Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ten-Second Books

Ten-Second Books
(first and last)

Mark Strand, Selected Poems

Unmoved by what the wind does,
The windows
dying little by little into the distance,
wounded me, as this does now.

Mary Ruefle, Selected Poems

All day I have done nothing.
To admonish me a few aspen
quiets me down to the point
I am able to sleep at all.

The Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan

The stars whipped at his gaze:
have thorns entered his ways
Here am I.

Marjorie Welish, Word Group

The dress
The other dress
through who goes furthest in mention against the glass to accrue subentries (F’s rival, etc.). If names retire,
name the criteria once frequenting the index. A kind of forensics of situations is under way.

Bernadette Mayer, Poetry State Forest

when my children were growing up
we never had candy at home but
who still tends to titles as if all of us
are reading a new book called The New Life.

John Tranter, Urban Myths

When I was a young man, a drink
often rescued me from the factory floor
I’ll die, just like that, for her sake. For my sake.
Say goodbye. Never leave me.

Frank O’Hara, Selected Poems

When I was a child
I played by myself in a
improving your soul’s expansion
in the night and developing our own salt-like praise

Cole Swensen, Try

Throughout the history of painting
Risen until caught in rising. Arrested.
physical intimacy, so one day she said, there’s something I think I should tell
you; I have no left hand.

John Ashbery, Planisphere

Is it possible that spring could be
once again approaching? We forget each time
Life had been forgotten.
Love me anyway, he said.

The Selected Poems of Max Jacob

Doesn’t lightning look the same to a foreigner? Some-
one who was at my parent’s home was commenting
light, for the house to be built again and the ochre hill-
side covered with flowers.

Rosmarie Waldrop, Love, Like Pronouns

A swallow cuts an arc along the roofs, cuts it again, as if to
move the horizon inward. Light spills through my chest,
To draw a black line. Was my intention.
The page is otherwise dark.

Mark Bibbins, The Dance of No Hard Feelings

In Antwerp this afternoon the Museum of Anaesthesia,
the reason one goes to Antwerp, is closed. A way
Hell is coming.
Hell is here.

David Kirby, The Temple Gate Called Beautiful

Sometimes I see my dead parents: at the end of the street,
say, or just ahead of me in the ticket line. At times
the first button I touch, and somewhere
in the building there are feet on the stairs, and a door opens.

Randall Mann, Breakfast with Thom Gunn

The moon, once full, is snow.
The line of transplanted trees,
by the dead, a florist—what else? I’ll tell you.
But soft, the story starts anew.

Rae Armantrout, Next Life

For lack of which
we put ourselves
Be twice as far
and halfway back

Paul Otremba, The Currency

is a horse hung from the ceiling, the dumb
hoisted weight and the weight of the harness,
because with a click it’s a throttled Isaac
staring out, ignoring both knife and canvas.

Jorie Graham, The Dream of the Unified Field

The Way Things Work
is by admitting
I say iridescent and I look down.
The leaves very still as they are carried.

Matthew Zapruder, Come On All You Ghosts

Erstwhile means long time gone.
A harbinger is sent before to help,
anyone with a mind
who cares can enter.

Tomas Tranströmer, The Great Enigma

Waking up is a parachute jump from dreams.
Free of the suffocating turbulence the traveler
The apple trees in blossom.
The great enigma.

Dana Levin, In the Surgical Theatre

The assistants lift him gently,
gently. For a moment, the one lifting under his arms
it is the work, Sophia, wisdom, jewel,
it is the work.

Martha Ronk, In a Landscape of Having to Repeat

In a landscape of having to repeat.
Noticing that she does, that he does and so on.
First an elbow, finally a fact.
Forgetting, the hardest part.

R.E.M. is going out with a weeper

R.E.M. is going out with a weeper:

We All Go back to Where We Belong

R.E.M. have been important to me, off and on, for 25 years of so now. And now this will most likely be their last single. It’s fitting, almost too fitting of a song to go out on, but I’ll take it, as it’s quite excellent. And, again, almost too fittingly, they don’t appear in the video. Instead, we’re treated to a continuous shot of Kirsten Dunst (There's another version, as well, with a stone-faced John Giorno). It’s a charming goodbye. They really were a lovely, absolutely singular, band.

Their last album (unless, of course, it turns out not to be, who knows) is going to be the compilation Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage, 1982 – 2011. The above song will be one of three new songs on it that were recorded after the Collapse Into Now sessions. The album will be a 40-song career-spanning retrospective that collects, for the first time in a single release, songs from their entire 31-year career, including their years on both the IRS label (1982 to 1987) and Warner Bros. Records (1988 to 2011). The collection will be released on November 15th, 2011.

Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage, 1982 – 2011 Tracklist:

Disc 1:

01. Gardening at Night
02. Radio Free Europe
03. Talk About the Passion
04. Sitting Still
05. So. Central Rain
06. (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville
07. Driver 8
08. Life and How To Live It
09. Begin the Begin
10. Fall On Me
11. Finest Worksong
12. It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
13. The One I Love
14. Stand
15. Pop Song 89
16. Get Up
17. Orange Crush
18. Losing My Religion
19. Country Feedback
20. Shiny Happy People

Disc 2:

01. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite
02. Everybody Hurts
03. Man on the Moon
04. Nightswimming
05. What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?
06. New Test Leper
07. Electrolite
08. At My Most Beautiful
09. The Great Beyond
10. Imitation of Life
11. Bad Day
12. Leaving New York
13. Living Well Is the Best Revenge
14. Supernatural Superserious
15. Überlin
16. Oh My Heart
17. Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter
18. A Month of Saturdays
19. We All Go Back To Where We Belong
20. Hallelujah

Thank you Ray, take a bow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cole Swensen - Noise That Stays Noise

Cole Swensen has a new book out in the Poets on Poetry series from the University of Michigan Press, titled Noise That Stays Noise, and I’m about half way through so far. One of the things I like about Swensen is her enthusiasm for ideas. I don’t always follow what she’s saying, but I’m always surprised and intrigued. This book is no exception. I’m having a good time with it.

Here are a few resonant bits from the opening essay:


Both novelty and redundancy have a place in our interpretation of the world around us. Complete novelty would give us a world like that of Oliver Sacks’s “man without memory,” for whom the world was incomprehensible and frightening; complete redundancy, on the other hand, would amount to the heat death of complete homogeneity.

The degree of nonunderstanding in a given piece changes from reader to reader and is often slight; the novel feeling it occasions is part of the pleasure of reading poetry and is the source of the simultaneous suspension and surprise that seems to bypass the cognitive faculties.

This process, which, borrowing a term from the biological sciences, I’m going to refer to as self-organization from noise, is particularly important in considering much recent American poetry, which often contains a lot of what many would consider noise.

Such an approach demands that we consider a literary text solely as an act of communication, as a completely quantifiable message passing through a channel from a sender to a receiver. Though this may strike some as cold, on the contrary, I think it is just such an approach that can elucidate the ways in which literature differs from mechanistic models of communication and can, unlike them, augment the quantifiable with irreducible qualities of human sensation and emotion.

