Thursday, November 29, 2007

green party(ing) & the language of excess

Today's Times features an article about the pressures brought to bear on these mostly ridiculous big-time party designers - "event planners" who sometimes take six months to create a gathering. One of these folks, David Stark, might rightly be called a conceptual event designer (in the sense of "conceptual artist," although as I verily write this parenthesis I realize it will seem a stretch, but bear with me...).

Stark's latest work, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s awards gala, was meant to be Green & enviro-friendly and avant-garde at once. Giving into decadence in one sense, creating green ironies in another, and possibly mocking the tuxes and little black dresses prancing below trash topiaries and shredded-paper chandeliers in yet a third. Stark created indeed giant faux-natural shapes - many florid archaisms fashioned from trash. "It was the language of excess," says the Times "— those topiaries recalled the gardens of Versailles — expressed in the material of frugality."

The shredded paper of which these biomorphs were made included 12 years of Stark's own tax returns. Excess means the extra stuff you throw away (or now: make available for recycling), and it also means too much.

(Maybe, as a result of this success, Stark's tax return this year will need to have a few extra addenda. I wonder, if we demand to have his tax returns made public, if it will be part of the art. I rather think so.) MORE...

digerati in '99

John Brockman with Warhol and Dylan on the day Dylan visited The Factory.

John Brockman's world in the 1960s was a humming electronic world, in which multiple films, tapes, amplifiers, kinetic sculpture, lights and live dancers or actors are combined to involve audiences in a total theater experience. His Intermedia Kinetic Experiences permitted audiences simply to sit, stand, walk or lie down and allow their senses to be Saturated by Media. His 1969 book was By the Late John Brockman.

Yes, Brockman, the sci/tech literary uber-agent, the Happenings organizer in the 1960s and in recent years the creator of "Third Culture" and a leader of the digerati (cyber-intellectuals), came to the Writers House in 1999 along with six of the digerati. And I introduced and, with John, co-moderated a discussion about digital culture.

The digerati I met that night were: Maris Bowe of; Jason McCabe Calacanis, a Silicon Alley Reporter; Luyen Chou of Learn Technologies; Steven Johnson of; Katinka Matson of EDGE; Frank Moretti of Columbia University's Center for New Media, Technology and Learning; Stefanie Syman of; Bob Stein of Night Kitchen. At left: John Brockman in '99.

See more:

[] the KWH calendar entry for this event: LINK
[] the KWH digerati page: LINK
[] Daily Pennsylvanian article covering the event: LINK
[] Wired exec ed Kevin Kelly's essay about Third Culture: LINK
[] an account of the day Dylan visited the Factory and Brockman was there: LINK

origins of McCarthyism (the word)

Recently I was asked about the precise origins of the word "McCarthyism." The correct answer to the question is that for a while (perhaps five or six years) the term was used by some as a term of commendation--a positive as well as, of course, for many if not most, a negative. Soon I remembered that Richard Rovere (in his book Senator Joe McCarthy) wrote a nice passage on this topic:

Barely a month after [the] Wheeling [West Virginia speech in which the junior senator from Wisconsin claimed to know about several hundred communists in the State Department], "McCarthyism" was coined by Herbert Block, the cartoonist who signs himself "Herblock" in the Washington Post. The word was an oath at first--a synonym for the hatefulness of baseless defamation, or mudslinging. (In the Herblock cartoon, "McCarthyism" was crudely lettered on a barrel of mud, which teetered on a tower of ten buckets of the stuff.) Later it became, for some, an affirmation. The term survives both as oath and as affirmation not very usefully as either, one is bound to say and has far broader applications than at first. Now it is evocative of an almost undifferetiated evil to a large number of Americans and of a positive good to a somewhat smaller number. To the one, whatever is illiberal, repressive, reactionary, obscurantist, anti-intellectual, totalitarian, or merely swinish will for some time to come be McCarthyism, while to the other it means nothing more or less than a militant patriotism. "To many Americans, McCarthyism is Americanism," Fulton Lewis, Jr., a radio commentator and the official McCarthyite muezzin, said. Once the word caught on, McCarthy himself became intrigued with it. "McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled," he told a Wisconsin audience in 1952, and, sure enough, there was the eponym, with his hairy arms bare to the biceps. That year he published a book of snippets from his speeches and his testimony before committees, and it bore the modest title of McCarthyism: The Fight for America. There is injustice as well as imprecision in both meanings; if patriotism can hardly be reduced to tracking down Marxists in the pastry kitchens of the Pentagon or the bindery of the Government Printing Office, neither is the late Senator's surname to be placed at the center of all the constellations of political unrighteousness. He was not, for example, totalitarian in any significant sense, or even reactionary. These terms apply mainly to the social and economic order, and the social and economic order didn't interest him in the slightest. If he was anything at all in the realm of ideas, principles, doctrines, he was a species of nihilist; he was an essentially destructive force, a revolutionist without any revolutionary vision, a rebel without a cause.

