Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Thomas wonders, "In what sense (if any) are "Westward Ho, or the Migration of Guilt" (Ryan G. Van Cleave) and "Their Guys, Their Asian Glittering Guys, Are Gay" (Michael Magee) "in the same neighbourhood" (Josh Corey)?" Well, I don't think those poems are in the same neighborhood; I just see the Van Cleave poem's reprocessed pop culture texture used to tell a story of the return of the repressed as derived from an impulse similar to what I've seen in flarf. Really my thinking about this was influenced by Jasper's idea about flarf as opposed to the lyric abstract of A Tonalism, a dichotomy which places both tendencies within the larger category of a would-be oppositional poetics. In the sketch he provides ("Flarf's odes to A-Tonalism's elegies; pressure of speech to aphasia; plenum to void"), the Van Cleave poem falls clearly on the flarf side. But it's true he doesn't get anywhere near as "inappropriate" as the most daring flarf poems do, like "Their Guys" or "Chicks Dig War." So maybe the je ne sais quois of flarf is not the manic social constructivism but its capacity for activating the squeamishness of its readers vis-a-vis sex, gender, class, and race? It seems to me that social constructivism is the genus of which flarf is a species, and that any poem of that genus succeeds or fails by affectively implicating the reader in its discourse. By pushing hard against the boundaries of the "inappropriate," a poem like "Their Guys" achieves something like an implicative sublime. Your feeling about the poem may be largely determined by whether or not you see its author as a fellow implicatee or as a righteous prosecutor or as getting away with being transgressive (or not getting away with it). In that respect flarf, and social constructivism generally, might require more specific information about the author and his or her intent (the kind gained most readily from membership in his or her coterie) than poems that are received as fitting into a pre-existing context or genre. Call it the intentional fallacy of flarf. It will be interesting to see how it evolves formally—that is, as a mode or modes of language attempting to be adequate to its content, which at this time seems mainly to be "inappropriates" that, almost by definition, resist all legitimate formulation. It's an attempt to think the obscene without reconciling us to it—a neat trick if it works.

Can't help but think that David Hess' essay Two Poems by John Ashbery for Now, posted yesterday on his long-hiatused blog, is somehow relevant to this discussion.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Not exactly flarf but definitely in the same neighborhood: Ryan G. Van Cleave's poem "Westward Ho, or the Migration of Guilt" over at Xconnect. I also really dig this surprising eponymous cross-pollination "Dear A.R. Ammons: An Epistolary Meditation." More fine poems from the latest issue, including two by Kasey, can be read here.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Refreshed. If you're ever looking for peace and solitude with a view of hills and trees, and a wood stove to sit by in the evenings, you could do worse than visit Light On The Hill in Van Etten, New York, just half an hour or so from Ithaca. Very restful and a good place for the gathering of personal resources.

David Baratier tells me that my new chapbook, Composition Marble, has arrived at Pavement Saw Press and copies are en route to me via media mail. Very excited about seeing it. It will be available for purchase from Pavement Saw for the low price of six dollars American in the near future.

On attenuated hypotaxis: I did some reading around in Ashbery's Flow Chart while retreating and came to the provisional conclusion that syntax itself, or at least narrative syntax, is what that poem and much else by Ashbery seems to be "about." Over and over again I noticed hypotactic connectors being used that actually served to disconnect one line or sentence (his generally long lines largely efface the natural tension between line and sentence) from the next, rendering the referents of pronouns (especially "it") impossibly vague. I kept feeling like I was reading a fairy tale that consisted entirely of pleasant, slightly surreal variations on the phrase, "Once upon a time." Here's a random passage from the first section reduced almost entirely to connectors, pronouns, and the occasional verb:
What we are... is both... or else... like.... So it seems we must stay... not quite..., not... though..., if..., not.... Did I say that? Can this be me? Otherwise... one might as well.... And meanwhile...; ...; some episode... and even.... It is time for..., and..., but surely somebody... before..., before... and... instead of... having concluded that... interesting only because... at the very moment..., one of innumerable..., so long as..., subtracted like... and replaced... climate of any day and of all the days, postmillenarian.
Of course occasional images and phrases pop out of the general ramble, but these are exceptions to the rule of what the poem directs my attention to: echt narrativity, the experience of Now this, and that, so that, therefore.... Or it's like a staged struggle between rhetoric and poetry, with the occasional flash of poetic condensare and, much more, the destabilized syntax working against the experience of discursivity, while the sheer endlessness of the text and the proliferation of connectors, however frustrated and frustrating, prevents me from assimilating the text as I do most poems: as pockets and flashes of verbal energy that accumulate into a total experience. Though the poem doesn't lack atmosphere, stimmung: it's a peculiar synthesis of exhaustion and nervous energy, in which the stakes are constantly being raised and then as regularly deflated, so that it becomes almost like a maximalist Beckett piece: I can go on, I can go on, oy—look how I go on! That this mode has its pleasures is the most surprising thing about it: I can dip into the stream and be carried along and get almost an experience of pure reading without regard to any content more specific than this spirit of belatedness, middle-agedness, and diffuse wonder. A poem without qualities.

