31 December 2010

Favorite Things: Tyrone Williams

2010 Faves in No Particular Order 

Nicki Minaj
Jimmy Webb
Brenda Iijima
Bruce Boone
Melissa Buzzeo
Eugenijus Alisanka
Carolina Chocolate Drops
Los Lobos
Ronaldo V. Wilson
Lorenzo Thomas

2011 Anticipations: New Books of Poetry from
Judith Goldman
Dawn Lundy Martin
Evie Shockley

and first full colections from
Thom Donovan
Dana Ward

Favorite Things: Rich Owens


Despite the Herculean endurance of the financial meltdown, 2010 has been a remarkable year for poetry. There are two, I think, major publications that appeared this year—one that has already been widely registered as major and another that has disappointingly slipped through the cracks: the four volume Collected Poems of Larry Eigner, edited by Robert Grenier, and Dennis Tedlock’s 2000 Years of Mayan Literature. Both appear courtesy of the same university press—California—and while the Eigner has created something of a stir and been incredibly well received, Tedlock’s work—a no less exhaustive book and, in the end, the textual record of a lifetime’s intellectual and cultural labor—has gone virtually unnoticed in poetry communities. One can only hope the book, through its clear debt to a wide range of important contemporary poets, is a heavy sleeper that wakes with a roar down the road.

Toward the end of his acknowledgments Tedlock writes: “For my long association with poets and poet-translators, I have drawn energies that cannot be described in precise terms, though the transmission sometimes comes at moments of close attention to the sound or appearance of particular words and phrases. Here the ghostly figures are William Arrowsmith, Robert Creeley, Stanley Diamond, Ed Dorn, Robert Duncan, A.K. Ramanujan, and Armand Schwerner. Among those who speak out loud and put new lines on pages are Humberto Ak’abal, David Antin, Charles Bernstein, Donald Carne-Ross, Paul Friedrich, Susan Howe, Dell Hymes, Robert Kelly, Nathaniel Mackey, Herbert Mason, Michael McClure, W.S. Merwin, Carol Moldaw, William Mullen, Simon Ortiz, Jerome Rothenberg, Luis Enrique Sam Colop, Andrew Schelling, Gary Snyder, Arthur Sze, Nathaniel Tarn, Cecilia Vicuña and Anne Waldman. Thanks, gracias, and maltiox to all of them.”

Where else could one encounter such an internally differentiated, almost completely incompatible, constellation of poets listed outside of a Norton anthology? But for Tedlock this amazingly motley constellation of poets have fueled his work across a lifetime of study and that lifetime is encapsulated—or rigorously abstracted—in 2000 Years.

My difficulty with Eigner and Grenier—my inability to satisfyingly connect with their work—doesn’t mar my ability to see the continuity that cuts across their work (two albeit radically different bodies of poetry) over to Tedlock’s. The overdetermined and utterly inexplicable relationship between sight and sound in the work of the poet—precisely the thing Prynne takes a meaningful stab at naming in a fairly recent essay published in the Chicago Review—is always first on the menu in Eigner, Grenier and Tedlock. I mean, it’s there for all to encounter as they will. And the usefulness of Tedlock’s lifelong investigation of the Mayan lies not only in his articulation of it with poetry, but the internal construction of the Mayan writing system itself. The Mayan, like the work of Eigner or Grenier, is at once visual and syllabic—a synthetic complex of ideographic representations (the topos of the writing surface) combined with abstract representations of sound.

But we have a strange inversion here: just as Olson’s Mayan Letters resonated with poets and not formally trained Mayanists (who hated the book), Tedlock’s 2000 Years is a book that Mayanists have eagerly taken in but poets have, as yet, failed to take stock of or, as I understand it, even mention.

Others from the hip, in no particular order:
  • I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala’s Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx, forthcoming from Columbia University Press in 2011. To travel in the Challenger from phenomenology to Millbank.
  • Michael Cross’ Haecceities (Cuneiform Press) is a careful and beautiful large format book long in the making and since I find writing about it here a little awkward I won’t. But I will say, if reading Eigner or Grenier offer a more responsible point of entry into Cross’ work—which I think they do—then I’ll grudgingly clamor through the otherwise unpleasurable labor of reading them. That’s the sort of book Haecceities is.
  • A book that appeared in late 2009 but has received little if any attention from poetry communities is Jameson’s Valences of the Dialectic (Verso). The book is an excellent reference tool for anyone interested or invested in dialectical thinking—at the very least, the rhetorical force of the book is dangerously seductive: “Then, from time to time, like a diseased eyeball in which disturbing flashes of light are perceived or like those baroque sunbursts in which rays from another world suddenly break into this one, we are reminded that Utopia exists and that other systems, other spaces, are still possible.”
  • Brenda Ijima’s )((eco(lang)(uage(reader)) (collaboratively published by Nightboat Editions and Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs). Tyrone Williams says it best in his conversation with Iijima: “As for ecopoetics—it is a necessary adjunct to the overall critique of both late capitalism and fundamentalist Marxism.” An essential book closing with a immensely useful curriculum co-constructed by Iijima and Jonathan Skinner.
  • Andrea Brady’s Wildfire (Krupskaya). From a June 18, 2010 post at the damn the caesars blog: “Suffering is everywhere present in Wildfire and the question of suffering is clearly central to the work. But how does one textually gesture toward suffering — or evidence of suffering or representations of suffering — in a meaningful way that does not betray that suffering and works instead to responsibly register and, if at all possible, stem or ameliorate it?”
  • Keston Sutherland’s The Stats on Infinity (Crater Press). Large format. Beautifully constructed. Crater Press takes up, I think, where Sean Bonney and Frances Kruk’s Yt Communications left off.
  • J.H. Prynne’s sub-songs (Barque Press). I imagine the importance of this book goes without saying. The format is large—unusually large. And the poems are, as ever, wonderfully impenetrable constructions that offer the promise of meaning by way of a productively frustrating distance.
  • The stunningly comprehensive Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater edited by Kevin Killian and David Brazil (Kenning Editions). A major event and a major publication I aim to spend much more time with. Seeing over the past two years the amount of attention devoted to poets theater in Buffalo—where poet David Hadbawnik started curating a series of performances, including the first production of Robert Duncan’s Origins of Old Son in nearly sixty years—the collaborative character of poets theater performances offers, I think, a powerful opportunity for breaking out of the surprisingly-still-normative individual-reader-center-stage format that so limits poetry events. For whom are the drinks and conversation after an event not the primary motivation for attending an event? In their intro Killian and Brazil begin with the social: “Poets theater is first and foremost about the scene of its production. This is a social scene, but it is also, crucially, a geographical scene, and the two are complexly interwoven. The locales of poets theater are vortices, almost in the Poundian sense—self-interfering energy patterns like lightening rods, established to receive the influxes of new energy from whatever direction …” Fresh energy to diminish the morgue-like qualities so many endure.
  • Charles Olson’s Muthologos revised, expanded and reedited by Ralph Maud (Talon Books). There is no greater or more vigilant custodian of Olson’s intellectual accomplishment than Maud. This goes without saying, right?
  • Tom Raworth’s Windmills in Flames: Old and New Poems (Carcanet). Fills in gaping gaps, chasms and otherwise bottomless holes in the earlier Collected Poems (though there’s an incredibly wild prose piece extracted from a letter to Dorn and beautifully printed by Zephyrus Image that remains to be collected).
  • Carrie Etter’s Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by UK Women Poets (Shearsman). A discriminating selection of poets that, courageously I think, refuses generational difference, situating “younger,” “mid-career,” and “older” poets together in an effort to gather “poetries not readily found in the pages of Britain’s broadsheets or larger-circulation literary journals.” Anne Blonstein and Elisabeth Bletsoe were two poets I was previously unfamiliar with and delighted to encounter alongside Emily Critchley, Harriet Tarlo, Andrea Brady, Frances Kruk, Sophie Robinson and other more familiar names. Inadequacy and failure are always already built into the architecture of any anthology, but Etter’s serves, I think, as an excellent supplement to Keith Tuma’s Oxford Anthology of Twentieth-Century British & Irish Poetry—particularly for seminars, lectures, reading groups, etc, given to contemporary British poetry (if any such thing exist in the states).
  • Kyle Schlesinger’s Poems & Pictures: A Renaissance in the Art of the Book (1946-1981) (Collaboratively published by the NYC’s Center for Book Arts, Houston’s Museum of Printing History and Buffalo’s Western New York Book Arts Center). Departing from the location Steve Clay, Alasdair Johnson, Johanna Drucker and no more than a small handful of other printers, publishers and bibliographers have led him, Kyle Schlesinger further advances bibliography as efficacious poetic practice. I think Schlesinger’s poetics have, like Susan Howe’s, always been bibliographic in orientation—and so books like Poems & Pictures, at once exhibition catalog and partial bibliography, should be, I think, considered as an extension of Schlesinger’s more immediately poetic work (i.e. Mantle with Thom Donovan, Hello Helicopter, his forthcoming What You Will from Aaron Cohick’s New Lights Press). Poems & Pictures homes in on the “long-standing relationship between visual and language arts,” pointing also to Schlesinger’s own long-standing interest in collaboration, the visual arts and the material figurations of language—that from here we see his poems.
  • David Rich’s Charles Olson: Letters Home 1949-1969 (Cape Ann Museum). This extends Peter Anastas’ edition of Olson’s letters to the Gloucester Times (now long out of print) by reproducing a range of personal missives to Gloucester residents made public here for the first time and all drawn, I believe, from holdings at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester. An image of fragments from the vandalized 1760 gravestone of Gloucester minister John White, which Olson affectionately retrieved from Bridge Street Cemetery and hand-delivered to the Cape Ann Museum in 1959, is also reproduced and commented on by Rich.
  • Michael Boughn and Victor Coleman’s edition of Duncan’s HD Book (University of California Press). There it is. An eagerly awaited book years in the making and, though technically registered as a 2011 publication, now available. As with their work in poetry and criticism, Boughn and Coleman’s work as textual editors is rigorous, exhaustive, responsible. A thrill to have this affectionately edited University of California edition replace the pirated pdf copy of the book circulating some years back. With Peter Quartermain currently building the two-volume edition of Duncan’s collected poems, it’s wonderful to see not one but two Canadians knee-deep in books that promise to be the most authoritative Duncan volumes available.
There are, as ever, others—dozens on dozens—that too deserve attention, careful, hasty, drunkenly cheered, etc … at the end of the year with numb toes and greasy hair …

