Thursday, March 31, 2005

O Canada! Two minutes left here at the internet kiosk to say: the readings in Portland and Seattle were awesome, as is the Pacific Northwest generally. Now here in Vancouver with Richard--already met fellow blogger Paul Guest for the first time at a reception yesterday--and today's our panel, after which there will be nothing left to do but go to readings, buy books, and party. If I find a less expensive way to access the internet I'll do a more detailed post then; otherwise you'll have to wait till I return to Ithaca (or at least Trevor's place in Seattle) for my full report.

April Fool's Day update--couldn't get this to post yesterday, so I'll just add that I've met tons more bloggers and our New Nature Writing panel was very well attended and generally a huge success. This morning it's actually sunny out; maybe we'll play hooky for a while and take the ferry to Victoria, a very beautiful and touristy thing to do. More details later when better Internet access is available.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Good morning, Seattle! Long flight and bumpy, too. Consoled myself with an absolute fistful of books:
- The first three essays from Perloff's Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy. She makes a useful distinction between the New Critical practice of "close reading," which tends to neglect the signifier in favor of thematics, and a "differential" practice. May have more to say about this later.

- More chunks of the Zukofsky issue of Chicago Review (they are very slow to update their website—it still shows the Dorn issue). Very stimulating essay on ethics as aesthetics, a topic near to my heart, by Susan Stewart. She's a smart cookie; I want to pick up her Poetry and the Fate of the Senses. Also some good reviews, including one of the newly released Zukofsky-WCW correspondence. I knew Williams was "earthy," but as it turns out he was practically a rapper when it comes to his obsession with sex and mad props. Is there a good biography of him available? Besides his own, I mean.

- The Douanier Rousseau quarter of Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years. I've never had much patience for art criticism and tend to enjoy the biographical stuff more than the commentary on painting. But Shattuck is a lively and interesting writer; it also helps that the paintings he discusses are so familiar.

- Brenda Iijima's Around Sea. More pastoral, though she denies it at one point. Some breathtaking lyrical passages as the whole accumulates into a kind of word-picture that seems to be devoted to depicting what's at stake in our human relations given a recklessly imperiled environment. A hard book to summarzie.

- Jeff Clark's Music and Suicide. I really don't care for the first poem, "A Mantis and Chocolate," which in my initial flip-through had led me to conclude that this book is a serious falling off from The Little Door Slides Back, a book I love. But the book is undismissable when read at a sitting: yes, there are large tracts of self-indulgence, but there's also urgency and what I take to be a deliberately fucked-up euphony about many of the poems—a struggle with decadence encoded in the very language. The central poem/essay, "Shiva Hive," teeters on the edge between pretentiousness and profundity. What most impresses me is the eroticism and violence that's so close to the surface. He's auditioning pretty hard for the role of notre Baudelaire.
All right, Trevor and Richard are now up and wandering around the room and giving me shit about blogging, so it's time to go. Elliot Bay Books, maybe some tourist stuff (Pike Place Market, anyone?), then we have to go rent a car and head down to Portland. See you there!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Gearing up for the big departure on Saturday. Finished my Healey review and my AWP talk, so there's nothing left to do but pack. Hey! Will I see you on my Post-Avant PoWorld Tour 2005 (Abridged)? Here are some places and dates of interest:
PORTLAND, Ore.: On Monday, March 28 at 7:30 PM, Richard Greenfield and I will be reading at Portland State University. Not sure what the exact venue will be.

SEATTLE, Wa.: Tuesday, March 29 at 7:30 PM, Richard and I will be reading at Open Books at 2414 N. 45th Street. Call (203) 633-0811 for more information.

VANCOUVER, B.C.: Thursday, March 31 at 1:30 PM is when our panel on "The New Nature Writing" is happening at the AWP Conference. Again, that's me, Richard, Bin Ramke, Sally Keith, Karen L. Anderson, and Jonathan Skinner with a diverse group of short talks on the relationship between nature and innovative writing. Check us out!

NEW YORK, N.Y.: Tuesday, April 5 at 7 PM, Matthew Burgess and I will be reading as part of the "Experiments and Disorders" series at Dixon Place, 258 Bowery. I'll be putting more emphasis on Fourier Series here than I will at the other readings.
Blogging will be sporadic from here on out but when I get the chance I'll post updates. I'm expecting to meet a lot of bloggers for the first time out there, among other virtual friends and well-wishers. Should be quite a party! Now I just have to decide what I want to take with me to read on the plane....

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The preceding suggests I myself am hardly untempted by the tactics of juxtaposition that characterize the latter-day American surreal. But for me sound is always primary, closely followed by the look of letterforms, with signification (better: the play of signification) and the palpable history of a given phrase or word a close third. Noticing that these prose poems obey certain formal laws which I am somewhat loath to quantify—but I am struck by my tendency to end them with something of a prose couplet (that is, two sentences whose respective endwords rhyme). So I haven't journeyed as far from verse as I might eventually like to do. But the only way I've found to make leaps from the structuring principle of sound is to rely on structuring principles of space as in page-as-field poems. After that the only clear way forward I see is by thinking of structure in a more macro way: would it be possible to orient composition around the paragraph rather than the sentence, line, or phrase? Possible for me, that is; I know it's quite possible for other people.

Is anyone else's sitemeter acting wacky?

Stick Figure Sunset

Ardency of the adrenals blazing on the copperbang roof of a caustic supermarket. Misread determination. Clang and jangle outside the parking lot, Potemkin shopping cart tumbling downstairs. A message from the gonads: go. Track the flight of the bumblebee past the projects and the shambles, haste bittersweeting waste. Tropes for honeylight strewn blinking over the trees. On the St. Charles streetcar a woman is buried deep like nothing else in New Orleans. My maw mau-maus me in the mausoleum made from the girlie magazines of my youth. That yielded to faster honeys, false horse latitudes. A woman represented by a skirt belled by a grating, great. You're with us, my bone china, you're one of the gang now.

Avast ye, Spongebob, but here's a pickle in primary hues: what else might be prehensile? Lute strings snap outside the oratory in synch with the supplicant's libido. Art of underwater. Sword snags on a rictus root and the filibusterers' final hurrah. We're falling backward on brittle golden hinds. Find a history for the cremaster muscle that gestures slyly at my gender, which even dandelions have. Seaplane lands on the Mississippi by a tanker spilling essence and peas. The ferry found a sealane between bruised nature and a Gemeinshaft. Alligator sausage at the cafe. A wilderness of me encircles my campfire nightly.

The Prelude whips to a stop, spitting gravel. My Huffy goes over a bump. This town is porous to my gesture, it seems to swim above the ground. Urgent burden of a nutsack mediated by heated mirrors. In the Navy the floor is a deck, the wall is a bulkhead, the bathroom is a head. Even the pirate navy yo-ho-hos its four to the floor. Wait till I play the race card tapdancing on cheap headstones. They say poverty isn't marriage, at least not in this grandstand. My dog is balding gracefully. My father hands out horny thumbs. If my features lack definition it's easier to bear your face. Carry me under your tongue and gargle your go-cup's light.