Starting to follow the a tonalist vs. flarf debate as brilliantly summarized by Jasper. I don't know the work of the a tonalists as well as I'd like to, though I've been meaning to get to Brent Cunningham's Bird and Forest for a while now. Right now I sort of unhelpfully lump them in my own aesthetic (dis)organization as the Michael Palmer tendency toward obliquity, the lyric abstract, differance—oh hell I'll go all the way and call 'em Dickinsonian. While flarf is a goofy godchild of Walt Whitman's inclusiveness, his refusal of otherness that can turn over and become a critique of purity and the puritan. This is the not-so-ancient dualism at the heart of American poetry, or at least so my helplessly binaristic mind says. Where things get real interesting is where the intensely inward drive of the Dickinson-tendency tries to socialize itself or organize even on the fantasy level as a collectivity (what the a tonalists are skeptically up to); the opposite number of course being the outward-bound intensely social imagination of the Whitman-tendency being turned inward on itself. We are much more used to the latter than the former, thanks to the legacy of Romanticism (Harold Bloom for one never met a poem that he liked that he couldn't turn into a version of Browning's "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"—I'm sure he's managed it with Flow Chart) and American pragmatism (how can we make this useful to the rugged individual). I'm not sure I see this actually happening with flarf, but I do think those who accuse flarf of collaboration with capital or of pseudo-ironic identification with racism, sexism, etc., are being sensitive to the classic downside of the Whitman-tendency, which is to overstrenuously celebrate what is and even act positively as a colonizer. This is all speculation based on nothing much more than the discourses surrounding these movements: the real test is the reading of actual poems. But discourses aren't nothing: I for one am fascinated by the opportunity to watch literary movements evolve in real time, struggling to establish their own opposing or apposing relations to the larger field, and to canonicity.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Going on a retreat for a couple of days. Back Thursday.
More can be important. Anne's thoughts on snapshots and how digital cameras have in effect redistributed the value of representation strikes me as a partial answer to Jasper's concern about how blogs might create a social imaginary that substitutes for social action, i.e., genuine collectivity. I'm not a digital utopian, but I do think it's possible that the digital is capable of enabling that more without necessarily subtracting from the value of what is. Increasingly convinced that structural analysis and structural solutions are inadequate without the daily willing of one's values. There is no "outside" and to be placed outside is no guarantee of virtue. We must all in some way individually confront the contradictions of our lives without hoping that some transcendental chess move on our part might remove them.
Excellent SOON reading on Saturday night. Aaron Kunin gave an electric performance reading from his collection of "small poems about shame," Folding Ruler Star. That phrase doesn't touch on the book's ambition, though; this description does: "a value-neutral Paradise Lost. In other words, someone who is not god tells you to avoid a certain tree, and you disobey the instruction; the result is shame. Two characters agree that one of them is supposed to worship and obey the other without actually believing that the other possesses any special qualities that would enforce obedience; the first one disobeys the second one and has to be punished." So it's a book about the arbitrary sexuality of the master-slave relationship, which also inevitably points back at the human-God relationship as a sadomasochistic one. This is combined with a topography of the human body inspired by the work of Sylvan Tompkins, who located the affect of shame in the face; as Aaron put it, "Shame is simply casting the eyes down—the basic reading posture." (Surely this notion of the face as the neurological location/processor of shame has interesting implications for the thought of Emmanuel Levinas? But a cursory Google shift does not produce these names in congruity with each other.) The poems themselves consist of poem-pairs, each with the same title, perhaps meant to produce binary struggle between them: which poem-half is the master, which the slave? Aaron reads with intensity, his eyes squinted almost shut, while the poems have a chopped, reticulated syntax that reminds me of Creeley at his most baroque. He concluded the reading with "Five Security Zones," a re-engineering of the blazon (the Petrarchan mode of dismembering the beloved in a poem, i.e., "Your forehead is like alabaster, your eyes are sapphires," etc.) that transforms the erogenous zones of the beloved into five "zones" whose alarms are set off by the poet/lover's attention. (Suggests a subdivision of the area delineated by J.G. Ballard's seuxalized automobile crashes: the erotics of the car alarm.) I caught a quotation from the great seventies paranoia thriller Three Days of the Condor in that poem: "I'm not a spy, I just read books!" A simultaneously anguished and playful statement of the poet-lover's condition, and as good a summary for what Aaron is up to in his first book as any.

