Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Vestige, Lethean


Bought (Shaman Drum Bookshop):

Luminous Debris: Reflecting on Vestige in Provence and Languedoc, by Gustaf Sobin (University of California Press, 1999)

“Book, indeed. We’ve leafed through so many vestige-packed pages, the pages interlaid with saline crystals, with the slime of tenacious deposit. It’s as if we had lying before us (whether in the sites themselves or in the documentation) the material evidence of some immensely rich allegorical property. For here, memory and obliteration, the mnemonic and the lethean, seem interlocked in a struggle that each has uninterruptedly waged with the other.”

Snatch’d off one of the tables in the Drum’s doorway, dallying at the threshold, a cold drizzle beyond, waiting for Aaron McCollough’s reading. Looking for a way to enter Sobin’s poetry. Poetry, frankly, that’s mostly left me thirsty, admiring the placement of stone against stone, whilst longing for some verdure, or curlicue, or gewgaw—something human, some mess.


Reading—Aaron McCollough
Shaman Drum Bookshop
Tuesday, 30 March 2004, 8:00 p.m.

Only the second occasion for which I’ve heard Ray McDaniel do th’introducing, the first being my own reading at Shaman Drum about a year back, wherein (if I recall through my flu-cauterized senses of the moment—I’d been on and off fiery and freezing all day) he compared me with Satan. (Something about my radickally two-faced publishing history: sly and funny, and he did manage to pull it off with no little aplomb.) He’s smooth, Ray is, turns a hard-won phrase, and smiles like an orthodontist. He did an elaborate—and deserving—riff for Aaron, again turning the expect’d tables to argue against a poetry of complacency to the “right word and right sound” (“what wrongness that idea entails!”), and for something like playful contrariety, a willful pottage and mess. To culminate with th’observation that McCollough is, in Double Venus, “mapping out areas of treacherous domestication and making them wild as he goes.”

Aaron start’d with two sonnet-like pieces (admitting that he want’d to “turn the form inside out,” or “make the sonnet devour itself”)—“Song for John Wesley” (founder of the Methodist Church) and “Resistance in the Materials” (a phrase, apparently, cobbed from Raymond Williams). McCollough uses something like a “deep caesura” (an em-quad space) fairly liberally in the poems, adding to the “brokenness” of the form (and impossible for me to reproduce accurately here):

“. . . a friend to god but not
an asset / drilling holes in air but not
a girder / living paradise but not”

is how the Williams sonnet ends (the virgules marking the spaces).

Aaron next read a lengthy section titled “Penalty” out of a new manuscript titled “Little Ease,” named for a seventeenth-century English prison design’d with cells so small the prisoners were forced to crouch constantly, wholly unable to ever stretch out. Within the “Penalty” section poems titled “Letter from Prison” alternate with ones titled “Prisoner’s Wreath,” the latter descendents of George Herbert’s “A Wreath.” Some lines and phrases I managed to copy down: “nowhere spooled in nothing,” “the dog edging its nose out the door and snapping for a beacon,” “arrhythmias of streams,” “the freedoms of noise on noise” (referring to running a stick along a fence), “the distance, the grammar of your variety,” and “government of fowls and burning bitters.” (I can’t vouch for th’accuracy here, between my execrable cramp-fist’d penmanship, and my ears both being “on backwards,” but I trust it provides something of the texture of th’event (and the poems) to do it so. It does appear that I “caught” more of the “letters” than the “wreathes”—whether that reflects the rhythm of my listening, or different available registers in the two parts (I think Aaron read four of each), I’m not sure.

Before reading a longish Whitman-spook’d (“a dirty humanist I’m with us”) piece (in Double Venus) called “Democrack Pistols,” Aaron consider’d aloud the “vistas” available for a political poetry, and how the present situation unleashes a kind of personal need (and right) to write poems capable of bearing political weight, or attempting such, no matter what th’efficacy (or its lack) of doing so. So:

“. . .you may joyn
with us in this Work, and so find Peace. Or else, if you
do oppose us, we have peace in our Work, and in declaring
this Report: And you shall be left without excuse . . .”

Elsewhere in “Democrack Pistols” I found myself thinking about Ronald Johnson, partly by reason of Aaron’s excellent touched-dashingly-by-grace ear:

“the traipsing gait-styled gate

that gives by organ way”

And partly by attractive strings and clusters, typographic boxes and near-concretions (again, poorly reproduced by me here):

“bird no bird no
hedge bird no
head of bird to
no heady no
bird no bird no”

After another “Little Ease” manuscript piece call’d “Confession” (quick, sure-foot’d, and gone, my note-taking caught in astonishment), Aaron read four number’d (#’s 3-6) “botched” sonnets (thereby returning to th’opening salvo). Each titled “Sonnet Manqué.” Funkier noises than in th’earlier books? Perhaps: “bird’s nest soup that tastes like Old Kingdom in a can” (#5).

The reading ended with Aaron returning to Double Venus for three poems (#’s 2-4) in a series of number’d essays, each with the subtitle “A Day of Rest.” Here’s “Essay 4. A Day of Rest” (with virgule stand-ins for spaces, and which should be justified prose):

“It’s cinnabar mid-leaf and limply shadowing diminutive shapes:
the tree in a round of shell blasts / staggering beasts / fragments
of beauty. This one plumbago except where it’s sheered
refleective / torn into a dun trunk. Those communards doing
again in the names of isthmus’ contested: we hold this animal
(the blood everywhere—the length of their forearms, on
their trousers, beading and smearing on planks of town square
as they pivot and shake) to be the transparencies of triumph.”

I think that’s god-awful lovely. Political impingement to the point of centrality. Which may well be the legacy of these years.

Good crowd. I count’d roughly thirty-five or forty. Fine patter between poems by Aaron, of the self-deprecating kind, possibly the only kind appropriate for (or available to) poets: “Um, I need to sell about a hundred of these Double Venus’s tonight.” “My work is of a difficult enough nature you’ll need to see it on the page in order to really get it.” Good-natured, unassuming, wearing a substantial learning (he’s currently pursuing—I think that’s the going lingo—a Ph.D. in English, focusing on a variety of seventeenth-century writings—John Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs” figures in prominently, I think).

One complaint: I would’ve liked to hear a couple pieces out of th’earlier Welkin, winner of the 2002 Sawtooth Poetry Prize, and done up handsomely by Ahsahta Press. A press which, under the stewardship of Janet Holmes, is doing terrific work lately (see books by Graham Foust, Lance Phillips, Lisa Fishman, and, most recently, I think, Dan Beachy-Quick (Spell)).


O travail . . .


Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Patina and Smutch


Toying with the possibility of brushing up the patina and smutch of a long-underway manuscript. Trying to get it presentable for the editors stern hereabouts and thereabouts. And thinking, the Hotel’s gonna get ax’d in the flurry. Or fall into a kind of sullen desuetude. ’Course, we’re used to sullen, and desuetude ain’t no stranger neither.


Problem of the pre-conceived idea of a book. Slots blankly gape unfill’d. Putrescible clamor of the empty page. Who was it, James Galvin? Recently left a page in a book blank, or with just a title. Or “see another page.” That was dumb. Advice in the poetry trenches: don’t be caught out dumb. Or looking dumb.


I recently read a note where Frank O’Hara, in “For Janice and Kenneth to Voyage,” in that first couplet—

“Love, love, love,
honeymoon isn’t used much in poetry these days . . .”

inserted the word “honeymoon” where an earlier version’d had “Alphonsine.” Incroyable, isn’t it? From the ugly high-falutin’ismo to the grubby normal. From nasal sublime regaling to ukulele’d cartoon crooning. How unimaginable that poem becomes with “Alphonsine.” Like painting out the green bleed in a Guston—exchanging it for a yellow one, cadmium’d or not. (Guston’s green is a painterly green, not a “natural” green—it exists only as a paint-color. “Alphonsine” is not a word except in a literary sense. I love such words: I see Alexander Theroux begins The Secondary Colors with “Orange is a bold, forritsome color.” Now there’s a word to love . . .)


I wrote to a publisher-likely-to-know and learn’d that someone connect’d with Ross Feld’s estate did put together a substantial volume of essays. Though said publisher knew not th’upshot. Though agreeing with my esteem for the Feldean essay. So: in the interlude, do I collect th’essays for my personal use? Certes, with bashful glee. May such quiet excellence corrupt me.


Every weekend when G. and J. go out to do whatever errands need doing, and I stay home to vacuum and tidy, I slip one of my three CDs into the mechanical maw of the box and fill the bigger box of the house with, lately, mostly, Dylan singing off “Love and Theft.” (Which I always try to call “Love & Fame”—that’s poor lonesome dead John Berryman . . .)

And listening to the lyrics, Dylan’s way of nailing the commonest American sententiousness right down in the tender middles of unforgettable songs, I keep thinking that the better “house poet” for the Rolling Thunder tour would’ve been, not Ginsberg, but John Ashbery. It’s Ashbery who shares th’aesthetic of thievery and pilferage, of the radical refurbishing of the spoken near-cliché, all that detritus that swirls about pretty much “unheard” unless put into relation with something beyond its usual orbit.

In Wakefulness (just in reach), one can probably see what I’m talking about in a few lines, say, here, in “Tropical Sex”:

“Yes, making a point of using it
makes a point, and otherwise all is but fish scales
and fish delivery—the clear-eyed blue trough of song
in whose pit I stumbled. O Lord,
help me to get over it. That’s better, for a minute
there I thought I was a goner
and now I brushed up this interesting world
of lutanists and lunacy, and afterlife
not unlike the one we were used to—
Gosh, it’s so thrilling,
everyone is so nice,
one had almost forgotten chiggers existed,
and bedpans, and dumb ugly coffers
like the one we lived in.
But that is only a sign now.”

One could probably code the lines with bold and italic to indicate the different “registers” available, from the stubborn pedestrian (“making a point of using it”), to the ga-ga faux-poetickal (“the clear-eyed blue trough of song / in whose pit I stumbled”), to the hail-fellow narrative bonhomie (“I thought I was a goner”), to the rambunctious helter-skelter with a feign’d serious moue (“chiggers,” “bedpans,” “dumb ugly coffers”), to the first occasion to “step away” from something like “doing the police in diff’rent voices” and (self-consciously, or, conscientiously) measure the various effects: “But that is only a sign now.” Which effects a giant leveling of all the manic previous “registers.”

