Thursday, September 29, 2005

Busy with allegory (allegorically busy?) but I wanted to point to the particularly fine new issue of Harper's—so good I might resubscribe. Check out Lewis Lapham's chilling parable of the reality of American fascism; a bleak account of the U.S. failure in Iraq by Edward Luttwak (all the "Readings" are great—one of my favorite features of the magazine, and a poem occasionally slips through); Rebecca Solnit's wistful exploration of the utopian moment kerneled inside the response to disaster; and of course Ben Marcus' skewering of Status-conscious Contract man Jonathan Franzen (currently excerpted on the Harper's webpage), a useful corollary to Andrew Ervin's long letter to The Believer on the very same subject last month.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

My favorite sort of weather: cold and sweet in the morning, like an apple fresh out of the fridge; low-seventies by midday; and what the weatherman is pleased to call "abundant sunshine." Childhood associations are nearer in such weather. Proust in the turning leaves.

The survey course I'm a TA for has hit the Sixteenth Century, and what a pleasure it is to read poems by Wyatt and Surrey: "Whoso list to hunt," "The soote season," etc. But now we're on to Spenser and The Faerie Queene, as deeply weird a poem to have at the center of the English canon as one could wish. An allegorical poem in which attacking a monster called Errour is, um, an error. This leaves me with no time for Lisa Robertson, but I promise to get to her soon.

I had postponed reading Marcuse out of an obscure fear that he would somehow pre-empt or anticipate my thinking in unhelpful ways; I wanted my own ideas to ripen first. But another theorist I picked up yesterday has cut closer to the bone: Michel de Certeau. The Practice of Everyday Life has become unexpectedly central to my ideas about pastoral as a mode of bricolage, or as I prefer to call it, ecolage. The trigger for this was a sentence in Jed Rasula's This Compost in which he referred to how Pound's later Cantos have an "ecological tact." This "tact" linked in my mind to de Certeau's notion of tactics as the practice of the marginalized (and according to him in the modern era we're all marginalized to at least some degree), while strategy describes the activities of power, which seek to establish some ground from which to launch incursions on the margin, the other. Bricolage for de Certeau refers to the ways in which a marginalized people superimpose their own practices on the ground or law that's been given to them: they use social constraints as a poet uses the constraints of form (de Certeau's example) to create opportunities for sustaining their own lifeworld. "Ecolage" then would be a mode of bricolage that identifies or somehow allies with the natural world that is also subject to the incursions of power (which would territorialize it [Deleuze]] or turn it into standing reserve [Heidegger]) but which does not itself have the minimal agency required to respond. Ecolage is bricolage but with a special respect for the materials involved: they are not just repurposed fragments of capital but natural objects whose nonidentity with both power and the ecoleur must be preserved. It's funny how I've delayed conceptualizing this for so long; it makes my work harder because it sends retroactive shockwaves back through everything I've written, requiring cuts and changes and rethinking. But something about this feels intrinsic to intellectual experience: we have ideas, notions, forebodings, but they can be untimely. You have to get to work before you're finished thinking, in full knowledge of the possibility that your thought might undo or redo all you've done before its arrival. And all this has happened when I've barely begun to read de Certeau, whose key concepts might yet undergo some modification that will in turn modify my idea, etc. I enjoy all this when I'm not making myself crazy with imaginary deadlines. Like the deadlines for job applications. Or my birthday on Sunday. Yikes.

A gentle knight was pricking on the plaine....

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Peli Greitzer has started a blog; check it out if you're interested in hearing more about emerging Israeli poetry and at least one poet's reception of North American innovative writing and pop music.

A correspondent wonders what I see in Martha Ronk, and also remarks that he finds the U.S. post-avant scene "impressively heterosexual (or closeted)." That seems odd to me, especially given all the attention that I and others were giving to Christopher Nealon's "Camp Messianism" not so long ago. To my mind there's a distinctively queer element in lots of the most interesting "emerging" poets, even the nominally straight ones. It's true fewer of them are interested in writing from a self-consciously staged gay identity or writing poems with "gay content"; nor are they interested in the kind of shimmering semi-classical beauties I've noticed in some mainstream gay male poets (I'm thinking of Mark Doty, Reginald Shepherd's early work, and Carl Phillips). Queerness is more of a formal issue with post-avant poets, though as Nealon points out (and practices in his own poetry) they often strike campy poses and comment upon them, a la Rufus Wainwright.

As for Ronk, I think she's a master of the poetic sentence. The short poems in the eponymous first third of In a Landscap of Having to Repeat accumulate quiet, declarative sentences, each shifting and modifying the premises of the one that's preceded it, until by the end of the poem I have a subtle impression of what it's like to be inside a subjectivity I recognize as different from my own. In other words, she accomplishes the task of lyric perfectly. Take "The Stack of White Dishes":
It seems the stack of white dishes is enough.
Or ought to be and gathering force.
She's already tried to rearrange her set of beliefs and sexual preferences
and moral certitudes and is it that one gets tired
or the real world does its thing
or language just up and shoots off its mouth despite what one thinks.
And Debussy is near by and why not.
Helpless in the face of it all
all the things in the places they mean to be in even tomorrow
one might call it fog out there stacking itself against the trees.
That's actually not as typical as some of the other poems in that it functions more by line than by sentence (most of the poems in this section consist largely of one-line sentences). But I love how she presents a domestic fact (it's not quite an image, somehow) as an object around which subjectivity flows and breaks like water on a rock, a breaking that seem like a breaking away ("or the real world does its thing") but also inaugurates aesthetic possibilities ("And Debussy is near by and why not"). The poem ends with an ambiguous triumph of the mind, organizing the objects of the world that may in fact dictate that organization in spite of it, and resembling language by so doing. Just as in her poems sentences are put out there like chess pieces whose meaning and relation change subtly or drastically depending on the next move.

