Tuesday, November 15, 2011

August/September 2011 Notebook

[This time the notebook was a nice pale green. MEAD, 3X5. Plastic cover. As usual. I prefer the plastic covers, as they don’t rip. It’s from August/September. I’m just not getting to transcribing out the poetry bits.]

What art would you make if you made what you wanted to make? If the answer isn’t the art you’re making, then why not?

If you concentrate only on the significant works, you will misunderstand what the movement was all about.
                                                            —John Berber

In any period, the best answer to art is “all of the above.” The biggest error people make when talking about art is surety.

You can’t intimidate architecture.

Some art tries to find things, some art tries not to find things, and some art is otherwise occupied.

There are a lot of people who know precisely which part of the piano you’re hitting at any given time. Turns out, it’s not that difficult a trick.

What can you add to a conflagration, other than yourself?

The question of philosophical language: boundaries are not stable. Between friend and enemy, the new must be restored to conceptual order. And what if we can’t find out? What if it’s undecidable?

We work by enchantment.

We have subjects and we have strategies. Must we say form and content?

There are no such questions but we keep asking them anyway.

I’ve never claimed that what artists do is possible.

The translator has to navigate meaning—does it arise fundamentally from a prior center, or does it arise in the relations of the subject and strategies of the poem. It’s an unnecessary binary, as answers in such an economy turn out to be yes and yes.

Phenomenology and Structuralism holiday at the same places.

Art for art’s sake bores me.

Yes, of course art is relational to the world.

Is the slap Zen, or is the receiving of the slap Zen? What was the question again?

There is only an inside to personal experience. It is a combination of outside forces and the internal working and reworking of those experiences.

I hate dystopia monkey movies. Same with zombies. Not because they violate binaries (Oh how we love our dystopia movies where binaries are violated), but because they want to kill us. I don’t like watching us get killed.

We can’t say what we’re meaning because meaning and saying are over a fence, being good neighbors.

The biggest error people make when talking about art is surety.

I like poems both in their unassembled pieces and in their “totality,” but mostly though, when I read, I read more for the moments than for the overarching theme. I’ve always read poems this way, which is probably why I don’t get hung up on a lot of recent poems that seem to privilege the periphery of a poem’s thinking over the consistent center. I’ve always rather thought consistent centers were a fantasy anyway.

However we spend our time, we’re spending our time. Would you like a cookie?

They treat you better when you’re famous.
                                                          —Kevin Bacon

A book of poetry I came across: The air whooshing from the ties that tie everything up, that great sucking sound.

When you fall down the rabbit hole, sometimes you injure the rabbit, sometimes the rabbit injures you, sometimes you have to marry it, and sometimes all three.

And this does nothing to “explain” poetry. Explained poetry wanders off in search of a restroom.

Save us from Rousseau.

You don’t need an argument to swim when you’re pushed into a swimming pool.

My sympathy for Thomas: It’s difficult to convince me of something if you can’t point to it. I’m not much for going on the perceptions of others that I can’t externally verify.

“Poetry is a hat.” Why do we need metaphors for what poetry “is” or “is like” anyway? Poetry is like science. Poetry is like basketball. Poetry is like philosophy. Poetry is like wow. You know? I just don’t get it.

Can you make outsider art if you’re inside? “Outside” what? “Inside” what? An argument could be made that most (all?) poets are outsiders. An argument could be made that most (all?) poets are insiders.

Small/rural colleges and universities, to a large extent, don’t know how to deal with artists. What they do understand, though, is juried publications, juried shows, performances, etc. They’re fine hiring whatever poet comes along, with any aesthetic affiliation, as long as there are books and publications. To most of them, we’re all at just about the same level of inscrutable.

Art always breaks.

No one knows what poetry is, and I'm OK with that.

If there’s a rational explanation for an art object, it’s not an art object.

(That was fun to write.)

Line breaks make poets consider form at least once every line.

If your poetry doesn’t challenge you, then you’re failing your poetry.

It seems each generation gets its big anthology problem and a handful of schools and theories to get past. None of them really appear as none of them really go away. Remember Leaping Poetry? “Raw” and “cooked”? Naked Poetry?

After reading A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line, the first thing I thought is that we’re all talking about something different when we talk about the line in poetry. I find that interesting.

Often the straight answer doesn’t appear straight, like a path through the woods that winds because it must.

Some things can’t be contained in the available forms.

The biggest error people make when talking about art is surety.

“When I say ‘irony,’ I mean ‘them.’”

Give me an example of what you mean by irony, when you tag it as a negative tendency of the times, and then tell me why you used the word “irony.” I feel this would become a definition something like this: Poetry that doesn’t constantly telegraph how you should feel about its content is ironic.

Art that presses its intentionality bores me. It can still be accomplished and fine and all, but it bores me.

On reading a recent book of poetry: This would be better if I didn’t understand it.

All art is a destruction of possibility.

What we need is a revolution in understanding of how we really work as people, so that we are aware and act accordingly with the knowledge that the rational mind is subservient to the irrational mind.