Compare it to Dylan (in “Tweedle-dee & Tweedle-dum”):

Tweedle-dee Dum and Tweedle-dee Dee
They’re throwing knives into the tree
Two big bags of dead man’s bones
Got their noses to the grindstones

Living in the Land of Nod
Trustin’ their fate to the Hands of God
They pass by so silently
Tweedle-dee Dum and Tweedle-dee Dee

Well, they’re going to the country, they’re gonna retire
They’re taking a streetcar named Desire
Looking in the window at the pecan pie
Lot of things they’d like they would never buy

Neither one gonna turn and run
They’re making a voyage to the sun
"His Master’s voice is calling me,"
Says Tweedle-dee Dum to Tweedle-dee Dee . . .

“Noses to the grindstone,” “Land of Nod,” “Hands of God,” “Lot of things they’d like they would never buy,” “His Master’s voice” (I seem to recall an Ashbery poem with this title, though I could be dead / wrong, to use a brilliant Gabe Gudding line-break . . .)—all th’unfinicky refuse of th’un-recherché’d millions. A different way of talking is: “Two big bags of dead man’s bones.”


Er, and the manuscript? Domani, domani, that domain I do do domani . . .


What about the fireflies? The various species enact the mating dramas with what Eisner calls “songs of light”—the males of each species blinking differently. The females of the various species, however, all blink a single blink “in reply,” thus indicating availability and position. Question is, how does the male select the “right” (species-equal) female? And the answer: apparently the females of different species respond at different intervals after the male’s blink . . . (Associations made by relations, as, oh, Fourier, probably said.)

The story gets more fantastic—with the female of one species sometimes responding at the interval of another species in order to attract the “foreign male” (which she proceeds to devour) . . .

Cauchemar-city for me tonight if I don’t stop here, no?


Off this morning to the contagious hospital “under the surge of blue mottled clouds.” Blood-draw, check the INR, making sure my blood ain’t gone to sludge and wattle. Biking, I shoot down the hill by the old observatory, and after, haul myself, insectlike and spiked, back up.


Question is, where did I read—yesterday?—the Ty Cobb line about baseball? “It’s no pink tea, and mollycoddles had better stay out.”




Monday, March 29, 2004



Saturday. Out through the mud-snug garden patches and into the fields behind the high school. Big red-tail keeping just out of range, tree to tree with long lazy flaps near the pond. Me thinking owl. Finally the fourth (and last) look, the reddish-brown tail. Off into the woods, gone. Song sparrow in a dead elm. Flicker up high flicking ceaselessly. Lots of cardinals in mate-chase rubric.


Friday night made a start distilling some viable (well, visible) poemic substrate out of fat packet (is the German word for large manila envelope Zettel, as the French is boite verte?) of accumulated notes (mostly on postage stamp-sized Post-its, in various noxious hues). Made a second flat packet into which to put notes “used.” Utile and anal, in all probability. My Scottish desire to use up the whole cow, save any piece of string, no matter how small.


Went back to the remainder’d books emporium to snatch the Bök-edited experimental fiction collection and watch’d my obsession get a drubbing by the man who steps out from under my hat and sees the fervency, glint and hurry, sees the hand reach out for the object of desire, and says, à la the mercurial Freddy (it’s not Freddy, I know, though bien Freddylich, I’d argue): “Stop right there, before you go any further . . .” Okay, the man watch’d my disarming limpidity grow bolder “onto itself” and niggle randomly with its need, and decide, no, “one” did not “need” another book to add to th’existing barricade of books surrounding the sleeping quarters, “one” is perfectly adequate in “one’s” “protective immediacy,” “one” could go a whole ’nother brunt life without no more “experimental fiction,” oh, call “one” the ficklest of beasts, oh.


J. says one student message’d her an excuse for work lacking, claiming he suffer’d “attention defecate disorder.” She (J.) likes to cock an eyebrow at me, starfire in the black pools of her eyes, and, putting on a German-by-way-of-El Salvador accent, intone: “Somesingk for your blogk, no?” Not unlike that miserable caricature’d Forchéan Colonel.


Sunday afternoon another tramp (I love that word, associate it with Wallace Stevens and with Baxter Hathaway, daylong hikes, stopping at a farmhouse for water, or something to eat, a potato to bake whole in a fire) with G. We broke out the binoculars, he rode a bike up to the fields. We putter’d and gabbed, got good and muddy, good and wet, check’d the spring pools for peeper activity, snuck into the baseball diamond and let the C-dog run. (Fine bright bluebird on the ball-field fence.) Found a sluggish banded woolly bear right where we’d left the bicycle and carried it home. (About halfway back it warm’d sufficiently in the palm of my hand that it popped out the black bead of its head and start’d crawling about. G.’s got it in a jar now. He’s calling it “Don José,” apparently a character in Bizet’s Carmen. I wouldn’t know. Which is why, I suppose, he gets that despairing “Maybe if I just humor him” look on’s face when I tell him how I’d love to get Bob Dylan and Al Green together for a duet . . . According to “the literature,” Don José should shortly pupate.)

Woolly bears are larvae of a kind of tiger moth (though one of the less boldly color’d of the family). I like this (for all its anthropomorphism): “Behaviorally, tiger moth larvae are of two types: they either enjoy company or live as hermits. Larvae of most species are solitary . . . For example, the banded woolly bear is often seen scurrying alone across roads in late summer and early autumn.” (Out for a tramp, undoubtedly.)


And last night, reading the Eisner. Falling asleep in the midst of descriptions of a beetle larva that builds a “straw hat” structure—used for protective cover—out of its own fecal strands. Eisner reports the details of the twelve-hour process of construction, with reference to the various positions of the larva’s “anal turret.”


Out late under the unbending night vault, the day’s malleable wall of blue gone westward, sun-chasing in the roundabout. The half-moon hangs high, a little ragged along the straight edge, chopped wedge of lemon. Halfway around the block with Carmen I notice I’m thinking “half-moon’s chopped like a lemon wedge,” notice it’s running its spondaickal patter and jimcrack haywire, over and over, matching (nearly) the lub-lub of my rubber boots scuffling the pave. Sure sign I’m thinking hard about something else: something like the vauntedness of kin, kin who are strangers “de-stranged” by dint of story, story that binds oneself in with peccable ropery, we are all sinners in the hands of family. (Well, of course, I didn’t “think” that. I wrote that—the way writing hauls itself along, not unlike the woolly bear named Don José, whose tail must sometimes “push” its head along, rather than head tugging cumbersome tail.) We (each) dangle here at the end of a rope, ends of several ropes, all stretching off, well, there. One is squatting behind a muddy something, whatever could be made to serve as home plate, catching fastballs thrown by a buddy named Knowles, and chasing down foul balls. And surely, according to the stories, talking. Surely talking. Ghosts of kin talking.


Eisner (who witnesses another species of beetle—a carnivorous stink bug—chewing its way through the straw-hat “thatch” to feed on the larva within): “Every ploy in nature has its counterploy and after years of study of insect defenses I had gotten used to the notion that there is always at least one specialist able to circumvent a given defense.” (Here I’ll resist the temptation to register a cunning allegorical blast at the “highly defended” poetry world . . .)


To work.


Friday, March 26, 2004

Nameless Is Devoid


Bought (Bridge Street Books):

The Fatalist, by Lyn Hejinian (Omnidawn, 2003)

“. . . Sure modernism
claimed authority on the grounds of certainty and genius,
but Lorine Niedecker often asserted powerlessness
from folklore that’s devoid of pathos. She was specific
and being specific is one of the things that is required
of a poem as it is of Santa’s elves who quite properly go about
namelessly nonetheless to us and to each other since naming
is impossible—there is, properly speaking, nothing to name
except your ‘tiny riot of continuity and separation’
capable of taking its chance (and its chances)
to produce its own contingency, necessity, suspense. Many nouns fail
to remind us of the ideas they were intended to prompt.”

I’m thinking of Ashbery’s Flow Chart as I type. Where parts of The Border Comedy seem’d overwork’d (as in a painting), muddied by revisions, the telltale scumblings and pile-ups, here (and in th’other recent Hejinians) I see the great masters of the quick unerring brushwork: Frans Hals, John Singer Sargent, Jean Michel Basquiat.


Crystallography, by Christian Bök (Second Edition, Revised, Coach House Books, 2003)

Looks like, partially, a book for looking. Who engages science with any dexterity anymore, now that science’s become (largely) a place of experts? Is Bök engaging it, or “merely” thieving its vocabulary? Fire of the gods. Vocabulary’ll burn a hole in any page, no matter whose.

“Fractals are haphazard maps
that entrap entropy in tropes.”

Uncommon the Bökesque ear, adamant and sure. The Bökic ear. Flat “a” mapped and entrap’d—enter the “ent” settling out th’energy into the ghostly “trope.” No hope in a sentence like that: it is irremediable as an alphabet. Errs not.

“A fractal is the ideal of redundancy.”

“An acoustic fractal would be its own echo chamber.”

“Navigate the futile maze
this sentence plans to be.

Newfangle its simplicity.”


Bök-City Breakdown

Bökesque, Bökic, Bökean,
Bökish, Bökzy,
Bökienne, Böklich,
Böktalk, Böksure,
Bök-steady, Bökarine,
Bökaholic, Böksel.

Or simply “Biblical.”

Did I read that Christian Bök’s name used to be Christian Book? And that he gussied it up with th’umlaut? Or am I stuck inside a reverie with the gullible blues again?


Selected Writings, Volume II, 1927-1934, by Walter Benjamin, translated by Rodney Livingstone and others, edited by Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith (Belknap / Harvard University Press, 1999)

“Reading is only one of a hundred ways of gaining access to a book.”


The tap-dancing, the elementary school “reading and storytelling” night, the late meat and potato pie and green salad, G. asleep before I halfway finish reading the thumbnail sketch of Frédéric Bazille (dead at the age of twenty-nine in the Franco-Prussian War), all conspire to present me with this ineffable moment (like in the Donald Hall poem, titled, I think, “Woolworth’s,” that begins something like: “My whole life has led me here.”) where I lunge out into the rain with the Carmen-girl and walk in mighty Wellington’d strides, thinking, “If one were to feed a human being one hundred living millipedes (Ampheloria corrugata), the corrugated ones, each about two and a half inches long, shiny black with yellow-pink’d edges, cyanide producers, that would constitute a lethal dose (LD, in the lingo), if I got my calculating done up right . . . Ain’t there some kind of a piss-poor mystery novel stuck in the craw therein?”


Thinking of starting a magazine. Calling it Crowbar.


Morning report. Glut of bird-noise in the whitening air. Patter of warm rain. Reading about vinegaroons last night, a sort of false scorpion (whip-scorpion) that is capable of spattering would-be attackers with a vinegar’d up spray. One of Eisner’s many investigations into chemical defenses.

Thinking: how easy to drop the fictive certainties and sophistries of the belletrists, and settle into jaunts that “merely” consider how things work.