My first and only redhead, Zoe, a crown on island experience. Nimbus of the beachballed moon. If you can feel green fire you can feel yourself pitching across the lawn into your clean home plate. The inaudible body's clock puts out matches one by one. A dunce cap, felicity, a snifter in absentia. Rubbing alcohol, cool, it's a cruel summer. Your silence before a beatdown makes us call out your dead name. And if Tricky Dick should hear? My body's an admirable is. Clothes simulate an opening and an envelope's meant to be pushed. Sweat the imitation, Sally, plumb the simile's plum. Purple life before the decayed map of a simmering plain. The City of New Orleans was a train.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A hot shower and some trauma oil took most of the pain away. I feel pretty good, actually—it's a beautiful spring day, and Bogie and I had a fine hour's walk around noontime. Now to see if I can finish that damn paper. Received courtesy of the Slope prize: Jonah Winter's Maine. I seem to be swimming in what I loosely and inaccurately refer to as "American surrealism"; the Steve Healey book I'm reading also falls into that category. In some ways I think it might constitute the new mainstream: Fence is full of this stuff. Sometimes it's spookily effective, often it's merely tiresome, a tic. Generally the more I feel the poet is tapping into an unconscious larger than his or her own, the more interesting I find the poetry. Also I find I get more impatient more quickly with the male practioners of this mode: the sons of James Tate and Dean Young. When women do it (Arielle Greenberg calls it the gurlesque), there's almost always that social dimension because they are trying to break up the calcified structures of the collective feminine unconscious (which are more visible if not more restrictive than those of the masculine unconscious). I think in my own work now I'm becoming interested in tapping into that "masculine unconscious"—hideous beast that it is—without engaging in the same game of dodge-em that I see other male poets using to partially disguise their aggressivity. But maybe that's actually too unbearable to contemplate. Enjoy your symptom! And choose your sublimation wisely.
So I went for a run this morning for the first time in four years: a beautiful spring morning, the perfect occasion for beginning the long march back into some kind of shape. And how am I rewarded? I threw my back out during the final sprint. Phooey. At least it's my upper back—I hear the lower back is more usual, and more painful. But I don't know if I'll be doing much sitting at computers for a while.

Monday, March 21, 2005

A predictably obtuse and petulant response to the letters written in defense of Ammiel Alcalay is now available for your head-shaking perusal. As far as my own part in it goes, I wonder how Lappen's rhetorical question, "Is this really the kind of education that public, taxpayer-funded universities and parents should have to pay for?" fails to constitute a call for censorship, if by "censorship" we mean an action taken to prevent the dissemination of a particular brand of speech or education.

I especially liked this part from the first paragraph: "Incapable of reasoned argument, spewing epithets, pretentious, paranoid, and stupid enough to conspire and provide cause for legal action right in public, they embody, in James Taranto's phrase, a 'toxic mix of self-pity and thuggery… characteristic of an alienated political minority.'" This is a perfect word-for-word description of Lappen's original article and the behavior of the most visible right-wing activists generally—except that they no longer have the excuse of being in the political minority for their behavior.

I hope readers of this blog will continue to join me in wishing Ammiel Alcalay well and in supporting his work. Why not start by checking out a few of his books: After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture, Memories of Our Future: Selected Essays 1982-1999, from the warring factions, and the anthology he edited, Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing.
Why does this strike me as kind of creepy? Not just the ad itself, but the concept? Somehow this confirms me in my suspicion that The Believer, though in many ways an admirable magazine, has it in for poets and poetry.
Beginning the long run-up to Vancouver and AWP this week. I am finishing the little paper I'll be giving as part of the "New Nature Writing" panel that Bin Ramke, Richard Greenfield, Sally Keith, Karen L. Anderson, Jonathan Skinner, and myself are doing on Thursday, March 31 at 1:30 PM in the Hyatt Regency Plaza "B," 2nd floor. Got all that? My essay has the blandly overambitious title "The Nature of Writing" right now; at the moment it resembles a cage match between Mary Oliver and Louis Zukofsky. Guess who wins? I also have this other piece I'm fooling around with, "Theses on Pastoral," which would perhaps be more fun but I'm not sure how to finish it. It would have the virtue of brevity.

In preparation for thinking about both nature and Canada, I'm getting a lot of pleasure out of Christopher Dewdney's book The Natural History, an often erotic meditation on a world-landscape that ranges from Ontario to Brazil and from paleolithic times to the present day. If D.H. Lawrence moved to Toronto, earned a degree in paleontology, and wrote a history of sex (in the broadest possible terms), it might look like this:
Wooden alveoli erect and fragile
in the rarefied air of October, leaves
frosted-glass, rock chapel orange and red.
The sky no longer enclosing us. The sound
of a distant airplane blossoming into clarity
and not enclosed. Eels pulled from
the canal. Even the planets are motile,
hoary with diamonds above the chiming
sunset. She wims alone and naked
in a clear October lake. A white building
stands free and O the spirits looks dimly
out from there.
It's a noun-heavy poetry, approaching the problem of nouns from the opposite direction Stein chose: Dewdney's vocabulary is estranging in its accuracy, its deployment of unfamiliar, often scientific terms (or as he himself says, "Linnaeus a certain key"). (Stein defamiliarizes through deliberate vagueness, slippage of shifters, repetition, until we are half persuaded she is providing us with a record of the numinous, or at least of consciousness.) I'm becoming very interested in Canadian poetry generally: their mainstream seems much more alive to linguistic play and possibility than ours, if the little work I've seen (by Dewdney, Anne Carson, Lisa Robertson, Erin Moure, Steve McCaffrey) is any evidence. Vancouver should be a good opportunity to see and acquire a bit more of it.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

My stick is kind of boring and canonical, I realize, and suspiciously androcentric. But with the desert island stuff especially I find I crave writing that's full of talk and personalities, and lots of it. Much as I love Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans doesn't quite fit the bill. But perhaps I should substitute the Franklin 3-volume edition of Emily Dickinson (which I'm lucky enough to actually own: a birthday present from my own Emily) for the Milton. Joyce has to stay: I'm gonnna be craving urban experience on that island. Proust is one of those never-had-time to get around to it deals (though I've read about half of Swann's Way)—if you've got the time, why not do it in French? Hopefully I'd be completely fluent by the time I was rescued.

Trying not to be utterly disheartened by the swelling roar of religio-political fanaticism that our polis is currently drowning in: the Schiavo mess, the "nuclear option" in the Senate, ANWAR drilling, IMAX afraid to show films about evolution—the list goes on, in large ways and small. We are sliding into the Dark Ages here, people. I'm increasingly revolted by religiosity and tribalisms and patriotisms of all descriptions. Where's our Voltaire? Where to find the ceaseless and bitter and accurate mockery that our political culture so richly deserves? The table is so far to the right it's on its side—when will the machine say TILT?
I've been watching that pesky "stick" circle around blogland for a while. Finally it's my turn, thanks to Kevin. Okay then.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?

I think some people have been misled by this question: in the novel, this doesn't mean a book to be burned but a book that a resistance member chooses to memorize and thus "become." So I'd probably choose the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass (the later editions are too long).

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Like Kevin, I too have had a thing for Death from the Sandman comics. Beatrice as embodied by Emma Thompson in Much Ado About Nothing. And two Lucas-heroines were crucial to my pubesence: the bikini-clad Leia of Return of the Jedi and the sassy, blue-eyed, probably alcoholic heroine of Raiders of the Lost Arc, Marion Ravenwood aka Karen Allen. Guess I'm too visual a guy to have a crush on purely literary women, unlike the hapless hero of Woody Allen's great short story, "The Kugelmass Episode."

The last book you bought is:

Peter Gizzi's Some Values of Landscape and Weather.

The last book you read is:

Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day.

What are you currently reading?

The twentieth anniversary issue of Verse, James R. Mellow's Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company, Steve Healey's Earthling (I'm reviewing it for Bridge), Steve Benson's Blue Book, Jed Rasula's This Compost: Ecological Imperatives in American Poetry, and the first edition Dungeon Master's Guide.

Five books you'd take with you to a deserted island:

I'm assuming that a copy of the Bible and a complete edition of Shakespeare are gimmes, here. The other books are chosen for voluminousness (lots of time to kill), rereadability (ditto), and the company they'd provide:

1) John Milton, Complete Poems and Major Prose.
2) J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.
3) Complete works of Rilke in German.
3a) a German-English dictionary.
4) James Joyce, Ulysses.
5) Marcel Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu.
5a) a French-English dictionary.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 people) and why?

This stick dies with me, but y'all should feel free to answer it on your own blogs or webpages or church newsletters or whatever.

Friday, March 18, 2005

A shout out to Action Books, the new publishing outfit from Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göoransson. They have books forthcoming from Lara Glenum, Aase Berg, and Arielle Greenberg.