John Coletti read second: his low-key, slightly self-deprecating humor made for a nice contrast to Aaron's livewire. He kicked off with other poets' poems: first a couple from a chapbook by Steve Carey with what he says is the best title for a poetry book ever, Generous Subsidy, and then a poem by Simon Pettet. Like these poets, John's poems are short but crammed with surreal, paratactic observations that have an almost synesthetic intensity: "cherry tobacco," "my mouth circling triangles," "I'm a soft flower / with tough roots," and my favorite line from the poem "Hippies" that Aaron did up as a broadside: "Pagans woke up in my skinyard." There's a certain echo of religion as shaping and deforming force in the work, as with Aaron Kunin; John was a Mormon until the age of fourteen. He has responded to that experience mainly with a dry, slightly singed humanism, and the touching faith in the validity of his own experience that the lyric poet requires.

After a reading like this, it's hard not to conclude that there's still a lot of life left in the lyric, and that the poem of the subjective field can still produce a sizable synaptic whallop. I would hazard that this kind of formally torqued lyric still relies, almost classically, on the self as the force-field that hold the poem together. I think of what the critic Brian Reed has to say about "attenuated hypotaxis," quoted here by Marjorie Perloff in a passage on the early, avant-garde T.S. Eliot in her book 21st Century Modernism:
The syntax of "Prufrock" is characterized bywhat Brian Reed, writing about Hart Crane's syntax, aptly calls "attenuated hypotaxis," that is a sequence of "tenuously interconnected" clauses and phrases "possessing some relation of subordination to another element," but with the connections blurred, "inhibit[ing] the formation of clear, neat, larger units" (Reed 2000: 387). Such faux-hypotaxis, Reed argues, was to become, in its more extreme forms, the characteristic mode of John Ashbery and Robert Creeley, Tom Raworth and Lyn Hejinian—none of whom, we might add, has claimed Eliot as a precursor. (25)
Hypotaxis and paraxtaxis, of course, are syntactical modes, but we have long been accustomed to stretching the notion of "syntax" beyond the sentence, so that it might refer in general to the arrangement of elements within a text. One could assemble a quick-and-dirty syntactical theory of verse by arguing that one can distinguish the genres of poems by their choice or rejection of the element that stands firmly or hazily at the head of their syntax. That is, a lyric poem presumes some version of the self more or less corresponding with the poet's own subjectivity as its "master clause"; the subordinate clauses then either flow from that master clause in a more or less coherent narrative (hypotaxis); or are disjunctive to a great degree, perhaps constantly appearing to veer on new tacks while never quite leaving the self behind—there's still a recognizable, coherent "I" even if it undergoes sizable transformations, as in an Ashbery poem (attenuated hypotaxis); or else perhaps imitate the master clause through a series of repetitions that do not build on each other in any linear way but which constantly refer back to the center, bearing the same relation to the center and to each other as the spokes of a wheel bear to their hub (parataxis). In all cases, however, some notion of the "I" holds the poem together to produce the lyric effect (though a plural subjectivity is also possible, as in Juliana Spahr's This Connection of Everyone with Lungs, which uses the attenuation of its hypotaxis to dramatize the fragility of its "we," its "connection"). What we don't see too much of: poems that are epic or georgic in their orientation—that is, constructive of history or else didactic and instructive. And there are probably other non-lyric possibilities for poetry that I'm not thinking of. But syntax in this sense has a certain limited usefulness for describing what poems do and even how they think of themselves in relation to other poems: does an affinity for parataxis have the political implications that Silliman and others claim for it, or is it just another literary tool as capable of replicating bourgeois subjectivity as it is of disrupting it? And if Reed and Perloff are correct in suggesting that attenuated hypotaxis the dominant mode of lyric postmodernity, what does that suggest in terms of formal options for non-lyric modes, or for what I sometimes think of as the provisional lyric: the poem which proposes an accomodating, inclusive "I," something like the Whitmanian multitude of which no clause will be master?