30 December 2010

Favorite Things: Alli Warren

THE YEAR IN DREAMS as told to Gmail

We were walking down an open wooded street. Your mom seemed to be vacuuming in a room. Your hair was chocolate brown, you had dark blue jeans on. We sat on the floor. I felt like a shadow. I was bodiless. I was moving in with [redacted] and [redacted] into a 2 bedroom apt. and we were discussing sleeping arrangements. There was some list telling people what time they could leave their houses depending on reading order. I ordered a venison sausage with fried sunchokes and oven roasted jalapenos. I found out that Abigail Child was your mom and I was like 'why didn't you tell me??' You kissed [redacted] on the mouth right in front of me like it was a fake consolation cause something was bumming him out but then it was secretly v. intimate. On the back of my foot, the sole, another toe was growing. I was in Kentucky and there was something about the "tucky" part that fell off. I was eating with my hand and someone scolded me she sneered and said that was very unlady-like. I think I was screaming sniveling rat faced git. You broke up with me and pretended you didn’t know me. You made an appearance as a banker with power hair. You were wearing a navy suit & drinking scotch. Hanging on for dear life off a ship screaming at some lady who forced you over the edge. Still loving her, still calling her "dollface". Her heart was an egg, it was a yolk, she was surrounded by a pool of yellow which was I guess her blood. You fell into a crack / in the pull out / couch you never came back. Terrorists car-bombed AT&T park and you and I went there and slept overnight and got trapped. I kissed Vladimir Putin. You were fucking [redacted] and I was VERY mean to you! There was this huge earthquake. I was in a house with blue walls moving from doorjamb to doorjamb. When I asked my mom about the earthquake she said it was a 99.3 and I said that's impossible and she said, it's true, 99.3, but it’s mixed with something else. A frightening blue snake, snapping its fangs at me. A militia takeover early this morning, in which I was beaten by self-appointed gunmen. We were on a date and they were acting very strangely at an ATM, like maybe trying to kill me. But then we went outside in Canada and it was dark even though it was 2pm and there was some kind of fair and we wound up in a corner kissing a beard. You quit. I could not control my vehicle and the brakes went out and I crashed into various structures (a building, a tree). That one about the patch of hair on my chest. I got to hug Morrissey. Sitting across the table from Nina, talking, looking at her beautiful face, touching her leg. I think, also, I was in Spain. Your favorite singer sang surrounded by several other men lined up and standing around near a kind of wooden plank fence, near a field. The LIFE LONG DREAM COME TRUE series. I think you were the gentle lion I dreamed about. [Redacted] flew me to Davis in an airplane. I had stolen a millionaire's credit card and you and I were going out eating and drinking amazingly expensive things but then I had second thoughts and we were just going to buy one more huge bottle of champagne and then throw away the card. I was fucking you but had trouble with my socks. A delicious roast chicken for $3. You kissed me very sweetly on my head. Living with my sisters who then became other women. I have this dream of spending two weeks up there.

Favorite Things: David Buuck

Hey Michael

I can't honestly recall anything I've read more than 6 months ago, tho I do recall stuff I saw - and the internet archives the details. So, in no particular order....

Dambudzo Marechera, Black Sunlight, Penguin, 1980/2010 (reissue)
Lesego Rampolokeng, Whiteheart: prologue to hysteria, Deep South, South Africa, 2005
Tan Lin, Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004, The Joy of Cooking, Wesleyan, 2010 (and the numerous "Appendices" & remixes edited by Danny Snelson & Edit Publications)
Eileen Myles, Inferno, OR Books, 2010
Karen Tei Yamashita, I-Hotel, Coffee House, 2010
Jeff Derksen, Annihilated Time: Poetry and other politics, Talonbooks, 2009
Kaia Sand, Remember to Wave, Tinfish, 2009
Fred Moten, B Jenkins, Duke, 2010
Steve Farmer, Glowball, theenk, 2010
Miguel Gutierrez, When You Rise Up: Performance Texts, 53rd State, 2009.

Lara Durback, Zine Chapbook, self-pub, 2010
Emily Critchley, When I Say I Believe Women..., Bad Press, London, 2007
Reg Johanson, escratches, Left Hand Press, Vancouver, 2010

Ronaldo Wilson @ SPT
Hiromi Ito @ Mills
CA Conrad's astral projection, SPT Poets Theater
Charming Hostess performing "Sarajevo Blues" @ SPT
Ishmael Houston-Jones @ PS122
Yvonne Rainer's master class & talk @ Mills
Ralph Lemon @ Yerba Buena Center
David Wolach's nonsite seminar & reading @ the Compound
Leslie Scalapino & Konrad Steiner @ UC Books

Francis Alÿs @ Tate Modern
Marina Abramovic @ MOMA
William PopeL @ Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NYC
Mika Rottenberg @ SFMOMA
Pablo Guardiola @ Galeria de la Raza
Ahmet Ögüt @ Berkeley Art Museum
One Day: a collective narrative of Tehran, curated by Taraneh Hemami & Ghazaleh Hedayat, @ Intersection for the Arts
Trisha Brown @ Mills Art Museum
Pipilotti Rist @ Fundacio Joan Miro

And - new at Ubuweb:
Djibril Diop Mambéty, "Contras City"
Forough Farrokhzad, "The House is Black"
Delia Derbyshire, "Dreams"
Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn videos
Zoe Beloff, The Dream Films
Stan Douglas, "Television Spots/Monodramas"
Ryan Trecartin videos
Eric Baudelaire, "Sugar Water" (b/w Tan Lin's essay at http://www.elizabethdeegallery.com/files/press/AG360%20RR%20pp008_027_Lin.pdf )

Favorite Things: Miranda Mellis

2010 most memorables:

Trolley Dances, Golden Gate Park; Alex Ross/The Bad Plus, Herbst Theater; Shahrnush Parsipur reading at Mills College; Cointelpro 101 at The Freedom Archives; parade and rodeo in Iron River, Michigan; Bird Lovers, Backyard, Thalia Field (New Directions); Best European Fiction 2010 (Dalkey Archive); Germination (Little City Gardens' 'zine); PROPERTY: NONE, broadside, Emily Abendroth, Tap Root Editions; Imperial, William T. Vollman; Harp & Altar anthology, Eugene Lim/Keith Newton; Gloria Deluxe at Yerba Buena; Recess, Jonah Bokaer/Daniel Arsham, site specific dance, Bard College; 3-year old Jonathan conducting a la Herbert von Karajan, You Tube; "Radical Light" early experimental film series, BAM/PFA; Giants win the World Series; Melville exhibitions, talks and performances, CCA; Prelingers' Lost Landscapes of San Francisco.

