Sunday, August 31, 2008

can the poem be tested any further?

Ceptuetics Radio is hosted by Kareem Estefan: avant-garde poetry readings and interviews airing Wednesday nights from 7:30-8:00 on WNYU 89.1FM in the NYC tri-state area and also through, or through iTunes. PennSound features 25 of these shows here.

I think my favorite of these episodes is number 5, recorded in December '07, in which Rodrigo Toscano shares technical, social, and theoretical aspects of his Collapsible Poetics Theater (CPT), generally discusses performance in poetry, and performs a radio work called "Eco-Strato-Static." Be sure to check out the Ceptuetics blog.

More on Toscano's project: The Collapsible Poetics Theater is an all volunteer effort, one that assembles itself within a given 48-72 hour period of each performance. Each locale (with its resident poets, experienced actors, experienced non-actors) brings an entirely new set of possibilities. It is reminiscent of Commedia Dell'Arte in its traveling, portable, rapid-set up qualities. To be sure, Poetics Theater fits into the poetry scene as a baby does in itchy burlap; it fits into the drama scene as does a little crown, little scepter, little gown, all neatly stored in a metal suitcase (quite literally!). The dings are just dings. The persistent question is: can the poem be tested any further?

The full text of "Eco-Strato-Static" can be found on Toscano's Electronic Poetry Center site. At the bottom of this entry see a photo of the performance. That's Rodrigo on the right.

Here is September's Ceptuetics line-up: Sep 10 Tan Lin, Sep 17 Tracie Morris, Sep 24 Juliana Spahr.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

apotheosis in several senses

There's constantly something new at Ubu. I watch for it pretty much daily. Now it's the 1970 Yoko Ono experimental film short, Apotheosis, completely mesmerizing. Up we go in a hot-air balloon, wintertime, and a single continuous shot (with sound) gets the scene. (Actually, Kenny Goldsmith's notes indicate that somewhere in there Yoko spliced in some images from a second camera she had with her.)

I like intuiting and knowing of the thrill behind the scenes: John and Yoko going up, up, up in '70. They--or at least John--are apotheosized in our watching this film now. The slow rising up, along with the ambient sounds capturing the extraordinarily silence of leaving terra firma: that's a heavenly gesture too. This thing is really intentioned.

Friday, August 29, 2008

the Williams who torques sentences

The William Carlos Williams that motivated a young Robert Creeley was The Wedge of 1944. For Ron Silliman and--he suspects--others among those who "became known as Language Poet[s]"--the key Williams was to be found in Spring & All (1923). They found it in the 1970 Frontier Press edition.

Silliman believes that one of the important distinctions between the Language Poets and earlier avant-garde generations was their "different reading" of Williams - their Spring & All-centered reading of him.

As Ron prepared to participate in a 1999 symposium I hosted at the Writers House on contemporary poetry, I asked him about his WCW, and this is how he responded:

[S]omething Robert Creeley said at his reading in Camden recently [November 1999] made me conscious once again of how radically different the different generations will read certain poets. For Creeley, the important Williams was his 1944 book, The Wedge, and what mattered to Creeley was seeing how much the work was driven by (his word) "anger."

Now Williams had a huge impact on me -- it was discovering The Desert Music when I was 16 that made me realize that poetry was the form/genre/tradition that would allow me to do what I wanted to as a writer. But it was Spring & All that would be for me (and I suspect for many others of "my" generation) become the defining WCW text, coming as it did into print for us only with the 1970 Frontier Press edition. Similarly, I have always been struck by how there seems to be one Louis Zukofsky who exists for poets only a few years my senior (John Taggart or the late Ronald Johnson, say) and another for "my generation." One of the real distinctions of what became known as Language Poetry would be this different reading of these two writers.

In George Hartley's book about the development of the so-called language poetry, he has a chapter on modernist influences. "Williams writes words and sentences that continually drift between materiality and transparency," notes Hartley. In WCW Hartley finds "the 'torquing' of sentences that Silliman values," and he quotes from that early Williams:

Will you bring her here? Perhaps---and when we meet on the stair, shall we speak, say it is some acquaintance---or pass silent? Well, a jest's a jest but how poor this tea is. Think of a life in this place, here in these hills by these truck farms. Whose life? Why there, back of you. if a woman laughs a little loudly one always thinks that way of her. But how she bedizens the country-side. Quite an old world glamour. if it were not for-but one cannot have everything. What poor tea it was. How cold it's grown.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Al's Kindle

I'm trying out the Kindle. So far I love it. It's true that the sort of books I read are generally not available in Kindle's format (sold only through Amazon), but a few are: e.g. Joan Didion's Political Fictions, including the fabulous essay "Clinton Agonistes." So I'm reading Didion on this little beautifully designed device. It feels very much like a paperback (it's intentionally the same size as most paperbacks). I like the way I navigate it. I've also subscribed to two newspapers (the Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer) and three Kindle-versioned blogs (Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and Slate's blog). The newspapers are downloaded automatically to the Kindle early in the morning; the blogs are updated almost hourly. The thing uses the cellular network and so can download books or update blogs anywhere where one is in the range of cell service.

I do intend to use all the above, but my main notion is to read chapters, books, articles etc. of the sort that are sent to me as email attachments. I have found that I was only reading some of these, even if the Word doc sent to me was important or timely. I've downloaded such things - let's say the draft of an essay a friend is writing, or a dissertation chapter - but have felt it wasteful to print them out; yet if I didn't print them yet swore I'd read on the desktop's screen or even on my laptop, I never quite got to it. I still like to read while supine - and, in any case, somewhere away from my desk.

The Kindle is set up to enable one to email oneself (to an address that is automatically created at the time of purchase) any document. It arrives on the Kindle quickly and appears like any other book or article. Below you see Rachel Blau DuPlessis's new short essay on re-reading George Oppen. Below that you can see the Kindle it its black leather case - looking rather, again, like a paperback or small notebook. The thing travels well.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

alphabetic constraint


Piano, piano, piano,
A decrescendo.
Such desires as he knew.
Transparency of the house.
Error made him lose another
Right that he should leave
the enjoyment.
Now the name of an enormous variety
of satisfactions.
And he started forward, fell, arose
fell again, walked.
Kursk station on a hot summer
morning in the year 1900.

- - -

Tom Devaney is working on a new series of alphabetic acrostics. Above is one of them. He's (often, not always) end-stopping the penultimate line, so that the final line can be a fragment in the imagist mode (with the "objective" descriptor of the haiku operating somewhere back there in the logical-rhetorical lineage).

I believe that the sheer pressure of the constraint has Tom thinking, at the end, that he needs a denotative fragment. In this case somewhat simply, it makes one think of the poem's title in case the connection had been implicit up to that point.

Here's another, working somewhat in the same way.

- - -


My ideas of the prize.
A ship taken by force.
Nautical waves, nautical waves of light.
In a privateer The Manichaean.
Chilling night, steam-engine afternoons.
Here I am without you.
At moments all can spring from all.
Evil is a catch-all crime pitched
to its own composite ends.
Again away from you by the river dock.
NIKE the Greek goddess of victory in billboard bold.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kafka = Kold Kash

Kafka's friend, the brilliant editor/critic Max Brod, saved his strange pal's papers despite his pleas that they be destroyed. Brod's lover-secretary got them after his death and now her daughter has them somewhere in or near Tel Aviv. Finally, because the daughter needs some cash, it seems that these papers will be made available, once some archive buys them (for many millions). This is all a big deal, although the Times, in covering the story this morning, hasn't much to go on: their writer in Tel Aviv quotes various Kafka scholars relevantly and irrelevantly. Is the question of Kafka's possible interest in the Hebrew language, in his Jewish identity, in Zionism, relevant to the news of the extant papers? Not necessarily. And via the headline we learn that the pressure of the daughter of the former lover-secretary to release the papers is "Kafkaesque." It doesn't seem Kafkaesque to me at all - in fact, the opposite. The motive (originating in her, not put on her) is purely to turn the writer's extraodinarily uncommercial writing into lots of cash. Such straightforward normative valuation seems unlike anything I've ever read in Kafka. Here is your link the Times article.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

the territorio libre of baseball

I'm not a huge fan of Lawrence Felinghetti's poems but I've always admired and enjoyed the early figure he cut. The poetry, especially later, is schticky. Well, if you're going to do irreverent liberationist schtick, why not turn the glance at baseball and modernism at once.