Noise is most simply defined as any signal, interruption, or disturbance in the channel of communication that alters the quantity of quality of transmitted information.

[I]n a text, various idiosyncrasies from typographical errors to intentional ambiguities can also be considered noise if they too alter (or augment) the imparted information.

Information, in turn, can be defined in terms of the resolution of uncertainty.

[I]n literature . . . noise is not necessarily something to be suppressed, as it constitutes the potential for increasing the complexity of the system of which it is part.

Literary noise . . . is often not a degradation of the message; on the contrary, such noise is often intentional and aimed at preventing the suppression of imagination that complete certainty can cause. . . . This would include poeticity—the unquantifiable qualities of sound relationships, word associations, and innate rhythms—but also things that intentionally disrupt the smooth flow of information, such as fragmentation, unusual syntax, ambiguity, neologism, juxtaposition, alternative logics, graphic spacing, etc—in other words, any alteration to the basic linguistic code.

The way in which poets define noise strongly influences style . . . .

[T]he reader is crucial here . . . .


The above snippets were taken from the first essay, “Noise That Stays Noise.” Other essays deal with Mallarme, Olson, Susan Howe, fractals, Peter Gizzi, and Documentary Poetry. That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far. There’s a brief essay on Ashbery coming up, I see.

I’ll leave you with this nice bit, a reaction (from her essay on Olson) to those who complain about poets using terms from science in their writing:

Such “misuse” of scientific terminology is often taken by scientists [And others as well – JG] as an affront, but there’s another way to look at it, a way that reveals the poet as reaching out to scientific language for its precision, and taking it from there as raw material to be worked through metaphor, metonymy, and ambiguity, until it expresses something that can’t be expressed otherwise.
Infinity isn't just for breakfast anymore.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Notes Toward a Conversation about John Ashbery I Wish I were Having

I am a completist for several poets. In the category of 60-ish and older, they include (among others) Martha Ronk, Bin Ramke, Rae Armantrout, Mary Jo Bang, Cole Swensen, and John Ashbery. Do these poets bear any resemblance to each other? Only if one squints real hard, I’m thinking, but in each I find a poet working the human center through the difficulties of our historical present. These have been rather inhuman times, and each of these poets uses their own singular version of unflinching observation to build what I see as a very personal and humanly present consciousness, one that doesn’t ignore the difficulties of our time to create art. Their approaches to poetry are certain and strange, and, for me, persuasive. In other words, they all do what good poets are supposed to do, and have done, throughout history.

Of all of them, the most famous, and most maligned (in some circles) and most admired (in others) is John Ashbery. So I begin with him.

It’s difficult to put into words my love for Ashbery’s poetry, but what I keep coming up with is its beauty. Who would’ve thought beauty could come from hearing the description of Ashbery’s poetry from some corners. But it does. Beauty of phrasing, of the sound of the American language in its idiom, unencumbered from most formal artistic overlays, and finally, its vision of human consciousness as it extends to the weather, the seasons.

Too much has been made of Ashbery’s post-modernism. It’s a useful partial fiction to say Ashbery is to the post-modern as Stevens is to Modernism. It’s convenient, as a trip to Micronesia (Federated States of) is convenient as a way to test geography, but it doesn’t do much past a kind of game show approach to literary analysis. Likewise, Ashbery could be called (has been?) the Derrida in verse, for much of what one might say of Derrida’s project in philosophy can be transferred to Ashbery easily in regards his project in aesthetics.

None of these words are magic words. They don’t, in the end, explain Ashbery. Ashbery’s undecidability is a wrench in the works of any comments on his poetry, even those commenting on the nature of his undecidability, for these undecidable wholes also participate in ways of knowing and ways of structuring which are largely decidable.

Ashbery’s poems, in my reading of them, seem less to do with the singular condition of possibility, than they do the myriad avenues one can take to and from a situation, less interested in buttoning down a possible to say, than encountering what surrounds, which is actualized in an encounter with his singular voice and organizational acumen. If Rimbaud (to whom Ashbery has been compared) gives us “je est un autre,” then Ashbery counters with “I is a We.” There’s a large human / humane difference between the two.

What is order? As none of these words are magic words.

Ashbery’s poetry is an extreme case of showing as saying, where the words function both as unities of sense and as the noise within which consciousness operates. This makes a paraphrase of a poem by John Ashbery difficult.

My Erotic Double

He says he doesn’t feel like working today.
It’s just as well. Here in the shade
Behind the house, protected from street noises,
One can go over all kinds of old feeling,
Throw some away, keep others.
                                                  The wordplay
Between us gets very intense when there are
Fewer feelings around to confuse things.
Another go-round? No, but the last things
You always find to say are charming, and rescue me
Before the night does. We are afloat
On our dreams as on a barge made of ice,
Shot through with questions and fissures of starlight
That keep us awake, thinking about the dreams
As they are happening. Some occurrence. You said it.

I said it but I can hide it. But I choose not to.
Thank you. You are a very pleasant person.
Thank you. You are too.

Paraphrasing Ashbery’s poetry is difficult, yes, but why should one want to paraphrase? Why is that the important thing to do with a poem? A poem, an art object can also be radically itself, as meaningful, or delightful, or disconcerting or simply existential as a walk through a crowd of competing monologues or the table next to you at a restaurant. Maybe important things happen this way as well.

There’s a voyeuristic aspect to this akin to confessional poetry (whatever that was), but it’s organized, it’s been organized. I don’t feel there’s a randomness to an Ashbery poem anymore than a randomness to anyone else’s poetry. Ashbery just allows what comes to remain, without getting smoothed over into a simple unity. Still, his poems are unities, as they exist under his voice, orchestrating the choir, a polyphonic choir at times, but still a choir, beautiful in its fullness.

I believe it is for this reason, not his more surface post-modernism, Ashbery will be important to future generations, even as such a claim has a whistling in the dark element to it. But whistling can also be a form of beauty.

As One Put Drunk into the Packet-Boat

I tried each thing, only some were immortal and free.
Elsewhere we are as sitting in a place where sunlight
Filters down, a little at a time,
Waiting for someone to come. Harsh words are spoken,
As the sun yellows the green of the maple tree....

So this was all, but obscurely
I felt the stirrings of new breath in the pages
Which all winter long had smelled like an old catalogue.
New sentences were starting up. But the summer
Was well along, not yet past the mid-point
But full and dark with the promise of that fullness,
That time when one can no longer wander away
And even the least attentive fall silent
To watch the thing that is prepared to happen.

A look of glass stops you
And you walk on shaken: was I the perceived?
Did they notice me, this time, as I am,
Or is it postponed again? The children
Still at their games, clouds that arise with a swift
Impatience in the afternoon sky, then dissipate
As limpid, dense twilight comes.
Only in that tooting of a horn
Down there, for a moment, I thought
The great, formal affair was beginning, orchestrated,
Its colors concentrated in a glance, a ballade
That takes in the whole world, now, but lightly,
Still lightly, but with wide authority and tact.