Friday, May 19, 2006

But my goodness never mind my malaise—just get your butt down to the SOON Reading here in Ithaca tomorrow at 7 PM with Aaron Kunin and John Coletti (click link for details). In anticipation I highly recommend this interview with Aaron and two reviews of two of John's chapbooks, The New Normalcy and Physical Kind. Come what may in May, today! Okay, tomorrow.
Continuing post-chapter malaise and grading have left me with little to say about poetry. Right now I'm enjoying the rare indulgence of a novel—Norman Rush's Mating, an entertainingly erudite account of a 1980s love affair between a floundering graduate student in anthropology (our heroine and narrator—Rush has been I think justly praised for his facility in conjuring a woman's point of view) and a world-famous development scholar building a utopian community in an undisclosed location in Botswana (shades of the Dharma Initiative!), which I suspect will have comic if not Kurtz-like results. It's the same smarty-pants subgenre of romance novel as A.S. Byatt's Possession (which I also thoroughly enjoyed), with muscular ideas instead of abs causing all the sighing—but no less wish-fulfillment narratives for all that.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

On Shanna's advice, I replaced Blogger comments with Haloscan. So far so good... but I seem to have lost all the comments that folks previously posted! I regret that very much. Shanna, any idea how I can get 'em back?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

If you haven't already seen it, Tom Beckett's interview with Gary Sullivan is very much worth a look.

I'm going to start moderating comments for a while. I have no problem with criticism of my ideas—I welcome it. But I'm not interested in ad hominem attacks from the anonymous and I won't allow them in my backyard. Take it somewhere else.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Zukofsky chapter—or at least a first draft of it—is complete! Phew! Ronald Johnson is next and last. I'm three-fourths of a PhD!

Think I'll take the rest of the week off and read poems or something.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mercutio on the Lam

Recent enthusiasms:

- I Remain: The Letters of Lew Welch, both volumes of which I picked up at the Friends of the Library Book Sale a couple of weeks back. It sometimes makes for sad reading: young Welch goes from being a bright-eyed and ambitious Reed student (who writes a full-length monograph on Gertrude Stein for his senior thesis) to an alcoholic self-hating advertising man in Chicago to a homeless lurker in northern California cabins, and will apparently end with Welch's walking into the Sierra Nevadas and vanishing forever in 1971. The man did a lot of damage to himself, as though in rejecting the stifling norms of 1950s America he was also forced to reject some vital part of his own body. But there's wit and an engaging ingenuousness about the possibilities of poetry too, and an affection for the world and his friends (who included Philip Whalen, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Joanne Kyger, and Gary Snyder) that has me rooting for him, though I already know the dismal end.

- Geoffrey Nutter's Water's Leaves & Other Poems. I was a fan of Nutter's A Summer Evening too; it and Cort Day's The Chime alerted me to the possibilities today in writing a sequence of short, verbally intense poems (I think I heard somewhere that the two of them in some way collaborated on the ten-line form that they use in those books, though to different ends). Water's Leaves abandons the ten-liner for a more discursive free verse that charges its language through a lush, supple diction and rapid leaps in association, but some of my favorite poems in the book are the short ones that achieve a kind of baroque condensare:

What is the shield of Faith, and the breast-plate
of Hope, to the fruit of the date palm?
For the fronds are like pellucid ramparts.
And the speal-bones used in divination quiver
on the back of his hand, for the future
quivers theron like a feather. The sidewinder
shucked off the shroud like a farm-girl eating maize,
like golden-leafed applique left on the floor.
And you will apprehend a covert thought, that
somehow in the music's pause comes the cadenza,
in the slab-like silence where it seems no music could survive.
You are called upon to listen for it, and when you hear it,
as you will, it will be yours. Fronds sway in the air
over Comb Jelly City.
On the back cover John Yau proposes the following over-the-top rhetorical question: "Could it be that Wallace Stevens and Gertrude Stein met in Elysium and had a sun named Geoffrey Nutter?" It's accurate, though, to see Stevens and Stein as two points of the compass that rotates around Nutter's work. Here's a poem that could easily kick off a volume entitled Harmonium II:
El Arco Iris Olmec

Talking about the Mayan rapture
rain fell on an ancient civilization
just as it now falls on the green grass
it has abandoned. Many were eating papaya
every morning, just like I was.
Many one's child got lost in the market
and were dozing for hours in vegetables pushed
into pyramid candles and prisms like I was.
The instress eats them away like beowulf.

