Thursday, July 29, 2010

Miroslav Holub - Vanishing Lung Syndrome

I recently came across Vanishing Lung Syndrome, by Miroslav Holub from the Field Translations Series 16 (1990), translated by David Young & Dana Hábová. Better late than never, I suppose, but I can’t believe something this fascinating and excellent has been just one room over for twenty years. Well, there you go. I’m making amends.

This book feels, for the want of a better word, appropriate. As soon as I’m finished reading it, I’m going to order his selected poems, titled Intensive Care, that Field also put out (in 1996). Follow the link below to check it out, and then order it (or Vanishing Lung Syndrome) immediately.

It’s rare I find a poet whose world I feel I’ve been living in, as strongly as I feel it right now. I’m pleased. There’s a new thing in my world that was there all along.

Night Calamities

The storm
went crazy in the darkness.
Prison cells opened.

The sentenced innocents
stamp on the jumping tower. The next routine
is the triple screw dive while
the tiny infantile Decalogue
drowns by a bank where
tunnel waters
thunderously wash away
flowers from a grave.

Our heel caught in the travertine,
we stare into the runaway dark,
but only the permanently invisible ones
can see us.

The prophet Calchas, just off hand,
categorically demands that the already burned
be burned at the stake, while agreeably whining,
not-so-bright laureates
ride the escalator, as
cities burn down and choke beyond the horizon
and the airport holds a register
of historical errors.

And early, at dawn,
in a burning plane, before the explosion,
a little boy walks down the aisle and says—
Are we there yet, Mommy?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Notes For Echo Lake 4

I will lobby for this poem the rest of my life. When I first came across it sometime in the late 80s, it, well, changed something in me. It caused me to approach perception differently. So, today, since I’m busy and can’t think of anything to say, I’ll pos it again. It’s the poem of our age. We all exist in its shadow.

Notes for Echo Lake 4
Michael Palmer

Who did he talk to

Did she trust what she saw

Who does the talking

Whose words formed awkward curves

Did the lion finally talk

Did the sleeping lion talk

Did you trust a north window

What made the dog bark

What causes a grey dog to bark

What does the juggler tell us

What does the juggler’s redness tell us

Is she standing in an image

Were they lost in the forest

Were they walking through a forest

Has anything been forgotten

Did you find it in the dark

Is that one of them new atomic-powered wristwatches

Was it called a talking song

Is that an oblong poem

Was poetry the object

Was there once a road here ending at a door

Thus from bridge to bridge we came along

Did the machine seem to talk

Did he read from an empty book

Did the book grow empty in the dark, grey felt hat blowing down the street, arms pumping back and forth, legs slightly bowed

Are there fewer ears than songs

Did he trust a broken window

Did he wake beneath a tree in the recent snow

Whose words formed difficult curves

Have the exaggerations quieted down

The light is lovely on trees which are not large

My logic is all in the melting-pot

My life now is very economical

I can say nothing of my feeling about space

Nothing could be clearer that what you see on this wall

Must we give each one a name

Is it true they all have names

Would it not have been simpler

Would it not have been simpler to begin

Were there ever such buildings

I must remember to mention the trees

I must remember to invent some trees

Who told you these things

Who taught you how to speak

Who taught you not to speak

Whose is the voice that empties

Saturday, July 24, 2010



I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless there’s a subway handy or a record store or some sign that people do not totally regret life.
–Frank O’Hara, “Meditations in an Emergency”

Scheduled for publication by Ahsahta Press in May 2012, and edited by Joshua Corey & G.C. Waldrep, The Arcadia Project seeks to explore the relationship between the postmodern and the pastoral in contemporary North American poetry.

In the twenty-first century it is only a short leap from civilization and its discontents—from the violent inequities of the “global village”—to the postmodern pastoral. Postmodern and pastoral: two exhausted and empty cultural signifiers recharged and revivified by their apparent antipathy, united by the logic of mutual and nearly assured destruction. With gas and food prices climbing, with the planet’s accelerated warming, with the contraction of our cheap-energy economy and the rapid extinction of plant and animal species, both the flat world of global capitalism and the green world of fond memory are in the process of vanishing before our eyes. As Frederic Jameson once remarked, “It seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations.” It is to that question of imagination—dystopian and utopian—that this anthology addresses itself.

