Sunday, August 31, 2008

Michael Palmer - Active Boundaries

As one might imagine, Michael Palmer has a lot to say about poetry and poetics in his new collection of selected essays and talks, Active Boundaries. He has a lot to say about other things as well. Painters and writers, mostly non-American. On the writing of poems, he touches and weaves, in his own idiosyncratic way. Here are a few cuts from the end of “Form’s Mind” which he originally gave as a talk at, of all places, Breadloaf!


Michael Palmer
from “Form’s Mind (Some Thoughts along the Way)”

Even the vanguardist impulse to clear the decks derives from an observed need to cleanse and restore the power of the imaginative word. Even the poem of traditional measures . . . bears its obligation toward the never-before. Even the sociological or politically motivated poem will reveal an aesthetic dimension (which comprises as well the anti-aesthetic)….

In each successful instance, a certain surplus of meaning will occur, a dimension of semantic inexhaustibility beyond the strictly communicative function, that will allow the poem to return, will allow it to converse with an other, an unknown addressee, will allow it to flow and submit to alternative readings, alteration, othering…. This is not an argument for riddling complexity, but for the echoic richness and referential breadth of even the simplest poetic speech in a particular framework of desire, that point where “the poetic, world-disclosing function of language” (Habermas) escapes the constraints of its daily obligations. As all poetry escapes or overrides what the poet means to say to arrive at what the poem means. Informing form vs. conforming form. Without this last step into the dark, so to speak, into a kind of trust or acknowledgement, the poem—and the poet—will never fully come to be.

If I say the Laws of Form, of active form, are unknowable, as opposed to formal rules, it is not meant as an act of mystification…. We cannot “know” the Laws of Form except as they enact language across, but not outside of, time. Form, as understood here, includes but transcends the aesthetic, and includes its own particular ethical determinants. We observe this most graphically in the varied goals and desires and understandings of active form among our various poetic subcultures. . . . Laws of Form have nothing to do with “ideal form,” but rather with the poem’s being-in-the-world, its stance toward systems of control, societal and aesthetic preconceptions and received ideas. One might say, the poem’s eternal stance against passive subjectivity against the given, on behalf of the unspeakable and unheard. . . . Whenever poetry moves too close to power, or is seduced by authority . . ., it begins to emit a curious, though recognizable, odor, signaling its demise. So, we might also conjecture that the Laws of Form include something like an ethics of representation, varying from community to community….

At the same time, we have allowed our debates to wander into a number of areas of seemingly irresolvable contention. Traditional formalists (neo- and otherwise) contend that only a return to narrative linearity and metrical orthodoxy will save us from the flood of nondescript nonmetrical verse. Vanguardists (neo- and otherwise) maintain that the master narratives have collapsed, that a fractured or multiple subjectivity is the only vital reflection of, or commentary upon, the swirling moment, the only viable response to the culture of control. Both, interestingly, rail against the institutional workshop, not without some justification, as producer of the McPoet and McPoem, of relentlessly normal, disempowered verse….

I think, for the most part, these debates are to be welcomed and joined…. At the same time, they risk leaving the poem, once again, homeless or, at least, exiled from the debate itself and without a voice. The prescriptions of the New Formalists tend frequently, in certain hands, toward the formulaic, producing work of a dreary familiarity and transparency and a reader-friendly blandness. Much recent vanguardist activity (often itself now a product of workshops) displays an overdependence on the “device” (collage, fragmentation, the aleatoric, displacement, borrowed Oulipean operations and so on), ironically engendering another version of the overly familiar or formulaic, the “same” as sign of “difference.” Maybe I’m saying nothing more than that any poetics can calcify into an evasion, an evasion of listening and attendance to that other information, that othering voice that arises along the way. It has perhaps something to do with the elusive nature of the poem, its uncanniness, its mindedness, its insistence, its necessary heresies, that it not be welcomed to the debate itself . . . .

If I am arguing for anything . . . . perhaps implicitly, I am invoking an alternative model of form that is fluid, shifting, communicative, an unfolding and enfolding, and a mutuality.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Who Are Your Friends & What Does That Say About You?

It is not about what you do, it is about who you do it with, as they say.

I’ve been reading (devouring, might be a better way of putting it) Michael Palmer’s new book of essays and talks, Active Boundaries, for the past couple weeks, and one thing keeps rising to the surface, often unsaid, but obvious: groups of people are important.

I know this sounds as silly as it sounds obvious, but there is a tendency for us both to want to be islands as much as to want to characterize people by tendencies. I’m interested in this.

Are friends the same as groups? Do I have a group, then? Do you have a group? Is it as simple as just having friends? Would listing the names of one’s friends be the same as naming a group?

Michael Palmer, in his preface, gives us this:

Whatever may be good here is in great measure due to the exchange over the years with friends and co-conspirators such as Norma Cole, Robert Kaufman, Michael Davidson, Ann Lauterbach, Nathaniel Mackey, Rosmarie and Keith Waldrop, Fanny Howe, Susan Howe and Bei Dao, to cite only a very small number.