I actually prefer these short lyrics to the longer, seemingly more ambitious Eva Hesse poem that closes the section. But I do really like the long middle section of prose poems, "In the Vicinity," which deploy paratactic sentences in a styly familiar to me from the work of Elizabeth Willis or Lyn Hejinian to flirt with narrative (in this case often dream narrative, and a few poems take all their language from Freud) to explore that generally secondary notion of setting or scene or place as mood—but something stronger than mood, I want to use the German Stimmung—an entire psychic orientation that can prove determinate in surprising ways:

I know someone who says that expensive LA restaurants are filled with the homeless. On the other side of the copper screen the diners at their white tablecloths look as if they are in Casablanca. On my side is the bar which the present owner got from Yee Mee Lou's. I spent early years in this town, this stinking town as Chandler would say, drinking blue drinks at that bar; they gave off vapors like dry ice and hangovers. I sat for hours having conversations with a thin man I didn't meet for several years after the bar closed. We talked about trips we would take, porches we had sat on, books we meant to read. When he drew his long finger over a picture in one of the books, I knew I would never leave LA.
The speaker's mediated sense of reality damages her sense of temporality; she inhabits a continuous present we might call the LA mood, just as in other poems of "In the Vicinity" she occupies a childhood mood, a mall mood, a Venice mood, a home movie mood, even an e-mail mood.
How perfectly ordinary expresses an attitude.
About the edges of the books a sort of dampish curl.
Objects have no thoughts about anything else.
That's an emblematic moment from the final section of the book, "Quotidian," which seems mostly to track a relationship between a male other and the speaker, with sense impressions taking on new inflections with each repetition: the irritation, numbing, or erotics of a moth, a haircut, disrobing. I'm moved by it. It's not a flashy book, it's not trying to be "The Waste Land"; nor is her language especially musical, though it has an elegant spareness reminiscent of Michael Palmer's. It does do something I look for from poetry: it conveys the spark of experience, gets the energy all the way over from poet to me. It's the bread and butter of poetry.

That said, I do still prickle with excitement when I encounter the foie gras of poetry, the sublime reflection on possibilities of consciousness in language—something I very much get from the new Lisa Robertson chapbook, Rousseau's Boat, that was waiting for me in the mailbox when I got back from DC. More about that later when I've had time to read it—and time to get some actual work done.

Monday, September 26, 2005

It was my first major march of any kind, and the sheer masses of people assembled to say NO in a thousand different ways were breathtaking, although my breath was taken slowly; that is, the impact was cumulative. At first I felt a certain disappointment, standing well within earshot but not quite able to see the speakers at the Ellipse south of the White House: Cindy Sheehan, Jesse Jackson, George Galloway, Ramsey Clark, others whose names I didn't catch. A craving for leadership went unsatisfied, though some young man from A.N.S.W.E.R. managed to produce some stirring rhetoric. I have never had less faith in the Democratic Party, but an powerful alternative voice didn't present itself. (Though on PBS last night we caught a debate staged at Baruch College in New York between Galloway and Christopher Hitchens by Democracy Now; Galloway was impressive while Hitchens looked like a sloppy drunk, albeit with Oxbridge pronunciation; an incisive article about his transformation from avenging angel of the Left to a Bush apologist is now available from the archives of n+1.) But the march itself was glorious: an unending stream of angry, passionate people waving mostly homemade banners (I saw a T-shirt I liked: "Jesus, please save me from your followers!"). On our way northward, by complete coincidence, I ran into Joel Kuszai (late of Cornell, always of Factory School) and Jonathan Skinner with a couple of other poets I hadn't met, and joined them for the march past the White House, something that hasn't actually been permitted for several years. That was the most moving moment for me: slowly filtering by the cops and thugs three deep before the actual fence, with hundreds of hands all jabbing rhythmically toward them: SHAME! SHAME! SHAME! I felt again that solidarity, a kind of love, that I'd felt toward my fellow Kerry volunteers a year ago and that I'd felt at the Newport Folk Festival when Elvis Costello sang "Scarlet Tide": "Admit you lied and bring the boys back home." Yes.

Driving back today but there's a little dead time for reading beforehand. In my satchel: Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, The Diary of James Schuyler, and Martha Ronk's marvelous, deadpan In a Landscape of Having to Repeat, single-handedly reviving my interest in the brief lyric.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Emily and I (and Emily's mom!) are planning to march with Poets Against the War tomorrow. Here's the meet-up information they sent me:
The original meeting location for the DC Poets Against the War contingent
marching on Saturday will be closed that morning.

