Thursday, December 30, 2004

Hello from Philadelphia en route to NYC. Have had a wonderful time here visiting with the Nozes and my job-seeking buddies Brian Teare and Richard Greenfield. Also met Joyelle McSweeney and her husband Johannes Goransson (met their friend Srikanth Reddy too) for drinks and they told us about their new press, Action!, which will be bringing out a book of translations by Aase Berg (a young Swedish poet) and a book by blogland's own Lara Glenum. You can read more about it in a letter Joyelle sent to Eduardo Corral. I also had the very great pleasure of meeting my visionary new editor, William Gillespie (of Spineless Books), and the man who made my dreams come true, the brilliant and voluble Christian Bök (he's a handsome devil, too). Got a new mock-up for Fourier Series that is, if possible, even more beautiful than the first. This is practically an art book, folks. William's investigating printers right now for the rather unusual cover; hopefully it will be in print and available before AWP at the end of March, but it could take much longer.

Nothing substantive to say on my way out the door to NYC (where Emily's visiting friends), but I do want to put in another early advance plug for Sarah Gridley's new book Weather Eye Open, which I managed to get a copy of from the UC booth even though it's not officially available until April. I've raved about her work before—for years, really (we were cameradoes at U. Montana)—but this book delivers on her earlier promise and then some. Lyric intensity of the first order, with a keenly detailed eroticism haloed by melancholy, like a more saintly and sensual Sebald—sung in the key of pastoral, too. I will take the liberty of quoting one of my immediate favorites that I read on the train coming home last night—damn hard to choose between poems facing each other in the first section, "The Body Is Placed, but the Spirit Is Emigrant" or "Rus in Urbe." The precise incongruities of the first offer more immediate pleasures; the second cuts deeper. I'll go with the second:
Rus in Urbe

A conscious
liar, an inasmuch reserver of the truth, perhaps
you too are a hoarder. Perhaps no higher than a worm
spinning your march of raw silk shrouds.

The clock is inflicting more points
than a cruse of solar marigolds. Rain is unveiling
your favorite inventory. Let no one blame you. Into well's
moss-lit emporium, lower your private damages.

Look softly: Neptune's methane wreath
sets no red loose. Finished seconds sculpt the hour a shell
of when it was. Let winnd come up to rusk the cells, rake since demolished
crowns and keels. Impalpable shepherd
you have won: less crowd

more pasture

Sarah will be teaching for a semester at Iowa this spring, I believe. Lucky, lucky Iowans.

Right. Off to New York. Will maybe post once more before the year turns over.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Oh, before I go, warm thanks to Joseph Duemer for picking Cahiers as one of his top-ten-or-eleven blogs.
Stunned this morning by the earthquake news. Tidal waves have long been a nightmare of mine—a recurring dream of running up toward the towering wave and then away again, but never fast enough.... Emily's friend Benji Feldman is vacationing in Thailand and we're worried about him. Benji, if you read this, phone home.

We're off to New Jersey today for my stepmother's world-famous day-after-Xmas dinner, then going to Philadelphia tomorrow to hang out with my dear friends Mr. and Mrs. Noz, plus two MLA job-seekers, Richard and Brian. Glad I'm not doing it this year.

Christmas is always a weird time for me. We celebrated it when I was growing up in a spirit of ecumenical confusion, so I do have the usual associations with early morning excitement, stockings, the tree, etc. But my evolving Jewish consciousness has left me somewhere between indifferent and alienated. Even more significant of course is the fact that my mother died a few days before Christmas when I was 21 years old—so probably the holiday would have been ruined for me even if I wasn't a Jew. I'm often depressed this time of year and it's a relief to have the whole thing over with and Philly to look forward to. We had a nice enough day, though, especially toward the end, when we discovered a genuinely good Chinese restaurant right here in Ithaca with our friends Aaron and Bibliogal. Saw Kinsey afterwards, it was awright.

Not sure how much blogging I'll be doing in the coming week, if any. Hope to see some of you poetry types in or around the MLA conference. I'm looking forward to the gala reading Wednesday night at the Highwire Gallery on Cherry Street: it's a stellar lineup. Also to meeting my new publisher and, with any luck, Mr. Christian Bök himself. Happy solstice, y'all.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Crawling on with Pound's weird apostrophes in Lustra—the many poems in which he addresses his own personified poems. Inching toward being able to make a plausible case for newness as nature (that is, an intellectual can make contact with nature by stripping away the concealments of the bourgeois "they"-world, which can be assisted by identification with the earthy subjectivity of the proletariat) as authenticity, before I turn it around and perform a critique of authenticity insofar as that's one of the values that led Pound so badly astray in his campaigns against usury and Jews in The Cantos. Then authenticity gets raised to the level of self-critique in the Pisans. I thnk that's how it's going to go.

