Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ride That Global Fame, Ecce Mono

So, well, I guess this makes the rest of the century irrelevant. We might as well pack up the tent now, kids.  Play some "March of the Wooden Soldiers" and amscray.


The event was what the event was, and I felt the way I felt about it when it happened, but the return is always a coffee mug, isn't it?

Here's the text (even though I know I'm not supposed to repost it), so that I can return to it here off and on for the remaining fifteen minutes we have left before the alien invasion.

September 21, 2012 12:24 PM

Disfigured Spain fresco rides global fame

MADRID — It appears on T-shirts and cellphone covers, coffee mugs and wine labels. You can even use it as an avatar in online games.

The church fresco of Christ in the town of Borja was for decades a little-known piece of religious art by a minor Spanish artist. Now that it's been disfigured in a botched restoration attempt revealed a month ago, it has found a new fate as a global icon — used to sell products around the world.

And Cecilia Gimenez, the 80-year-old pensioner behind the disastrous touch-up, is exploring her intellectual property rights.

The fresco depicts Christ with a crown of thorns before crucifixion, in a style style known as "Ecce Homo" (Behold the Man). It stood in peaceful obscurity in the Misericordia Sanctuary since its creation in 1930 — until Gimenez, a longtime devotee of the work, decided it needed to be rescued from flaking caused by the damp church air.

The result was so awful that it could only be destined for one thing: worldwide fame.

The solemn Ecce Homo quickly took on a less dignified identity, as "Ecce Mono." Behold the Monkey.

Gimenez has gone into hiding in her hometown of Borja, about a four-hour drive from Madrid, to avoid countless international media interview requests. The town itself has morphed into a tourism destination for people who want to see her restoration. The crush has been so big that the Santi Spiritus foundation that owns the Misercordia church and sanctuary recently started charging admission: one euro per visitor.

Meanwhile, Internet entrepreneurs have quickly moved in to cash in on the phenomenon, printing "Ecce Mono" on a seemingly endless range of products to sell online.

Gimenez' lawyers say she has no interest in a cut of what the foundation is charging people to see the fresco. But they are gearing up to put a stop to potential copyright violations of what she created — even though she had not set out to create anything at all.

"We want to put some order to this anarchy," said Antonio Val Carreras Rivera, one of her lawyers. "You do this little by little under legality, and our job is to coordinate to prevent third parties from profiting. We are at the beginning now, we can't say if she has rights."

If the lawyers determine she does, Gimenez could pursue payments from those using the image to sell products, Carreras Rivera said, adding that whatever she earns will go to charity. She's most interested in funding groups that help people with congenital muscular dystrophy, because she has a son with the disorder.

While Gimenez' lawyers research her legal rights, the Sancti Spiritus foundation is stuck in its own legal bind about what to do with the fresco. Should it restore the painting to its original state? Or leave Gimenez' image on the church walls? Or try, as experts say is possible, to separate the two?

Gimenez herself is thankful for the many messages of support she's received from around the world, her lawyers said in a statement. And she "regrets and deplores that commercial brands are financially exploiting a situation that began in total good faith, and which should be restricted to the human level beyond business or commercial interests," the statement said.

The nonprofit Sancti Spiritus foundation plans to seek a second opinion from art experts on what to do about the painting, before getting the view of lawyers, said foundation president Francisco Miguel Arilla, who is also the mayor of Borja, population about 5,000.

"Everyone wants to solve this, but no one knows the solution," Arilla said.

While Gimenez could end up with ownership of what she painted on top of the fresco, the foundation isn't sure who owns the original. It's either the foundation or the 16 grandchildren of the painter. And Martinez' heirs live all across Spain, Arilla said. "This seems like it's going to be a long process," Arilla said.

Meanwhile, Borja is trying to cope with its newfound fame. While known for its wine, this is the first time it's ever been a big tourism draw.

The influx of visitors hasn't shown any sign of letting up since news of the fresco rocketed around the world, Arrilla said. About 1,000 people paid admission last weekend, and the number of visitors has averaged 100 daily this week. The charge was put in place to cover the cost of additional workers needed at the sanctuary to manage the crowds.

