30 November 2010

George Albon on Daniel Davidson

My interest in revisiting Culture is a direct result of reading George Albon's moving reminiscences of Davidson's life and work in his Cafe Multiple (a book I've incorrectly referred to here as "The Slopus," Albon's pet name for the project). I've been reading (sort of obsessively) sections from this project in manuscript (Albon's, that is), and I'm desperate to see more (George: please write faster!). Anyway, Albon gave his permission to reprint a few of the sections on Davidson here, so I'll start today with a few paragraphs from the introduction. I hope to post a longer meditation down the road from a section called "Cafe Orpheus."

Here's George:

Dan Davidson would have time to write one piece on contemporary poetics. In it, he said that “with abandoning the cult of the personal has come a radically amplified referent, accessing domains better suited to qualities and designs common to the atomized, hyper-personalized/depersonalized nature of current social environments.” The adjectives on either side of Dan’s slash aren’t opposites. They describe complementary features of just that atomized nature. And as method, as a prepared medium for the writing, they constituted alternate approaches.


Through Gary [Sullivan] I met Dan Davidson, whom he’d gotten to know at San Francisco State. Dan was the first poet I’d ever met who lived his life as The Poet, with no interference from a day job or schedule, save weekly and/or monthly visits to various clinics. He had a plastic aortic valve, the result of a heart infection which his doctors insisted was a flu bug, and long before this a note from his therapist to SSI that he was psychologically incapable of employment. Dan worked very hard on his poetry—after fifteen years, some of it still searches along a hard edge. He also worked hard to develop, if I can put it this way, his deportment—his self-presentation as a professional and engaged artist. Looking at “deportment” makes me see that it could apply to Dan in more ways than one. With his uncompromising apartness he was indeed “deported” from run-of-the-mill America, taking none of its pleasantries for granted, and always at odds with those who did, or could. (“Don’t I look acculturated?” he once asked when he showed me a photo of himself and his then-girlfriend Jenny, followed by his high-pitched laugh.) And he was also “deported” from the world in which being an engaged poet could mean something, could be a fact worthy of attention, if not automatic respect—as happens (used to happen?) in the world surrounding North America. So if his deportment were also these things, they were part of the background of his active deportment—the styles he chose in facing down such a world. Much could be said about Dan, remembrances turning into anecdotes, but for now I’ll remember him in his ratty cane chair in the flat on lower Haight (gotten off the street like everything else in the flat), on the phone to poet A quietly suggesting that poet B, who was close to poet C, be included among the poets speaking at C’s memorial. Likewise the sense of company he provided, his enthusiasms and despairs, his fearsome intelligence, his pitiless debater’s will, his advice on where to send submissions, and how.

1.) Always have something in the mail.

2.) Never fold your work. The SASE should be larger than 8½ x 11, and the original mailing envelope even larger. There’s a subtle difference if it’s folded. And if you get it back it’s still uncreased and you can send it to the next place down the line.

He also wrote two computer rules for Gary on an index card, when Gary got his first PC: 1.) Turn it off before the brain melts. 2.) Think—Plan—Attack!


29 November 2010

Daniel Davidson

Happy holidays, comrades! Hope you all had a restful weekend... Katja and I just walked in the door after an eight hour (!) marathon drive from Reno (usually a 3-4 hour trip, but Donner Pass was covered in snow) where I made Trader Joe's boxed stuffing (twice!), read Agamben's Profanations (not my favorite, I admit), started writing a short critical piece on Stephen Ratcliffe's Reading the Unseen, watched tons of HGTV, wrote approximately six new lines of a poem I'm tentatively calling Dry Salvage, and installed a new, very cheap car stereo into our vehicle (the volume of which randomly spikes with no warning!). The highlight of my trip, however, was reading Daniel Davidson's Culture slow and steady all weekend long.

Not sure I'm ready to talk about this project in a coherent way, but I can say that I've had a totally visceral reaction to it, and I invite the uninitiated to pick it up pronto. I'm hoping to post reflections on the project here from poets who intimately knew Davidson's work, but in the meantime I invite Disinhibitors to check out the three books reprinted on Krupskaya's website (An Account, Transit, and Desire) NOW (click on the word "culture" halfway down the page). Check it out if you have a moment, and if you'd like to share reflections about Davidson or his work to get us started, please make use of the comment stream below...


25 November 2010

Happy Holidays!!

We're heading up to Reno to do Thanksgiving in style, so probably no blogging until Monday; until then, have a safe and restful holiday, and take a look at this:

24 November 2010

The Swan's Rag

Just in time for the holidays(!), Evan Kennedy's very spicy NsoSFW-style xeroxed mag features all kinds of top-shelf material, putting the D=E=S=I=R=E back in language (or vice versa). Issue two features Dr. Halpern's oft-discussed "Love Song (To My Fallen Soldier)" (originally published in P-Queue? Soon to arrive in Music for Porn...) coupled with some excerpts from "Trolley's Kind" which I featured here using Rob's reading copy. 

There's also Cedar Sigo's stirring reflections on straight boys, Ted Rees's "Bahd Nay Foo Yah," and lots of pictures featuring what looks like Ben Affleck (but is really Rimbaud?) running around West Oakland half-naked.

I read The Swan's Rag at a weird Starbucks while waiting for Katja to finish a work meeting, and I realized pretty quickly that this is maybe not the best magazine to casually whip out on the unsuspecting public! Lots of dirty looks, and lots of dirty poems! And lots of boys in this number for sure; that said, the ladies bring the heat, represented here by Jackqueline Frost's "Ex/Sex is a High School History Class and You Remember" and Sara Larsen's "this is my EKKLESIA..."

Here's S-LRSN in full, and do get yr. Swan's Rag here:

this is my EKKLESIA, stiffening at my fly:

like what tender tales of the pelican bathe me in mortal pubis, and aid this fat be
fatter in slighted cunt of sand-sweeping, spare dreams. this kairos is ENORMOUS,
with corinthian tongue flattening new holy stones.

o pelican of heaven deign from the bones to make just bone of your body. all
ejaculate runs down the nape. transhypnotic rivelets. i watch him and give him the
name jonah (false of course), the sky and earth constitute that big whale belly, this
crude digests his body, i watch him

Pie Pellicane, Iesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine.
Cuius una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.

slight brown cock flops in his hazmat-suit. in a time of famine, there is a gulf
between us. i just want my life back. this kairos is enormous, ever-darkening opal
maw. an inversion of stained glass, wine-dark water. would you, my pelican, bind
yourself to it? my pelican,
my inversion, vulgar to god - would you, then,          wipe it up?

23 November 2010

Jeff Derksen at Nonsite

Notes from Jeff Derksen's talk on "mega-events" this past Sunday...

The way mega-events alter urban territory; urban events as urban planning

Plan of the city is to somehow enable gentrification

1st mega-event: taking land from natives
2nd mega-event: railroad
3rd mega-event: expo
4th mega-event: Olympics?

Poetry as form of knowledge/research: moments + events tie together (or create?) moments of political possibility

Neoliberalism=dead but dominant // zombie government

Police monitors: city split in affective zones

Olympics + G20= mega-mega event


The processes that produce space...

Call for spatial justice /// right to the city

Poetry as a form of knowledge doesn't have to make poetry

Question of how poetry responds to social exigencies??

I'm not so sure (that is, me: Michael) about the notion of art-as-knowledge...Certainly art is a kind of knowledge, but the idea of art-as-knowledge seems a bit too operative for my comfort...

22 November 2010

Yellow Field

I was pleased to find the beautiful new issue of Yellow Field in the post this weekend between running to and from events (more on the weekend's busy-ness to come (I hope...)). Edited and published by Buffalo's Edric Mesmer, a very smart, very kind, and very humble guy whose company I enjoy very much, Yellow Field is the reincarnation of a mag he used to publish somewhat irregularly called Yellow {Edenwald} Field, which, if I remember correctly, had something of a regional focus.

This new issue is numbered 1, and reflects its new lease on life through its stunning production values and new editorial focus, all of which hone in on what I look for in a magazine: large format, generous margins, ample room for contributors and critical investigations. Mesmer writes: "Yellow Field presents a new survey or agitation thereof, as it continues to forefront the established, the emergent, the undersung, in the forum pagination. Taking survey requires a new register of poetic frequency (or voice, or practice), be that by geography, demography, or textual decisiveness and device-veness." As is his wont, Mesmer means it when he addresses the emergent, as Yellow Field is NEVER a survey of the usual suspects...

Tons of good stuff this issue, including contributions from Donna Wyszomierski, Conrad Wells, Rhoda Rosenfeld, Yves Troendle, Jeffrey Vincent, Kate Colby, and a pretty great large block of text from Peter Larkin that runs three 8.5 x 11 pages. Here's a taste (click image for a larger view):

Write Edric a nice note for your copy; also, sounds like he's especially looking for critical reviews for the next issue. You can find him here:

Edric Mesmer 
1217 Delaware Avenue #802
Buffalo, NY 14209
yellowedenwaldfield [AT] Yahoo (DOT) com

19 November 2010

Fresh to Death Fridays: C.J. Martin's 1978

I was super sad to have missed hanging out with C.J. Martin and Julia Drescher last week, and while they weren't able to make the trip to the Bay, Chris passed on a chapbook he made in anticipation. I thought I'd post it here because, needless to say, it's awesome. Chris writes, "The poem locates its vocabulary largely in Cindy Sherman's untitled film stills from '78," but it really memorializes the year we were both born! Click on the arrow in the top-righthand corner for full screen reading...



Things to do this weekend...

TONIGHT, FRIDAY 11/19: The Encyclopedia Project as SPT

I've been a bit of a deadbeat board member, as I've just signed on with Small Press Traffic and I've yet to announce an SPT event on this blog! That changes now, though, as I'm super excited about this event. I can't say, however, that I totally understand what the Encyclopedia project is, but I'm totally enchanted by pretty much anything Miranda Mellis works on and this features all kinds of super interesting readers including Chris Nagler, Brian Teare, Jocelyn Saidenberg, fellow SPT board member Gloria Frym, etc.etc. And it's always fun to listen to Samantha Giles as she magically unfolds her introduction as if she'd just thought to put one together with the grace and ease of, say, a chatty Frank O'hara. Not to be missed....


Mary Burger, Tammy Rae Carland, Tyler Carter, Jaime Cortez, Amanda Davidson, Gloria Frym, Bob Gl├╝ck, Sailor Holladay, Christian Nagler, Kirthi Nath, Jocelyn Saidenberg, Sara Seinberg, Chuleenan Svetvilas, Bronwyn Tate, Brian Teare, Amy Trachtenberg, Sarah Fran Wisby, and possibly more!