G.C. Waldrep wrote to me last week about D&D; a former player himself, he wondered why we didn't turn to writing fiction given the narrative form of role-playing games. Here's how I responded:
The first answer that occurs to me is that the primary pleasure of RPGs is the sense of wonder, spontaneity, and immersion in a world, and I get more of that feeling from the experience of writing poems than fiction, which has all these encumbrances like plot. Writing a poem gets me closer to the originary experience of reading fantasy novels—the discovery of a dream-landscape where I felt I belonged—than reading such novels does now. Also, there's the sheer fussiness of D&D and its epigones—hit dice, THACO, alignments—and those constraints are perhaps akin to those we impose on ourselves in poems, the better to free the imagination. And the whole game happens in language—it's distinctly un-visual, except in the sense that radio is a visual medium—so maybe it's natural that my attention would be more captivated by the language's powers of transport
rather than any particular story. Also, the collectivity of gaming, which means that no one, not even the DM, has total control over what's going to happen, imitates the processes of the unconscious and surrender of intent that I find intrinsic to the best poetry.

The one thing poetry doesn't do as well as fiction in terms of recreating the D&D experience is probably characters (though tell that to Wordsworth)—though writing a poem from the perspective of a persona, explicit or not, serves a similar masking function. And there is the desire for epicness and scale which is hard to accomplish in a primarily lyric environment. Still, your question haunts me a little. I've sometimes thought that if I did return to writing fiction, it would have to be genre
fiction—a mystery, probably—because I'm not sure I possess the kind of insatiable curiosity about people needed to create a worthy realistic novel (one which does some serious cognitive mapping of a segment of our society) and even experimental novels demand many of the same chops. In a mystery there are conventions to play with and a stockpile of images, character-types, and dialogue to play with and try to make sing. Of course my biggest challenge in fiction has always been plot, I'm just terrible at it. Maybe if the language and characterzation were vivid enough, plot wouldn't matter so much. I've generally been more drawn to American hardboiled mysteries (whose plots are always cliched if not downright nonsensical or semi-irrelevant to the downright theological landscape of sin and glimpsed transcendence typical of such books) than the English drawing-room variety.
Finally, I want to note the good discussions of organic/nonorganic writing going on over at Out of the Woodwork and Cosmopoetica. I'll weigh in when I have the mental luxury of doing so.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

good fellow- watch me undress

That's the subject line of an e-mail from one "Gertrude Inman"—by far the courtliest bit of spam I've ever received. Very busy here at the store but I'm using spare moments to go through the new SPD catalog looking for acquisitions for our shelves. Given what Ron and others have been saying about the chapbook's being the most important unit of publication for contemporary poetry, and figuring it's at least partially true (Lateral Argument, anyone?), I've been wondering if it might be possible to create a chapbook display here at the Bookery. Space is at a premium, but I pride myself on our poetry section and the chapbooks we have just don't get enough attention when they're shelved spine-out like regular books. Anyway, I'm keeping this idea in mind and trying not to shy away from ordering interesting looking chapbooks. My ordering process is necessarily arbitrary—I'd love us to have one of everything in the catalog, but that simply isn't feasible. So I look for books I've heard people talking about, or by familiar names, or which are blurbed by poets I like, or come from publishing houses I respect. Of course this means I can never get fully outside the perimeter of the familiar; I will not discover something which is not in some way already grasped. For that I need to leave the store and maybe my comfort zone too. I'm going to Philadelphia next week to see old friends and take a look at MLA; hopefully there will be a few good bookstores to browse in.

The ice may be broken dissertation-wise: I'm plunging ahead on Pound. The trick I think is to just sit down and write every morning without reading what I wrote the previous day. Revise once there's a tangible chapter in front of you. I've devoted the first chunk to a discussion of two rather slight-seeming poems from Lustra, "Salutation" and "Salutation the Second." From there I plan to discuss Heideggerian authenticity as a lead-in to discussing The Cantos and the changing shape of pastoral imagery in that very "inorganic" poem. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

In Memoriam

Today is the thirteenth anniversary of my mother's death from cancer; she was 49. She loved poetry and in some ways I feel like I'm living out the rest of her life for her—an idea I have extremely mixed feelings about. Here is a poem she wrote for me two months before she died; I find it sweet and bitter to contemplate:
My Son
Now I know
    why I grew you
    why I snipped here
    watered there
    Then forgot you
    and continued the dance.

It was to have someone
    to talk to
    in my old age.
       to smile?

release me
for I have grown old waiting for you
this hair on my shoulders
has long been pinnned up
       turned gray
there have been many partings
She had a terrific sense of humor, too:
I have never tasted
Sweeter lips than yours

O melancholy
O patience on her monument
O jocund day
O Niobe, all tears
O the bones of rivers
O tempora, mores
O life!
Oh shit.
Safe travels, Mom.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Okay, very quickly, since Stuart asked: we've got a little campaign rolling here in Ithaca. Aaron created a half-elf magic-user/thief and his neighbor Adam created a dwarf cleric. They went (separately, as it happened) on the same mission: to go into the crypt of a recently deceased noble in the city of Cymric (the northernmost port of an as-yet unnamed empire) and retrieve an object on his body. Since they went separately and unaware of each other's existence they very nearly killed each other when they first met. Aaron's thief had to take out a nasty ghoul-rat on the way down the stairs, while Adam's dwarf had a pretty good skirmish with a Ray Harryhausen-style animated skeleton. Now they're both trapped in this tomb--somebody took away the rock that Aaron's thief was using to keep the door from closing. We'll see how they get out of this predicament—if they get out of it—when we reconvene on Christmas Eve eve.