G. calls me downstairs to see some dated clip of Walt Disney talking about “Lady,” a miniature poodle. “She’s small,” Walt drawls, “but she’s easy on the bric-a-brac.”

On the Old Yeller DVD, for the collectors in the house.


“Craw” twice in two days, daddy. To work.


Thursday, March 25, 2004

Plangent, Parnassian


Thumbing through the 1975 Parnassus I truck’d home, I come up with Jonathan Williams’s piece call’d “Hearth and Desk,” part, apparently of a book of days. According to news at The Jargon Society, Williams is doing rather poorly, sorry to say. [Update: a couple of days back, report here had it that Williams was in the hospital. Glad to see that’s no longer, apparently, the case. And Happy 75th!] The dozen or so pages of “Hearth and Desk” delight with bounty, and provide a model for das Bloggenwald, I’d think, if one is needed.

Of course a large part of the pleasure is found in excerpts of letters Williams’s received, and the man corresponds admirably with an indefatigable and plash bunch. (I was going to say “plangent” and thought—do I know what that means?—happy to find Malcolm Lowry’s “plangent sounds of a guitar” providing th’exemplary ballast to the dictionary definition. “Plash”’ll have to do: music override gets turn’d on when I can’t find the “right” word.)

That plash bunch: Robert Duncan, Guy Davenport, Basil Bunting, Lorine Niedecker, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Russell Edson, Charles Olson, James Broughton, Ross Feld, Miriam Patchen, James Laughlin, and Ronald Johnson. That’s in pages covering less than a month (though it’s not exactly clear that all the letters align contemporaneously with the writing (the Olson—“O, Jonathan, to be furious is to be frighted out of fear!”—doesn’t, nor the Niedecker—these get quoted in honor of death’s anniversaries . . .))

Other quotables in the hash: “Sonny” Liston, Wendell Berry, Kenneth “The Wind in the Willows” Grahame, John Berger, Kenneth Cox (British essayist for, mostly, Agenda: I’m looking forward to reading a collection, recently out (2001) by Agenda Editions, call’d Collected Studies in the Use of English), Ezra Pound, and Gaston Bachelard.

Birthdays get greetings, mostly kept conventional and simple (though Williams stretches up a notch for this: “A YEAR’S SUPPLY OF PIPEWEED FOR JOHN RONALD REUEL TOLKIEN, EIGHTY TODAY, FROM AN HOBBITUÉ OF 35 YEARS . . .”) (January 3, 1972)

And deathdays get nods. Or obit-correctives—like the one sassing The Times of London’s incompleat obituary for Kenneth Patchen: “He wrote not ‘several’ books . . . but well over thirty in thirty-five years. He was a natural poetic athlete. Like Babe Ruth, he struck out a lot in order to hit the occasional poem over the left-field fence . . . Bob Gibson, who pitches for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team says, “Bring all you got!” Patchen did just that, good times and bad.” Or noting how “Sonny” Liston once said: “Newspapermen ask dumb questions. They look up at the sun and ask you if the sun is shining.”

Temptation is, to quote large ineffable chunks of the thing, cut a pattern of its pacing and arrangements (which building block chunkinesses, and quoting, work marvelously to defeat Williams’s often too prolix prose delivery (see The Magpie's Bagpipe: Selected Essays) Sort of like Rice Krispies Squares, those “treats,” just a little too sticky, too sweet after a couple of knockout bites (I hope the man responsible for publishing White Trash Cooking, what he later call’d “A sobering exercise in what is called Success in a pig-trough society,” appreciates the allusion.)

Two’ll suffice (quotes). Guy Davenport (letter): “Bless you for remembering my advanced birthday. I can still come three times a day, digest my food without undue zymosis, see like a hawk, hear like a cat, and keep to the regulation 120 steps per minute in my daily two miles’ walk. If God had meant us to ride in automobiles, he would have provided us with wheels and put a tailpipe in our ass . . .” (Davenport would’ve been fourty-four.) (Daybook dated December 27, 1971.)

And Ross Feld (letter): (Because I remain alert and scouting for all things Feldian, and because it is Starr Hamilton to whom he briefly attends.): “Thanks for the Alfred Starr Hamilton book in particular. After getting hit on the head by a long ball like that, one begins to think they’ve been living in total isolation. If nothing else, Jonathan, a lot of the books you publish, and this in particular, make poets remember how ignorant they are. This spooky old man, Hamilton, thrumming the language so, blissfully unaware about Sylvia Plath, Robert Bly, James Dickey and other apparatchiks of the force-fed pantheon. Even unaware, most probably, of Pound, Williams, Spicer et al. A bitter and refreshing lesson in that—we know no one and we need no one to come and take a seat in the poem. Hamilton’s poems are beautiful poems written on water: they go away gracefully and one waits for the next writing. I found it a moving, galling book.”


The morning constitutional with the C-dog brings vistas of earthworms, collapsed, stretch’d out like pale pink twigs, I try not to think carnage, a bouquet’d look good, sure sign of ground thaw after a night of warm drizzle.


Knockout bites?


The breakfast reading’s yesterday’s New Yorker. I see the eloquent Sasha Frere-Jones (I love that phrase “extra stupid good”) ’s got a piece on Norah Jones up in there. (Me, I keep trying to call her Norah “Crime was one of her ‘passions’” Lofts, a different sort of animalcule altogether. Not having ever knowingly “heard” a Norah Jones song, I wouldn’t know it if one nuzzle’d my ear. Or bit my earlobe.) (’F course, Mr. Fudd McDuddly was also caught singing a Cat “Eikon of the Exasperating” Stevens tune “loudly” whilst bicycling in this morning.)

Also in the New Yorker. Talk about a new biography of Woody Guthrie (by one Ed Cray—biographer, too, of George C. Marshall, and Earl Warren, “go” “figure”) by David Hadju, author of that “pretty good” (a laconicism Midwestern that means better than one’d think) book about the Dylan, Richard Fariña, Baez sisters’ “era.”


Note to my correspondents (at last count numbering two and a half): “Um, y’know, how, with e-mail, the thing gets, if you don’t answer it right away, erm, stuck in the craw of the machine, and it’s a heck of a task to dislodge it?”


To work. It’s a “wild” world.


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

End Table


Description of an end table in Main Brides, in a room “whitewashed and covered with mostly natural objects”: “little blue fluorescent desert beetles in a low case, climbing over sand on high spindly legs. Struggling little tacks.”

And two minor characters: “Nothing rococo about them . . . Making it a point of honour, like animals, not to bother others with the trope of sadness.”

Final note. Scott’s bilingualism nowhere better put to use than here where two lesbians tango: “each one in a role: the ‘man,’ mythical, tough, explosive, yet restrained in his movements; the woman—qui, d’une voluptueuse agilité, exécute, soumise, les injonctions de son homme.”


Wooden head.


Open’d some old files today after Fugu-ing a bunch of stuff off to th’university “space” I get allot’d as a worker. And recollect’d barely any, not the circumstances of the making, not the made things. One call’d (completely mysteriously, no idea what it “means”) “Tokonoma”:

‘Short, anonymous,’ a ringlet lit.
A glacier-drug meadow’s squinty vermilion
Under a hazard of sun.


Work of art a combustion—fatidic, made
By materials
Annular and scorn’d.


What edges rampant
Where the prairie starts out beyond the scrape.
Litter of glacial steerage.


These star-color’d clean
Pockets of leavings


Okay, I monkey’d with it a little. And may “get simian” with it again. Which is how I call my revising today.

Aaron “Glide” McCollough was asking me a couple weeks back—over coffee—if the writing I do for Hotel Point intrudes on the poetry-writing. Fact is, it’s never seem’d like writing poetry ever took more than the odd half hour snatch’d here and there. I used to regularly busy myself with it (or some reasonable facsimile thereof) on weekends after lunch, when G. would nap briefly. More recently it’s been more hit-and-run, accumulations of notes and “lines” wrestled into some shape rather quickly. Put out to “settle” for a few weeks, grease skim’d off, napkin tuck’d in, and bon appetit . . .

What “gives” in the situation of writing for th’Hotel is sleep, and reading. Less sleep. Less reading. Though I suspect I read “differently.” I’d like to say with increased attention, and that’s likely so. I only question whether it’s the “proper” (in sense of “my own”) attention. Or is it alert to the best slivers of fish to toss out to the crowd. Those seals and montgomeries. Those ham-hand’d extroverts, always the more and more-ing it with that crockery and haw. That random and squall.


Cranial balk.


Reading: For Love of Insects, by Thomas Eisner (Belknap / Harvard University Press, 2003). A sort of retrospect of Eisner’s work, written casually, affably. Why such a glut of good writers amongst entomologists? (Think of Jean Henri Fabre’s Souvenirs Entomologiques.) Is it th’attractiveness of complexities and particulars? Bugs as machine’d and fleeting as words? And more numerous: roughly 900,000 described species, and (as ant-expert and socio-biologist Edward O. Wilson says in the “Foreword”): “In addition, systematists estimate, millions more species of arthropods [including spiders, millipedes, &c.], perhaps as high as 10 million, remain undiscovered and nameless.”

A world of things without names! Which is, essentially, a world one cannot see. And in the few pages I managed to read of Eisner (before sleep descend’d blackly like a cloud of locusts), struck by references to naming (terms new in the fifty or so years of Eisner’s active research): of chemical compounds isolated (“gonyleptidine”), of chemical sexual attractors (“pheromones”), of whole new fields of study (“chemical ecology”).


“Incorrigible entomophile.”


“[Insects] have succeeded in one major respect where humans have failed. They are practitioners of sustainable development. Although they are the primary consumers of plants, they do not merely exploit plants. They also pollinate them, thereby providing a secure future, both for themselves and for their plant partners.”


To work.


Tuesday, March 23, 2004

On The Cat Not Here


Drew Gardner’s axiomatic remark about poetry’s ability to capture the “nonevents” of life (actually, he says “capacity to deal with”—and subtle differences are probably more important in tinier formulations) lingers. Here: “Poetry has the capacity to deal with the nonevents of life in a way that other art forms couldn't possibly manage.” It reminds me a little of A. R. Ammons’s pointing out how literature surpass’d the visual arts in being able to admit the negative: “The cat is not here.” Something impossible to paint.

Walking, I try to identify similar instances: is Satie’s “furniture” music, in-enunciative, seemingly random noodlings reflective of “nonevents”? Cage’s silence may attempt to contain a nonevent, except that, by the act of demarcating it, it becomes an “event.” An “event” 4’33” long. Back to that processual / product rift. I can scribble unhurried little nothings for hours (say, I could tabulate all the movements my resting body makes), but at th’endpoint of the activity, there remains a record, making, by dint of, an event of (a series of) nonevents . . . Once, when I was a kid, I became entranced with the idea of a day without news. And demand’d of my father: what would the newspaper print if nothing happpen’d. And he reply’d: I guess that’d be the news—that nothing happen’d. (Wise guy.)

