Saturday, February 07, 2004

Great things are happening downtown as I write this—a marvelous convergence of poetic and publishing energies. Two panesl this morning, both of which managed to do an amazing job of providing both macro and micro views of small press publishing, experimental poetics, and community building. They've all been so different. Joel Kuszai read a paper on how individual poetry communities might model themselves upon criminal syndicates, and suggested that the power thus achieved could, for example, be used to drive a corporate textbook publisher out of business. (It's nothing personal, it's just business.) Mark Weiss of Junction Press spoke extemporaneously about the experience of creating and running his one-man press, which has produced a number of remarkable border-crossing projects (quote: "When you turn a junction upside-down it becomes a boundary") representing the work of poets from Baja California (including blogworld's own Heriberto Yepez), Trinidad, Cuba, and elsewhere. Julianna Spahr, who I've long wanted to see in person, turned her experience at Buffalo and with Subpress into a kind of parable. In the first half of her talk she spoke of how the "heroism of a cold place" and a general obsession with male modernist writers was eventually countered by the magazine she and other women started there; in the second half she spoke of the utopian ambitions behind Subpress and its limitations as a model for collective publishing (1% tithe vulnerable to fluctuations in the economy, no one person actually in charge of advertising or distribution, unwillingness of poets to choose cheaper galley publishing format, etc.).

The second panel featured Jen Coleman and Allison Cobb (two of the four editors of Pom-Pom, Jonathan Skinner (editor of Ecopoetics, and Brendan Lorber (editor and bandleader of the irrepressible LUNGFULL!). These guys were great. Jen and Allison spoke of their magazine's unique model of poems that only respond to other poems that have been in the magazine (a version of what Charles Bernstein calls "wreading"). Jonathan talked about his fascinating project to produce a magazine of poetry of the Outside, in the widest possible sense—I suspect he and I could have a lot of things to say to each other about pastoral. In fact at one point he made reference to the "complex pastoral" of urban writing, citing Brenda Coultas' marvelous Bowery sequence (first published in Ecopoetics, now available in her book A Handmade Museum) as an example. Brendan Lorber read a terrific essay which will be printed in LUNGFULL! 13 about the number 13 as an abstract symbol of fear, and this symbol's relationship to an older, matriarchal conception of society that existed before a period of environmental scarcity led to the rise of patriarchy and a system in which those at the top have a vested interest in artificially maintaining conditions of scarcity. These ideas aren't new, but he synthesizes them wonderfully into something that I think simply everyone ought to read. Perhaps it will be available at his website soon.

As I was listening to all this I was struck once again by the fact that Brendan, Jonathan, and I form a recognizable "type" of young white male poet, and that I probably have more in common with them than I do with 99.999999% of the human beings on this planet. I am attracted and repelled by them as manifestations of the same genus, led to magnify minor differences in order to preserve a notion of my own specialness. In their presence I get a little nervous, as if afraid that we might touch each other and disappear in a matter/antimatter explosion. Back home, I find that I'm comforted by the similarities while seeing the differences as much more profound than I had. What's similar about us is a manner, a comportment that mixes bemusement with determination. And the desire to make a meaningful life outside the debased corporate values that we're usually too immersed in to notice, as fish don't notice water. Which is of course a point of similarity that binds us to many kinds of people, all over the world—people whose fear, as Brendan suggested at the end of his paper, cannot last forever.

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