Favorite Things: Erin Wilson

Valentin de las Sierras
Bruce Baillie, 1967, 9 mins
Really, the whole Radical Light series at the Pacific Film Archive.

Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture
Jonathan D. Katz & David C. Ward, curators & authors, 2010
The art (as best as I can tell from the catalog), controversy & surrounding conversation.

On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life
Adam Phillips, 1993
" . . . as a form of treatment, psychoanalysis is a conversation that enables people to understand what stops them from having the kinds of conversations they want, and how they have come to believe that these particular conversations are worth wanting."

A Community Writing Itself: Conversations with Vanguard Writers of the Bay Area
Sarah Rosenthal, ed., 2010

Hard Facts of the Brother's Grimm
Maria Tatar, 1987
My favorite chapter is "Victims and Seekers: The Family Romance of Fairy Tales." The original tales are not bedtime reading.

29 December 2010

Favorite Things: Craig Dworkin

A dozen books I'm looking forward to reading in the new year:

Christian Bök: The Xenotext Experiment (currently in the laboratory)

Rob Fitterman: Now We Are Friends (NY: Truck Books, 2011)

Kenneth Goldsmith: Uncreative Writing (NY: Columbia University Press, 2011)

Lyn Hejinian and Carla Harryman: The Wide Road (NY: Belladonna, 2011)

Derek Henderson: [yet to be titled erasures of Ted Berrigan poems] (Manchester: if p then q, 2011)

Susan Howe: That This (NY: New Directions, 2011)

Peter Inman: Per Se (Providence: Burning Deck, 2011)

Joseph Massey: At the Point (Exeter: Shearsman, 2011)

David Melnick: Collected Writing, ed. Ben Friedlander, Jeffrey Jullich, & Ron Silliman (Cambridge: Salt, 2011)

Emily McVarish: A Thousand Several (NY: Granary Books, 2010)

Marjorie Perloff: Unoriginal Genius (Chicago: U. Chicago Press, 2010)

Vanessa Place: Die Dichtkunst (Rio de Janeiro: Ood Press, 2011)

Favorite Things: Crane Giamo

The River by William Basinski (Raster Norton, 2003)
Cosmogramma by Flying Lotus (Warp, 2010)
My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky by Swans (Young God, 2010)
Swim by Caribou (Merge, 2010)
Disingenuity b/w Disingenuousness by Keith Fullerton Whitman (Pan, 2010)
Going Places by Yellow Swans (Type, 2010)

Night and Fog (dir. Alain Resnais, 1955)
Tropical Malady (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
Trash Humpers (dir. Harmony Korine, 2009)
Fata Morgana (dir. Werner Herzog, 1971)
Workingman’s Death (dir. Michael Glowagger, 2005)
The Sacrifice (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1986)

To Anacreon in Heaven by Graham Foust (Minus A Press, 2010)
This Time We Are Both by Clarke Coolidge (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010)
“Country Girl” by Hannah Weiner n (1971) (orpheus.ucsd.edu)
Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows by Leslie Scalapino (Starcherone Books, 2010)

Essays and Talks
To Be at Music: Essays and Talks by Norma Cole (Omnidawn, 2010)

The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat (Grove Press, 1994)
Babyfucker by Urs Allemann (Les Figues Press, 2010)
By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano (New Directions, 2003)

Takashi Itsuki’s amputee robot doll bondage series
Kiyoshi Yamashite’s chigiri-e images
Anatomical Illustrations from Edo Period Japan (pinktentacle.com)
Dash Snow’s Polaroids
YouTube Capture by Yves Keebaugh (http://www.youtube.com/user/AshtonKucher)
Fire in My Belly(1987)by David Wojnarowicz and Diamanda Galas
Moment of Political Hysteria
9-11 FreedomhatingIslamofascistMadMullahTerrorMosque

Moment of Political Confrontation
“Killing One Human Being is Killing Humanity as a Whole” by Turkish Foreign Minister Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu (address to the United Nations in response to Israeli Defense Forces storming a flotilla of ships transporting aid to the Gaza Strip)

Flax Seed Oil
Green Chile Apple Pie
Qahwa Tea

Michael Vick

Favorite Things: Sara Larsen


1. patti smith's "Just Kids" - her memoir about her early life with robert mapplethorpe. reading this, i feel why i am a writer and artist. again and again. exhilarating! thanks, patti (and robert).

2. Voices of Light / The Passion of Joan of Arc at the Paramount - david and i went with friends to see the passion of joan of arc at the paramount theater, featuring a 22 piece orchestra conducted by Mark Sumner, as well as a chorus of something like 160 voices singing in latin and old french. stunning. this was also the first time i have seen the passion of joan of arc, and i was speechless. absolutely speechless at the end. evan kennedy was two seats down from me and he leapt to his feet in applause, and i wanted to do that too, but i had trouble even standing up because i was just in a total state. it was magnificent.

3. the condensary series - jacqueline frost and zack tuck took up the house reading series baton in the last half of this year here in the bay area, and it's been really flawless. they kicked it off with an unforgettable reading with evan kennedy and rob halpern, and through the past few months hosted lindsey boldt, david brazil, lisa robertson, carl skoggard, jacqueline waters, brent cunningham, rachel zolf, myself, michael cross and erica lewis. i'm looking forward to seeing what's up in 2011!

4. nathaniel dorsky films - sfmoma, in association with the poetry center, recently hosted an evening of nick dorsky's films "Sarabande", "Compline", "Aubade", "Winter", and the new film "Pastourelle". dorsky's films are sublime. silent, shot in kodachrome, and shown at 18 frames per second (i read that he calls this "sacred speed"), the images are ones only dorsky could film. his films seems to "click" me into that heightened sensory sensitivity of art-making...except it's the experience of watching in this case, rather than in the process of making. rare. it's how i know it's really special.

5. TRY magazine benefit hosted by the new series at 21 grand - ah, all i can say is thank you all for supporting TRY! really this is on my list because 30 poets came out to read their favorite pieces (not their own) from years past of TRY magazine! truly a magical, superfun, we-are-this- community-full-of-love kind of eve!

6. rob halpern and david wolach at the compound - rob read from an older story called "Trolley's Kind", which i believe he wrote (or at least began) while taking bob gluck's writing class some years back. david read from his new book Occultations. both of these works resonate continually with me, hence this was one of my fave readings of the year.

7. labor day 2010 - 20 poets gave short talks on labor at this all day event. fantastico. dream come true. and happily, actions are still spiraling out from this event, so if you want to take part, please do! the day's talks were recorded and are online at: http://labday2010.blogspot.com/

8. The HD Book by robert duncan - finally, it's out! ok, so i haven't read this yet, but i have it at home, and it's BEAUTIFUL, effin' BEAUTIFUL! i can't wait to read this tome. i'm sure i'll be finished in, oh, 3 or 4 years...so i'll let you know what i think then...heehee....

9. Reading groups of various sorts - shakespeare, greek, sanskrit, hebrew, chaucer, euripides, freud, marx...these are but few of the molto reading groups in play this past year. oy, probs even more than this, but this is what i can think of now. best part of these is talking and laughing with friends. also, eating. and reading, learning!

10. i feel like i'm forgetting important, amazing things ... and i guess i didn't put as many books on here as i wanted to initially. o well. maybe next year. thanks michael for your rigorous, wonderful blog and for the favorite things - i'm looking forward to reading them all!

happy solstice, welcome back sun, and love. onwards!