The prevalence of those gray flakes falling?
They are sun motes. You have slept in the sun
Longer than the sphinx, and are none the wiser for it.
Come in. And I thought a shadow fell across the door
But it was only her come to ask once more
If I was coming in, and not to hurry in case I wasn't.

The night sheen takes over. A moon of cistercian pallor
Has climbed to the center of heaven, installed,
Finally involved with the business of darkness.
And a sigh heaves from all the small things on earth,
The books, the papers, the old garters and union-suit buttons
Kept in a white cardboard box somewhere, and all the lower
Versions of cities flattened under the equalizing night.
The summer demands and takes away too much,
But night, the reserved, the reticent, gives more than it takes.

So Ashbery’s poems are not directly, or strictly paraphrasable, but they are intelligible. They are available to be read. On the flip side, all poetry, all language at some point can become ambiguous. This idea of “clarity,” so tossed around by some, especially to criticize Ashbery or others to deal roughly in similar idioms, is a chimera, a fantasy of assumed commonality used to divide an “us” from a “them.”

Artists are always facing the problem of bringing that which the art object contains within reach while knowing art will always be at a remove, out of reach. It’s always been so, for Shakespeare as well as Elizabeth Bishop. The muses are invoked, but do not show themselves. The fish is always already not there. My mistresses eyes might be nothing like the sun, but it’s the sun we see as we read that line. Art deals in the there / not there. Don’t imagine a hammer. Indeed.

Fractal geometry plays a neat trick with the Paradox of Zeno, as all measurements, as one attempts to get more exact, approach infinity, making all coastlines infinitely long. Ha! Math is fun again, and infinity is contained within a finite space. So what happen when we live with such concepts and then look up?

from Clepsydra

Hasn't the sky? Returned from moving the other
Authority recently dropped, wrested as much of
That sever sunshine as you need now on the way
You go. The reason why it happened only since
You woke up is letting the steam disappear
From those clouds when the landscape all around
Is hilly sites that will have to be reckoned
Into the total for there to be more air: that is,
More fitness, read into the undeduced result, than land.
This means never getting any closer to the basic
Principle operating behind it than to the distracted
Entity of a mirage. The half-meant, half-perceived
Motions of fronds out of idle depths that are
Summer. And expansion into little draughts.
The reply wakens easily, darting from
Untruth to willed moment, scarcely called into being
Before it swells, the way a waterfall
Drums at different levels. Each moment
Of utterance is the true one; likewise none are true,
Only is the bounding from air to air, a serpentine
Gesture which hides the truth behind a congruent
Message, the way air hides the sky, is, in fact,
Tearing it limb from limb this very moment: but
The sky has pleaded already and this is about
As graceful a kind of non-absence as either
Has a right to expect: whether it's the form of
Some creator who has momentarily turned away,
Marrying detachment with respect, so that the pieces
Are seen as parts of a spectrum, independent
Yet symbolic of their staggered times of arrival;
Whether on the other hand all of it is to be
Seen as no luck. A recurring whiteness like
The face of stone pleasure, urging forward as
Nostrils what only meant dust. But the argument,
That is its way, has already left these behind: it
Is, it would have you believe, the white din up ahead
That matters: unformed yells, rocketings,
Affected turns, and tones of voice called
By upper shadows toward some cloud of belief
Or its unstated circumference. But the light
Has already gone from there too and it may be that
It is lines contracting into a plane. We hear so much
Of its further action that at last it seems that
It is we, our taking it into account rather, that are
The reply that prompted the question, and
That the latter, like a person waking on a pillow
Has the sensation of having dreamt the whole thing,
Of returning to participate in that dream, until
The last word is exhausted; certainly this is
Peace of a sort, like nets drying in the sun,
That we must progress toward the whole thing
About an hour ago. As long as it is there
You will desire it as its tag of wall sinks
Deeper as though hollowed by sunlight that
Just fits over it; it is both mirage and the little
That was present, the miserable totality
Mustered at any given moment, like your eyes
And all they speak of, such as your hands, in lost
Accents beyond any dream of ever wanting them again.
To have this to be constantly coming back from—
Nothing more, really, than surprise at your absence
And preparing to continue the dialogue into
Those mysterious and near regions that are
Precisely the time of its being furthered.

This is what I find in Ashbery, and why I love his work.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Catherine Wagner - MY NEW JOB

I intended, this fall, to post a couple poems from each of the books of poetry I read, but, as they say, “way leads on to way.” So here I am, finally getting back to it.

This week I’ve been reading Catherine Wagner’s My New Job. I had a copy of it a couple years ago, but I lost it somewhere. I probably sent it off for a review that didn’t materialize. But now I have it again.

Catherine Wagner

This book is called Hypneratomachia Fuckphila.
Fuckphila on her journey her new spelling
reminiscent of Chick-Fil-A. Fill the
chick and filler well of ding ding dong.
Fuckin’ A. Behold a useful and
profitable book. If you think otherwise,
do not lay the blame on the book, but on
yourself. If you sourly refuse
the new erotic guest, do not despise
the well-ordered sequence nor the fine
well-ordered style. Then in this volume
she falls in love. It is a worthy book, and full
of many ornaments: he who will not read it
is dull of mind. Various things are treated in it
which it would tire me to relate, but accept
the work which offers a cornucopia
emending it should it be incorrect. The End.


Buy me dinner, pay the toll

Buy me dinner, pay the toll

Are you taking the bridge or the tunnel?

Oh, the tunnel?
The lights are fluorescent
You can’t listen to the radio
An rrrrrrrng sound reverbs
Stay in lane

It’s not sexy
Though the risk perhaps—you head
                      all the way

stay in lane to the
“light at the end of the tunnel”

Your orgasm

determines when the sex is over
EZPass means you pay later.


Or the bridge                        over the public bone

is salt air

That’s better

A swooning feeling
the suspension.

But when do you go inside?

There’s a hole in the middle of the bridge?

      Nothing so frightening

You could go in the water

but please keep
               running over me
soft wheels

on either side divided highway
You’re going to make me scream inside my head


I make the bird a flying fist
my violence goes on out along the stream.

Things mean, and I can’t tell them not to.
Things moralize, to meet

my expectation, because I want advice
on how to live.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Other Poems (Book Trailer) - Paul Legault

The Other Poems
Paul Legault

Good News! Relativity Is Saved! (Probably)

Speedy neutrino mystery likely solved, relativity safe after all
By Evan Ackerman
6:59PM on Oct 14, 2011

Those weird faster-than-light neutrinos that CERN thought they saw last month may have just gotten slowed down to a speed that'll keep them from completely destroying physics as we know it. In an ironic twist, the very theory that these neutrinos would have disproved may explain exactly what happened.