I may have to start a separate D&D blog if this keeps up.
Henry intervenes in my musings re: Pound, pastoral, Heidegger. I find I want to resist his conflation of pastoral in the classical sense (a city person's poem about shepherds) with its religious sense (as in the pastor of a "flock"). It's too Christian for my taste, and one of the things that interests me about classical pastoral is its pagan or even secular conception of the Golden Age. Christians have insisted on reading Christ into Virgil's Fourth Eclogue, but it seems clear to me that the speaker in that poem is imagining a child whose intervention into history will not require or carry the force of divine revelation (not that I don't also have problems with the military means he envisions the grown child using to create the new Golden Age). It's a very earthly paradise that Virgil imagines the hero-child presiding over. But then I went back to Heidegger and his phrase about the poet being the "shepherd of Being." Now Heidegger's tautological language and generally apolitical position (a position he was driven to after 1945, which is roughly when he began talking like this) tend to drive out notions of the social, so I imagine a solitary shepherd alone in the clearing with "Being." But we only per/re-ceive Being through a particular world, which is always a social and historical creation—the "frame" or consensual hallucination called "reality." Poets "shepherd" Being and the earth (the ground of Being and of all worlds, never perceivable directly) through their language which "attends" (in the old senses of "waiting on" and also "listening to") Being rather than intervening into Being in the name of particular interests. (An aside: When the Bush administration scorns "the reality-based community" they are bragging about their ability to intervene, not least through their meretricious use of language, into Being and so to change the world of our perecptions, though this intervention takes the form of a violation. That's why we liberals find it harder and harder to recognize the world that the American media presents to us; the Bushies have leveled it, black-and-whited it.) The poet's aestheticist position (disinterest) is what enables shepherding. But the relationship between this manner of shepherding and the shepherding of a flock is difficult to discern—hunkering down with Being between the departure and return of the gods is not the same thing as actively leading a group toward such a return. Heidegger's shepherding "in a destitute time" can look a lot like Adorno's "hibernation" in the face of the decay of the bourgeois subject and the rise of mass culture.

Also, the versions of pastoral that I've been contemplating do not involve a narrative of returning to the promised land through the desert; in fact, they do not involve narrative at all. Arcadia is a beautiful image trespassed upon and defined by its bordering wilderness (both hostile nature & the darkness of the unconscious) on one side and civilization (capitalism & the libidinal repression it demands) on the other. It is a wholly synchronous space; the diachronies of narrative and history are alien to it and threaten its precarious existence in the imagination. Arcadia is a dream of a wholly aestheticized and limited socius, in which social recognition (who is the better poet) is the only good competed for and the exploitation of nature, one's fellows, and oneself is unknown. The pastoral mindset is one of Gelassenheit, letting-be, precisely because one can afford it (this is the high privilege of pastoral that will require some further interrogation by me—Ben Friedlander explores this idea vis-a-vis the work of Lisa Robertson here). The curious thing about Pound is that for me his most pastoral moment comes in the Pisan Cantos, where so far from being privileged he is at his lowest point. The pastoral disinterest with which he regards nature there stems from a sense of his privileges having come to an end; he is "a man on whom the sun has gone down." His is the anti-pastoral pastoral of Lear, frolicing in the flowers after his power has been utterly wrest away. Come to think of it, this is the only kind of pastoral I'm really interested in: the pastoral of the powerless and homeless (though one may return to power, hopefully wiser, after one's sojourn in Arcadia, as the Duke does in As You Like It). The other version of pastoral in Pound—his agrarianism, the Monte dei Paschi, etc.—is very much the pastoral of privilege and authority, legislated from his (mostly imaginary) perch behind Mussolini's ear. So it appears I'll have to investigate more closely the "destitution" required for this pastoral, and how it is one comes to renounce one's own interest at least temporarily. As I think I've mentioned elsewhere, the urban pastoral of the NY School and the Abstract Expressionists strikes me as stemming from the desire for a beautiful world in the face of political repression on the micro and macro scale. The flight from representation is the flight from a world one has no power to change by such representation, toward a world of pure perception: color, mass, form. The pathos of their Arcadia comes from their inability to totally exclude either the macro narratives of history or the micro narratives of their own inevitably diachronic lives (et in Arcadia ego), their unhappy love affairs (the pastoral topic par excellence), and the myth of heroic suffering. But poetic shepherding also happens in the work of Frank O'Hara (for example), where fragments of his life and locus are allowed to exist immanently in constellation with each other, as his language finds them.

