Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hôtel Coup de Poing


Clôture brusque et indéfinie.

“Effectuating long-consider’d Hermit-dive out of Pismirey,” whatever that means.

Samuel Johnson: “That to the vulgar canst thyself apply / Treading a better path not contrary.”

Incipient period of private writings.

Valéry: “The notion of external things is a restriction on combinations.”

To the vaunt’d pukka “community,” I offer th’obligatory public “Fuck it.”


Ciao, bella.


To work.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005



A coda (cauda L. tail, see caudal, a word mostly append’d to fin, and that by ichthyologists, the fish-tail toss’d to the cat, related

to coward, turn tail and run) is what’s writ to seize up the end. Cauterize. Size up. It is engine and uncoupler to combatants and lovers, it

relinquishes gently the giant spouting claims made in the flurry, so that the world’s combatants and lovers may continue. Review of some (Benjaminian) “basic

historical concepts: Catastrophe—to have missed the opportunity. Critical moment—the status quo threatens to be preserved. Progress—the first revolutionary measure

taken.” The coda nods knowingly, mimes regret, goes clumsy with sententiousness to cover its asperity: “Art is like the heavens; it is the infinite field” (Hugo to

Baudelaire, to acknowledge receipt of Les Fleurs du Mal). Or, radiant in denial, madd’d by fury’s dry pulverized particulate dust, the coda circumvents and

blows hot lies, or recoils in disgust: “we shrink from touching mucus or dung with even the tip or our finger, how could we ever wish to embrace the sack of excrements

itself?” (Odon of Cluny) Or the coda tangles with th’unknowable, makes promissory noises. Laura Riding: “untranslatable, / Love remains / A future in brains.”

I walk’d all afternoon up the ridge, the spiny tenacious buckthorns tearing at my chaps. A lone buzzard dangled like a saddle over a thermal, working its plug-ugly

red head. My dog switchback’d the path, scenting. A leafhopper clung to my arm for a jaunt, plunged unsentimentally off. Two coppers fornicated, back to back, one

dragging the other after it, maladjustedly, o’er goldenrod empollen’d heads. The word “ovipositor” accompany’d me. Narrative stride (unh, ah), what is it good for?

(Absolutely nothing, say it again!) Truth is, we know (absolutely) nothing, chain’d for twenty-six days to a grand slab of rock, Persian-Babylonian-syncretists,

executables, Manichaeans. (Mani, kill’d by King Bahram.) Untranslatable forces wrench at my donkey-stubborn soul, abide with me. I am made of flame and blue. My

moat is green and skanky and full of hideous orange-mottled carp. One blue day I rush’d out of my writing chamber and caught a catapult’s monstrous stone full in the

temple, spurting brain-dirt out my left ear. I live now “unfetchably,” in a ramp’d up turgidity of desire. Put blunt, “though I know my brain be pointless as putty,

and in no lobe good for aught but an ant’s whim, I do nevertheless still burden it in both panels like a mule’s pack, that while it is on foot it be observed by my

neighbours as the ass of a man of no poverty.” (Oh dear, Djuna Barnes.) Or I hoof my ass out into the slack-jaw’d night, water mouths everywhere. An orange sickle-moon

hangs low to th’horizon, pulsating: carp-gill, sky-moat. My dreadlocks cutch up in brambles, kaffiyeh-fever binds my brain-glob. Keats: You know I’d sooner be

a clapping bell / To some Kamschatkan missionary church, / Than with these horrid moods be left in lurch—
One day: Laredo.


To work.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005



Dinginess and vermin, a woman in the part of Thin Anguish, guttering down. Dora Maar: “Pure as a lake boredom.” Emptiness is not boredom, emptiness is too impure

and prickly, firewheel and stickpin “of the cauteriz’d heart.” I miss everything. Milieu of frenzy. Culpable anarchy, the joy-gibbet. Rinsed linen. Poised syringe and

nylon. There is no fraught silence I will not attend to—“It will increasingly be a thump instead of a bang” (John Cage). Sound of unpredictable ken. Hazard-wrapper.

“Décidant de renoncer à l’état amoureux, le sujet se voit avec tristesse exilé de son Imaginaire” (Barthes). Staccato and pith to insistence. Breakdown and re-

regaling. Post-prandial scorch. La brûlure érotique. Chemical indebtedness. Cordial semen. Heart-fluid. Sea louse in ointment. Dirty Estonian snifter. All lesions

urban. Imp lacrima manhandling the eye-cilia. Arletty poking a hole in the atmosphere in Hôtel du Nord, “un film d’ambiance.” The way a word’ll nub up an aural

crease in the lingual texture: Fucker. Fucker fucker fucker. Or foster a droop’d headedness with the bland wares of the teary-eyed. Oh, one could buck

against th’astonishment, pluck a sportive nose-gay, prepare oneself a large blue bowl of huckleberries and milk. One could read great draughts of the nimble Æsop,

and canister up some meagre self-rebukes. One could end one’s days a doting sot to expressionist foibles, calling out “Halt!” to the merest persimmon. One could