Back in September, physicists ran an experiment where they sent bunches of neutrinos from Switzerland to Italy and measured how long the particles took to make the trip. Over 15,000 experiments, the neutrinos consistently arrived about 60 nanoseconds early, which means 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. Einstein's special theory of relativity says this should be impossible: nothing can travel faster than light.

The fact that the experiment gave the same result so many times suggested that one of two things was true: either the neutrinos really were speeding past light itself and heralding a new era of physics, or there was some fundamental flaw with the experiment, which was much more likely. It's now looking as though the faster-than-light result was a fundamental flaw, and appropriately enough, it's a flaw that actually helps to reinforce relativity rather than question it.

The Experiment

Here's the deal: neutrinos move very very fast (at or close to light speed, at least), and the distance that they traveled in this experiment was (to a neutrino) not that far, only 450 miles. This means that in order to figure out exactly how long it takes a given neutrino to make the trip, you need to know two things very, very precisely: the distance between the two points, and the time the neutrino leaves the first point (the source) and arrives at the second point (the detector).

In the original experiment, the CERN researchers used GPS to make both the distance measurement and the time measurement. They figured out the distance down to about 20 centimeters, which is certainly possible with GPS, and since GPS satellites all broadcast an extremely accurate time signal by radio, they were also used as a way to sync the clocks that measured the neutrino's travel time. The CERN team had to account for a lot of different variables to do this, like the time that it takes for the clock signal to make it from the satellite in orbit to the ground, but they may have forgotten one critical thing: relativity.

It's All Relative

Relativity is really, really weird. It says that things like distance and time can change depending on how you look at them, especially if you're moving very fast relative to something else. In the case of the neutrino experiment, we've got two things to think about: the detectors on the ground that measure where and when the neutrinos depart and arrive, and the GPS satellites up in space that we're using as a basis for these measurements. Since the satellites are orbiting the Earth and moving way faster than the detectors, we say that they're in a different "reference frame," which just means that the motion of the satellites is significantly different than the motion of the Earth.

Part of the deal with relativity is that neither of these reference frames are the "correct" one. From our perspective here on Earth, the satellites are whizzing around in orbit at about 9,000 miles per hour. But the perspective of the satellites, the Earth is whizzing around just as fast, and the difference in velocities between these two reference frames is large enough that some strange things start to happen.

A Satellite's Perspective

To understand how relativity altered the neutrino experiment, it helps to pretend that we're hanging out on one of those GPS satellites, watching the Earth go by underneath you. Remember, from the reference frame of someone on the satellite, we're not moving, but the Earth is. As the neutrino experiment goes by, we start timing one of the neutrinos as it exits the source in Switzerland. Meanwhile, the detector in Italy is moving just as fast as the rest of the Earth, and from our perspective it's moving towards the source. This means that the neutrino will have a slightly shorter distance to travel than it would if the experiment were stationary. We stop timing the neutrino when it arrives in Italy, and calculate that it moves at a speed that's comfortably below the speed of light.

"That makes sense," we say, and send the start time and the stop time down to our colleagues on Earth, who take one look at our numbers and freak out. "That doesn't make sense," they say. "There's no way that a neutrino could have covered the distance we're measuring down here in the time you measured up there without going faster than light!"

And they're totally, 100% correct, because the distance that the neutrinos had to travel in their reference frame is longer than the distance that the neutrinos had to travel in our reference frame, because in our reference frame, the detector was moving towards the source. In other words, the GPS clock is bang on the nose, but since the clock is in a different reference frame, you have to compensate for relativity if you're going to use it to make highly accurate measurements.

Not So Fast

Researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands went and crunched the numbers on how much relativity should have effected the experiment, and found that the correct compensation should be about 32 additional nanoseconds on each end, which neatly takes care of the 60 nanosecond speed boost that the neutrinos originally seemed to have. This all has to be peer-reviewed and confirmed, of course, but at least for now, it seems like the theory of relativity is not only safe, but confirmed once again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Metamodernist + Manifesto

So I had something to say about Modernism and Post-modernism the last few days:

There are a lot of currents of Post-modernism I find persuasive, and a lot of it (Derrida, for one) that I find too easily made into a cartoon. And thanks now to the comment stream (thank you, Paul!), here’s something interestingish from the department of manifestos du jour:



We recognise oscillation to be the natural order of the world.


We must liberate ourselves from the inertia resulting from a century of modernist ideological naivety and the cynical insincerity of its antonymous bastard child.


Movement shall henceforth be enabled by way of an oscillation between positions, with diametrically opposed ideas operating like the pulsating polarities of some colossal electric machine, propelling the world into action.


We acknowledge the limitations inherent to all movement and experience, and the futility of any attempt to transcend the boundaries set forth therein. The essential incompleteness of a system should necessitate an adherence, not in order to achieve a given end or be slaves to its course, but rather perchance to glimpse by proxy some hidden exteriority. Existence is enriched if we set about our task as if those limits might be exceeded, for such action unfolds the world.


All things are caught up within the irrevocable slide towards a state of maximum entropic dissemblance. Artistic creation is contingent upon the origination or revelation of difference therein. Affect at its zenith is the unmediated experience of difference in itself. It must be art’s role to explore the promise of its own paradoxical ambition by coaxing excess towards presence.


The present is a symptom of the twin birth of immediacy and obsolescence. The new technology enables the simultaneous experience and enactment of events from a multiplicity of positions. Far from signalling its demise, these emergent networks facilitate the democratisation of history, illuminating the forking paths along which its grand narratives may navigate the here and now.


Just as science strives for poetic elegance, artists might assume a quest for truth. All information is grounds for knowledge, whether empirical or aphoristic, no matter its truth-value. We should embrace the scientific-poetic synthesis and informed naivety of a magical realism. Erroneousness breeds sense.


We propose a pragmatic romanticism unhindered by ideological anchorage. Thus, metamodernism shall be defined as the mercurial condition that lies between, beyond and in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and fragmentary positions. We must go forth and oscillate.

*Based upon the notion of metamodernism as conceived of by Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker in 'Notes on metamodernism' (Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, Vol. 2, 2010)

Find more from Metamodernism (I really dislike the name) here:

Monday, October 17, 2011

All Our Questions Are Posed As Answers

What a community!

First, it’s important to remember where we’ve been. This, from William Wordsworth, in “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” (1802):

“The objects of the poet’s thoughts are every where; though the eyes and senses of man are, it is true, his favorite guides, yet he will follow wheresoever he can find an atmosphere of sensation in which to move his wings. Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge—it is as immortal as the heart of man. If the labors of men of science should ever create any material revolution, direct or indirect, in our condition, and in the impressions which we habitually receive, the poet will sleep then no more than at present, but he will be ready to follow the steps of the man of science, not only in those general indirect effects, but he will be at his side, carrying sensation into the midst of the objects of the science itself. The remotest discoveries of the chemist, the botanist, or mineralogist, will be as proper objects of the poet’s art as any upon which it can be employed, if the time should ever come when these things shall be familiar to us, and the relations under which they are contemplated by the followers of these respective sciences shall be manifestly and palpably material to us as enjoying and suffering beings. If the time should ever come when what is now called science, thus familiarized to men, shall be ready to put on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the poet will lend his divine spirit to aid the transfiguration, and will welcome the being thus produced, as a dear and genuine inmate of the household of man.”