Gone far astray from Henry's comments, which are astute—and I think his reading of Pound would be a profitable one. But the store's getting too busy for further speculations just now. Next post will probably be about D&D anyways.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Auberginian fruits are flowering, folks. I reprint the following letter with its author's permission:
Dear Mr. Corey,

Just yesterday the booklet you kindly sent me arrived on my desk, and I must
say it occasioned a real chuckle! Indeed, I shall have to be much more
careful about the odd aside.

There are some amusing poems in your collection--to say nothing of the fact
that its cover is the color of a Japanese eggplant, not an aubergine. It's
all been done with a great deal of wit and warmth.

I've taken the liberty of sending the copy to Dorothea Tanning herself,
figuring that she will also enjoy it all.

Every good wish for the new year--

J. D. McClatchy
Rather sporting of him, I'd say. It would be a real coup to hear from Dorothea Tanning herself about all this.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Utterly bogged down. "Pastoral" is so flexible an instrument that I cannot settle on a single approach to it, any more than I can decide what the most meaningful way to apply it to Pound is—or more to the point, why. Now I'm yawing back toward my original fascination with the language of rural simplicity that pops up in Heidegger: the notion of the "clearing" in which worldness is disclosed is the most alluring (it connects ineluctably in my mind with Robert Duncan's meadow of first permission) but of course it's also immediately problematized by what Heidegger rejects in his implausible attempt to allly himself with the Black Forest farmer: idle chatter, ambiguity, curiosity—the (rootless, cosmopolitan) signifiers of "inauthenticity." These might be read as the attributes that the "complex man" tries to discard as he tries on the virtues of the "simple man" "in touch with Nature" that Empson describes as the most basic pastoral maneuver. Now, someone like Walter Benjamin or Ernst Bloch would point us toward the redemptive possibilities inherent in the inauthentic, whose attributes resemble those of the commodity society. But is it so easy to discard the longing for authenticity, even if one accepts the notion that Heidegger did not intend "inauthenticity" to be pejorative? Although Heidegger insists on the distinction between Dasein and any particular subject, authenticity seems to be about a wish to be firmly rooted in one's subjectivity, to participate completely in one's "thrownness" into a given class. The notion of the proletariat as universal subject of history can be read as a more acutely historicized version of authenticity, whereby we see that class struggle has produced the authentic subject that the intellectual may ally himself with but can never actually be. Heidegger's notion that rigorous Denken (a thinking of one's own particular Being-toward-death) can result in authentic being for the individual subject has to be rejected as bourgeois illusion by a Marxist. But the expression of desire for authenticity continues to resonate. Pound's weird subject position shows this longing in him: his poems are never addressed toward a mass audience and in fact he insults such audiences every chance he gets. Instead his poetry imagines a readership of select individuals who have achieved something like authenticity through rigorous study—though on close examination what distinguishes the Poundian "expert" is not a learned expertise but the content of his character. So expertise and authenticity are tautologically the same for Pound, and yet the gap of their obvious difference is a source of anxiety for him. It takes his imprisonment at Pisa with people who are differently (if no less problematically) authentic—his fellow prisoners, all poor, black, and illiterate—for him to discover if not his own authenticity at least some of what was inauthentic about his previous Fascist position. Authenticity is achieved, or tended toward, through suffering. The discovery of the world in its worlding—the pastoral moment of discovering a landscape of self-sufficient figures that include oneself—is a kind of ascesis that gets dialectically sublated into pleasure and "just enough" of goods (including social goods, the currency of acknowledgment, Being-with without the "they" [das Man]). Then I could procede by examining how pastoral authenticity gets picked up and dropped again by poets after Pound, whose political commitments might lead them toward more and more acute criticisms of authenticity as a mode (no one makes more fun of the yearning for authenticity than Ashbery, for example) but can only abandon it by transforming monadic authenticity into collectivity—by attempting to realize themselves as part of a class.

Well gee, that sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Why can't I transmute that into an actual argument using poems as examples? Speculation is so much more fun than argument, but argue I must if I want those letters after my name. Sigh.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The ordinarily calm and salon-like Bookery has been frenetic this evening as people do their holiday shopping. Which is okay, because all the energy I'm expending makes me feel like less of a loser for accomplishing so little with my dissertation today. I think I wrote a single footnote.