I had something else stewing in the brainpan.

A concern with any too-ready embrace of the “nonevent” as poetry’s particular claim’d bailiwick. The fear being, that such a stance’s liable to become a double-edged sword, a Damoclean dirk hanging by the hair of its lack of ambition, imploring itself, muttering its inconsequentialities into the dusk-charged air . . . One longs not—even accepting poetry’s diminish’d “place” in the world of ideas (to say nothing of policy-making, or commerce)—to ever relent in a struggle to make a poetry with the capacity (and nerve) to say anything.

And nothing: rolling through seemly hills and overlooks with nothing to be seen beyond, the way language can and will scoop one up and carry one along like a pebble, undepositable. O orthopede! O bicuspid! O blancmange!


I wasn’t going to say anything. All that nattering made my head hurt. And then I got here: “the western left shrank like so much cotton candy that somebody had dropped to the pavement & then puked over.” And I just didn’t know whether to howl with laughter, or quick throw down my handkerchief to blot out th’offending sight of such egregious (and abominably “put”) piffle.

As consolation, all I can do is offer up something Charles Wright wrote, equally dim-witted, equally inane (in something called “Bytes and Pieces” in Quarter Notes: Improvisations and Interviews): “—A deconstructionist critic writing about Language Poetry is like a dog eating its own vomit.” Mmm. High cringe-factor there.

Which (just to bring the war home) points me back to the Allen anthology (source and sort of Ur-urp-up to all poetry dégueulasse and remiss) and Peter Orlovsky’s biographical note: “Cant stand dust so pick my nose . . . Enjoy mopping floors, cleaning up cat vommit.” Still a rib-tickler after all these years.


To work.


Monday, March 22, 2004




Species of Spaces and Other Places, by Georges Perec, edited and translated by John Sturrock (Penguin, 1997)

Sprung out of the local remainder house, which often’s got rather oddball things. I never knew it exist’d, the book. Saw also some Christian Bök-edited book of experimental Canadian fiction. If it’s there next week . . .


“7.ix.70 Carros

I was born on 7.3.36. How many dozens, how many hundreds of times have I written that sentence? I’ve no idea. I know I began quite early on, well before forming any plans for an autobiography. I made it the subject-matter of a bad novel entitled J’Avance masqué [‘I Advance Wearing a Mask”], and of an equally hopeless story (which was simply the foregoing badly recast) entitled Gradus ad Parnassum.

It will be observed first of all that such a sentence is complete, it forms a whole. It’s hard to imagine a text beginning : I was born.

One might on the other hand stop once the date has been specified.

I was born on 7 March 1936. Full stop. That’s what I’ve been doing these past several months. It’s also what I’ve been doing for 34 and a half years, today!

Normally, one goes on. It’s a good beginning, one that invites further details, a lot of details, a whole history.”

—Extract from one of Perec’s autobiographical notebooks, titled Je suis né


Grumpy Sunday at the Hotel Full Stop. Sleep mixed with wakeful grumpiness.


How often I think of the story of how one faction of what became the Weathermen lean’d toward the Vandals for a revolutionary monicker (‘revolutionary monicker’ seems a near oxymoron, no?). Dylan: “The pump don’t work ‘’cause the vandals took the handle.” Then I run through other possibles. In tonight’s version, thinking along the New Brutalist line, I got on the New Fools. New Fool Magazine. “Manifesto for a New Fool.” ’Course the Who line about meeting “the New Boss, same as the Old Boss” rings through the New Foolishness, too. In the future, th’unnecessary abbreviates’ll make it “New Foo’,” or worse, “NuFu.” “Girl by the whirlpool lookin’ for a new fool.” Tomorrow’ll I’ll be “on” something different: the Parking Metricists. “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.”


Reading: Main Brides, Against Ochre Pediment and Azure Sky, by Gail Scott (Coach House Press, 1993). Another stationary narrator, sitting in a bar on The Main in Montréal. Tracing the lives (imagin’d) of other women coming and going, calling out de temps en temps for another carafon of wine, trying to avoid thinking about something encounter’d early in the morning, in a park—a lumpy blanket, cops.

One “bride” asking her “officer-in-training” boyfriend, “Don’t you think all this organization kind of stifles the imagination?” And he: “Our commandant says, the more rigorous the structure the more imagination is required to operate brilliantly within it.”

Another: “Her favourite author, Colette, has taught her that the materiality of things sometimes is all that separate the human body from a terrible sense of nothingness. Which is why, when walking, [she] often imagines each step as being towards the abyss of he future, her back bathed in light. Privately . . . she thinks of this perpetual motion as ‘memory’s motor.’”

Which reminds me of Walter Benjamin’s “angel of history” in the “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (Benjamin’s skyward-growing “pile of debris” is become a bathing “light”—that’s as material as it gets, as if motion itself becomes a “thing.”) Remind’d, too, of Walker Percy’s alienated individual needing constantly to buy things—“to fill one’s emptiness.”

Scott and longing for a non-“monumental” history (say, like a novel of a woman thinking and looking, sitting in a bar): “A woman imagining a History where anyone can enter (without getting murdered). Comprised of, say, small aesthetic details as much as wars and treaties. Like a ruche on a dress; or that little half-sun—sign of British empire, reduced down to size—on a cornice up the street; a Louis XVI grille on a flat-topped mansard leaning up beside it.”

Sense of my increasing impatience with (what I read as) undue emphasis on those “small aesthetic details.” What if it all begins to sound a little fashion-stricken and snobbish? It’s not that insufferable brand-naming that some contemporary novelists indulge in (I suppose thinking it’s a kind of precision), but it’s akin to that: I associate it with countercultural types dressed in impeccably shabby leather jackets and boots, “outfits” of no meagre lucre.

Scott, in her own defense, calls for “an aesthetic involved in integrating life and the process of creation until every gesture, every move tends towards a new sense of beauty—the ultimate of which is a criticism of culture.”


Note to self: what is the story of Adèle H.?


Friday, March 19, 2004




Gam, No. 2, Spring 2004, Edited by Stacy Szymaszek ($3, 140 E. Concordia, Milwaukee, WI 53212, or see here.)

Poems by John Latta, James Wagner, William Sylvester, Michael Hauser, Paul Dutton, Steve Timm, Laura Sims, Trish Salah, and Rosa Alcalá.

The second issue of what Stacy Szymaszek subtitles “a biannual survey of Great Lakes writing,” done up without ostentation or frill in a serviceable side-stapled 8 1/2” by 11” format, on a light brown stock the color of butcher’s paper, a large bound ledger, a ship’s log. Cover design based around what looks like a swatch of Greek officialdom, a passport, or a bill of lading, complete with a circular seal. And Melville continues of haunt and bless the venture, source of the noun “gam” itself, and of a colophon-page excerpt:

The squall! the squall! jump,
my jollies! (They Scatter.)”

Which I notice now is un-attributed, “seeming” Melvillean nonetheless. [Erm, yes, Chapter 40.]

There’re quite an astonishing number of nods to the sea, th’oceanic, the ship in the poems—Latta’s “chop of ocean / Out beyond sustenance,” Wagner’s “loquacious tomorrows send oceans abalone,” Sylvester’s “An ocean is a lake with out-of-sight edges,” Salah’s “a resounding shadow leaning into storm, another sea,” Alcalá’s “ships, ships / everywhere . . .”

There is, too, no paucity of ear-reliance, perfect for the Niedecker environs the magazine homes to. (One poem—by Michael Hauser—is titled “Lorine’s Book in the Special Collection”: “No Eye / resides” it begins, a sense here of a burgeoning local “use value” being made of the Niedecker heritage.) Other ear-approaches include James Wagner’s homophonic translations of Vallejo’s Trilce:

“Sea a capable extraneous, cocky and, tardy
the notches, rigorous as speech you speak.”

César Vallejo’s original (XXXIV):

“Se acabó el extraño, con quien, tarde
la noche, regresabas parla y parla.”

Clayton Eshleman’s translation:

“That’s it for the stranger, with whom, late
night, you would return in endless chatter.”


[Out into th’oceanic night with the dog. I love the interruptions. The slow fetch of overcoat and leash—slow when measured against the retriever’s expectant yellow hurry, all wag and flex and caper. Or, if I pause at the bookshelf searching for a Richard Hugo book I recall owning, the C-dog goes quizzick, does intricate mock-philosophickal things with her eyes, pointing one reddish brow pointedly aloft.]


Maybe much of what is consider’d homophonic translation is more explicitly an eye-procedural. That word looks like that word. It’s a good chance that, if one is pronouncing a language (correctly), it’s the result of some study or acquaintance, and one’s translation’ll not wholly depend on (hang off of) mere sound. Et puis, the cognates . . .

A possible route: find a recording of someone reading a poem (or revendication) in, say, Arabic, or Greek, or Finnish, anything Romance-language distant, and attempt to transcribe the sounds as English. (One might needs “blur one’s aurals out,” akin to that movement where a squint to the opticks rubs the burrs off the visible world. A good throttle in the alcohol department’ll do that, too.)


Back to Gam: Two pieces I want’d to mention in particular, out of the forty or so pages here. One is Steve Timm’s “Axelogues,” a poem in eight number’d parts. I don’t “get” it, though I am immensely intrigue’d by its syntactical lurches, and its neologistic bravadoes. (I look’d up “axel” and its friends and relations, and discover’d what I knew—a rather baroque-in-the-explanation figure skating jump—and what I didn’t know—named for Norwegian skater Axel Paulsen. I refuse to consider any relationship between Timm’s poem and Ashbery’s “The Skaters.”) Three of the parts are prose. Here’s the first and second parts:

Akin to the clothess in her clothistry, in movement a lucky lurcher like famine in its gray confidence. Then you get the what-we-know-as-much-as-anything-can-ever-be-knowable feeling of tamperability & how that’s sort of inevitable. Clouds however sky. Cupboard corner crowded by beetles that bite a lot of them desiccate. The two results of pinched. The usual dilemma where preference is not relevant. These fingers.


to seemly
there is fair borrow

of all the coarse brittle majesties

So less gave

just the sound of even

this planting

to cold repeat
absent wait absent tendril

why just
a breath

stands tilled


Some impeccable pacing, and very different “feel”s to the parts. Both exude confidence. I like particularly that “Clouds however sky”—the sheer cleanliness and claimant purity of it after the self-important hyphen-longueurs of the “tamperability” line.