Any work that address the pastoral in a postmodern idiom, vocabulary, or context, or vice versa, is welcome. Please send up to 20 pages of poetry, in standard electronic format (PDF, .doc, .docx, .rtf, .wpd) to Josh Corey & G.C. Waldrep at postmodernpastoral [at] gmail [dot] com. Deadline: 9/1/10.

We look forward to reading your work.

+ + +

OK, so I’ve never understood what pastoral poetry is, really, outside of some shepherds talking about how much the city sucks, but I do think the idea of the “postmodern pastoral” is fascinating, in the “Elegy for the Robot Swain” sort of way. So I’ll tell you what, I’ll try to write some if you do. What do you say? We have just over a month!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Contemporary? American? Surrealism? & You?

Surrealism has its eye on you.

A few weeks ago I read the conversation in Gulf Coast with Heather Christle, Hannah Gamble, Matthew Rohrer, Zachary Schomburg, and Matthew Zapruder on the topic of Surrealism:

Ron Silliman, when he linked to it from his blog, asked, “An oxymoron?” as part of his link. He was right. Surrealism, as it was practiced, is historically bound, but what do we say about its influence?

The contemporary uses of the surreal, as I read them, trace their most direct lineage to the work of James Tate, Russell Edson, and John Ashbery, who, themselves, were already a great distance in time and geography from Andre Breton's Le Manifeste du Surréalisme. And all of these poets writing since the 50s have more in common with each other than they do with Surréalisme itself. But it’s Breton these younger, contemporary poets talk about, even as “surrealism” as such, cannot happen, even as its elements happen, because we now exist in a post-Mickey Mouse, post-Dr. Strangelove world. The surreal itself is no longer the kind of force it once was. Its strangeness, its surreal qualities no longer look so surreal. If anything, they seem psychologically accurate. I’m also aware that, historically, it’s a very male club.

So do we need to call these contemporary writers something? General categories are nice, especially in the crowded field of contemporary American poetry, if only in the “If you like the poetry of Mary Ruefle you might also like the poetry of Geoffrey Nutter” kind of way. If the category is one of aesthetic affiliation, then why not? And if you don’t like the term “Contemporary American Surrealism,” maybe you could say “Post-modern Surrealism,” or perhaps “Black Ocean Waves Where Octopuses Dwellism.” (Have you noticed how many of these poets and presses are connected by images of the ocean? Is it a conspiracy with the dolphins? "So long, and thanks for all the fish?")

But the other pressure rises: naming is a reduction and becomes a misleading definition of individual writers . . . Black Mountain? . . . Objectivism? . . . Language Writing? . . . They all break down quickly when one comes to the second example. And all these writers change, day to day.

So, named or nameless, the tendency moves on. And this week, I got a copy of Geoffrey Nutter’s Christopher Sunset from Wave Books. His work is full of a completely humane way of perceiving, an elemental perception that hovers somewhere between innocence and experience (“If you like Geoffrey Nutter, you might like Dorothea Lasky”). I’ll not try to plug it into surreal tendencies, or make a grand argument for it as emblematic of something, but it is the first new book from Wave Books that I’ve seen since the Gulf Coast interview/conversation, so I approached it with these thoughts in mind. I’ll let him speak on the issue:


I’ve been puzzled long enough
by modernity and its poems.
It’s evening. I’m walking down
to the river to watch the sun set.
The clouds are like millions of bright blue leaves
scattered across the sky.
I’m sitting in the shade of a massive tree
but the shade is alive. And under the sunset
the giant gray trestles of the bridge.
And under the bridge, and nearer to me,
shards of bottles and the gravel
of the down-at-the-heels marina,
its broken-down boathouse, the gray
cinder blocks in the weeds, an overturned
boat, a length of black tubing.
It’s all coming together now.
It’s the sky and the earth, resting together
in the unassuming darkness.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Poets on Teaching: A Sourcebook

Show all your work.