So, please join us at our NEW LOCATION (Apologies and please help us get
the word out!):

Poets Contingent
Saturday, September 24, 11 AM
Sherman Square Park, next to the White House gate on the west side of 15th
Street NW (at Alexander Hamilton Place.)
Closest Metro: McPherson Square (Orange & Blue) or Metro Center (Red,
Orange & Blue)

And don't forget:

Bring your poems of hope and outrage to the:
Open Mic for Peace & Justice
Sunday, September 25, 3-5 PM
Busboys & Poets, 14th & V St., NW, Washington, DC
U Street/Cardozo Green Line Metro
Wheelchair accessible.
Free and open to the public. A special welcome to those in town for
Saturday's rally and march.

More info: 202-577-6596,

Sam Hamill & the PAW Board
In the meantime, if you're looking for poetics talk, here's the text of an e-mail I received from a young Israeli poet and student asking about T.S. Eliot, of all things, and what I said in reply:
Dear Joshua Corey,

I've been reading your Blog with great pleasure the past few days, and as I very much enjoyed your writing on Modernism, and on the post-avant canon, grew somewhat curious regarding a very peripheral issue: What is your current aesthetic evaluation of Eliot?

I should explicate the motive behind this rather out-the-blue question: In Israel, which is where I live and grew up, Eliot's influence was always an unyielding avant-garde force - his work supplied the major departure point from traditional poetics for the innovative Israeli poetry of the sixties and seventies, along with Russian futurism and a minor Beat influence. The elder-statesman figure was taken as an unfortunate personal attribute, much like his anti-Semitism, and never did much to color the perception of his work. Of course, the early Eliot was much more prized than the later.

Discovering the world of American post-avant, I was repeatedly shocked and dismayed to see Eliot posited in the "them" of the us vs. them equation, his poetry dismissed or ignored, and his earlier works read in light of the later ones, instead of vice-versa as I'm used to (I do know of some efforts to the contrary by Perloff and Bernstein, but these never seemed to have an effect). So I'm always intrigued by anyone from the scene showing any kind of interest in Eliot at all, and in your Blog I've encountered some very interesting, though ambiguous, comments regarding his work.

All best,
Peli Grietzer
What a fascinating doorway into the Israeli scene you've opened for me—I know alas very little about Israeli poetry, though I have read a few things by Shabtai and Amichai. It doesn't surprise me that Eliot's star is still ascendant there, just as I believe it to be in England and know it to be in Japan (thanks to some contact I've had with Japanese scholars of Anglo-American poetry). I believe this has a lot to do with the radical break Eliot's work represents in European cultures (it may seem odd to say "European" when I've just mentioned Israel and Japan, but of course a great deal of both countries' literary cultures have been imported from Europe) from literary traditions that are hundreds of years old—also the content of his poetry expresses the agony of modernity that is still very fresh to cultures with a deep sense of history. Whereas in America I think we have both a shorter memory and, paradoxically, a longer reach—back to Dickinson and most profoundly, Whitman. America has had what you might call a tradition of the new since its creation, so Eliot's breaking of the pentameter (facilitated by Pound) maybe seems less contemporary to us than Whitman's, especially since Eliot lacks the perennial optimism of Whitman. The other point is that Eliot of course assimilated himself into English literary culture with as much success as anyone has ever enjoyed, and so became a part of an Anglocentric establishment that the New American poets of the postwar period have always regarded with suspicion (and were themselves so regarded, and continue to be to this day). Eliot remains a figurehead for those who would like to confine modernism to a few anthologies—who insist on its residualness, to use Raymond Williams' terminology—and regard emergent modernisms, quite rightly, as a threat to the hegemonic institutional positions they as writers of what we might call modernism-lite currently enjoy (dishing out grants, publications, etc.).

So that's my sense of the background. As for me personally, Eliot is a crucial figure: when I first read "Prufrock" and "The Waste Land" in the Norton Anthology when I was fifteen years old, I was electrified by his transference of Shakespearean cadences to a twentieth century I could recognize. Probably the Anglophilia of my mother, inherited by me at a young age (hours and hours spent with Lewis Carroll, Tolkien, Dickens, etc.), prepared me to be entranced by his mixture of "high" and "low" diction, with a spice of English exoticism (HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S TIME, goonight, etc.). Much later I read Four Quartets and was less impressed; later than that I became wary of Eliot's ideological cramming of his gorgeous, neurasthenic, playful language into the narrow cell of the Church of England. Nowadays I feel his poetry is stronger than that ideology, even in parts of Four Quartets, and I can read him with pleasure, though yet wincing at the anti-Semitism. Except for part of a
paper I wrote on Stein and D.H. Lawrence (a pleasingly unlikely combination), I haven't devoted much scholarly attention to him; instead he's part of my long foreground. Recently my poetry was compared to his in what was intended to be an unflattering light (that's the review of my book Fourier Series at—stained by Eliotan yearnings for hegemony. But he's too far back in the past (my past?) to be an Oedipal father that needs to be overcome, and I suspect many younger poets feel the same way. His critical stock, at an ebb in this country, might be due for a rise sometime soon.