"I thought this would slow down by now, but we still have a steady flow of people," Arilla said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

And, for those of you who have made it to the bottom of this post, a gift. A brand new song and video by Neil Young & Crazy Horse that seems to fit with the whole Bigfoot-ization fest:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Who Is More Wrong? (Because we all know no one is ever right.)

Because love is a battlefield, baby. And don't you forget it.

As Hank Lazer writes in his introduction (http://writing.upenn.edu/library/What-Is-a-Poet/), “The 1984 ‘What Is a Poet?’ symposium took place at a time of considerable tension within the world of American poetry.”  It begs the question regarding the tension or not so much tension there might or might not be in the world of American poetry in the fall of 2012.  How tense are we?  Do you feel tense?  Are we all happy campers with each other?  Are we playing nice? 

Over the past few years I was thinking there was quite a bit of tension, mostly surrounding—people taking pot-shots at—what some were terming Third Way or Post-Avant poetry.  Does anyone term anything that way anymore?  Has the wind gone out of the sails of periodizing? 

Well, in 1984, that ominous-sounding time that we all were looking forward to, we were, as the saying goes, promised jetpacks by then, if you’ll recall.  And all we got was Ronald Reagan’s second term.  I don’t know about you, but I was feeling a little sore about the whole thing. 

So, here’s the question (it’s not my question, by the way, but it seemed to be 1984’s question): does language create the world or does language describe the world? 

In my 2012 view, they’re both wrong.  As I see it, poetry is a social act, and social acts are constructed by language.  But they get themselves all swirled up in flying bullets and getting hit by busses and such.  Those were simpler or else more complex times. 

Here’s an exchange:

Louis Simpson:  I think I’m beginning to see a basic reason we’re disagreeing here.  You approach the world as a construct which humanity has made, and therefore language is a construct, so you approach experience through language.  I would argue that for poets experience occurs as a primary thing, without language in between.  I quoted Dante yesterday to you about visions.  We have visions, we have experiences for which there is not language, and our job is to create that into a poem.  And that seems to me a radically different point of view.

Gregory Jay:  O, yeah, yeah.  We do disagree fundamentally because I don’t think that there is any such thing as uninterpreted experience and I don’t think we ever have an experience of anything that isn’t an interpretation when it arrives to our knowledge.

Louis Simpson:  I don’t believe that for one second.  If you had been in an automobile accident, or I could give you even worse examples – if you’ve ever had somebody shooting at you in a battlefield, where the heck is interpretation coming in there?

Gregory Jay:  Well, I have to decide whether the bullet’s going to hit me or not, Louis.

Louis Simpson:  But what has that got to do with interpretation?

Denise Levertov:  If a child dying of cancer is suffering excruciating pain just as if it were a grown-up person who is able to reflect upon its pain, does that mean that it is not experiencing that excruciating pain?  Bullshit!

Charles Bernstein:  Of course it doesn’t mean that.  I think, I mean nobody is saying that.  I think we’re not going to resolve what are essentially philosophical and theological or metaphysical differences, religious differences, really, among us. If you had a panel of different religious people representing different religious groups you would, who were trying to come to some consensus, you would have some of these same disagreements. I think the problem I have is not so much understanding that people have a different viewpoint than I have – believe me I've been told that many times [laughter] and I accept that. I do find it a problem that, and I certainly tend to do this too, that we tend to say "poets" think this and "poets" think that – because by doing that we tend to exclude the practices of other people in our society of divergence.

Lazer, writing in 2009, sums up the continued relevance of the 1984 symposium this way:

“The emerging critique of the burgeoning creative writing/workshop industry, the rise of critical theory and its importance to English Departments and to interpretive methodologies, and the increased attention to Language poetry and other innovative poetries contributed to the kinds of tensions reflected in the concluding panel discussion.  One might argue that the mid-1980s represented a much more polarized time in American poetry – a time when camps and schools of poetry held more sharply delineated differing assumptions and when those affiliations led to a sharp sense of turf (reflected in networks of publication, employment, prizes, and the other apparatuses of official [and unofficial] verse culture).  While today it might be more common to assume that we live in an era of happy hybridity – a sort of post-polarized poetry world, in which students are free and encouraged to try any form of writing – that claim belies the fact that there still are walls and differing assumptions about how to proceed as poets.  It would be intriguing to have another symposium – again, with the deliberate intention of having poets and critics of differing perspectives (and beliefs) present to articulate and discuss those differences (and commonalities).”

