framework from Deleuze with Gertrude Stein’s notion of a poetic unit (phrase, sentence, paragraph) as not the expression of an emotion, but registering the limits of an emotion.

Instead, I'll just give a few glancing thoughts about the book.

With subtle music, Guthrie simultaneously maps out space and language in her lines, re-inventing poetic registers to achieve an intimacy that hovers between the personal and impersonal. The competing logics and scales of a large city (Guthrie lives in NYC) are precisely rendered in her book, which reads the city through a lens of pastoral beauty and menace, a product of her continuous dialogue with the medieval Unicorn Tapestries; Guthrie also evokes differing scales and logics of thought itself, transforming them in her explorations. Here is the first section from the opening sequence of the book, “The Start of the Hunt”:

How can empty space be stirred?
How to be truthful to one’s words
Or a city person’s longing for the country
Maybe a mistake of subject

Nevertheless, like a blank piece of paper
I drifted along past buildings
Straight or curved lines receding
Past unreadable stone steel and glass objects

Edges vibrating in the air, then vanishing at a touch
Withdrawing into cloudy heights
I walked up aimless blocks each day
Discord knocking about in my head

Sick with fear that had no form
Captured by my debt to pay
Wanting to making something of myself
Wanting knowledge & intimacy

Those actual facts
But even colors deceive continually
In a land of pictorial symbols
So I took directions from the lookout

His knees swallowed up by scenery
Attentive ripeness!
I am learning to see

A striking feature here is Guthrie’s ability to take an impulse such as desire, usually registered as either strictly personal (in the form of a beloved) or social (the logic of late capitalism), and show how different manifestations or boundaries of desire influence action; the speaker moves gracefully from a bewildering view of the city’s buildings (their edges vanishing into clouds) to an interiority startled by such scale (this discord filtering cognition) to a certain resistance in articulating these whirring cross-currents (the speaker wants knowledge and intimacy, but their traditional vehicle – language – continually deceives, making both knowledge and intimacy mere commodity). The poem then enacts a swift change in scale – “his knees swallowed up by scenery” – which creates a certain self-shudder of recognition allowing her to place herself (think here of Deleuze’s description above of “the limits within which the unknown woman is contained”) in a sudden sphere of clarity.

Spread over eleven separate poems and sequences, the entirety of In Captivity, Guthrie’s second book, rewards close attention and re-reading. The Rabelais-inspired “My Boyfriend” is a brilliant cataloguing of the exterior and interior features, as well as the actions, of this mythic figure with “balls large as a boar-hound’s / seminal vesicles like tulip bulbs in a paper bag” and a “backbone like a fiddlehead fern / nerve channels like transatlantic cables.” Like John Ashbery’s cataloguing of rivers in “Into the Dusk-Charged Air,” Guthrie’s poem vacillates between the mock-epic and something truly resembling the epic, thankfully never quite showing its hand. Another brilliant piece is “My Psychomachia,” where traditional allegorical correspondence between names (“Candor, childhood, CA, Coleridge”) and things (“camels, clover, cuckoos, coal, coconuts”) is beautifully and continually deferred, creating a momentary liminal space where dialogue between literary giants can occur in a brief battle for Guthrie’s poetic soul.

There is a wide range of abilities on display in this stunning book, as well as a deep thematic obsessiveness guiding its innovations, all which helps make In Captivity one of the most successfully realized poetry collections I've read in the last few years, moving and instructive in the luminosity of its spell.