Poets on Teaching: A Sourcebook
Edited by Joshua Marie Wilkinson

I’m absolutely enthusiastic about this book. And the reason for my enthusiasm can be summed up by the first bit of the blurb by Joan Retallack:

“Here is an astonishingly generous gathering of poetic energies and imaginations aimed toward turning more and more classrooms into scenes of transformative engagement with the prime instrument of our humanity, language.”

I believe this book (in total) goes a long way to living up to that praise. The creative writing classroom has taken a LOT of hits over the last few years, and in the comments stream on this blog, lately from a famous poet who, if I write his name, will appear and say bad things about me and creative writing classes, so I’ll just call him “Anzfray Ightwray.” Creative writing classes are not above criticism, and there are any number of classes out there that do no one any good (creative writing and otherwise), but there are also possibilities in groups of people getting together to experience and talk about the art that I believe are of fundamental importance to us. Writing is between people. Isolating yourself to get at some fundamental communion with language is valuable, but so is immersing yourself in a group. And that group doesn’t need to be—in fact, it must not be—like other college classrooms, like other subjects.

It is from this perspective that I approached reading this book, and what I found in it was not just a good sourcebook for teachers and students, but a good book for all of us as writers and, most importantly, as readers. If you teach a creative writing course in either poetry or mixed genre work, or are a student in such a class or program, I think this book is necessary.

The essays are short, and few of them feel as if they exhaust their topic, which I think is good. It gives the reader a chance to continue the conversation, either in isolation or in a group.

Here is the list of contributors:

Kazim Ali, Rae Armantrout, Hadara Bar-Nadav, Dan Beachy-Quick, Bruce Beasley, Claire Becker, Jaswinder Bolina, Jenny Boully, Joel Brouwer, Lily Brown, Laynie Browne, Stephen Burt, Julie Carr, Joshua Clover, Matthew Cooperman, Oliver de la Paz, Linh Dinh, Ben Doller, Sandra Doller, Julie Doxsee, Lisa Fishman, Graham Foust, John Gallaher, Forrest Gander, C. S. Giscombe, Peter Gizzi, Lara Glenum, Kenneth Goldsmith, Johannes Göransson, Noah Eli Gordon, Arielle Greenberg, Richard Greenfield, Sarah Gridley, Anthony Hawley, Terrance Hayes, Eric Hayot, Brian Henry, Brenda Hillman, Jen Hofer, Paul Hoover, Christine Hume, Brenda Iijima, Lisa Jarnot, Kent Johnson, Bhanu Kapil, Karla Kelsey, Aaron Kunin, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Dorothea Lasky, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Ada Limón, Timothy Liu, Sabrina Orah Mark, Dawn Lundy Martin, Kristi Maxwell, Joyelle McSweeney, Christina Mengert, Albert Mobilio, K. Silem Mohammad, Fred Moten, Jennifer Moxley, Laura Mullen, Sawako Nakayasu, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Hoa Nguyen, Jena Osman, D. A. Powell, Kristin Prevallet, Bin Ramke, Jed Rasula, Srikanth Reddy, Barbara Jane Reyes, Boyer Rickel, Elizabeth Robinson, Martha Ronk, Emily Rosko, Prageeta Sharma, Evie Shockley, Eleni Sikelianos, Richard Siken, Ron Silliman, Tracy K. Smith, Juliana Spahr, Sasha Steensen, Peter Streckfus, Cole Swensen, Michael Theune, Tony Trigilio, Spring Ulmer, Karen Volkman, Catherine Wagner, G. C. Waldrep, Mark Wallace, Tyrone Williams, Mark Yakich, Jake Adam York, Stephanie Young, Timothy Yu, Matthew Zapruder, Andrew Zawacki, and Rachel Zucker

Here are some quotes from the first section, to give you a glimpse:

Sarah Gridley:

“Teaching, the eccentric art.
Teaching the eccentric art.