Peli wrote back with the names of some avant-garde Israeli poets I'm glad to know about: David Avidan, who is described as "Mayakovsky meets Pound meets O'hara meets Bernstein," and who apparently once wrote a hundred-page poem in conversation with Eliza; and Hezy Leskly, who can be sampled in (mediocire, Peli says) translation here. Peli compares him to Graham Foust and Jack Spicer: a heady combination! Peli also asks why Pound is still seen as relevant when Eliot is dismissed—a fair question I'll have to think on, but I suspect the answer has something to do perhaps paradoxically with the failure of Pound's project versus Eliot's unimpeachable success. And maybe Pound's pact with the sunny Whitman has something to do with it: Peli feels that in America, darkness in poetry became associated with the Confessionals, while in Israel, "If its formally innovative, it damn sure will have a heavy dosage of bitter irony and death-urge in it."

That's history for you, and maybe national temperament: we Americans sure do like to smile. I've always felt my own urges toward darkness as coming from my European side, my Jewish cultural memory. Tragedy vanishes in the blinding American sunshine; only in the South do we feel anything like that mingled legacy of injured pride, humiliation, and blood-guilt. It may seem like a harsh and unnatural presecription but the inculcation of what's too glibly called "the tragic sense of life" in Americans could go a long way toward unblinding us and awakening compassion, though we'd run the risk of intenser ressentiment.

On to the capital.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A marvelous piece by Mairead Byrne via Jeffrey Bahr. Be warned, it's a PDF. And it's funny.

Going to Washington tomorrow to see Emily's family and march against the war, not necessarily in that order. Will try and take some photos.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Reading in Andrew Feenberg's Heidegger and Marcuse: The Catastrophe and Redemption of History (and yes, before you ask, I am a lot of fun at parties), I came across the following footnote:
Are we still moderns? I think the answer is obvious. So-called postmodernity is a variation on modern themes as the shrewder postmodernists admit. It succeeds in distinguishing itself as a new era only by creating straw men out of figures such as Descartes. I find it hard to believe that a new era has opened in a time as mediocre as this. The last ephocal change in Western thought ocurred a century ago and it was not postmodern but modernist.
It's painful to think of one's own time as "mediocre," but Feenberg's pessimistic vision compels my assent. Unless there is in fact something truly new emerging at multiple levels of culture that we can't yet predict or perceive, our time is mediocre at best. At worst it's the dawn of a new dark ages as the rebellion against modernity (which is NOT a rebellion against technology and the endless cycle of ever more efficient means without ends) embroils both overdeveloped and underdeveloped nations alike. Never have our so-called leaders looked smaller in the face of enormous problems demanding their vision; never has citizenship been so weak in the face of demands for our energy, our sacrifice, and our determined determinate negation of political life as it is given.

Is recognizing the need for an "epochal change in... thought" preliminary to its achievement? Who are we most like—Mallarme's school, Wilde's decadents, Yeats' occultists? Is new sincerity what comes in the wake of the sublime or its abandonment? I'm sick of the post-. Maybe climate change will bring about the Event that can't be ignored, that changes everything. They say we're past the point of no return, global warming-wise. Another hyperhurricane is bearing down on our fragile energy infrastructure. It's a time for ecopoetics, or else it's "Wake up! Time to die."

Get behind the mule.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Hm... before Rebecca Wolff accuses us of more "nattering" about the cheesecake issue of Fence (which, I hasten to add, is a pretty good issue, featuring work from some favorite peeps), and goes comparing writers to the Suicide Girls as "answering strictly for themselves," she might want to read this. Very disturbing.
Mark Rudman writes an excellent review of Anne Carson which goes, I think correctly, well beyond the first impression of miscellany that collection gave me. I will wait patiently for the paperback, or for my birthday (October 2!). And now I'd like to share with you this plea from the editors of New American Writing:
NEW AMERICAN WRITING / 369 Molino Avenue / Mill Valley, CA 94941

Dear Friend of New American Writing:

Because we are currently receiving less than $1 per issue of the magazine’s
“sell-through” at Barnes & Noble and Borders, which unfortunately dominate the
bookstore trade and use a heavy hand with small providers such as literary
magazines, it’s urgent that we reduce our reliance on income from those chains and
thus also our distributor, Ingram Periodicals. If we are not able to do so, we will
be forced financially to cease publication of a magazine that has existed since

Therefore, we ask you to order the magazine directly from us using the following

(1) Purchasing a three-issue subscription for $27, a savings of $1 per annual
issue. To do so, send a check to the address above. If you wish to use a credit
card, order through our website:

(2) Purchasing individual issues as they appear from the same address, by
check or by credit card through our website.

The current issue, No. 23, was published in June. It contains new poems by Mahmoud
Darwish; The Black Heralds of César Vallejo, translated by Clayton Eshleman; a
selection of contemporary Vietnamese poetry translated by Nguyen Do and Paul Hoover;
edited by Todd Swift, the work of twenty younger Canadian poets including Christian
Bök and Lisa Robertson; and poetry by Donald Revell, George Albon, Elizabeth
Robinson, Andrew Joron, Clayton Eshleman, Stacy Doris, Laynie Browne, Linh Dinh,
Joseph Lease, Anna Rabinowitz, Timothy Liu, Sally Keith, and Aaron Shurin, among
many other outstanding U.S. poets.