A second poem, Rosa Alcalá’s “The Translator’s Blues”:

All this talk about invisibility’s
making me thirsty

ships, ships

and not a drop—
me thinks



but us

Which in a tiny space makes Robert Frost collide with Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle. Translates “water” as “ships,” “queer” (what the Frost’d horse thinks) as “strange” (but triggering a back-echo with “here”), and makes “history” something to be address’d (and so, akin to “future.”) Not sure that my shorthand here can accommodate all the ricochet and cantilever here, though the poem itself is pursuing its way rather by stenography and hint. And forcing us to compare different “registers.” Which is what translation does. What is the relation between “invisibility” and “thirst”? I don’t rightly know, but I do know I’ve experienced it, without recognizing it—and do (recognize it) now, and will always henceforth, thanks to Alcalá.


Too late to write about: reading Ross Feld’s essay-review, titled “Lowghost to Lowghost,” of Jack Spicer’s Collected Books. Found in an old Parnassus: Poetry in Review, dated Spring / Summer 1976.


Thursday, March 18, 2004

It My


“Most men are rodents clothed,” is, I think, how John Ashbery puts it. Meaning permeable, lacking raincoats, changeable and swift. My happiest moment yesterday occur’d reading Jordan Davis’s smart rundown on the looming Social Security catastrophe, and what means the various alternatives adopt, idiotic or inept. Useful, concise.

It my. Much need’d head clear’d clearance. Not about talking sale brand. Not about who’s got th’impermeable. Not about the Filigrees versus the Pedigrees. My soggy. My snap-on unsnap’d. After reading the schoolmarm’s mealy-mouth’d platitudes, what is need’d is edify-city. What need’d is whiskey-snifter.

Is that patently unneed’d, or patentedly cute? If I understand Silliman correctly: a piece of writing is no stark urn, no “holder” of patent “meaning,” the language moves too swiftly, slides out from under whatever meaning us poor sots try to pile it up with, and Atocha’ll never be so mildly “honey blabbed” again, God Bless You, Mr. Ashbery. Granted. (Though I think the example’s a poor one: it’s rather fruitless to tug strings attach’d to no heart, particularly whilst claiming none of it’s ever been about the heart’s motion to begin with.) (And the man’s name is Cleanth.)

Against the poem though is posed Silliman’s social formations, “categories,” “scenes,” the “sustained identifiable community.” Which is where the nostalgia for a manageable world leaks in, something “whose presence is defining just through its ability to articulate a position,” meaning, of course, “language poetry 30 years ago.” Which ignores individual differences elsewhere enunciated.

Silliman’s claim is that distinctions (here, between journals, which he not so deftly attempts—or longs—to align, each with a single “stance,” or “aesthetic,” with, again, groups (he makes some little piles of names—I ask, what exactly do Clayton Eshleman and Fielding Dawson share aesthetically?) The claim being that today “these distinctions are far less clearly marked off than they were ten-fifteen years ago.” Which I’d think would be something one’d want to heave a grand huzzah about. No. Bury it in nostalgia. Us / them distinctions are so comforting.

Or make a fetish of a “personal” impermeability. If the poem is changeable, contextually sly, and its own redeemer, the person (“The Person,” according to Silliman) is its rank opposite—unchanging, whole, almost predictable it would seem. “Caution: essentialist at work” is what one could say. Witness the “brand equity” report on Stacy Szymaszek: whose “name conjures up an aesthetic, a poetics so clearly defined one can almost taste them [sic], a sense of subject—in her case, the sea—a set of proclivities in her writing (she likes to use her ears, for example, far more actively that a lot of other poets) and even a literal community, the Milwaukee writing scene.” (Unbearable desire to edit borne with much teeth-grinding.) Questions: Isn’t that definition of Szymaszek unlikely to withstand the changes she’s almost certain to go through? Isn’t it a rude presumption and disservice to pin the specimen so gauntly to the board of one’s own collection of desires, or desire for a collection? Doesn’t such a modus operandi reveal a notion of an essential and viable and more or less unchanging self at play?


Bah! My next book I’ll call Latta’s Book. No more cuteness, bollocks forfend! Besides, it’s got a certain picayune pedantry to it I like, yeah. Latta’s Book.


Art leaks out
In the gap
Between the face

And the mask
As a succession
Of masks make

Its appearance possible.
One citing Bob
Dylan, or Picasso,

Or poor Philip
Guston would not
Be far off.

There are many
Others who could
Serve to verify

The veracity of
What is only
Simulacra to whatever

Is particular to
The autotelic release
Of this constraint.


Last smidgen of Gail Scott: “suddenly I can’t remember how to get to the end of a sentence. Each time I start, it’s as if the memory of the past (the noun, the sentence’s beginning) wipes out the present (verb). So I can no longer move forward in the words.”


Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Implacable Ennui


Question: Do blog-postings suffer the same sort of inconsequentiality and implacable ennui-arousingness—just to put it as awkwardly as possible—as old newspapers? I’m trying to get “back” a kind of “control” here, lustily wading through an ankle-deep carpeting of print-outs of “what look’d worth reading” or “needing more than a furtive skim”—and, I’ll be confound’d, but most everything looks a little tepid, or meat-head’d, or blank, or like roto-rooter blockage to whatever I’d like to’ve laid down over the floor, the “bed” of my brain-pan for the snout-pushing pigs of industry that “inhabit” those “environs” to cabbage about in . . . (Johnny Pie-cakes, you’s not bloggin’ ver’ seriously now, is you?)


If I could finish without further interruptions: At least wit’ old newspapers one can use ’em to spread out to scale de fish, ’n’ wrap dey heads and dey guts in ’em on de afterwards . . .


Culpable as a foot jammed in a door.


It is
A dance—

Stanzaic flutter-
Ings afoot.

Witness its
Initial offer-

Ing as
Intersticial mayhem.


Out into the wintry night with Carmen-la-Linda. “Wintry”: snow sift’d down despicably all day. General near-total refusal to shovel on post-Ides principles. Says the populace. For the first block we’re tracking a big-foot’d something. Then it comes to me, seeing the dog’s paw-prints off in the verge: we’re like Pooh and Piglet in the Hundred Acre Woods, tracking ourselves. The post-work route repeat’d. “’Elp, ’elp,” I say, “an ’orrible ’effalump.” Though I think now I’m confabulating “wildly,” and La Linda fails to acknowledge the humor. The humor abundant.


No screech owl. Checking daily.


Thinking how maybe the blog-reams littering the floor ain’t the problem. The Gail Scott novel is, too, seeming less nutritious to me than My Paris. Did. Maybe it’s (gulp) “me.” “I got the blues, and cain’t be satisfied” going like a rondeau in my blistery heart.

Heroine’s an earlier novel (1987) and “set” earlier still (1980). The woman narrator is reflecting on th’events of the prior decade (the ’seventies). A time-dance. In which narrator remains lock’d in space. (“A heroine locked in time could be the ruination of a novel . . . the heroine seems to think of time as moving more like in music than in a storyline.”) (She is, in fact, occupying a “stationary” position: in the bathtub of her crummy digs at the Waikiki Tourist Rooms in Montréal (“In this city spring’s as fast as an orgasm.”) She is letting the water froth down to hit and caress her ‘widow’s beak’ (as she calls it) and addressing herself to one named “Sepia.”)

Much of the conflict in the novel regards tactical and directional differences between emerging feminists and men within the revolutionary Left of the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ). And the rôle (emphasis? utility? meaning?) of Art (the narrator is “thinking of” writing a novel) in such liberatory struggles. And the role of “the outsider” (the narrator is, in fact, of English background, from an apparently dead-end little town in eastern Ontario she calls “Lively”—she is the “Anglaise,” or is so occasionally call’d . . .)


G. says, putting on pants: “‘Spare area, spare area’—I like to say that.”


Car radio back from dropping off G. at school. Who’s doing that speak-singing over a little diddly-riff: “Java, Java, Java, Java, [pause], Wook, Wook, Wook, Wook.” And then into a vague broken apocalyptic narrative about one human figure “draped” across the fountain. I want to say Arto Lindsay. Though I only “know” him via Caetano Velosa. Though I think the enunciation is too precise.


Okay. Now what’s this about being a “brand”? How simply ossifying!


Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Kinder Butcher



The Gettysburg Review, Vol. 17, No. 1, Spring 2004, edited by Peter Stitt ($6, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, PA 17325)

Charles Simic on reading a book called Utopian Thought in the Western World in New York one summer. “What Thomas More said back in 1516 still applies to America today: society is a conspiracy of the rich to defraud the poor.” And: “What frightened me the most reading [it] was the totalitarian feel to most of these projects. The stronger, saner, healthier, and kinder human utopian type is a monster. I think of a butcher wearing his bloody apron and blowing soap bubbles or a murderer constructing a dollhouse for his children.” Against such projects, Simic finds solace in “the delicious anarchy of the city.” Also: Mark Halliday doing a riff call’d “Emotional and Thematic Index,” beginning:

“Adultery committed in imagination, 80-82, 85-86
Asshole, suspicion of being an, 75-76, 83-85, 90-91
. . .”

I think Paul Violi in a book titled Splurge did similarly, about, oh, three American centuries ago, though without the narcissistic foibles, and feather-duster care around the breakables. Is what I think.


Gail Scott, in Heroine: “Surrealism hates nostalgia, a key ingredient of war.”


Thinking of how Ross Feld report’d that the art world (various epochs) tend’d to see Guston as “a comer, a prize-winner, a skillful semi-academic style-browser,” and ain’t the world like mud-luscious spring suddenly too full of these same stylish munchers? There come a time, my brothers and sisters, for a man what needs must to choose alienation over style. I say: “Alienation” over “Style.” (Good old righteous hoedown voice goes up to stand down the ubiquity, no?)


Feld: “I just have to watch myself, keep from either destructively nihilistically saying oh fuck it all—or else becoming too finicky, miniature.”

“The old rationalist rebuttal to empiricism—do you stick a foot out to test, upon entering a room, to see if the floor’s there?—here finds its answer. No, you don’t, but you do instead walk in facing the other way. The terrifying fact isn’t that there is not a floor—but that there is, always.

Our condition of floorlessness is ever stymied.”


Still the rabid mass of strewn print-outs, a few notes, unanswer’d mail, rift-spiels unsung, harryings drop’d hurriedly. Eine kleine crachtpott musiks. Alienation over style.


Monday, March 15, 2004

Bought the Farm


Bought (Friends of the Library):

The Farmers’ Daughters: The Collected Stories of William Carlos Williams, Introduction by Van Wyck Brooks (New Directions, 1961)

Even though I don’t really “like” stories. The last WCW I saw was the Frontier Press Spring and All and I pass’d it up thinking “I don’t need that—it’s in the copy of Imaginations that I own,” which is true, and “a good point,” and I’ve kick’d myself for several months now anyhow about it.