So who would be on the panel list at such a symposium if you were hosting it in 2013?  I’d be up for watching that. It would be a good use of AWP or The Poetry Foundation. 

Here’s the 1984 final panel:

Hank Lazer

Denise Levertov

Charles Altrieri

David Ignatow

Marjorie Perloff

Gerald Stern

Louis Simpson

Helen Vendler

Charles Bernstein

Gregory Jay


What’s your 2013 panel of ten?  Hmm?

Here’s one, off the top of my head, just for fun. It’s not as diverse as it should be to really get things rolling. I should try again at another, but why don’t you instead?

Stephen Burt

Robert Archambeau

Vanessa Place

Johannes Göransson

Claudia Rankine

Tony Hoagland

Mary Ruefle

D.A. Powell

Ange Mlinko

Cole Swensen

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Michael Benedikt Update: Three Unpublished Manuscripts

I’m very pleased to say that I’m now in possession of three unpublished manuscripts of Michael Benedikt’s poetry.  Family Bessings / Family Curses, TRANSITIONS, and OF:.  They’re incomplete, and with many variants, but they’re here. If anyone has any poems of his published in literary journals since 1980, please email me (jjgallaher AT hotmail DOT com).  There are poems still missing. But this is a great start, yes?    

 These may well be the only folders of these poems in existence.

 I'm a little amazed at my good fortune.

It seems fitting that since his papers were saved from a dumpster, I should put them in a little suitcase my neighbor had out at the curb. You should have seen me running home with it. I was very pleased with myself.

The project continues.  I’ve gone through all his published work, putting together a wish list of selected poems.  And now, part two.  His work can be divided into three phases.  The first phase, for which he was best known, was his Surrealist phase, which was then followed by his prose-poetry phase, which was still heavily influenced by Surrealism, but more prosaic, and his final phase, which he worked in for the last 30 years of his life, could be called his pedagogical phase, for want of a better term.  The poems in this phase are highly conversational and explanatory of things as he saw them.  It makes a fine arc.  I’m pleased that these unpublished manuscripts will be part of his story. 


Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Real Zeal

OK, gimmicky title.  But there we are.  I want a gimmicky title.  I want to write one of those upbeat, chatty, pro-positive art essays that makes people cheer.  But I’ve no idea what to say past the desire to say it.  I need to explicate the desire itself, I guess. 

I came to poetry through genre fiction and 70s singer-songwriters.  It started probably around 1981 or so, when I finally got into an honors English course, the only honors course I ever took.  We did 20th Century poetry.  I remember Eliot and Cummings mostly, as well as a light brush up against Stein.  Something in this made me slowly turn from Louis L’Amour westerns and Robert Heinlein sci-fi.  But not the music.  I’ve kept up with music as closely, or perhaps more closely, than I have poetry.  There was a day in class where the teacher, Mr. Lovett (Love it!), had us each bring in a song to share.  I chose Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes.” 

I’m typing this on Saturday morning listening to Bob Dylan’s new album, Tempest.  It’s his 35th, and it’s good, even if it’s being over-praised.  I understand the desire to over-praise Bob Dylan, to see in a new Dylan album the possibility that there’s hope for ourselves (“I pay in blood, but not my own,” he’s singing right now, and then “The more I die, the more I live.”).  If Dylan (or Leonard Cohen or Neil Young or Ian Hunter [the former lead singer of Mott the Hoople], these rock and roll singer-songwriter boys) can be a genius in his 70s, then maybe I can too.  Maybe I can be that rock and roll boy one more time.  And then the pitch: the new album from Ian Hunter (the lead single is at the bottom of this post), which is going over-looked by nearly everyone so far, is a loud, rock solid, rock affair.  Please love it.  Please love all of it.  I’m over-praising.  So we over-praise the new Bob Dylan album.  The nation turns its lonely eyes to you, as they say.  Or something like that. 

Bob Dylan, “Early Roman Kings”

That’s my favorite track from the new Dylan album.  There’s hard work in art.  There’s the hard work (or the obsessive work, maybe, which isn’t necessarily hard, but it is a long road) of making art.  And there’s the hard work of what you do with it after you make it. 