27 December 2010

Robert Kocik || Offering Up the Body as Food (Notes)

Happy holidays, friends! I'll continue posting year-end favorites here in the not-so-distant-future, but wanted to respond to Robert Kocik's super generative visit last Wednesday before I forget what my notes mean. Some 25-30 people stuffed into Jocelyn Saidenberg's living room (thxs J.!); Pony stretched out on the floor and barked when Robert and Daria performed bits from the Phoneme Choir...Robert carefully rehearsed his particular model of meaning-making, and gave us a ton to think about in the meantime...    

-Kocik hopes to make present how the discursive affects the body, the spine, organs over the course of the evening
-The discursive compresses, closes down
-Hopes to use "amulets" (short critical-creative paragraphs) to protect from the discursive (being critical in a morbid sense)
-Chod (Tibetan tradition): cutting through the ego // nurturing the negative
-Can the commons work alongside ego fixation? (Kocik's answer is "no")
-Instead: "I would like the commons to be money"
-Participation is fantasy // communication is not communication: freedom of speech is to say something w/o obligation to respond
-We are a bunch of people "communicating" w/o talking
-Can we write something that protects?
-Just giving away money is the right plan
-The wording of response is the work of poets: poets can recover language; create amulets...
-The work of poets is to make English non-duplicitous
-Commons: conditions of material equity
-Nobody has time: that's part of the plan!
-Somatics as activism: you must follow through and position yourself
-Law fell from the jurisdiction of poets b/c no one understood what they were saying!
-To educate banks might be one job for poets
-To reinvent a way to meet: time makes it difficult to organize
-Kocik: "Reinventing how we meet is what the common gave me"
-How to share?
-Differentiation is terminal

24 December 2010

Favorite Things: John Sakkis

1. nascent 'return to blogging' movement

2. Mento music, Rock Steady music

3. El Golpe Chileno by Julian Poirier

4. Written In Blood Vol 1-5 compilation by Nate Ashley

5. letting my Pro Acount expire on Flickr

6. the San Francisco Giants

7. Micah Ballard and Sunnylyn Thibodeaux as brand new parents

8. Cedar Sigo's Stranger In Town, Spirits And Anchors by Jason Morris

9. Chinese Notebook coming out on UDP, Maribor coming out on The Post-Apollo Press

10. GhostCapital

11. traveling to visit friends and read poems in LA, Denver, Boulder, NYC, Miami and Berkeley

12. Ted Berrigan saturation job

13. Cows by Matthew Stokoe as hands down the most disgusting (in a good way) thing i've ever read

14. Zephyrus Image

15. Gavin Bryers' The Sinking Of The Titanic, Nico Muhly's Mothertongue

16. loving old friends and getting closer to new ones

Favorite Things: Suzanne Stein

My favorite things of 2010:

Conversations with David Brazil
Conversations with Sara Larsen
Conversations with Brandon Brown
Conversations with Alli Warren
Conversations with Laura Moriarty
Conversations with Erika Staiti
Conversations with Brian Whitener
Conversations with Samantha Giles
Conversations with Steven Farmer
Conversations with Rachel Zolf
Correspondence with David Brazil
Correspondence with Steve Benson
Correspondence with James Wagner
Correspondence with Laura Carter
Cedar Sigo's Facebook Stream
Steve Evans's Facebook Stream
Rebecca Stoddard's Facebook Stream
Bernie Sanders's Senate Floor
Margaret Tedesco's Collection Rotation
The holiday party at Avram & Colleen's
Black coffee in the rooftop pavilion
The beach at Del Mar
Mark di Suvero's Che Faro Senza Eurydice
Kaja Silverman's Flesh of My Flesh
Bay Area Figurative Painting
Bay Area Abstraction
The generosity of Catherine Meng
Jay de Feo's The Veronica
Pina Bausch's Orphee et Eurydice
UbuWeb's audio archive
View from my apartment windows
75 Reasons to Live
Calendar I share with Juliana Spahr
That's just what I can remember this minute sitting here

Happy New Year!


Favorite Things: Kyle Schlesinger


In Numbers: Serial Publications by Artists Since 1955 by Clive Philpott
Designing Media edited by Bill Moggridge
Optical Media by Friedrich Kittler
The Aesthetics of Comics by David Carrier
Nineteenth-Century American Type Designers & Engravers of Type by William E. Loy
American Wood Type 1828-1900 by Rob Roy Kelly
Designing Books by Jost Hochuli
A Sense of Time, a Sense of Place by John Brinckerhoff Jackson
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
and rereading all of Lucia Berlin’s short stories

23 December 2010

Favorite Things: Norma Cole

Jean Daive, Under the Dome (Translated by Rosmarie Waldrop)
Robert Duncan, The H.D. Book
Tony Judt, The Memory Chalet
Colm Toibin, All a Novelist Needs: Colm Toibin on Henry James
Raul Zurita, Inri

Open Space: Collection Rotation Margaret Tedesco

Marina Adams, New Alphabet

Amy Trachtenberg, Feelings are Facts

Luc Tuymans

Favorite Things: Brandon Brown

Thanks for the opportunity to pontificate about some of my favorite moments in art and culture from 2010. Don’t believe the haters, it was a terrific year for all kinds of media. 2011, I’m sure, has a lot in store for us, but amidst enduring global political catastrophes of advanced capital some tremendous art emerges and emerged this year. Here’s a little taste of what captured me:
For pop music, I don’t think it got better than Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream, although I know that Robyn’s Body Talk sequence finally makes for better art. Still, Perry’s exaggerated cybersex caricature assuming the rigorous modal manipulation effected by Scandinavian masterminds owned me for a few months. And even now that the hangover has cleared, it still feels relatively (surprisingly) coherent as an LP, and the hits are as massive as ever. You try not dancing to “Firework.”

My favorite new chapbook press of 2010 is SummerBF, edited by Lindsey Boldt and Steve Orth. They published two game-changing chapbooks: Dana Ward’s long-awaited and much-heralded Typing Wild Speech and Dodie Bellamy’s beautiful take on teenage lust, the South, and pervert dwarves Whistle While You Dixie. Required reading!

Try! Magazine came out several times in 2010, edited by David Brazil and Sara Larsen. It continues to be, to my mind, the real product of generosity and community devotion. I loved it. Also, as I’m about to sing the high and broad praise of Alli Warren’s Acting Out and unpublished manuscript, it occurs to me to wonder, did I read any books this year that weren’t chapbooks?

Oh, wait, I did! And I loved Patti Smith’s Just Kids and Eileen Myles’s Inferno, which I’ll include in the same thread. They’re books about New York, they’re books about being artists. And if they happen about a decade apart and maybe a few blocks, I found them both provocative in the most thrilling way. I mean, both of them made me want to make art, and hang out with artists, and that’s it, for the rest of my life.

Speaking of the East Village, I saw Basquiat, Radiant Child (2010, dir. Tamra Davis) which was pretty good, but more important, personally, was a reintroduction and re-obsession with Basquiat’s magnificent oeuvre. I didn’t know, seeing the film, that in just two months I would accidentally be in Paris as a massive retrospective of his work at the Musee d’Art Moderne de Ville Paris would be going on. So, the paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat go into this list, although not made in 2010, everything felt new to me.

I also really, really like and want to shout out a show that’s still happening at the SFMOMA, Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera since 1870, curated by Sandra Phillips. While there, do not miss Nick Ut’s photo of Paris Hilton being escorted to court. But don’t miss any of it! It’s an amazing show.

Indie rock unfortunately meant next to nothing to me this year. I’ve heard that I’m going to really like the Deerhunter record but I haven’t really heard it. I did rock out to J.D. Samson and Johanna Fateman’s (Le Tigre) new band MEN and so give them the not-very-coveted indie rock project I actually liked this year award. Sorry, I know this sounds crochety or dumb, but for more on that you’ll have to ask indie rock why it isn’t sublime.

Finally, I want to mention how much I enjoyed eating birds this year. I’ve finally settled on a favorite way to roast chickens (the Thomas Keller way, seriously people), and going to France in October, game season, was an introduction to the marvels of ducklings, partridge, and of course the pintade.