The D&D thing is getting out of hand. I've bid for three items on eBay and won two of them--a 1977 Monster Manual just like the one I used to own, Gary Gygax's World of Greyhawk supplement, and I'm waiting to see what will happen with another supplement based on the writings of Fritz Leiber, City of Lankhmar. Stop me before I bid again. The thing is, I have all I need to play the game, and unlike the old days (like when I was 14) there are no new 1st edition AD&D supplements for me to be hankering after. But nostalgia is its own danger here—the desire to own everything I used to own, to recapture the past, is a powerful one. As I've suggested before, playing RPGs gave me my first taste of solidarity with an intensely creative minority that was scorned or simply ignored by the larger world—a minority that put a high value on humor, adventure, wonder, and a kind of honor. There's more continuity in my character than I might have guessed. Of course there's a big difference between, say, Language poetry and dungeon delving. Right? Isn't there? Maybe not. Certainly I was early to acquire a taste for arcane rules and systems that violated common sense (check out the "Pummeling" tables in the old Dungeon Masters Guide for a fine example of this) in the name of accurately reproducing the feeling we all got from reading Lord of the Rings the first time. And the rules can become a fetish that override the goals of storytelling, playing a character, and socializing ("demented and sad, but social."). I spent hours in the dormroom of my college gamemaster discussing the intricacies of ballistics and the range of gauss weapons in the game he designed and seemed to spend absolutely all of his time thinking about or playing. In spite of this, the game he created for us was truly epic: the stakes in his world seemed much higher than anything college had to offer. In fact, I very nearly flunked out my sophomore year. And of course it was more real, because my entire social world revolved around the game: I'm still dear friends with many of the other players (including noted political commentator upyernoz). I even wrote a term paper about the group's dynamics and secret language for a folklore seminar, and got an A for it too.

This is the kind of confession that, more elegantly shaped, might have gotten me into the Gamers anthology. Perhaps Shanna will do a sequel for those of us whose hearts belong to pen & paper, funny-looking dice, and too much Mountain Dew, however many computer games we may play, or highfalutin' books we may write.

Monday, December 13, 2004


And he was a son, wasn't he, firstborn, given to anchoring, to rooting a man, the father. And he had a mother did he not who was the water roots need unrooted in herself. Straw spun toward goal in the apple light—he is fruit and seed between branch and earth. They sky suffers the ground to imitate it.


All light like luck comes from elsewhere, shaped or sacrificed or spilled among shadows that need it, leaves, to breathe. By your leave I am your son. By my caul I accede to sonhood's crippling rays. Sit down and taste this meat, bare forked from the soil you sprang from. A test of sibilance, serpent to say mine.


Dream of earth in town: all brown, the streets teeming with UPS men. Everyone tracks a package into and out of doors. All strangers exchanging gifts they'll never open for others correctly wrapped and labeled. I exchange a small box for a big box, the big box for a bigger box. When the time is right I find an alley to set the box on its end in. I scan the barcode and step inside.


Hair long as a woman's, my mother, but curled. An electric field's fluid inward. She danced round a cup of coffee, eyes down. Smoke drifted from the wrists of her coat like ruffs. And what are you to me, she sang, and what are you to me. Salted away beneath the table to hear her toes tap the top. And what are you to me, my son, and what are you to me.


A sandwich stops this singing. All afternoon he watched atoms get stuck on the window like flies. Everyday the sun paints his house with another layer of thinnest light. The world becomes more visible, less accessible. Coming and going not going, wenting. As heat comes and goes with the forced air gone. The urge to count syllables. To count pairs of headlights catching the headboard, head-on collision with lights from the ear.


To play a part in the pageant bespeakes a bespoke inheritance: her hair, his lips. Her bones, his heat. Her mask, his mask upside-down. Her refraining kiss, his tennis strokes. A dry moistening of wet parchment, papier-macheing the skull. Which if made was well-made to contain and interact. Hope's a bone home balancing on top of a parade float and an arm to wave its way. Paddling to spare the creek's child.


Given: a present. A perspective-glass. Toward the son or daughter to be disclosed later. Behind a shadow getting longer: shadow of the coast, shadow of a sea. A singularity fixing to be solved by the discovery of time like parts per million of gold in a cubic mile of sea. You will be me, will to be yours, a went won't will when disclose by an advocate. My end.


Some bark for that tree. Some lunge for the falling apple. Some wait for inspiration. The pathos of this is passing.


His egg is a jail I sprang.

Dissertation stuckness + cold & rainy weekend = high geekery. Dug my old, would-be-worth-something-if-they-were-in-better-shape first edition AD&D books & bag o' dice out of the closet and started a little adventure with another brave poet. Gee that's fun. There's some powerful nostalgia value to using the old, old Gygax system, but it's the thrill of making up a story live on the spot with others that really gets me. In some ways, I think I've sought the same solidarity with fellow poets that I used to feel with members of the various gaming groups I've belonged to over the years. We could use a few more brave adventurers, though. If you're in the Ithaca area and you're in the mood for some old-school AD&D, drop me a line.

Only a few Aubergines left unspoken for!

Friday, December 10, 2004

"Nothing much to say when you're high above the mucky-muck..."

Yesterday was Emily's birthday and it rocked. Today we're being mellow and doing some housecleaning while I ponder whether Pound should share the first chapter of my diss with Williams. I need to go read The Wedge alongside The Pisan Cantos and see what they have to say to each other about pastoral and autonomy—this is part of my desire to produce a more historical argument than I had previously contemplated. Useful to my thinking lately have been Bourdieu's Rules of Art, Libby Rifkin's Career Moves: Olson, Creeley, Zukofsky, Berrigan, and the American Avant-Garde" (based on a dissertation she wrote here at Cornell), and Bob Perelman's The Trouble with Genius.