Over the years, we have published more than 2,000 poets. We are proud of our record
of introducing exciting new poets and poetries.

If we can add 400 new subscribers, we can insure the longevity of the magazine the
next three years. Please join us as a subscriber and forward this message to your

Sincerely, Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover
Had a pleasant visit with John Beer of Bridge magazine yesterday—his parents live in the area and we got together for some coffee. Bridge is an arts magazine based in Chicago but by no means provincial, especially now that they're about to quadruple their print run. Look for the magazine in your local bookstore.

Trying to explain to myself what nature has to do with language in pastoral. Is language like nature? Can I simply take the various metaphors on hand treating language and books like natural objects (Leaves of Grass, anyone?) at face value? Or is some theory possible, plausible? Keep running up against my own resistance every time the words "nature" and "poetry" meet: my interest in pastoral is really social and literary. Nature is important in its capacity as Being and non-identity: it's the model for any object that demands to be treated as an end in itself. So I'm just extending the categorical imperative to birches and wetlands? In revising my Pound chapter, I'm arguing that Pound moves from a highly subjectivist view of nature as that which is to be shaped by a knowing subject's techne (with Mussolini as arch-subject), to an encounter with nature as negativity: exposed to the elements he discovers the fragility of his own subjectivity and the need to treat both natural objects and literary objects (the moment of "objectification" in a text, to use Zukofsky's term) with new respect. Pound preaches a kind of objectivity in many of his writings, anticipating his buddy WCW's "no ideas but in things," but only in extremis does he discover the ethics of what we might call ecological objectivism. His relationship to his language changes: just as "when the mind hangs by a grass blade / an ant's forefoot shall save you," so shall language that breaks free from historical overdetermination (the "vortex" that the language of the earlier Cantos gets poured through) provide refuge for a troubled mind. Approaching an object aesthetically is more ethical than approaching it conceptually or in the service of production. But such an ethics only goes as far as refusal. Maybe a later constructivist like Ronald Johnson could be said to try and build with nature/language in a new way, natura naturata, while respecting the otherness of his objects, not making them subservient to a totalizing myth. Bricolage, eco-lage.

Someone gave me a copy of last month's Paris Review: what a cumbersome, stuffy magazine it is! Maybe worth reading for the interviews: Les Murray, Shirley Hazzard, Charles Simic. They don't seem to print a facsimile of the writer's first draft of something any more, which is a shame. That's one of the more enjoyable features of Lungfull!—along with the waterproof cover.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Mulling over Jane Dark's statement on emerging poetics, a term I was ready to quibble with (isn't an emerging poetics actually empty of any content except insofar as it is determined to oppose the dominant and residual?) until I saw Kasey's thoughts on the subject, which historicize it appropriately. We can only mean the emergent poetics of this historical moment: the attempt to write the present which has never yet been described, as I think Robert Gluck puts it in the fiction forum in the new Fence. (I am tempted to label the emergent, dominant, and residual stew of poetics that is represented there the New Boobyism. But I won't.) This discussion is useful from my monomaniacal perspective because it gives me yet another vector along which to think pastoral: is this inherently nostalgic mode a model for a resistant residual (the "folk" forms Kasey finds Cary Nelson pointing to)? What happens then when the self-consciously emergent make use of the form, adapting nature as a platform for poetic and political values that critique the dominant? I guess this depends on another question: what determines the emergent's content? The dominant and the residual look like determinate negations of each other, as early twentieth century modernism was a self-conscious negation of Victorian poetic values that nonetheless persisted and eventually became self-consciously anti-modernist (persisting as such to this hour). But the emergent has to make it new, even when "making it new" is the espoused value of the dominant. Is the emergent then truly empty after all, horizon of a yet-to-be determined event? Perhaps by definition when you can fully describe the emergent it's no longer emerging. Pastoral as genre is flexible enough to survive its appropriation by all three categories. A residual pastoral is unavoidably reactionary; a dominant pastoral apologizes for the present order (Arcadia of the suburbs). An emergent pastoral might be an ecopoetics, seeking to decenter the human in order to save it. Or it might be a radically untimely promesse de bonheur, a sort of decadence. It might simply be "nature poetry," but adopting experimental formal devices in order to bring nature to presence after its double concealment by technology and the pathetic fallacy. Clearly I have some ontological decisions to make. Am I describing a genre or a historical mode? Am I describing at all, or seeking from modernist fragments to prescribe a poetics? And will anybody buy it? Accursed, inevitable double-meaning of "buy."

Current thoughts on the academic job market: I would prefer not to.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Scribble, scribble. It's difficult not to be tendentious in a dissertation. Or rather, it's difficult for a dissertation writer not to tend to assimilate every bloody thing to his or her dissertation. Seeking a grip on our non-pastoral reality.