In a recent NYTimes article, Stephen Burt is a lover:

And what poet wouldn’t want to be a part of that?  The positive (some say over-positive) embracing of “what I like.”  I want the world to like what I like.  I want, by extension, for the word to like me in that way as well.  I want to love and to be loved. 

I want you to go out and listen to the new Ian Hunter album, the new album from Amy Cook, the new album from David Byrne and Annie Clark (St. Vincent).  I want you to read Mary Ruefle’s new book of essays.  David Dodd Lee’s poetry.  Cole Swensen.  Of course, I want, through this, to have you like me as well, that my association with the things I like will be my connection to you.  We will be there together, where being there together is enough, to kind of quote Wallace Stevens. 

Bob Dylan is singing, “Set ’em up Joe,” and Ian Hunter counters with, “Laugh because it’s only life,” and then, “Easy come, easy go, it’s just another Rock and Roll show.”

I’ve put together a little query manuscript of Michael Benedikt’s poetry to send to potential publishers, hoping to interest one of them in publishing a selected poems.  It’s an excellent collection.  It’s going to be an excellent collection.  But, for me, there’s more to it than that.  Michael Benedikt was in many ways at the top of the literary world by the end of the 70s.  He’d published five books of poetry, edited two important anthologies of poetry (among other things), and was poetry editor of The Paris Review.  Important dude.  And then, on or about 1980, he just turned off.  Like a light-switch.  Poof.  No more books.  No more editing.  A poem here or there in journals for the next 27 years.  By 2007, when he died, there were no remembrances, no panels at AWP.  Gone daddy gone.  Everything he's ever written is out of print.

That’s another possibility.  So we over-praise the new Bob Dylan album and we forget whomever it is we forget this week.  It’s why we sometimes feel this need to go back, or at least why I’m feeling this need to go back. 

Making art is one thing, and then what happens to it?  Stephen Burt believes that the role of the literary critic is to be the lover, to talk about what makes you cheer, to cheer, and in cheering, bring people into that moment.  The things one doesn’t want to cheer for, one passes over in silence. 

I have children, and so silence rarely fills our house.  But sometimes I feel this silence, this silence of passing over.  It’s also the silence of being passed over.  The story of Michael Benedikt haunts me, not because he’s largely forgotten, but because I find so many of his poems compelling.  He made good art, at times great art. 

All artists feel this silence at some point.  The pressure is to dress up as a carton of milk and go on Let’s Make a Deal: “Pick me Monty!”  Monty Hall was his stage name.  He was born Monte Halperin in 1921.  He’s retired now, I suppose.  I really don’t know what he’s doing.  His legacy includes The Monty Hall Problem, though, also called the Monte Hall Paradox (from Wikipedia):

“Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1 [but the door is not opened], and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, "Do you want to pick door No. 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?

Vos Savant's response was that the contestant should always switch to the other door. If the car is initially equally likely to be behind each door, a player who picks door 1 and doesn't switch has a 1 in 3 chance of winning the car while a player who picks door 1 and does switch has a 2 in 3 chance, because the host has removed an incorrect option from the unchosen doors, so contestants who switch double their chances of winning the car.” 

So we should switch our guess, even as it seems, logically, nonsense.  When we choose Door Number One from three doors, we’ve a one in three chance of being right, but once door number three is taken out of the equation, we should switch to two, because we’d then have a 50/50 chance of being right.  Who would have thought? 

Either way we want to pick the car, and we want to be the car that others pick.  In a recent post on VQR, Sean Bishop writes about trying to increase one’s odds of getting one’s poetry published:

It is, as he says, the factory approach.  Something inside me wants to have a problem with it, just as something inside Bishop wants to have a problem with it.  It all just sounds so depressing.  But the distribution of art has always been depressing. 

I ramble because I’m flighty and conflicted.  That begins the art act.  But then, some other being has to take over.  Someone with an MBA or something.  Spreadsheets and catalogues.  Over-praise and mass-forgetfulness.  And above it all a desire in each of us to notice and to be noticed. 

Ian Hunter, “When I’m President”

Things are going to be different then.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Saint Geraud (1940 - 1966)

“I had lots of theories as to why people should be posthumous; I figured they were posthumous anyway. Society is becoming so ordered that everything is known about you before you're born. See, you're born and at the age of 5.8 you're going to matriculate kindergarten, age 13.5 you're going to do this, age 40.2 you're going to do that--it has already been so planned out that when you're born your life is over. Everyone is posthumous in that way.”