Off to hear my colleague Alex Papanicolopoulos talk about a paper he wrote on Stein's Stanzas in Meditation.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Working sporadically on Kiosk/Stylus. I'd like to make a chapbook of it when I'm done. Gonna get some feedback from a few folks I'll be seeing in and around the AWP conference at the end of the month. I should be writing my paper that I'm going to present. The major distinction I want to draw, I think, is between nature as it's deployed in Romantic writing (that is, the Wordsworthian encounter with nature in service to the poet's subjectivity), which is still the most common strategy, versus the nature in what I'm calling avant-garde or on alternate days postmodern pastoral, which decenters the poet in the service of some sort of critique or imaginative gesture that presents the sensual impact of the natural object. For example, hearing Anne Carson about Francis Bacon persuades me that a project like Zukofsky's 80 Flowers is intended to present the reader with the nerve sensation of the flower in question without bothering to represent that flower. The poet's "I" never appears, and the artifice of the presentation (5 words per line, 8 lines each) is an attempt to metonymically preserve the flower in its flowerness. Zukofsky does not, unfortunately for me, rise to the challenge of rewriting Wordsworth's "The Daffodils", but compare that poem with another, humbler flower of Zukofsky's:

No blanch witloof handbound dry
heart to racks a comb
lion's-teeth thistlehead golden-hair earth nail
flower-clock up-by-pace dandle lion won't
dwarf lamb closes night season
its long year dumble-dor bumbles
cure wine blowball black fall's-berry
madding sun mixen seeded rebus
I couldn't guess what this "means," but I am ravished by the language presented to me as a flower: that is, as natural beauty, purposive without purpose, eluding proposition and concept while yet failing to be actually meaningless (for example there's a riff on the famous Bible verse with "dandle lion won't / dwarf lamb"). To assert the "naturalness" of language is perhaps no less Romantic than Wordsworth's affirmation that his heart "dances with the daffodils," but it's Romantic on another plane entirely, affirming not the glory of Zukofsky's subjectivity but the glory of sheer communicativity. At the same time it matters that these are flowers and not, say, automobiles (though it's an intriguing thought).

Maybe I should just read some blog entries aloud at the panel. Anyway, that's where my mind is wandering this evening. I'm late for a Soon meeting now.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

White Male Rage

The garden they promised us has had its pubes shaved
to titilate the clean passage of waters between
us and our solemn envy. Ambivalence toward power sheds its scanty beams
on the maps of our mothers' bodies. On every ground the locust,
I mean the locus, finds its honey-nipple radiant toward stubble.
Point to point circumvented by cello imitation,
husk of sound reverberating in the history of edged implements.
My share in plough's busted. My animal in the dark
comes unleashed from the clavicle, burns south, lifts its head
to sniff out the head. Women beware women each fixed in her pose,
their cigarettes fixed like chalk describing blackboards of the air.
Indistinguishable layers and a hunger to tear through them.
Desire to wield this Sharpie, its single blackless color.
Find a stubborn cleft's field to derive my body's champion.
Not entirely geography holds out hope for our hackles at bay,
a wonder to come under the story of abs and jello shots.
Paradise bleaches me, a poor thing but mine own.
A discarded toner cartridge. A magazine for a gun.
Furrow in my forehead finds a furred pain in the world.
Cracked teacup of her sex and my eyes about their business,
seeking the negative space of pleasure, my own face to avoid.
Dyspeptic post deleted.
Holy crap! Thanks, Jasper, for bringing my attention to the work of Jennifer Scappettone. The poems with the thin black lines across the page ("The Carapace" at that link and also this excerpt from a poem called "Beauty (Is the New Absurdity") produced instantaneously the jealous "Wish I'd written that" reaction that is the hallmark of exciting poetry. Something about the way the lines organize the page (it's more obvious with "Beauty" since you can see the whole thing at a glance) means the words themselves don't have to do as much structural heavy lifting—and what words! Gorgeous Shakespeare's skull cracked open and Baudelaire's black flag planted there: "we opheliacs under altered ocean fishes under spell of the pill & silver like"; "swear to me upon a parcel-gilt goblet, sitting in my Dolphin chamber, // at the round table, by a sea-coal fire, upon Wednesday in Wheeson week // whose frequency makes of ugliness a duty till Daybreak." Feel like I've dropped in on an epic in progress, or at least a method and sensibility capable of considerable scope that marries lyric to the social, to the event. Jealous, jealous. What can I steal for Kiosk/Stylus?

Does this woman have a book? If not, why not? Somebody publish one, immediately!
Re: the Campus Watch nonsense, Kent Johnson has asked me to post the following letter (apologies for any oddness in the formatting):

I may disagree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.
~ Voltaire
'We have our eye on watch out'
~ Campus Watch?
Dear Campus Watch,
American Thinker,
Alyssa A. Lappen, and

In a recent article “Poetry, terror and political narcissism” published by American Thinker on March 4, 2005, Alyssa Lappen claims that “Poetry is a window on the human soul,” and when it happens she doesn’t like the view from this particular window she wishes to seal it… Great! I can’t help but applaud this genius decision. It is as democratic and in compliance with humanity and civil liberties as it gets!

Unlike Alyssa, I’ve been raised in a “communist” country, and I claim to know about the evil of communism better than she does. I lived there and saw it for what it was. I know that I should not believe my own eyes but Alyssa’s believes, but sometimes I’m tempted to ask questions… This time it’s: “What’s the kind of freedom you promote?”

About the claim that “Alcalay disseminates a mythical tolerance that never existed,” I would like to tell Alyssa and anybody who wants to know, that the mythical tolerance is not only possible, but was actually achieved in my country (Bulgaria) where Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived in peace until the ethnical differences were seen as a good dividing tool used to manipulate and segregate at times when the public attention had to be taken away from other immediate economical or political issues…

Since these questions:
“Is this really the kind of education that public, taxpayer-funded universities and parents should have to pay for? And is this the kind of poetry that will be of any interest even a year from now, much less for the ages?”
were asked, and as a member of all three groups (taxpayers, students, and parents), I feel obligated to say that I need my right to decide what is good for me and my children, and I don’t need protection from “above.” I’ll be honored to be able to be in touch with people like Ammiel Alcalay, Joe Safdie, and the like. As far as what will be read years from now… who may be so ignorant to claim to know? Why don’t just let people read and decide for themselves? Oh, you DON’T want them to read! I see – THAT’s what I call education!

Rosie Chkodrov

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Don't have it in front of me right now, but one thing I'm meditating on today is the interview Eve Grubin conducts with Fanny Howe in that new issue of Lyric I received yesterday: how Howe seems to think of poetry primarily and brodaly as a means of mental organization, a structure similar in kind if not degree to organized religion. Some fascinating comments on being a half-atheist Catholic as well, and how in spite of everything she believes the Catholic Church still offers one of the most workable maps of human reality. As a three-quarters atheist Jew I have a little trouble with Howe's Catholicism except as a kind of organizing fact for her poetry, an interpretation she herself might endorse. She's a convert so her Catholicism is really a peculiar mutant thing and not the catalogue of bizarre imagery and the palpable presence of God that I find usually characterizes Catholic writers. Maybe I just expect a Catholic's actual writing to be lush and tangible yet freighted with a burden of numinousness. Howe's severity and restraint align her more with a mystic like Simone Weil, while her investigative moralism reminds me of Graham Greene. Her book The Wedding Dress is illuminating in these respects and her career as a whole provides I suppose a welcome example of leftist religiosity. Religion in general as a rigid means of organizing mass mentalities continues to give me the jibblies. But when an individual makes use of doctrine to organize her own idiosyncratic experience I get more interested.

Monday, March 14, 2005

My poems are popping up everywhere: at the new issue of Kulture Vulture (check out work by bloggers Jim Behrle and kari edwards while you're at it), plus I got my contributor's copies of the new Lyric and the mammoth 20th anniversary issue of Verse. Wishing for a week on a desert island to browse through the latter.
Alright, you'll just have to settle for my notes on the Carson lecture instead of the usual impeccably crafted blog post. Here goes:
Anne Carson @ A.D. White House. "Variations on the Right to Remain Silent."

Patrician and severe in appearance, lightened by bright red glasses frames that are just a little sexy. Surprisingly girlish voice, unpretentious and self-deprecating: "this is such an abstract conference and I'm not a very abstract person."