Favorite Things: Dan Thomas-Glass

Some major favorites this year:

Lisa Robertson—Magenta Soul Whip/R's Boat—I started the year working on the LR issue of With + Stand, and so felt that the first several months of 2010 were completely steeped in her writing and thinking. Love these both; they're very different, but both have her insistently brilliant beauty.

Kenneth Irby—The Intent On—I had a chance to meet Ken Irby when he was out here, and he was a very lovely and magnanimous person. This book is sublime: overwhelming, jaw-dropping, huge, impossible, graceful, so impressive.
Henri Meschonnic (trans. by Lisa Robertson and Avra Spector)—"A Rhythm Party Manifesto"—<<http://xpoetics.blogspot.com/2010/08/rhythm-party-manifesto-by-henri.html>>—"Against all poeticizations, I say there is a poem only if a shape of life transforms a shape of language and if reciprocally a shape of language transforms a shape of life." Stunning. Damn smart.

Jennifer Moxley—"Fragments of a Broken Poetics"—Chicago Review Spring 2010— I used one of these aphorisms in introducing a poetry unit to 8th graders—which is impressive, for a document so carefully considered, to be meaningful to 13-year-olds. This was the quote: "Poems demand a concentrated lingering to which we are unaccustomed. This is why they cause discomfort. When we stand still in one place, attempting to document and respect the details, we feel as vulnerable as a small creature in an open field beneath avian predators. Rapid and sequential page turning gives us a sense of progress and accomplishment, relieving us from the double threat of frustration and impatience.” Field mice unite.

Rob Halpern—"Restoring 'China'"—Jacket 39—<<http://jacketmagazine.com/39/perelman-halpern.shtml>>—I love Rob's insistence on the context (and not just the context but the small press/limited run context) of Soup for Perelman's famous (via Jameson's famously wack reading of) "China." Great, thoughtful, generous essay.

Erica Lewis and Mark Stephen Finein—camera obscura—taught this book to 8th graders this year. I loved the play of memory/time/image in the pages. Beautiful, and a great conversation starter.

Lauren Levin—Not Time—did a 30 word review of this project, here <<http://the30wordreview.blogspot.com/2010/10/not-time-by-lauren-levin.html>>—have had the opportunity subsequently to read the larger manuscript that it's part of, and have truly been enjoying every minute.

Journals issues I had work in that were absolutely humbling in their gorgeousness: ON: Contemporary Practice #2; Versal #8; 1913 #4.

Some things that I've just recently gotten my hands on that I'm sure will be on the list for next year: yr book Haecceities; this summer's P-Queue (Andrew Rippeon's intro there on bridges and collectivity is great); Geof Huth's Eyechart Poems; The Collected Eigner.

Book I really wanted to read this year but haven't yet: Ronaldo Wilson's Poems of the Black Object.

Also feels slightly odd to not have any Leslie Scalapino on here—as it feels like her year in the collective consciousness, one I certainly participated in, if only obliquely.

22 December 2010


Email michaelthomascross {{at}} hotmail com for directions!

Favorite Things (Part II)

Books (in no particular order):

John Wilkinson, Contrivances (Salt, 2003)

John Wilkinson, Effigies Against the Light (Salt, 2001)

Daniel Davidson, Culture (Krupskaya, 2002)

Richard Owens, Embankments (Interbirth, 2009)

Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (University of Minnesota Press, 2002)

Brenda Iijima (ed.), )((ECO(LANG)(UAGE(READER)) (Nightboat, 2010)

Bhanu Kapil, Humanimal: A Project for Future Children (Kelsey Street Press, 2009)

Andrea Brady: Wildlife: A Verse Essay On Obscurity & Illumination (Krupskaya, 2010)

Laura Moriarty, A Tonalist (Nightboat, 2010)

Brian Whitener (ed.), Genocide in the Neighborhood (Chain Links, 2009)

John Taggart, is music: selected poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2010)

Eileen Myles, The Importance of Being Iceland (Semiotext(e), 2009)

Norma Cole, To Be At Music: Essays & Talks (Omnidawn, 2010)

Jacques Ranciere, Aesthetics and Its Discontents (Polity, 2009)

Pattie McCarthy, Table Alphabetical of Hard Words (Apogee, 2010)

William Fuller, Watchword (Flood, 2006)

Susan Gevirtz, Aerodrome Orion & Starry Messenger (Kelsey Street, 2010)

Lauren Shufran, The Birds (self-published, 2010)

David Brazil, meet me beneath the war angels (OMG!, 2010)

Leslie Scalapino, The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom (Post Apollo, 2010)

Leslie Scalapino, Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows (Starcherone, 2010)

Leslie Scalapino, Flow--Winged Crocodile // A Pair/Actions/Are Erased/Appear (Chax, 2010)

C.J. Martin, WIW?3: Hold me tight. Make me happy (Delete Press, 2009)

Larry Eigner, Collected Poems (Stanford, 2010)

21 December 2010


I LOVE YEAR-END-LISTS, mostly because they give me the chance to collect suggestions from friends and colleagues. I've asked a number of folks to submit their own favorites of 2010 to The Disinhibitor, and I'll start posting them over the holidays while I'm traveling to and fro. To get us started, here are my favorite records this year (those I actually spun the most over the past twelve months). Feel free to submit your own favorite things (art, film, music, books) here: michaelthomascross {{AT}} hotmail <> com.

Ben Frost: By the Throat (Bedroom Community)
Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (Kranky)
Downliners Sekt: We Make Hits, Not the Public (self-released)
Frog Eyes: Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph (Dead Oceans)
Glitterbug: Privilege (C.Sides)
Harvey Milk: Bob Weston Sessions (Hydra Head)
How to Dress Well: Love Remains (Lefse)
Joker: Guest Mix on Radio 1
Jonsi: Go (XL)
Keith Fullerton Whitman: Generator (Root Strata)
Klimek: Movies is Magic (Anticipate)
Mountain Man: Made the Harbour (Bella Union)
Pan Sonic: Gravitoni (Mute)
Senking: Pong (Raster Noton)
Shackleton: Fabric 55 (Fabric)
Shit and Shine 229-2299 Girls Against Shit (Riot Season)
Sleigh Bells: Treats (N.E.E.T)
Swans: My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to Heaven (Young God)
Burial & Kode 9 on the final Mary Anne Hobbs show
Weekend: Sports (Slumberland)
Date Palms: On Psalms (Root Strata)
Expressway Yo-Yo Dieting: Bubblethug (Weird Forest)
Matthew Young: Traveler’s Advisory (Drag City)
Fabulous Diamonds: II (Siltbreeze)

Live Music:
On Land Festival
Shit and Shine

16 December 2010

NONSITE || Robert Kocik's "Offering Up The Body As Food"

Please join us this Wednesday, December 22nd at 7pm for a conversation with visiting architect, artist, and poet Robert Kocik.

Robert writes of his thematic, "Offering Up the Body as Food," "I'd like to place together (as they are inseparable) two major Nonsite concerns: commoning and somatics. Perhaps the discursive is getting us down (it's so little of what we are and what language is). It's hard to get the commoning meetings to get us anywhere (just as when I work with the Phoneme Choir or teach saw-sharpening or voice, if I don't cut the talk and just 'do,' there is no transformation.) Spread-thin is the mode we're all in and need to use to our advantage. Let me introduce INSTEADS (instead of what we'd be doing otherwise, instead of our recognizable artworks, instead of the status quo and to some extent instead of homesteading (in that all the land is already owned) as clear (well, luminous) objectives to be carried out. Wholly speaking, somatics is tripartite: bodywork and then offering up the energized body as activism and I-lessness (the ultimate protest against privatization). Thus commoning, though seemingly an objectiveworld practice, comes from emptying and quickening of compassion within. What I see with I aside (what hurts most and offers the greatest alleviation): Planned Pauperization Of Almost Everybody (PPOAE) and the need to translate the green of the forest of the commons of old as today's money—like water or air, nobody should be able to own a billion parts to another's one. Taxation is an unsolvable distraction—preemptive maldistribution is the work of poets. Vowed to change, as it is from the power of vow that means arise."

In preparation for our conversation, Kocik suggests reading writings from the Chod tradition of Machig Labdron (Machik Labkyi Dronma); Just Give Money To The Poor by Joseph Hanlon, Armando Barrientos and David Hulme; and any strategies and wording for de-financializing the economy. We hope to post excerpts from this material on our website (http://www.nonsitecollective.org/) as soon as possible.

If you are interested in joining us, or require any accommodations to attend, please email directions@nonsitecolletive.org for details regarding location and accessibility.

Robert Kocik’s cutting-edge work blurs the distinction between art and architecture. He has studied poetry at the New College in San Francisco and engineering at the Ecole Polytechnique IBOIS in Lausanne, Switzerland. After apprenticing with Japanese woodworkers in the San Francisco Bay Area, under the tutelage of Makoto Imai, and working with the Compagnons du Devoir, a traditional French wood-framers guild, Kocik began fusing these two traditions in his own work, beginning with furniture, and gradually evolving into architecture and sculpture.

He has been commissioned to design buildings for several well-known artists, including internationally acclaimed sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard and prestigious art critic David Levi-Strauss. As an architect in the public sphere, he works toward the realization of “missing civic services,” conceptualizing, designing, and constructing buildings that serve a public function and provide an activity that in some way “turns the world around.” Examples of past missing civic services include Preemptive Peace Place, Enfranchisement Ranch, and Furniture While You Wait. Kocik has exhibited related sculptural work at P.S. 122, Hunter College Gallery, the Kentler International Drawing Space, and the Makor Gallery, all in New York, among many other venues. His work is currently on view at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Michigan.

Kocik is also an acclaimed poet whose books include Over Coming Fitness (Autonomedia, 2000) Rhrurbarb (Ecopoetics, 2007) and the forthcoming The Prosodic Body (The Factory School, 2009). His poetry and writings have appeared in the journals Acts, Object, Crayon, Action Poetique, The New Coast, and Ecopoetics, among many others. He has also translated and published the work of several contemporary French poets.

In 1990, Kocik co-founded the Atelier Trigon, a multidisciplinary arts, trades, and performance space in Paris with choreographer Daria Faïn, where he served as Co-Artistic Director from 1990-94. In 1997 he founded the Bureau Of Material Behaviors, a materials research, consultation, design, and building practice located in Brooklyn, NY. Kocik has taught and lectured extensively throughout the United States.

Leslie Scalapino @ ODC

The Relationship Presents:
Flow (Winged Crocodile) / The Trains

Dec 21-22; 8pm
ODC Theater
3153 17th Street @ Shotwell

A Play by Leslie Scalapino
Performed by The Relationship
Directed by Fiona Templeton

The Relationship, a New York City performance group dedicated to creating and presenting works of innovative language, site and relations to the audience, is renting ODC's newly renovated theater to present their newest work to West Coast audiences. Flow (Winged Crocodile) / The Trains features an extraordinary text by the acclaimed late poet Leslie Scalapino, music by Joan Jeanrenaud and dance created and performed by Molissa Fenley. Additional collaboration includes video by Stephanie Silver, Danny Koenig and John Jesurun intermingle with projected drawings by Eve Biddle.

Buy Online Now
Call: 415-863-9834
Box Office: Wed-Sat, 12-6pm

ODC Theater
3153 17th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

Nathaniel Dorsky @ MOMA TONIGHT!!

Don't miss!

14 December 2010

Rob Halpern on George Oppen

It comes as no surprise that Rob's Oppen Lecture last Saturday was pretty epic; folks arrived with super high expectations, and (by all accounts) Rob threw down.

Here's one tiny excerpt to whet your appetite; you'll have to wait for the book publication of the selected Oppen Lectures to read the rest...


And here are some pictures from the evening:

Brian Teare and Denise Newman and an animated speaker!
Sara Larsen, Alli Warren, and David Brazil
Brazil, Banana, & Cross
Taylor Brady, Lauren Shufran, and Lauren's friend
Erin and Wilda
Bev Dahlen & Kevin Killian

Chris Nagler & myself
Anne & Sitka

Konrad Steiner & Steve Dickison

Lee Azus

Rob (in tie!) & Kevin
Ted Rees & Taylor Brady
Brandon Brown, Rob & The Ghost of Baudelaire

13 December 2010

O'hara, Koch, Johnson

Speaking of Rich Owens, I've just finished puzzling over Kent Johnson's somewhat controversial book on Frank O'Hara's Fire Island poem, published by Owens' Punch Press, and I'm still not sure what to make of it. To be perfectly honest, I'm not even sure I can write about it here without suffering some form of legal persecution! I'm sure you're all familiar with the story, dear Disinhibitors, but for those warding off poetry gossip, O'Hara's estate (supposedly) threatened to take Johnson and Punch Press to court over the book, a dispute Johnson refers to in a short note enclosed with my copy:

"Although the original cover for this title was so rudely suppressed and is not included here, Kent Johnson and der Punch Presse hope to lovinglye expresse our heartfelt gratitude for your advance subscription by including a unique art object which is completely independent of the bookum A Question Mark Above the Sun (copyright Punch Press, LLC) and is in no meane wayes to be considered a part of this publickation. Given the singularity of the art object included—and for the sake of the press's continued survival—we muste insist that you do not reproduce the object mechanically or digitally but maintain it instead as a modest and utterly private gesture or our appreciation."

So I'm not sure if this "art object" or book (or whatever it is) has sold out or has been removed from distribution or has been suppressed by the "O'Hara Estate," or if this additional drama is simply part of Johnson's performance—a pretty familiar performance at this point, in which he blurs the boundaries between the authentic and the ersatz (in order, seemingly, to gain a bit of notoriety while doing so). However, according to Owens, the threat of legal action has been all too real, so I got his permission to write about the book before proceeding.

So, what can one say about a project that is as much about its reception as its content? First, let me say from the outset that I'm not convinced by Johnson's argument, which is not to say, of course, that it isn't worth making. And what's his argument? The very short version (without all the back and forth which frankly muddles the point, in my opinion) is that there's a bit of mystery behind the authorship of O'Hara's seminal poem "A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island," a poem long read by O'Hara acolytes as a premonition of his death. According to Johnson,

"...this book proposes the following possibility: that 'A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island' may in fact have been authored (or perhaps modified and re-dated from a lost text...) by Kenneth Koch, soon following O'Hara's death on July 25, 1966. Koch, in an act now immortalized in American-poetry history, read the poem to a stunned audience at a memorial gathering, eight weeks after O'Hara's fatal accident--an accident that had taken place only a short stroll from where the strange premonitory masterpiece had supposedly been written, in the same month of eight years prior. There is no record of anyone knowing or hearing of the text's existence before Koch's spectacular revelation of it."

It's not so much that this thesis is totally implausible—Johnson levels some persuasive points. It's more the book’s form that bugs me. Johnson runs us through the squabbling blogosphere, chronicling in loving detail the conditions by which it could hypothetically be true that Koch wrote the poem; as he proceeds, the argument seems more and more implausible to me: the back and forth around whether Koch knew of the existence of a letter O'Hara wrote after a trip to Fire Island, why that letter was written on a typewriter other than O'Hara's Royal, the timeline in which Koch would have had to write the poem if he did, Koch's reasons for doing so (and for keeping it a secret his whole life), etc. etc. The more Johnson tries to prove his point, the less I believe it, and I think this has more to do with Johnson himself, his veracity as a narrator (and what he stands to gain if he's right), than the argument at hand.

Which is why, I suppose, I'm not completely on board. The poetry-mystery makes the text imminently readable (in the way one cocks an ear toward gossip), and all the talk about O'Hara's late writing brought me back to the thick collected poems gathering dust on the bookshelf. It seems utterly silly to me that the "O'Hara Estate" could be so worked up about this project (if they really are!), because the end seems to pretty clearly justify the means: folks will certainly return to O'Hara's work because of A Question Mark Above the Sun with renewed gusto, and whether or not one believes the thesis, Johnson promotes the poem's greatness and O'Hara's greatness and Koch' greatness, etc.

I guess what really bugs me is not the project as such, even its play with authorship and authenticity, but Johnson's affect. Sure, the book was obviously meant to be controversial from the beginning (which does cheapen its power a bit, at least for me), but it's really Johnson's portrayal of himself that rubs me the wrong way. For instance, his brief readings of British poets in the section entitled "Corroded by Symbolysme" are pretty brilliant, but the content is often eclipsed by Johnson's somewhat irritating style. He seems unable to write about poetry without contextualizing himself as a great provocateur, and the brilliance of his argument suffers because of it. Take for instance this probably staged but maybe-partially-true exchange between Johnson and Andrew Duncan in which Johnson displays his very real poetry chops:

"...the avant-garde thinks it intervenes through art into a world whose codes it can read and understand and thus foil and subvert. It is deconstructive in push and aim, but its target is a picture it falsely takes to be the Real. And this is why the Culture Industry always wins...The avant-garde, always-already aestheticized, through and through, down to its analytical smirk and cool, gets sucked into a symbolic canvas that ideology has primed--it becomes part of the scenery and what is History, if not corroded scenery?

So, fundamentally, I interjected, if I am understanding you, Andrew, what you mean is that ideologye feeds off the very avant gestures that would earnestly wrestle with the structures of its Form, that the construction of mythe, for you, constitutes a means, via excess, of eluding its frame, which is really the frame of the 'Rules of the Game'? Yes, said Duncan, the Guinness globe behind his head like a black moone, it's a matter of what attitude Poetry assumes before the social order: if one takes the latter as primary field, then one is scaffolded from within, ipso facto, by a closely spaced lattice of symbological struts; but if the social structure is made a small thing, something that can fit inside one's head, well the area of poeisis suddenly becomes infinite and free."

Or latter, this bit from Johnson's "conversation" with J.H. Prynne:

"I suggested to Prynne that his recent work reminded me a bit of late Zukofsky, "A"-22 and 23 and 80 Flowers, and such. Well, of course not that the language is so thoroughly distilled, in your case, grammatically speaking, I said. But there does seem to be a move toward a kind of depurated, fractal rigor, like in Chinese prosody, actually, where one has a complex grid of semantic couplings, aural interlockings, intertextual allusions, and so forth, and the reader moves around and wanders, guided not so much by syntagmatic sequence as by attention to the multiplicity of non-linear textuyres that the excisions of normative grammar afforde. The controlling code gets smashed, information flows go a bit crazy, discursive frames bleed each into each and out beyond what we would have them mean when within the mirage of our controle. I mean in your recent work it's as if what you wish to show, againe and againe, is two major things, and they seem to me perhaps somewhat contradictory, really: !) Language is a huge weather system of variegated pattern and effect, autonomous and self-reproducing beyond the conscious intentions of authore or reader, and B) that it is the responsibility of the poet to nail this overwhelming motherfuckere down, to get a handle on the ideological hail and fog, and numbing cold and deadening heat we walk within and breathe; I mean, you seem to want to expose the imbricated otherness of these weathers through a sampling and splicing at phrasal dimensions of discursive micro-climates and to do so as a means of analytic counter-discourse to the simulacral phantasms of the cultural surround--a kind of display as the Language poets used to say, of 'a mind in control of its language.'"

Nice, no?! But just as he draws me in, he reminds me that he's Kent Johnson writing a "super provocative" book about a poem only a handful of people care about. I admit that the conceit did pique my interest for the first ten pages or so, but after quickly tiring of Johnson-playing-Johnson (if I see the word "bookum" again I'm going to scream!), it's really the thinking here that kept me afloat till the end. While I'm glad someone is challenging notions of authorship, authenticity, and reception, at the end of the day his projects read super thin to me (that is, once you've stripped away the "controversy"). But here, there's some real thinking about poetry and I wanted more of that...that is, less "Kent Johnson" and more Kent Johnson writing about poems.

08 December 2010

More Albon on Davidson

George Albon has been generous enough to give permission to publish some excerpts from his amazing work-in-progress Cafe Multiple. In this longer section from the chapter "Cafe Orpheus," George gives shape to Davidson, his poetry, and their friendship. Here's George:

This month will be the tenth anniversary of Dan Davidson’s death (2006). I had met Dennis a few months before then, in June, and as Dan and I were more or less speaking again, I mentioned this new chapter in my life and he was the perfect friend—excited, eager to listen, one question after another. I don’t remember how we got back in touch, but we began having phone chats again, on our best behavior, with only a trace of the old tensions underneath. I knew that Dan’s fierce engagement with the Bay Area avant poetry scene (what he liked to call “the writing community”) had almost completely burned off, leaving a man vulnerable to ghosts of the past—ghosts that once were passions—and looking for the next involvement, the thing that would lift him up again. He told me he’d been dating a nurse, one of many he knew at the medical center where he went for his weekly blood check. He was on a chemical leash that got shorter and heavier with each passing year—coumadin for his blood (he had a plastic heart valve), analgesics for his migraines, valium from his therapist, and toward the end, a disastrous round of interferon (which he stopped) for Hep C. This last diagnosis, made in his last year, was I think the last straw. As the entitlement era drew to a close and his SSI checks became more restrictive and he had to pay for his meds more and more out of his pocket, he must have sensed that the future was trying to head him off. Brice Marden talks about new beginnings that seem suffused with hope but which eventually turn out to be labyrinths that lead only backward—I wonder if Dan hadn’t also begun to feel that way. And yet during one of our chats, when I was ineptly trying to commiserate with him, saying something to the effect that life was hard with occasional patches of brightness, he stopped me short. What do you mean, he said, life has great swatches of brightness, towering heights of beauty and joy.

To borrow a few sentences from elsewhere, Dan was the first poet I’d 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. Dan was companionate but he also worked with monastic devotion on his poetry—after fifteen years, a lot of it still searches along a hard edge. He also worked 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.

We finally got together in the present, after one plan after another snagged—with Dan, you always had to be prepared for plans to fall through. We hadn’t seen each other for a few years. I’d moved somewhere else, he was still (as always) on lower Haight, living his hand-to-mouth existence in digs he called “the Anarchy Arboretum” with a couple of steadfast roommates. I met him at my door, and was startled at his shoulder-length hair—he’d always worn it short. Our mutual wariness remained, and there were no handshakes or hugs, but up in my flat we started catching up and things seemed warm. One of his friends, a woman he had been at school with, mentioned at his memorial that one of the ways he’d changed from the last time they’d been together was that he blinked slower. And that’s what he did that afternoon in my flat: he blinked slower. At one point I mentioned a recent mugging, my first. It had been bad (clubbing, etc.) and as I was in the middle of my account I saw big tears rolling down his cheeks. He got up, I got up, and we embraced, Dan squeezing with all his strength.

He’d turned a corner. Dan had always been a mix of the almost irrationally combative and an almost equally perplexing vulnerability. But the combativeness had pretty much disappeared (the battles he chose were always uphill ones, and how long can that be sustained?), leaving the vulnerability and lostness. In the past, your desire to shelter him was always at war with the things he would do or say that made you feel you had to take him on. Now, shelter was everything.

I wish I could say we were able to resume our former closeness, but this was not to be. In addition to our past troubles, the hiatus of a few years had made a change in our orbits—we had different friends, different projects, different perspectives. And there was the time factor: I had a full-time job and was often too beat to do much in my spare time (Dan wasn’t someone you could chill with), whereas he lived on disability checks and had an open calendar. The irony, if that’s what it is, is cruel and stupid: I, with very little free time, am writing this ten years later; while Dan, who had so little time left, had all the time in the world.

The evening after he smothered himself his roommate Miguel and I wrote his obituary together over the phone. We were hoping to get it into the proper obit page in the Chronicle, but it ended up in the paid listings, the fee paid for by one of Dan’s teacher friends. Miguel and I stumbled over how to describe Dan’s non-poetry “activities.” We finally settled on “iconoclastic social activist,” with a bit of tongue in our cheek (though Dan would have unhesitatingly agreed). Activism of a kind it certainly was. Once he strolled into a Nordstrom and lingered near a display table of high-end cosmetic items just long enough to surreptitiously deposit a professional-looking sign he’d made at home which said FREE – TAKE ONE. Pranks like these were warm-ups for his most elaborate hoax, a bogus Bart Bulletin which he’d done up on his computer to look like the real thing, and which stated that, due to the current oil crisis, Bart had been compelled to “review its services.” After a few public relations paragraphs that agonized over the difficult decisions Bart had to face during such a shortage, the bulletin dropped the other shoe and said that it would be forced to raise fares by 80%—and all senior and handicapped fares would be discontinued. He took the original and photocopied a ream of these bulletins; then descended the stairs of the 16th and Mission Bart Station and fearlessly deposited them in the Bart Bulletin receptacles, using his long overcoat to shield what he was doing from the security cameras, then went home and waited for the shit to hit the fan. Alas, this cherry bomb turned out to be a dud—after a few people called the administration offices to protest this new policy, the bulletins were found and pitched, and that was that.

Though Dan relished confrontation and courted it more aggressively than anyone I’ve ever known, some of his oppositionality could be conventional. During the first Gulf War he made a simple 8 X 11 page, which said simply SAY NO TO WAR, in big caps that filled the sheet, then made copies and put and plastered them everywhere—on retail bulletin boards, stacked in cafés, left in magazines at newsstands. People would find them and put them up in their homes. You’d take the bus and see the signs in apartment windows all over San Francisco.

His subtlest move, conceived and carried out during that first Gulf War, was also the one most deserving of “iconoclastic social activism.” It was a small rectangular pin the size of a stick of Dentyne, worn on your shirt and bearing a single word: IRAQI. Dan wore his pin all the time and made them for anyone who wanted one. I don’t know if Dan knew the work of Guy Debord (I suspect not, since he never mentioned Debord, and he mentioned everything) but his IRAQI pin was the perfect Situationist gesture. Transforming himself into a walking signifier of either a declared enemy “overseas” or a helpless civilian caught between two power-thugs, he forced people viscerally to have a view, and if they had one already, to assess and declare it. Strolling through the Financial District, down chi-chi Union and its phalanx of boutiques, or any neighborhood in the city that had a well-greased notion of the good life in America, Dan was a walking rip in the texture. He worked the effect of statement made away from a platform and dropped into the gaps of everyday living: if you can’t bring the war home you can at least create a flash point that made avoidance of the discussion impossible. The hostility he provoked with this little pin was remarkable to behold. What’s that supposed to mean, people would ask. What do you think it means, he asked them back. Even people not disposed to favor the war could be put off by the line in the sand, and for Dan a person polarized by such activities was a person jarred into seeing the picture whole (though this was an outcropping of one of his worst beliefs, that only polarized positions are deeply held).

Dan exemplified the spirit of the WW1-era avant-garde more than anyone I knew, and he felt the attendant pressurization. True avant-gardists are soldiers, working in ways that incur risk and casualty. Every successful gesture is further proof of the imperturbability of the mass. James Baldwin said that his writing was directed not toward the unconscious ones, who were probably beyond influence, but toward the relatively conscious, the ones who might be capable of dilating their perspective. Dan never made this distinction (he would have seen it as timidity) with the result that every incursion, even one that felt like a victory, was also a solitary head beating against a wall.

     Not that the last life has been taken its forms
     hold and tend passage held in the light of hand
     a sweetening in the eyes a drinking
                                                               that lays answering
     lending a final portion squeezed out of debt
     in the relationship of the overlooked a shaping
                                                               of the personal
     not to have a clock bringing its share.

These opening lines from Bureaucrat, My Love, Dan’s best poem, seem to be counting down the seconds even as they reference sweetening and light. Written four years before he died, it’s far from his last poem (some spiky, directly topical work was still to come) but it’s the poem that seems, in my view, the one most haunted by a future reckoning he will never know. Something is being gathered and rehearsed.

Building on an idea of Nietzsche, Massimo Cacciari speaks of “posthumous people,” artists and thinkers whose effect on others happens only after their death. “They are misunderstood more than others, more than actual people. And yet they are heard better (…) The ghosts of posthumous people practically force themselves to be heard, practically cause the dimension of hearing to be rediscovered.” And yet this is surely a belief among the living, among poets—not as posterity but as the message in the bottle, as transmission to an imagined distant listener, who may turn out in the end to be only a future one. Dan’s “relationship of the overlooked” is of this process. The overlooked could be the poet but could also be the unfound thought or preoccupation the poet is trying to pass to others, who may be able to take on the urgent whisperings in the poem and synthesize some of its nature in their own time on earth. Poetry-making, with its investment in imaginal and semantic complexes as bearers of hope, is also at times an act of mourning. Poets as posthumous people are the ones who consolidate and commemorate the loss of nature. They remember, then remember remembrance. They know that this is not one-directional. Reflection beams forward as much as it sifts down onto spent time.

07 December 2010

Don't Forget: Halpern on Oppen this Saturday!!

The Poetry Center


Saturday DEC 11
Rob Halpern, presenting the George Oppen Memorial Lecture
7:30 pm @ Unitarian Center, 1187 Franklin (at Geary), $10

Join us for the 26th annual George Oppen Memorial Lecture — "Becoming a Patient of History: George Oppen's Domesticity and the Relocation of Politics" — presented by poet Rob Halpern.

Rob Halpern has written several books of poetry, including Rumored Place (Krupskaya 2004), Imaginary Politics (Tap Root Editions 2008), and Disaster Suites (Palm Press 2009). Music for Porn is forthcoming (Nightboat Books, 2011). With Taylor Brady, he also co-authored the book length poem Snow Sensitive Skin (Atticus/Finch 2007), which has just been reissued by Displaced Press.

Currently, he’s co-editing, together with Kathleen Fraser, the poems of the late Frances Jaffer, and translating the early essays of Georges Perec, the second of which, “Commitment or the Crisis of Language,” recently appeared in the Review of Contemporary Fiction with an essay of his own on Perec.

An active participant in the Nonsite Collective, Rob lives in San Francisco and Ypsilanti, Michigan, where he teaches English and Creative Writing.

06 December 2010

Rich Owens on Blogging & the Commons (vis-a vis Thom Donovan & Sean Bonney)

Rich Owens just contributed a characteristically ultra-smart piece on blogging and the commons (through the lens of Thom Donovan and Sean Bonney) for the newest Poetry Project Newsletter (Dec/Jan #225). Editor Corina Copp graciously granted permission to reprint here for those out of the PPN's range, and reminded me that back issues are archived here. Here's Rich throwing down (click on upper-right-hand arrow for full-screen):


01 December 2010

Leslie Scalapino Memorial Events

Leslie Scalapino

Memorial Events

December 2010
Berkeley & San Francisco, CA

Friday, December 3, 2010
6:30 - 9:00 pm
Leslie Scalapino Memorial Reading

with Lyn Hejinian, Simone Fattal, Michael McClure, Norma Cole, Laura Moriarty, Jocelyn Saidenberg, Joanne Kyger, Konrad Steiner, E. Tracy Grinnell, Judith Goldman, Norman Fischer, Alicia Cohen, Rae Armantrout, Stephen Ratcliffe, Michael Cross, M. Mara Ann, & Bob Grenier

Maude Fife Room
315 Wheeler Hall
University of California, Berkeley

Saturday, December 4, 2010

7:30 pm
PREMIER of Stone Marmalade
Kevin Killian presents a production of Stone Marmalade, his collaborative play with Leslie Scalapino

Directed by Kevin Killian
Designed by Wayne Smith
Performed by Lindsey Boldt, Karla Milosevich, Brent Cunningham, Taylor Brady, Laurie Reid, Erin Morrill, Tom Comitta, Craig Goodman, Jocelyn Saidenberg, David Brazil, & others

Small Press Traffic
1111 8th St.
San Francisco, CA

Tuesday, December 21 & Wednesday, December 22, 2010
8:00 pm
Flow-Winged Crocodile / The Trains

Directed by Fiona Templeton
Performed by The Relationship with Katie Brown, Stephanie Silver, and Julie Troost
Dance created and performed by Molissa Fenley
Music by Joan Jeanrenaud

Please join us for a special performance of Leslie Scalapino's play,
followed by an opening night reception.

ODC Theater
3153 17th Street @ Shotwell
San Francisco, CA