For more, have a look at my 1950s site.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

flarfists fly flag

This week's "Poetry off the Shelf" podcast, produced by Curtis Fox for the Poetry Foundation, features Flarf poetry. The best way to get this podcast series is to go to the alt.NPR podcast series page: here. The piece is well edited and jabs both pro and con.

We at PennSound did a podcast on Flarf, featuring excerpts from a Flarffest (or is that Flarfest?) held at the Kelly Writers House. Listen to that.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

how many feet did you write today?

Lew Welch wrote a novel in a white heat the way Kerouac did - by running a roll of teletype paper through the platen of his typewriter and typing as fast as his fingers could manage. Welch counted the day's writing in feet. Five feet was a very good day's work. MORE...

Wallace Stevens, for or against the sound of poetry?

Not quite a year ago I gave a short paper on sound in Wallace Stevens, at a session that was part of the cluster of sessions on the conference-wide theme, "the sound of poetry," at the Modern Language Association's huge annual gathering. I opened with this simple assertion:

If Stevens contended that “There is a sense in sounds beyond their meaning”; if he argued that poetry “makes us listen to words when we hear them, loving them and feeling them, makes us search the sound of them, for a finality, a perfection, an unalterable vibration”; and if he insisted that “[a]bove everything else, poetry is words…[and] words, above everything else, are, in poetry, sounds” – then why hasn’t the critical response to Stevens put sound at the center of the discussion? Here are six reasons: (1) fear of a mannerist reputation; (2) guilt by association with the non-innovative; (3) Hi Simons; (4) Stevens’ dull-seeming poetry readings; (5) a lagging interest among critics in sound technology; (6) a certain deafness in the project of disclosing Stevens’s politics.

I've been writing a little more about this topic, and have said my piece, more or less, on what might seem the least interesting and most obscure and intramural of the 6 reasons: Hi Simons. So here's more on Hi.

Hi Simons, the first to ask Stevens in any sort of systematic way about the sound of words, was an amateur critic. He was unconfident and awed, critically a plodding workaholic, star-struck around Stevens’ replies, and aware of his own tendency to believe utterly whatever Stevens said. As he told a close friend of Stevens, who in turn told Stevens: “I work so slowly that I am constantly embarrassed about it . . . . I often doubt that I possess that ability to carry water on both shoulders which Mr. Stevens cultivated so successfully . . . twenty-five years ago” (unpublished letter from Hi Simons to Arthur Powell). Simons was an independent critic whose daily life was consumed by his work as a publisher of medical textbooks in Chicago. He seems to have deliberately misled Stevens by continuing to imply for several years that he was preparing a bibliography even well beyond the point of posing merely bibliographical questions; their earliest exchanges, beginning in 1938, were all about tracking Stevens’ old appearances in periodicals, but soon letters arrived from Chicago requesting line-by-line close readings. A number of them asked directly or indirectly about the meaning of the sounds words make—for Simons ever the most difficult aspect of the verse to follow. Stevens’ replies show that he was aware of Simons’ awe, and his letters—saying for instance that the meaning of “The Comedian as the Letter C” was in the sound of the letter C—were sometimes toneless yet overstated, sometimes oddly ironic, and occasionally just shy of toying with the rookie close reader; alternatively, they were literalistic in the extreme. Once Stevens began to hear (first from others, then, confessionally, from Simons himself) that Simons hoped to write a huge critical biography—“an affair . . . larger than Horton’s work on Crane, something like Foster Damon’s on Amy Lowell” (unpub. letter from Duncan to Stevens), a prospect horrifying to Stevens, who hated the idea of biographical readings—the poets’ answers to the critic’s request for detailed response seemed ironically to bear out, rather than to contradict, his principle against authorial explanations, as he described this tenet to Simons directly: “I made up my mind not to explain things, because most people have so little appreciation of poetry that once a poem has been explained it has been destroyed.” Or, more bluntly when the critic’s questions were about a poem whose form turns on the limits of words as sounds, “A paraphrase like this is a sort of murder.”