Do you see what I’m getting at? Could one just come up with a group name by listing the friends and co-conspirators of Michael Palmer, and then create a movement? And then an anthology? (I would like the anthology with the above poets as contributors very much, for instance.) Could you, likewise, take the constellation of your closest friends and co-conspirators and put a name on it? I know you want to. I know you don’t want to. And why would you not want to? And why would you want to?

Let’s say you’ve just written a book of essays. You want to acknowledge those who you’ve talked with at length. They’re probably your friends. They’re probably people you have something in common with. You list them out. Is it now an advertisement for a group?

Anyway, this is not Palmer’s point, I know, and perhaps I’m not saying much here other than that we arrive in context, and that context says something about us, and what that context says is interesting. It’s a preface.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
David Byrne & Brian Eno

The new album is available here:

It’s quite wonderful.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

David Byrne since 1988

The new song (“Strange Overtones”) by David Byrne & Brian Eno, that I’ve decided I seriously like very, very much, has reminded me again that I’ve failed to keep up with David Byrne. I was a big Talking Heads fan, and I found their last album, Naked, to be just about their weakest (despite the fact that I really like the song “(Nothing But) Flowers”). And then I found David Byrne’s album Rei Momo to be OK, but then I kind of lost track, except for the song “Like Humans Do” that came with my computer . . .

So, coming across this new gem in “Strange Overtones,” I’ve decided to do some major David Byrne research. It’s been fun getting reacquainted. Hello, David, how’ve you been?

He will be on tour this fall and coming to Kansas City. I’ll be there for that.

So here, then, is a collection of non-Talking Heads songs that are just wonderful. My own little David Byrne Best Of album:

Dirty Old Town – Rei Momo
Marching Through the Wilderness – Rei Momo
Miss America – Feelings
Glass, Concrete, & Stone – Grown Backwards
Tiny Apocalypse – Grown Backwards
Dialogue Box – Grown Backwards
The Sound of Business – The Knee Plays
The Great Western Road – Lead Us Not Into Temptation
What a Day That Was – Live from Austin, Texas
Like Humans Do – Look Into the Eyeball
She’s Mad – Uh-Oh
A Walk in the Dark – Uh-Oh
Don’t Fence Me In – The Bachelor Soundtrack
Strange Overtones (David Byrne & Brian Eno) – Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

If you’re curious, David Byrne can be found here:

David Byrne Journal

This is what he says about the new album:

“Today, a free track is available from the upcoming record that I did with Brian Eno. I’m hoping that folks will be pleasantly surprised at the direction we’ve taken and the final result. Since it’s only one song, it may give a skewed taste of the record, but many told me it’s their favorite track — I guess we’ll see.

I’m also wondering whether the web-curious will allow news of the album to spread more or less by itself. In the past, I might have undertaken all kinds of expensive marketing plans to prepare for a record release: there would be a teaser, live shows, posters, magazine ads, interviews, and advance CDs sent to writers and reviewers. We’ve done a few interviews, but that’s about it. It will be interesting to see if audiences find out about this song — and the record — without all those marketing techniques, and solely through Internet word-of-mouth.”

Anyway, here’s the website:

One of the things that’s interesting me, is that, apparently they’re going to be selling this album themselves. They have no record company. No press.

Last week, Byrne wrote a bit more about the collaboration, which sounds interesting. It really is a very good song they're giving away. It makes me hopeful for the album. But also, he wrote about the fact that there's no record company:

“Eno and I hadn’t worked together for many years, but since the Nonesuch reissue of Bush Of Ghosts in 2006, we’d kept in contact fairly regularly. In spite of a slow start, we began to collaborate, still with no plans to make a whole record (or whatever a collection of songs might be called now). After a while though, it became obvious that we were indeed making a record. As it neared completion, we decided to try releasing it ourselves — so far there is no record label involved — though various independent distributors will handle the physical CDs. Those who follow the music industry will know this idea is not entirely new; but every experiment in this area turns out a little different, as no model is right for everyone.

The artist and designer
Stefan Sagmeister is busy creating the packaging and graphics. We’ve worked together before and it always results in something new and surprising; I have no doubt it will happen again here too. Do I sound like a salesman? Am I too enthusiastic?”

Interesting stuff. More power to them.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Free Songs from Bob Dylan and Byrne & Eno

David Byrne and Brian Eno have teamed up for an album, titled nicely, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.

They’re giving away a free song: “Strange Overtones.” I like it. It’s good. Some disco way back there, some beats that are 20 years old. Some quick guitar.

Go here:

Also, Bob Dylan’s new Bootleg Volume 8 is coming soon.

They’re giving away the first track: “Dreamin’ of You.” I like it as well. Sounds kind of Oh Mercy, kind of Modern Times.

Go here: