Tuesday, May 25, 2010

From the Notebooks: Fall 2009 (maybe)

I’ve gotten myself through transcribing things out of another abandoned notebook. This one was gray (most of them are, as Mead seems to make more gray ones than other colors) and as far as I can tell, from around the end of 2009. I ended up with a lot of stuff, so I’ve broken it into two parts, one today and one tomorrow.

In our little book of opposites: if given the choice, I prefer aphasia to reductive clarity. At least there’s energy in that. But one doesn’t get the choice, not really. One doesn’t get to make that choice.

There’s been enough clarity already. Now we need new brooms. People are always talking about moving “into new territory” but no one ever talks about cleaning up.

When I look out at the world I pretty much think I’m looking at the world. So how could it possibly be that time is an illusion? Eggs don’t reassemble once they’ve hit the floor. But in the new science this is all just something we infer. But if we all infer the same way? That seems difficult to imagine, as we all do very little the same way.

Everyone dies the same way after they’re dead.

The too-easy critique of a certain type of poetry: “If you can convince them that you’re dealing with large things, they’ll be OK with not understanding you.” This has been tossed at nearly every important poet for at least as long as I’ve been paying attention (I’m thinking of Stevens mostly—remember when they thought he was slight? And then silly? And then ponderous? And now he’s postmodern, the first poet to perform on a Wittgenstein landscape. I’m seeing Armantrout going through a similar arc of bumper stickers.).

Poetry in the age of new literacy. A conversation about what blogs are doing to and for the reception of new and old poetry. Who’s having this conversation? Who should be having this conversation? Where?

“Hail whatever,” we’re made to say, and some of us refuse.

I met the wife of a rock star a couple years ago at the airport. She was pregnant and sick and I watched her Playboy luggage for her while she went to the bathroom to throw up. I told her it was going to be OK.

If you like everything you like nothing.

When we aren’t making art, we’re biting our nails. Every piece of art might be the last.

All the questions there are are there. Picking and choosing is selection. There is always selection at work. (Even if at play.) Form is.

How good is as good as it gets?

Being alone is only fun when it’s an option.

I fell backward once when I was a teenager into an empty fish tank that was turned on its side, breaking out the glass and getting wedged in. I had to pull myself out. I was bleeding and couldn’t see how badly.

Can all things be endlessly divisible? Everyone I’ve read says no, but they’ve yet to prove it.

Life is a matter of probabilities. But only on the long horizon. Right now, to any of us anything could happen.

Magical realism is more realism than magic, when done well. The same with surrealism.

When people say “this is the last time,” they very rarely mean it.

All writing is about choices we make. It’s travel. Chance is a fun way to travel. But with every way one travels, one misses something. There is no full representation possible.

We’re really just trying to build interesting sentences. Everything else is after.

What are the drawbacks of New Media?

We all say reading is a big part of writing. So why is reading a big part of writing? Is it the biggest part? is there something else that’s bigger? Living? Having experiences? Why?

The problem for me when I read Kay Ryan’s poetry is that it seems completely harmless. There’s nothing there to trouble the reader. It doesn’t add or take away from what is now or has come before. And it performs its untroubling in a competent, light manner, which, as long as you just glaze along with it, can seem interesting, like having the TV on while you do housework. It can be interesting in the same way that Terry Gross can be interesting. It’s a surface interest that strikes the pose of profoundity. This is the same (or nearly the same) argument that people have made of John Ashbery, a poet I greatly admire. Maybe I’m the one missing something, and so I go back to her poetry and have the same reaction. And I’m still convinced by Ashbery.

Since communication between people must fail, why should art participate? It doesn’t sound like much fun to me.

Whatever one means when one says “Contemporary Poetry” has always been a highly fractured and nearly incomprehensible thing since, at the very least, the turn of the 20th Century (where I start paying closer attention). And just as in all things, from political call-in shows to the magazines at supermarket check-out lines, the people that are talked about are talked about because they’re talked about.

Occasionally we have to go out and do things. (“All this fiddle.”)

When one says that poetry is communication, s/he raises poetry to a level that would not do you well in a building on fire (the easy dismissal, but I feel it makes a point at the definition of what communication is, vs what art is). In fact, all claims that poetry helps in any communicative way are dubious.

When we’re writing about the world in art, the thing itself doesn’t get treated, no matter how clinically we try. I think it’s Barret Watten that said (I paraphrase): “the only direct treatment of the thing that is possible in language is the direct treatment of the thing that is language.” Language is a thing, of course, but that excludes the fact that it’s also a mediator between things, part of a transaction. It’s not just a means or an end, but also that which we use to order soup. It’s like confusing sex with going to the potty. It’s dual use, so it holds a privileged position within but outside of the economy of both.

Simile causes us to say “like” way too much. It makes us sound way too accommodating. Do you want to be known simply as a liker?

“I have a puppet and I know how to use it!”

Is the energy going out of the last ten years? Some people are saying so. Are they saying that because it’s true or because they want it to be true?

It’s Zombie vs. Mummy, and it’s a sprint.

No one ever wins, the fight just becomes something other people do.

Genius is rarely calm.

There’s the wall you hit or the wall you go through. Going through that wall is either an act of force or an act of empathy.

The way several incompatible things can be called realism at different times. This era or that one. A conversation I listened to once on the radio where they were talking about the acting styles of the Royal Shakespeare Company. One generation’s realism is, to the next, highly affected, or stylized.

All revolutions have a moment of anarchy yielding to a moment of laws.

Did the sign read TOURIST or TERRORIST?

Love is impossible without picture frames.


At 5/25/2010 10:51 AM, Blogger Matthew Thorburn said...

"Occasionally we have to go out and do things." -- that's my new motto!

At 5/25/2010 11:11 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

And it’s participatory, as well! No hermits here, occasionally.

At 5/25/2010 11:26 AM, Blogger Jason Bradford said...

"Simile causes us to say “like” way too much. It makes us sound way too accommodating. Do you want to be known simply as a liker?"

I've been noticing the overuse of "like" as well, and the saddest part is, it seems to have resulted in me using it more.

At 5/25/2010 1:26 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I've been rather anti-simile for years, but, even so, when I plugged a manuscript of mine in a word-cloud generator, the second or third largest word was LIKE. I was disturbed.

But LIKE has many uses: You can LIKE someone, or someone can be LIKE a leaning tree... it tends to make the word LIKE come up a lot in books of poetry.


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