Here the homicide victim was “The Man with the Blue Guitar.” The question Simons posed about unreality in canto XVIII might well have led Stevens to discuss how the sound of the “Sea of Ex” negates the negation of intelligible language in the poem. The canto is a dream of the sort that defies the term “dream” (“to call it a dream” is the best we can do). And the rest is repetition, words crossing the senses (the guitarist’s “long strumming on certain nights / Gives the touch of the senses, not of the hand”) such that the thing, the idea of the thing in the phrase “things are they are,” is lost in the ringing of repeated, modulated phrasing: “A dream no longer a dream, a thing, / Of things as they are, as the blue guitar” etc. Thus “Ex” marks a poetic spot beyond sounded sense-making, a place toward which the poem’s language drifts. Yet, especially if we’ve read Simons’ letter (now housed at the Huntington Library), we can sense in Stevens’ reply to Simons that he knew he needed first to help his correspondent make basic sense of the exclusive visual scene, so that the “sense of irreality often in the presence of morning light on cliffs when they rise from the sea” engages image by analogy as a didactic tool. Impressionism here is an analogy to irreality, not a theme of the poem, nor its aesthetic ideology or mode. The canto uses the sound of words to stipulate irreality too, yet the brief explanation, published in Letters without, of course, the incoming letter from Simons, nor the context of the imbalanced power relationship, seems definitive. There are at least a dozen similar readings. The same confusion, for instance, seems to derive from Stevens’ answers to Simons’ queries about the Arabian in the room in canto III of the “It Must Be Abstract” section of Notes toward a Supreme Fiction. In the margin of Simons’ incoming letter, next to the question as posed, Stevens wrote in pencil: “The Arabian in the room & the unscrawled fores (the vagueness – undecipherable) – is the moonlight” (letter to Simons). He was hardly avoiding the centrality of the “chant” and of the “damned hoobla-hoobla-hoobla-how” here; rather, he was literally responding to what he thought Simons needed to get along section by section in the epic.

The Stevens community seems to have been thrown off the scent of sound by this exchange for at least two decades, even before Holly Stevens’s edition of letters was published in 1966 – for stories of the poet’s explications for Simons were told in detail by Holly Stevens and Samuel French Morse, among others. Sound got off to a bad critical start, beginning with the way in which the aural excesses of “The Comedian as the Letter C” were read and taught based on a contextless understanding of Stevens’ relationship with the man who first received the seemingly definitive answer to questions about the importance of the sound of the letter C.

focus in real time

As a Kelly Writers House Fellow, on April 23, 2001, the late June Jordan gave a reading from her memoir, Soldier, and from her poetry, including some new, uncollected work. The event was recorded digitally and is available (in RealVideo format). Taking the longer video, I excerpted her reading of a single poem, "Focus in Real Time," and you can see her reading that poem by clicking here.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

protect new markets


Saturday, November 24, 2007

he's plainly & simply thankful for friends

In a Thanksgiving-inspired blog entry, Ron Silliman gives thanks for the close friends who poetically came of age with him in the Bay area and who are now collaborating on a multi-authored, multi-volume collective autobiography, The Grand Piano. Just now I read Mark Scroggins' "Culture Industry" entry on the GP. He quotes Joe Strummer offering via lyrics a "pretty unanswerable summary of the institutional absorption of the subversive margins" and that is his topic, although on balance he is a critic of those who criticize the GP authors on these grounds. He reminds us that "[i]t’s of course an old move to point to how many prominent Language Poets...have moved into the academy." He says we must allow a measure of narcissism in the project.

And how could one not, since it's the nature of autobiography that about the person or people whose lives and work it's about. I suppose one standard for evaluating its success is the extent to which reading it makes one think about that apparently generic aboutness. On this score, I would say that it succeeds quite well.

But back to narcissism. What surprised Scroggins is "how little space was given over to assertions of the innovativeness, the subversiveness, the sheer importance of Language writing" (in at least the first volume of the work).

I am fascinated by the response to GP and suggest a few links:

[] James Sherry's review
[] Barry Watten on how GP is being written
[] Andy Gricevich's blogged response to volume 4
[] the main GP site

Friday, November 23, 2007

literary constables will haul you away

Karl Shapiro: all the arts are flourishing except poetry. MORE...

I'm links, you're links

I use to organize all my links. You can view my bookmarks here. You can also create an RSS feed so that my new links show up on your iGoogle page or Google Reader. I suppose it's much like seeing headline-like entries fed from a blog, only here, as I say, it's a list of links that are obviously of interest. Chris Mustazza has a helpful blog entry on

into the flow

Charles Alexander, poet and maker of the great Chax Press, reports on his blog that he has been reading Ted Berrigan's Collected Poems once again. "I seem to re-read Berrigan every few years," he writes, "like a necessary bath or entry into the flow."

And speaking of Chax, back in January '07 the Bowery Poetry Club hosted a wonderful reading in celebration of this small press, marking the publication of Swoon Noir, by Bruce Andrews; Afterimage, by Charles Borkhuis; Born 2, by Alison Cob; Analects on a Chinese Screen, by Glenn Mott; Since I Moved In, by Tim Peterson; and Mirth, by Linda V. Russo.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

rot in safety


Monday, November 19, 2007

many questions for the "I like it, I don't like it" college students

Tonight, at the annual Writers House Thanksgiving, I induced Tom Devaney to read the poem called "Poem," which he dedicated to me (on the occasion of my 50th birthday in March '06). He obliged and here is the video recording.