Then someone buying a papaya rooster.
All frisson in its plumage, all unusable like ghosts.
Fifty thousand wraiths glow orange above the hills
and then a rainbow. Something agave
is revived. The shadow
of a luna moth behind the window.
More rarely is Nutter overtly Steinian, but I hear Stein, maybe via Lisa Jarnot, in this poem, as self-parodic in its attempt to name the beloved as Yau's blurb is:
Giant Water Bugs

I'm talking to giant water bugs... and they're built.
Yes, they're beautiful; yes, I'd marry them all if I could.
My moods change all the time.
I am a white car shooting a blue spotlight into the sky!
Then I am a small animal with wet hair, a cat with feathery wings.
You're beautiful, astonishing, unbelievable, amazing,
     hypnotic, terrific.
You're giant, enormous, bigger than a tree, of marvelous stature, a
towering, giant flowering bird!
What's that flaring out of the sun-rooted rigs?
A tree of great stature.
With what loveliness you loom with rapture over me.
There is nothing like you anywhere.
It seems to me that the true love child of Stevens and Stein in our time has to be John Ashbery, and often reading this book I got the same pleasure of tickled synapses that I get from Ashbery's whimsical, death-haunted late work. But if Nutter's an Ashberian he's at least very good at it, and I get the sense of a genuine wonder—at the world and at the mysterious sources of inspiration—struggling through the chinks of his ornate verbal surfaces. There's a there there, in other words, an imaginative landscape (the "instress") that feels like Geoffrey Nutter, a private Oz. I liked visiting it.

- If "enthusiasm" can encompass grief, there's my mother's poetry that was on my mind all this Mother's Day weekend. My mother loved poetry, wrote poetry, read my poetry; I have often felt myself to be somehow living her afterlife for her. Sometimes I return to the collection of her poems that my father and one of her closest friends put together and had bound, inexplicably, between mauve covers. Are they good poems? It doesn't exactly matter to me, because this is the landscape of poetry as it was given to me. My mother gave me to understand poems as evocative, in the fullest senses of that word: summoning, recalling, naming, voicing. Most of her poems don't have titles: here's a kind of ars poetica that she wrote:
I have (wr)it
A coming
sort of Poe am
I think, therefore
(you know the rest)
ing in the bosom of the
sea (oh say can you)
I mean everything
I say is real
camp-ing on the old
tent round circuses
and bread
and Caesar in partes tres
divided is conquered
poor Mercutio
Anyway it's all words.
I was haunted for years by that single line, "poor Mercutio," for the way it completely revised Romeo & Juliet, turning the archetypal tale of star-crossed lovers into an elegy for Romeo's fey and gorgeous friend. I actually went so far as to try and write a novel about Mercutio in my early twenties, Mercutio on the Lam, in which the Mercutio character (now a troubled high school student in Verona, NJ) tries to escape the fate that's written for him. As it happens, he was obsessed with the band Queen, which made me feel a strong sense of connection with Dan Nester when I first met him. The novel's now sitting in a box gathering dust under the bed. But as a record of my mother's reading, the poem is priceless to me. There's another poem of hers whose lines seem to me to contain an entire novel, under pressure as it were. Perhaps someday I'll try to unfold it:
They walk the battlements
visors down
it is a truce, though wary

none is left

the doctor and chaplain
are roaring in the kitchen

Even as I wake
I am fully conscious of history
Still asleep
he squeezes my thigh with affection

I move away
and watch a cardinal,
which turns out to be
a fall leaf,
through my window
The rhythm of that line, "the doctor and chaplain," has bothered me for a long time—it seems to me the stanza ought to go, "the doctor and the chaplain / are roaring in the kitchen." But that's not what she wrote. She never to my knowledge published any of these poems, except perhaps in the newsletter of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship to which she belonged. But she knew a thing or two about literary politics:
Bronx Cheer

last time I saw
my friend, the poet,
he was emceeing a cataclysm
his exuberant beard
alive with words
in his eye