Erica's chapbook is dominated by meditations on identity or dual-identity, in this case lesbianism and Jewishness, against a classically suburban American background. There are prose poems narrating the discomfort of having identity and the possibilities of nonidentity: as "facially speaking" says, "there's something about a lack of a backbone. a certain flexibility." The title poem, "the two-coat syndrome," is a crown of sonnets tracking resistance to identity and also a certain fatigue from that resistance: "I am not in search of kudos / or testimonials. it's only the beginning / of this book. and I can't control / where a name appears. twice." My favorite poem or piece of a poem is titled "from To the Frogs in My Cube," in which the title frogs have endearing little Hebrew names, never capitalized: "moshe," "shmuel," "chaim" (the odd woman out is "minerva"—sounds Greek to me). That missing spine pops up again as a signifier of the identity that's bound up with/in one's body and requires less expression than bemused acknowledgment or playful refusal:
shmuel, you sprawl along
this barrier so ambidextrous.
it's as if you are missing
a spine. you sleep alongside
Debbie Friedman, humming
those Jewish holiday ditties
on the most secular of dates.
it is hot here in the morning.
My old Vassar friend Jeremy is in Syria and his travel-posts are worth a look. He has a fearlessness and openness about him which I've long been impressed with; I think his goal is eventually to visit every non-European country on earth. He's off to a good start. Hopefully he'll have some pictures when I seem in the Adirondacks in early October for an impromptu college reunion.

Speaking of world travel and pictures, Sitemeter has this amazing new feature where you can see the locations of people who've visited your site on a map of the world. In fact, I can see from the map here that I got a hit from the Syrian Arab Republic sometime today. Hi Jeremy! Other visitors today have hailed from Saskatchewan, Ontario, Mexico, Manitoba, Brussels, Hong Kong, and Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. You must admit that this is extremely cool.

Back to the diss.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

An involving and uncompromising interview and discussion of the work of Brenda Iijima over at PhillySound; a kind of festschrift, really, with lots of links to Brenda's work online. I hope they do more of this sort of thing: it seems more valuable than a single essay or interview. Similar to to the profiles of poets at Modern American Poetry but more fluid, less institutional in feel.

Spent some time with the latest issue of The Believer which mostly confirmed my sense that they don't cut as deeply as the folks over at n+1. One of the best things in it is a long letter from an Andrew Ervin taking Jonathan Franzen to task for his denigration of difficulty (in the person of William H. Gaddis in an essay Franzen wrote called "Mr. Difficult," published in his book How To Be Alone) which is an attack on art itself in the Adornian sense: "Contrary to what Franzen would lead us to believe, Gaddis was right: Not-art participates in things as they are and endorses the dominant discourse—which Paul Ricoeur calls "the practical field" but for the purposes of this letter I will refer to as The Man." That's The Believer at its best, bringing serious and adventurous thought down to earth without clipping its wings. On the other hand, there's an essay like Greg Bottoms' essay "On George W.S. Trow's The Harvard Black Rock Forest and His Formally Unique Cultural Criticism: A Tape-Recorded Monologue, with Annotations." While more or less successful in its goal of bringing a brilliant critic to the attention of a younger generation, the essay's premise practically demands the kind of messy self-indulgence that comes across as condescending to the reader—exactly the kind of thing Ervin warns against in his letter when he attacks Franzen for "relishing his complicity" with the status quo lowest-common-denominator universe of discourse. What are we to make of the footnote Bottoms provides for his summary definition of "the cultural condition of postmodernity"?:
Frederic Jameson's title Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism says it all. I haven't read this book, actually, because each sentence, in the first twenty-five or so pages, was as dense and messy as a medieval disembowelment. I threw the book on the floor and shopped for a new pair of Gap jeans online.
This is the lowest form of irony, designed solely to cover the writer's ass: Bottoms wants intellectual cred and to be a regular dude at the same time, so he disparages a crucial text while winking broadly at us to suggest that he has in fact digested its import. But the disparagement is stronger than the wink, so that what's left is yet another appropriation of Marxian dialectical energy (at a considerable remove) emasculated by the writer's desire to signify that, you know, he hasn't actually been taken in, that he's a happy consumer like the rest of us, albeit a fashionably dissatisfied one.

Personally I prefer cultural criticism when it engages with the extratextual; that's why I think Jessica Lamb-Shapiro's essay about a seminar she attended given by the author (not writer, she's careful to point out) of those infernal Chicken Soup for the Soul books is an example of The Believer at its best: highly literate subjective journalism. The interviews are good (Tom Stoppard at a cricket match and an e-mail interview with the dirty-minded comedian Sarah Silverman, who reveals in this issue that her oldest sister is a rabbi), as are the book reviews (no poetry this issue, alas—maybe I spoke too soon). I'm less sure about the value of the long essays on outre litterateurs that are the magazine's bread and butter. In this case there's James Browning's essay on J.P. Donleavy, author of The Ginger Man and innumerable imitations of The Ginger Man, and Douglas Wolk's piece on Dave Sim's magnificent train-wreck, twenty-seven years in the making, the graphic novel Cerebus. (Both authors are often accused of misogyny; in Sim's case it's misogyny elevated to the level of paranoid schizophrenia). They're good essays, but I wonder what I would make of them if I hadn't actually read a fair bit of Donleavy and Sim. If The Believer wants to present "untimely" authors, they would do well to give us at least a taste of the actual work in question: maybe a page at the front of the article the way those Paris Review interviews give us a page of the interviewee's work (usually in draft form) before the interview proper. Anyway. It's a good magazine, but I wonder if, in Andrew Ervin's words, it loves the questions enough.
If you didn't read it this weekend, hurry on over to the NY Times website to read A.O. Scott's article about The Believer and n+1—an article that very well might have been titled, "The New Sincerity." Of course it's not that new: calls for something to surpass postmodernism/high irony/snarkiness have been audible in mainstream literary culture since at least the publication of that Jedediah Purdy book; a call raised to its highest pitch of intensity with the demise of the "New World Order" (1989 - 2001). I have much more interest in and sympathy with the unapologetically intellectual and leftist way of proceeding represented by n+1, but both magazines are new sources of vitality in our literary culture. And they're beginning to take notice of poetry now, which is all to the good.
Starting to get more of a grip on things. Yesterday made significant progress in revising the Pound chapter, which isn't as good as doing new writing maybe but valuable nonetheless. Need to extract a writing sample from its deepening prolixity. This morning felt the leisure to take the dog to various caffeinated watering holes: first Collegetown Bagels for a chunk of Late Marxism, from which I extract this luminous quotation from Adorno and Horkheimer on philistinism: "To those who spasmodically dominate nature, a tormented nature provocatively reflects back the image of powerless happiness. The thought of happiness without power is unbearable, because only then would it be true happiness." And then at Gimme Coffee to discover just such fragile images of happiness in Jordan's Million Poems Journal. I hope he won't mind:
Copper Beech