In "Baseball Canto" Ferlinghetti runs through a crude analogy between the racial and class undersides of baseball and the kind of poetry and poetics that might stand against the exclusivist epic-oriented modernism inherited from Ezra Pound. The analogy only works in a superficial political sense: Tito Fuentes and Willie Mays, beloved by the grungy populace in San Francisco's bleachers, surely hate usury. Poundian modernism becomes an imperialism. It's fast and, as I say, very rough. But funny and fun.

I've made a RealAudio recording of Ferlinghetti reading this poem. If you don't have a RealPlayer on your computer, I apologize. (You can donwload one from

Click here to listen. And here's the poem's text:

Watching baseball, sitting in the sun, eating popcorn,
reading Ezra Pound,
and wishing that Juan Marichal would hit a hole right through the
Anglo-Saxon tradition in the first Canto
and demolish the barbarian invaders.
When the San Francisco Giants take the field
and everybody stands up for the National Anthem,
with some Irish tenor's voice piped over the loudspeakers,
with all the players struck dead in their places
and the white umpires like Irish cops in their black suits and little
black caps pressed over their hearts,
Standing straight and still like at some funeral of a blarney bartender,
and all facing east,
as if expecting some Great White Hope or the Founding Fathers to
appear on the horizon like 1066 or 1776.

But Willie Mays appears instead,
in the bottom of the first,
and a roar goes up as he clouts the first one into the sun and takes
off, like a footrunner from Thebes.
The ball is lost in the sun and maidens wail after him
as he keeps running through the Anglo-Saxon epic.
And Tito Fuentes comes up looking like a bullfighter
in his tight pants and small pointy shoes.
And the right field bleechers go mad with Chicanos and blacks
and Brooklyn beer-drinkers,
"Tito! Sock it to him, sweet Tito!"
And sweet Tito puts his foot in the bucket
and smacks one that don't come back at all,
and flees around the bases
like he's escaping from the United Fruit Company.
As the gringo dollar beats out the pound.
And sweet Tito beats it out like he's beating out usury,
not to mention fascism and anti-semitism.
And Juan Marichal comes up,
and the Chicano bleechers go loco again,
as Juan belts the first ball out of sight,
and rounds first and keeps going
and rounds second and rounds third,
and keeps going and hits paydirt
to the roars of the grungy populace.
As some nut presses the backstage panic button
for the tape-recorded National Anthem again,
to save the situation.

But it don't stop nobody this time,
in their revolution round the loaded white bases,
in this last of the great Anglo-Saxon epics,
in the territorio libre of Baseball.

Friday, August 15, 2008

iconoclasm and its discontents

Here is the first paragraph of Bob Perelman's old article "Building a More Powerful Vocabulary: Bruce Andrews and the World (Trade Center)":

Not many days after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the New York Times ran an article discussing the structure of the building and the possibilities of its being brought down by a larger and more thoughtfully placed explosion. It turns out not to be easy: apparently, each tower is built to withstand the impact of a fully loaded jet liner taking off. In addition to the strength of the structure, attackers would have to confront its complexity: there are twenty-one load- bearing pillars and they could not be reached simultaneously by the force of an explosion. In being destroyed, a particular section would in fact shield other areas by absorbing the impact. The timing and placement of the article is interesting in itself: it was a rapid-response anodyne to the spiral of geopolitical urban trauma while at the same time, under the cover of a discussion of engineering, it invited its readers to participate in transgressive calculations of how the Trade Center towers might actually be brought down.

Just a bit more of this article can be read here. The link to Bob Perelman's own home page seems to have broken in the years since I first excerpted the article for my students. Not sure why. I'll ask Bob.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

remember the day we met?

It seems unlikely that a John Ashbery poem would pose this sentimental question. Well....

The newest PoemTalk show is officially out now: a 25-minute discussion of John Ashbery's late poem "Crossroads in the Past" published in Your Name Here (2000). Above you see the PoemTalkers who joined me for this 9th episode: Jessica Lowenthal, Greg Djanikian and Tom Devaney.