Music from the Alameda Ensemble!
Get your copy of Vol 2 F-K, hot off the press!
November 19, 2010
event begins at 7:30pm
entrance $8-15/members free
Timken Hall, California College of the Arts
1111 8th Street, San Francisco, 94107

TONIGHT, FRIDAY 11/19: Larry Eigner Celebration at Holloway

(August 7, 1927 – February 3, 1996)
Friday, November 19 at 6:30PM
315 Wheeler Hall, the Maude Fife Room

This event celebrates the publication in four folio volumes of the
Collected Poems of Larry Eigner.

Robert Grenier, poet and co-editor of The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner
Lyn Hejinian, poet and professor, Department of English, UC Berkeley
Richard Eigner, brother of Larry Eigner
Rebecca Gaydos, grad student and scholar of the poetry of Larry Eigner
Kit Robinson, poet and long friend of Larry Eigner
Michael Davidson, poet and professor, UC San Diego
George Hart, scholar of the poetry of Larry Eigner
Albert Gelpi, professor of English, emeritus, Stanford University
Hillary Gravendyk, assistant professor, Pomona College
Jack and Adelle Foley, poets
Norma Cole, poet
Stephen Ratcliffe, poet and professor, Department of English, Mills College
Robert Hass, former Poet Laureate of the United States, professor, UC

SATURDAY, 11/20: Is there anything Saturday?

There must be something Saturday?! Am I forgetting something?

SUNDAY AFTERNOON, 11/21: Nonsite Collective || Jeff DerksenJeff Derkson: After Euphoria--Art and Organization in the Neoliberal Crisis
The Nonsite Collective invites you to participate in a discussion with Jeff Derksen on Sunday, November 21, 2010. We will meet at 2pm at:

Nicole Hollis Interiors
935 Natoma Street, San Francisco
(between Mission and Howard, and between 10th and 11th, accessible from Van Ness and Civic Center MUNI/BART stations)

Our discussion will emerge from Jeff's recent research and documentation of activist cultural work around issues of financialization and culture, contradiction and conflict around neoliberal metropolitan planning and development, and the place of affect-production in culture-worker collectives. We hope to use this occasion to develop prompts for ongoing inquiries and actions by the Nonsite Collective and other collective formations in the Bay Area, including a series of concerns that might help to animate our upcoming group collaboration with SF Camerawork.

SUNDAY NIGHT, 11/21: Tisa Bryant & Jeff Derksen at the New Reading Series

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Reading at 7 p.m.
at 21 Grand, 416 25th St, Oakland
Admission is 5 dollars

Tisa Bryant is the author of Unexplained Presence (Leon Works, 2007), a collection of hybrid essays on black presences in film, literature, and visual art. She is co-editor of the cross-referenced journal of narrative possibility, The Encyclopedia Project, and co-editor, with Ernest Hardy, of War Diaries, an anthology on black gay men’s desire and survival, published by AIDS Project Los Angeles in 2010. She is also author of a chapbook, Tzimmes. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in the journals 1913 and Animal Shelter. Bryant is currently working on a novel, The Curator. She teaches fiction, hybrid forms, and ethnic innovative literature at the California Institute of the Arts.

Jeff Derksen's poetry books include Down Time, Dwell, and Transnational Muscle Cars, as well as the book of essays Annihilated Time: poetry and other politics (all from Talonbooks). His poetry has been anthologized in The Canadian Long Poem Anthology, The Gertrude Stein Anthology of Innovative North American Poetry, Writing Class, Half in the Sun: an anthology of Mennonite Writing, and in the Portuguese anthology of Canadian poetry, Pullllllllllll. His collection of essays on art and urbanism in the long neoliberal moment, After Euphoria (JRP Ringier), is forthcoming. Derksen is on the boards of the Kootenay School of Writing and Artspeak Gallery (Vancouver), and he works at Simon Fraser University.

16 November 2010

This happened...

The New (Chor)us

"I wonder if this move to the chorus, and to substitutional performance modalities, is a return of sorts to the “death of the author” problematic which writers and artists have taken on in fundamental ways for the past half century, or if in fact what these writers are getting at is something different. In the work of both Jen and Brandon, a presumed author does not just become "decentered" or "obscured" in the course of a reading through the performance of appropriated texts, but dramatize their situation of address with those with whom they feel affinity, friendship, and a sense of community."

Thom Donovan, The New (Chor)us

12 November 2010

Fresh to Death Fridays: Pattie McCarthy

I thought I'd close out my little featurette on Pattie McCarthy by showcasing some brand new work from her project marybones (great title!). Click on the arrow in the top right-hand corner for full screen.


Things to do this weekend!

TONIGHT: ARP & Paul Clipson at the BAM
The BAM's L@TE programming has been consistently satisfying, and this event promises to be no exception. Alexis Georgopoulos from compelling local band The Alps will perform with filmmaker Paul Clipson under his electronic moniker ARP. Promises to be much like the clip below, and it's cheap! AND it's in the East Bay!

SATURDAY: Michael Cross & Erica Lewis @ The Condensery
Doors at 7:30, reading at 8:00. Bring some booze and listen to my sad poems. Also, there is often piano music during intermission. The Speakeasy is located at 604 56th Street in Oakland, CA, at the intersection of 56th and Shattuck. Wine and hors d'oeuvres will be provided. Bike parking on the porch, car parking on the street.

erica lewis is a former curator of the Canessa Gallery Reading Series in North Beach. During her tenure there, she reinvigorated the series with out-of-the-box events involving performance art and musical/poetic explorations. Her poetic work is an ongoing examination about how we relate to one another, how we see ourselves as individuals and collective beings, and how we view the world inside and outside of the comfortable box that we put it in. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in New American Writing, Parthenon West Review, P-Queue, Ur Vox, Word For/Word, With+Stand, Cricket Online Review, Shampoo, Little Red Leaves, alice blue, Critiphoria, BOOG CITY, and Try!, among others.

Michael Cross is the author of In Felt Treeling (Chax, 2008) and Haecceities (Cuneiform Press, 2010) and editor of Atticus/Finch chapbooks and On: Contemporary Practice (w/ Thom Donovan). Other projects include Involuntary Vision: after Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (Avenue B, 2003), Building is a process / Light is an element: Essays and Excursions for Myung Mi Kim (Queue Books, 2008), and a forthcoming edition of the George Oppen Memorial Lectures at San Francisco State. He lives in Oakland where he studies 21st century poetry.

Condensery is co-curated by Zack Tuck and Jackqueline Frost.

SUNDAY: Dodie Bellamy's Book Launch w/ Cynthia Sailers & Neil LeDoux
It feels like ages since I've seen Cynthia read, and I always love what Dodie's up to (I'm a big fan of the recent UDP chapbook Barf Manifesto, and, well of course, also Academonia).

When: Sunday, November 14 · 6:30pm - Whenever
Where: Summer BF Press HQ / 1231 Fulton St. Apt 2 / San Francisco, CA
What: Hooray!

Dodie Bellamy's 'Whistle While You Dixie' will be officially released this Sunday. Lindsey, Miette and Steve, and all of the Summer BF interns are so excited that we have decided that we have to throw a party.

But sometimes a party isn't enough. So we decided to go the extra mile. Don't we always?
Dodie will be there to read. So will Cynthia Sailers. Neil LeDoux, who did the wonderful cover art for 'Whistle While You Dixie', will have his art on the walls. The interns are being forced to buy 4 cases of 4 Loco, chips and salsa. So, join us and bring friends!

*Dodie Bellamy is the author of the chapbook, Barf Manifesto, from Ugly Duckling Presse. Other books include Academonia, Pink Steam, and The Letters of Mina Harker. Her book Cunt-Ups won the 2002 Firecracker Alternative Book Award for poetry. In January, 2006, she curated an installation of Kathy Acker's clothing for White Columns, New York's oldest alternative art space. She lives in San Francisco with writer Kevin Killian and three cats.

*Neil LeDoux was born in 1976 in Louisiana. He is currently a BFA candidate at the California College of the Arts. His work has been included in group exhibitions at the California College of the Arts, in San Francisco and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and recently at Silverman Gallery and Right Window Gallery in San Francisco.

*Cynthia Sailers is a poet and therapist in private practice in San Francisco. She is currently writing a dissertation on perversion and group psychology (with a film analysis of Lars von Trier’s Dogville). She is also the author of the book, Lake Systems.

Directions: 1231 Fulton St. Apt 2 is located on Fulton St. between Divisadero and Scott St. Parking is tough in this neighborhood but not impossible. You can also get to us by bike (duh) or bus (#5, 21, 31, 38, 22, 24). If you need driving, biking or public transit directions, let us know. You can email us at summerbfpress@gmail.com.

11 November 2010

More Table Alphabetical

I wanted to post a few more poems in a different register from Pattie McCarthy's book, just to give readers a better sense of her range.

Here's a short little number in four parts for Jenn McCreary:

fionn: a pearl on your eye

1. there is a space large
enough if you make
yourself very
small, a glass hour,
noonsmells of sleep
& breath, a pilcrow scorched bright.
the floodgate I see you
through or do not.
most that increases is needless, given
a light surface, growing thing,
given the skin with which
to touch, blood has a life
expectancy of two months, woe unto you,
poor bellayour hair will become
the shoes of your father's enemies.

2. a pearl on your eye : you are
a finely made thing. when it begins
to snow hardertrees, houses, other
objects seem to recede into the distance.
I know less now
that I am no longer sleepless. it's a trick, this
shift from a blank to witness : a diacritical mark,
an accent slip in emphasis.

3. this is how it should begin in a glass hour.
you are putting two words
together fair-haired & floodgated.
this is how it should begin in coarse
grass cut away & set alight, a prefix
fixed & finely made.

4. haar, snow-dazzle, & fabric softener.
easternly & keen, as with flour, oyer
& terminerthe child is a flexible
cipher, again again. the child is a flexible cipher.

10 November 2010

Pattie McCarthy's Table Alphabetical of Hard Words

I squirreled away Pattie McCarthy's new book Table Alphabetical of Hard Words the moment it arrived by post, and I've been savoring it in little mouthfuls ever since. Her prior (brilliant) collections BK of (H)rs and Verso are sinewy and athletic and structural, and this new collection is certainly no different. I have the same experience reading McCarthy that I do reading, say, Stein or Zukofsky: a tuning to the rhythm of thinking that requires a balance between vertical and horizontal pacing. When the book arrived, I read super slowly over the first few poems, negotiating the diction, the almost haptic materiality of sound, before really tuning in and moving much too fast for comfort. And then, of course, to really stay on board, it was back to the beginning: two pages forward, one page back. 

The opening gambit "askew: latelye done to death" perfectly sets the stage for what's to come; an overture really of the tension established by an erotic sensorium of language coupled with a deep distrust of how this very language slipsaskew, askey, asquint, assay, astryjust out or reach, serving pleasure with one hand and use with the other. Carol Mirakove nails this delicate balance in her blurb, calling the work "exceptional in its scholarship & intimacy" a curious pairing that brings to mind Luce Irigaray or Elizabeth Grosz. The work is deeply studiedlanguage clearly worn and lived in and worried overbut McCarthy springs this mechanism that unravels the very dispositif of scholarship she relys on.

Take the very first poem:

joint & several, mine
          an askew
as nauger begat auger               thus endeth
the first examynacyon

askey looking aside     asquint or awry     assay proofe or a triall
          the history of the world is always played out at dawn

then he asked me, why I had so few words  ?
I am not she that list

          & it is here that I went astry, here
          that I was mistaken, here I was
          unmade at newgate
allow me to add something about fire
I might (he said) deny it later     vexed sore sick     cease & desist

the sinews & the strings & the spaces between
all the matter that holds one together. albeit unsavory, there is this odd
resemblance (thys unsaverye symylytude)
          notwithstanding, after much ado & reasoning to & fro


The key, I think, to properly hearing this new work is listening to "the sinews & the strings & the spaces between / all that matter that holds one together." Reading McCarthy, I was immediately reminded of Deleuze's description of Francis Bacon: "the bones are like a trapeze apparatus (the carcass) upon which the flesh is the acrobat. The athleticism of the body is naturally prolonged in this acrobatics of the flesh." There is a similar acrobatic movement in McCarthy's poetry in which language plays both apparatus and acrobat, both bone and flesh, now hardening from operativity, littering the page with cultural detritus, now viscous, suddenly florescent, slipping and sliding between the bony signposts of capital and use (one part gloaming, one part glowing).

My favorite poem in the book comes only pages later:

null & void, mine
          & jointeddiverse & sundry
sundered          till the sinews & the strings of her eyes perished
in her head          in my opinions led     desist

pinion (as in to bind, wing joint) & pinion (as in crenellation)
the articulation of the body

alack     poor    alias     whereunto I made them no answer but smiled
          schismatic          what meate he is
          what herbs in my garden
          shall I vild wretch

then he siad I was a parrot          I might (he said) deny it again
if need were     a token to be recieved at the mouth

still & did not (how still) in my
opinions     the law a token at the mouth     (none where none) here

I was unmade     assay          (more had they never)

I love the joint McCarthy establishes between pinion and opinion, the rich play between gear and shaft and bird's wing and voice. To bind or cut. This is precisely how the poem moves, slipping between "cloistered" nets of knowing, immediately drawn into stark relief by the sinews of activity dismantling the "mourning gesture usually reserved for women, for one woman whose entire / oeuvre of gestures is a language of mourning."

09 November 2010

Condensery #6: Cross & Lewis

First, let me apologize for the brief sabbatical. A ruthless illness has me bedridden, coupled, of course, with my unwillingness to push Brazil's brilliant essay on Hauntology further down the page. That said, I'm happy to announce that I'll be reading this Saturday with Erica Lewis at the Condensary, and I'd love to use it as an excuse to connect with all the friends I've been neglecting. I lament missing C.J. Martin and Julia Drescher, but I'm honored to have been invited to read in their stead! I'll have the last few copies of Haecceities in hand for anyone interested, and I hope to have some other goodies to give away as well. Here's the info:

"The reading [featuring Michael Cross & Erica Lewis] will take place on Saturday, November 13th at the Speakeasy, located at 604 56th Street in Oakland, CA, at the intersection of 56th and Shattuck.

Doors at 7:30, reading begins at 8:00. Wine and hors d'oeuvres will be provided. Bike parking on the porch, car parking on the street.

erica lewis is a former curator of the Canessa Gallery Reading Series in North Beach. During her tenure there, she reinvigorated the series with out-of-the-box events involving performance art and musical/poetic explorations. Her poetic work is an ongoing examination about how we relate to one another, how we see ourselves as individuals and collective beings, and how we view the world inside and outside of the comfortable box that we put it in. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in New American Writing, Parthenon West Review, P-Queue, Ur Vox, Word For/Word, With+Stand, Cricket Online Review, Shampoo, Little Red Leaves, alice blue, Critiphoria, BOOG CITY, and Try!, among others.

Collaborations with artist Mark Stephen Finein include the chapbook excerpts from camera obscura (Etherdome Press ) and book project the precipice of jupiter (Queue Books); a full-length version of camera obscura was recently released from BlazeVox Books. She is a fine arts publicist in San Francisco and received her MFA from Mills College, where she was the recipient of the 2008 Mary Merritt Henry Prize for poetry.

Michael Cross is the author of In Felt Treeling (Chax, 2008) and Haecceities (Cuneiform Press, 2010) and editor of Atticus/Finch chapbooks and On: Contemporary Practice (w/ Thom Donovan). Other projects include Involuntary Vision: after Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (Avenue B, 2003), Building is a process / Light is an element: Essays and Excursions for Myung Mi Kim (Queue Books, 2008), and a forthcoming edition of the George Oppen Memorial Lectures at San Francisco State. He lives in Oakland where he studies 21st century poetry.

Condensery is co-curated by Zack Tuck and Jackqueline Frost.

Donovan on Thek @ WHOF

Thom recently posted Paul Thek's curious "Teaching Notes" over at Wild Horses of Firerequired reading for anyone currently puzzling the mysteries of pedagogy.

Some favorites:
Illustrate the Godhead.
Make a necklace out of coal.
What is liberation theology?

And if you haven't been following Donovan's column "5 Questions (for Contemporary Practice)," check it out here.

03 November 2010

Brazil on Hauntology

[David Brazil delivered the following lecture last Friday in conjunction with the Berkeley Art Museum's Hauntology exhibition. Barn Owl and the dude from Indignant Senility/Expressway Yo Yo Dieting played afterward, and I suckily missed it all. Here's to the next best thing...] 

What do the dead want from us,
how do they communicate it to us,
what's our responsibility to the dead in us,
do ghosts live in language or in the human symbolic,
signs themselves structured to as to commemorate the loss of mortal things
for which they stand in advance of the actual loss, which means we can imagine it.

Among the earliest archeological evidence of our species are funerary preparations. Among the oldest Greek writings are inscriptions on tombstones -- epitaphs, upon the graves -- from the verb thapto, to pay the last rites. Writing is the rite, of commemoration.

We are born. The name is waiting for us, we receive it,
as a garment,
then it alters. There's the matter of our passage
through time & its consequences in matter, the
traces it leaves. When the body's own power to move itself
which Plato called the psukhe or the soul becomes extinct
or recedes into invisibility of Hades,
(from a-ideo, the unseen), there is a remainder,
a remnant, the rest, that halo of the traces
gathered round the absence where the body that had
authored was.

The body's passage through the world leaves traces, organized around the negative space where the body was, like a halo.

a halo in the negative space
from which the body has been subtracted

And when we turn we see its negative image in the phenomenal,
a consequence of shock of having it so suddenly torn from the fabric,
fabric to which we were also stitched,
of which we were made.

And in the gestures of the dead one we take up
and see ourselves thus taking,
or when we hear in our mouths the very words that are so charged with residue of them it's as though they speak through us, we see the way our bodies themselves become haunted.

Because we're creatures who love and remember we are haunted.

We are haunted by the ineluctable fact of our own deaths,
and also by the deaths of loved others. If they have not come we anticipate them with dread ; when they are passed we grieve them knowing that not only are they loss but a part of us is lost with them.

We die with the dying : see: they depart, and we go with them.

Our language itself is haunted by what it forecloses,
by traumas we refuse to acknowledge, which makes handling words themselves precarious, vexed, unpredictable in effects.

George Oppen writes :
Possible / to use / Words provided one treat them / As enemies. / Not enemies -- Ghosts / Which have run mad in the subways / And of course the instititions / And the banks.

nothing but a piece of silk like that separates us from the next world

Look out the saints are coming through

Both, look out as in "Look out! Watch out!," but also, "Look! Keep your eyes peeled!" In the gospels Christ says, What I say to you I say to all and that is watch. As the epigraph from Jules Verne to George Perec's Life a Users Manual has it : "Look, with all your eyes, look." But also, with the echo of "When the Saints Go Marching In," we think, when is that when? And that when is the day of judgment, at the sounding of the last trump. So among other "look out!"'s, it's the injunction to the wise & foolish virgins, to keep your lamp trimmed and burning.

And if they are coming through -- are they coming through here ? (As in, "Coming through!") Or are they coming through a medium : "coming through loud and clear!" And if the latter, what's that medium through which they come?

What is it through which they are coming?

That the dead want something from us, and that it's something to do with justice.

Is it,
if it is, what is it,
in what form does it come,
& to what does it enjoin us?


The absence of the sender, of the receiver, from the mark that he abandons, and which cuts itself off from him and continues to produce effects independently of his presence and of the present actuality of his intentions, indeed even after his death, his absence, ...

... a rupture in presence ...

Furthermore, because we know that, once it has been taken, captured, this image will be reproducible in our absence, because we know this already, we are already haunted by this future, which brings our death. Our disappearance is already here.

The sign is already haunted from inside itself by the fact of the mortality of what it names -- like one of those tombstones that already has a name incised upon it, and a birthdate, and a blank where the death date will be, & will have been.

"we are and we are not," says heraclitus.

Ghosts always pass quickly, with the infinite speed of a furtive apparition, in an instant without duration, presence without present of a present which, coming back, only haunts. The ghost, le re-venant, the survivor, appears only by means of figure or fiction, but its appearance is not nothing, nor is it a mere semblance.

It is an incision made in time that does not bleed.

The present is a bull whose blood must fill the pit if the spirits of the departed are to appear at its edge.

Just after the famous passage on the madeline, Proust writes :

I find the Celtic belief very reasonable, that the souls of those we have lost are held captive in some inferior creature, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, effectively lost to us until the day, which for many never comes, when we happen to pass close to the tree, come into possession of the object that is their prison. Then they quiver, they call out to us, and as soon as we have recognized them, the spell is broken. Delivered by us, they have overcome death and they return to live with us.

Structure is perceived through the incidence of menace,
at the moment when imminent danger concentrates our vision …
this operation is called soliciting, -- in other words,
shaking in relation to the whole"
(from Latin sollus, "the whole," and citare, "to put into motion")

That the ghost solicits, and that the form of this solicitation is the flashing up of a sign that puts our own being into question. For if we follow the psychoanalytic account which shows us structured by and implicated in another, the sudden presence of what that other was, in the is, sets up a trembling doubly striking for our inability to have anticipated it.

"Last night, for the first time, dreamed of her," wrote Barthes in the text recently published in English as Mourning Diary, remarking the fact that the event of the appearance in dream of the one we have lost to death is a signal event. This is, in fact, the only place we are ever permitted to see and have conversations with that lost person again.

In Iliad Book XXIII, Achilles is visited by the shade (or eidolon) of his intimate friend Patroclus.

Then came the soul (psuche) of luckless Patroclus
in all things like himself, in stature and in fine eyes and in his voice,
(pant' autoi megethos te kai ommata k'al e-ikuia (from "eoiken", to seem) / kai phonen)
and with like raiment was he clad,
and he stood above Achilles' head and spoke, saying :
Achilles, you sleep and have forgotten me.
Not in my life were you unmindful of me, but in my death !
Bury me as soon as possible that I may pass through the gates of Hades.
But give me your hand, I beg you ; for never more
will I return from out of Hades,
when you have given me my share of fire.

And again, the living are solicited by the dead for what they deserve, for their "share of fire", in Herodotus, in the story of Periander and Melissa :

"[Periander] had sent messengers to the oracle of the dead on the river Acheron in Thesprotia to enquire concerning a deposit a friend had left ; but the apparition of Melissa [his wife] said she would tell him naught, nor reveal where the deposit lay ; for she was cold (she said) and naked ; for the raiment Periander had buried with her had never been burnt, and availed her nothing." (He appeased her by burning the garments of all the ladies and serving women of Corinth.)

The privilege of the dream as the place where we encounter the dead, and hear their solicitations, carries forward to the turn of the 20th century, when, shortly after his own father's death, Freud publishes "The Interpretation of Dreams," whose epigraph, drawn from Virgil, is

Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo

If I cannot bend heaven, then I will stir up hell."

And there too fire has a part, in the famous dream of the seventh chapter, when the shade of a dead son appears to his father and utters the skin-crawling plea, "Father, cant you see I'm burning?"

In the show upstairs, the Japanese painter Maruyama Okyo has depicted his favorite geisha, Oyuki, as she returned to him in a dream.

We become these losses,

constituted by specters of which [we] become the host
... [& assemble] in the haunted community of a single body

The brother of death daily haunts us with dying mementoes.

When we wake, what will we say we've seen ?
On what basis would we trust the apparition?

the royal road to
"the dislocated time of the present"

the disjointure in the very presence of the present,
this sort of non-contemporaneity of present time with itself (this radical untimeliness or this anachrony on the basis of which we are trying here to think the ghost)

What presents and what futures
will have overlapped to render here the possibility of
(what we take to be) the present?

A basic disaster in time,
the calendar has turned illegible.

the fault, in any case, by definition, is repeated, we inherit it, we watch over it

this absolute rip in the foreseeable concatenation of historical time

The ghost is sympton
(sign, medical sign), of
a "rotten state" --

As Horatio says in the first scene of Hamlet :

"A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets ;
As stars with trains of first and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star,
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands,
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.
And even the like precurse of fear'd events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen."

So that what has befallen us is "like" what happened to the Romans, and we take the substance of our present, its in-fact novelty, eventness, never-having-been, and to comprehend it garb it in what has been prior.

And if we are the microcosm of the larger human social, whose signs we ate like milk of the vernacular & which wrote our determinations, than that may tremble as we tremble, and when this is so we'll say we're at the edge of epistemes, looking over into abysses.

"it is always night at the battlements"

the ontological orders underwritten by the social appear to tremble

"Every culture has its phantoms and the spectrality that is conditioned by its technology."

"entire regiments of ghosts have returned"

In the first of his Vancouver lectures, Jack Spicer speaks of
Yeats' dictation -- the "first thing since Blake on the business of taking poetry as coming from the outside rather than from the inside."

"Instead of the poet being a beautiful machine which manufactured the current for itself, did everything for itself … instead there was something from the Outside coming in."

"Now, if you have a cleft palate and are trying to speak with the tongues of men and angels, you're still going to speak with a cleft palate. And the poem comes distorted through the things which are in you."

"It's impossible for the source of energy to use images you don’t have, or at least don’t have something of. It's as if a Martian comes into a room with children's blocks with A, B, C, D, E which are in English and he tries to convey a message."

"Language is part of the furniture in the room."

"What I'm saying is, -- just like I said the martians could take these alphabet blocks and arrange them in your room -- you have the alphabet blocks in your room : your memories, your language, all of these other things which are yours which they rearrange to try to say something they want to say.

"It is something which is in the mind of the host that the parasite (the poem) is invading."

"And I think that it is certainly possible that the objective universe can be affected by the poem…. I think that you do have things happen simply because the poem wants them to happen. No question about it. And how this operates, I havent the vaguest notion."

To the question, "What happens when the sources disappear?", Spicer answers, "Show them a good dinner of blood like in the Odyssey where they dug the trench and slit the throats of the sacrificial animals. All of that is likely to summon them."