[ . . . ]

. . . as opposed to lost

let us be bewildered.”

Lisa Fishman:

“The intersections between deconstruction and poetry gave us another angle for approaching the notion that a poem must constantly, recurringly transmit the activeness, the unknowingness, the discovery-of-itself, even as a “finished” poems being read—or it was never innately written. In other words, made more articulable with Derrida, if the poem was not an experience while it was being written (instead of a “project” or goal or directed body of words), then it has no experience (of coming into being) to be read. To be read should be to happen again—as if being made again—for a poem.”

Ron Silliman, in “Unlearning to Write”:

There are, I think, two very different dynamics involved in the making of a poet. One is learning that you already know everything you need about writing before you even begin. The other is an extended reading of the literature, to understand what has been done, why, and what its implications might be.

The first sounds easy, but it is fact the harder of the two tasks.”

Lily Brown:

“Redirecting the discussion away from ‘This doesn’t make any sense’ and toward ‘How is the language here working?’ can go a long way toward modeling the validity of poetic logic.”

Richard Greenfield:

“I am interested in the premise that the image is ultimately the extension, or redoubling, of the self (also a multivalent complex of the mind and the heart). I want the image to be much more that representation. I believe the image can ‘set forth’ selfness—activating self and engaging self by encouraging empathy with the object under scrutiny.”

Mark Wallace:

“The difficulty: people who don’t know what poetry is usually think they know.”

Bin Ramke:

“The teacher of poetry writing must help the new writer learn to make various distinctions about the self and the world beyond the self through language. The new writer must learn that thinking for the poet occurs on the page, in the language, in the voice and the body which contains and enables the voice.

The process of teaching writing is a process of introducing the student to him or herself, to her own concerns and intentions, and then of challenging the student to confront what these concerns and intentions might mean in a larger (social, cultural, aesthetic) context, and how those concerns and intentions fit into some sort of artistic continuum—a tradition, if you wish.”

Dan Beachy-Quick:

“The teacher of poetry knows what sings must also wound.

Then vision thinks and the poem is the record of that thinking through the eye. It is not a painless process. The eye is also a wound.

In the classroom, the teacher is one who finds no difference between the wise-one and the fool. The teacher is both. Poetry, too, relates to wonder. Wonder is where poetry returns us to.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New Theme Song for The Paris Review

Joshua Corey, one of the poets who had his contract nullified at The Paris Review, said this on Daniel Nester’s blog:

“Not too long ago on my blog, I wrote that young writers shouldn’t put too much faith in institutions; that goes for this not-so-young writer as well. This experience will move me even further in the direction I was already headed, toward placing my trust in peers and comrades in the field of innovative writing to create forums for the circulation of exciting work – with new magazines, Web zines, reading series, etc.”

It’s not really about The Paris Review thing, or it is, but only in a tangential way. But it resonated with something I’ve been thinking more and more lately. Has the energy of publishing (journals and books) moved away from the Old Guard venues? Do journals like The Paris Review and presses like Knopf mean much to young and middle-aged writers?

I was thinking about this the other day when I saw a notice of a new book coming out from one of the big NYC presses, and I didn’t recognize the poet’s name. Then I went to the website and saw several names I didn’t recognize. I would think I’d recognize every name from the big presses, as I thought I was well-read. It appears I’m not. But what that means is that at least for me the answer is yes, I don’t pay much attention to the big presses (unless John Ashbery has a new book out) and most long-established journals.

The publishing world has spread out and what The Paris Review does or publishes is no longer the kind of news it once was. But then again, these are the journals (and presses) with the widest circulation. I might not be paying attention, and a good number of other poets might be what Corey is doing and “placing [their] trust in peers and comrades in the field of innovative writing to create forums for the circulation of exciting work – with new magazines, Web zines, reading series, etc.,” but what that means for the continuing absence of poetry in the culture at large is not good. I hope at some point the wider culture (and I’m sure it’s out there, even if it doesn’t know it’s out there) of poetry readers finds its way to the better and more exciting things going on away from the pole position.