skirmish, monolithic and brood-grubby against the marvelous humdrum clog-up of an age’s ambition. The sour sun caches itself behind Kansas, insect noise trebles up to

high amping. Hind-leggedly tickling out albas and serenas and canzos and sirventes, the insectry is. No hollow groans in insect-

talk, no mute put-downs. Quince scents aloft. Tick-sized perspiration beading down the shins, pooling sock-level. Kafka, to Oskar Pollak: “I believe we should read

only those books that bite and sting us.” In John Donne’s list of possible loves: “And her who is dry cork and never cries: / And her and her and you and you

and you.” And if a word arrives into the exile, the sentinel forks it bicuspidly forth, hosannah: “I intend to straddle ben Lomond—with my Soul!—galligaskins are out

of the question—” Oh the farthing is up, the farthing is down, the farthing I lost in that fucking town. There’s Dora Maar’s claim that “Collage as everyone knows was

invented by Picasso,” some story of Picasso père, who—“in order to judge ‘the scale of values’ / in a canvas he was painting used to pin a bit of white

paper on the canvas. / That’s what gave Picasso the idea of collage.” So, a blank—“                                      ”—the lacerate unsaid, as politic as any

hole in the body. Collage’s a nod to absence, to the arm-in-arm incorrigibility of the sayable and th’unsayable. Sock’d in, suck’d down, fogged by intent and untold

furtherings of intent. A guise-value. Here, the random book-leavings index a socius, or quit-claim an absolute, or chary down a earnest, or feist up a farewell. The aim

of any excursion is never the shivery th’irredeemable, that library where date-stamps soft-nubble a hired authority and geraniums shawl the air’s pungency

about, a kind of investiture: “my soul thrills to touch the soft used meaty pages covered with avidities of reading— ” (Kerouac). Crossing the Moody Street Bridge

every Saturday. Or up the grutch-wooden stairs above the City Auditorium where you sang about the puppy in the window the day you scissor’d a baldness in your crewcut.

To make a girl laugh. Oh, one could burble a wren’s idiocy, stony cairn in hand, sinking into marshland, one could rush-bonnet th’earth in hyacinthine revelry,

one could stand cold in hard rain, a deft monkey, a sheer’d lambkin, a rut, a purse, a spigot-jot spilt on earth. Oh, I shall henceforth be a Pip-civilian, cherry-stone

hid in my meaty complexities. Keats: “If I scribble long letters I must play my vagaries.” Stand-in for a novice-person, tune-serious. “Someday, darling, in the

murmurous vestibule . . .” Think of Tom Clark off in Bolinas squandering th’O’Hara inheritance: “Some deranged jackal / might take my place tomorrow / / wudja know

the difference?” So the stage-farthing drops and rolls under the armoire. Dickinson: “I bet with every Wind that blew / Till Nature in chagrin / Employed a Fact to

visit me / And scuttle my Balloon —”


To work.

Monday, August 08, 2005

“It’s the War, Stupid”


If, comme on dit, it’s Monday, it must be Baghdad. Kent Johnson’s ask’d for a room hereabouts to respond to Jim Behrle’s recent review: grant’d, amigo. Though I am notably a mild bystander to debates ferocious or pussycat’d, I thought I’d—singular nonce item!—offer up my two cents, contextualizing here for poor folks.

Animosity runs deep in clowns. My favorite “instance”—one I liked to monicker the CLWN WR, after some literary journal—occur’d when the younger and funnier Gabriel Gudding went after the older and toadier Charles Bernstein over the vitality (or vitals?) of Marjorie Perloff. One could look it up. Part of me says, simply, the Behrle / Johnson tangle is more jimcrack’d CLWN WRry, two Emmett Kelly-gizmo’s in a rage of “I’m funnier than you, muh’fuh!” Maybe.

Maybe not.

What strikes me about Behrle’s piece is its complete capture by the time-standards of popular culture. As if Behrle’s historical memory didn’t extend much back beyond, oh, say, th’onslaught of “reality TV.” Repeatedly, Behrle points to the seeming “datedness” of the poems in Johnson’s book: “That speech seems like it was given a decade ago.” “Most of what he is getting at is lost on me: what’s most lost on me is the point of collecting these pieces.” “Does anyone take that outfit seriously post-February 2003?” “[The] book is old news that hasn’t stayed news.” “. . . the poem was showing its age.” “We've become completely desensitized to the images the poem represents, it no longer shocks.”

There’s something pathetic in the litany—for the upshot is, that the war itself is no longer “material,” fodder for th’inane cameo-thrill machines of popular culture that Behrle lives by. He derides the cover of Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz, claiming the Iraqi-leash image is “no longer sharp or cutting.” I suspect the slug on the cabbage leaf munching its ordinary half-moon under a half-moon’d sky (it all he know), I suspect that slug of having a greater historical sense than Jim Behrle. Jim Behrle, that war isn’t over, isn’t near over, isn’t going to be near over for, oh, another TV season, at least, and if it’s “stale,” if honorable responses to it are “dated,” that is precisely what the war-mongers and war-profiteers want. They depend on th’American populace’s inability to engage seriously with anything beyond the week or so it takes a friggin’ “crush list” to turn over.

(Thank God for me: I ain’t got no funny bone.) Here’s Kent Johnson’s piece:

A response to Jim Behrle’s review of Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz: Eleven Submissions to the War

Dear Jim,

I appreciate the review on your blog of Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz, and I don’t mean that in a facetious way at all. I fully expected the book to be attacked from some quarters, and I fully expected that some of the specific charges you make in your review would be made. (Gary Sullivan also made some harsh comments on his blog, before erasing them, along with various replies in support of the book from others.) And you make the charges clearly and with energetic style, so that’s good too, since some issues get put prominently on the table for future discussion. Thanks in advance, in the interests of more discussion, for adding a link on your blog to this response at Hotel Point.

I won’t try to answer all of the accusations you make against me. And I’m certainly not going to try to write some full-blown exposition of the book’s ethics and aesthetics. I suspect others may have things to say down the road, and they will probably be better able than I to elucidate some of the work’s contradictions and eccentricities. But I’d like to offer here just a few thoughts I think might by useful to future conversation.

First, a specific correction: You say that I “lampoon” the widely respected writer and activist Ammiel Alcalay in a “fake blurb.” The blurb, like the others on the back of the book, is perfectly real (to the extent that any blurb is ever “real”), and I encourage you to contact Ammiel should you have doubts. *[see note below]

In fact, this error on your part—seeing personal disparagement where there is none—is of a piece with your sensing that I am expressing some kind of “opinion” (your obvious assumption is that it’s a negative one) about Helen Vendler, Ange Mlinko, David Bromige, and Ted Berrigan (these being writers you name in your review). But this is wrong. There may be some gentle satire in regards to Helen Vendler in the poem “Baghdad,” which is modeled on Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, but I have absolutely nothing at all against Vendler personally, and I have nothing at all against the other three individuals. With the rather prominent exception of myself, in fact, the only censorious opinion expressed anywhere in the book in relation to any poet identified by name is in the concluding polemic regarding statements made by Charles Bernstein—statements which (delivered, as they were, in reference to a war we are still very much in) remain much more relevant to the “politics of poetry” than you feel them to be. Furthermore, my opinions there are focused on his position and its cultural motivations and implications, not on his “person.”

Your misunderstanding (I think the fashionable term is “misprision”), though, is at its greatest in what you intend as the most damning point of your review: that the various writings in Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz use, in your words, “. . . war victims . . . to score cheap points against poets.”

I’d argue—and it’s clear that numerous readers of the book already see it this way too—that it is really the other way around: The often cheap world of our poetry, left and right, is deployed in the work as a kind of scale-model theatrical setting for placing the starkest light this poet can shine on the fucked-up madness of this war—a war in which you, I, and all American poets can’t help but be complicit, banal and “old news” as that suggestion may seem. It’s a small gesture, yes, and most likely doomed for irrelevance. But as we wait for Godot, or whatever, prattling absurdly away as we are, having so much clever fun, blogging and partying and Googling, let’s pause every so often and listen to the screams, even let them, awkwardly, into our art.

Mind you, I’m not claiming there is an absolutely clear line between the world of poetry and the world of war in my book—or that the writing is pure of intention and heart, virtuously condemning something bad “out there.” The situation presented is admittedly blurrier than that. And that blurriness would be very much to the point. We speak from where we are; what we can see, if we’re honest, will be present in what we feel called upon to say. It’s not always pretty, what comes out in such implication, and it will hardly ever be popular. Hopefully, we’ll manage to say whatever we say with a measure of humor, even in these most dismal times . . .

Now, all of this might be boring for you, just like most of the book is, as you claim. Here, too, let me say, Jim, that I appreciate your candor about finding the book “boring.” Because if any work of art, whatever its medium, has any chance whatsoever of being remembered for a while and of making some little sound in the culture, it must be considered “boring” by some. Or at least it must be considered boring by some and unusually engaging by others. When both those qualities of estimation are simultaneously and enthusiastically present in the work’s reception, it is a hopeful sign.

Such is the case, so far, with this book. For example, the book’s title poem is “boring” for you; for someone like Ethan Paquin, editor of Slope, it is, as his blurb says, “by far the most relevant poem for / in / about this War . . . It is a poem for our time.”

Go figure. I love that disjuncture. It’s like the paradox and parataxis of good poetry proper. Even if the “avant-garde” poetry of our climate, all told, is proving to be worth shit in face of the horror before us . . .

So, I thank you again. And again, I don’t say that facetiously. Your energetic, even witty, negativity adds a dollop of trouble to a book that wears its troubles on its sleeve—much like another work I’ve had a relation to, though not as its Author: the Araki Yasusada writings, the second book of which is to appear any day now. It’s a bit strange, at least to me, that I’ve begun jotting down these thoughts on August 6th, Hiroshima Day.


* Ammiel Alcalay posted a comment to Jim Behrle’s blog on August 7th, stating the following: “I found your review of Kent’s book depressing and distressing. What makes you think I didn’t write the blurb?” Behrle wrote back, expressing skepticism, still, that Alcalay really had. Later, Behrle revised the relevant passage of his review, apparently accepting, at last, Alcalay’s insistence that the blurb had been freely written by himself.


To work.



Solenoid stuck, the shiny ball jamming off the bumpers, banging away like a sluice gate, ratcheting up the numerals, going to turn the damn machine over with no hands

on the flippers. Maybe one’s got to be of a certain Mechanickal Age to “get” that. Back when digital meant fine fingerwork. “The motives of the suspects

remains pure specule, a perfect idea hid by its mirror-idea.” Picture that. I stoop before the threshold to uncouple a June bug skin-casing, stuck to the doorframe,

slit-back’d where the adult crawl’d out. All detail resides in husk, the noun, th’inert. Everything else is flurry. Say what it is, what it is is dead, or gone. Is

it sloth keeps me here, untidily remarking, or chaos, that fear that order’ld make plain a paucity and lack? I clutter my whims with whims, ambassadors of confusion

and regret. “Rest assured, you will not simply lose me, oh no, you’ll have to chase me away, with a feather-duster!” Looking for that grandeur “uncontaminated &

unobtrusive.” I think Keats is talking about that notion of an invisible tongue, words without any dirt clinging. Would you love a writing what

never show’d its rapturous half, its material grouse and ding? “I couldn’t love a woman without a mole.” Or Keats: “If I ever start a rueful subject in a Letter to

you—blow me!” Or Williams: “Pluck the florets from / a clover head / and suck the honey, sweet.” Sun’s severe delineates, squarish, on th’Hopper bed, grim “scraps &

patches” of desire. The dog nosing out its regular notice—walk me! So off we go, tramping, we’ll boost a couple potatoes out the Tuckahoe’s garden, lay a small fire

down along Mallett’s, and throw ’em in it, for lunch. “Air of a Clarity up above the Ridge call’d Leap’s Distinction.” Predominant wildflower: the thistle, and going

to seed, the little lavender frillies shedding down to skirts. Queen Anne’s lace drowsing, listless, its spotty plenitude black-heart’d. A boy of eight found a four-

leaf’d clover in the yard, in minutes! Waved gleeful arms, explain’d the workings of a door. My dull head, pseudo-fed. My heart’s ache, pseudo-rake. Goldenrod coming

into its own. Keats: “we talk of the immense numbers of Books, the Volumes ranged thousands by thousands—but perhaps more goes through the human intelligence in 12

days than ever was written.” I shudder to think where words go—all the irreproachables, the desirous, the bounty’d—scald’d off into tear-stain and defeat.

And “Poetry should surprise by a fine excess.” Why the stir out into indefatigable cross-wits of dust and desuetude? Think of Sam Shepard: “—I’m walking.” “—Wait a

minute. I’ll walk with you.” “—I’m walking alone.” And girls singing around a smoldering campfire at midnight, perilous voices like wires in the wind, that Snag

City shapelessness resolving itself quick, depixellating a drab download of a mound. O John Berryman, I am with you in Minnesota! “Surely the galaxy will scratch my

itch / Augustinian,” though one did scratch one’s head at that youngster in Carthage, where the “cauldron of lust” turn’d out a mere morbidly repentant pear-

snatcher, oy. Oy and okay: I’ll put a snood to my head, I’ll net my wildest hairs, I’ll desist and return, I’ll quit-claim and run, I’ll snow and ruse and fandango and

bust like a hellion-cat. And off and away and startle’d to recall, I’ll pen mosey-words to postcards that’ll not mean a thing:
“at present I am just arrived at Dorking to change the Scene—”

Keats on Silliman: “It may be said that we ought to read our Contemporaries, that Watten &c should have their due from us. but for the sake of a few fine imaginative or domestic passages, are we to be bullied into a certain Philosophy engendered in the whims of an Egotist—Every man has his speculations, but every man does not brood and peacock over them till he makes a false coinage and deceives himself—”



Color and Its Antecedents, by Brenda Iijima (Yen Agat Books, Bangkok, Thailand, 2004)

Lyrical prose with apt quotable layering, and impeccable presented. “Color is the lure toward polyphony . . . is the élan of the actual.” O’Hara, Ronald Johnson, Merleau-Ponty, Hejinian, Li Po, James Schuyler, Jalal Toufic, Joseph Ceravolo, and author B.I., all evoked, amongst others.
Color constantly resuscitates the texts from a death-like oblivion of blanched pages and words, literally. Color, the continuum fold. Shards of histories that matter, ensanguined. Thrusting mayhem of the power principal claims to be crimson, is instead vapid, colorless greed.
Her light green size.
A drab, colorless situation is punitive to poetry.

Cadastral Map, by Jill Magi (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 596 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11238, 2005) $6 ppd.

Out of Jill Magi’s “Key or Sources”:
The cadastral map is . . . composed by surveyors to determine land ownership for the purpose of taxation. The cadastral map does not indicate where the land is fertile, swampy, or rocky. It does not indicate knolls, forests, valleys. Nor does it express the collaboration and exchange between farmers or those who move through the land. Its lines respect one purpose: state-sponsored commoditization.
A tramp through some source texts by th’usual suspects—Gilbert White, Crèvecœur, Cotton Mather, Mary Rowlandson, Emerson, Thoreau, John Muir, &c.—and some that “possibly disturb this literary map and its accompanying erasure”—including the “unruly brambles” of Dorothy Wordsworth’s diary entries, the “loping anti-expertise,” going “against the texture of taxonomy” in Whitman’s Specimen Days and Collect, “narratives of Olaudah Equiano [seaman, trader, and author of the bestselling abolitionist autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African (1789)] and Frederick Douglass” and, “crucially,” Elizabeth Cook-Lynn’s Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner. A piece:
prairie big enough to carry
my eye clear to the sinking

rounding horizon a sentence
of charcoal on birchbark

written         Oh nature
rightly read a wind-harp

& we’ll go nutting once more!
bird-while the loon laughed

long and loud         as the poet
must from time to time travel

the logger’s path
and Indian trail
And another, one of the several “Dear Sir” letters, number’d, that punctuate the chapbook, providing hooks for the stretching of the more expansive fabric:
Dear Sir,

He therefore clipped the
hawk’s wings, cut off his

talons, and, fixing a cork
on his bill, threw him down

among the brood-hens.
In a word, they never desisted

from buffeting their adversary
till they had torn

him in a hundred pieces!
(Letter XLIII)

To work.

Friday, August 05, 2005



Nietzsche names cynicism “the highest thing achievable on earth,” surely a statement in flagrante delicto with itself. Not unlike the dog slavering up

its own genitalia, in solace perpetuum under greedy points of incisoral light. What things’ll exclude the corpulent reader of the madman’s books? Nietzsche

lists—next to cowardice and uncleanliness—“the nook air of a soul.” Tactical, that. A nod to the cranny, the slit, the hid, the frail—it is, indubitably, woman

Nietzsche hates, he who claims that “to know women . . . is part of my Dionysian dowry.” To use a William James expletive (he lamenting “the gray-plaster

temperament of our bald-headed young Ph.D.’s”): “Faugh!” Tints and gradations in the phalanstery tonight. The sour milk-colour’d moon. If one is stuck, seeing a morbid

casuistry in every sentence, or the breakup of the faculty’s oblongata’d bedrock, why wouldn’t one throw a lyric fit? Boot the laggard shinguard’s off that

tempestuous ruffian Time? Or walk a petulant swagger into “the bulging bouillon, harnessed jelly of the stars”? Superabundant, that. A jaw-hauling theatre, only max-

adequate, nobody’s head fills a whole hat. Rubbernecking at one’s own dissolution at a speed that bumps one up into stratospheric inconsistency. A cranial habitat, and I

ain’t talking about Hart. Global noise, a rai-haunt’d hoedown, Cheb Mami, calabash hookups. One learns to tussle with whatever mayhem one abducts, or is abduct’d by.

Dorothea Lange, off “to see if I can grab a hunk of lightning” (May Day, 1933, unemploy’d workers in San Francisco). “Mobs”—plausibly list’d by Emerson as one

of “several coarser or finer quasi-mechanical substitutes for the true nectar,” what one’s intellect wants in inebriate company. “Ravishment of the

intellect by coming nearer to the fact.” That perennial reverie-maiden the nose and where it will go, just to sniff out the unfactory’d stench and effluent, and name

the innards “numbles.” Oh reader! My stakeout, my turncoat, my pedigree, my quip. How I long that you be gone, high-stepping the taiga in boreal gloam, cachet in

hand. I am undiploma’d and big-head’d and what I want is my only own delirium, unassuming, inassimilable and communal! What I want is the bitter’st

amerciament, hobble to a runaway nag, “a pecuniary penalty imposed upon a person who is in misericordia,” a clear unbetided space to stretch out with only horizon for

comfort! An un-jackdaw’d heaven! For the writing grows monstrously people’d, grows a fatty buckler (“a warder to catch the blow of an adversary”), and an unmoveable

Head. Diderot, a fussy man: “continually we be push’d to declare a thing is thus-and-so, almost never obliged to determine what it is to be thus-and-so.”

So the thongum droops after th’outburst, and, like Keats’s Mrs. Humphrey, one ends “spoiling the corners of the mouth, and making the nose quite a piminy.” Heigh-ho.


To work.

Thursday, August 04, 2005



“The adoration of mountains, Mr. Poe read in Alexander von Humboldt’s Cosmos, and the contemplation of flowers distinguish Chinese poetry from

that of Greece and Rome.” Guy Davenport. High yellow cirrus tresses trailing up off the cloudbank, oceanic lit spume. A photograph the “woman in tearsDora Maar made:

a paper-sail’d frigate braving waves of honey-colour’d hair, the whole mottled by a wash of light. Weaving the stresses into the sentence, binding in the sound.