And this, Harold Bloom’s footnote to the above selection:

“Alas, this has not come to pass. Science, so far from being 'familiarized to men,' has developed to the point where it is beyond the comprehension of most men, including poets.”

The tension between these two positions, one, that the poet must (will) be aware, and work with, the “material revolution” of science (as forecast by William Wordsworth in his preface to Lyrical Ballads) and two, that the comprehension of this revolution is beyond most people, (as noted by Harold Bloom) reveals the tension at the heart of the progressing tradition of the irrational imagination. Proceeding through the very real day, looking for sign posts, poets of the irrational imagination attempt to put a “form of flesh and blood” on what has, and hasn’t, come to pass, to move, while at the same time, remaining aware that much of what has come to pass is, or is nearly, inexplicable. So what assumptions, what politics, might guide this poetry?

We go on tour.

One of the difficulties / problems with cubism is that treating nature by the sphere, the cone, etc, is not treating nature as nature. It’s a theoretical overlay. It’s another of the willed impositions of Modernism. On the other hand, Picasso made some beautiful art, so where does that leave us? The same can be said for Stevens. Stein. Frost.

Looking at it another way, there never was a Modernism. For, if one looks at Milton, looking for it, one can also find fractals. So? Are periods an imposition then? Of course they are. All things can be found where one looks for them, if one is determined enough. But still, no one would mistake T.S. Eliot for Alexander Pope. So things do change.

And then one can say that Post-modernism’s reaction against this overlay of Modernism is/was to use a pastiche of styles and influences that gives the appearance of the messy underside of the machine of Modernism, even if Duchamp and Picasso and Stein were there first.

And the reaction against Post-Modernism, then? Is it to renew the idea of a center? Spiritual? Political? Aesthetic? Is it to take the idea of fractal infinity and apply that to—add it back to—our experience of Modernism? What would such a movement look like? A friendly Modernism? William Carlos Williams?

Modernism broke as it was hijacked as totalitarian. Post-modernism has now broken as it was hijacked as empty. So? Both Warhol and Koons are institutional, so intentional surface is at its logical end. But one could have said the same thing when coming across Duchamp’s fountain. The logical end continues to renew itself.

There’s always backward. We can say nothing of value has existed since fill in the blank. Shakespeare maybe? Hopkins? Dickinson? Southey?

And if the hijacked definition of Post-modernism was that it was blank, is the turn now to fill in the blank with a newness? And if so, how would that differ from Modernism? One could try to correct the past, to correct the totalizing aspects of Modernism by imbuing it with a more natural-seeming surface.

But Robert Frost was there first, right? And wasn’t that what William Carlos Williams was all about? And then Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop?

Some terms have been tossed around, including New2 Sincerity, New Spirituality (OK, so that was just how I formulated them, but the ideas aren’t new with me). What these point to is trying to use the methods of Post-modernism toward a more centered consciousness. “I is an Other” worked well for a time (quite a long time, actually), but “I is a We” appears to be replacing it as a general psychological position. I find this possibility exciting. Or whatever. None of these categories holds up all that well—and all are already present in the others.

My own view is that we’re at a point that is similar to Cézanne’s (et al), a crisis of representation. Specifically, a crisis in the representation of reality.

The world has proven time and again that any anti-art that can be made can be admired. Whoops: Time has proven DADA to be fecund. Our intentional failures have failed to fail. Our grand mansions have become train stations.

So we just want to play what the day presents (as Miles Davis would say).

Post-modernity is a condition, not an aesthetic stance. It’s equally an outcome of this condition to denounce contemporary art as incomprehensible and to call for a return to an earlier, coherent time, as it is to dive into further iterations of making it new. And neither of these positions is one side of a binary, as much as many on either side would wish.

So here we are, and Modernism has eaten itself, and we don’t yet have a better plan. There is no moving past “make it new” that isn’t already part of “make it new,” even if one should turn to the past, as a large measure of Pound’s version of making it new was to dust off some very old things.

Because love makes the world go round.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Copper Canyon Fall 2011

Copper Canyon Press, in their catalogues, adds poems and statements from their authors. I like that they do that. (I want to cheer for some and argue or quibble with others, but I don’t want to right now. Right now is just to point and say “here.”)

“A poem doesn’t seem to be alive unless it has moved somewhere.”
                                                                            —Dean Young

“Poetry just like painting is something that you have to give your entire life to—and that includes all your life.”
                                                                            —Jim Harrison

“The more I write the more interested I am in fragments.”
                                                                            —Deborah Landau

“Try to write poems at least one person in the room will hate.”
                                                                            —Marvin Bell

“I discovered something that I should have known: when you’re writing poems, you’re not aware, quite, of the kind of poet you’re becoming until after you’ve become it.”
                                                                           —W.S. Di Piero

“I’d like to say I’m of the begging bowl theory of poetry. You put out your begging bowl and see what drops into it. I really don’t want to know where the poem is going.”
                                                                           —Marianne Boruch

“It has always been helpful for me to keep in mind the following from the dazzling Larry Levis: ‘Out here I can say anything.’ And we can. And we should.”
                                                                          —Michael Dickman

Interviewer: Is there anything you would say to young aspiring poets?
Valzhyna Mort: Read, read, and read.

“Don’t make it up. Write it down.”
                                                                         —David Budbill

“In the land and in language is a freedom from our worst selves, and I’m always scrambling like crazy to find my way toward it.”
                                                                        —Nathaniel Perry

“Before we can fathom out whatever sense there might be behind the world, we have to be true to the world itself.”
                                                                       —David Bottoms

“There’s a mysterious tension between reality and imagination that drives the manifest world, I think. Together, they power the engine.”
                                                                       —Dana Levin

“The endless engagement one can have with the world, an engagement that comes from trying to put words to it, pluck images from it, discover new meanings, unearth its secrets—there is no better way, in my opinion, to use the little bit of time we have here.”
                                                                      —Laura Kasischke

“You see a recoiling from the adventure of new writing happening to people, and it’s not a place where I want to settle.”
                                                                      —C.D. Wright

“For me, poems are at their basic level one person speaking to another.”
                                                                     —Matthew Zapruder

“Poetry . . . enables the reader to experience what you have experienced with a kind of specificity and depth that is not possible in casual language, partly because the form also communicates the information.”
                                                                     —Stephen Dobyns

“I think all poets need living poets.”
                                                                     —Jean Valentine

“The way the poems work, there’ll be a line or a phrase that will come to me one way or another. The poem has to figure out a way to encapsulate and house that phrase, that line.”
                                                                    —Travis Nichols