Related links: 1 2 3 4

what did you see this weekend?

It's 47 years old, the film, and seems it. Read my response to Butterfield 8, in which Liz is simply wandrous.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

acknowledgment dirty tricks

Charles ("Chuck") Colson was involved in the Nixon White House during the Watergate/dirty tricks era, broke the law and was convicted of it, and later, you may recall, turned to Christ and joined the lecture circuit to tell his story of being saved. Fans of his books say that he "is a premier popular practitioner of Christian persuasion." He teamed up with parable-writer and exegete Harold Fickett (Conversations with Jesus 1999) to write The Good Life: Seeking purpose, meaning, and truth in your life. Somehow my name is mentioned on page 369 of this tome. I am thanked for helping Fickett on some matter--a "story." Odd, since I'd never heard from or even (until just now) about Fickett. Nice to be acknowledged, but...well... Notice, above Fickett's thank yous, Colson thanks the "Author of All Truth," so at least I'm in good company.

in direct line with another & the next

Oh, go see the Lawrence Weiner show at the Whitney before it closes February 10. It's the first major retrospective of his work in the U.S. Some of the pieces - small in scale, intensely conceptual, language-y and yet objects - date back to 1960 (he was just 18 and had, Kerouac-like, come across the country).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

illegals driving non-issue

I've been hankering for a cogent rebuke of those in the media who are flailing away at the issue of whether people in this country illegally should be able to get drivers' licenses. Finally I heard it. It's Truthdig's Bob Scheer speaking on KCRW's weekly talkfest 'Left, Right & Center' about halfway through the show. Those with similar longing for substance over debate-flubbing style will want to listen by going to the Left, Right & Center episode site. You can also subscribe to the LR&C podcast.

You can also listen to Bob Scheer's comment on undocumented workers here.

no one to drive the car

In the summer of '99 we did our first live interactive webcast. Bob Perelman, Shawn Walker, Kristen Gallagher and I gathered in the Arts Cafe of the Writers House and discussed William Carlos Williams' poem "To Elsie" for an hour and 35 minutes. Of course we made a recording of it, which is now available in RealVideo format, which is to say, can be played on any RealPlayer. (There are also excerpts in mp3 format.)

We took questions from friends around the world who were watching the live stream and wrote in by email.

For those who have the time, I think the discussion is an excellent introduction to the aesthetic and also cultural-anthropological complexities of that poem, which was originally published in Spring and All in 1923. Here's the text.

Friday, November 16, 2007

the future of poetry seen in Barry Bonds

"He's a media-made technologically-supplemented Frankenstein. We dismiss him a as fraud, but we know in our hearts that his way is the way of the future...." MORE...

Lower East Side brushback pitch

Look closely for the blur of the white stickball. See it? It's almost behind the ear of the batter, who is leaning creatively away so as to avoid being beaned. See it? Who threw that pitch? Did he mean harm? The catcher might provide evidence for answering this question. He's prepared to catch the ball way inside, almost as if he knew it was coming there.

This well-known photograph is one of Arthur Leipzig's documentary shots: a stickball game on a Lower East Side street, 1950. You've got old LES: the Jewish butcher, leaning on his store, watching the intense integrated street game, little to nothing in his shop window. Then too you have the two skippy fifties-style howdy-doody kids, presumably brother and sister, carefully crossing the street. And then that fabulously serious-cool game, a stickball contest: presumably two white guys vs. two black guys (so integrated but also not integrated), and the pitch coming in is so high and tight that one believes it is a brushback pitch (a "purpose pitch," aimed at the head) and thus one feels that the four players are cool-loose and happy with each other but also that there's a lot of nascent tension. "Cool-loose": check out the flexibility in the knees of the batter.

I happen to own the original print of this wonderful photo - and thus have the pleasure of seeing it every day. It always makes me think of one of those crucial transitional moments. There are three cultures here, all in one unstaged shot. I think we all see such scenes every day, but few of us can capture it.

For a little more about New York in the Fifties, go here.

house in the country...not enough

My favorite list poem is Ted Berrigan's "Three Pages." It's ten things he does every day (play poker, drink beer, "lunch" [a noun here, not a verb], read, poems, hunker down, [accept? endure?] changes). Life goes by quite merrily. "No help wanted" refers idiomatically to no work. But it's on the list and it means both work and independence (economic [he is "self-employed"!] and aesthetic/intellectual). He "flowers" (verb there) by the waters of Manhattan - there a reference to the great important NY-based documentary poet Charles Reznikoff. Other stuff ("the heart attack," "a house in the country," "the Congressional Medal of Honor") is "not enough." Happiness is doing this. And this is the very thing we are reading.