"In my real life I read a lot of crime fiction." Impulse to treat an Elmore Leonard novel as if it were a bilingual translation: "When I don't like a sentence I look to the facing page to see what he really said." Bilingual trans. creates mythical third position between original language and English, a "true" text, though silent.

Mδλυ—the herb Hermes gave to Odysseus to protect him from Circe's magic. Here's the passage from Book Ten of The Odyssey that we have here at the Bookery in Allen Mandelbaum's translation:
"When that was said, he gave his herb to me;
he plucked it from the ground and showed what sort
of plant it was. Its root was black; its flower
was white as milk. It's moly for the gods;
for mortal men, the mandrake—very hard
to pluck; but nothing holds against the gods.
A word left untranslated by Homer to suggest the language of the gods. "You cannot define, possess, or make use of" this language. The word obscured by Homer as though by a smudge of greenish white paint (this refers to a Francis Bacon painting)—not the faces of the gods but their words are obscured. The gods distinguished from humans only in that they have learned "how not to die."

The resort to cliché: "Don't we already know what we think about this?"

Joan of Arc's long trial and the attempts of her inquisitors to translate the language of the voices she heard into approved juridical and theological forms. Joan: "The light comes in the name of the voice." Reply to a question about the plural vs. singular nature of the voices.

Refers to David Sylvester's book Interviews with Francis Bacon: The Brutality of Fact. Bacon's attempt to render "the facts" in his painting—the very "jar on the nerves" (Woolf). Bacon sought to convey the feeling of being in the presence of his subject, not the subject: "he wants to translate the feeling to your nerves through paint."

"A yes or no question forbids a word to stop itself."

Bacon: "to grant sensation without the boredom of its conveyance." [I love this: this statement sums up an enormous portion of what I try both to transmit in and to get from poetry.]

"There is a tendency for story to slip in between ay two figures or any two marks on a canvas." Bacon uses color to eliminate this gap; also aleatory flings of paint and defacements of figures. "To speed your eye and denounce storytelling."

[Carson's relative popularity interests me because I believe she's carrying a torch for high modernism and has uncovered an appetite for that in her public. Even if it's only another sensation: the sublime of difficulty rendered somewhat more digestible.]

Of Bacon's famous study (I'd like to say "rewriting") of Velasquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X
"He wants to convey the sensation, not the sensational; the scream and not the horror." And: "He has made a painting of silence in which silence silently rips." The essence of reality is violence?

A Greek word: KALCAINEIN means "to search for the purple flower" but it also means "to search in the depths of one's mind, to brood darkly." A line from Hölderlin's infamous translation of Antigone: Du schienst ein rotes Wort zu farben.. "You seem to color your words red." A word from Hölderlin's letters attempting to describe his vision of translation: "livingly."

Joan of Arc, Bacon, Hölderlin: strugglers against cliché who thrust their arms into their media. Violence against cliché to disrupt probability. Bacon's "free marks are a gesture of rage." "Why did Eve put a free mark on that apple? Is it simply that she was bored?"

Hölderlin called translation, "a salutary gymnastics of the mind." Translation opens a space between chaos and naming. From marginalia Hölderlin added to one of his poems: "Often enough I tried language; often enough I tried song. But they didn't hear you."

"To sum up: honestly I am not very good at summing up."

[A writer has to keep breaking the ice (frozen sea within, etc.)—that's why a real artist has to keep changing. A strong style is more in peril of cliché than a weak one.]

[Pastoral perhaps implies violence—violence deferred to another realm—Arcadia has been spared from terrible violence that persists as a kind of exteriorized trauma. Violence of conceptualization-generalization.]

"Q&A is not about knowledge, it's about loneliness."

"A lecture is more like a gift. a poetry reading, is, let's face it, all about me."
And here are my much sparser notes about Leslie Scalpino's talk:
Discussing her books Crowd and not evening or light and The Tango.

"Separating existence from oneself in order to look at it and discover that it is not separate."

Referring to the effect sought by the text of Crowd, punctuated mostly by dashes: "The scene duplicates natural actual seeing yet produces this dome effect at once."

Interior as mental experience imitated ins eeing—phrases set by dashes create the illusion of exteriorizing the interior? Similar to the flat eye of a camera. "Consecutive seeing": the abstraction of occurrences. "That which is mental seems to be an action on its own in real terrain." I find this similar to Carson's emphasis on depicting the impact of experience and not the experience.

"Condensation entails an entire scene being in front of one yet unfolding." Trying to train the reader, to transfer one's awareness in front of one's eyes.

In the last section of the book an incommensurate relation exists between the photos (very ordinary flat b&w photos of people at the beach, mostly) and the text yet they seem to comment on and explicate each other. [Gap between photo and text another "third place"?] "The phrases are directly mind shreds." "Attention in that space as the instant of reading."

"Text appears as physical phenomena alongside mental phenomena."

"The subjunctive is only social." Reading from The Tango. A repeated phrase, "black dawn," causes me to hear the chiasmus of "b" and "d."

"Reading being seeing one's mind's activity."
That's all I got from the Scalapino lecture. I only feel I understand ten percent of what I read of hers, or what she says, but that ten percent is so exciting I continue to be interested in everything she does. She came to our reading, incidentally, and stayed for drinks and a late dinner after with Peter and Liz—I was very pleased to see that. Someone who never for an instant relaxes her grip on a discourse capable of the furthest flights, which is exhilarating and frustrating to be around. Hearing her speak, and looking at The Tango, which is perfectly described as simply an "art book," I realized that I might have an easier time approaching her if I think of her as an artist rather than as a poet. The literary apparatus I haul out to measure each new poet against, to provisionally "place" him or her, doesn't work very well with Scalapino; the best I can come up with is that she's a Language poet who refuses the label and who is even highly critical of the Language poetry project. But if I think of her as a visual artist or conceptual artist I've cleared away enough space for her work to have at least some of its intended effect on me. It's also been helpful to hear her after Carson's remarkable performance, which as I've already indicated used Joan of Arc and Francis Bacon to create new possibilities for understanding not so much the translation of poetry but rather poetry as translation. The space between significations is what matters most with Scalapino, I think; the dashes fascinate as they do in Dickinson. Glad I saw her; glad I saw what there is to see.
Blogger just ate a post about the Anne Carson lecture and that's left me too crabby to rewrite it. Maybe later. I do, however, need to issue a correction: when I said Elizabeth Robinson below, I of course meant Elizabeth Willis. I'm going to edit that post so it says the right thing. My apologies to Liz.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Lots to say about the last few days and no time to say it right now. I will say that it's been a remarkable week, with the usually quiet Cornell campus suddenly a hive of poetry-related activity. Bob Kaufman's lecture on Marx and poetry Wednesday, Norma Cole on Thursday, Anne Carson's fascinating lecture on Friday (plus the arrival of Peter Gizzi and Elizabeth Willis), and then yesterday: Leslie Scalapino talking about Crowd and not evening or light and her stunning book of photos/poems from Granary, The Tango, then hanging out with Peter and Liz all afternoon, then their amazing reading at the gallery that evening (to a record crowd of 53 people—we need to invest in some chairs!). They are wonderful readers and amazing people and if you ever get a chance to hear them or meet them, do so.