“I’m just interested in what science is interested in—where matter came from, what life is, how the brain works.”
                                                                    —James Richardson

“The vastness of place is certainly interrupted by the collisions of paradoxes.”
                                                                   —Sherwin Bitsui

“Poetry’s not window cleaning. It breaks the glass.”
                                                                   —Chase Twichell

“As a teacher of creative writing, I am always seeking the balance between rigor—regarding craft, knowledge of the traditions, and self-criticism—and the pleasures of the unexpected.”
                                                                  —Jon Davis

“If you’re going to spend any time—much less sympathy—with my poems, you’re going to have to resort to your mouth.”
                                                                  —John Taggart

“I write as though I’m writing for myself. I’m not smarter than the average person. So most people that read my work kind of get it or don’t get it.”
                                                                 —Chris Abani

“Poetry’s not a way of thinking, except insofar as ‘I think’ means ‘I’m not sure.’”
                                                                 —Heather McHugh

“I read my favorite books of poetry many times (something I don’t tend to do with prose).”
                                                                —Ben Lerner

“I am a lucky man—I love what I do.”
                                                               —Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“Is there anything sillier in life than to be called Pablo Neruda?”
                                                              —Pablo Neruda

“Poetry is living prose just as gardening is living architecture.”
                                                             —W.S. Merwin

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Art Is Too Important to Love

Thinking, like life, builds accidentally.

What happens in art doesn’t need you.

(But we have no hope of testing it observationally.)

If a description fits everyone, it’s not much of a description. This is a problem people who would categorize movements and periods in art continually face.

When I see someone write about a way an artist or some artists work I usually have the reaction that it is in some ways an attractive proposition, but that its proposed application to reality is pure speculation. I also feel this way when reading some poems.

Art is always a disappointment, because, in the end, it’s just people talking. Perhaps this is why people often like the say that art is like money or religion.

Artists are more afraid of circus clowns than are non-artists.

“Over time, only the best models survive,” only works in a generally horizontal community. I know of nowhere in history where a generally horizontal community has existed.

Art is a system that develops chaos. People tend to know this intuitively and then proclaim or deny art because of it.

Could there be an art as without mind as math is?

The genius is the first one to make a joke about a tragedy when it’s not too soon.

People often approach others with “how are they wrong?” when we all know that nearly all positions have a point, so that a mindset of “where are they right?” is just as valid, and a more profitable position from which to begin.

That said, sometimes you have to fight.

One of the many tricky parts of art is to be able to lose sight of your objectives while still working toward them. Which is first, to have objectives, and second, to not have objectives.

Between friend and enemy, the stranger must be restored to conceptual order. And what if we’re braced with the new, then? The perfect stranger? What if it’s unresolvable?

In art, one must never claim that what one is doing is possible.

There are ways of looking at art that are compatible, or sympathetic with each other, ways that are neutral with each other, and ways that are incompatible rivals.

How can art approach fundamental meaning when, in our daily lives, fundamental meaning continually recedes? Encounters with meaning are inevitable. But how one chooses one’s way makes all the difference.

The general population’s lack of knowledge of contemporary poetry removes contemporary poetry from its context. The context no longer generally understands itself in the poem.

When one does criticism, marking themes, value, intentions-outcomes, achievement, what has one accomplished? Is there a way of doing this that keeps the text in play?

I, too, wish John Ashbery would win the Nobel Prize.

Binding ourselves to genres as if they were closeable yields absurdity, absurd distinctions. Yet, yielding ourselves to the indefinability of genres leaves us without a stage from which to speak.

Either / Or! It’s difficult for anything to follow that without falling into fallacy.

Cleaning a chicken doesn’t mean giving it a bath.

As an artist, there are always places you won’t go, places you can’t go. That doesn’t mean art can’t. just that you can’t.

A car promises you there is a road.

Art is not kind to experts.

That’s just it. There is no mold. That is why the definition of what we’re doing will always recede. Each new art object is part of the syntax. “Watch the other children and you’ll know what to do” is only a start.

The end of a method: we can no longer envision, but invention’s easy.

Imagine that these are all brand new words.

Good luck.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Poem One Is Not Poem Two

Start here. End here.

Not as well formed of a thought as I thought it was going to be, but here goes:

Poetry readings—or reading poetry aloud—is fundamentally important. When given poetry as text, many approach it as a puzzle—as form—first, and language second. When hearing it, they are forced to hear it as language. It IS language finally. We all agree about this, I think? But we can forget it, or overlook it, or take it for granted when approach a text.

I wish we talked more about the vocalizing of poetry.

I would like to redirect the post I made last week a bit. Craft (form, etc) is important to poetry, and to my thinking about and reading poetry. What I was reacting to is the way—tonally maybe—people sometimes, often even, think of poetry as an erector set of formal machines. Poetry does have to get made, and everything made has a form, and a craft to create that form, but I’m more interested in the spirit behind it.

Part of this spirit, or my desire to talk about the spirit of the art object comes from the fact that there are a great many blanks in any art object. I prefer to hang out there. It’s one  of the major flaws of the way poetry is often taught in schools. Blanks can bring terror to teachers. Blanks aren’t testable the way non-blanks are. But the blanks are the very places we go to when we’re talking about the poems we love. The question of just what Wallace Stevens is getting at in “The Idea of Order at key West.” It’s the way things DON’T link up that are more interesting to me than the way they do.

That’s a form and craft issue too, but we tend to avoid those places, because they have the tendency to tie us up in knots, and that is a vulnerability we often don’t want to show to others, especially if we’re supposed to be experts.

Connotation and denotation, in poetry, for example, are part of a fuzzy interdependence. They are never in total control. Things happen there, that open what I’m calling blanks. This movement is an easy way to deconstruction, sure, but it also allows moments co-creation. All art is co-creation in this way, in its context, its situation.

How one handles those moments (as author or as co-creating reader) is more important, or, as important, as the form, the means of control in the poem, the art object. Even if one dislikes the blanks, one must deal with them, just as if one is bored or uncomfortable with the more usual formal issues, one still has to participate with them.

Furthering the point, I think that the hundred years since the start of Modernism (It started August 15th 1911, by the way), a century of new advances in science and the way we perceive the world around us, calls for a new approach to talking about and teaching poetry.

One can still profitably teach and study poetry as poetic forms. That’s a great way to talk about poetry up through E.A. Robinson. That’s how I learned poetry in High School and as an undergrad back in the 1980s. But what I feel like I didn’t get was a study in the most interesting things that have been going on since 1911. It’s not even contemporary poetry we’re talking about here. This stuff’s been around awhile.

The intellectual practices of how we talk about and teach the poetry of the last century (and continuing into this one) have not kept up with the changes in the practice of the art. We must change. The free-verse legacy has created a literary question (or questions) that haven’t been answered.

It seems to me sometimes when I’m talking to someone who has had some experience with poetry (almost exclusively prior to the 20th Century), that it’s as difficult to talk about new poetry as if I were trying to explain some aspect of Quantum Theory to someone who has only known Newtonian Physics.