The greatest break-up song of all time:

Go Your Own Way
Fleetwood Mac

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Paris Review starts again fresh (again!) and dumps the files (again!).

George Plimpton climbing that ladder:  Keep climbing, George, you don't want to be back down here. Things are not well.

So what is the proper reaction to the news last week that The Paris Review has returned the contracts for the poetry that had been accepted for publication over the past year or so?

Here’s Daniel Nester, to bring you up to speed:

And here’s part two:

I don’t’ really have anything to add to Nester’s bit, but I’ll go ahead anyway:

On the one hand, you have the management perspective. There’s a new editor and new poetry editor and they want to start fresh from day one. “Under New Management” and all that. Out with the old news, in with the new news. Fresh start.

On the other hand, you have the fact that some of these contracts are over a year old (I know at least three poets who have had their work now returned, and one of them tells me that his contract is nearly two years old). Is there an obligation that The Paris Review has to these writers?

On the third hand, you have the back story. We are well to remember the brouhaha when Richard Howard left The Paris Review some years ago with a couple years of poetry accepted and The Paris Review returned all those contracts. It was debated then if it was an ethical decision or not for them to return the work, but the feeling was against Richard Howard mostly, and there was talk that he’d accepted tons of work in some sort of frenzy or something . . . but now? No one seems to be saying that the exiting editors were part of a frenzy.  They seem to have done what one is supposed to do.

On the fourth hand, I’ve always thought that a contract to publish was, well, a contract. Shouldn’t a contract mean something? If not, why do we bother with them?

Or, on the fifth hand, or possibly by now, the foot, why do poets continue to bother with The Paris Review? Might this be time for a shunning? Or are we all going to jump back on the go round?

Here’s a different sort of response, from Michael Schiavo:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oppen on Young Poets & Workshops

As my last installment on Oppen’s Selected Prose, Daybooks, and Papers, I’ve found some things in Daybook IV on young poets and workshops that interests me. [I’ve changed his gender designations to conform to current style, so consider these paraphrases. And this is a collage of fragments, so keep that in mind as well.]

* * *

Protected from despair by youth. I do not mean animal high spirits, but that the young poet is not all there is, there are others in front of him or her and the undertaking of the young poet is to get where the others are. With no need for discovery or invention, with no effort on his or her part, the young poet has a place to go.

But one cannot lead a life preparing for life, practicing for life, as for a football game. The “game” must finally have a purpose other than to succeed in it—

Each decade a tap is opened
Which becomes the easiest thing to run out of.
It is exhilarating as running water.
This is an image

Of the fact
Of the thousands
Who in the name of originality
Are determined to write
As everyone else in that decade

Less domestic art of originality would demand not so much that one write differently from one’s grandfather as that one should be distinguishable from one’s contemporaries.

[First] the poet must find his or her contemporaries.
[Next] the poet must be distinguishable from them.

With all this pressure between one’s necessary contemporaries and the necessity to break away from them, here’s Oppen on Workshops:

What is wrong [with workshops]? Most of these young people could never have written a line of poetry, could never have entered into that experience, if these groups did not exist, if the mode had not been established. And it is fine that they should, it can only be a gain— It is just my ill temper which bothers me, it is hard for me to contain my impatience when the platitudes of the moment are phrased and re-phrased around a room . . .

[Here he gets to an important moment, I think, in the workshop/artistic experience. It’s important for the development of an artist that that artist exist in a group (one’s contemporaries), but then one must move away from groups (debatable, but it seems good enough advice). But what of the role of a poet who teaches in a workshop? A lot of comments are being directed at these poets recently, that there’s something wrong with poets who would sit there where others would find it “hard … to contain [their] impatience when the platitudes of the moment are phrased and re-phrased around a room.” ]

“Forging a style” if one is sincere, is forging a syntax. We recognize it as a syntax when we recognize it as sincere.

