Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Between one holiday and the next, between the old year and the new, between the illusion of independence and the illusion of dependence, from these betweens, before fatherhood, hello.

A Russian translator of Wallace Stevens writes to ask me about the significance of "desperate milk" in these lines from "Notes toward a Supreme Fiction":
To discover winter and know it well, to find,
Not to impose, not to have reasoned at all,
Out of nothing to have come on major weather,

It is possible, possible, possible. It must
Be possible. It must be that in time
The real will from its crude compoundings come,

Seeming, at first, a beast disgorged, unlike,
Warmed by a desperate milk. To find the real,
To be stripped of every fiction except one,

The fiction of an absolute— Angel,
Be silent in your luminous cloud and hear
The luminous melody of proper sound.
In the context of Stevens' poem, the beast (who bears a family resemblance to Yeats' "rough beast" in "The Second Coming") seems to represent the crude and horrifying appearance of reality in the first moments of its apprehension: it is reality revealed by the imagination (by the play of language) but not yet shaped by the imagination, so that it is "unlike," neither part of ordinary reality nor yet assimilated to the supreme fiction. The "desperate milk" puts the poet in a curiously maternal role: he (Stevens' poet is always a he) gives birth to the beast or at leads feeds and nurtures it with his strange, "desperate" language until the beast becomes simply "the real," "stripped of every fiction except one, // The fiction of an absolute." The beast represents a curious transitional moment in the transformative process of the poem, and a threat: one may be devoured by what one's vision has released. (For more on "Notes" see this untitled post of mine from February 2005.)

The beast is between: the devouring liminal. Is it Heidegger's Earth, animated—the unprocessed, unreal Real it is death to encounter? Death or transformation: same thing. The man I am will be transformed when my son or daughter is born sometime in the coming month. I will be born with him or her.

My new chapbook, Hope & Anchor, is almost out from Noemi Press. I may have copies on hand when I take part in the Chicago Poetry Marathon this Friday. Fifty-five poets in two hours! Prepare to be overwhelmed.

From The Transformed Man to Has Been, an epic trek. Between: being.

Monday, December 17, 2007


In answer to your question: in spite of my willingness, I did not actually learn how to breastfeed. But I learned that breastfeeding is important and that my support for breastfeeding is important. A father lives his life in proximity to the real work.

Anne Boyer read a poem with the title being something like, "Who Is Now Abject Full of Love and History." This is the name of the movement I would like to join, though it's too long.

Why has it taken me this long in life to be riding home late at night in my car on the snow-blown freeway listening to the radio to discover Joe Frank?

Michael Cross is a human dynamo. Where he lives magazines readings and small presses arise from the ground like Myrmidons. Seattle is next.

Kasey Mohammad has his own Wikipedia entry: should I be jealous? No, for his poetry is brilliant and funny and mad in the best way. The last strophe of "ABABA" from his new book Breathalyzer:
Melt away, dissolve, leave not a rack behind; go, be no more; die &c. The section of this poem describes blonde bubble butts, Russian peasant daily life, lords of doom, sauce for pasta recipe, girls who grunt loudly when accounting. I keep wondering if there's a term for this. A&P. A's. AA. AAA. AB. ABA. ABABA. These words are meant to bring to midn the poem "To a Mouse, on Turning Her up in Her Nest with a Plough," by Scotland's favorite poet, Robert Burns.
Everything I read lately including that sounds like Ashbery, which is not a criticism but a fact of parataxis, which rules my world: and and and and and. Read as: and and and, and and and.

Also acquired: Anne Boyer's Good Apocalypse by Anne Boyer; cede by Michael Cross; Imitation Poems by Patrick Durgin; Snow Sensitive Skin by Taylor Brady and Rob Halpern. The last two are particularly gorgeous physical objects.

Seriously, why this long to discover Joe Frank? A late-night ruminator on how Helen's beauty implies a continuum, so that it is possible to imagine a face that launches 427 ships.

Good night.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Virginia Woolf to Roger Fry, May 1927

I meant nothing by The Lighthouse. One has to have a central line down the middle of the book to hold the design of the book to hold the design together. I saw that all sorts of feelings would accrue to this, but I refused to think them out, & trusted that people would make it the deposit for their own emotions--which they have done, one thinking it means one thing another another. I can't manage Symbolism excepnin this vague, generalises way. Whether its right or wrong I don't know; but directly I'm told what a thing means, it becomes hateful to me.