This is not to knock them. Newton is still very important to the history of physics. All I’m saying is that, as poetry continues to bring one into the presence of a language act unique to itself, that language act, that approach to how language is, changes over time. And time demands new approaches. Not just because of the new poetry being written, but because of the people who are studying poetry. They also change over time, as the times change.

Form is not the best opening salvo in a course on poetry, and it’s precisely the wrong one in a contemporary poetry course. It still has a place, a large place, but I don’t believe that place is primary. Contemporary poetry, or a fairly large percentage of it, is outside the conception of what poetry is that reigned before 1911, or even—or especially—the way it was conceptualized as an object of study by the New Criticism.

I think we should be using the more innovative pedagogical strategies we use in teaching theory or fiction when we teach contemporary poetry.

Most people learn poetry through a historical lens, starting with very, very old things. Wonderful things, don’t get me wrong, but old things. I think that’s backwards. Or actually, I think completely different approaches need to be taken after The Romantics, but that’s a different argument.

I’ve meandered long enough, so I’ll close. Audiences, I firmly believe, would find what they’re looking for, if they would just look at poetry. As we who read poetry, it’s a vast, varied landscape. And, in general, poetry (no matter what stripe of poetry one cares for) does something different from all other forms of art, and should be recognized for what it is and can be.

 How many licks does it take to get to the center of a unicursal labyrinth?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

John Ashbery at the Tibor Gallery Oct 20 - Dec 3

One more reason I wish I lived in NYC (or at least a LOT closer than I do):

The Tibor de Nagy Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of new collages by acclaimed poet John Ashbery. This is the gallery’s second solo exhibition devoted exclusively to Ashbery’s collages, following his hugely successful debut with the gallery in 2008.

Ashbery was fascinated in his youth by the collage novels of Max Ernst and the partly collaged Cubist paintings of Picasso and Braque. He started making collages as an undergraduate at Harvard, and has continued the collage process in both his visual and literary creations ever since. Influenced by such collage giants as Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Cornell, and more directly, Joe Brainard, Ashbery’s work combines equal doses of art historical and contemporary pop culture references.

These recent works are more inventive and confidently his own than ever before. Ashbery continues to explore the collage medium, pushing the imagery into increasingly amorphous shapes with unexpected and often humorous juxtapositions, in much the same way that he has consistently pushed the boundaries of poetry.

Considered by many to be the most important living poet writing in English, Ashbery has published more than twenty collections, most recently Planisphere (2009, Ecco), and his highly acclaimed translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations (2011, Norton). In May he received the Medal of Honor of New York University’s Center for French Civilization and Culture, and in November he will be presented with the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927. His Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror won the three major American prizes – the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He served as executive editor of Art News and as the art critic for New York magazine and Newsweek. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1988 to 1999. The winner of many prizes and awards, both nationally and internationally, he received two Guggenheim Fellowships and was a MacArthur Fellow from 1985 through 1990.

For further information and visuals please contact the gallery at 212.262.5050.

Opening reception: Thursday, October 20, 5 - 7 p.m.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Midwest Chapbook Series Winner Announcement

Midwest Chapbook Series Winner Announcement

Dana Levin has selected Elizabeth Clark Wessel’s manuscript Whither Weather for publication in the Midwest Chapbook Series. The chapbook will be available (crossed fingers) in time for AWP, and Elizabeth Clark Wessel will have a reading in Missouri next fall, along with Dana Levin.

Dana Levin chose Jeanne Stauffer-Merle’s manuscript, Here in the Ice House, as the runner-up.

Thank you to all who entered. And to Dana Levin. Thank you all, as well, for your patience, as the process took a couple months longer than expected this year.

Here is a lovely poem of Elizabeth Clark Wessel’s that will be in Whither Weather that was first published at FAWLT:

Love Poem at Thirty

I want to split open some sleek animal,
zip myself inside, and gallop away.
But I’m afraid I’d be galloping towards you.

Is the house still on fire?
I want to save you and save myself,
but in what order, like the oxygen masks
on airplanes, forget who needs one first
and you both die.

Nothing new happened today.
I took a train, and I can’t remember
one thing I thought about.
Times Sq and I passed by each other
and said hello, hello, hello.
Strangers did their best
not to touch.

And the sun, my god, the sun.
Spring is a sledgehammer.
Spring is like every clock ringing
and every bell striking at the same time.

Love, I don’t mean half of what I say.
Love, I’m not as bright as this day, but I am longer.
Love, what was it I said, remind me again,
I think we were someplace impossible,
and I said something, and you said
you’d remind me, but you never did.

More of her work can be found here:

Elizabeth Clark Wessel's poems and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in DIAGRAM, A Public Space, Fairy Tale Review, No, Dear, Sixth Finch, Asymptote, Lana Turner Journal, and Fawlt Magazine, among others. Her criticism can be found at Poetry International, The New Yorker's Book Bench blog, and BOMB Magazine's blog. She lives in Brooklyn and is an editor at Argos Books.

Argos Books:

Friday, October 07, 2011

Radiohead - Live From the Basement 2011 [The King of Limbs]

Radiohead - Live From the Basement 2011 by andybe29

The King of Limbs
(Live from the Basement)

This puts the album to shame. Except for the commercials. The commercials shame all of us. But if you’re clever, or have fancy friends, you’ll download it. Just guessing.

It was a good album, don't get me wrong. But seriously, this is a much better interpretation of what it could have been. The two extra songs, "The Daily Mail" and "Staircase" do a lot, but playing it live does even more.

1. Bloom

2. The Daily Mail

3. Feral

4. Little By Little

5. Codex

6. Seperator

7. Lotus Flower

8. Staircase

9. Morning Mr. Magpie

10. Give Up the Ghost

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Tomas Tranströmer has won the Nobel Prize in Literature

Tomas Tranströmer has won the Nobel Prize in Literature: "because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality."

After a Death
translated by Robert Bly

Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.

One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.

It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armor of black dragon scales.

translated by Robert Bly

Men in overalls the same color as earth rise from a ditch.
It's a transitional place, in stalemate, neither country nor city.
Construction cranes on the horizon want to take the big leap,
        but the clocks are against it.
Concrete piping scattered around laps at the light with cold tongues.
Auto-body shops occupy old barns.
Stones throw shadows as sharp as objects on the moon surface.
And these sites keep on getting bigger
like the land bought with Judas' silver: "a potter's field for
       burying strangers."

The Couple
translated by Robert Bly

They turn the light off, and its white globe glows
an instant and then dissolves, like a tablet
in a glass of darkness. Then a rising.
The hotel walls shoot up into heaven’s darkness.

Their movements have grown softer, and they sleep,
but their most secret thoughts begin to meet
like two colors that meet and run together
on the wet paper in a schoolboy’s painting.