The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.

a legacy that can come only from that which has not yet arrived

it intensifies and condenses itself within the very inside of life

And so they are always returning to us

rising up unanticipated as a figure out of sense to meet us

To answer for the dead, to respond to the dead, to correspond and have it out with obsessive haunting, in the absence of any certainty or symmetry

That we are seen but do not see. Or see in part.

We see by means of
This charged barrier, signs saturate with love and activated by a loss, which we can neither prove nor falsify but to whose injunctions we can nonetheless respond, in a singularity of reading, through that veil.

inheritance is never a given, it is always a task

like all inheritors we are in mourning

But at a certain point promise and decision,
which is to say responsibility, owe their possibility
to an ordeal of undecideability
which will always remain their condition.

it cannot rest in the platitude of some settled figure but must appear in the mantle of
this activated elements, a luminous citation of what we loved, to speak to us.
Unanticipatable and "marvelous strange".

Like the angel of Patinir's Annunciation of Joseph

which struck or solicited me when I saw the works upstairs,

"Look ! Jehovan's angel appeared to him in a dream,"
says Matthew 1:20,
so all of what appears to us a landscape is the inward of his dream,
fleshed with his rememberings, and the angel to appear at all must

quote the wisps of cloud
or curves of necks of
nearby swans,
taking its form from whatever we have seen and love and remember,
quoting it, citing it --

and in the distance are some forms that might look to us like skylines of the cities in which
we live, of which the artist unless vouchsafed revelation could have had no conception,
folded into pictorial space as though contemporaneous with the annunciation,
or with the dream in which
annunciation was,
which signaled something,
underneath the sky of craquelare,
ruptured in itself as though under the weight of all accumulated history,
ruptured from inside itself by instabilities in the materials,
which have told in time,
and whose texture rhymes with that of the sky
in a painting in the adjoining gallery entitled,
"View of Providence,"
by an unknown artist.

the thinking of the spectre, contrary to what good sense leads us to believe, signals toward the future. It is a thinking of the past, a legacy that can come only from that which has not yet arrived.

Unanticipatable and "wondrous strange"

"and therefore as a stranger give it welcome"


[Texts cited (indicated in italics), include works by Jacques Derrida (Specters of Marx, Memoires : For Paul de Man, "Signature Event Context," "Force and Signification," the film Ghost Dance (1983) and the interviews with Bernard Stiegler collected in Echographies of Television), Karl Marx (Eighteenth Brumaire), Emmanuel Levinas ("The Trace of the Other"), Roland Barthes (Mourning Diary), Walter Benjamin (The Arcades Project), Sigmind Freud (Interpretation of Dreams), W.G. Sebald (Austerlitz and The Emigrants), Marcel Proust (Swann's Way), George Oppen ("A Language of New York"), Jack Spicer (the first Vancouver lecture, as printed in The House That Jack Built), the Gospel of Matthew, Hamlet, the Iliad, the Histories of Herodotus, Heraclitus, Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," and George Perec's Life A Users Manual.]

02 November 2010

What is the Contemporary?

From "What is the Contemporary?"
Giorgio Agamben, What is an Apparatus? (Stanford 2009)

     The poetthe contemporarymust firmly hold his gaze on his own time. But what does he who sees his time actually see? What is this demented grin on the face of his age? I would like at this point to propose a second definition of contemporariness: The contemporary is he who firmly holds his gaze on his own time so as to perceive not its light, but rather its darkness. All eras, for those who experience contemporariness, are obscure. The contemporary is precisely the person who knows how to see this obscurity, who is able to write by dipping his pen in the obscurity of the present. But what does it mean, "to see an obscurity," "to perceive the darkness"?

     The neurophysiology of vision suggests an initial answer. What happens when we find ourselves in a place deprived of light, or when we close our eyes? What is the darkness that we see then? Neurophysiologists tell us that the absence of light activates a series of peripheral cells in the retina called "off-cells." When activated, these cells produce the particular kind of vision that we call darkness. Darkness is not, therefore, a privative notion (the simple absence of light, or something like nonvision) but rather the result of the activity of the "off-cells," a product of our own retina. This means, if we now return to our thesis on the darkness of contemporariness, that to perceive this darkness is not a form of inertia or of passivity, but rather implies an activity and a singular ability. In our case, this ability amounts to a neutralization of the lights that come from the epoch in order to discover its obscurity, its special darkness, which is not, however, separable from those lights.

     The ones who can call themselves contemporary are only those who do not allow themselves to be blinded by the lights of the century, and so manage to get a glimpse of the shadows in those lights, of their intimate obscurity. Having said this much, we have nevertheless still not addressed our question. Why should we be at all interested in perceiving the obscurity that emanates from the epoch? Is darkness not precisely an anonymous experience that is by definition impenetrable; something that is not directed at us and thus cannot concern us? On the contrary, the contemporary is the person who perceives the darkness of his time as something that concerns him, as something that never ceases to engaged him. Darkness is something thatmore than any lightturns directly and singularly toward him. The contemporary is the one whose eyes are struck by the beam of darkness that comes from his own time.

01 November 2010

Poems & Pictures

The catalogue for Kyle Schlesinger's "Poems & Pictures" exhibition is finally available and features all kinds of goodness including contemporary work by Emily McVarish, Aaron Cohick at NewLights Press, and some work by Alan Loney. The show traveled to the Museum of Printing History in Houston last week, and will conclude at the Western New York Book Arts Center in Buffalo in April. Catch it while you can...