I have notes on the Carson lecture and a few other things I'd like to transcribe, but right now I have to get ready for the Sunday afternoon D&D game. Will our brave adventurers ever escape from... the Haunted Mines? Stay tuned!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Jason Stuart and Steve Evans both question the wisdom of engaging people who, as Steve says, "repeatedly demonstrate contempt for rational discourse." It's an excellent point and one I considered before launching my little salvo. But I felt directly called upon by the attack on Alcalay, whose work I admire so deeply, and since Lapper's article mentioned his presentation at Cornell, which I saw (it was terrific—Jane Sprague published a little chapbook of his talk and I think it's still available from her). The choices are distasteful ones: either we let these people rave on and continue to force the center of our national discourse further and further to the right (it continues to astonish me that capital-E establishment folks like Howard Dean and Dan freaking Rather can be called "liberals"), or we engage them and risk getting their spittle all over our faces. The real task is not engaging in debate, but in reframing it: to make an appearance on the O'Reilly Factor (in the metaphorical sense) is to already have lost the most important battle. In that respect, I may have let myself be baited. But that famous saying of Martin Niemöller's would have haunted me if I'd said nothing or even if I'd just made a few contemptuous remarks here on the blog:
When the Nazis arrested the Communists,
I said nothing; after all, I was not a Communist.
When they locked up the Social Democrats,
I said nothing; after all, I was not a Social Democrat.
When they arrested the trade unionists,
I said nothing; after all, I was not a trade unionist.
When they arrested the Jews, I said nothing; after all, I was not a Jew.
When they arrested me, there was no longer anyone who could protest.
Fistful of poetry and poetry-related events at Cornell this weekend. Yesterday Norma Cole gave a very moving reading at the A.D. White House: mostly she read from translations of French poets including one, Danielle Collobert, who has an absolutely haunting personal story. Norma Cole is recovering from a stroke: the right side of her body appears to be paralyzed and her speech is halting, though more fluent when she reads. The most emotional moment came when she played a CD of herself reading some translations just before the stroke while she sat to one side and listened to her older, fluent self. But I was struck by the experience of hearing her read in her partially paralyzed voice: it put a new edge, a new inscription, on the language. Most modern French poetry, in my experience, is highly abstract; her shaky voice re-embodied it. I was reminded of the effect Ilya Kaminsky's thick Russiann accent had had on the experience of hearing his own language—the absence of complete fluency really does hit your nervous system differently. It really takes so little to knock the experience of reading off-center and so to enter the sphere of the literary.

This afternoon Anne Carson is giving her talk and I'm certainly eager to hear that. Hopefully arriving in time for that talk will be Peter Gizzi and Elizabeth Willis, who have come to read in our Soon reading series tomorrow at 8 PM at the State of the Art Gallery in Ithaca. I've met Peter once briefly but I'm looking forward to meeting him in earnest. And of course I'm excited about meeting Elizabeth, who is one of my grood poets. Not least, tomorrow Leslie Scalapino will be giving a talk. It's a veritable festival of postmodern poetry, folks—join us if you can.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I'm not in a mood to suffer fools gladly, which is why I'm glad to see this intelligent Ashbery review by Meghan O'Rourke over at Slate. Much better than the nonsense Charles McGrath was spouting this weekend. On a more serious note, there's the pernicious calumny against Ammiel Alcalay and others that Lisa Jarnot is calling our attention to. Here is the letter I just sent to both Campus Watch and The American Thinker, as Lisa has suggested:
Dear Sir or Madam:

I read Alyssa A. Lappen's essay "Poetry, terror and political narcissism" with mingled dismay and irritation. I am a poet who has published one book and has another on the way; I am also a PhD candidate at Cornell and was present at the November 2002 Cornell University panel that Lappen alludes to. The "shameless diatribe" against "remarkable, remarkable... [American] ignorance" that she attributes to Alcalay has been met by a diatribe of surpassing shamelessness and all too unremarkable ignorance that ends with nothing less than a call for censorship (apparently Campus Watch's most favored method of "improving" our universities). I am not going to defend Alcalay's ideas here because he is more than capable of doing that himself; I will remind Ms. Lappen, however, that to be opposed to Israeli policy against the Palestinians or even to be anti-Zionist is not to be anti-Jewish or even necessarily anti-Israel. (For the record, I myself am Jewish.) Just as opposition to American foreign policy can mean an intense commitment to the Enlightenment ideals that inspired this country's founders, so can opposing destructive Israeli policies mean a deep love for one's fellow Jews and a wish for their long-term survival, as well as a capacity for empathizing with the suffering of others. "You're either with us or against us" makes a good sound bite, but it doesn't begin to address the complexity of the moral situation that Israelis and Palestinians are caught up in and that in a real sense holds the entire world hostage today.

Albert Einstein once said, "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." Neither politics nor poetry are as simple as Lappen wants them to be. Both are or ought to be about imagining alternatives to the world as history has given it to us; they ought to serve as affirmations of the diversity of human subjectivity. In Alcalay's case, that means uncovering histories that have been covered up and giving them new life in his writing. He presents an alternative to a media culture that, working in cahoots with a government that has a huge stake in the control of information, likes to make everything simpler. For Lappen, Alcalay's real crime is the mingling of politics with poetry, which she declares to be "a window on the human soul"--a concept sufficiently abstract and lofty as to protect poetry from being polluted by politics--and vice-versa. Improving on Auden, she would claim that poetry SHOULD make nothing happen; instead, "Alcalay and his type draw together extreme leftist sharks and deliberately encourage misunderstanding, misapprehension and anarchy." Leaving aside the contemptuous "his type" which carries historical overtones of both anti-Semitism and anti-intellectualism, I am willing as one of that "type" to stipulate to one of Lappen's accusations: the encouragement of anarchy. Not in the chaotic and violent sense that Lappen misapprehends, but in the original Greek sense of "no rulers." Thinking for yourself ought to be a value that even Campus Watch could applaud, but apparently any act of thinking, speaking, or writing that does not reaffirm the world picture offered by Fox News verges on treachery. However, poetry isn't about affirming pictures, even Alcalay's. Poetry breaks up calcified habits of speech and thought in order to enable us to see language, and the world-in-language, anew. Put another way, if poetry is "for the ages" then what use is it to us? William Carlos Williams: "It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there." I find it telling that Lappen makes no references to Alcalay's actual poetry. Either she hasn't read it, or else it contained news she couldn't use: that the world is complex, that political and economic injustice are real, that the enemy--every enemy--has a human face.

Poetry does make something happen, even if it's only to enrage those with extreme right-wing political agendas. I for one am pleased to hear it. And if you're making an enemies list of anarchists, poets, peaceniks, and intellectuals, I'd be glad if you'd add me to it. It is a roll of infinite honor.


Joshua Corey
A few additions to the blogroll: Mark Scroggins, America's premier Zukofsky scholar, has a new blog called Culture Industry. Be curious to see what he does with it. Also appearing are the amazingly popular blog of Michael Bérubé (that's the last time I'll take the trouble to get his accents right) and the Samizdat Blog of Robert Archambeau. Robert, who for some reason spells "Zukofsky" as "Zukovsky," is continuing the work of the late great Samizdat, which as I understand it approached the question of avant-garde poetry from both a Constructivist angle and in the sense of samizdat: the underground mimeographed magazines that kept literary culture alive in the Soviet Union. There's an interesting tension there since the early Russian avant-garde saw itself as being in service to the Revolution while the samizdat writers were opposing it or at least the regime of its implementation. A samizdat publication is ipso facto avant-garde, though under Soviet conditions I imagine it would have been less interested in attacking the institution of art than in asserting artistic autonomy in opposition to the totalitarian state. Archambeau reminds us that "samizdat" means merely "self-published" at the end of an editorial he wrote in the magazine's early days. Self-publishing was and continues to be a way of challenging the frames and filters around cultural production today, but it's too broad a category to be even a medium in my view, and thus it can't carry much of a message. It's only perhaps when self-publishing deliberately avoids the imitation of "real" publishing (check out this story about Oprah stickers) that it carries a dissonant charge. My own blog started out in service to my "real" publications but it's become something more: an interface with other writers, a means of positioning myself in the constantly shifting cultural landscape, and a laboratory for literary creation. I don't think though that it manifests a genuine "do-it-yourself" production ethic; those projects require collaboration of some kind, even if it's only the pseudo-hierarchical collaboration of editors with writers. Right now Soon and the Aubergine chapbook are the only DIY projects I've taken an active hand in creating, but I'm interested in doing more of them. Or I will be when my dissertation is finished.