Meanwhile, copies of Aubergine are distributing themselves everywhere like giant purple zeppelins.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Little packets of purple goodness are winging their way to Auberginians across this great land of ours. And I have not neglected Mr. J.D. McClatchy and Ms. Jane Kramer, the latter care of The New Yorker.


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

What's purple on the outside and white and black on the inside? It's The Aubergine Anthology! I've e-mailed all the contributors whose mailing addresses I don't have, but there are two folks who are AWOL: Alan DeNiro and Tim Yu. Alan, I can't find an e-mail address for you on your webpages; Tim, I only have your old Stanford address. As for the rest of you, it's not too late to e-mail me and learn where to send $3 to snag one of just 50 copies (more than half of which are already earmarked for contributors) before they're all gone.

Brennen Wysong, a onetime Cornell fiction MFA who's now testing the waters of experimental poetry, has made a sharp comment on the organic/inorganic thing over at his blog.

Cold. Dark. Rainy. Ithaca.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Aubergine went to the printer this morning. Contributors will have copies in their hot little hands in plenty of time for the holidays. If you'd like to own a piece of literary history—only 50 copies to be printed!—send me an e-mail and I'll tell you where to send the three bucks.

David Leftwich of Eclectic Refrigerator, chimes in on the organic vs. inorganic question and gives me a chance to clarify a few things. Obviously there is nothing more or less organic, or more or less artificial, than a Richard Wilbur or Keats poem vis-a-vis a poem by Charles Bernstein. My understanding of Bürger is that "organic" primarily refers not to the degree of artificiality of a work, but to the fact that the work's elements refer primarily to itself and only secondarily to exterior contexts (whether those be the facts of its production or the work's subject matter). The nonorganic works elements retain some of their independence—which does not mean, I think, that these elements could necessarily stand on their own as artworks, only that they primarily refer to some external reality (again, the facts of production or subject matter) and only secondarily do they make a contribution to the integrity of the artwork they belong to. One thing this shows is that organic-nonorganic is more of a continuum than a dichotomy; if Bruce Andrews represents extreme nonorganicity and Robert Pinsky extreme organicity (a discursive poem such as he likes to write requires that every piece serve the overall argument), then I would put someone like Rae Armantrout to Andrews' right and someone like the later Kenneth Koch (of New Addresses, say) a fair bit to Pinsky's left.

But David has brought up a difficulty with the use of language like organic/nonorganic, and I wish I could see Bürger's text in German to know exactly what words he was using. Since "organic" does suggest the natural, I imagine Bürger means that to refer not to such an artworks' actually being more natural, but only to such a work's attempt to simulate harmony between the human being and nature—again, "The man-made organic work of art that pretends to be like nature projects an image of the reconciliation of man and nature" (78). I suppose it is largely through the force of tradition that patently artificial forms like the sonnet can come to appear (have a semblance, Schein) "natural." Also, the attitude of the author has a lot to do with it, I think: the ethos of making the poem look easy, effortless, never letting them see you sweat—the labor of concealing labor—is necessary to the organic poem, while the nonorganic poem writer must "show their work." So intent is a question, as perhaps is reception; to your average high school student a Shakespeare sonnet must look very nonorganic indeed. I need to think some more about this, because it again raises the gap between intention and work, into which questions of sociality and the cultural field tend to rush.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Speaking of Peter Bürger, he offers two useful general categories which might help untangle what Chris might call the difficulty vs. impossibility question. The serious vs. unserious dichotomy is beginning to seem more flawed to me now that I'm reading Bourdieu; according to him, "seriousness" primarily represents one's investment in a given social game. So my irritation with the "unserious" poets may simply be based on the fact that they're invested in a different game than I am, and their game is the one that most people recognize as "poetry." Maybe I should just say that I'm interested in "advanced" poetry, as some Germans are not afraid to call it. Or maybe we should look to another general dichotomy, Bürger's notion of the "organic" versus the "nonorganic" artwork. While avant-garde movements are characterized by wanting to reintegrate art into life, their works, according to Bürger, are formally recognizable by their use of fragmentation and montage. Organic or symbolist works are recognizable by the unity of the parts with the whole: each part is subordinated to that wholeness and is only comprehensible through/in it. The notion of art being a mirror to nature is one of the premises of organic art, which might also be the source of the "aura" Benjamin locates in artworks prior to our age of mechanical reproduction. By contrast, in the nonorganic artwork the parts do not form a unity: it is an assemblage of pieces between which cracks are visible, and the pieces have some degree of independence from the unity of the total work. The more minimal (or the less intrusive) the structure of the whole is, the more independence the parts have, and the "harder" the poem is likely to be—the Andrews poem Chris quotes is a good example of this. But they never achieve total independence, or fall into chaos; much of the language of Andrews' poem is recognizable as the detritus of pop culture mixed with a little theory, and a savage humor acts as the gel in which the individual pieces float. What Andrews hopes to achieve, I think, is expressed in this sentence of Bürger's: "In the avant-gardiste work, the individual sign does not refer primarily to the work as a whole but to reality" (90). In organic poems, each moment of the text refers you back to the poem, no matter what its actual content: "In the organic work of art, the political and moral contents the author wishes to express are necessarily subordinated to the organicity of the whole. This emans that whether the author wants to or not, they become parts of the whole, to whose constitution they contribute" (89). This, for me, explains the failure of most political or identity-based poems with conventional forms. But when I read Andrews, or Silliman or Watten, I find myself constantly referred back to the conditions of the text's production: the overlapping networks of cultural, political, and commercial speech that constituted its moment. Such a poem, even a "monstrous" one like Andrews', addresses the present with an urgency that I don't find in organic poems, which however forceful are always already enclosed in a perfect past. (As Homestar put it this week, "I say there, monstrosity! Do you know the times?")

