30 March 2011

Notes on Labor and Regeneration

CJ Martin inspired me to unearth this piece on invocation, violence, and the lyric voice, first published in P-Queue #2 way back in 2005. I decided to post it here in response to a conversation last Sunday about the Song of Songs in a reading group I'm attending on allegories. The evening's conversation turned to the song's sometimes-latent, sometimes-overt (often gendered) violence ("The watchmen who went about the city found me. / They struck me, they wounded me; / The keepers of the walls / Took my veil away from me / I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, / If you find my beloved, / That you tell him I am lovesick!"), and how descriptions of beauty are often metaphorically compared to resources ("Your teeth are like a flock of shorn sheep / Which have come up from the washing, / Every one of which bears twins, / And none is barren among them"). I got to thinking about this piece again in relation. Here's the first section: 

Notes on Labor and Regeneration*

Out of the eater came forth food, and out of the strong came forth sweetness (Samson, upon discovering a swarm of bees in the corpse of a lion)


Ye deities! Who fields and plains protect
Who rule the seasons, and the year direct,
Bacchus and fostering Ceres, powers divine,
Who gave us corn for mast, for water, wine:
Ye Fauns, propitious to the rural swains,
Ye nymphs that haunt the mountains and the plains,
Join in my work, and to my numbers bring
Your needful succor; for your gifts I sing.

I sing, Maecenas, and I sing to thee

Be thou propitious, Caesar! guide my course

Great father Bacchus! To my song repair

Thy fields, propitious Pales, I rehearse;
And sing thy pastures in no vulgar verse

Maecenas, read this other part, that sings
Embattled squadrons and adventurous kings—
A mighty pomp, though made of little things.
Their arms, their arts, their manners, I disclose,
And how they war, and whence the people rose.
Slight is the subject, but the praise not small,
If Heaven assist, and Phoebus hear my call.

Invocation is the ideal enactment of language. It sings submission by yielding to the greater song of sovereignty. That is not to say, however, that invocation, as plea for permission, is mere passivity. It is a system of exchange: the muse enacts the poet’s force, sustains the duration of the song, and shelters her from error, presumption, and violence; all of this in exchange for the poet’s fidelity. The danger is in choosing one’s muse incorrectly, or worse, in singing one’s verse off-key.

Virgil, in The Georgics, recognizes the danger of these competing interests. His pastoral is comprised of four discrete sections (calling to mind the division of the seasons): the first covers plowing and weather; the second, trees and vines; the third, livestock and disease; and the fourth, bee keeping. Each is a single measure enacting both the labor of the singer (the lyric voice) and that of the swain (apotheosized hero), a kind of hymn or polyphonic chant purporting to celebrate the rustic through its submission to heterogeneous registers of power: statesmanlike Maecenas, patron and protector, who prompted Virgil to write a poem in praise of agriculture in order to stimulate the growing of wheat; Caesar Augustus, who once disposed…his farm near Mantua in order that veterans might be settled on the land; and a variety of pagan figureheads, the Pales and Bacchants primarily, the latter of whom killed…and strewed (Orpheus’) mangled limbs about the field. The Georgics, though formally a didactic work on the virtues of agriculture and labor, is a poem of force, as Simone Weil would have it. Its multiple trajectories enact an unsettling river Lethe, resituating and disintegrating bonds of loyalty through negation. And as his song is projected toward both divine and corporeal authorities, the poet reinforces the myth that the lyric voice is the source of its own articulation. This creates the false impression that song is linear and unidirectional, that in some sense the competing interests of the divine and state structures are ameliorated by the prostrations of the poet, that the poet herself enacts the gathering force of logos. But paradoxically, the subject-poet mouthpiece of the invocation occupies her own plateau “outside” power, toward an authority protean in shape and function. Which is to say, the poet produces by simultaneously recognizing and sublating secular and divine interests, reconciling servitude to both and neither. In this sense, then, the invocation is a kind of praxis through submission. The more the poet feigns ignorance of existing structures of power, the more the lyric swells with saccharine sentimentality; her supposed inability to address sociopolitical pressures only serves to make them tangible in their absence. Her cunning lies in this very silence (a kind of resistance): opacity makes physically manifest the text’s untruth.


As husbandry implies dominion and management over that which will submit, in its purely didactic form, it advocates the inevitable domination of the landscape for the good of its occupants. As such, The Georgics adopts an ecopoetic guise; it takes nature as its subject, only to argue fervently for its domination. By analogy, the reader takes the poet as substitutable for nature as both are dominated by a greater force at the periphery of the poem. The more the narrative shies away from the political real the more metaphors of hardship instantiate labor: the obdurate soil; pestilence, famine, and disease in livestock; the harsh and unpredictable patterns of weather; Bacchant intoxication unleashed upon the source of song:

Red blisters rising on their paps appear,
And flaming carbuncles, and noisome sweat,
And clammy dews, that loathsome lice begat;
Till the slow-creeping evil eats his way,
Consumes the parching limbs, & makes the life his prey.