There are risks one must take if one wishes to write poetry—

They are very considerable risks. The risk of exposing one’s mere self, to begin with, that is the first hurdle, and most never surmount it. And the risk of facing what one knows, what, really, we all know, of parting with new statements, including those of the avant-garde of the moment. Which is a serious risk. But the risk of shocking someone? There is no such risk. There is no meaning in the concept of avant-garde today—

There are the groups—. I suppose one has the right, it provides a life and it provides print—Yet I tend to believe very strongly that what one must do is go off by oneself, to make one’s own life, to guarantee oneself as a person, first of all—And write from there. One’s likely to be very old before one’s printed if one does that—But I think there is no other way to write real poetry.

And surely there is no other experiment worth making—

[This seems a variation on the admonition that Franz Wright was making on this blog a few weeks ago, and that others have been making around for years. On the one side, there is a value to going off by oneself, to working on one’s life and the way in which that singular life becomes the art, and on the other side, the necessity to, in some way, have community, which Oppen admits above . . . but I disagree with the “solitude of years” aspect . . . it seems Oppen’s participating in his own story a bit too much, and missing the way youth can inspire as well, with examples such as Keats, for instance.]

There is also the question whether it is any longer possible for an artist or poet to be seen or heard unless he or she is part of a group. If a single artist, not a group, had produced the devastating art which has found the name Pop—would that artist have been recognized at all? Perhaps there are too many claims on attention and response, perhaps no one is willing to take the pains to understand a poet or an artist or in fact to give them enough attention to know what they are saying without the assurance that one is thereby understanding an entire group at a single blow—. I think this is the reason for the extraordinarily delayed recognition of precisely those poets and artists whose work has most value.

[I don’t agree with him in total here (he’s reading the Pop phenomenon a little easily, I think, and not taking into consideration the way influence and shared reactions to the times works), but it is worth holding the idea in mind while we read all these essays and blog posts, etc., where people are continually trying to define groups and track tendencies…]

And ending with an interesting homework assignment from Oppen:

To shift one’s style, shift one’s eyes. Look at something else. Look until one begins to hear, to hear its form and size—the shapes it would fill: it imposes itself.

Easy to set up the experiment: look at a flower in a crannied wall—if there’s one to be found, or such as one can find—and look further, with all we know, with all that has happened—

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Two More Love Songs

Since I’m on the subject of “what a mess of things we’ve made” love songs, I was reminded of the new song by Phosphorescent, “Mermaid Parade,” which then reminded me of an earlier, also wonderful song by Phosphorescent, “Cocaine Lights.” So here they are.

Mermaid Parade

Cocaine Lights

Two Love Songs

As I’m travelling right now, I’ve had little time to read, but a lot of time to listen to my media player. Here are a couple songs that randomly played close to each other yesterday. I thought they made a good mix. Two different takes on love, both brilliant in the “we’re all hopeless” kind of way. You know it's time / that we grow old and do some shit.

Broken Social Scene
Lover’s Spit (Alternate Version with Feist on vocals)

Damien Jurado
What Were the Chances

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

John Ashbery - Houseboat Days

I’m currently rereading Houseboat Days, one of my favorite books by John Ashbery. Here are two poems from it that occur next to each other, and have both been reprinted many times since.

And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name

You can’t say it that way any more.
Bothered about beauty you have to
Come out into the open, into a clearing,
And rest. Certainly whatever funny happens to you
Is OK. To demand more than this would be strange
Of you, you who have so many lovers,
People who look up to you and are willing
To do things for you, but you think
It’s not right, that if they really knew you . . .
So much for self-analysis. Now,
About what to put in your poem-painting:
Flowers are always nice, particularly delphinium.
Names of boys you once knew and their sleds,
Skyrockets are good—do they still exist?
There are a lot of other things of the same quality
As those I’ve mentioned. Now one must
Find a few important words, and a lot of low-keyed,
Dull-sounding ones. She approached me
About buying her desk. Suddenly the street was
Bananas and the clangor of Japanese instruments.
Humdrum testaments were scattered around. His head
Locked into mine. We were a seesaw. Something
Ought to be written about how this affects
You when you write poetry:
The extreme austerity of an almost empty mind
Colliding with the lush, Rousseau-like foliage of its desire to communicate
Something between breaths, if only for the sake
Of others and their desire to understand you and desert you
For other centers of communication, so that understanding
May begin, and in doing so be undone.