Davenport again: “‘Grass nowhere out of place,’ Ezra Pound quotes a Chinese philosopher as saying.” I like the subtonic ease of the quotable. How it puts pout

to the embouchure, drives in the pegs of the stretch’d sonic tent. Whatever horse-laugh operatics one busses that thing with—a bold “laughing with her tongue out /

like a Gallic bitch” (Catullus, trans. Gregory)—th’upshot is harmonic, amp-crank’d feedback off the radical. I like, too, how word-stems’ll muss it up, to gizmo out

that first niggle of “new-seeingness.” See how the Latin gramin-, gramen grass, falls up against the Greek gramma letters, grammatikos

butting up against gramineous in a kind of billy-goat etymology. Apparently, Alexander Pope approveth not: “The wingèd courser, like a generous

horse, / Shows most true mettle when you check his course.” Oh, th’aesthetickal “stance” of an age exists only to be bust’d up good, or, stuck with

pins. Tired of constraint! I like the mash and pulp and juice and the whole shook tree crannying up into blue nothing and grubbing down into rootlet-suck and beetle!

That youngster John Keats says “Money Troubles . . . like a nettle leaf or two in your bed” and spouts off some Shakespeare soonest ’s look a pig’s shilling in

th’eye: “let determined things to destiny hold unbewailed their way.” All Long Beach hot-dub rhythm here on out: a song call’d “Grassy Cloud.” “Gets off

with a relaxed, deep groove, or suddenly changes to a hard-core sound seconds before the song ends with no explanation.” Misfit, angel, pixel.


Offering up a gratuitous chamber here at th’Hotel again to Kent Johnson, in rebuttal to Jack Kimball’s thing here. (For the record, Jack sent me a copy of that thing and I offer’d him a gratuitous chamber for it. No go.) Like Typhoid Mary, I’m just a “carrier” around here (though “I doe see wherein thine sickenesses lie.”) Owing to my one heart’s rapturous besiegement and its cacophonous counterpart, I have not “fully eye’d & digest’d the yronne booke” in question. I will, I will.


Dear Jack,

In your response to what I posted the other day at Hotel Point, you take a rather extravagant route to arrive at a rather pedestrian claim, i.e., that my piece on Charles Bernstein’s “Enough” builds its argument by quoting passages “out of context.”

But thing is, you just kind of leave things there. There is no attempt made to show how or where I supposedly misrepresent Bernstein’s “real” intent. It’s like you started to reply to me, but then you forgot to finish your reply! Maybe you got distracted by all the X’s and the Y’s, I don’t know.

So, once again: I am saying in that concluding piece to Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz: Eleven Submissions to the War that Bernstein’s self-righteous speech in 2003 was a barely veiled attack on the Poets Against the War project, and I am questioning the ethical implications of his doing that in the conjunctural context that he did it. (Silliman went after PAW around the same time, too, though he at least was perfectly candid about it.) Are you proposing the remarks I quote from CB were in no way intended by him to allude to the PAW project? If this is what you think, then you should say so. Lots of people took the allusion as obvious, and they would be interested in your reasoning, I’m sure, which is undoubtedly less “demagogic” than mine.

Still, I do kind of like it that you call me “homey.” That’s quaint. Almost as quaint as Gary Sullivan erasing in a panic yesterday the entire discussion on Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz at his blog, once he saw that people were starting to write in with thoughtful comments about the book. At first I was kind of annoyed by that. But now I think it’s kind of funny. What about you?



To work.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005



What follows is, “verbatim with tidying” an unsolicit’d note and review sent by the redoubtable editor of Wherever We Put Our Hats, Jon Leon:
John Latta,

I read your post this evening concerning Kent Johnson. I discovered said poet in The Canary and I think he’s outstanding. Last week I finished a review on his Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz which will appear in wwpoh issue 2 along with about 8 pages of his Epigramititis. The issue won’t appear until December. I thought perhaps it would be more timely to release the review now while everything’s hot. If you thought it appropriate you could post the review at Hotel Point. If not, perhaps you could recommend a place. It’s my first review.

* * *

Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz: Eleven Submissions to the War
Kent Johnson
(effing press, 2005)
703 W 11th Street, #2
Austin, TX 78701