Anne, Kasey, and Michael

I know where I'll be Sunday the 16th at 7 PM.

When I am not there I will be grading. When I am not grading I will be thinking about the problem of visionary poetry: poetry which does not proceed from the given to the ineffable, but starts with the ineffable and proceeds to madness, or doctrine.

I will also think about my fatigue with American moralism, how I move ever-closer to the position staked out by Ange Mliko, or how I would be doing so if staking out positions were not precisely antithetical to what Ange seems to be about.

I will think about the zone of autonomy that the aesthetic yet claims for itself, if only as a velleity.

I will plan my pastoral seminar and my poetry workshop.

I will attend a breastfeeding class in the hours before the poetry reading on Sunday.

I will or will not write about these things.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Two Rs

Une saison en enfer. An imaginary etymology: en is "in" and fer is "iron," so hell is in iron or to be in irons, and to be in hell doubles that enclosure. So: a season in in-iron; a season in-in hell.

Or, interiority: not hell is other people but hell is the other people that are the I that is an other.

Radiohead in The New York Times: Thom Yorke's donnish perch at a pub table in Oxford where he and his bandmates live (city of dreaming spires, Jude's Christchurch) moving bits of paper around on a cider-splashed table, the bits that shall become In Rainbows. Thom Yorke's civilized yawp bobbing and filling, the students circulating. Puts it on the Internet: pay what you want. [But the window has closed.]

"O seasons, O castles! / What soul's without hassles?" Worst. Translation. Ever.

As though assembling and disassembling my own plausibly denied youth. The radio-station stoners offered to set me up, toke me, put my head in rainbows—"we want to see what you'll say." No, I said, afraid of the law, of myself, my vocabulary's enough drugs for me. My vocabulary...

Another interrogation: the heavy lids, the loose cravat, the yellow nails, the smirk. His mother just offstage pulling her terrible quills erect. "But why did you resign?" "After the war? Before the war? Which war?" The letters have stopped speaking their colors. Head lolling, amused and unafraid, in the cabbage patch with the other Bibles waiting to be plucked.

Thousands and thousands of us downloading songs that question their own value and putting them in our ears: on trains, on buses, on subways, in the street, in classrooms, in "the peaceful home." Journey to the interior. "I think the train is lost." "How can it be lost? It's on rails!" . Another festschrit of quirks for our consummation. Owen Wilson's wounded head.

A secret verb presides over these paragraphs that mostly seem to concern themslves with the presentation of certain facts about our cultural life. Being poses as becoming in a dark alley. Becoming waits for being outside the stage door, methodically lopping the heads off the flowers in the bouquet.

In a minor key, as it were absentmindedly, we chain ourselves to each other in our tastes. This gregariousness of taste is political yet unpowerful till the generation sets like jello and taste becomes something else. (Blander, more wiggly, cool on the tongue.) Then you may read the tea leaves at the bottom of our leaders' cups. We live in the age of Republican rock and roll and the niche markets of the alternative juggernaut. (Sounds itself like a band.) Transgression is no longer secular. We are beset.

Is he dead or asleep? Neither poet nor soldier but the gun-runner goes between. Festering aftermath we call life.

In their thirties raising families between albums, as Rimbaud never did. Never even raised himself.

Disordered, our senses, OK Computer. Fitter, happier, more productive. Not drinking too much.

There is a leap between continents and centuries that they occupy, the modernists. Village explainers and dwellers. "Where'd you park the car?" Dying fall that reveals the network, the static ants we are, what Gibson gave us: "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." Above the port. The hero, Case, a failed data pirate, now a quasi-suicidal "artiste" of the fast and loose deal. A new employer and neurosurgery give Case a new lease on life and he goes back to exploring and unfolding the rich fields of data, to penetrating the collective cognitive map of the twenty-nth century's capital.

As though Rimbaud had returned to poetry, armed with all of his guns. "Je reviendrai, avec des membres de fer, la peau sombre, l'oeil furieux: sur mon masque, on me jugera d'une race forte." I will return with limbs of iron, dark skin, a furious eye: from my mask they will judge me as being of a strong race.

We must be absolutely modern.

O seasons, o chateaus,
What soul is flawless?

O seasons, o chateaus,

I've made the magic study
Of happiness no one escapes.

O he is reborn each time
The Gallic cock sings.

But I will desire no more—
It has conquered my life.

Such charm! it took soul and body
And scattered every effort.