The plaster needs fixing
And the grout in the tub is gray
The plants are back from brown
The cheap rose in its third bloom
Dianthus blossoms cluster at a stem
Like geraniums
                        a feather driven
Out through the comforter cover
For the cold summer breeze

Confused the feather goes out
Over the empty dobule candlestick
And the trees are full of light seeds
Someone with a young voice is calling
Someone it's after eleven-thirty.
The dark hair of women in films
And the brown curly hair it's not red.

The police stand fat on Second Avenue
Tic-tac-toe drawn on my heart
Every autumn to ask the question
Of the red-blue air at quarter-turns,
What question? what question?
A purple cardinal whistles it
To a white chickadee.
The geese in the sky are black
Flying off in different directions,
Branches of a copper beech.
Sublime peeking through cracks, that ought to be the name of the genre of such a poem. Now off to the bookstore; if I have time, I'll turn to two chapbooks generously sent to me by Erica Kaufman: her own chapbook from the two coat syndrome (which has this kicker of a Frank O'Hara epigraph: "It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so") and Marcella Durand's The Anatomy of Oil, published by Erica's own press (with Rachel Levitsky), Belladonna Books.

Monday, September 12, 2005

A nice photo Jordan took of me and Emily in Cascadilla Gorge.
The Million Poems Show done come and gone. We at SOON were very curious to see what a poetry talk show would look like. It's a brilliant concept: as Jordan said, it adapts a convention from television—the late night talk show—to poetry: a recognizable fixed form like a sonnet or villanelle that provides a certain security as well as room for improvisation to both poet and audience. Here's how it went down: after I introduced Jordan, Ange, and J.J., J.J. began playing the show's theme: "It's the Million Poems, the Million Poems, the Million Poems Show!" Jordan came out looking rather remarkably like Dick Cavett in suit and tie and did his "monologue," which consisted of some remarks about the show, the drive up, and a few of his own poems. He then engaged in brilliantly deadpan host-bandleader banter with J.J. Then it was time for Ange to come up and sit in a chair next to the desk and be interviewed before launching into her reading: the main event. Her selections were all from her extraordinary book Starred Wire, which she revealed in the interview had its origins in the mingled experiences of travel (specifically to Morocco, although there are only hints of that in the text—a reference to the town of Fez, for example) and childhood; they both I suppose offer experiences of pleasurable estrangement. Anyway, the poems are fierce and delicate and funny and lyrical, and I highly recommend them. It was then time for the musical guest; lacking one, we got two songs from J.J.'s upcoming album Uphill to Purgatory, an infectiously wry breakup song and a love song with a little lilt to it. He's a terrific, poppy musician and funny as hell in conversation. The show concluded with a little audience participation, in which we all collaborated on a poem about "something that you want to like you but it's not quite working out." Jordan's example was baseball—perhaps more specifically the Mets?

Jordan's plans for the show are as ambitious as the goal of writing 1,000,000 poems (which he says would require him to write 35 poems per day every day to the age of 100). He'd like to put it on TV, where I think it would be brilliant, blowing anything Bill Moyers has ever done out of the water. There's something about the intermediary of a host facing the audience which he believes has a lot of potential: the host's reaction provides a model for audiences uncertain about how to respond to poetry. It's one of the most innovative and fun ways yet thought of to introduce poetry to people who are shy of it (that is, most people). Even fifteen minutes of TV time once a week would work wonders, even on public access. Are you listening, network producers?

It was far too short a visit but we loved having Jordan, Ange, and Jordan's "band" here: we managed to get them some of the transcendent mac 'n cheese from Willow after the reading, and snuck in a waterfall visit for Jordan before breakfast and their departure Sunday morning. If you ever get a chance to see the Million Poems Show (and New Yorkers have their next opportunity this Wednesday at the Bowery Poetry Club) you must seize it.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Jordan Davis, Ange Mlinko, and J.J. Appleton, come on down! You're the next contestants on The Million Poems Show!