In that editorial I mentioned, Archambeau writes about the current poetry world as being spatialized more along the lines of an archipelago than a margin and mainstream. Against the view of creative writing programs as the source of conformist malaise he asserts the potential of programs with a scholarly bent like that of the University of Illinois at Chicago: "In the murky Sargasso Sea of writing programs these universities seem to me to be bright islands of literacy and linguistic energy." Now this of course corresponds with my own preferences and prejudices, but it was not always so. I remember paging through the AWP's phone-book sized tome of creative writing programs back in 1996 looking at their breakdown of each program's particular orientation: "studio," "studio/acadmic," and "academic" (or maybe it was "scholarly"). The programs I considered were all "studio" or "studio/academic" because I was at the time most concerned, as I think many people still are, with "time to write." "Studio" programs are almost wholly concerned with writing with few if any non-workshop requirements; "academic" programs tended to offer MA degrees plus workshops; your typical MFA program falls in the middle. The program I eventually chose at The University of Montana was typical in that respect. No one was more surpised than I when I became interested in studying literary theory and Renaissance literature, and I was a little astonished to find myself working on MA and MFA degrees simultaneously, producing in two years a thesis on Christopher Marlowe and a "thesis" of poems (some of which did end up in Selah). For me, at least, the two disciplines feed each other (they "synergize," if you will) and that continues to be the case; I don't think I've slacked off my poetry production in any discernible way in the past four years at Cornell. Of course, immediately after Montana I got a taste of a pure "studio" program: the Stegner Fellowship. It was very, very nice to be able to structure my days entirely around my own writing and reading, so much so that the two workshops a week we were required to attend quickly began to seem like a nuisance. (I think they've scaled it back to once a week, now.) I got plenty of work done: I wrote Fourier Series at Stanford. But I found I missed the discipline of literary study; I missed reading with an eye to writing and thinking. Perhaps the biggest problem with "studio" MFA programs is that "creative writing" is not a coherent discipline in the sense I'm using it here. In an English department, it adapts itself as negative space to what everyone else is doing: creative writing is everything that isn't scholarship. If you're doing both, creative writing comes as a welcome release from the rules of academic discourse. The trouble is that creative writing as such has come to have its own rules of discourse, ones which tend to remain invisible to its participants and which are only occasionally concretized by critics. The term "McPoem" is one of these occasions, through which we recognize the impact of consensus—a social demand reified by the workshop structure—on poems idealized as means of personal expression. A workshop that actually attempted to produce poetry on a consensus basis, on the other hand, might be an interesting DIY experiment. I'm not suggesting that I want creative writing to become a discipline in a prescriptive sense—what a nightmare for those who think MFA programs are already the source of all literary evil!—only that discipline in the broader sense has to come from somewhere. More "advanced" writers bring that to the table themselves; I suppose that's why there's no degree for the Stanford program, which describes itself as being for "working artists" rather than students. But what about those who are still feeling their way, the ones most likely to sign up for an MFA? Education is really such a fragile, contingent creature; I think the best education is that which creates a framework for understanding one's cultural moment and then sends you on your way to fill in the details—it makes committed autodidacts out of its students.

I continue to be attracted to the framework offered by English PhD study because it feels flexible enough to encompass my interests yet firm enough to provide the benefits of concentrated work. Maybe what we need are more joint degree programs, but in an interdisciplinary context with something for everybody: MFA/PhDs with PhDs offered in anthropology, philosophy, art history, what have you; and MFA/JDs, MFA/MDs, even MFA/MBAs. About as realistic as combining all U.S. intelligence under a single person, but maybe more desirable.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The below comes straight from my notebook except for the last sentence that I wrote three times:

"When you repeat yourself that's style."
"Once you repeat yourself, there's style."
"Once you've repeated yourself there's a style."


Post-glamorous incompleteness theorem. Paused in a line of force: two people talking past the monkey in the middle, hands arrested halfway to his ears. Banal necessary connections: ass to seat, eyes to page, cup to lips, vibe to air. The medium is tall. People work at their computers stacking virtual bricks. Brick _____ house. We are all turning whiter in the hillside light except for a negligible percentage. Christ is coming in a white apron with breasts behind. Sexual stick in the anthill, ringing pockets. Midst of this. Should I fly to Germany or France? Should I sail a fellowship to its end? Amcha—our nation—anguish. The young man's sotto voce—it's a woman on the other end. He speaks so not to startle her. He flourishes rank privacy. Two black brows striving to be one. What itches: the pronoun. This embarrasses the floor, that’s recognized by a chair. I came down on the volleyball, I just kind of hit it. Broke it. I did fracture. Six weeks. Hand in this weather, my crutches slick. Adjustable like the boys of summer rising and falling in that Don Henley video. A Henley's a collarless shirt primitively squibbed on Gene Hackman doing the bullet dance in front of a garage. Blood suggests itself and we are progressively obtuse from Bonnie & Clyde to Unforgiven. Out of this country I'll think in sentences. Grammar will bare its thighs on a narrow pension staircase. Wo ist? Es gibt. Il pleut. Suggests a man behind it all, even this.

Why isn't folk music about the folk any more? A woman alone with her guitar and her brief history of empowerment. If we sing along are we folked? What people sing in their cars: gospel, 50 Cent, Britney Spears. Something scrolls by: the idea of musical neighborhood. Does my lack of affect signal a hidden drama? What's the subtext to my noodle? Rules for improvisation: a large bad picture smashed over Buster Keaton's head. He steps through the window to star in American Gothic. Kevin Spacey bleeds on it. Simulation of paint peeling off weathered wood and metal. What sacrifices we've made for our aesthetics of consumption! Where's the heroic worker's angular piston’s potency? Equality on these terms. People walk by with cords trailing behind their backs to the places they are known. There's a small audience for this. Am I sufficiently literary on the bus? I missed my moment, I go on missing it. Last of the big-time bloggers turns out the light when he leaves. Rotten eggs. While this hand is moving the other one can rest.

Iron cagematch and the tragedy of the work ethic: spinning our wheels in solitary for the salvation of a social whole. Broken axle, snow. Its sibilance blisses out the kneelers. Stuck CD makes a partial flutter, a melody perpetually getting up off its chair. A beat you can dance to, infrathin. I don't have to read the news if I don't want to. I can be poor and get a tax break. It's never been easier to make up your mind. Italy? Windswept plain outside Pisa, find Pound’s misnamed mountain. I certainly do like dogs. Mount Misnomer, hung juries, legal lynching. Is there a music to this I don’t recognize? If I refuse the myth of mother's heartbeat stacking iambs by the curb? The long I's peculiar to English, no? I prefer an O to funnel my residual religious feeling. Message in a bottle. Are there prodigies of faith, little Mozarts of credulity? Pleasure isn't pleasing. Am I interesting enough to write like this? Little dog, roll over. The author is born free but is everywhere in chains. Only the second-hand divides the unmemorable afternoon. An inch of accumulation expected. Times you forget where you are. Those are real flowers on each glass table. I hear it's a Christian place—see the saw over the door painted with "Give us this day our daily bread." A saw like you cut trees with. Some redundancy there in the department. Acts of vanishing. Once you've repeated yourself there's a style.

Just in case you're too lazy to click on this here Soon Productions link, here's info on the upcoming reading:
SOON Productions Presents a Poetry Reading featuring Elizabeth Willis and Peter Gizzi.

Ithaca, NY, 3/12/05: Poets Elizabeth Willis and Peter Gizzi will be reading their own poetry at the State of the Art Gallery at 120 W. State Street in downtown Ithaca on Saturday, March 12 at 8:00 PM.The reading is free and open to the public.

Elizabeth Willis was born in Baharain and grew up in the American midwest. She holds a Ph.D. from SUNY Buffalo and teaches at Weslyan University in Middletown, CT. She has published three books of poems: Turneresque (Burning Deck, 2003), The Human Abstract (Penguin 1995: National Poetry Series winner), and Second Law (Berkeley: Avenue B, 1993). Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Aufgabe, Chicago Review, Conjunctions, The Germ, How2, and others.

Peter Gizzi was born in 1959 and grew up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. His poetry collections include Some Values of Landscape and Weather (Wesleyan, 2003); Artificial Heart (Burning Deck, 1998); and Periplum (Avec, 1992). In fall of 2004 Salt Publishing in England reprinted his first book with 60 pages of early and uncollected work as Periplum and other poems (1987-92). He has been awarded artist grants from The Fund for Poetry, Rex Foundation, the Howard Foundation, and most recently, The Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts. In 1994 he received the Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets. His editing projects have included o×blêk: a journal of language arts, the Exact Change Yearbook (Carcanet 1995), and The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan, 1998).