You can hear Berrigan reading the poem here. It was part of a reading Berrigan gave on KPFA radio, Berkeley, a radio show hosted by Lyn Hejinian & Kit Robinson in 1978. PennSound has this show and much more Berrigan.

Here's the text of the poem.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

irritated by the limitations of the medium

Sherwood Anderson on Gertrude Stein: "Every artist working with words as his medium, must at times be profoundly irritated by what seems the limitations of his medium. What things does he not wish to create with words! There is the mind of the reader before him and he would like to create in that reader's mind a whole new world of sensations, or rather one might better say he would like to call back into life all of the dead and sleeping senses."

W. G. Rogers on Stein: "As always when at her best, she uses double talk to arrive at plain meanings: she adds nothing and nothing and gets something; her sum is an emotional impact; an excitment, an undeniable deep stirring. This is the marvel and the mystery of her language; it can be an incantation, and like the lingo of the medicine man, it can say little while accomplishing a lot. You don't blame it for what it is, you credit it for what it does." MORE...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

that eminently human technology, language

The Sackner Archive (of Miami) and UbuWeb. Two treasures in the world of concrete, sound, and visual poetries. They've come together now, as Matthew Abess has curated an anthology of sound recordings from Ruth and Marvin Sackner's collection and Kenny Goldsmith at Ubu has made digital space for them and added the list to Ubu's site. It's all semi-rare to rare, great and strange stuff. Have a listen.

In his liner notes, Matt Abess writes (in part):

The work presented here comprises a portion of the Sackner's tremendous compendium of sonic works. The range of geographic origins runs the circumference of the globe. The time span is nearly a century. It witnesses histories: of poetry, literature, music, visual art, technology, politics, religion, theoretical contentions and practical abstention. It indicates and permits divergent lines of flight. It is an ensemble of dramatic personalities and the social narratives that they informed. It chronicles and enacts the persistent deformation and reformation of the flow of language, intending the same towards the order of things in the world.

It is the story of a charming pair - Ruth and Marvin Sackner - whose permissive attitude invites us to navigate the wordy, worldy present; to co-operatively investigate that eminently human technology, language. The Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry is a tactile space of verbal, vocal and visual collision. As each deflection inflects, so collisions coalesce: the Archive makes spaces where the interface of body and language might take place on planes patterned by our movement across them. The works here evidence the enormous range of possible iterations. Ruth and Marvin Sackner invite us to join in the play.

As a Penn guy, I'm especially proud of this. The Sackners are both alumni, Matt is our student and close affiliate of Writers House and CPCW, and Kenny teaches "Uncreative Writing" and his CPCW/ICA seminar here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

avant-garde more sexist than the mainstream?

Have you been following the fracas over at Harriet, the Poetry Foundation blog (named after founding Poetry editor Harriet Monroe)? Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young began it by showing and analyzing "the numbers" on women poets published in avant-garde magazines. Is the experimental poetics community particularly sexist? In the middle of this discussion, Ange Mlinko suggested that the avant-garde may be more sexist than mainstream literature because the avant-garde has often renounced the lyric. And on and on it has gone.

If you're looking for a way into the middle of the discussion (that might be the best entry-point), I suggest starting with one of Christian Bok's rejoinders. You should be able to link your way around from there. And/or read Ange Mlinko's main commentary on the matter.

when you dream a dead friend's phone number

Earlier this autumn I wrote about the late David DeLaura, a Victorianist and long-time activist citizen of the University of Texas and of Penn - a super-energetic and hyper-sympathetic person whose sanity was Arnoldian and whose sentiment was The Man of Feeling. Now we'd done a Kelly Writers House podcast that features a 22-minute excerpt from the program we held at the House in '05 to remember him. Please have a listen. Be sure to hear Wendy Steiner tell about her dream of David and Roger Abrahams describing their heady faculty-centric politicking at UT.

to the barricades

I'm reading an essay-roundup of then-current poetry in the September 1960 issue of the Atlantic. Peter Davison, Harvard '49 and editor at Harvard University Press, wrote the piece. He covers several new books and begins with four paragraps about Donald Allen's New American Poetry. Davison disdains the new Americans and suggests that the term "recent" would be apter than "new."

Words Davison uses about NAP: "subcommanders," "exclusive" (as in intolerant), "confusing," "verbose," "perverse," "inability," "marchers."

"Subcommanders"? Davison doesn't hide his trope: these inarticulate new Americans are an army of partisans--ideologists. Although other poetry under review took up social and political themes, it was Allen's strange collection of young poets of whom the reviewer had never heard that were "sociological." NAP of course marked a return to poetics from the thematic emphasis of mainstream verse of the 50s but here: "I am afraid that this collection as a whole has more sociological than poetic interest about it."