Some first sentences:

To “Hands Across the Sea”: “After the war there were even more unreasoning racial hatreds than formerly, but they were changed.”

To “An Old Time Raid”: “We were having an absinthe party over at the Franklin House.”

To “The Dawn of Another Day”: “There were a coupla guys prowling around here this morning but when they seen me they beat it.”

Something homely about Williams’s work, something a little awkward, pedestrian, unassuming. Which means I’ll always “respect” it without “loving” it?



Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume I, 1913-1926, Edited by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996)

Exchanging the second of my three copies of the new García Marquez for. In order to begin my intensive study of. It’s “good” to put indomitable structures in front of one. It maintains one’s florid youth! Benjamin: “Color is something spiritual, something whose clarity is spiritual, so that when colors are mixed they produce nuances of color, not a blur.” And now I shall discover who Stifter is!


Far too many “quotation marks.” Signaling irresponsible irony. Distrust of one’s “vessel.” Afear’d the boat doesn’t “hold” anything, including one’s “self.” We won’t even mention the exclamatory outburst. Enough to “raise” one’s “hackles.”


That’s fly-tying talk.


Great flock of grackles and red-wings carousing across the pond’s apron, that brown stubble. But a blustery cold wind, and reckless skies. Afternoon Suzuki recitals for G. Terrific Dvorak piece. Listening to roustabout bowings, sudden reversals of direction that add a burr to the attack: I want to say “mazurka!” Or “tzigane!”


G. and I off to a gymnastics meet Saturday night. And the weekend tuck’d tail between its legs and fled . Today: G.’s at work with me, googling Degas. One of the (too) many off-days for teachers, days that always seem to erupt out of nowhere. “Dad, there’s no school Monday.”


Keep thinking somebody should put together a book of Ross Feld essays (and’ve start’d “collecting” them). I know he wrote often for Parnassus.


Dilemma: should I set a good Protestant work ethic for G. and “get busy.” Or should I suggest that work is incidental to one’s “soul” and approach the day with casualness not to say “languor.” Defiance and angry at the machinery that saps our best years with meaningless superficial drudgery: that would be a third “way.”


Friday, March 12, 2004

Say Rien Like Piaf


A Brobdingnagian zilch.
Nada with an umph.
Rrrrien de rrrien.


Pas d’écriture. Leisure.
(“A somewhat successful pun.” Nominal form of the verb lire.)


Reading. Sleeping.


Start’d reading Gail Scott’s Heroine (Talonbooks, 1999, reprint of Coach House Books, 1987). In the early pages Janis Joplin lyrics replacing the Walter Benjamin Arcades ruminations of My Paris: “She said: There’s no tomorrow, baby (laughing her head off). It’s all the same goddamned day.


The breakfast anarchist. Automaton of the breakfast table. Reading Smithsonian, the handiest thing. A new Sol Le Witt mural is being paint’d at the Hirshhorn. By others. Based on Le Witt’s plans. “What the Hirshhorn actually owns is a deed for the plans—the painting may be executed at the museum’s whim (depending on the availability of Le Witt’s disciples) and may be painted over. Obviously, the process begs a question: Is the artwork the instructions or is it the work on the wall. As critic Peter Schjeldahl once noted, ‘You can raise hairs on the back of our neck thinking about this.’” Le Witt: “All of the planning and decisions are made beforehand . . . . The execution is a perfunctory affair.”

Aren’t there poets who do that? Fill in the blanks.


Just call me the bashful needler. The needless basher. Hell, just call me.


Off to buy tickets for upcoming Gilbert and Sullivan Princess Ida, or Castle Adamant. At G’s insisting. A study of the complete Gilbert and Sullivan oeuvre’s a funny ambition for an eight-year-old. Tiresome for the ’rents.


See you Monday. Oh hell. It’s all the same goddamned day.


Thursday, March 11, 2004




Skanky Possum, No. 9, Autumn / Winter 2003-2004. Edited by Hoa Nguyen and Dale Smith (2925 Higgins Street, Austin, Texas 78722, $6 plus $1.50 shipping and handling.)

Poems by Timothy Liu, Karen Weiser, Andrew Joron, Nathaniel Tarn, Daniel Bouchard, Tom Clark, Christopher Longoria, Eleni Sikelianos & Jack Collom, Andy Schuck, Avery E. D. Burns, Leslie Davis, Gloria Frym, Carl Thayler, Joanne Kyger, and Joe Safdie on Ed Dorn in “The Possum Pouch.”

Skanky Possum, No. 10, Autumn / Winter 2003-2004

Poems by Eileen Myles, Richard Owens, Mark Farrell, Catherine Kasper, Jerome Rothenberg, Albert Glover, Chris Clendenin, Thomas Fink, Chris Stroffolino, Peggy Kelley, Vincent Katz, Donald Guravich, Roger Snell, Stephen Bett, Duncan McNaughton, Chris Tysh, Laure Millet, Maureen Foley, Linh Dinh, Jenny Browne, Diane di Prima, and Dale Smith on recent publications in “The Possum Pouch.”

The Skank (or the Possum) retains its D.I.Y. funkiness, hand-stamp’d titling on covers, “as much as two staples’ll hold” on the inside. I think of typifying the usual contributor to the Skank like this: “angry, loner, maverick, Westerner, misfit, ‘pure product of America,’ aghast at government witlessness and rampant consumerist feeding frenzy alike . . .” Maybe. Joe Safdie puts it well, remembering Tom Clark on one of Ed Dorn’s “earliest intellectual influences, a Methodist preacher who said ‘It’s not okay, and it’s not going to be okay.’” It’s evident in Carl Thayler’s “The Jimmy Hoffa Ode”:

“the benches the bosses ordered

they stand at without
rest, the citizens, righteous

& broken, their papers
on the dresser

under the Holy Mother’s

Or in Clark’s own “November of the Plague Year”:

“Unwilling to turn and glimpse the blind exorcist’s face,
Unconditional suspenders of disbelief,
Back-to-Normals shop to live, drive to shop

So a busy world spins by my window again
Till buying hour stops, and night noise
Falls through the white rain and hangs there.”

Or in Andrew Joron’s “The Poverty of Fact”:

“Old church, a rubble patch. Stop here to venerate
The bloody stumps of the black cactus.

Canyon I call for no answer.
To be accurate, a man goes back to his ghost.

As the militia guards the volcano, so
Is necessity measured, against the will.”

(Which Joron marks with a post-NAFTA ‘Hecho en México.’)

The malaise is general, unstoppable, and pervasive, as if that road to the contagious hospital ran straight through the whole goddamn country. Roger Snell, in “Probability Remains Zero,” writes:

“I’s seen men wreck their lives
Beyond any sense of self or hoary cliché of stab in head
An extravagant geometry of meanness exists
Shall we make a wilderness in which to feel alone again?

Robert Lowell, a man not usually associated with such hostility and outsider cred, is call’d forth in Mark Farrell’s “Boston, June 1991” where post-Gulf War I the Back-to-Normal’s greasy “savage servility still slides.”

Timothy Liu, in “Something Coming”:

“Some wicked static on a 1-900 phone-sex line.

The problematics of a simulacral culture.

Bush still leading Gore by 344.”

And Catherine Kasper, in “Border Declarations”:

“Enunciate the boundaries of your influence.
Map the effects of your best intentions. Allow
a variable of approximately a syllable.
Erect a fence around the perimeter;
Electrify that periphery.”

Mocking th’inflections of governmental injunctions. The savage bravadoes of “don’t fuck with us, or we’ll (‘preemptively’) fuck you up.”

I trouble to pause over all these morsels in an attempt to determine why I often feel, when I get my copy (or two) of Skanky Possum, that I’m getting news from elsewhere, some borderland, or outskirts, some electrifying periphery where folks’re mad and getting madder, in that “Don’t Tread on Me” American anti-government fashion that can lead in two opposing directions—toward civil disobedience against th’unjust or into a kind of uncontrollable directionless vigilantism. Safdie talks about Ed Dorn’s irascibility, being “constitutionally unable to support anyone in power” and, quoting Donald Wesling (author of Internal Resistances, essays on Dorn’s poetry) “suspicious of anyone who favors anything.” Which is a heartening and necessary place to find oneself in, and at regular intervals. Particularly now, with the socius sleepwalking and the stakes so high. It’s too easy be temper’d and anneal’d by the humdrum wash of the quotidian . . .

(Lest I settle into a too grim scrim: other delights. A cheerfully zany collaboration by Eleni Sikelianos & Jack Collom (“So-Called Folk”) (sort of reminding me of Ashbery’s “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape”): “the sweetest word / was not bomb or nut but / numb, betimes, Emily replied, ‘Looky, Phil, we’ve already lost / our badminton license attempting to replicate—’ / ‘Birds!’ interrupted Phil, but thought, / ‘Am I a so-called folk or am I / Foucault’s old sock?’ (a warm brown cloud / settles over the room.” And Linh Dinh! Linh Dinh! (“In Print”: “Any stupid word, once printed, will gain immediate authority.”))

The Austin Skank contingent’s been doing excellent work with the magazine and press for a number of years now, with apparently few resources beyond smarts, determination, and perseverance. Subscribe to Skanky Possum. And keep the keep in “Keep on skankin’.”


Night stroll late with Carmen-la chienne souriante. Orion off to the west now, about to tiptoe out the door into the southern hemisphere. Happy hunting, O! Standing there admiring the tenacity of the night and its stars, heard the lone shriek of a night-flying killdeer, one bent note’s all, a singularity, a discontinuity, a hinge between the days.

And this morning, another walk. Through a skiff of wet snow. Carmen suddenly up on hind legs peering up into the reaches of a big ash on Maywood. I’m admiring her stretch, thinking squirrel, muttering my dog-croon at her when I hear a short muffled whutter-whuttter and spy a small owl landing on a branch little more than an arm’s reach away. A screech owl. Round’d head like a newel post. Though it hauls up two earlike tufts, swivels to look, swivels back. I watch it for a few minutes. When I move around the tree, looking for a nesting whole, it flaps languishing across the street, up into a big Norway spruce. I see how the tree is rot-blast’d, probably th’effects of the emerald ash-borers that are destroying ashes here. Getting in and chewing the heart out of the trees, opening the way for tiny successions of contagions.


Au travail. A need to rein in my prolixities. Copious to a fault.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

What’s Needed? Collected Essays, by Ross Feld


Ross Feld (in Guston in Time) says: “the New York School resolutely gazed inwardly at itself. Rather than seeing outside or representable things, it saw signs, gestures, and proofs of its own sincere inwardness.”