Rat-a-tat-tat. What can one say about this book but that it is necessary. As necessary as “crispy girl,” “four little girls incinerated in a mud compound,” “head a little bit on fire,” “often-raped / kids,” “the making of bombs,” “machete’d babies in the streets,” “open eyed bodies on slow fire,” “a fifteen inch dildo down your mouth,” “torture prisons,” and “we did our best” are unnecessary. Kent Johnson gives us all the tallied brutality we can stomach but with a big-shot heart and mindful sincerity. In the Preface to Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz, a letter to Campus Watch, Johnson states in parentheses that “not everyone would judge it poetry!” It is poetry sine qua non, in the most classical and historical sense and simultaneously advanced-plus. A tendentious beach fire for the bland poetic notions so desperate in their idiotic will to persevere into the 21st century. Here, in only 40 pages, we can be scared, excited, endangered, and hopeful all together. The attention that Johnson directs to the startling details of current events could be an example in constructing a world of accountability, an integral activity lest we become like “Volvo driving academics” carpooling with “the girl . . . seemingly oblivious to the gunfire and screams.” For in that world we would not need to call these poems “exceptional” or “brave” because all poems would be nothing other than. We can sense his contempt of retreat and muted protest in “Bernstein’s ‘Enough,’” an appropriate response to Charles Bernstein’s argument in favor of “ambiguity,” “complexity,” and “skepticism” as opposed to anti-war poetry that is “overtly political and written in language that approximates the norm.” Without action and responsibility we may only lower our heads in shame and imagine the Poet mocking us into exile; perhaps returning some lucky day to enjoy “surplus time the labor of others has more or less made.” That husky labor in American Poetry is generously taken up by the efforts of Kent Johnson in his new chapbook Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz: Eleven Submissions to the War. One may have to brush away the rabble and mob from the bookshelf to accommodate such commitment.

—Jon Leon

In Toledo, Esix Snead stole second. And Beau says: “When I studied there I had so fantastickal a brain, that like a Phelphare, frighted in winter by a

Birding-piece, I could setle no where. Here and there a little of every several Art, and away.” And the Knaves-bee must needs reply: “Now my wit, though it were more

dull, yet I went slowly on, and as divers others, when I could not prove an excellent Scholar by a plodding patience, I attain’d to be a Petty Lawyer; and I

thank my dullness for’t, you may stamp in Lead any figure, but in Oyl or Quick-silver nothing can be imprinted, for they keep no certain station.” So the night of

quiet pestilential rioting, the savage Traum of hoecakes and muenster, the trebuchet’d waddage, the flintlock, the asp. And happy to see the durable Morning

knock. Pierre Lartigue says of the Maine Indians encounter’d by Thoreau: “Leurs mots sonnent comme des coups de tonnerre” (words sounding like thunderclaps):

Aboljacarmeguscook (river), Pockadunkquaywayle (echo). Hear ye! hear ye! James Joyce of “the dewfolded song of the naughtingels.” What a smutch to

proceed so. Surely there is something essential and fierce to the morn arsenal, something artesian like a flow chart. Buncombe wins in the ninth. Stein: “You will

find that all this is true when I get through.” Getting through, one is never getting through, one is always throwing a fit in lieu of getting through. Through,

you get, (git), aye, misbegotten, a bastard, all getting through’s a bastard work, illegitimate against the ongoing big squall. No canonickal status in

such staticky stasis. I want to move. Soror Mariana Alcoforado’s predicament (1669)—woman, provincial, leading a cloister’d and cow’d existence,

abandon’d by a dash’d-dastardly French lover, and longing helplessly for the absent man and the far-off mustard-yellow country—resounds multiply and contradictorily

with “Portuguese intellectuals attempting to come to terms with the crisis of nationalist and imperial ideology brought about by progressive marginalization of

Portugal with regard to th’other European colonial powers.” Yeah. Sad Portugal of the bacalhau and bougainvillea! In Sentra where that rocker Byron holed up, I dove

into the salty brume, listen’d repeatedly to Vincenzo Bellini’s mournful Norma, drank “tawny” ports, and wrote: “I am very happy here, because I

loves oranges, and talks bad Latin to the monks, who understand it, as it is like their own,--and I goes into society (with my pocket-pistols), and I swims in the

Tagus all across at once, and I rides on an ass or a mule, and swears Portuguese, and have got a diarrhea and bites from the mosquitoes. But what of that? Comfort

must not be expected by folks that go a pleasuring.” Gookie Dawkins? He had a miserable night at the plate.


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Rum & Stork


Ravish’t to a T, that’s one way of feeling. Keats, admonishing the welter of blind choristers: “you need only agravate your voices a little and mind not to speak Cues

and all—when you have said Rum-ti-ti—you must not rum any more or else another will take up the ti-ti alone and then he might be taken God shield us for little better

than a Titmouse.” Oh Keats! He “had the right,” as they say. Too many rum-ing and ti-ti-ing (variations on a noise made by Aristophanes) in solitary mawkish gear and get-

up: it doan sound good ’t all. Titmouse say Peter. Peter Peter Peter. Old, Melville’s scorn, in “Clarel”—“a metrical affair . . . eminently adopted for

unpopularity.” Old, in Spain, the sea-charts hung salty, Columbus wrote to Diego, ’s son: “I would like to receive a letter from you each hour. Reason must tell you that

I now have no other repose. Many couriers come each day, and the news is of such a nature and so abundant that in hearing it, all my hair stands on end, it is so

contrary to what my soul desires.” And: “My illness permits me to write only at night, because in the daytime my hands are deprived of strength.” (In the waiting

room, “punctual as a Bee to Clover,” a New Yorker-quartermaster’d sketch of Rauschenberg, right hand bent awry, a spasm’d hoof, result of a stroke. In Captiva

before the hurricane, Sanibel before the hurricane, looking for wood storks, the gnarly burnt look of the head, crotch and curmudgeon of the sloughs. Keats south of

London, in th’intrepid domestickal land: “lopped Trees—Cow ruminating—ditto Donkey—Man and Woman going gingerly along.” —Shit, Jack, let’s go mount some monster-

sized brick pins on the pickup and go bashin’ around wild in the backyard!