So I think we're starting to answer the immediate question raised by the nonorganic text: how to read it? Bürger provides some answers. Speaking of the automatic writing of the surrealists, he writes, "It is true that at the surface level, automatic texts are characterized by a destruction of coherence. But an interpretation that does not confine itself to grasping logical connections but examines the procedures by which the text was composed can certainly discover a relatively consistent meaning in them" (79). This is another way of saying that "progress" in art has generally tended toward greater independence of means—for example, in action painting the paint is no longer primarily a means toward representation but is itself the star of the show. Bürger sees this happening at least as early as the 17th century: "It is true that Baroque art makes an extraordinary impression, but its connection with the religious subject has become relatively loose. This art does not derive its principal effect from the sujet but from the abundance of colors and forms" (41). Which is not to say that you can really separate, say, the beautiful forms audible in Bach's St. Matthew Passion from the subject of the Gospel story; but the fact that Jews like Zukofsky and myself can let ourselves be overwhelmed by this work of art might have something to do with the relative independence of its means (the spectacular effect of the double chorus, for instance) from the end of celebrating Christ. "The avant-gardiste work does not negate unity as such (even if the Dadists had such intentions) but a specific kind of unity, the relationship between part and whole that characterizes the organic work of art" (56). (The tricky thing here is that Bürger seems to intend organic/nonorganic as formal categories, while the avant-garde is very much a historical category that he at least has relegated to the past. Which means it doesn't make a lot of sense to call Bach avant-garde, but it might make sense to say that the general tendencies of post-avant writing are baroque.) Anyway, you can see how this would feed into my desire to see poetry become a field in which all recipients are also producers, since the act of reading such works directs you not to some organic unity ("this is a poem about spring," "this is a poem about the war") but to the elements that still have traces of their multitudinous contexts imprinted upon them (this is the fullest expression I know of of Pound's logopoeia, the dance of the intellect among words). The pleasure of this poetry comes from feeling these disparate contexts rub up against each other in a unity not guaranteed by the poet's intention, a received tradition, or the subject matter (all facts transcendental to the text) but by the fact of the poem (the agreement "this is a poem" conferred by the contexts of reception: a given writer, a given magazine, a given reading space, etc.) or by the fact of the person (this position is best expressed in a recent post by Nick Piombino).

Bürger's most provocative conclusion is that because the avant-garde failed in its historical mission (nothing less than utopia), the organic and nonorganic artworks are equally (in)valid for the present (or at least the late seventies, when Bürger's book was first published in Germany). The organic artwork is inadequate because it offers a false reconciliation—"The man-made organic work of art that pretends to be like nature projects an image of the reconciliation of man and nature" (78)—by seeking "to make unrecognizable the fact that is has been made" (72). The avant-garde artwork is inadequate because it has not achieved the avant-garde intention (the gap between work and intention is one I need to explore more to understand) of destroying the ghetto art is normally consigned to and so destroying the inhuman dichotomy "perfection of the life or of the work." A functional post-avant-garde would learn from the example of Brecht, who sought not to destroy the institution of art but to change it into "a new theater whose central category is fun" (89). If I understand this unfortunately unelaborated idea of Bürger's correctly, I think a number of Language and post-Language poets have grasped the idea of "fun" in a Brechtian way: they turn the poem into a three-ring circus where each ring of activity remains distinct and yet overlapping, where your attention is free to shift to the clowns on the left or the tightrope walker up above, yet there is still a kind of gestalt, "circusness."