It is dark and silent. The city however has come nearer
tonight. With its windows turned off. Houses have come.
They stand packed and waiting very near,
a mob of people with blank faces.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Craft Issues / Poets on the Line / Gabriel Gudding

There's nothing like a fish on the line. 

I’m mildly allergic to FORM and FORMAL ISSUES in poetry, so whenever I find myself reading something about craft, the formal, mechanical-sounding elements of art-making, I get all itchy. It doesn’t bother me as much as it gives me the feeling I’m on the couch in my neighbor’s house (whom I don’t know well) watching slides of their family reunions from the 1980s. In short, I’m equal parts bored and anxious.

Will I ever get out of here? Should I feign an illness?

I don’t place much value in craft issues as they’re usually presented. Instead, I place value upon the performative aspects of the art act. What I mean is I’m more inclined to the guitar solos of Neil Young than I am the guitar solos of Eddie Van Halen, though I don’t feel the need to disparage Eddie van Halen about it. I just want out of the slide show.

As Neil Young says it:

“'At a certain point, trained, accomplished musicians hit the wall. They don't go there very often, they don't have the tools to go through the wall, because it's the end of notes. It's the other side, where there's only tone. . . . When you go through the wall, the music takes on that kind of atmosphere, and it doesn't translate the way other music translates. When you get to the other side, you can't go back. I don't know too many musicians who try to go through the wall.  I love to go through the wall.”

Or maybe as John Ashbery says it:

“Poetry is mostly hunches.”

Some mix of the two, perhaps, sums up my attitude toward craft. I value improvisational openness with slight returns. I’m fascinated by the detours. Yes, there’s craft in that too, but it’s not what I would call “hard craft.” Instead, I’d name it “Managed Improvisation.”

Thelonious Monk is a great example. In poetry, Lyn Hejinian’s  My Life is a good example. Yes, it’s also a formal exercise, but the form here I would call performative rather than given. Perhaps I’m hedging. I can live with that. Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons is another good example. Or the poetry of John Ashbery. Dean Young talks along these lines (or within the world of these lines) as well in his excellent book The Art of Recklessness.

I was trying to get to this point in my essay in Poets On the Line, edited by Emily Rosko and Anton Vander Zee. It’s a wonderful, diverse collection, by the way. I didn’t quite get there, then, but that’s OK too, as there’s still plenty of time in the world for such things.

All this, however is a meandering introduction to Gabriel Gudding’s essay from the same collection. What is there to say about this thing? Well, it’s certainly hyperbolic, that’s a given. In fact, the hyperbole is so wild, it borders on parody or satire. And it’s absolutely aggressive, with the kind of manifesto tone that is certain to elicit a reaction. An aesthetic and a political reaction. Whatever it is, it's the most "out there" essay in the collection. As always, points for that.

Because of this, it’s also a good way to get the craft vs ? conversation going. Is he anti-art or just anti craft issues? Can someone agree with this essay and then make art, or is this a “goodbye to all that” move? How much cognitive dissonance is healthy, and how much is too much?

One person's "Cut it out" is another's "Follow the Line."

I’m sure there are more questions than that, but here, for the record, is his essay as it appeared on Poetry Daily a couple weeks ago:


The Line as Fetish and Fascist Reliquary
Gabriel Gudding

The line is not a feature of poetry.

The line is basically a disciplinary fiction, a fantasy of technique, an imaginary feature upon which to render pronouncements and leverage arbitrary distinctions for the purposes of acquiring or wielding social and disciplinary power.

The history of the line, as something ostensibly worth making distinctions about, is the history of poetry both as a fetishized cultural commodity and, since the modernist moment, as part of a broader system of belief that has helped lead to the disenchantment of everyday cultural life in an advanced, industrial world. This history of the line, then, is, in its latest iteration, in great part a holdover from the history of the right-wing modernist fetish of form, which marked the removal of poetry fully from the office of humility.

So the line is, in one sense, a gendered and fascist reliquary containing the careers of Pound, Eliot, Olson, William Logan, LangPo, and the dismal tantrums of the neoformalists—groups and personalities defined by the genre of conviction and pronouncement. In another sense, the line is a verbal machine, or a machinic talisman, that marks a fetish of music and voice and wax over content, context, flesh, ethical inspiration and political struggle—often, on the one hand, in the name of archetypal, transcendental, universal, colonial, ostensibly transcultural values, and, on the other, in the name of provisional resistance and socio-aesthetic struggle against late-capitalist hegemonies, authoritarianism, and consumerism.

The line is a vomito-aesthetic concrescence of a larger, mystifying ideology known both as "official art" and its false rival "avant-garde art" whose purposes are both to entrench administrative culture and delimit the range of experiences we call "human" as a broader push continually to establish, disenchant, and rationalize advanced, industrial society. It's a trumped up vomitnothing about which and around which belief and conviction and argument are purposefully constructed in spasms of pseudo-activity—the purpose of which is to mobilize collective narcissistic excitement in a genre characterized by ethical inaction.

So, yeah. Our world is in peril. We don't have time for the line, except against a backdrop of those cosmologies positing (a) an eternal realm, (b) an impending apocalypse followed by redemption for true believers, (c) a viable suburbia. Basically, we live in a time in which poetry has to resist itself and its own unsustainable habits in favor of facing reality. The line is one such conceptual habit; an iterative fraud. Renounce it quickly.

This necessary renunciation will inevitably extend to poetry's other most favored myths: that song destroys illusion; that dysraphic poetry also destroys illusion and, unlike song, also destroys capitalist hegemony; that messing with syntax is somehow in itself politically radical; that formalism is really exhaustively open to content; that close reading isn't textual fetishism; that craft isn't technical fetishism; that imagination is somehow by itself salutary; that poetry is precious speech uttered by special beings or by necessarily radical people.

In short, the line is an ideological device masquerading as an aesthetic element. Which would in itself not be a bad thing, except for the fact that the current effect of what gets called "art" in our world, or what gets called "poetry" in our life, is in fact to limit the number and categories of experience in which, by which, and through which one can become what one is and work toward justice and develop a truly loving heart. If we are to stop the professional suppression of joy that we call literature, and if we are to cease manufacturing false needs through poetry, if in short we are to stop treating poetry as both a kind of country music and a hipster cagefight, we'll need at some point to wake up and stop ritualizing literature, stop valorizing its sacred heresies, and stop attributing inherent value to technique (both belletristic technique and dysraphic technique—as they are two sides of the same coin). Breaking the habit of obeisance to the religion of literature would especially mean renouncing poetry's fetishes, sublanguages, arguments, battles—especially its purportedly liberational ones—in favor of poetry's fundamental ethical argument, pragmatic kosmophilia, and not confusing that renunciation as further invitation to bicker. Why climb pebbles?

And let's maybe instead spend that time and energy in sacralizing our relationships to one another, to our Selves, to other animals, to plants, to sunlight, to rivers, to lakes, to soil, to compost, to seas, to air.
The line is the place where all your hang-ups can go.