Bird Dog, No. 5, edited by Sarah Mangold ($6, 1535 32nd Ave., Apt. C, Seattle, Washington 98122)
Poetry by David Pavelich, Dana Ward, Kristin Palm, Camille Guthrie, Stacy Szymaszek, Steve Timm, Julie Kizershot, Bob Harrison, Noah Eli Gordon & Sarah Veglahn, Donna Stonecipher, John Latta, Brenda Iijima, Brigitte Byrd, Michael Leddy, Mark Tardi, Corey Mead, and Heidi Peppermint.
Art by Karen Ganz. Cover art by Maggie Mangold.
Tipped-in color xerograph’d art and illustrations! One gets th’immediate impression that Sarah Mangold’s Bird Dog is something she (and her confederates) love doing. And Karen Ganz’s paintings are terrific. Images of “old 1920’s cartoons . . . ‘the company man’” gracing “messy,” “broken-up,” “fragment’d,” canvases to good effect. A little Basquiatesque, though more “complete,” more “finish’d,” “slower.” Ganz says: “My approach to painting . . . has been influenced by early films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton that I arrived at by way of Twyla Tharp and Samuel Beckett.”
What stands out: Brigitte Byrd and Stacy Szymaszek. Byrd is a native of France, with three prose-poems with titles “Georgian Permutation with Water,” “Babushka with Plum Blossoms,” and “Comparative Obscurity.” Here’s the last:
A dark day it is and it is in bed. An empty house is often a full heart when colors have left the rooms. This is what you get when the only brightness is a yellow shade. There is no one to let her in. I might be wrong. It is not uncommon that both breasts feel different. Silver is the color of water in the rain on the roofs. The only time a branch falls in my path is when the wind blows. I used to think. If there is estrangement what is the difference between speaking to the dead and speaking to the living . When there is a song there is reassurance is there not. If I cannot have you. There is the news of a hurricane and she grabs her umbrella. We cannot operate on nothing.
Ambiguity in the narrative (what story is being told? several plausible ones seem to get foreground’d and fade and return—a round), ambiguity in the parts (“We cannot operate on nothing.”)
Stacy Szymaszek’s new book Some Mariners (Etherdome, 2004) just arrived today in the mail. That I’m going to delay saying anything about for now—, too many teeming irreducibles in th’atmosphere—and the notebooks—(well, the scribble-sheets, I am not terribly methodickal)—for any but the most promiscuous bout with clarity . . .
Szymaszek’s poem (“untitled”) in Bird Dog covers four pages, amount of text (perhaps number of words—or word-clusters—is more appropriate, the poem is present’d as an array, a field of fragments . . .) generally diminishing from a “full” first page to a marked paucity. The effect is a shearing-down of rhythm more than anything else, as the first page’s clusters present themselves mostly by fours (to a line) or threes.
Hard to reproduce for an HTML dunderhead like myself (I’ll indicate white space with virgules (/):
I am ready / to eat / / impossible / without a mouth
/ / blot out / / tag / metal chafed
mummy / paddle / je m’ap / elaborate / two jaw
/ bones / mummy loveth bandage length / stop
/ / pulling / no one is new / croc
/ can’t prevent movement / / when I wish
to chew / food shapes / / vase of unguents / obj
/ bit of color / for natural / pry ear / colony
/ of matri / / / shut it / letters out of
order / / now the other won / soldier on / oiler
/ / / till I spell / / j j j / id
/ masc / plenty of canines / tune in / thought of
. . .
Two immediate thoughts: one is that my reproduction is nefarious, ugly, and loathsome, and robs the poem of all its fine aeration and shapliness. Two is how compelling / satisfying it is to copy such fragments, like a typesetter’s dream of a ready-to-assemble piecemeal world—j j j.
I find myself most “attract’d” to the partial words: “je m’ap”—allowing one to see “map” and its relation to naming, appellation; “croc” (as in “alligator”? as in “pottery”?) Tiny sounds get amplified in th’array, tiny syllables, isolated, throw long shadows. On subsequent pages, local vertical configurations assert themselves:
me on pillow
is one such moment. Another is:
when I was
At the end of the poem, there is a small stack of clusters:
radically indent’d, and center’d to itself, then, a left margin:
I won’t pretend that I could do anything more than an existentialist mime clown’s explication de texte here and, plainly, that’s not what the poem is asking of anyone. It’s relation to the “world” is partial, local, provisional, it is surface (material) and variably “representational.” Basquiatesque. “Basquiatesque.”
My “system” of early evening writing broke down lately, now I find myself lunging toward a week “in Chi-town” (need to see a man about . . . a violin, a tax bracket, and a distillery . . .) and ensconced in a mad scrabble of notes and other detritus I’d just as leave “finish off” without further “ado.” Somebody ought to take those “marks” away from an ironist like “me.”
Benjamin Friedlander’s Simulcast: Four Experiments in Criticism: the final scuffle.
A remark Janet Holmes spoke into her Humanophone, suggesting the book “reinforces [her] belief that male poets are very often pack animals, carefully delineating their territories and eagerly pointing out the unforgiveable differences among their aesthetics (which activities Friedlander satirizes, but also participates in).” And I think of Emily Dickinson, her startlingly acid tongue, mocking: “You speak of Whitman. I never read his book, but was told that it was disgraceful.” And: “I read Miss Prescott’s ‘Circumstance,’ but it followed me in the dark, so I avoided her.” Or “All men say ‘What’ to me, but I thought it a fashion.”
Part of it is thrill at one’s abilities, that headiness that accompanies a well-turn’d sass-spout. Think of the Ted Berrigan poem that ends with mock- and not-mock thrill in equal measure, something like, after doing this, and this, and this, you sit down, “and write this, because you can.” (I used to have an Alternative Press broadside of the poem tack’d to a bookcase in Ithaca, New York—it is certainly in one box or another of my “effects,” and I used to know it nearly “by heart”—Google, I think, makes one’s helplessness before one’s own “personal” retrieval system all the more frustrating . . .***) Think of the mock-bravado (immiscible with the true-) of Dickinson’s: “I suppose the pride that stops the breath, in the core of woods, is not of ourself.” Même combat?
And part of it is tussle, and flyting, and who can throw the golden-urine stream the farthest, no doubt about it.
Er, prompter’s insistent and stagey voice: “The matter at hand!”
Er, some lines, wherein Friedlander runs a little San Francisco lit-history through the Poe-nerator. And as “player” in that scene (though one, in a good joke, about whose “personal appearance,” “there is nothing very observable”), he’s got the wit and grace to include himself. From “The Literati of San Francisco”: “I learn that Mr. F. is not without talent; but the fate of his magazines [Jimmy & Lucy’s House of “K” and Dark Ages Clasp the Daisy Root, both with Andrew Schelling] should indicate to him the necessity of applying himself to study. No spectacle can be more pitiable than that a of a man without the commonest school education busying himself in attempts to instruct humankind on topics of polite literature.” In subsequent sketches: Douglas Messerli comes off as petty and vindictive; Barrett Watten gets repeatedly referred to as “General Watten”; Steve Benson gets a scolding (though not to the degree the “experimental” tadpoles of S.F. do) for having “imagination if he would only condescend to employ it, which he will not, or would not until lately—the word compounders and quibble concoctors of Frogpondium having inoculated him with a preference for Imagination’s half sister, the Cinderella, Experiment.” Also: some finely-honed axioms surface out of the Poe-puddle stirred by Friedlander’s stick: “in adopting the cant of nonsense, the cant of vagueness soon follows.” Too: Friedlander uses the impeccable rhetoric of Poe well, and gives pertly, if rather backhandedly, Lyn Hejinian her due acclaim: “Ms. Hejinian has erred, too, through her own excessive ambition. She judges the capacities of language by the heart and intellect of Ms. Hejinian, but there are not more than one or two dozen Ms. Hejinians on the whole face of the earth.”
Blogland red danger light trigger’d here, where Friedlander speaks of a possible “deficiency” in Jimmy & Lucy’s House of “K”: “attributed in part to the exceeding brevity of its articles—brevity that degenerated into mere paragraphism, precluding dissertation or argument, and thus all permanent effect.”
Is th’undertow of blog-publish’d “reviews” and comments terminal extemporaneousness? Would it be better—assuming it were possible—to set my stolen minutes aside to cobble together arguments made of steel? Are such monuments necessary, or trustworthy, or honorable? Better a gabble of the half-baked going off they heyds? Off they heyds.
In the “personal particulars” (On Silliman: “Neither his nose nor his forehead can be defended; the latter would puzzle phrenology.”) department, my fave detail would have to be how Michael Palmer is known for “how neatly ironed he [keeps] the crease in his denim trousers.” The only time I met Michael Palmer, in Charlottesville, Virginia, he was having post-reading drinks in a room with Charles Wright, another notorious Levi’s-ironer. What I found unsussable was how Palmer put up with Jack Spicer-the-slovenly, whom he apparently gaggled and fringed with in the pre-Langpo dark ages.
All good fun indeed. And “instructive.” Of the twenty-two “Literati of San Francisco” portray’d, I’ve encounter’d three: Grenier, Mackey, and Palmer.
One question “stages its proposition” immediately on turning away from the Poe inflect’d pieces and tackling the Jean Wahl-template’d “A Short History of Language Poetry, by ‘Hecuba Whimsey.’” That is, is such dovetailing chicanery suitable only for farce, for the kind of ribbing that salutes one’s indebtedness to predecessors through multiplying number and effect? That is, can a lesser, and more “abstract” and idea-bound writer like Wahl be made to do similar work with as happy a result? Which is where I find myself now. It is a piece less coarse, finer in its distinctions, able to delineate different approaches to language and representation amongst its principles Creeley (Hegel), Coolidge (Kierkegaard), Silliman (Jaspers), Watten and Hejinian (Heidegger ) and Bernstein (Sartre). Whether the distinction-making is “due” to a cordial fit between Wahl’s text and Friedlander’s “texting” of lived / witness’d particulars, or whether, I should say, Friedlander’s “texting” exact’d some violence on the Wahl (I’m thinking something like being “shoehorn’d in”), I’m not likely to know (and probably doesn’t matter for the “success” of the experiment. That is, I’m not likely to seek out the Wahl original the way I was moved to hunt up the Poe.
***Ah, here it is. In In the Early Morning Rain (Cape Goliard / Grossman, 1970). Title’d “Peace.” I love this poem. A large part of its pleasure is in the restraint of its diction, with not-completely-smug Eliotic echoes, and the goofy (though not always wholly obvious) rhymes. (The lines should be true “step-down” lines, ach.)
What to do
when the days’ heavy heart
in the already darkening Easthaving risen, late
& prepared at any moment, to sink
surprises suddenly,into the West
& settles, for a time,
where mellow light spreadsat a lovely place
from face to face?
The days’ usual aggressive
into a regular pacenow softly dropped
the head riding gently its personal placewhere pistons feel like legs
on feelings met like lace.
take a walk, then,Why,
across this town. It’s a pleasureto meet one certain person you’ve been counting on
who will smile, & love you, sweetly, at your leisure.to take your measure
she turns your head aroundAnd if
like any other man,
and make yourself a sandwichgo home
of toasted bread, & ham
lots of itwith butter
& have a diet cola,
& write this,& sit down
because you can.
See you in a week or so . . .