Rationalists are faking it.

After one renounces everything about art, one must make art.

The parts that are made up are the most true, as they come closest to our desire.

Because grammar hides logic.

On reading a late book of poetry: The poet failed art long ago, and now is left to be only a defender of gestures.

Because anything follows from a contradiction, we tend to overreact when confronted with contradictions, and go running and shouting into the yard.

The old jokes are the best: “This sentence is false.”

The problem with aesthetic stances is that they tend to be recursive. It’s a difficult proposition to keep an aesthetic position fresh, as recursive stances in art tend to yield diminishing returns. This is why I’m skeptical of people talking about “voice” and a “signature style.” To me these sound like blocks against the central questioning/questing that art is best at. But maybe I’m being too literal. Perhaps an aesthetic position, voice, or signature style, can be open enough to allow for an open future. I remain cautiously skeptical as examples of the negative side of this can be heartbreaking.

It’s more a kind of work on oneself that has to happen. On one’s own conceptions. On the way one sees things. The artist must invent his/her own mind.

One of the things science shows us again and again is how what we thought was unitary breaks down and then becomes something we think is unitary, until it too breaks down. If this means anything to how we measure ourselves and our experience, then it means something for the art we make. But just what is an open question.

The biggest error people make when talking about art is surety.


At 11/15/2011 4:04 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

"Can you make outsider art if you’re inside? 'Outside' what? 'Inside' what? An argument could be made that most (all?) poets are outsiders. An argument could be made that most (all?) poets are insiders.

I think I know what you mean, but to me an outsider poet is outside opportunities to network with members of the literary establishment. Not necessarily a societal reject, like a pariah in a prison or loony bin; more like a trailer-park prole who works at a Wal-Mart in Ashland, WI. The kind of person who wastes most of his life crawling out of a hole to reach the ground floor where he can start living. He may be talented--even brilliant--but his writings are likely to be out of the loop, uninfluenced by fashionable models and au courant criticism. (He won't know what you mean by, for example, "the new sentence.") They may have a naive charm. I suppose an insider could imitate that, but would he want to?

At 11/15/2011 5:34 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

“It seems each generation gets its big anthology problem and a handful of schools and theories to get past. None of them really appear as none of them really go away. Remember Leaping Poetry? “Raw” and “cooked”? Naked Poetry? “

When I was in High School in my 12th Grade English ‘Honors Class’ we had to read ‘Naked Poetry’. I wrote a poem about this book.

I think I’ve been a pretty good boy about not posting my poetry here, as requested, but unlike my usual ‘life/death/being/meaning’ crap, this poem is fairly humorous.

May I have permission to post this poem?

At 11/15/2011 5:46 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


I get the sense that we work similarly from reading this. Not in terms of how we write poems but how we write. Each notebook of mine tends to be a collection of real life observations, found language, fragments and musings such as these with poetry in between.

At 11/15/2011 5:54 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Aw, shucks Gary. (That's as straight an answer as I can give you.)


Oh, good! I'm glad to hear you say this. I have this fantasy that it's the same for most writers? Or maybe not. I don't talk to many writers about their notebooks. I imagine, though, that they're out there in their little piles.

At 11/15/2011 6:06 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

"Is the slap Zen, or is the receiving of the slap Zen? What was the question again?"

At 11/15/2011 6:10 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Indeed. The fire knows all of our secret names.

At 11/15/2011 8:21 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Hot fires need fuel. Otherwise they become dull embers.

At 11/16/2011 7:15 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


I always assumed people were more organized than me. At this point, I don't what I have besides a few dozen notebooks full of poems, ideas, and fragments. My goal is to put it all in a pile early next year and see what kind of shape it has. If I'm lucky, it might look like a book.

At 11/16/2011 7:20 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I would never have the patience for that, the waiting, I mean. I’m not a patient person.

At 11/16/2011 8:13 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

It's so much waiting as adding to the pile right now. This whole process of even thinking about a book feels so alien because I'm usually tuned to the minutiae of things, the next fragment, the next idea, the next poem.

At 11/16/2011 8:27 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

And then at some point the combine has to come out.

At 11/18/2011 5:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could be wrong, I don't know, but maybe the second biggest error people can make sometimes when talking about art is talking about art.

Although, I like your notebook John.

Or maybe the 2nd biggest error is somehow related to lacking a decent sense of humor (sometimes mistakenly intertwined with taking oneself too seriously, which seems like a different kind of heartlessness altogether, far as I can tell).

And stop calling me Surety!



At 11/18/2011 8:09 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I’m sympathetic to this. There are times where I think we talk the life right out of art, but there are other times where we discover wonderful things in it through conversation. It’s all in how we speak, how we can avoid easy categories and simple reductions.

And yes yes yes, the sense of humor! Or, in another way, the lack of perspective. You know, as they say, the fights are so brutal because the stakes are so low.

At 11/18/2011 9:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My point, exactly, John, or more precisely, your point.

Happy holidays,



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