Now I will admit that I take more pleasure from nonorganic texts whose individual components give me sensuous, lyrical enjoyment—I prefer Cirque de Soleil to Ringling Bros. But I'm interested in at least trying to experience any text that in some way foregrounds its artifice and involves or implicates me in meaning-production. And I'm much quicker to reject bad or even good organic work than I am nonorganic writing because I feel like its form is a lie that won't admit it's lying. (I'm speaking of modern and contemporary writing, of course; I can love Keats without making any claims for his inorganicity.) I'm not entirely willing to give up on the avant-garde intention; at the very least, I'm interested in writers or writing who do call our attention to the institutions of art and canonicity; that's what makes reading Bourdieu so fascinating and uncomfortable, because he really focuses your attention on art as cultural economy. Also, Bürger has given me another perspective on what I might mean by "avant-garde pastoral": what would an inorganic pastoral look like? Given how often pastoral is condemned or dismissed for its artifice, one could make a case for its having become a fundamentally nonorganic mode: a representation of reconciliation between man and nature that you can't actually believe in. It might then function to keep the wish for such reconciliation alive, providing an image of beauty and comfort that is also a palpably "false surmise" which does not therefore compensate for your dissatisfaction, but heightens it. Not such an inconsiderable feat when you consider the pressures capitalism puts on us to give up on such reconciliation (most baldly by consuming and destroying natural resources, most intimately by insisting we accept the false reconciliations and compensations offered by consumer culture).

That's another log on the fire. Now, lunch.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Been busy with the dissertation—busy dissing. Now that I've more or less sorted out what I want to say about pastoral, I find myself working on the question of what exactly we mean when we say "avant-garde." Peter Büurger has the strictest definition, which not only requires avant-gardistes to intend to destory the institution of art so as to reintegrate artmaking into the praxis of daily life, but he also insists that it is an entirely historical term for a failed movement which has come and gone. Most others seem to use the term more casually, as if its meaning were self-evident—which is also how most people use the word "pastoral." One question I'm wrestling with is that of tradition and lineage: if I want to tell the story of pastoral and the avant-garde (the 20th century American poetry avant-gardes, to be more precise), I have to focus on movements, circles, schools, and palpable influences. That might end up leaving a figure as interesting to me as Ronald Johnson out in the cold. Certainly he follows in the Pound-Williams tradition, but what influence did he have? He's sui generis, and the problem with lineage/tradition narratives is that they leave the truly unique poets out in the cold. Of course one could argue that Johnson is starting to have an influence now, and I am increasingly interested in the possibilities poets of his generation offer to those of us with the experimental itch who nonetheless do not want to join the nth generation of the New York School or the Language poets (these two are persistently cited as the most pervasive and influential avant-gardes of the postwar period—the multi-generational nature of the NY School giving it more staying power than the other New Americans: the Beats, Duncan & Spicer et al, Black Mountain, etc.). Because pastoral is a representation of happinesss and a refuge for beauty, I think it might be important to younger poets like myself who are invested in the critical negativity of the Language school but who are also attracted to Personism and the fostering of relationship within the space of poetry. It probably comes down to the attitude toward subjectivity. If Language poets are skeptical of bourgeois subjectivity and the I-cry, Personists yet cling to an I and its experience—though the amount of "noise" they permit into their poetry suggests a corresponding awareness of interpolation and skepticism on the order of "we know she's not a chickenn, but we need the eggs." The pastoral meeting place retains significance for the Language poets (who did, after all, call their great anthology In the American Tree) as a site where collectivities can assemble or be generated—the tree of communicativity that any Eve with a high tolerance for theoretical discourse can take the fruit from. That's my half-formed idea, anyway. It's all increasingly interesting and increasingly unmanageable, at least insofar as I'd been thinking of writing something with the usual single-author oriented chapters. At what point is it best to make the compromise between the book in your head and the book on paper that will inevitably be less than ideal? Do I somehow do that in advance or during the process of writing, or is it only after it's done that that moment can arrive?

Still in my PJs, if you can believe it. To work.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

My Politics

I can only describe them: the glowing numerals embedded in the pitchscape. No: I can only describe my reactions to the numerals. What colors were there? There was depleted uranium; also, cadmium blue to mark the graves in my brain. From the heights a valley and a lake that does not reflect. The human reflects, but not the perfect human. The perfect human sits down to banquet in squalor. He does a little dance with his hands. I see none of this.

Now I will imagine putting words in an envelope and sending them toward a place of use. Is that performative? Now I am imagining a red phone. Now a human twists on the ground. He's dead now, the lens buries him.

A little song between the teeth like the tip of Jordan's tongue. Place the person where I will recognize him, back to me, the face an unimaginable forward. I can only describe my reaction to the repetition. Oh. Oh again. Is it sin or symptom to be late? It is a mandate to be proud of, to go on with. When I began writing I felt it should go on. So we do.

Behold the flash of lettering, yet you must not see my face. Take these tears and imitate them without looking. Take this swallowed tongue and taste with it. There aren't enough words for surveillance. Or strawberries in a diplomat's bowl. I can only explain the obvious, which doesn't need me, which I need. The difference between tobacco smoke and air power. Summary tread of boots on the ground, where the humans are.

The lamp twists in the air like a green thought shot. The sun shows it to you. I am seated at a table eating and eyes burn the back of my head. This is noir; I'm the star, steadfast as art. That will not say thou, that takes a bow.

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