And: “In space a Subject can seem to turn into an Object, an object furthermore that seems to want to be a random something as well as a sovereign nothing-but-itself. Wasn’t this exactly what Descartes argued an object was, after all: self-identity? In its own casual, unstressed, unideological way, Abstract Expressionism quested to make a subjectivity that was solid enough to replace the pictured object.”

Which points me back at Zukofsky. A test: if I put down something of “An Objective,” what then?

“In sincerity shapes appear concomitants of word combinations, precursors of (if there is continuance) completed sound or structure, melody or form.”

Sincerity (requiring a Subject) (with continuance) breeds completion (Object). What ghostly “shapes” and “precursors” be these? Some pre-verbal mumbo-jumbo? (Note: isn’t Kristeva stumbling around the same terrain with her “chora”? Um, I forget.)

Zukofsky again: “Writing occurs which is the detail, not mirage, of seeing, of thinking with the things as they exist, and of directing them along a line of melody.”

Subject is medium (I / eye) of writing that “occurs”: the passive construction making it seem as if “the things as they exist” (Object-world) get written with no Subject-intermediary. Looking out cannot avoid the “sincere inwardness” (“thinking,” “directing”) required to become an Object. What I’m afraid of here is that the “looking out” be seen to suffice—we’ve seen the poems that pile up the extrusion of disparate notebook details. That “line of melody” Zukofsky may’ve play’d down, or assumed due to’s own facility with it.

And later (Zukofsky): “Presented with sincerity, the mind even tends to supply, in further suggestion, which does not attain rested totality, the totality not always found in sincerity and necessary only for perfect rest, complete appreciation. This rested totality may be called objectification—the apprehension satisfied completely as to the appearance of the art form as an object.”

Which is a rehash of Feld on Guston? The “rested totality” akin to “a subjectivity . . . solid enough to replace the pictured object.” Or is it all gone abstract and lofty enough that I’ve stopped thinking, and now refreshment can arrive? Zukofsky’s trying, I think, to capture something—an inkling, a strain, a cusp, a turning—he’s certain is only appearance, unattainable. So: the wobble of “tends,” of “suggestion.” Agon of the pliable mind against any totality.


Feld quoting David Sylvester on the modernist determination that a work of art “must affirm its existence as an object and that subject matter was incidental to its proper purpose.”

“It was what Baudelaire had been saying fifty years earlier when he proclaimed in 1846 that a good picture had a meaning even when you were too far away to identify the subject.”

Sonnet says always sonnet. Valentine says always valentine. Except: Ted Berrigan sonnet, Louis Zukofsky valentine.


Frustré. Inchoate. Higher planes of detrimental reasoning spooky up my health. Needing a bounce in my step, some chance to horse around (there’s a Zukofsky notion), or ennui noses in like a dog, demanding I pet her. Something Protestant and puritanical about the Abstract Expressionists according to Feld: “external Works that testified to inner Faith, the gestural not aimed outward but urging a painting to go back down beneath its paint, to mean no more than its deepest soul.”


Fuck it. I druther dance. Than stew in the dry juices of my cinder-track ratiocination. A public laboratory for writing gets its milder displays of public frustration—wadded up page coming at you out the screen’s bloody protectorate. One correspondent notes: “Ah! Ces universitaires! Rha ces intellos.” Oh, I never said it’d be all gin and bananas, as, I think, Donald Hall once said. (Which reminds me of that uproarious (well, “fun”) piece in O’Hara’s Art Chronicles called “5 Participants in a Hearsay Panel.” Begins with that age-old question: “Is style hearsay?” (Which is probably apt “today” given the complaints about Guston as a “style-chaser” (like a skirt-chaser, I think the actual term used was more “elegant” (or “eloquent”)), or given the way two whole generations are “currently” engaged in the “poetry world” in nosing around to “catch the wave” of the onrushing period-style with its narrative fatigue, below subsistence level imagery, canned fragmentation tracks, grunge tinges, archaickal flakiness (“why, there’s one there!”) and random spiritual “aches.” Oh dear. Oh dear me.) To answer the question: Norman Bluhm says “Frank says: Style at its lowest ebb is method. Style at its highest ebb is personality.” (Highest ebb. Ho. Rich.)


Now I got the scraped knees of Weldon Kees. Reminding me of a rhyme series (in Ithaca, with L. We could’ve been skipping rope. We weren’t.):

Je m’appelle Apollinaire.
I don’t wear no underwear.

Je m’appelle Arthur Rimbaud.
I wear it where it doesn’t show.

Je m’appelle Louis Aragon.
You take ’em off, I’ll put ’em on.

Je m’appelle Paul Eluard.
You take ’em off, I’ll make it hard.

Je m’appelle Blaise Cendrars.
I can’t even find my arse.

Je m’appelle Isidore Ducasse.
Don’t know where I put my ass.



“What you want you may have, if only you give up the false anxieties of language.” (Trying out a fractured truth and paraphrase.)


Question: who were Kierkegaard’s Martians? What’s their relationship, if any, to Spicer’s? I know nothing of Mr. Churchyard.


Guston (in a letter): “cannot sleep—clothes back on—looking at the picture—scrape it out—take big house-painters brushes, smush it all up and feel relief. Start again—what a relief—to face nothing—recently in this state, some other kind (I wish I knew) of seeing takes place—the ravaging hunger to see something I haven’t seen before takes over. It must be appeased . . . if age has given me something, it may be, (I think) a small electronic time box—built in—won’t allow me to rest, until something—anything—a scribble is put down before I think it out first. Oh how I hate composing!”


“A poet at the lowest neap of her popularity.”
“Your lowest neap equal to my highest ebb.”

The chore of the morning Inanity is —.


Tuesday, March 09, 2004

High Texturals


Received (Swap’d):

The Frequencies: A Poem, by Noah Eli Gordon (Tougher Disguises, 2003)

My first look at anything done by James Meetze’s Tougher Disguises: The Frequencies is smartly design’d inside and out, with a cover painting by Michael Labenz (mock-hieroglyphic or alphabetickal layering in dark colors, one thinks of the high texturals of Anselm Kiefer, almost bas relief’d). Just the right amount of the cursive font for cover, half title, and title page, with the text itself in something unfussy and straightforward.

“What we hear off the air is not the radio lying to us, but what we encode to come to terms with our own enclosure.”

More later, surely. I skim through, reading a few lines per page, seeing some structures emerging, hints of narrative, and narrative quickly squelch’d. Which decides me that I should read it “at a go,” and without the peculiar fatigue of this particular unsung moment.


A few notes on Philip Guston:

Guston himself referring to the late paintings as “allegorical”—and Ross Feld’s questioning of that: “allegory? So transpositional. So obvious. Besides, modernity had effectively neutered the whole category.”

Feld indulging in the kind of talk that baffles (and infuriates) me: that all art should be somehow invisible. “In the same way that certain Van Goghs seem less made with paint than with distilled emotion; or as Eugenio Montale’s great sequence of poems about his dead wife, Xenia, seems barely to be made out of (or for the sake of) art, not a single one of [Guston’s painting’s] inches congratulates itself . . . it exists in a suspended state of incipient erasure.”

Why should one strive for an invisible artistry (no artist, a godlike purity and splendour?) It reminds me of numismatist’s wares (coins untouch’d by human hands). What is the meaning of an art stripped of its maker’s mark?

Feld’s fine phrase for so many of Guston’s piles of things: “a delirious congregation of imperfections.” And referring to Guston’s palette as “the actual arena of color Guston worked in.” An arena of vocabulary. Dictive arenas.

Guston (in a letter): “I think you are writing about the generous law that exists in art. A law which can never be given but only found anew each time in the making of the work. It is a law, too, which allows your forms (characters) to spin away, take off, as if they have their own lives to lead—unexpected, too—as if you cannot completely control it all . . . we do not know how [the law] governs . . . I don’t think we are permitted to know, other than temporarily . . . The only problem is how to keep away from the minds that close in and itch . . . to define it.”


Distract’d. The unacknowledged birthday greetings. The letter to D. W. (Not Arthur’s little sister, another D. W.) The letter to G. G. My “work”—I mean, my “job.” Domestickal responsibilities. My whole life in writing an attempt to shunt off distract’dness and make a viable clear space. What would I do then? Sit down and blubber? Haul up out of my emptiness some single fierce truth? That’ll be the day. (Here it comes, a “once-popular” melody colonizing my emotions: Buddy Holly—“That’ll be the day-ay-ay, that I die.”) I’m thinking of that terrific road move call’d Im Lauf der Zeit. Wim Wenders? “In the Course of Time?” Released here under the obnoxious (unfortunate) title “Kings of the Road.” (No quarrel with Roger Miller.) Two guys tooling around post-war West Germany, American popular music dominating the car radio, the protagonist toward the end admitting something like: “The Americans, they’ve even colonized our subconscious.” And, in some East-West border area: “Everything must change.” Which, contextually, seem'd to mean some nebulous personal-political whole ball of wax. To which I (seeing it, late ’seventies) “related.”


Feld on the crowdedness of (here) feet, in Guston’s Green Rug: “To move narratively in a space that promises no expansion—whose forms literally step over each other—is to invoke, instead, time.”


Walking with Carmen under the big unwash’d plate of the moon. Space that sails along with one, stops when one stops, &c.


Monday, March 08, 2004

Oddly, Enough


Bought (Friends of the Library):

Odysseus Ever Returning: Essays on Canadian Writers and Writing, by George Woodcock (McClelland and Stewart Limited / New Canadian Library, 1970)

Oddly enough, several of the essays focus on non-Canadian writers, including a suite of four on Malcolm Lowry, one titled “Momaco Revisited: Wyndham Lewis in Canada,” one with the subtitle “Edmund Wilson Looks at Canada,” and one about the Irish novelist Brian Moore. Too: Earle Birney, Irving Layton, and Leonard Cohen.

Dancing in Your Head: Jazz, Blues, Rock, and Beyond, by Gene Santoro (Oxford University Press, 1994)

Probably had to buy it after my smart-ass remark (of Wednesday 3/3) chiding one (myself) about the worth and advisability of publick references to “once-popular” musick. Which Franklin Bruno in the lively konvolut m zing’d. Santoro writes for The Nation, and if I can’t have a book of John Palattella’s essays (my other most prefer’d Nation—and elsewhere—essayist (on poetry): somebody ought to put out such a thing), I’ll gladly cop the Santoro for now.


G. want’d to go the University’s art museum, so once I’d got the house vacuum’d, clothes wash’d, off we went. He says: “Dad, aren’t you bringing a notebook?” (recalling my garb and stance, I’d guess, in Chicago). So I did. And he load’d me up with one for him, along with charcoal pencils.