       "the hieroglyphs swam quickly up the Nile"

I have heard
he is published
and clean-shaven
Hardest to read are the poems written in the year and a half before she died from cancer—it was the second time she'd had cancer:
When I die
it will be
from surfeit
of daily detail
and vagrant
chewing their way
to my core

but not

I am not afraid
of death
but of
the long
Are these poems? I really don't know. They're epigraphs she wrote for herself, maybe. Here's one of my favorites, dated eight months before her death:
I have never tasted
Sweeter lips than yours

O melancholy
O patience on her monument
O jocund day
O Niobe, all tears
O the bones of rivers
O tempora, mores
O life!
Oh shit.
Good poems or bad, my mother is the mother of my writing. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Right now this is the level of discourse I'm up to: Heckuva Lost episode last night.

If anyone reading this is interested in going to a writer's conference, I'm told that the deadline is fast approaching (May 17) for applying to the Napa Valley Writers Conference, and scholarships are available for poets to work with Forrest Gander, Brenda Hillman, Arthur Sze or C.D. Wright (the fiction faculty are Ron Carlson, Michelle Huneven, Antonya Nelson, or ZZ Packer). I never officially attended it, but I did visit some friends who were attending for a couple of days back in 1999 and it seemed to be a great time. It's one of the strongest faculties you'll find at any such conference—plus it's in an absolutely beautiful area. Click on the link for application details.

Papers to grade—sometimes I think that's "grade" in the sense of "To level or smooth to a desired or horizontal gradient." Sigh.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Home from New York, some quiet hours on the grass with the new issue of n + 1, that convocation and collocation of mostly earnest mostly young mostly male writers and thinkers, whose collective ambition nourishes and disquiets within the scope of features titled "The Intellectual Scene" (this month: a scary appraisal of how we are collectively and individually not yet scared enough of global warming), last quarter's "Radiohead, or the Philosophy of Pop" (the micro and macro brilliantly contained in the band that wrote our youth's paranoid soundtrack right up till September 10, 2001—who steps into the gap now that "they" really are out to get "us"?), or the new editors' symposium "American Writing Today," an admirably inclusive if ultimately prose- and novel-centric survey whose bleakness and pessismism is belied by the writers' own critical energy—that ambition that wants to mestasticize something borrowed, something blue (the European psychological novel which is also the nonfiction memoir which is also the novel of social research, all three categories epitomized for the writers generally by the late great W.G. Sebald—not an American, not even a writer of English) into something new. Oh yes, a little poetry does sneak in: Stephen Burt, our village's premier explainer, offers a few pages of his characteristically gentle incisiveness (he locates the key break between postwar poetry, which had and wanted a "center," and the contemporary centerless, in 1973: from the Age of Lowell to the ages of the Ashberians), while Philip Connors' entertaining memoir piece, "My Life and Times in American Journalism," quotes some poems by Frederick Seidel that appeared in the Wall Street Journal while Connors, queasily, was an editor there. Pretty good poems, too: Seidel hadn't previously been on my radar, but a quick Google (is there any other kind?) finds a review that labels him "probably the last American decadent", a label that belies the anguished moral energy behind the second poem Connors quotes, a post-9/11 poem spoken in the voice of a terrorist that does not try, as Martin Amis recently did, to domesticate hatred and nihilism: the Other stays Other, and if there's a glimmer of recognition it's of the Other in ourselves. I believe it's from Seidel's Area Code 212, which is apparently Dante in reverse, beginning in Paradise and ending in Inferno:
I don't believe in anything, I do
Believe in you.
Down here in hell we do don't.
I can't think of anything I won't.

I amputate your feet and I walk.
I excise your tongue and I talk.
You make me fly through the black sky.
I will kill you until I die.

Thank God for you, God.
I do.
My God, it is almost always Christmas Eve this time of year, too.
Then I began to pray.

I don't believe in anything anyway.
I did what I do. I do believe in you.
Down here in hell they do don't.
I can't think of anything we won't.

How beautiful thy feet with shoes.
Struggling barefoot over dunes of snow forever, more falling, forever, Jews
Imagine mounds of breasts stretching to the horizon.
We send them to their breast, mouthful of orison.