—Saint Geraud (1940-1966)

Does anybody here remember Saint Geraud? (If not, have a fun google afternoon. You’re welcome!)


The only response
to a child’s grave is
to lie before it and play dead

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Artist Statement

I’m the featured poet at The Bakery this month.  One of the things the featured poets have done is to write artist statements, so I wrote one. Turns out, it wasn’t an easy thing to do. I thought I would just knock it out. I couldn’t. I had to sit with it a bit, and even so, this kind of mumbling half-statement was what I came up with:

I’ve given up. I don’t know of a better or smarter-sounding way to say it, even though “given up” isn’t quite it either. I feel it’s more active than that, how I feel. I’m feeling restless, is all. I don’t think art, by its nature, is any more exalted than other forms of behavior. Well, I do feel it’s more exalted than many things, but I don’t think artists are like priests. Then again, maybe some are. I like the idea that there’s a spiritual dimension to art, but I also like as much the idea that there’s a spiritual dimension to plumbing. This is the nature of my restlessness.

I’ve never much believed in “voice,” for instance.

I’ve given up categories and dimensions, for now. I’ve given up that kind of thinking about art. It bores me. Once, it thrilled me, then it frustrated me, and now it bores me. It doesn’t bore others, though, and I continue to enjoy many things others have to say about such categories and dimensions (except maybe the conversation about whether prose poetry is really poetry or not; that one, I feel, is a waste of time and should have been done a hundred years ago).

Participating with art is a most excellent thing to do with one’s time. I wish more people did it. But, even so, I haven’t seen any evidence that art makes anyone better, more moral, and etc. I’m taken with art more than I’m taken with most other things, but still, I’m also taken with other things. I like soccer. Art is not everything, and, by the same reasoning, everything is not art. I like reminding myself of that. A good soccer game is not like a poem. I think poems are like poems, and poems are infinitely variable. The face of art is always inscrutable, and what we find there is what we bring to it. These are formal movements.

That’s what I thought this morning. It was early, forgive me. Now it’s the evening, and as I’m looking back at it, it almost looks like a break-up note. “Dear Art,” or something. But I don’t feel the least like breaking up. I like our relationship and I’m certain we can work things out. I feel no crisis of conscience or faith. And even if there is some crisis, if this were a crisis, I’d just end up making poems about it. What kind of a crisis is that?

Lately, within this restlessness, I’ve been wandering around with how I approach writing poems. The poems here represent two of those wanderings. One is what came of my thinking about sentences, the other came from my thinking about the ways we think of memories, though both contain sentences as well as memories. All doors are windows, as someone might say, if one wanted to sound all mysterious about it. Or maybe if one were simply trying to describe how things are.

A selection of new poems can be found on this page (after the above statement):

Also a blog post on Michael Benedikt (because apparently that’s all I’m thinking about these days!) with some of his poems can be found here:

Monday, September 03, 2012

Dear Poetry Publishers

Laura Boss and I will be putting together a proposal this fall for a Selected Poems of Michael Benedikt and sending it to you.  It will include work from his five published books of poetry as well as from three decades of uncollected work.  Here's a bit of biographical info on Benedikt:

Anyone have any suggestions of who I should be hitting up first?  Any publisher want to save me the trouble and jumping on this right away? 

Here are two short poems from Mole Notes, to give you a feel for the prose poems that make up about half of his collected work (most are a bit longer than these; I’m being a lazy typer this morning):


Waking, Mole’s greatest social concern at present is this large rock.  The earth must have rolled around until the mouth of his burrow was directly under it; then it stopped. 


I invited our favorite famous writer, who happens to be a distant friend, to our wedding.  To celebrate, he gets high and cuts up the manuscript of one of his most famous love poems, using a paper punch; then he throws it all over us in our hotel room, like confetti.  And everybody considers us just one more nice normal average couple when I tell them that we spent the first night of our love in a motel room crawling around on our hands and knees. 

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Podcast: Mary Ruefle on Bookworm

Mary Ruefle brings Madness, Rack, and Honey to Michael Silverblatt’s Bookworm.  Very worth the listen.

Here’s a little bit from the book I posted awhile back: