Friday, February 25, 2005

Fish Bait


Took a crazy tumble on “a” ice patch, first thing yesterday. And continue’d with my usual mock-perfect day, mark-up shit, proofing shit, getting the local brainpan neurons—a shy bunch—to hug the walls—like wallflowers!—of my cranial cave with a high-decibel onslaught of Dr. John and the ’Fess. What band was that at Tipitina’s circa 1982 or so? Azuma? Dude ’d got a big old straw hat with robin’s egg blue boa-feathers lopping out of it. Erm, several bourbons ‘m’ water (I named ’m BMWs) later—I only “alternately” upright—my buddies told me they’s going to abandon me in the projects “for fish bait.” Oh dear. I think I must’ve made it back to the barricaded First and Magazine digs where the lizards ran crazy on a large glass-front’d bookcase, which latter object seem’d anomalous in the “setting.” I’d better get “back” to the Point. After a—I insist, “mock-perfect”—day I stood to trail my 300 trillion cells (only two of which are “still” “encoded” for “memory”)—my body—off to the “Blake Center,”—not that Blake, not that Blake, not that Blake—where in the late flop of orange-sized sun into the bushel basket of the West—the buses congregate. And howl’d monstrous, dragging a leg the size of a bawling heifer calf. That’s what “resting it” ’ll do.


Jim Harrison on how the natural world siphons off the “self” (exactly like the buoyancy of writing—head a fine gaseous membrane held “up” and “together” by the merest “surface tension,” the words tumbling down in rows).
In northern Michigan it is frequently cold in the summer, or too hot with clouds of mosquitoes, blackflies, horseflies, deerflies, wasps, and hornets. But it was wild, crisscrossed by old logging roads, and properly used to adolescent exhaustion the natural world can draw away your poisons to the point that your curiosity takes over and “you,” the accumulation of wounds and concomitant despair, no longer exist. The immediate world for hours at a time becomes quite beyond self-consciousness.

Bracken—source of fiddleheads. Crawling around under the thick continuous umbrella of that bracken understory in late summer. Sweet fern’s dark waxy serrate leaves, with a dope-look. One whiff and I’m nine years old again.


Nota bene: Duchamp, fiddleheads, “Spiral Jetty”! Just a couple days back I huzzah’d Steve Evans for a terrif untidy bundle of relations and sorts. Here, though, is the king’s scratch, the big snook. What a notational / relational weave of particulars can do to freshen up the synapses!

“To be open to chance, as others are open for business.”



Green Mountains Review, Vol. XVII, No. 2, edited by Neil Shepard ($9.50, Johnson State College, Johnson, Vermont 05656)

Of note in a fattish number: a poem by “Goldbarth”—as is append’d top of page. Surely a proofreader’s error—though the thought cross’d (snuck, dragging a belly-laugh by its thrashing dubious heels) my “mind,” that “Albert”’s making an early play for immortality à la Picasso. Christo. Madonna. Cher. Bono. (Not that Bono.)

Milking I am, “one” thinks, or nursing (all the long drawn-out taffy years) th’obsequiousness Goldbarth (unjustly!) seem’d to expect—bonus baby style—out of “us” at Cornell circa 1975 or so. Stalking around like a popsicle king, full of hisself. There was that after-the-reading (Jon Anderson, I think?) bash where A. G.’d (not that A. G.) taped up behind the commode a nude “study” (I shouldn’t dignify it so) of ’s current undergrad squeeze. “We” went into heavy-harassment mode.

Not an assessment of the mag. Paul Violi’s in the mag. Dara Wier’s in the mag.


Note to myself: look out for Gerald Bruns’s new The Material of Poetry: Sketches for a Philosophical Poetics, out of Georgia.


Off to Washington. A week or ten days. Ahoy!



Thursday, February 24, 2005

Xua Hop


                 |              |            |
|squall |              |            |xua
                |beaker |          |moondot
                |cuspid |or


Oddly trying to make an array for incomprehensible reasons. A batty way to proceed. J. out, so G. and I supped quickly (eggs, soup) and “did art”—he a series of blockprints, smearing paint on a nail-incised two-by-four end, me mostly coin rubbings scumble’d up with dirty paint rags. I like smeary unfinish’d sketchy stuff. And—tired—he hopped into bed with no fuss, I read a little Lois Lowry thing and he sock’d right in, Snoozeville.


eyed | ratio | bloomingly
            C |             |
|sphinx \ salub r            \ ious |unconditional


Uncomprehend’d indelibly. I had no notion of.



The Poetry Project Newsletter, No. 202 February / March 2005, Edited by Marcella Durand ($5, St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, 131 East 10th Street, New York, New York 10003)

Either it’s a tough thing (if one’s stamp’d by the monicker “Poetry”) to exit out of New York City lately, or the mail carriers gobble the Newsletter up, pointing out the particular fineries, and hand-delivering it—village by village—all the way to the rust-engolden’d Midwest: my copy’s always batter’d and dash’d, a scraggly mess. Readers, must be.

Herein: Joel Kuszai on Jackson Mac Low (“From Chicago Aristotelians, such as Richard McKeon and R. S. Crane, as well as Chicago Ph.D. student Paul Goodman, Mac Low wrote in a letter that he learned “to regard Aristotle’s Poetics as an empirical, post-hoc, analysis of two plays,” not, as other might have it, a prescriptive “recipe bk.”) and Mac Low’s “58th Light Poem: For Anne Tardos—19March 1979”; Rodrigo Toscano on what a poem can do: (“Some people have resorted to talking to potatoes out of loneliness. Did the potato need a poetic character to be so convivial?” and “The best thing that poets did for me at a young age (before I tinkered with writing poetry myself) was to demonstrate how the (so-called) “proper” social role was a form of social control that also depended on linguistic constructions, and that those roles could be challenged; that poetry with politics combined could be the full install.”); Marcella Durand interviewing Will Alexander (“Mathematics and poetry are very, very close in the sense that a theorem or an equation functions as a penetrant calligraphy.”) ; and reviews—Rusty Morrison on Carol Mirakove’s Occupied, Ange Mlinko on Christopher Edgar’s At Port Royal, Michelle Naka Pierce on Prageeta Sharma’s The Opening Question, and Noah Eli Gordon on a slew of chapbooks, among others.


I never did note receipt of th’earlier (No. 201) issue—lost in the spell of little cabbage in the snow sleep I experienced, oh, mid-winter. Quickly: Leonard Schwartz talking to Michael Palmer (“I would say that ‘meaning production’ and ‘poetic pleasure’ are, in my mind, fused, insofar as the production of meaning is partly out of our hands and in the hands of the poem. As it leads us along through its particular harmonies and disharmonies, things arise that are largely ungovernable, even by us, I think, but ungovernable by the powers that be, as well.”); Paul Violi poems, including a couple out of an Arnaut Daniel-inflect’d series, “A Podiatrist Crawls Home in the Moonlight” (“Nudge shrub / Bush clutch / Flowerbed / Rose white / Nose cool”); reviews including David Perry on Peter Culley’s Hammertown, Redell Olson on Joan Retallack’s Memnoir, and Max Winter on Lisa Jarnot’s Black Dog Songs.


Finish’d Jim Harrison’s second novel, A Good Day to Die (1973):
My life might be a loathsome mess to an outsider but I cherished the notion that it was honest. All lapsed Calvinists continue to crave that simple monism by which eveyrthing is excusable because it is inevitable. “God willed it” when one still believed, and after that, “At least I’m honest.”
I recall that inordinate big number of years of trying to figure out “how to live my life” (that’s how I always put it)—sought balance against the underlying berserkism that constantly waylaid my intentions. “Jury still out” on whether I finally “got” it—though at least I’ll now probably be still alive when that jury comes “in.” Comme les gars disent: Whateveh . . .


Harrison on the memoir (Off to the Side, 2002):
Of course your own life is your truest story and it blinds you unless it’s heavily edited. You can immediately dismiss all the routines which, though comforting, own the banality of a greeting card. This shrinkage alone will get rid of nine-tenths of your life . . .
        I’m not sure I’m particularly well equipped to tell the truth. What our parents and teachers taught us as truth usually dealt with moral abstractions or the illusory notion of coming to grips with what they loosely termed as reality. Certain things happened and certain things didn’t happen, and then the not very agile jump to certain things are true and others false. The wild humor of ten-year-olds comes from the first reading between the lines of this paralyzing bullshit that is destined to suffocate most of them.

              | thigns |
              |                | abate me



Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Herbal and Replica


Received (Bridge Street Books):

Small Weathers, by Merrill Gilfillan (Qua Books, 2004)

First peek: “Straycat breeze just short of chop.” Gilfillan’s impeccable diction, and pacing. That’s a line I’d love to’ve written. With a Flood Editions book on the way, I suspect he’s (past) due for a major big assessment (I hate that kind of talk). Look (a thing call’d “Photo Dropping from an Herbal,” hint of a Gilfillan quotidian):
A Caspian works,
shadowed by a gull, its oceanliner tones
against the dark lake,

That “oceanliner” so right I gasp: the Caspian tern so big (oceanliner of birds), so white underneath (that over-paint’d look of a big boat in a dazzle of sun), and topped off by that chunky black smokestack head and thick red bill. Michael Gizzi and Craig Watson’s Qua Books is batting 1.000—Ashbery, George Stanley, Berkson’s art writings, and Gilfillan.


Burnt House to Paw Paw: Appalachian Notes, by Merrill Gilfillan (Hard Press, 1997)

Gilfillan’s prose-limn’d trajectory through Appalachian foothills and hills—period of warbler migration—though’s concerns random widely—mountain “Melungeons,” W. H. Hudson’s travels in Patagonia, Olivier Messiaen, William Bartram, and the here and now, the backroad diners, the junk’d cars, the people:
Birdsound is one of the safer bets among possible trans-epoch connections, among the slender long-term continuities. Of any common shard between this moment and the erstwhile of, for example, Leif Erickson, the cries of gulls would be as sure as the feel of cold water over the head or the warmth of a small fire.
       It is hard to understand how people can miss, or simply ignore, the nearly everpresent sounds of birds, how they cannot notice. It strikes me as an oversight equivalent to pleading ignorance of stars or lilacs. I would not feel quite right if on morning walks I didn’t soon place myself—aurally—by reference to the flickers of the neighborhood and the belling of the solitaire down the block. They are outriggers, a solid woof of the commensal through the dailiness, day after day.

Grasshopper Falls, by Merrill Gilfillan (Hanging Loose, 2000)

Stories. How about a sentence like: “‘Quite right,’ he whispered in a pencil-mustached little voice.” Or: “Her center of gravity was low and calm, with a fleck of cunning that could have survived, even thrived, at a fashionable cocktail party.” Period of thinking about Jim Harrison and Merrill Gilfillan—stories of men doing violence to themselves (drink, mostly) and others (Gilfillan, handy example, in “Tailwind”: “‘They stripped him down and ran an eight-inch perch up his arse and left him there. He had to have surgery to get the damned thing out.’”) against a continual bass note of keen appreciation (love) of the natural world. Period of wondering at th’attraction—for me—of the two. Largely the known landscape itself. And the reminders of my old damage-days.


Comp., by Kevin Davies (Edge Books, 2000)

“Heavens to Messerschmidt, that Kevin Davies is good!” Uncall’d for outburst. A copy of my own Comp., after toiling over the library’s for some months. Not toiling, “roiling.” Davies’s ferocious wit, and demand—via a clock-cleaning pummel of fragments—that one note th’interconnectedness of it all. How—like the fable’d monarch butterfly’s slight course correction over the Gulf of Mexico that triggers a tidal wave in Japan—the bank closure in Xenia, Ohio incapacitates the local plumber and triggers an IMF loan refusal to Somalia, where uncount’d thousands slowly perish.

A page of “Karnal Bunt”:
Prolific shutterbugs
amongst the dahlias of their reward

The assassination of Pinochet as he stands gobbing into lily pond


Pathos a stretch fabric in the gap of utterance

I think you think doubt is childish
Embargoed cigars in the foreground
The problem with one-party American democracy is its obnoxious dream life
Knotted into public adjectives, polluting the water table
Scratching its ass on the lens of the camcorder while passing sentence. Doubt


Pathos a stretch fabric.

The tracking of haywire manatees . . .

An unstartled auditor can’t replicate. Is that
it? The Buddha died horribly, food poisoning or bad water.
He was an old duffer with hangers-on.
I’ve never been able to make sense of the glosses.

Haze: Essays, Poems, Prose, by Mark Wallace (Edge Books, 2004)

Three sections out of th’essayistic “The Haze”:
—The Haze: how words go on where discourse breaks down, splits apart, no longer recognizes itself as discourse. Haze is words that do not discourse.
. . .
—The more open a discourse, the more likely it is to become hazy. The more closed a discourse, the more likely it is to fail to notice haze.
. . .
—There’s no way to define absolutely the moment at which Discourse passes into Haze. As Wittgenstein once said, isn’t a loose definition exactly what we need?
Do I associate Mark Wallace with Barrett Watten only because—in a photograph or two—I thought I noted a superficial resemblance?


For all’s righteous hoo-hah regarding the “social” and “community” (“the best writing in any generation is always that which most clearly adopts the stance of trobar clus . . . A trobar clus is a collective phenomenon, first & foremost”), Ron Silliman’s latest model of the dynamics of literary change—though muffle’d by prevarication—smacks most loudly perhaps of the heroic individual agent. Silliman: “Somebody—and somebody fairly soon—is going to have to stick a stake in the ground that has a terrific polarizing effect.” It’s a rather grim metaphor—I get Lord of the Flies mix’d with perturbations of that Iwo Jima grunt flag-raising project aflicker in my image-box—though a sort of reverse Arthurianism (Excalibur into the stone) comes “up” too. It’s a heavily male-inflect’d image, as is the polarized model (the clash of two great poetic armies). Of course Silliman’s float’d the model for—I think he’s now claiming “a half century”—an m. o. dating back apparently to a chance encounter with the Knickerbockers. (“This split was a phenomenon that can be traced back to the 1840s, when the Knickerbockers of New York dished Edgar Allan Poe because of his proximity to a group then known as the Young Americans, with the former attempting to replicate British models & the latter seeking something intrinsically new.”) Sounds like class-warfare to me, which is probably the largely untold story of American letters, and one we all niggle into.


Skimming Luc Sante’s piece on Bob Dylan in the New York Review of Books mostly makes me want to read John Berryman (quoted throughout) on Stephen Crane.



Tuesday, February 22, 2005



Some days I like to combine combining forms out of a tiny dictionary of word roots I found in somebody’s junk, and snatch’d up. Greek idio (one’s own, peculiar) and Greek ideo (form, appearance) = idio-ideo (one’s own peculiar form or appearance). Am I getting this?


Because I write most of what gets pickled here for posterity (isn’t that the idea? or is it to up my “marketability” to new heights? or is it to eviscerate my invalidation? Oh, jeez, Miss Dudd, it’s so hard to know just why I do anything! now that post-modernism’s gone postal, too . . .) Admittedly, making an ass of myself. What I mean is: I write stuff away (out of reach) of the “scene” of its deposition, so I rarely notate the nocks and notches of it (that is, the various word-boites of those amongst whom I dole out my day). So: a concert’d effort. Just when Blogland’s seemingly mumping off to hell in a hand-basket (the young Turks recidivist-ing back into the old technologies, the little old ladies getting indefatigably strident that way little old ladies do, the high-brows piercing the hairy worms of they anatomy and lading up the hardware in grandiose attempts to lower those perennially “aloft” booms of cultural snootiness . . .)

Pleased to find Scott Pierce of Effing Press—who, by the looks of things, is doing some fantab copacetic chapbook-work—writing here.

Pleased to read th’intelligent hotch-potch (rad gallimaufry) riffing of Steve Evans, how could I forget Nina Hagen? Remember that pared-down Temptations’ song done up by The Slits?

Pleased to see Franklin Bruno of Konvolut M back and making a note wherein mention of finding “solidly informative” “what is outwardly a children’s book on Margaret Thatcher” makes me wonder benignly (marvel) at the human apparati aloose in the world.

Pleased to read Christopher Brayshaw’s various notes—humble clarity, rampant curiosity, and Vancouver equal unbeatable combo.

Pleased to read Magdalena Zurawski and Ange Mlinko of Minor American Nation, for freshets like: “Baby’s being beatific, thriving in the quick synapse between ‘Oh Wow!’ and ‘Oh no!’ I would renounce all philosophy to live there.”

Pleased to read Peter Culley, who invariably points out a tiny gentian-blue pool of cyber-succulence somewhere.

Pleased to read James Wagner’s notational “dis/figurements portioned out at irregular entrances” at Esther Press: “In the second dream note, a man said, The moon’s a fuckhole from long ago.”

Note, too, that Ray Davis of Pseudopodium sent along th’under-copy’d under the rubrick of “Joe Brainard: A Retrospective”:
In the spirit of IMDB credit corrections, although Constance Lewallen’s name is firmly beneath the title of the book, the collection of Brainard-on-art quotes was the work of Juliet Clark.

Overheard end of something G. is saying: “by the name of Esperance Gorgonzola Butts, Ph.D.” (My mother’s father—“Spike” to some—did wear a hearing aid.)


Jim Harrison’s always good for a non-negligible spate of adolescent giggling. What had me going most recently:
Usually with drugs there was a small undisturbed center in my brain that could view what was happening with clarity. But it had been swallowed by the unilaterally manic notion that my whole body was less than an inch thick and the only backing I had on earth was the back seat of a car.
Well, “going” is probably putting it a little strongly.


One of the loud pleasures of reading two books “simultaneously”—the contiguities and arguments unsuspect’d. Here’s a high-romantic clip of Harrison:
These two didn’t seem to belong to the twentieth century though they bore so many of its characteristic scars. I’ve always wondered how people who don’t know anything about history get by but I’ve realized if you are ignorant of history you’re not lost in it.
Which swung me hard alee to Retallack, who maintains it simply doesn’t matter:
The poetics of inevitability is everywhere. Images of being locked in the past aren’t erased by the formulaic “if you don’t know history you’re doomed to repeat it” because, unfortunately, the converse isn’t automatically true. If the message is that history is bent on repeating itself, then the knowing mind must take on—as unawares as the unknowing mind—a syntactical thrust toward predestined climax . . . Aren’t these the patterns of classical drama embedded in nineteenth-century temporal arts—music, metanarrative philosophy, the locomotive novel, the well-made play, the epiphanic poem? . . . All describe trajectories of hyper- and hyporational (that is, romantic) destiny. As war maintains the health of the state, patterns like these maintain the health of what Pierre Bourdieu calls the habitus—culturally congealed values and practices carried largely unconsciously from one generation to the next. So thoroughly established that many “against-the-grain” strategies produce little more than Ptolemaic epicycles.
Retallack’s both precise in her definitions and able to provocatively and simultaneously (that is, thoughtfully) blur the demarcating lines.


Dumb morning shower literary-work. Making “industrial-strength” “haiku”:
The ironworker
Paused in work trailer doorway:
Winter’s blasted cold.

Stevedore adamant:
—I ain’t goin’ out in that shit!
Rain-soak’d dock cargo.


Monday, February 21, 2005



Morning revery of gobbling a sandwich and pouring down a beer with John Ashbery in an airport bar. He’d just arrived. Off to a reading, somebody else’s, a young woman with close-cropped hair and lilt-voice. Days later, same airport, same bar, meeting Ashbery again at arrival (though he look’d different, nose too bulbous, hair too skimpy and white), me skipping the sandwich. Ashbery’s remark about what a terrific line the young woman’d had: “Unacquainted, I grow acquainted with unacquaintance.”


Grave doubts as to the veracity of my own dream-reportage.

Grave doubts as to the likelihood of veracity of any dream-reportage.

Recognition of the latter dream-Ashbery hair-style as sad miniature of Robert Frost’s.

Recognition of the “acquainted” rigmarole as late extrusion of Frost’s “Ann Arbor poem,” “Acquainted with the Night,” which’d come up a week back during a visit to an “open” school we’re thinking of getting G. into.


A Saturday haircut.



Paracritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes, Interviews by Nathaniel Mackey (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005)

Part of the Contemporary North American Poetry series, “unnumbered” in library lingo, edited by Alan Golding, Adalaide Morris, and Lynn Keller. Chapters on, among other things, “Phrenological Whitman,” Robert Duncan’s Vietnam War poems, “Cante Moro,” the “Spanish connection” in the New American Poetry (Lorca in Spicer, Duncan, Baraka, and Bob Kaufman), editing Hambone, and six (some lengthy) interviews, with Christopher Funkhouser, Ed Foster, Charles Rowell, Peter O’Leary, Brent Cunningham, and Paul Naylor.

Lines select’d at random, Mackey here replying to a question about Kerouac’s “appropriating bop as a model for his own prose”:
I don’t identify with the white center that sees itself as burdened with a ratiocinative intellectual tradition that it wants to dislocate through identification with an emotive other. Quite the opposite. I am a black intellectual. Among other things, I’m an intellectual among a group of people who have in recent history been denied an intellectual dimension, who have been characterized as being incapable of intellectual performance and pursuit and who have been made to symbolize the opposite of that, have been caught in a binary opposition between intellect, reflectivity, identified with whiteness, the dominant center, and impulse, instinct, instantaneity. And that dominant center’s appreciation of black people, even when it has been quite genuine and quite benign in its motivations, has tended to be guilty of a binary opposition which extolled black people for the emotive, anti-intellectual or nonreflective presence, immediacy, or alternative that they were taken to be. I understand why Kerouac’s work did not speak to me. I don’t think that Kerouac was aiming his work at young black intellectuals who were in high school reading Sartre and Camus and listening to Ornette Coleman.

Bought (Friends of the Library):

Novel on Yellow Paper or Work It Out for Yourself, by Stevie Smith (New Directions, A Revived Modern Classic, 1936, 1994)

“. . . first, Reader, I will give you a word of warning. This is a foot-off-the-ground novel that came by the left hand. And the thoughts come and go and sometimes they do not quite come and I do not pursue them to embarrass them with formality to pursue them into harsh captivity. And if you are a foot-off-the-ground person I make no bones to say that is how you will write and only how you will write. And if you are a foot-on-the-ground person, this book will be for you a desert of weariness and exasperation. So put it down. Leave it alone. It was a mistake you made to get this book. You could not know.
. . .
Oh talking voice that is so sweet, how hold you alive in captivity, how point you with commas, semi-colons, dashes, pauses, and paragraphs?
        Foot-on-the-ground person will have his grave grave doubts, and if he is also a smug-pug he will not keep his doubts to himself; he will say: It is not, and it cannot come to good. And I shall say, Yes it is and shall . . .”

A rafting through and skimming would indicate that here is something like Gertrude Stein with a bow in her hair, or Eloise (of Plaza fame) all grow’d up big. The repetitions and the rather wide-eyed “girlish” opinionating risk turning me into a “foot-on-the-ground” person? Is there a little of Stevie Smith (in her loquacious disguise of Pompey Casmilus) in Lisa Jarnot? Peut-être.


The Satires of Juvenal, translated by Rolfe Humphries (Indiana University Press, 1958)

“If you’re poor, you’re a joke, on each and every occasion.
What a laugh, if your cloak is dirty or torn, if your toga
Seems a little bit soiled, if your shoe has a crack in the leather,
Or if more than one patch attests to more than one mending!
Poverty’s greatest curse, much worse than the fact of it, is that
It makes men objects of mirth, ridiculed, humbled, embarrassed.
‘Out of the front-row seats!’ they cry when you’re out of money,
Yield your place to the sons of some pimp, the spawn of some cathouse,
Some slick auctioneer’s brat, or the louts some trainer has fathered
Or the well-groomed boys whose sire is a gladiator.
Such is the law of place, decreed by the nitwitted Otho:
All the best seats are reserved for the classes who have the most money.”


G. with me today at work. Lingering skunkiness in the nostrils. What reading I did switch’d between Retallack (when alert) and Jim Harrison’s second novel, A Good Day to Die (when drowsy).


Forty years, Malcolm X, forty years.



Friday, February 18, 2005

Cabbage’d, Hincty


Succession of books paw’d at and reject’d, all in the last half-hour: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam, translated by Clarence Brown and W. S. Merwin, Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy, by Marjorie Perloff, Diary, Volume One, by Witold Gombrowicz, Toward a Grammar of Abstraction: Modernity, Wittgenstein, and the Paintings of Jackson Pollock, by Robert Steiner, A Good Day to Die, by Jim Harrison, Collected Poems, by James Schuyler, and The Poethical Wager, by Joan Retallack. Uncount’d others I bored my opticks into the backs of.


Or, after an invigorating noctambular route out and back, choosing the Retallack, prize cabbage (as Flaubert’d say), and finding it scintillant, even in my rounding-on-its-source fatigue. Retallack:
I’m interested in a poethics that recognizes the degree to which the chaos of world history, of all complex systems, makes it imperative that we move away from models of cultural and political agency lodged in isolated heroic acts and simplistic notions of cause and effect. Similarly, the monolithic worldview that leads to assessments of success or failure in the arts based on short-term counts of numbers persuaded—for example, the size of the audience—is particularly misguided.
And, on the essay—“with its capacity to accommodate interruptions and digressions”—as “the chief prose-based experimental instrument of humanistic thought.” How, at its best, it is able to “meet up with the intrusive unintelligibilities of breaking experience”:
The source of vitality for the essay is its engagement in conversational invention rather than ordinal accounts of things (including thoughts) that have already taken place.
That deadly tone of the already-decided, of the no-need-to-probe-further, of the don’t-bother-that-stuff-is-entirely-dismissible, that one (okay, me, I) see in some nearby (imaginary) (head)quarters. One more:
The essay is a commitment to a thought experiment that is itself an ethical form of life. As such, . . . it yields consequences like any troth. Troth is as close to truth as I can hope to get, . . . it discloses the rise in danger and responsibility as poetics of desire threaten to become socially enacted wagers. The nature of the wager is nothing other than complex realist conversation. But conversation—in too many of the greatest hits of Western thought—mutates into polemics.
Which somehow reminds me of the Jeffersonian insistence on the need for a revolution every twenty years. That notion that young Turks invariably turn into old ideologues. The need to keep thinking fluid—accomplish’d as much by formal means as by any other.


Lumina lock-froze. Shed to bicycle lock-froze. A dastardly late morning scramble. Scratchy throat making my fatigue and indecision of last night semi-explicable. My sister J. uses the word “hinky” in a note. “Jumpy, nervous.” Not to be confused with “hincty.” “Snobbish, like a white person.”



Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Planetoidal Haw


Motivational defectives caught in the word-churn. Am I being sincere? Sincerity is measured against th’imaginary polis, not against the wait-list’d tenants of art. The Japanese nikki bungaku is a poetic or literary diary.

Nurtured contrivances in the sun. Sketchbook-hovels, a scattery of pages to haunt the novel-house with teleological fences running right out to the property-edges of the patina’d West. Camphor and pedigree done in by a rubber coxcomb swaying

aloft in a willow branch. In the hotel annex a lot of props, garish in desuetude. Am I being authentic? Like a dervish. Amor fati is my middle kingdom, the way a word’ll fall into a line with th’accomplish’d thud of a gainer. Nietzsche: “To understand

the most abbreviated language ever spoken by a philosopher—and also the one poorest in formulas, most alive, most artistic—one must follow the opposite procedure of that generally required by philosophical

literature. Usually, one must condense, or upset one’s digestion; I have to be diluted, liquefied, mixed with water, else one upsets one’s digestion.” Tell it to Ohio. That the Crux, nux, lux combo means nothing to the nugatory crux of light.

A series of suggestives. Gordian knot. Though the intricacy dispell’d by patterning is a hat of another color, no. Am I being sound? Patter and sling. The captious laughter is a haw. Never resort to the praise of drivel, one way to drive it off, all the whilst

ignoring the best. I lift a sober cravat behind my knobby head and knot it to my forthright neck. Mallarmé says, “The flesh is sad, alas, and all the books are read.” Or is it, “Poetry is language in a state of crisis”? No matter: my mien is scrupulous, and mine.


“Poetry is language in a state of emergency.”

“Poetry is language on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”

“Poetry is language convergence.”

“Poetry is language in a pickle.”

“Poetry is pickled language.”

“Poetry is language in a fix.”

“Poetry is language in need of a fix.”

“Poetry is fix’d language.”

“Poetry is language looking to be fix’d up with other language.”

“Poetry is language in a state of grace.”

“Poetry is language purposefully avoiding the rat-race.”

“Poetry is language ‘plotted and pieced.’”

“Poetry is language ‘potted and pissed.’”


Walking out, the catalpa tree with Chinese brushstroke’d limbs—blacker ink on black ink—returns me to looking. Th’usual amp’d-up jumble of noise—patter and gnash of vocables—subsides to looking. On the heels of looking, concomitant with it—the Rolodex’d shuffle and flux of depicters—how’s one gainsay that seeing? So “Chinese” and “brushstroke” spit forth the annihilations of saying seeing, blotting out “tufty” or “spider-plant-like,” or “fanlike,” or “firework’d.” All damp’d down unprepossessing possibles subsumed, buried in a tiny game of neural word pachinko. Hunh? How balance the looking—“Here I am, a singular two-foot’d, one fork’d man, a planetoidal upright, reporting in, Sir!”—with the precise saying—“Here I worry little, something’ll get said, and it little matters what!”—and with the spooky rut of utterance against with saying seeing occurs—“Here I am meaning the constant brain-jism of language forming its coagulate nodules, going fissiparous into phonemic grunt and howl, and re-forming, the head garish with language’d activity, slow plop and churn and dispersal, an orange lava lamp I am sorry to admit.”



Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Jahrbuch zur Hund-Kultur


Rain, interminable, and snow thaw and the cellar wall peeing a tiny spout of water. Enough to make a man a jittery bundle, enough. I keep poking around in Peter Sloterdijk’s Critique of Critical Reason, unable to commit myself to reading it. (Myself needs a short lecture on that “score,” maybe that or maybe a vehement noogie to the scalp.)

Sloterdijk (in a chapter call’d “Concerning the Psychosomatics of the Zeitgeist”): “The arse seems doomed to spend its life in the dark, as the beggar among body parts. It is the real idiot of the family . . . The arse is the plebeian, the grass-roots democrat, and the cosmopolitan among the parts of the body—in a word, the elementary kynical organ. It provides the solid materialist basis.

Sloterdijk’s “first definition”: “Cynicism is enlightened false consciousness. It is that modernized, unhappy consciousness, on which enlightenment has labored both successfully and in vain. . . . Gottfried Benn . . . probably provided the formulation of the century for cynicism, lucid and unabashed: ‘To be dumb and have a job, that’s happiness.’ But it is the converse of the sentence that really reveals its full content: ‘To be intelligent and still perform one’s work,’ that is unhappy consciousness in its modernized form, afflicted with enlightenment. Such consciousness cannot become dumb and trust again; innocence cannot be regained.”

Working backwards, ancient cynicism: “The ancient world knows the cynic (better: kynic) as a lone owl and as a provocative stubborn moralist. Diogenes in the tub is the archetype of this figure. In the picture book of social characters he has always appeared as a distance-creating mocker, as a biting and malicious individualist who acts as though he needs nobody and who is loved by nobody because nobody escapes his crude unmasking gaze uninjured.”

Okay, down into the frigging cellar to see if the tiny spout’s grown horse stream-sized. And then a plunge into the wet ricochet of night.


The Dog Poets.
Crotte de chienisme.
The Out of My Sun Quarterly


Here’s a story: th’usual morning (circa 6:30 a.m.) walk with el doggo proceeding apace, me in my usual half-torporous ruminance, noting how many mammal tracks lay in the new skiff of oddly rain-pock’d snow—raccoons, squirrels, skunks, and a little comet-tail tracery of tiny tracks at what I took to be th’entrance of a shrew’s quarters in tangled grass (the C-dog’d nosed out a shrew there that went quick-squeaking across the crusty snow of a couple weeks back)—so, me, hound-master in the boots, aimlessly attending to all that when, rounding the corner where the rose bush pokes out and, if leafy, blockades the view, there, squat and flat against the low fence, a skunk. Which the C-dog lit on, lickety-split. Which skunk flash’d up and over the tail and with a perfectly audible little hiss, “scent’d” Madame Carmen. Who back’d off, shook her nose wildly, rubbed her shaggy head in the snow, rubbed her whole shaggy self in the snow, &c.

What follow’d involved dog and hound-master thrashing in the bathtub, hound-master pouring Hunt’s tomato sauce all over hound, hound-master lathering up the shampoo, &c. We’re thinking of living in the Lumina for a couple of weeks.



Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Sweet William Is a Flower



The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, edited by David V. Erdman. Commentary by Harold Bloom. (Anchor Books, Newly Revised Edition, 1988)

Ah, sweet William. “Whom” “I” “do” “not” “know.” A perennial topper to my battery of missing books lists, and J.—sweet Valentine (and to whom I present’d the new Jean Valentine Selected and only—a mite daftly I’d warrant—canny’d to th’appellate aptness of it in the midst of th’unwrapping)—mendeth its lack.
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that wont Believe
The owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbelievers fright
. . .
The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun
Palsied strikes the Summers Sun
. . .
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day
Blake in pieces, and randomly. Pouring briefly over the “Marginalia,” with no certainty as to what Text the Center presumes to hold:
The following Discourse is particularly Interesting to Blockheads. as it Endeavours to prove That there is No such thing as Inspiration & that any Man of a plain Understanding may by Thieving from Others. become a Mich Angelo
And, sassing back at a report that “the genuine painter . . . instead of endeavouring to amuse mankind with the minute neatness of his imitations, . . . must endeavour to improve them by the grandeur of his ideas,” the big-head’d William retorts:
Without Minute Neatness of Execution. The. Sublime cannot Exist! Grandeur of Ideas is founded on Precision of Ideas

Ron Padgett reports something Joe Brainard says in the Little Caesar Tim Dlugos interview: “No color exists except in the particular way it exists.” Which triggers a memory of my summer of, oh, maybe, 1975, and an art class with Norman Daly, who got me arranging tiny panels of color’d construction paper, mostly a drill in that very notion. Is it true of words, too? It is true of words, too. “No word exists except in the particular use it is made of.” (In the midnight hour, after snoozing off still reading Joe, I think of Norman Daly, long white beard, and—no memory of how such a thing’d possibly come about—having lunch at a campus eatery overlooking Beebe Lake together. I remember a hamburger on English muffin, and I remember Daly telling me how he’d read an interview with Doris Lessing, who therein spoke of how she masturbated an unholy number of times a day when in the throes of novel-writing. Yowser. As Ramblin’ Jack Elliot’d have it: “Did you ever / Stand and shiver / Just because you were / Lookin’ at a river.”)


Norman Daly’s work consist’d of the making of archeological artifacts—remnants, debris, dig items, and writings—of an imaginary civilization call’d Llhuros. I remember looking at an exhibit—apparently in 1972—and getting rather impatient with it. The egg-beater blades turn’d into the votive piece kind of thing—I lump’d it with conceptualist simple-mindedness, impatient with the details themselves, or the time required to look. I’d imagined (in the midnight hour) that I had an old Epoch somewhat devoted to Daly—what I find is only a cover design for the Spring 1968 issue. Where one sees an object made of unidentifiable tool parts (maybe half of a pair of vise-grip pliers stuck through with some grinding piece) back’d with some material (leather, I’d think) incised with markings. An accompanying text reads:
Pair of fornicating gods, metal. Lamplö Period (Middle Archaic) found in the excavations at Vanibo. Hollowed interior of votive contained a senberien—prayer written on leather and sometimes worn as an amulet. Translation of senberien by the Swedish paleontologist Nils Schilaneder, Professor of Llurhian Studies, Stockholm Royal Institute of Archeological Science and Research.*
* Shisun, make me one with thee.
Let the sinews of my loins
Measure the beat of
Your dripping ardour. Oh, oh
Make a net of your hair,
That I not drown in your arms.

Brainard (quoted in Joe Brainard: A Retrospective, by Constance M. Lewallen):
You know, there is not much you can do with a painting but look at it. That is very important to remember because it is very easy to forget, and it is not good to forget this.
. . .
Paintings quite often surprise me and I surprise myself quite often and that is the way it ought to be. Too many paintings know too well what they are doing. And although I suppose this is a fine thing, I do not like it. The best things in a painting happen because they were “allowed” to do so, not because they were done.
. . .
You know, there is not much you can do with a painting but look at it. And there are so many other great things to look at that it’s really quite confusing as to what then is so great about painting anyway?
. . .
Art ought not to be easy.
Actually, what I suppose is more interesting is not what painting ought not to be, but what painting had ought to be. And I, personally, see no reason for not saying what I know I can’t say. Painting ought to be exciting. And painting ought to be “right.”
. . .
What a painting ought to do is to let you see what you wouldn’t or couldn’t see if you hadn’t seen it. And that is a rare thing. Art ought always to be rare. Don’t you think so?
A little Stein for the painters, though I think it’s more than a little Brainard, too. Capable of putting it simply.


Tangled and matted the grass, bleach’d out hues, underfoot at the bus stop. And thinking of Brainard wielding an X-acto knife, cutting out intricate painted grass blades, root stems, tiny flowers, all to layer between panes of Plexiglas. Depth and precision and subtle color. So I look at the matted grass, looking hard. Thinking I see a Brainard at the bus stop. And, after climbing aboard, pulling out the Lewallen book to check the Brainard’s only to think they look’d to much like “art.”


Painted bunting.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Big Job


Bought (Friends of the Library):

Where I hain’t dropped in my muddy foot for a barfly’s age—due to a combination of G.’s allegiance to other weekend amusements, and my own choredom. An unamusedly (yea, teeth-grindingly) short visit—too many book-dealers glomming onto “merchandise” and yakking retardedly about cyber-selling. Mostly I incline verily towards simple violence against remarks like, “Well, it’d make a good ‘reading copy.’” Argh.

Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York, by Luc Sante (Vintage Departures, 1992)

I keep looking for th’autobiographical Factory of Facts with th’opening variant versions, cheaply. Against the finding of which, happily, I scoop up Low Life, with its (sample) chapters: “The Body,” “Saloon Culture,” “ Gangland,” “Bohemia.” Of the Whyos (“the most powerful downtown gang between the Civil War and the 1890s”—though some stray nerve-snippet in my brainpan unavoidably triggers off a late-1960s Donovan song at the mention (“Happiness runs in a circular motion, / Thought is like a little boat upon the sea. / Everything is a part of everything anyway, / You can have everything if you let yourself be. / Why oh? Because. / Why oh? Because, etc. to fade)—thus rather forcibly and adroitly q. e. d.-ing what ever lively harbor my little boat’s head’d for . . .) Sante notes “prominent figures” with “such colorful names as Hoggy Walsh, Fig McGerald, Bull Hurley, Googy Corcoran, Baboon Dooly, Red Rocks Farrell, Slops Connolly, Piker Ryan, Dorsey Doyle, and Big Josh Hynes.”
Piker Ryan made his mark by getting himself arrested while carrying a take-out menu of Whyo services:
Punching . . . . $2
Both eyes blacked . . . . $4
Nose and jaw broke . . . . $10
Jacked out . . . . $15
Ear chawed off . . . . $15
Leg or arm broke . . . . $19
Shot in leg . . . . $25
Stab . . . . $25
Doing the big job . . . . $100 and up
Sante notes, too, how “Dandy Johnny Nolan was enshrined in memory for his invention of a copper eye-gouger that could easily be slipped over the thumb (although, if truth be told, this does not sound so very different from Hell-Cat Maggie’s artificial brass fingernails); he was also noted for embedding sections of ax blades in the soles of his boots.” (Good to recognize— isn’t it?—how every “field”—not just the “poetic” one—’s got its claimants to formal innovation and technological advance? (Why oh? Because.)


A moon-curve sitting nearly level atop the western cloud-bank’d horizon, big brimming pasta bowl. Prefer’d combination form: being cheeky, puerile, and acquisitive as a magpie.


Reading, finally, Joe. The Ron Padgett memoir of Brainard. The pure confidence and right procedural in Brainard’s 1963 (that is, aged twenty-one) “advice on making collages:”
Do not try to “arrange” your objects; let them help you formulate by building from one object to the next . . . . Also, at least in the beginning, do not contemplate where to put an object, just put it there, tho it may well be a mistake. To get “into” a work I find it important to begin by getting into the spirit of pasting. (The process, technique, etc.) Of course, all this is not true. But, of course, it is true too.
Next to it, Padgett collages in Brainard’s remarks to Tim Dlugos, in a 1977 interview (out of Little Caesar, No. 10, 1980):
I think of Abstract Expressionism as high seriousness. It’s spilling out your guts all over. You think, and you work from an area that has no boundaries, so it’s very tough and you’ve got to be very serious about it, and dedicated to an ideal. I like to start from nothing and just surprise myself [Padgett’s italics] . . . . It doesn’t come out of gut emotions or a high sense of color or something as a source. I may use it, but it’s not the source.
It is that reglum of “You just go on your nerve,” partially amphetamine-fuel’d, boost’d by collaborative energies (physical immediate audience egging one to quickness, prime negotiant to discovery), goofball willingness to renege for a spell on that high seriousness. It is that, and it is not that too.


Of a sudden, reading Joe, a plausible connection occurs to me—that one could conceivably claim “What I Heard about Iraq” as bastard son of I Remember. Where Brainard’s opus is faux-innocent and wide-eyed naïveté, playful and seemingly bold (always alternating with trivial, as, say, ripping “fruit loops” off shirts) resulting in a kind of preternatural joy, bittersweet and true (most particularly to its historical particulars of coming of age gay in ’fifties U.S.A.), Weinberger’s Iraq piece is a pounding repetitive arrangement of lie after cynical lie, memory blast’d, only a formal simulacrum of that bittersweet history left,—it can only result in anger and invective and condemnation. Out of which: action.


Still stunned by the accuracy of Brainard’s depictions of “working”:
. . . it occurred to me how much I rely on “the work” itself to tell me what to do. So often when I work I just “do a lot of stuff” all over what I am doing (a painting, a collage, a construction, etc. [one adds: “a poem”]) until something I do tells me what to do. . . . I just work off the top of my head until one flower, or one line, or one gesture gives me a clue as to what I want to do. Or as to what I am doing. My work never turns out like I think it is going to. I start something. It turns into a big mess. And then I clear up the mess.

Questions at large: who’s Jane Wilson? A writer? Associated somewhere with John Gruen? What about Julian Ríos’s Larva and Poundemonium? A Joyce’d-up word-mad Spaniard, and untranslatable (though translated)? I do recall—circa 2001—thinking Ríos’s Kitaj book, with interviews—stumbled on in the Fine Arts library—terrific.


Padgett referring to Brainard’s “start-over binges.” Something I “identify with” and “suffer’d dearly,” I think, and with maddening regularity “in my youth”—that urge to “tabula rasate” oneself. Diminish’d with lessening of intoxicants, with age, with becoming a father. Whether there’s any causal connection betwixt any of that is beyond me. Brainard says of one new beginning—“painting the way things look”—“It leaves you wide open. Also, it is like ‘beginning again,’ which has always appealed to me. Also it is very hard, and also allows me to be surprised at myself now and then. I have not been surprised at my collage ability for quite some time now.” Sometimes I think that restlessness, that chameleonickal thrashing, that ambivalence, Dylanesque, Picasso’d, is exactly what it means (and is the means) to be an artist.


Pussyfoot’d out around the block in freezing rain in my Wellington’s, skidding even against the pebbly (high gravel’d) concrete of early-’sixties sidewalks. (Exemplar of an over-informated sentence.) Thinking: ice storm. Recalling: the winter of 1997 in the big white-wash’d rental house on Washtenaw—the one with satanic sayings stencil’d in one tiny cellar room, a disaffect’d teenager’s work no doubt—how that night I woke to what sound’d like gunfire follow’d by glass breakage. Chandeliers bombarding the roof. Skiffle band music. Took a “crew” to clean the grounds of limbs, one a whole half of an elm.



Friday, February 11, 2005

Direct Doggo



Direct Poetics, No. 1 (Jan. 29, 2005), edited by Drew Kunz (8630 Wardwell Road, Bainbridge Island, Washington 28110)

Nico Vassilakis Issue

Drew Kunz’s latest publishing work (he’s done Traverse with Stacy Szymaszek—defunct, I think (CORRECTION: “revamping,” according to 2005-dated information here)—and is still doing g o n g chapbooks). Direct Poetics is a corner-stapled newsletter-style’d thing, three pages, and Vassilakis’s poems get present’d in a typewriter typeface—which nearly lends a ’seventies paper-stencil and IBM Selectric look to the issue. There’s probably a score or more of Vassilakis pieces, a couple “strictly” visual (if I comprehend the term), some of the others using vispo techniques, columns and stackings and minuscule variances. A sample (none carry titles):
what is it
to go quiet

to stop the
apparatus to step
amid sentence
in paragraph

not quite finished
but aware
enough of
where it
winds up
Which both reminds one of (a milder form of) Robert Duncan’s question regarding syntactickal coercion—“When you write a sentence beginning with the word ‘the,’ aren’t you already under the law of ‘the’?—and rather neatly seems to deposit one nearly straight into the thicket of verbiage that is the “sentence / in paragraph.”


Off to my Thursday perch in the branch library whilst G. did tap. Dozed over Jim Harrison’s Wolf some more. First novel, and it rattles around without evident structural pinnings beyond a facile (and not entirely observed) toggle-switching between Swanson—the protagonist—’s thrashing about in the Huron Mountain wilds in search of a wolf, and recollections of (mostly) city life—a trip west, a spell in Boston, a couple sojourns in New York City. Which structure (its lack) allows a remarkable sentence-by-sentence fluidity—of address, of diction, of time. Is there a sort of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny routine at work whereby a novelist’s first novel replicates the characteristics of the earliest examples of the genre? What of poets? Williams’s first poinky Keatsian sallies, Ginsberg’s dismal pre-“Howl” versicles, Barrett Watten’s fabled “Ted Berrigan manuscript” of Ioway days? Phylogenickal pieces?


Calm and clear the night, the Big Dipper to the northwest, handle-dangling down over the town. Who’s Stig Dagerman? I drift into uneasy sleep. Up to a donkey morning, stubborn little Friday chores. The kind of thing that looses the equilibrium and sends one caterwauling off down the slopes of darling happy traum infinitude, huh? Veracity. What was it I was muttering to el doggo in the shiner-color’d light of six a.m., something that required a long cracker-asshole hiss on the word: “ver-ass-ity.” As Montaigne saith: Quoi sais-je? I’m going to somnolate through the day, and bang at my ears with r & b. Cygne. Out.



Thursday, February 10, 2005

My Exemplary


If one looks into the rabid districts of Ron Silliman’s “Comments Box” for February 8, one sees Silliman—ever eager to adopt th’Ez avuncular—claim he is “amazed that some folks—John Latta for example—read this as an attack on Weinberger. Did I not call the work important & suggest that it might be “the first great poem” etc?”

After that niggle, he proceeds to shuffle off to Buffalo with a dismissal: “Ah, the thought of what America would be like if poets had basic literacy skills, / / well, it troubles my sleep.” (Peculiar spacing there—“Is it a poem?”)

Well, to get bogged down in the reading of the myriad ways in which Silliman’s Weinberger squib belittles and denigrates its putative subject—that is, the terrific polemical and Whitmanesque litany of lies of Public Enemy Number One Bush and ’s corrupt and immoral cronies—would be to point the meagre spotlight of my prose in the wrong direction, toward the beleaguer’d egotist Silliman himself, and not the piece in question.

That I could do so is undoubt’d, I could go fifteen rounds one-hand’d and still—as Thomas Pynchon’d say—hand Mr. Silliman his own ass on a platter.

Meanwhile—related question—must we await the 300, 000 “reader” at “Silliman’s Blog” before gunning with our nimble mouses for a shot at the “prize” book, or should we up and offer one for, say, a solid 20,000 in the Iraq Body Count?


“Wheelbarrow in a niche.” Aimless and rudimentary pawings. That’s how anything begins. Shot home mid-afternoon to fetch G. and piddled together most of a dinner—the rice, the cole slaw. Th’angels of rectitude and industry’ve flown the coop, nothing left ’cept to pull down th’encyclopediackal flying books and see that “During the last third of the 16th c. there appeared an increasing number of versified fictitious stories, the best known of which is ‘Miklós Toldi’ by Péter Ilosvay-Selymes. The other notable work was the ‘Story of Argirus,’ based on an unknown Italian ‘bella istoria’ by Albert Gergei. The widespread cultivation of love poetry bore fruit in Bálint Balassi (1554-94), the first great lyricist of the Hungarian language.” Th’encyclopedic jackals say everything and nothing. What, they say, did one expect? They say we occupy the tiniest niche, like midges. They say the play of the atoms, like the desperate play of the marks we mark here against a paper made of light, that play is Godless and absolute. They say music disaccociates, that that is what melody is, a break in the flux. They say that some Pakeha writers made “significant poetry without radical innovations of manner” and list th’exemplary J. C Beaglehole. They say we grimace and pout and grunt in nil hordes to bang out what be but “second-order signifying systems,” confederates in the counterfeit. They say most literary hostility is “patently motivated” by lumin-lack factitiousness, brazen immalleability and rampant class bias. That “So shalt thou fly above the vulgar throng” kind of thing. Or that “few so duly tempered that they can hold the mean, neither carping at what has been well laid down by the ancients, nor despising what is well introduced by the moderns” kind of thing. Though beware, “these affectations of antiquity and novelty are the humors of partisans.”


As Wayne Koestenbaum writes in Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes:
“Time to re-enter my orgone box.”
Try to work from what I already know of Scriabin, rather than start from scratch, like a schizophrenic. Don’t behave like a leper if you don’t want to be treated like one. Imitate Alma. Copy anyone but yourself. Be disciplined, and notice how a good composer develops material and avoids tubercular fantasia. Don’t behave like a toccata. Prance like the sonata-allegro form. Ask basic questions about your musical conduct: Is it real? Does it help society? Can it be repeated? What would Busoni have said about your behavior? Don’t make grandiose plans. Treat morning work-hours as they were treated by wise Christians in the nineteenth century, when Wagner wrote Parsifal, and Liszt wrote “The Lugubrious Gondola.”

Or, read the wild prose of malcontent Jim Harrison (Wolf, 1971):
Any radicalism in my head was got initially from the Bible. Coming to maturity in the full syrup of the Eisenhower lassitude fed the fire. A moonless hiatus when energies built in people to whom life was merely a succession of injustices. A false period of light and comparative quietude with the powers in the nation playing golf and collecting billions, Congress collectively picking its nose, oinking out grotesqueries and sloth. The nation continued shitting in its own sandbox and only recently has noticed it.

Is there ever a period of putting the petty squabbles in abeyance? If there was ever the need for a period of putting the petty squabbles in abeyance . . .



Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A Toothsome Suitcase


As for Ron Silliman’s incoherent and begrudging attack on Eliot Weinberger’s pure, hammering, obsessional, and efficacious piece, “What I Heard about Iraq”—“Is it a poem?” ’s so inappropriate a response, Silliman must’ve train’d at the Donald Rumsfeld Camp of Slighting Rhetorical Sleights—all I got to say is “Picky, picky, picky.” Such childishness warrants no rebuttal.


Notes abounding in drifts, no cohesion in th’endless tear-about of the twenty-first century. Recitals and grabbed sandwiches. Meetings and delivery. Period of the fan’tic heart. Period of little words marching agaggle, woozy with chores. Period of new snow turnabout. Period of stuff to do and to-do’s.


The story of Alain Toussaint publishing songs under the name of ’s mother Naomi Neville. Too shy.

The story of why “Satchmo”—short’ned out of “Satchel Mouth,” that big suitcase full of teeth.

On Radio Free New Orleans, the d.j. with a rollick-voice saying, “hotly pubescent in the sultry Crescent City,” and surround’d by that music, Irma Thomas.


Noted, in an interview with Bill Knott, the following tongue giantly grommet’d to cheek response to a “What music do you listen to?” question:
I don’t like music; I try to listen to as little of it as possible. Anybody who reads poetry can see the ubiquitous self-doubts poets evince regarding the validity / value of their art. Compare that to the eternally smug self-satisfied attitudes exhibited by the advocates and practitioners of music. They take it for granted that music is the highest art, the universal art, the only art that transcends all borders and babels. They never question that given assumption. The arrogance of composers and musicians is insufferable. They really believe Pater’s dictum that all the other arts are inferior, that all the other arts “aspire towards the condition of music.” But every military that ever marched out to murder rape and destroy was led by what art: were those armies fronted by poets extemporizing verse—by sculptors squeezing clay—by painters wielding brushes—actors posing soliloquies? No, the art that led those killers forth, the art whose urgent strident rhythms stirred and spurred their corresponding bloodlust, was the art to which they felt closest, the art that mirrored their evil egos. That’s why they have always put music up there at the vanguard of their war-ranks, because not only is it the emblem, the fore-thrust insignia of their purpose, it is their purpose: it is the condition to which they aspire.
A slim memory, of Bill Knott reading in Binghamton, New York circa 1975. At a lectern, wearing a hugely rumpled and tent-like raincoat à la Peter Falk in “Columbo” and galoshes, the zipper’d kind, zippers unzipped, two V’s with wings for feet. Knott endlessly shuffling a loose sheaf or sprawl of rather soil’d-looking papers. He’d begin a poem, stop, mutter something like “No, that one’s shit,” paw some more and recommence. In a period of much feign’d craziness, he seem’d rather authentically crazy. Or, the better feigner. I recall talking with him later, passing around somebody’s flask. He somehow becoming immensely interested in a cigarette whose brown filter paper’d come unglue’d, providing a little paper-outcropping off the normally smooth cylinder. Knott remarking how much more oral gratification th’arrangement provided, and continuing, overdoing the thing, beyond the slight interest so that what became interesting was the overdoing itself.



Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Minuscule, Big



Often Capital, by Jennifer Moxley (Flood Editions, 2005)

Two sequences—“The First Division of Labour” and “Enlightenment Evidence”—follow’d by a succinct “Afterword.” “Most of Often Capital was completed by 1991 (though a few scattered poems were composed a little later than that).” That is to say, era of the first wrong war against Iraq. Each series publish’d in minuscule editions, in 1995 and 1996, respectively. Out of the first piece, the more fragmentary:
the ne’er-do-well

cloaks hale in the family

where it is destroyed

courting notions

of function, sporting wealth

devitrifies to heuristic device

of photographs, the Polaroid yellows in time

not history—

individualism drains glory from its proper place,

the conversation,

to believe ritual “American red”

treadslightly on fact, our syndicated dominion,

like science is simple spot wreckage

nefarious elders in the age

as a once told mystery, impel the right track

or play visual tricks, for where is history

but on the screen
Without unpacking the whole suitcase, some terrific “moves” here—how that “ne’er-do-well” covering up the “hale” (and hearty) “family” (or community) gets a second airing (less musically) in “individualism drains glory from its proper place, / the conversation”; how that “treadslightly” (I’m assuming, given the impeccable Flood work, it’s intentional) reminds me of Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), after the Capote novel, and evokes the “crazy” vacuous “individualistic” socialite whirl that is forever repeatable in our “syndicated dominion”; and how hard (and well) the sounds are working here, pulling taut the strings, buckling it up—courting / sporting and wreckage / track / trick.

Out of “Enlightenment Evidence”:
dissenter is wantonly the name I gave to you

of the paper with the bad intent, betwixt impression

and ownership lies idolatry worth every flagstaff,

obelisk, and needle caressing one million small buds,

the forest is damp beneath your legs and embarrassed,

work cannot be the volleying of pet names real-world man,

let sweetness be the creator of moments, building revolution

one kissing at a time
Against which, the refusal of “one kissing” two pages later:
. . .

as lovers we are bereft by our pairdom

for these domestic settings refuse to let this fairly dated moment

bequest its final death
And later:
. . .

for this resistance is so lonely I shall surely

die of my own righteousness
The work—made partially of biographical scraps and letter refuse out of Rosa Luxemburg—explores, as Moxley herself puts it “the way that pressing ‘affairs of state’ can be used to deny demands for intimacy. Luxemburg’s love letters are the best primer on this subject that I have ever come across.” What I love is how often the world gets telescoped in—or microscoped out—those vast shifts of perception that reflect the public / private liberatory dilemma. In the piece quoted, the movement “flagstaff” to “obelisk” to “needle” shrinks a vague idolatry to point to a tiny bud, one of millions, only one of which is part of this man, he of the specific pet-name. And, just as quickly, the “real-world” returns.

Design and composition by the irrepressible Jeff Clark at Quemadura. Cover a red gash with drips and scrawl by Cy Twombly, a 1978 work title’d “Fifty Days at Ilium: The Fire that Consumes All before It.” As Tom Clark’d say: “Red, / red spreads.” Color of resistance, fiery color of love, and blood. Color of anger, of Marx and Engels, of revolt. Color of the passion-cadres singing against the status quo. Color of rose.


Out into warming, befogged and dripping. Twisty rivulets highlight’d and sheeny under the gold gauze of filter’d light. Color of wash’d in sweat stains marking th’underarms of a vintage clothier’s flapper outfit, some bit of loose-weave frippery. Wack words for the night that slips away through my fingers like loose change. “Change,” cries the light, “change.”


Addendum to the Zen-sensate Kooser-Harrison carnival of yesterday. I found a Harrison book call’d After Ikkyū and Other Poems, publish’d by Shambhala in 1996, wherein he (prefatorily) admits:
I began my Zen studies and practice well over twenty years ago in a state of rapacious and self-congratulatory spiritual greed. I immediately set about reading hundreds of books on the subject, almost all contemporary and informed by an earnest mediocrity. There was no more self-referential organism alive than myself, a potato that didn’t know it was a potato.
            Naturally the years have passed quickly, if not brutishly. I practiced because I value life and this seems the best way for me to get at the heart of the matter. We are more than dying flies in a shithouse, though we are that, too. There are hundreds of ways to tip off a cushion and only one way to sit there.
All of which I find—along with the great wheeling-nearly-out-of-control gobs of Harrison’s novelistic prose—just astonishingly refreshing. Humor-rich and, well, as the Great O’Hara put it, chock’d up with that “sign that people do not totally regret life.” Which, truthfully, around the rarified precincts of the poetry world—you and you and you except’d—“one” gets to missing. Lamentablement.


Had to stifle a chortle at official Silliman commentator Curtis Faville’s notion of the late 1960’s “Creeley mystique.” Faville limns it in terms of “power” of “stylistic development” and “the potential of compression, with fewer and fewer words to express.” And here I thought th’appeal was how well it went along with smoking loads of dope, and making supposed good use of one’s limit’d means. Here. Here. Here. Here.



Monday, February 07, 2005



Sunday equals fifty-one. Which, stalwart me, I try to dispatch as simply my third go-around at turning seventeen. Nothing doing. Undaunted, I say it’s just a matter of turning up the final card of the deck, beginning year fifty-two on the greeny earth, sign of a chance to reshuffle and recommence. J. says: “I think you’re one card short of a full deck.”



To Do As Adam Did: Selected Poems of Ronald Johnson, edited by Peter O’Leary (Talisman House, 2000)
’Sentences uttered

with your back to a wall’,
as nails

but with all a lichen’s curious thrust.

The wall is one
of bone,

made by a forehead:

behind it, Bread, Fire & Writing came, of that greening-purple cabbage
(that is the brain)

glistening in its field in the first dews of morning.

between bone & page, circlings

of sap, stars, tide

hold meaning
as a nest holds speckled bird’s eggs,

& I (like
Thoreau) sit here engrossed,

‘between a microscopic & a telescopic
attempting to read

the twigged, branchy writing

of frost, spider & galactic cluster. That the syllables!

—rock & flower & animal
among the words,

make Order.

The field is newly plowed & unfenced. Its furrows

hold innumerable seeds
which have come on the wind, on wings
of birds.

What new green

will crack their burr & prickle? What words

must I corner like

to put them on a page?
I generally opt out of the totemic, the talismanic, words or pictures post’d up in the work space—everywhere I turn here I see the backs of books, expanse of coverlet, clothes hanging in rumpled rows, the usual claptrap of living, except for one picture of G. at four, with a guitar, singing for about a thousand stuff’d animals. That, though—the beginning of Johnson’s “Four Orphic Poems,”—would stand up well, or throw off a soapstone warmth worth rubbing against, were it pocket’d. Awaiting a collect’d Johnson, or reprinting of the early books, or my chance stumble into one or th’other, the Selected’ll suffice.


In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, by Marcel Proust, translated with an Introduction and Notes by James Grieve. General Editor: Christopher Prendergast. (Viking, 2002)

Uh oh. A nudge by J. who’s reading the Scott Moncrieff-Kilmartin version, and is stuck, I think, a ways further down the road. Am I stuck? I am “getting stuck,” it’s best to think of it as a process. What start’d as a break for a particular book (the Audubon? was that the culprit?) ’s turn’d into a full-flight avoidance. I’m reading Jim Harrison novels now, for Chrissake!


Segue city. Rummaging around the Harrison wares at the district library yesterday, G. off collecting unread numbers of the Boxcar Children series, I land’d on Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser (Copper Canyon, 2003). I admit right off two partially antagonistickal things: first, I’m a sucker and a hog for Russell Chatham’s landscape paintings and lithographs, and the mere fact that Harrison books mostly provide the reader with a Chatham to peer at (deep keening succor warring against thrash-exhilarant youth’d heart) starts me off right—and Braided Creek’s got one of the sweetest, a mauve-empty’d autumnal thing with a near-garish white creek-smudge call’d Afternoon on Sweetgrass Creek. Second, and against such anticipatory hum is a whole patter of unlikelihoods and impossibles: my skepticism re: collaboration and disgruntlement re: “conversation”; my sense that th’international angelic slobbism and tough-guy swill-gusto of Harrison would simply tip the Akaky Akakyevich pencil-pushing office drone, “pocket-protect’d actuary of the dead center” Kooser into the drink should they somehow chance to end up in a boat together; my doubts re: the poetry of either (though I do recall liking Harrison’s Letters to Yesenin years back—as much for the possibilities of form the letter provides, a dump and haven, and I did learn about ghazals from the guy).

So: pleasant enough to note—first, how Zen-simple and exact the poems that make the “conversation” be, and second, how it seems impossible to “sort” the entries, to assign authorship of the pieces to either Kooser or Harrison. The poems get present’d renga-style, no titles, not one, I think, over five lines. A page or so at random:
In our farthest field,
between one walk
and the next,
the arrival of ten billion

How sharp must be the fletcher’s knife
to split a feather
and leave in both halves flight.

The old hen scratches
then looks, scratches then looks.
My life.

Every time I’ve had a sea change
I thought I was dying.
I probably was.

. . .

A vermilion flycatcher flew too far north
and died in Montana. The same for a Michigan wolf
in Missouri. I get butchered in New York
but don’t mind it. I rise again the third day.

Bucket in the rain,

Reading, too, Harrison’s Wolf. Thinking I probably read it before, though—mysteriously—I haven’t located either period or place wherein I did so. Aware that a large part of its appeal is the shared northern Michigan landscape, bracken-blast’d Jack pine ruins. Who wrote the one that goes:
I prefer the skyline
of a shelf of books.


Friday, February 04, 2005



You Had to Know Her

For a long time she listened to the sound
of Leo waving his arms. Then as she listened
she began listening to a few carefully chosen
other things and gradually she called these sentences.
Soon she was seeing what it seemed others were not seeing
that these ones were a lot like talking and talking was sounding
like thinking and if one could be thinking it why should one be doing.
So she stopped listening
and did what Leo was not doing with his thinking.

I’m sorry. There is no other way to describe
it. I’m describing what cannot be described
because she said it all when she said it.

Once you spent all day Christmas taking
apart and putting together a puzzle
from Formosa. Your headache was special,
had nuance that night and your tantrum
was misunderstood. Over-tired and over-
excited they said, but you had just learned
the best moments would never be enough.

Miss Stein not interested in your problem.

Let’s not get confused; like Mallarmé
you had to know her beautiful voice, her jig-
saw salon: that museum for the talking.
She loves your worry, your tender buttons,
half your words; she just don’t like your
story. “I very recently met a man who said,
how do you do. A splendid story,” she said.

O.K., good-bye.

                                           —William Hathaway


O.K. My tatterdemalion mess of the squeamish—Dr. Johnson meets Gertrude Stein—of yesterday arrived—it dawn’d up slyly on me in arrears of its making—largely due to my fondness for a couple of lines out of the poem here, out of Hathaway’s Fish, Flesh, & Fowl (Louisiana State University Press, 1985). Lines, variations of which, I’ve repeat’d sassily (and, apparently, wrongly) for years, mostly to J. Codes of gentle disapprobation, the slenderest teasing opprobrium—“Miss Stein not interested in your story” in a nyah nyah voice, alternating with “A very good story indeed!” with put-up high stentorian gusto. (Actually J. uses the latter to puncture my already flatten’d and thump-along storytelling “skills”—I begin a story with robust enthusiasm only to notice, halfway into it, that what I got is no more than, at most, a relation, an image, a word. Hence th’unsubtle mockery.)

Of course, the poem is largely “about” the impossibility of story—even of th’ocean of story that goes by the name of “Gertrude Stein”—and how it must needs come about that “you had to know her,” invoking that big-T Theory gobbledygook concerning “presence.” (One could, “one” thinks, certainly tease apart several strands of “absent presence” in that purposefully sappy little “puzzle / from Formosa” story, about how Formosa is no more, &c., or “one” could simply be a Big Tease about the possibility of doing so, which is how I see big-T Theory functioning de temps en temps, and “close reading,” too, for that matter. Please keep those déjà toujours to yourself.)

Just so—back to the “you had to know her”—presumably one had to know the tantrum that seemingly arrived at the Peggy Lee moment (“Let’s break out the booze and have a ball / If that’s all there is . . .”) of childhood, when a child meets th’inexorable limit where over-reaching satiety falters and some kind of false bottom’s discover’d in the happiness tank, either that or a leak. “Nuance” is perfect: there’ll always be a nuance now henceforth, child, a wholly uncapturable something, a lack and absence, one no one else ever gets. Hathaway not only offers a stern rejection of Steinian attempt’d continuous presence (“.K., goodbye.”) and Steinian story as mere language act (er, speech act—“how do you do”), he notes—through pronominal feints and quick-change, that all writing—tantrum or no—“describing what cannot be described.”


That gargantuan 3 a.m. headache, taunt’d back at at 5 a.m. by a single sequin-shiny acetaminophenol tablet—no doubt an incipient cold? Dull’d enough now I think I’ll see if I can download a copy of Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” and rip it up into a major-major migraine. Ah, a fun with your new head day in the offing! (Who wrote that? Tom Veitch?)



Thursday, February 03, 2005



Sluggish of a Wednesday. J. out. G. down’d with a cold.

Spinning through pages of Samuel Johnson’s “Preface to the Plays of William Shakespeare.” Paragraph after paragraph of doubt and “faults, and faults sufficient to obscure and overwhelm any other merit.” Which the Doctor enumerates—he says—“without envious malignity or superstitious veneration.”

First—it figures, considering the spouting moralism of Dr. J.—“He sacrifices virtue to convenience and is so much more careful to please that to instruct.” As Miss Stein (that’s me) is not terribly interest’d in morality (except in matters of state), she proceeds to point the

Second—“Plots” in Shakespeare are “loosely formed” and “carelessly pursued.” Miss Stein says: Tant pis. Plot pettiness is abounding of late. “Where’s Sylvia?”

Third—a note that “the latter part is evidently neglected.” “He shortened the labor to snatch the profit.” Miss Stein loves a labor-saving device, hence Alice B. Miss Stein’s known, too, to’ve writ a small and “labor-enshorten’d” story indeed:

A light white, a disgrace, an ink spot, a rosy charm.
O yes. “Resonant, encoded, hinting at a distinct and identifiable social milieu, suggestive of conflict and resolution.” O yes.

Fourth—Shakespeare’s lack, according to Johnson, of “regard to distinction of time or place,” so that he “gives to one age or nation, without scruple, the customs, institutions, and opinions of another.” Miss Stein snorts readily against sociologues. “Literature is not sociology.” “What up, socius?”

Fifth—“In comic scenes he is seldom very successful.” The good Doctor repudiates the merits of “characters in reciprocations of smartness and contests of sarcasm,” noting, moreover, that the “jests are commonly gross,” the “pleasantry licentious.” The Stein is tickled, remembering her inaccrochable boy Hemingway. Sort of dainty, that one, in spite of. “Does it dirty a ceiling. It does not.”

Sixth—“In tragedy” our Hardest Working Man in Elizabethan theatre “strains,” and the “offspring of his throes”—that o’erwork’d labor—is “tumor, meanness, tediousness, and obscurity.” Miss Stein, La Gertrude (that’s me): “Think about it in any Elizabethan, any Elizabethan writing, in any Elizabethan who was writing . . . When I say god and mammon concerning the writer writing, I mean that any one can use words to say something.”

Seventh—La Shakespeare (Johnson says): “In narration he affects a disproportionate pomp of diction and a wearisome train of circumlocution and tells the incident imperfectly in many words which might have been more plainly delivered in few.” And Miss Stein loves that sentence and loving it insists on it and loves herself for insisting on it: “In narration he affects a disproportionate pomp of diction and a wearisome train of circumlocution and tells the incident imperfectly in many words which might have been more plainly delivered in few.” No, I will not repeat it again.

Eighth—“Cold and weak” the “set speeches.” Miss Stein replying

Keys please, it is useless to alarm any one it is useless to alarm some one it is useless to be alarming . . .
Ninth—O to be “entangled with an unwieldy sentiment,” in England, in the spring! Which is Gertrude Stein’s (that’s me) way of saying “The jig’s up.”

What struck me in the Johnson, originally, is, rather, what he claims regarding Shakespeare and the “quibble”—by which he means “pun,” wherein so often impact’d lies the stark commencement of a (primarily) musical journey, the rightest thing Shakespeare does. Not so, says Johnson:
A quibble is to Shakespeare what luminous vapors are to the traveler; he follows it at all adventures; it is sure to lead him out of his way and sure to engulf him in the mire. It has some malignant power over his mind and its fascinations are irresistible. [Ain’t it always the case with music. See Orfeo. “Orfeo mest of ani thing / Lovede the gle of harping.” See the threnodies of the second liners “processionalizing” back along Magazine, they’s a parade an’ I gots to jine . . .] Whatever be the dignity or profundity of his disquisition, whether he be enlarging knowledge or exalting affection, whether he be amusing attention with incidents or enchaining it in suspense, let but a quibble spring up before him and he leaves his work unfinished. A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn aside from his career or stoop from his elevation. A quibble, poor and barren as it is, gave him such delight that he was content to purchase it by the sacrifice of reason, propriety, and truth. A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra . . .
Keats had it all wrong. Beauty and truth both scuttle along in music’s wake. And reasonable souls’ll always dispute that. Unreasonable souls’ll quibble.


—Doan that have the resounding thunk of finality.
—You be startin’ a conflagration in your pleasure-center you don’t douse that bloomin’ pride.
—You need settle into some Barry White “music for the power-grinder.”
—Quibble indeed.
—Nibble more like it.


Why’s the Schuyler long line burning at my pate so?

“The long-limbed fatidic shims come forth in the form of other people, the one
You would marry, the one you would rather not. A shim is used both to
Prop and to topple, just the way a send-off occurs there
At the corner of Poydras and St. Charles, handkerchiefs whitely
Flapping in a crowd of hands . . .”

Husky-voiced Hendrix, “You can leave now, we’re just jammin.’”



Wednesday, February 02, 2005

My Immaturity



Bookforum, Vol. 11, No. 5 (February / March 2005) ($3.95, 350 Seventh Ave. New York, NY 10001)

Of note: Adam Zagajewski on Witold Gombrowicz.
There are at least two roads that lead to literature. The first finds a trustworthy point of entry into existing literary genres and forms . . .
        The second road is one of mistrust: It finds expression in a perpetual suspicious questioning of the full range of inherited literary genres. Indeed, Gombrowicz . . . lent no credence to tradition. He had no faith in either the sonnet or the elegy; he did not believe in the novel; he did not really believe at all in literature as something given.
        Gombrowicz didn’t believe in painting either, especially not abstract painting; nor did he believe in, as he called it, “versified poetry.” He had no truck with public concerts, or with the flashy displays of musical virtuosos (indeed he wrote some hilarious descriptions of such events, portraying them as musical horse races). He put no trust in exaltations over works of art (all of which, in his view, was affectation) . . . He had no confidence in the sincerity of either Marxists or Catholics. He did not believe in maturity; in his writing . . . he promoted immaturity and youth.
Zagajewski quotes the opening of Gombrowicz’s Diary, calling it a “masterpiece”:
Friday, as Zagajewski notes, “brings a sudden change of tone: The “me” of the first half of the week disappears and we find an analysis of the aberration of the (Polish of course) émigré press. (Gombrowicz spent many years in exile, mostly in Argentina.)

And: Charles Bernstein on Jackson Mac Low. Robert S. Boynton on “Righting Coyright: Fair Use and ‘Digital Environmentalism.’” Bettina Funcke in conversation with German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk (Critique of Cynical Reason, 1988). Peter Trachtenberg on John Edgar Wideman. An interview with William Boyd (The New Confessions, 1988), and perpetrator of the hoax—with (odd cast) Gore Vidal, David Bowie, and John Richardson—of the invent’d American painter “Nat Tate.” Thomas McGonigle on Uwe Johnson,’s A Trip to Klagenfurt: In the Footsteps of Ingeborg Bachmann. Boris Vian, a.k.a. Vernon Sullivan, and author of J’irai cracher sur vos tombes, on the jazz-boite culture of post-war Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

And: Mary V. Dearborn—a biographer of Peggy Guggenheim—reviews René Steinke’s Holy Skirts, a novel based on the life of the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven—writer, artist, designer, friend of William Carlos Williams—she also shows up in Pound’s Canto 95 where against “The immense cowardice of the advertised literati,” she “sd/ several true things / in the old days,” certainly a Poundian endorsement. Steinke’s a friend out of Charlottesville days, and editor of The Literary Review. Dearborn provides a fetching sample of Steinke’s delectable prose:
Words were everywhere now—under the radiator, wrapped around the doorknob, pressed against the windowpane—and all of them were the right ones. Her conversation with the objects intensified. The faucet, sneezing, wanted her to dance the monkey trot . . . and then to float out the window, stiff as a board . . . . Angry, the jars clanged together so loudly she could not reply to them, and there was no poem that day, though the next afternoon, when she opened the cookie tin, there was a poem there, pressed against the edge.

Ron Silliman’s insistence on Viktor Shklovsky’s “plotless prose” as antidote to the sad circumstance whereby the action scoots off into the hinterlands of character and setting, leaving the material text “at hand” high and dry, a jumble of mere markers (I am paraphrasing. What Silliman says is that plot “exteriorizes narrative onto a signified landscape that lies vaguely out there beyond the limits of syntax.”)—besides betraying a curious anxiety and “controlling interest” on Silliman’s part (“The ‘hypothetical objects & events’ get to have all the fun” or “What if the characters begin determining the order of the material markers, à la Flann O’Brien?”), also fails to note how th’opposite of “plotless prose”—call it “sur-plotted prose” or “uber-plotted prose”—brings narrative back into the “fold” of materiality by positing object and event as texture, precisely just another fold or ripple in the play of signification. Note Pynchon. If Vineland and Mason & Dixon represent species of “plotless prose,” the over-plotted V. and Gravity’s Rainbow—in the grandly exfoliating sheer numbers of stories and events, plots, subplots, subrosa’d plots, &c.—make of plot itself a caricature, a grime, and a material. Think of Byron the Bulb: even a “hypothetical object” is traced (made available) by plot.

As to that Venn diagram: hoo boy. I thought we’d seen the applicability of “scientistic” tools to the study of literature chased off into the woods with the New Critics, no? A good laff.


A Morning Interrupt’d

For mostly, I call it Walt for it is big and contains Multitudes.

For wilting, I call it Wilt, for to make it rise up Lordly, like a Chamberlain.



Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A Two Johnson Day


My philosophy: ninety per cent. of everything I write here is “me being stupid”—my prefer’d mode of self-amusement. “Self-burlesque.” The other ten per cent. is cogent critique and piercing analysis of “you being stupid”—usually in the form of your failure to recognize just how stupid I am being, or how amused I am. That is the end of my philosophy.


Bluely, a recall of how Archie Ammons, who under the “courtly Southern gent” or “hillbilly bumpkin” exterior (depending on th’occasion, he’d capably costume up in either of those outfits, or some others, whilst underneath he was equip’d with both a prickly skin and a razor-sharp tongue)—how he, ambling, lackadaisical, atwinkle, after a reading by some British poet—I suspect it was Jon Stallworthy, though I could be wrong—opined when ask’d what he’d thought of the reading, something to th’effect that “British poets seem’d all rather gelded.”


Endless admiration for Dr. Johnson’s “instinctive revolt against the intellectually modish.” What W. Jackson Bates labels as Johnson’s strengths as a critic of literature: “his refusal to be intimidated by the spurious ‘authority’ of fashion; his scorn of the ‘cant’ of those who are conditioned by attitudes simply because they are current; his tendency to walk immediately up to the tyranny of stock response in the prevailing mode of thinking, and to push directly through it in order to see what is on the other side.” (Empty verbiage, “cultural critique” in the form of old saw-blades whining, earnest old Panama hats, recticulated string bags of airy profundities, the usual pumpernickel and dough.)


The story of “George Psalmanazar” of Grub Street. W. Jackson Bates: “one of the strangest figures in the publishing underworld at this time, was a man of about sixty (he called himself by this name, his true name was never known), and was a sort of linguistic genius, who had taught himself several languages. He had been born in southern France, and had traveled around Europe as a youth, posing as an Irish pilgrim and begging from priests with whom he would talk in impeccable Latin. He served for a while in a German regiment, and—beginning to delight in changing identities—pretended he was a Japanese. Since no one he encountered had ever seen a Japanese, he got away with it for a while. Then he was baptized in the Church of England, and went to England, where he pretended he was a native of Formosa. There, in a mere two months, he wrote a History of Formosa (he was now in his middle twenties), inventing not only descriptions and analyses of the island, but an alphabet and grammar for its ‘language.’
       The book sold well, and the Bishop of London arranged for him to go to Christ Church, Oxford, for six months and teach this imaginary language to future missionaries. While there he wrote a study of the coinage of Formosa, and enjoyed himself. After a full day he would keep his candle burning all night as he slept in an armchair by the window, in order to make people think he was constantly working . . .”


Pungent, perfervid and concise interview up at Jacket (#26) with the leading member of the “so-called Topeka school,” Ben Lerner—author of the terrific sequence titled The Lichtenberg Figures and th’upcoming Angle of Yaw, and editor (with Deb Klowden) of No: a Journal of the Arts—conduct’d by impresario Kent Johnson. (With illustrations of Lichtenberg figures, though none of physicist and aphorist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg himself, the tiny humpback also known as Emanuel Candidus and Conrad Photorin.) A brilliant moment: after Lerner quotes a Melville letter to Hawthorne (Melville to Hawthorne: “There is the grand truth about Nathaniel Hawthorne. He says No! in thunder; but the Devil himself cannot make him say yes.”), Johnson demands: “Is Hawthorne’s ‘No’ the inspiration for the journal’s name?” Lerner’s reply: “No.” Ask’d about the editorial stance of the journal, Lerner says: “A Bartleby-like attitude toward such queries is one of my editorial principles.”

Two points of muster, two nodes I mark. One is in response to a question regarding the political efficacy of various kinds of language, kinds of poetries. Lerner: “Our mass culture has made a deadly fetish of its stupidity. I don’t know what the use is of art, or if it’s the uselessness of art that is a bearer of hope, or what. I certainly cannot see the efficacy, aesthetic or political, of prescribing or proscribing certain poetic modes in advance of the poems themselves.” The other is a sterling phrase that rings sound implications, and delights. It is where Lerner, in speaking of The Lichtenberg Figures, says: “framing the book as a sonnet sequence evokes a cultural framework the poems can then strategically disappoint.”

Ah, the formal concerns of metaformalism! I love it!


Puppy Flowers (#7) is up, with writings by Shafer Hall, John Latta, Rachel Levitsky, Julien Poirier, Brandon Lorber / Brendan Downing, Shanna Compton, Bruce Covey, and W. B. Keckler. Art by Adam J. Maynard.


The story of a Burroughsian landscape, a thalidomide-inflect’d dreamscape in the flit moments of alarum-approach. What I recall is how the city of Lawrence, Kansas traded a Navy aircraft carrier in exchange for a block of eighteenth-century Parisian buildings. Upshot being a flight deck cover’d with F-16’s (whatever) somewhere in the neighborhood of the Jardin des Plantes. And downtown Lawrence looking up.