This event was funded in part by Poets & Writers, Inc., through a grant it has received from The NY State Council on the Arts.
Also of great interest to poetry-lovers in these parts has to be this reading by Norma Cole happening on Thursday:
poet and translator

Reads from her Work

THURSDAY, March 10, 1:30 PM
Guerlac Room
AD White House

(Co-sponsored by The Department of Comparative Literature, The John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, The Society for the Humanities, The Romance Studies Department)

Norma Cole is a poet, painter and translator. Her most recent work includes A little a & a (Seeing Eye Books, Los Angeles 2002) BURNS (Belladonna Books, New York 2002), Spinoza in Her Youth (Omnidawn Press, Richmond CA 2002). SCOUT, a text/image work, is forthcoming from Krupskaya Editions in CD-ROM format. She is currently working on a new book, Collective Memory, which will come out from Granary Books (2006). Among her poetry books are MARS, MOIRA and Contrafact. Recent translation work includes Danielle Collobert's Journals, Fouad Gabriel Naffah's The Spirit God and the Properties of Nitrogen, Anne Portugal’s Nude and Crosscut Universe: Writing on Writing from France. She has edited special issues of both Chain and Avec, and with Stacy Doris co-edited a translation issue of Raddle Moon. Cole has been the recipient of a Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation Award, Gertrude Stein Awards, as well as awards from The Fund for Poetry. "Poetics of Vertigo," Cole's George Oppen Memorial Lecture, won the Robert D. Richardson Non-Fiction Award. Cole and Boston photographer Ben E. Watkins won the Purchase Award for their photo/text collaboration, "They Flatter Almost Recognize." Other collaborations include “A Library Book” with poet Michael Palmer, “We Address” with painter Amy Trachtenberg, and Catasters, a text/paste up collaboration with visual artist Jess. Residencies include the Center for Poetry and Translation at Djerassi, Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco, the Fondation Royaumont in France, Louisiana State University, the Kootenay School, the Naropa Institute, and Brown University. She teaches at San Francisco State University, the University of San Francisco and is on the faculty of the MFA program at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.
And not leastly, this weekend Cornell is hosting a conference on translation featuring a keynote address by Anne Carson called "Variation on the Right to Remain Silent" and a paper by Leslie Scalapino discussing her book Crowd and not evening or light. Should be wicked awesome.


Finally made the leap and unsubscribed from the Poetics List, inspired to do so by Tim Yu and his passionate and dead-on indictment of the list's slide into a bulletin board mixed with racist collections of bellybutton lint. I'm done with it. If there's another more vital and interesting poetry list out there, I'd like to hear about it; but for now, I'm content to give my "Delete" key a rest.

Monday, March 07, 2005

So, what can I tell you? Took the bus down Wednesday morning reading the new Zukofsky issue Chicago Review most of the way. Splendid stuff, plus some poems that knocked me out by a poet I hadn't heard of before named Kristy Odelius. She's one to watch. Arrived in NYC and met up with my sweetie and proceeded to get nervouser and nervouser as the afternoon wore on. I usually get some nerves before a reading but these were much more intense than usual. My dad arrived from New Jersey and took us to a nice dinner that I could barely taste. It was a short walk from there to the New School's Tischman Auditorium, which does indeed look like a series of recessed eggs. Met everybody but I want to give special shout-outs to the folks I managed to exchange more than three words with: Eric Baus, Dan Chiasson, Mark Bibbins, Cathy Hong, Ilya Kaminsky, Adrian Matejka, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Srikanth Reddy (he has a nickname that I have no idea how to spell: chee-ku?), Justin Goldberg, and Joshua Poteat. Dorothea Tanning did not show up the first night, and when she showed up the second she was, well, very very old. She stayed in the audience while Richard Howard read her poems (very well) and then stood up to acknowledge the crowd's applause. I didn't have the heart to bother her. I also met Alice Quinn, the PSA president and poetry editor of The New Yorker; she was rather charmingly running around with a water pitcher and some plastic cups and poured some pre-reading water for me. Then came the introductions and although I was close to hyperventilating at this point I did mentally record these blurb-like impressions of the readers preceding me:

Eric Baus read in a soft voice from new work and from his strange and lovely book, The To Sound. Birds taking flight with a girl's doll in their claws.

Mark Bibbins got up and read funny, angry poems, starting with one that he announced he'd hoped to retire after the elections in November. I picked up his book, Sky Lounge.

Sherwin Bitsui, a Native American poet new to me who used to live on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. He read with what I can only call, cliches be damned, a burning intensity. "This morning I was in the desert," he deadpanned. "The city is... different."

Lanky and engaging, Oni Buchanan read a mix of new work and poems from her book, What Animal. Incandescent, surreal, with flashes of humor.

Dan Chiasson, who looks like a friendlier Russell Crowe, skipped his first book The Afterlife of Objects entirely in favor of poems from a new manuscript forthcoming from Knopf, Natural History, all inspired by the writings of Pliny the Elder. Funny and sad, even wrenching, and far more self-referential than I would have expected (in a good way). I especially liked his elephant poems and the poem titled "Randall Jarrell."

At this point yours truly stood up and blinked into the bright lights at the couple hundred people in the audience. I read a sampler: a prose poem from Fourier Series, "Night of the Worm-Men" from Selah, a Severance Song, and one of my new prose poems, "Yellow" (it's on the blog somewheres and will also be appearing in the forthcoming festival tie-in issue of LIT). Went over pretty well, I think.

I was somewhat more relaxed and able to take in the reading by Thomas Sayers Ellis, who is one hell of a smooth performer. He did this brilliant trick while reading of cocking his head to one side while reading italicized words and syllables. One of his poems, "All Their Stanzas Look Alike," was a funny and relentless indictment of what you might call the unbearable whiteness of the po-biz (the poem is up at Callaloo but you need access to Project Muse to read it). His book is The Maverick Room.

Miranda Field was next to read a poetry of the luminous image with her slight British accent. Exhaustion was settling in at this point; as Reen points out, twelve poets is a bit of a slog, even when it's only ten.

The last poets were chapbook fellows: a redheaded woman named K.E. Allen whose book was chosen by Robert Creeley and a guy in glasses who introduced himself as "Josh Junior," Joshua Poteat, whose book was chosen by Mary Oliver. I actually found his work to be much more engaging, at least in the ear; Allen's poetry seems meant more for the page. And then it was over. Beers in the lobby. Shouting. I chatted a little with Mark Levine, who was a prof of mine at the University of Montana for one semester before decamping for Iowa. Then the whole unruly mob of us went to the Cedar Tavern for more drinks and in my case at least a cheeseburger to make up for my barely touched dinner. It's kind of a blur after that, though I do remember arguing about modernism with one of last year's Festival poets, Tess Taylor. And so to bed.

The next day was very pleasant, if cold. I got to see some of the remaining Gates and was even given a piece of "saffron" cloth as a souvenir by one of the volunteer docents. Emily and I met my cousin Hal and his partner John for breakfast and afterward Emily and Hal and I went to see the new MoMA. Rather confusingly laid-out, I thought. We spent most of our time there talking, but we did manage to sneak in and see the new Thomas Demand exhibition on a members-only day. That evening it was much easier to take in the readers, though I was still unaccountably nervous—chalk it up to social anxiety. Again, some impressions:

Cathy Park Hong was forced to correct Alice Quinn, who had introduced her as being from Vietnam, but she did it with considerable grace. She read from her book, Translating Mo'um, which takes some cues from Thereas Hak Kyung Cha as far as cut-ups and an overall sense of being entangled in webs of history and dicourse are concerned. I bought her book and intend to read it closely.

Once again, Ilya Kaminsky brought down the house—and it was a much more substantial house, this time. Emily was in tears and I suspect she wasn't the only one as he read from his elegy for Mandelstam, "Musica Humana." Once again he'd gone to the trouble of putting a hardcopy of the poem into the hands of his audience (photocopies, this time). I've shed my ambivalence about this: his accent is quite thick and it would be very hard to understand what he was saying without the text if you weren't used to his voice. Also, he's such a powerful and nuanced reader that I don't find the text as distracting from the experience of the moment as I would with some other poets. It was a highlight if not the highlight of the two nights' readings for me.