TONIGHT, 7 PM, at the State of the Art Gallery in Ithaca.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Thursday, September 08, 2005

And let's not forget about Iraq. This review of Anthony Shadid's book about the war and occupation should remind us, if reminding is needed, of the callousness and incompetence of this government, its naked contempt for the powerless. SHAME.
I seem unable to return to blogging as usual. Partly I'm overwhelmed trying to juggle a new teaching schedule with my bookstore job and dissertation obligations, while contemplating the academic job market to boot. Mostly, though, I'm consumed by indignation about the Katrina situation every time I go online. Read this eyewitness report of conditions on the ground there. And this will have you calling for the heads of FEMA and the androids at Fox News.

Still my mind does return by fits and starts to poetry. I was happy to finally get the copy of Linh Dinh's All Around What Empties Out that I'd ordered weeks ago. Composed of three chapbooks from earlier in his career, the book features electric and angry poetry I can get news about our current predicament from. On a different plane I'm glancing through the new Anne Carson book, Decreation: Opera, Essays, Poetry. My first impression is of a classically gorgeous mess, given the hodgepodge implied by the subtitle. More aware of her sly sense of humor after having heard her read some of this material in Vancouver. Some moving elegies for her mother. A thoroughly footnoted proper academic essay about literary representations of sleep: "Every Exit Is an Entrance." Poems dedicated to the oeuvre of Michelangelo Antonioni and his favorite star, Monica Vitti. There's "Lots of Guns: An Oratorio for Five Voices," which I remember vividly from Vancouver. A "screenplay" about Abelard & Heloise. The title opera, which takes title and theme from Simone Weil. Lots more. I like Carson's wit, the adroitness of her curiosity, her oddness. I wonder what the phenomenon of her poetry is about, though. Something about the way she reclaims the classical tradition in lively ways? I'd like to think readers are drawn to her unembarassed love for the modernist/high art tradition whose relevance is generally denied in an age divided between postmodern ricochet and aesthetic Republicanism. Weil, Woolf, Italian neo-realism (as "modernist" as 20th century film gets), Beckett: these are her lodestars in the new book, with Homer and Sappho always ready to swoop in from the wings to recharge the proceedings with blood and wonder. It doesn't hurt that Knopf has made each of her books into remarkably beautiful objects: Decreation is no exception, a ghostly silver-nitrate image with a touch of gold up front, all ashimmering behind. That describes the poetry too, I suppose.
Busy, busy, busy. It seems like a good time to repeat:

SOON Productions is proud to present


Hosted By




And the music of


Playing for One Night Only at

120 W. State Street
Ithaca, NY

7 PM

Tuesday, September 06, 2005
A man just purchased copies of The Fountainhead and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I shudder to think. Talk about untimely philosophy! Though as it happens I am immersed in a biography of Nietzsche at the moment.

But y'all are better off reading Dennis Kucinich's speech.
"Bureaucracy has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area. And bureaucracy needs to stand trial before Congress today," Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, said on CBS' "The Early Show."

"So I'm asking Congress, please investigate this now. Take whatever idiot they have at the top of whatever agency and give me a better idiot. Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don't give me the same idiot."

Virtual American exceptionalism: "I don't think there are four million people in the world who really want to play online games every month," said Michael Pachter, a research analyst for Wedbush Morgan, a securities firm. "World of Warcraft is such an exception. I frankly think it's the buzz factor, and eventually it will come back to the mean, maybe a million subscribers."

"It may continue to grow in China," Mr. Pachter added, "but not in Europe or the U.S. We don't need the imaginary outlet to feel a sense of accomplishment here. It just doesn't work in the U.S. It just doesn't make any sense."

SOON Productions is proud to present


Hosted By




And the music of


Playing for One Night Only at

120 W. State Street
Ithaca, NY

7 PM

Monday, September 05, 2005

Seems Tony and I are tied for Sexiest Male Poetry Blogger, though distant seconds to sexy Someone Else. Thanks to all my fans!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Here Comes Everybody, especially Jordan Flaherty.
Richard Ford in The Guardian.
Watching TV after a day beautiful as a hallucination, searing images, a montage of suffering—live feed interrupted by the undeath of Rehnquist, obituary tapes long lying ready in the vaults of the networks. Obscenity of jackals, obscenity of whores.

Of that which we cannot speak we must therefore pass over in silence.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Okay, people. There's a time for sticking to your guns. And there's a time for admitting that what you're doing isn't worth the pain it's causing. In the name of common decency, I'm taking it all down. The suffering is too intense.
Please give to the Red Cross if you haven't done so already. If you don't want to use the Web, call 1-800-HELP-NOW.
Wow. Now I'm as fond of the Suicide Girls as the next heterosexual hipster, but this strikes me as a desperate rather than playful move on behalf of the editors. Talk about poetry as commodity! Maybe it's meant to be a kind of tandem commentary on the commodification of the female breast, but Rebecca Wolf's editor's note about the cover doesn't think that possibility through.

I hope at least there's an insert with more photos. I have no problem with the juxtaposition of erotica and poetry, I'd even like to see more of it, but this just seems cynical, playing entirely into the hands of the argument behind The Resistible Rise of Fence Enterprises.

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