And "marchers"? This dismissal has about it the usual worry about rude political force. Funny how in 1960 still, so late into the anti-ideological era, rebukes of the avant-garde use a political rhetoric. "Coterie" = subversive cell. Yet what was it that mainstream critics were commending if not a different coterie, and was not this critical gesture itself "exclusive" in its willful avoidance of Pound-Williams poetics (Davison identifies it as such) as an aesthetic?

Photo above right: Peter Davison. B. 1928. Served in various editorial capacities at Atlantic for 50 years. Son of English poet Edward Davison. His first book of poems was published in 1963.

Monday, November 12, 2007

absinthe makes the heart grow fonder

Below and at right: Albert Maignan's "Green Muse" (1895) shows a poet succumbing to the green fairy.

Edward Rothstein of course writes on art for the Times. Today's column is unusual - a seemingly real essayistic venture, and the topic is absinthe. Art that's been made under the influence of absinthe. And the green magic has long been associated with bohemianism and the avant-garde.

There are only two things that recommend this piece in particular.

First, a great line from Oscar Wilde quoted here: "After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world."

Before we get to the second reason for my interest, let me quote the opening of the piece so you have a sense of its approach:

"Dear reader! Should this column impress you as being more than usually lyrical, recalling perhaps the imagery and elegance of poetry by Baudelaire or Verlaine; should it seem a bit decadent, redolent of Oscar Wilde’s withering hauteur; should it have a touch of madness or perversity, combining, say, the tastes of Toulouse-Lautrec with the passions of van Gogh; should it simply sound direct and forceful and knowing like one of Ernest Hemingway’s characters; should it do any or all of that, let me credit something that each of these figures fervently paid tribute to: the green fairy, the green goddess, the green muse, the glaucous witch, the queen of poisons."

Okay, then, second: Rothstein's listy, flowy style itself. It's a bit of a dare, this piece--although just a bit (and that's my point). He admits that "[t]his column was conceived under the influence of a green-colored high-proof herbal liquor that was illegal in the United States for more than 95 years." Note: conceived; not written. Indeed, I wish the piece had actually been written under the influence, or in an unconducive-to-newspaper-sense mood engendered by other means; as it is, though, its waywardness and parallelisms ("the green fairy, the green goddess, the green muse, the glaucous witch, the queen of poisons") are fake drunken-loose writing. Recollection of flow after the fact. The list has green, green, green, glaucous (I like that substitution) and then queen. Green/queen rights the metrical rhyming ship of that otherwise teetering sentence. Too easy. Let it really get off the rails, and then Edward Rothstein would have been doing something new in the Times Arts page.

The piece set itself up for a fall with its indication of experimentalist standards: for the fact is its writing doesn't "recall[...] the imagery and elegance of poetry by Baudelaire or Verlaine." The opening paragraph is just an irony, even an (unintended) mock at writers who really go off.

Oh, why can't journalistic writing ever even once really do in its form what it does in content? Why must its excitement always be in the meaning of the sentences' sense and never in itself the means by which the piece is written? I'm asking a silly question, of course, for this is the paper of record....but here (blog) is a space where like others I tilt at stylebook windmills, messing with media of which I truly

which way to go?

Eric Umansky - my former student, a pal, and a fine writer and investigative journalist - is spending some months in Damascus. I recommend the blog for his lucid impressions "on the ground" (as the phrase goes these days) - touring, working, writing. And also his musings, mostly political, in general.

poet in need

Jerry Rothenberg, among others, recently read at a benefit for Will Alexander, whom the organization "Poets in Need" is helping. MORE...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

GIRLdrive arrives at Marjorie

I've been following GIRLdrive, a road-trip blog written by Emma and Nona. They drive around the country looking to meet and talk with women their age and also various eminent feminists.

"We are interviewing and photographing young women across the country," they write, "asking them what they think and feel about feminism. We are talking to both self-proclaimed feminists and the 'I’m not a feminist but' contingent. We're also publishing a book upon our return, which will include photos, essays, interviews, and diary entries. The road trip, a staple of American culture that has always represented discovery and change, is our way of getting to know our peers. We also plan to chat with some influential feminists of our mothers’ generation and beyond.Both of our mothers were deeply involved in Second Wave feminism, so we are closely connected to the movement’s history. But our roadtrip seeks to discover how other women our age grapple with this history of freedom, equality, joy, ambition, sex, and love."

One of their southern Cal entries is titled "Los Angeles: MARJORIE," and this Marjorie turns out to be Marjorie Perloff. Marjorie and the two young travelers seem to disagree, and then there's "a true moment of generational exchange." Nona wrote this entry and here it is.

it's all relative, indeed

Here is Vardi Kahana's 1992 photograph of her aunts, all Holocaust survivors.