Adrian Matejka self-deprecatingly introduced himself as "not as smart" as the other poets we'd heard. A poet of mixed African-American and Caucasian identity, he moved me with a poem about resisting "the Man" only to realize that both his mother and himself were themselves "the Man." There was also a funny poem about Al Green and his unparalleled ability to melt women's undergarments. Adrian's book is called The Devil's Garden.

Chelsey Minnis was next and she was dark, dark, dark. I was fascinated by a series of "Prefaces" she'd written to her next manuscript (I recommend her first book, Zirconia)—there were literally dozens of them; perhaps they'll comprise the entire book. Her persona is wracked with wry self-loathing, quite a lot of which spills on to poetry itself as a demeaned and even demeaning artistic practice—redeemed, if only partially, by its connection to the erotic. It was a compelling and occasionally uncomfortable performance.

Srikanth Reddy did a very smooth performance of a longish poem from his book Facts for Visitors, Fundamentals of Esperanto. He got some laughs for his detached, clinical descriptions of that made-up language, which worked in tension with some of the things he was saying with that language ("
La bonaj amiko estas ie. The good friend is here.").

Spencer Reece, immaculate in a pinstriped Brooks Brothers suit (as well you would expect), read the title poem from A Clerk's Tale. I'm not sure what I think of the poetry in itself, but his dignity and personal story add up to something quite moving. Just ordered his book and I'll take a closer look at what he's up to then. Emily had a long private conversation with him at the dinner afterwards and says he's a delightful person.

As I mentioned about, Richard Howard got up to read two of Dorothea Tanning's poems. The Queen of the Aubergines writes very well, I have to say. Her book is A Table of Content.

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon (what a mouthful!) skipped her first book (Black Swan) in favor of new poems. Her aesthetic is fairly conservative and loaded with classical references, but she reads with dash and fervor and a touching degree of vulnerability. She read a funny sestina about a recurring nightmare she has about eating everything at a giant buffet that I suspect many women have (in fact, she asked the audience about this and I think I remember a show of hands). The erotic and/or subjective status of black women's bodies is a preoccupation of hers, as evidenced by another poem she wrote about Romare Bearden's nudes. I was most struck by the last poem, "Andromeda," which like Chelsey's poems struggles to overcome a burden of social disregard—in this case deriving from Rae's having grown up feeling herself not to be a conventionally attractive African American woman. (For the record, she's quite stunning.)

The last readers were the other two chapbook award winners, Andrea Baker (Claudia Rankine's pick) and Justin Goldberg (Henri Cole's pick). Once again, fatigue had set in too deeply for me to register much of their readings, which is a great disservice to those poets—maybe next time they should start with the chapbook readers? Of course as a Claudia Rankine fan I'm interested in what Baker is up to, but I think she was another poet-of-the-page.

Finally it was over and we all took off for dinner at Cafe Lupe (sp?) with the PSA picking up the tab. That was a fun dinner. I had a nice long chat with Rae, who's very sweet and very smart, and Emily and I decided to have her over to dinner soon. Also chatted with Mark Bibbins and his sweet boyfriend Brian, Dan Chiasson, and Robert Polito of the New School—he's convinced that the barriers between mainstream and avant-garde are breaking down as a new generation with little invested in the old poetry wars is coming to the fore. I kind of hope he's right, although I'd probably want to say "modernist" rather than avant-garde. The avant-garde by definition cannot be co-opted, though it can and does disappear from time to time. I'm still finding the basic definition of art that challenges its own situation as art to be a useful description for avant-garde activity. But I myself am probably just a twenty-first century modernist. The food was free and they kept pouring wine, so I got a little tipsy. It was a remarkably relaxed atmosphere and I felt there was very little of the high school-style competitive bitchiness that I had sort of expected. Everyone was very friendly and complimentary and relieved to have the actual reading over with. I would have liked to talk some more to Ilya but his hearing impairment makes that difficult in a crowded space. It was probably around one AM that Emily and I made our way back to the hotel, where we slept very well indeed.

What a privilege to be included in an event of this scale! I only wish they hadn't scheduled the whole thing for midweek; I think we would have gotten an even larger audience on the weekend. On the other hand, I would have been even more nervous, then. Still, I'm very grateful and feel it's a sign of good things to come. STILL feeling exhausted by it and the dissertation and all—and this weekend won't give me much chance to rest, either—one of my commmittee members, Jonathan Monroe, has organized a major conference featuring Leslie Scalapino, Anne Carson, Norma Cole, and other poetry luminaries. Plus we at SOON are very excited to have Peter Gizzi and Elizabeth Willis visitng us to read on Saturday. More information about all this as it comes. But now I think it's time to shelve some books or maybe just stare at the ceiling for a while.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

I'm back. The readings were great—I was pretty nervous about mine, but it came off okay. Still completely worn out, but I'll have more to say about it tomorrow. Right now I just want to express my gratitude to all who came to listen, and to the PSA folks themselves, and to my fellow poets. You were all wonderful.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The reading yesterday was instructive (if poorly attended). The first poet, Tim Fitzmaurice, seems like a nice guy. He stood up there, did a "I don't know the first thing about love but I still love it" kind of shtick, and read anecdotal poems (he's a Tony Hoagland fan). Then Ilya Kaminsky, a towering scruffy Russian with a gentle face, stood up and it was like his feet were a plug and the floor was the socket: he energized the room, he has us at "hello"—in a word, he rocked. What really set the tone was an action of, I thought, remarkable and unexpected courtesy: apologizing for his heavy Russian accent, he distributed copies of his book to everyone in the room so that they could follow along. I have mixed feelings about reading and listening at the same time: it certainly does clarify what the poet's actually saying, and of course it restores the visual dimension of spacing and linebreaks (when these go unvoiced, as they mostly do). But it distracts you from taking in the poet's person: and poetry readings are really more about the poet than they are about the poetry. This is the fatal flaw built into readings: the warmth of personality, the glamor of the person, their self-deprecations or aggrandizements, tend to overwhelm the poetry, at least in one's memory. Because I see poetry as a means of making contact, I'm interested in hearing poets read, though not as interested as I am in contact with the actual writing. If I attend a reading, though, I want to see and hear the poet. Still, it's hard to resist a proffered text (though in fact I had brought my own copy, purchased at the Bookery a few hours earlier) and so I read along, and it was interesting to see how completely transformed the language was by his actual voice. Ilya roars and murmurs, with an impeccable sense of pacing; he commits his entire body to the page in a way that would seem melodramatic if he were more polished in his self-presentation. His accent and partial deafness put strange emphases on the words that really enfleshed them for me and put to rest my reservations about a diction that can at times seem a little flat on the page. He pronounces every "-ed" in words like captured and raveled. He sings the words, high and low. And he is unembarrassedly moved by his own poetry, which I find to be a remarkable and in itself moving quality (when the poetry is good). My friends, I have seen a bard. They still exist.

If you want to see Ilya yourself, or me, we'll be doing our thing on Thursday and Wednesday respectively at the New School tomorrow. Here are the details:
Two evenings of ten outstanding emerging poets each

Wednesday, March 2nd 7:30pm
Eric Baus
Mark Bibbins
Sherwin Bitsui
Oni Buchanan
Dan Chiasson
Joshua Corey
Thomas Sayers Ellis
Miranda Field
and National Chapbook Fellows:
K.E. Allen
Joshua Poteat

Thursday, March 3rd 7:30pm
Cathy Park Hong
Ilya Kaminsky
Adrian Matejka
Chelsey Minnis
Srikanth Reddy
Spencer Reece
Dorothea Tanning
Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
and New York Chapbook Fellows:
Justin Goldberg
Andrea Baker

$10 for both nights / $7 PSA Members and Students
$7 for one night / $5 PSA Members and Students.

Tishman Auditorium, The New School
66 West 12th Street, NYC
And let's not forget that I sent my chapter off to my committee for their consideration today. It's a week for celebrations! If only I weren't so tired....

See you tomorrow!

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