I like the color of the smell. I like the odor of spoiled meat.
I like how gangrene transubstantiates warm firm flesh into rotten sleet.
When the blue blackens and they amputate, I fly.
I am flying a Concorde of modern passengers to gangrene in the sky.

I am flying to Area Code 212
To stab a Concorde into you,
To plunge a sword into the gangrene.
This is a poem about a sword of kerosene.

This is my 21st century in hell.
I stab the sword into the smell.
I am the sword of sunrise flying into Area Code 212
To flense the people in the buildings, and the buildings, into dew.
I can't believe that poem made it into the Wall Street Journal. It was another world, a recognition scene, if only for a moment.

So I am thinking like the editors darkly and brightly on a bright sunny afternoon, having returned from area code 212 which seemed at once the longed-for mosaic of difference and a consumerist carnival stuffed with caricatures, everyone skating on an invisible river of money, talking about real estate in the shops and on the subways and in actual garden apartments. Me and Emily registering to be householders, but what sort of house...? Had a panic attack in Bloomingdales that turned into a migraine; ABC Carpet was better (saw Michael Cross of Atticus/Finch there) but what do its many flatscreens promoting the Al Gore movie mean as one bauble among many in the phantasmagoria of beautiful deracinated objects? (The woman in charge of partnership registries there told us in all seriousness that the store does a lot of benefits—for example, it hosted a party for Vanity Fair's "green issue.") We are weaving and winding our way toward the wedding through a maze of material expectations. And don't we want it to be beautiful? We do we do. But what exactly is "China"? And why do we need it?

It is almost six, not too late to go whack a bucket of balls sunsetward. And who do we become but who we are? Is there any future for the lyric? Is there such a thing as a lyric future? Our garden is the space between us: let it become charged with some sort of language, with what's proper in Mark Greif's sense. His contribution to the "Politics" section of n + 1 includes a proposal for the redistribution of wealth that would guarantee a $10,000 income to every American while taxing 100% of the earnings exceeding $100,000 of any American. It's impossible and impossibly beautiful, because it's upheld with a notion of the proper. What I call pastoral:
True property is that which is proper to you: what you mix your hands into (Locke), what is characteristic of you and no one else, and would change state in anyone else's possession. It is your clothes, your domicile, the things you touch and use, the land you personally walk. Property is the proprium, a possesion which becomes like a characteristic; it starts as if it could belong to anyone, and comes to be what differentiates you. If it wears the mark of your feet and the smudge of your fingertips, your scent and your private atmosphere, then there is indeed something special and inviolable about property, even where it has come into your hands inequitably, by inheritance or a surfeit of income. The diamond worn at the throat every evening must share a certain protection, under the law, with the torn cloak that keeps some shivering person warm.

This is distinct, however, from all wealth which is not capable of being used in the ordinary necessities of a life or even the ordinary luxuries. From any wealth that cannot be touched or worn or walked every day by its possessor, which neither comes from nor enables the mixing-in of hands but always and inevitably exists as a kind of notional accumulation of numbers, the protection of the proprium withdraws. When you have more houses than you or your family can live in, more cars than you can drive; more income in a year than can be spent on what you or your family can actually use, even uselessly use; then we are not speaking of property anymore, not the proprium, but of the inappropriate and alien—that which one gathers to oneself through the accident of social arrangements, exploiting them willfully or accidentally, and not through the private and the personal.
Because I am a poet, and because I think change always begins with the self—or rather, the field in which one mixes one's hands—I will be thinking about this as a morality, as a political economy that might apply to the social field of writing and to writing itself. The proprium may be a new way to think what gets too quickly confused with privilege, which drags down the spirit in guilt and accumulation. More to think on. Meanwhile, school's out. The summer's here. The wedding—its proprium, its field of connection toconnection, its place of first permission—is to come.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

End of classes + finishing off the Zuk chapter + getting ready for a weekend in New York = no time to blog, much less to ponder Johannes' response to my major/minor musings (again with the T.S. Eliot comparisons!) or Jessica's Deleuze et Guattari thesis, much less the new-to-me phenomenon of lensing.

May or may not make it to any NYC readings but I am looking forward to this.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Huzzah to the immigrants' rights marchers. If virtual solidarity counts for anything, count me in.

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