Nextbook reports on a new exhibit of Kahana's photographs of her family: "As an art student in Israel in the late 1970s, Vardi Kahana started taking pictures of her mother, a refugee who had been interned at Auschwitz. Two of her brothers and her parents died there. The Holocaust also claimed the lives of Kahana's paternal grandparents and three of her father’s siblings. The survivors from these two families dispersed to Israel, the United States, and other parts of Europe, where they begat new generations whose members hold a range of political and religious beliefs."

Now a portrait photographer, Kahana has traveled the world documenting this clan. The resulting exhibition, "One Family," is on view at the Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York City through December 21.

Kahana writes: "The Holocaust was not present in my life or my home. But when I grew up and began writing books, and these books were translated into different languages, I started traveling to different places as a result. And each time I visit Germany I am asked once again how it feels to look at my book in the German language. 'It feels fine,' I answer. 'It is my way of announcing to you that we are alive.'”

Saturday, November 10, 2007

where are you now, Bill Ringler?

In the The Chronicle of Higher Education for November 9, there's an article about young academics who feel like frauds. Here's the link to John Gravois's piece. When this phenomenon was seriously studied, it was found that about 70 percent of people from all walks of life — men and women — have felt like impostors for at least some part of their careers.

There's even a web site for the syndrome.

I really don't like being grumpy about human psychology, but it occurs to me first that some of these young academics are (merely) feeling panic about not having as much knowledge about their fields of expertise as they feel they need to have. In other words, they are imposters, in a sense. Or: they're in a profession where one doesn't really know enough until one has been thinking, teaching, writing and studying for a decade or more. Or: one will never know enough. (And yet they must publish, so almost by definition what they write will be based on significantly incomplete knowledge. It all makes sense. In fact, too much sense.)

Years ago I met Bill Ringler. William A. Ringler, Jr. I was a young scholar feeling rather imposterish, research modern poetry in the manuscript archive of the Huntington Library. I and about thirty other scholars did nothing each day but go to the oasis-like Huntington in San Marino, California, enter the quiet, air-conditioned archives room, read rare books and manuscripts. I was rushing to get out my "tenure book." The Huntington did then, and proabably still does, have a noontime ritual. The manuscripts room closes down entirely for an hour. Everyone has to leave. The idea was to encourage the scholars to walk together across the botanical gardens to a little cafe just past the Shakespeare garden. This is all before the public was permitted to enter the gardens at 1 PM, so we had the place utterly to ourselves. So we did this: we walked to the cafe, where I had lunch at tables with scholars of Renaissance literature, California railroad historians, people examining the 1,200 negatives made by the woman photographer Frances B. Johnston, etc.

Once I met Bill Ringler, then more than 80 years old, I always made a dash to Bill's table. Bill was the world's foremost bibliographer-scholar of 16th-century English lyrics. By the time I met him he knew most of them by heart. Really. He had not been a hugely productive scholar--in, I mean, terms of the number of books and articles he'd published. But everyone knew that he knew more about his subject than anyone else. People used to come to the Huntington to be near Bill--never mind the rare books. He was a rare book.

He had taught at the University of Chicago for decades, and now he "retired to the Huntington." Lived in Pasadena or somewhere and walked to the library every day and studied. Preparing himself to compile the once-in-a-generation tome.

I once asked him, in effect, why he had taken so long to put this book together. It seemed that he'd been the expert in 16th-century English lyric for at least several decades already. His answer was "I don't know enough about it yet, but I will soon." And then: "Some of these things take thirty or forty years to master. If you have that kind of time, then taking that long is appropriate to the task. The best scholars are sometimes people in their 80s."

I'm not of course recommending that any of these nervous young academics wait decades before feeling they know their subject matter well enough to feel they can write definitively about it. I'm just reacting to the sad but also obvious or truistic news of the imposter complex. Bill Ringler had one, big time, but it put him at peace, and made him want to get up in the morning at an age when many folks, having been driven by nervousness all their professional lives, now drool and putter around the roses.

Bill puttered around the roses, as did I in those blissful weeks in Research Heaven, but only for that one enforced hour each day. Then: back to the work.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Celan set to music

John Zorn approached Dan Kaufman to write something for his Tzadik label, the two quickly discovered their shared admiration for the work of Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan. The result is Force of Light, Kaufman's eight-song homage to the remarkable, troubled poet.

Nextbook has covered this story and provides a link to the music. MORE...

Celan: "I have tried to write poetry in order to acquire a perspective of reality for myself."

You were my death:
you I could hold
when all fell away from me.