What Is Poetry

The medieval town, with frieze
Of boy scouts from Nagoya? The snow
That came when we wanted it to snow?
Beautiful images? Trying to avoid

Ideas, as in this poem? But we
Go back to them as to a wife, leaving

The mistress we desire? Now they
Will have to believe it

As we believed it. In school
All the thought got combed out:

What was left was like a field.
Shut your eyes, and you can feel it for miles around.

Now open them on a thin vertical path.
It might give us—what?—some flowers soon?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Oppen Taking Us to the Encounter

One of the things I came away from Oppen’s Selected Prose, Daybooks, and Papers with was a deeper appreciation of just how difficult a go of it first-wave feminism had, when the attitudes of even the left were so condescending and patronizing. It goes to prove (yet again) that those who are very good thinkers on one thing, in this case, poetry, aren’t necessarily good thinkers on all things—all the more reason to stick to the topic one is best at. Still, it’s a large disappointment. Especially as his “less than enlightened” attitudes about the sensibilities of female poets is not anything I noticed in his poems . . . this is all just in the prose. I wish I’d’ve not come across it. That said, I’m moving on.

Oppen’s quite interested in the topic of truth in his daybooks. And a sense of the political. The authentic.

He writes:

“Of the transcendental truth some things come—well, floating down in fragments like leaves of a tree—. As, numbers, which seem to act on necessary truth. Do words? Do we lack a transfinite syntax?” (SP 174)

That’s a fun question: Do we lack a transfinite syntax?

That’s the part of Oppen I admire and enjoy. As also in this:

“Art can provide almost anything from wisdom to waltzes. But what art means to do is not to communicate experiences, but to communicate the “realness” of experience.

[. . . ]

And yet this is also the desire to live freely
Inside the rituals—” (SP 173)

These are important questions that we continue to work with. Just today, I read a blog post by Kent Johnson:

In it, he’s thinking about a moment where Ron Silliman wishes (by implication) for the death of Eliot Weinberger. It’s a sketchy moment at the least. And it brings us right back to the “realness” of experience. Such cut-ups from life ARE in many ways, experience itself, but in other ways a simple communication of experience, and therefore both in questionable taste as things to say about another and also questionable desires for the creation of art. But if the art is there to question? Ah, the infinite regressions of poetic content.

Which all gets me to thinking of the Use of the Real in Art. And what is the real anyway?

The real is in a constant state of flux, as it is only “the real” in being encountered. The encounter is what becomes “the real,” not what is encountered.

Let’s call this a fact. It seems easy enough. Simple enough. What is more interesting to me is what this calls us forth to do in our art. How to behave in our art.

In the social sphere, the powerful impose the reality of their encounter on the powerless. But the powerless have the numbers and create a competing reality on the ground. There has always been this competition.

So where does the ethical performance of art stand in this economy? (Is ethics even a [or the] question?) Is art, in bringing us to the encounter, a mediating force? An alternate or further real? Or is it also an imposition?

Each person re-creates the encounter, but like-minded people create like-minded encounters. And politics and the social are full of attempts to sway or force one into a conception of the real.

Art brings us to the encounter. I like that as an artistic goal. Not the thing itself (scientifically impossible) nor the consciousness of the single perceiver (physically impossible), but the moment of the encounter between the perceiver and the perceived. Nice, even if a fairly basic thought.

This is the fundamental difference between art and communication, and why art has a difficult time in the political economy, as to exist there it has to step into the persuasive or force modes of politics in pushing the “real.” It must deal in essential reductions of possibility and Eliot Weinberger, rather than flying through a window as a moment of encountering a genuine Eliot Weinbergerness, becomes simply the expression of Silliman’s essential distaste for the corporeal Eliot Weinberger. Still, there is a value to going after one’s peers. After all, we still read Martial, now and then. Right?