G. sat on a camp-stool and sketch’d / copy’d a portrait of a man with a big beret number (what I call a “pillow hat”) on’s head. I wrote one word in my notebook: grisaille. And spent the longest pause studying four St. Jeromes clump’d together: one by Durer, one by a Spaniard (Jusepe de Ribera?), one . . . Here’s where I should’ve used the notebook. In one an enormously muscled figure is dashing a rock against sternum, lion looking quizzickal behind. In one a near naked figure is intently reading a scroll, kneeling (lion crouching in foreground).

In writing th’above I become conscious of the limits of my interest in precision: I don’t recall where the second lousy lion’s position’d, but it does not matter. What matters is where it is placed vis à vis the lousy lion in the first sentence. The interest is no longer in reporting a series of interesting compositions. The new interest is in making a new composition here. Which is the problem, for me, with that high-toned old realist vision that never quite abates in the quarterlies. Those name-brand poems (and fictions) wherein if th’author says the friggin’ Volvo’s on the fritz that there be said friggin’ Volvo and it be garagèd. (So sayeth the quarterlies.) Where’s our Apollinaire: that bird capable of “nidifying in the air” (“Qui nidifie en l’air”)? Making nests of nothing but nesting.


Finish’d the Matthews memoir. Two thoughts: one, that somebody should’ve remind’d Sebastian Matthews that anybody reading the book is doing so out of curiosity about father William, not son Sebastian. And two, that “Risottos can never be rushed.”

Which rhymes nicely with a thing I used to repeat for comic effect: “Hindus never hurry.” Which I nick’d from a James Tate poem.


Exchanged one of the three copies received of the García Marquez autobiography for: Susan Sontag’s Under the Sign of Saturn (Picador, 2002, originally 1980) and Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (FSG paperback, 2002) after “nearly going to sleep with quandariness” (O’Hara). Now I think I’d’ve done better with the Luc Sante Low Life I carried around for an hour.


G. loves the trappings of things, the costumes, the “signs” of whatever preoccupations he’s on about. Theatrickals. Since yesterday’s museum excursion he’s paint’d several new things, mostly brash portraits (solid primary color background, “flesh”-toned head and neck like a ballpeen hammer, smudge-wild hair. I see he’s put up a sign, taped to the front door:

“The Gypsy. Chinese Waiter. Washington. Red
Mice. Violin Teacher . . . , and more! 14 paintings in
total collection.

[There follows a stylize’d signature. A nom de pinceau? He’s using a middle name (Louis) so that he can nestle one oversize’d L inside another—L’s with dumbbell-like ball’s at the ends.]

april-june 2004
THE PORTRAITS and Landscapes . . . with a few
others too!


Long walk over th’usual terrain—the buckthorn fields, the pond (a dozen or so mallards perching on a shelf of remaining ice halfway out, looking at their feet), cut across Seventh, up behind the high school to sneak through the fence of the baseball diamond and let the C-dog run, blowing my little green and blue bat-whistle to train her to return. And she done done good. A spring fake-blizzard blew up sudden, huge wet flakes sticking to my coat. We cut into the woods, trod the muddy paths through and by the time we came out th’other side, the sun was blasting at the snow-thick air. Which stopp’d the clatter down to abate. (A phrase I suspect should be sent up for a second opinion.)

Turkey meatloaf, potatoes, salad, and general crabbiness to end the “lit” part of the day.

I’m going to read the late Ross Feld’s Guston in Time: Remembering Philip Guston (Counterpoint, 2003), unless I am not snagged by it. In which case I will try something else. How come nobody’s talking about that monstrous Duncan / Levertov book of letters? Over 850 pages—I don’t think I’ll be able to hold it up without a dictionary stand.

Stand, dictionary.


Friday, March 05, 2004

Disposable Bic


A drizzle, chilly. By Thursday nights (I’ve stopped trying to compose at work, usually I fuss here at home for an hour or so, walk the dog, read for another hour or so, copy the file hpt2.doc to a little USB’d up number about the size and shape of a disposable Bic lighter—which I transport to work the next morning, where I monkey with the file a little, dump it into the blog-maw, slap down whatever pert and pertinent links I come up with (the divots flying furiously now) and yelling “Fore!” cut her loose to the Point . . .) (Kind of takes the breath away, doesn’t it.) By Thursday nights I’m usually a goner for the sweet sullen mouth of sleep, and uninhibitedly grouchy.


Thinking about a theory of “all-over” writing. Simultaneism. (Vague recall of a similarly named “movement” associated with Russian or Italian futurists? “One could look it up.” [Friday morning: “Robert Delaunay?” and some more google-revving brings me here: and within something call’d “The Mauricio Kagel Research Project” I read:

“Ball was particularly influenced by the work of Kandinsky and his publication The Blaue Reiter Almanac. Here new thoughts were forcefully presented and Ball encountered the theories of Robert Delaunay’s ‘simultaneism’ which was to affect his concept of simultaneous poetry and therefore the entire nature of Dada performance. The importance of simultaneism was in its new grasp of structure - a structure which is the ‘opposite of narration,’ which represented “an effort to retain a moment of experience without sacrificing its logically unrelated variety.” Simultaneism wanted to present a plurality of actions at the same time. Abridged syntax and unpunctuated abruptness tended to merge disparate moments into an instance. Passages were set one next to another to encourage a feeling of conflict between them rather than the link. From here it is a short jump to obscurity, illogicality and abruptness, therefore surprise, shock, and ‘chance’.”

That’s the kind of thing gets one going in a direction not precisely intend’d. What is reason enough to damn intent, no?)

What I’m thinking of is how painters get told to “work up the whole canvas”—quite the opposite of the half-unfinished Jacques-Louis David portrait I mention’d elsewhere (with it’s high finish trailing off to a few lines barely sketch’d). That is, one doesn’t “finish the nose before rounding up to the brow.” One roughs out, circles back, hints at a shoulder, drops to a trouser crease, rubs out and repaints, leaves and returns with coffee, quotes a note of Roy Lichtenstein-the-quoter in the Dick Tracy squareness of the jaw, sullies and cleanses. All motion and weave. A Durga Bhagwati of the paintbrush.


Versus: Flaubert shouting out sentences into the Seine-damp night air of Croisset. Or Nabokov essaying and crossing out word by word, index card by index card. Slowly filling a shoebox with a novel completely writ. Something about the dailiness of the writing here combined with its constraints (mostly that of the slippage and dash of the big T, but, inevitably, some sense of audience lends to minor straitening of a rather loose jacket, no? I mean, you wouldn’t sit still for a terribly “lengthy diatribe” about the deleterious consequences of Strunk and White’s “clarity dictums” on, what?, sixty years of American discourse—its general and pervasive tamping down, its rhetorical flourishes gummed up and ground up with guilt, giddiness and hilarity hie’d off to hinterlands beyond the kingdoms of “plain speech”—you wouldn’t, would you?)—here, I am saying, frequent and regular (daily) words put down in a hurry (and with whatever’s “at hand”)—leads to something like a “thready notational,” a style that, unlike a river, doesn’t curve back to look itself over (one of my rules: I never want a second look), but manages to carry its loads of silt with it just the same. Which drops out to form recognizable sandbars, and other repetitions.


Rafting. The musick (watery) makes the meaning. Rain getting louder: someone wrapped in a huge noisy coverlet rolling around sporadickal on the rooftop.


Because I went to get Flaubert’s letters to recall Croisset and not Creuset (that place in literature where things get all mix’d up, or where things separate out and purify) or Croasser (that place where crows caw)—because of that I am noticing now that Flaubert had rude things to say about that French impediment Hugo:

“Posterity will not forgive this man for wanting to be a thinker—a role contrary to his nature . . . He summarizes the drift and substance of the banal ideas of his time, and with such persistence that he forgets his own work, and his art.”

Wasn’t it Flaubert that start’d this mania of the sentence? What troubled the old walrus Ford Maddox Ford with howsoever they work’d and rubbed against one another and made fire where none existed before? Who told Pound—staring into the dying campfires of old Europe. Who had, too, Hulmes’s sexy shout about “breaking down readers stock responses” thudding in’s one good ear. And in’s other good ear, the anvil, hammer and stirrup of a sculptural kinesis, melo-, phano-, and logo- in tripartite interlock and justapositioning. Aren’t we tired of the sentence and its arrangements, yet?

Must be Thursday. My literary history caught in the seedy underbelly of a dogged invention. Oi.


Blake: “Writ helter skelter like a hog upon a rope.”


I love how if one sniffs out an idea and gives chase, one result is that every gully and briar one’s horse sails over seems to verify that idea’s inevitable shine and rightness. Look: here comes Teddy Adorno now! He’s wearing The Gap clothes. He’s saying: “the value of a thought is measured by its distance from the continuity of the familiar.” Dislocation and reprise, ideas sprung sharply in turning. Verse.


Rather guiltily reading Sebastian Matthews’s In My Father’s Footsteps: A Memoir, about William Matthews. Something slightly icky about the imaginings of Matthews’s (apparently numerous) affairs, something beyond the gooey imprecisions and silly writing (“Then the panties. She flings these into the air like an X-rated Mary Tyler Moore.” New paragraph. “He watches a rain of dust shower onto her breasts.”) and the mistakes (Detroit Metro airport gets call’d Detroit International; Krums Corners Road near Ithaca gets call’d Kram Corner Road; a professor circa 1970 delivers “a lengthy diatribe on postmodern narrative”—unlikely, I’d think, that kind of talk came (a little) later), there’s a funny reliance on the poems to fill in the story. Not just the poems as coming out of a particular autobiographical context, but images out of the poems (how, for example, the Volvo “twist[s] away like a released balloon” on moving day) get wedged into the memoir and so claim a secondary, somehow diminish’d truth.


The C-girl and I walk in the pouring rain, she dejectedly, lagging, me pensively. Green smudge of sky. Nonsense, I think, all that stuff about the “all-over,” repetition and thread-like weave. I got there partly due to Gail Scott’s narrator returning to the aparto on the Boulevard Raspail to flip open the big Benjamin book, partly due to the fact that I occasionally work out two or three swatches of writing here simultaneously. Well, alternatingly. Nonsense because it’s simply what “we” used to call a leitmotif, right? An, ugh, recurring “theme.” I’m just pouring sour old milk into a shiny new bucket, ain’t I? The C-girl trots through these “pages”—so, what. I do continue to like the way something like that “acts” though. Charles Wright once point’d to how—in a long poem title’d “My Heart and All That,”—often I would begin a new outburst with “Whatever” (“Whatever is quantifiable and apt in the universe is not / what I am feeling . . .”) He call’d it something like “the clothes-pins by means of which the whole wet wash of the poem is attached to the line.” What the “line” was in such a schematic I, do, not, know.