What can be made of my language?
It causes them to flee, to fly.

O seasons, o chateaus!

Friday, December 07, 2007


The semester is almost over and I am tired.

Joshua Clover has written a fine review of Rod Smith's new book, Deed.

Joshua Clover's review of Rod Smith's new book Deed includes the following quotation from Stéphane Mallarmé: "There is only one man who has the right to be an anarchist" me, the Poet, because I alone create a product that society does not want, in exchange for which society does not give me enough to live on."

There is a magazine available at my local Borders called Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed.

I have been reading an advance reader's copy of Caroline Knox's new book, Quaker Guns, due out next spring from Wave Books.

"Quaker guns" are guns carved out of wood that merchants used to carry to scare off pirates and privateers.

Caroline Knox is a restless and delighting formal innovator.

"Caroline Knox" sounds like its own statement, reminiscent of the Raven at my chamber door.

Certain people have challenged things I've written on this blog recently and I've let those challenges go by, as it were, unchallenged.

"Sentences are not emotional but paragraphs are," Gertrude Stein said.

I finished Roberto Bolano's novel The Savage Detectives, the reading of which thrilled me, the finishing of which saddened me.

A novel about the lives of poets that's not insufferably precious seems scarcely possible, but this is what Roberto Bolano has achieved.

From what I understand Roberto Bolano began writing fiction because he was in poor health and wanted to make some money to help support his family before he died at the age of fifty.

It would appear that Roberto Bolano achieved what he wanted to achieve.

For a Haunakah present my wife gave me a copy of Junot Diaz's new novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao about an overweight young Dominican man from New Jersey obsessed with J.R.R. Tolkien.

It could be my autobiography except for the fact that I was never overweight, or Dominican.

Our as yet unnamed baby moves around a lot in my wife's belly in the evenings.

If I press on my wife's belly I can feel unnameable parts of the baby beneath my hand, this baby with at present two last names but no first name.

The first or "Christian" name is the only name in which gender resides.

Though my wife's last name, and the baby's middle name, is Grayson.

I am also reading Jeffrey Jullich's new book Thine Instead Thank, a new book which, however, tells us that it was completed in 1987.

Jeffrey Jullich's new book Thine Instead Thank begins with an excerpt from a conversation he once had with Bruce Andrews in which the two poets speculate that the genre of poetry in book form is always already defeated as "political outreach."

It would seem to be the presumption of Jeffrey Jullich and Bruce Andrews that political outreach is a desirable goal for poetry.

One has to ask if the pleasure derived from reading these often very funny poems, which can read like flarf avant la lettre, is therefore detachable and separate from political outreach, or if that pleasure is even achieved by the very detachment of language from any such instrumental goal.

The alternative would be that political outreach in itself is a pleasure.

Although a close relative works in the campaign of Hillary Clinton, I find myself attracted to Barack Obama, who is after all now my senator just as Hillary Clinton was precedingly my senator.

There is an undeniable pleasure to be taken from Barack Obama's efforts at political outreach, which include the pleasures of rhetoric and the pleasure of being offered membership in an entity larger than oneself.

A candidate who leads a movement promises this; a candidate who becomes a movement promises this.

We are all a little afraid of disappointment and more afraid of yielding to others' more bitter disappointment.

I am a little afraid of Mike Huckabee's likeability.

There is no necessary end to a succession of statements: one can continue to issue reports, a word that echoes retorts, that echoes echoes.

There may be further blogging, further retort.

There may be a baby who will take up writing someday.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Virginia Woolf on Poetry

Brain rather dried up. But I've been listening once again to Juliet Stevenson reading To the Lighthouse in my car (abridged, sadly), and I was struck by this passage:
"And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be are full of trees and changing leaves." She did not know what they meant, but, like music, the words seemed to be spoken by her own voice, outside her self, saying quite easily and naturally what had been in her mind the whole evening while she said different things. She knew, without looking round, that every one at the table was listening to the voice saying:
          I wonder if it seems to you,
             Luriana, Lurilee

with the same sort of relief and pleasure that she had, as if this were, at last, the natural thing to say, this were their own voice speaking.
The same but different from Pound's call for poetry to be "nothing you couldn't, in the stress of some emotion, actually say." The sense of own's own articulation, possessing and being possessed by another's language. Discovering what we might be capable of saying, of feeling, of being.

I maintain there are political implications for this moment. Though not, perhaps, the most important ones.

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