With your giant nose and cock
I bet you can with ease
When you get excited
check the end for cheese.

The difference being that the bile in Martial is toward the error of the one targeted. But that’s a small moment. The larger questions remain.

And this movement to the encounter is also why artists are with the first against the wall, as history keeps telling us, because continually taking us to the source of the encounter, art is a destabilizing force—in general—

Art can only be political and remain art when it presents the encounter of power making the real. Picasso’s Guernica comes to mind. It’s a movement toward exposing, not imposing, and it becomes a part of the real through fitness rather than force. Otherwise it’s just name-calling.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Amy King - Slaves to Do These Things

One of the things I like about Blaze Vox is that, as a publisher, it doesn’t shy away from calling itself
“[ a refuge ] Post-Avant Poetries & Fiction.” I like the surety and confidence of that.

I’m travelling in Pennsylvania right now and away from computers much of the time. I did bring some books with me, though, and one of them is Amy King’s Slaves to Do These Things. Here are a couple short poems from it:


If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. —James Baldwin

I stay here,
a clamorous organ tuning
its lakes into puddles.
My loyalty was one less,
was not a sign of greed
or a caution flag in yellow.
Dear volunteer of salvation,
Is ours negotiation
or are the pamphlets
like weather falling apart:
fat crows, rain heavy
with dead
killing buckshot skies?
You are my sleep
wherever you go,
but will you behave
the oxygen’s parenthesis?
When we first began
impersonating antlers,
we were everywhere;
now the forgiveness I read in bed
will finally masquerade
as ghosts at weapons,
the details squirreled by life.
In this country, I thrum between
postures I heal from
and postures you pose in.


Nothing in the wood
all stacked,
two women spent
in kitchen’s yard,
a tractor passing
releases daybreak
with heaving
chests in rest now
press the fishbones
of morning’s nest.
Bury this word
silent in us
head-down at
earth’s applause—
And work the land,
we sticklers for
the carnivorous lamb,
we tender for
taxes at the door.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Oppen from the Daybooks

Oppen from the Daybooks:

At least two kinds of devotion. The devotion to art, a sort of pragmatism of art which refuses to think anything which will not contribute to poetry. The other is devotion which makes poetry of what the mind, the free and operating mind can know—and is going to know.

[A] friend of Mary’s who is an etcher . . . speaks of depths of focus in a picture. It is among other things, he says, the relation of the artist to the “thing.” The concept can be applied also to writing; a style can be too much on the surface. It can also be too little on the surface, the thing behind it can lack immediacy, can lack conviction.

No artist thinks directly of beauty or seeks directly for the beautiful, but thinks of illumination, of disclosure. He is concerned with emotion, but of emotion which


. . . “beautiful” has nothing to do with the artist’s work.

I think the question asked most frankly would be: is it more important to produce art or to take political action. Of course I cannot pretend to answer such a question. I could point this out, however, that art and political action are in precise opposition in this regard: that it can always be quite easily shown that political action is going to be valuable; it is difficult to ever prove that political action has been valuable. Whereas art is precisely the opposite case; it seems always impossible to prove that it is going to be valuable, and yet it is always quite clear that the art of the past has been of value to humanity. I offer it only as a suggestion that art lacks in political action, not action. One does what he is most moved to do.

When we hear a train—we understand that the train is not identical with the sound waves that reach us. But we understand also that there is a train there.

The search for truth is a passion, not a necessity

We must cease to believe in secret names and unexpected phrases which will burst the world. Neither the rational mind nor the free action of the nerves of the mind will disclose anything beyond their experience.

In “literary” thought, as in mathematics, what you can do in your head you don’t bother to write on paper.

It is not enough to say that we like it or that we do not like it. It is here, we must first talk about it. We are not shoppers—or we are not first of all shoppers; it is not enough to say that we like or we do not like—