"One speaks in vain of justice as long as the largest battleship has not been smashed to pieces on a drowned man's brow."

the old new left on Lolita


Thursday, November 08, 2007

new writing modes derive from duress

Pretty much as soon as html had been perfected I was teaching it to my students - or, rather, making them go out and learn it. This was to enable them to create web projects based on the course materials and as an aid to discussion and disagreement. One of the students who resisted all this mightily was Amanda Hirsch. Now Amanda, DC-based, is a web consultant! She's one of those very creative people who went into tech. She blogs in order to help "inspir[e] creative living in DC" and indeed the blog is titled Creative DC. She read "Patchen, can't type, turns to picture-poems" and wrote her own blog entry: "Picture Poems, and How Learning HTML Under Duress Helped Me Lead a More Creative Life, or, Thank You, Al Filreis." I'm flattered by the compliments here, thrilled to have been Amanda's teacher, but most of all intrigued by the way she's brought together Patchen's physical duress, which drove him to a new form of writing, and her own real (though not physical, of course) "duress" in the seminar where I tossed the students in the cold dark web ocean, from which she emerged with a way of being creative in the then-newest mode. One move away from the mechanics of writing, another further into it, but both were or are fresh and both enable the visual. So: concrete. Here's Amanda's entry, and here's an excerpt:

Incidentally, Al is the reason I learned HTML, despite ardent protestations at the time. I was in his Literature of Community class, and our final assignment was to create a website reflecting our definition of community. "But we don't know HTML!," half of us protested. This was in '97. "Figure it out," he told us.

information as material

Now available on UbuWeb: a short film about the work of Kenneth Goldsmith, Sucking on Words (2007), by Simon Morris. Filmed on location in New York City, February, 2007. Critical Commentary by Bruce Andrews, Barbara Cole, Robert Fitterman.

"The words of Kenneth Goldsmith, described by Juliana Spahr as 'the world's leading conceptual poet', and by himself as 'the most boring writer that has ever lived'. His ideas are being brought to the screen by artist and director Simon Morris in a film to premiere at the British Library in London on Friday 26th October. Christian Bök, one of Canada's leading poets and the winner of the 2002 Griffin poetry prize, said: "Goldsmith is our James Joyce for the 21st century."

'sucking on words' introduces 8000 of those daily words - a flurry of excitement as the climates of conflict and admiration come together around Goldsmith's pioneering conceptual poetics. Shot on location in Manhattan in February this year, 'sucking on words' features interviews with the leading critics and poets Bruce Andrews, Barbara Cole, and Robert Fitterman.

Goldsmith says: "I'm more interested in knowing language better in the way Warhol was knowing image better by simply turning the camera on to it and letting it run."

And Simon Morris adds: "Goldsmith is turning the literary world on its head by encouraging plagiarism and suggesting writers throw away existing notions of intellectual property." As Goldsmith says: "We don't need the new sentence, the old sentence re-framed is good enough."

Conceptual writing is the poetics of the moment. It fuses avant-garde impulses of the twentieth century with technologies of the present. The material morphs between the web and the printed page. It draws attention to the materiality of the word and the conceptual nature of this type of literature - the writing is the idea and the idea is the writing.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bob Lucid memorial - audio available

I've mentioned the late Bob Lucid several times already here: mentor, sage, quiet educational radical, great citizen of the university. We gathered to remember Bob's life and work on October 19, 2007. The talks were recorded and are available here - both the whole program and individual speeches. Above you see Ed Kane and Susan Small Savitsky, former Lucid students who revered him. Ed and Susan have made generous contributions to an endowment fund at the Writers House in Bob Lucid's memory. This fund will be used every year from now on to create an annual reading/program featuring a novelist of the sort that Bob championed.

If you want to contribute to the fund (we need your help!) please just write me at afilreis [at] writing [dot] upenn [dot] edu.

Our "We Remember Bob Lucid" web page includes all the links to sound files, photographs and remembrances from Bob's friends, colleagues and students.

Ron Paul loves Guy Fawkes

Yesterday I complained about the way the Times wrote about Guy Fawkes Day celebrations in England. Today, elsewhere in the same esteemed daily, in the national political page, to wit, I find a delightful article about how libertarian GOP candidate for Prez Ron Paul is using Guy Fawkes as a symbol of good resistance against anti-individual government-uber-alles sprawl. Libertarian fans of Ron Paul know of Guy Fawkes through the futuristic graphic novel V for Vendetta. There a terrorist modeled after Fawkes takes on a fascist government that has taken over Britain. So the individual-freedom-loving Right reads Fawkes as anti-fascist. I'm not going to give the web address for Paul's fund-raising scheme, lest readers of this blog accidentally click it and donate, but you can certainly find it on the web if you are even just slightly inclined. The title of the article in today's paper is "Candidate's Pleased to Remember This Fifth of November." I'm fascinated. Terrorism as libertarianism. It makes some sense (and always has made sense as a matter of domestic politics [think Oklahoma City]), since the libertarian Right has been driven nuts by all the Big Government entailed in the neo-cons' response to 9/11.