To work.

Monday, August 01, 2005



Serious stuff for a Monday morning. To be got out of the way before I begin my late routine of mouthing off like Mehitabel. Kent Johnson—the one whom Ron Silliman recently compared to Darrell Gray, “the Actualist poet who drank himself to death far too young, especially Darrell’s work under the French pseudonym Phillipe Mignon, sort of a kinder, but not gentler, Kent Johnson” is how that went—leading Kent Johnson himself to ask publickly (New Poetry listserv) something along the lines of “anybody know what the hell that’s supposed to mean?” and, natch, get no response whatsoever (other than somebody’s in a bad mood comparing Silliman’s general acumen to “a turnip”). (Un-fucking-surprisingly: see parenthetical “of course, it’s hardly news” below, the ruse subtitled, in the post-avant power dynamo handbook, “how to quash without emoting.”) Anyhow, Kent Johnson ask’d me to post the following. When I reply’d that I’d be happy to do so, Kent, a fine mimic, respond’d with an “oreye mush bilge,”a subtle noise I took for something possibly out of the mouth of Hoosier James Whitcomb Riley. Kent Johnson claims it’s Zukofsky. Here’s the philippic:


A couple of bloggers have posted quick, negative reactions to the concluding piece of Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz: Eleven Submissions to the War, which Effing Press has just released.

One person wrote:

“I find KJ’s diatribe against Charles Bernstein in the afterword of Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz absurdly reasoned and bullying. It’s offensive. I condemn it.”

“Absurdly reasoned”? Maybe the person would care to elaborate on his adverb. It’s hard to know, otherwise, what he means—assuming he does actually know what he means.

However, it is plainly absurd to characterize the piece as bullying. It would be “bullying” if its polemic were directed at people unable to fairly defend themselves. This is hardly the case. The brief essay, since its appearance on the war’s eve in March, 2003, has openly invited response for the sake of healthy, candid debate. People can draw their own conclusions as to why those being critiqued have chosen not to respond. (Of course, it’s hardly news to point out that Silence in the face of challenge is a rather routine tactic within the broader power dynamics that structure the “post-avant” community.)

And is the piece “offensive”? Well, hopefully it is to some . . . Though one wants to ask, in the case of the critic in question: If its arguments are so “absurdly reasoned,” why such offense?

And is it worthy of “condemnation”? Hopefully so, to some . . . Though one wonders, as above: Why such condemnation if its premises are so weakly argued?

Let the affronted fully speak their reason, then, I say.

—Kent Johnson


“Go mad I can not: I maintain / The perilous outpost of the sane.” So Melville, in the Holy Land, a place noted for half-barmy sentinels and scorn-drug’d maligners.

And honey’d mead sipped quick through a bamboozle of yellowjackets. Those “slumberous combustibles.” Here, I must confess, I am shamming (in the name

of the Lord), gobbing the sputum around about a monstrous spliff, hoy, looking not to the hearth’s yellow’d beckon, no, off into the mirey outlantish, and puckle’d by

an uncommon nudge to confess, I “confess / To hollow Manysidedness.” The way is grainy, the way is clumping up magnify’d jags of silver nitrates in photographickal

emulsion, or the way Stein wrote, here, on the composition of the war, 1914-1918: “the composition was not a composition in which there was one man in the

center surrounded by a lot of other men but a composition that had neither a beginning nor an end, a composition of which one corner was as important as another

corner, in fact the composition of cubism.” Sounds like Jackson Pollock to me. “All over.” Keeping th’attention prick’d up high everywhere. The surface modicum

batting. The eye-roam. What’s one to do? accustom’d to a solid inebriate giddiness and th’hardships of grog, but pluck up the courage of visionary happiness, off to

Samarkand, mes semblables! I ain’t talking office-worker insobriety in binge-city, I’m talking a radical cleaving to the most scurrilous kind of glee-

seeing imaginable, the smash wantonness of blithe-sight. What gets ask’d of Rimbaud running off to Abyssinia, could be ask’d, too, of that first charisma of acceding to fate when

he jumps a Paris-bound train, is thrown off, and tramps incessantly the Prussian-plagued woods to “alight” in Paris: did a life of action call the boy, or a life animated

by words? What is calling Stalin a cockroach? What is a declaration of the heart’s fatidic heat? What is a stone backsliding in colluvial bounds and leaps? These and other such quondam

bits of alluvial speech we must investigate.


To work.