The celebration of labor morphs into an extended jeremiad of degeneration gesturing toward the irreconcilable relationship between human and nature. If it attempts to justify the biblical doctrine of “man’s” dominion, its results are incommensurate economies, juxtaposing violence with benevolence. The multiple epyllion (tangential mini-epics) in the poem offer still shots of chaos in the face of totality, disguised as wild horses full of amorous rage, submitting the females to the lusty sire…Then serve(ing) their fury with the rushing male, indulging pleasure. The tract on apiculture in book four sings the virtues of the bees (Of all the race of animals, alone / The bees have common cities of their own, / And common sons; beneath one law they live…All is the state’s; the state provides for all ) only to suspend this thread to sing of the violent death of Orpheus:

With furies and nocturnal orgies fired,
At length against his sacred life conspired.
Whom e’en the savage beasts had spared, they killed,
And strewed the mangled limbs about the field.
Then, when his head, from his fair shoulders torn,
Washed by the waters, was on Hebrus borne,
E’en then his trembling tongue invoked his bride
With his last voice, ‘Eurydice,’ he cried
‘Eurydice,’ the rocks and river-banks replied

The poet enacts a dangerous dialectic that at once aligns the swain and her labor with the enlightened social structure of the bees, only to portray the brutal death of the poet as a product of a failed synthesis between the anthropocentric and ecological. And it is because of this tension that the poem’s didacticism ultimately fails (while the poem itself succeeds).

Ultimately, Virgil’s romanticization of the Orphic undercuts his feigned sense of nationalism, as Orpheus’ fate trumps the dogmatism of the previous pages. It is not an accident that the violent dismemberment is due, in part, to a failure of invocation. His poem does nothing (that is, in terms of instrumentality). It is illegitimate, incompetent—it fails to produce. And while his lyre tames the wild beasts, infusing nature itself with sorrow, the Bacchants remain unmoved and at length against his sacred life conspire. However, while Virgil points to the violence of the swain’s labor, he gestures toward the fact that, even beheaded, Orpheus, the Christ-poet, sustains his song (and in so doing, manages to incite a response from nature): E’en then his trembling tongue invoked his bride/With his last voice, ‘Eurydice,’ he cried, / ‘Eurydice,’ the rocks and river-banks replied. For Virgil, Orpheus’ dismemberment is the sublimation of poet into lyre-head, a pure singing that is the argument between his unified body and its strewn limbs. Michael Lieb writes of Orphic dismemberment: Although initially destructive, this is essentially a creative process, one in which the unconscious self is subjected to a kind of dismemberment in preparation for its reintegration in the world of consciousness. The moment of violence makes the structure of power, its peripheries, its multiple centers, materialize in the text. The poet cannot help but articulate the social index (even if only through negation); the duration of the song, its force against the greater force of the outside, becomes the central concern of the poem and ultimately morphs into a polyvalent expression of woe. The result: the regeneration of absent power structures through commensurable analogies of violence.

*I'm much too tired to try and reconstruct my endnotes using Blogger's weird formatting, so I've placed quotations in italics. If you're interested in following up on citations, let me know...

25 March 2011

Camille Roy's Sherwood Forest

A new book by Camille Roy is always something of a literary event: it's been 13 years since her prose work Swarm and some 16 years since her last set of "poems" (though, as is the case with all of Camille's work, these clean genre distinctions don't always hold); as such, a new book of poems by Roy is certainly something to celebrate (and these are indisputably poems, though I'll have more to say about that claim later!). Futurepoem is right on the cusp of releasing Sherwood Forest, a gloriously subversive new volume of poetry, and, in order to celebrate, Camille and I have been chatting about the book and her practice writ large. I'll start posting segments of the conversation serially over the next few weeks, but I thought to post her brilliant statement of poetics "Experimentalism," originally published in the seminal online journal Narrativity (and recently reprinted in Biting the Error), in order to pave the way for our discussion. If it's been a while since you picked up Swarm (Black Star Series) or The Rosy Medallions (Kelsey Street Press) or Cold Heaven (O Books), I invite you to do so now: we'd love to have you join the conversation (feel free to use the comment stream liberally, or you can always send an email to michaelthomascross/at/hotmail{dot}(com)).

Here's the entirety of "Experimentalism" to get us started, and do check back early next week for our first exchange:

1. Methods

Writing I find exciting often gets called experimental. In America this is another word for marginal. It's patronizing. Other countries distribute legitimacy in literary culture differently. For example, when in the U.K., Kathy Acker wrote for the Times Literary Supplement. Can you imagine Acker writing for the New York Times Book Review!? Just the experience of reviewing her work in the NYT Book Review caused several reviewers to spontaneously combust. On the other side of the Atlantic, debates on literary aesthetics are part of public--not just academic--life. Not so here, which means the conventions of representation that underlie mainstream fiction in this country can't be effectually critiqued. (I don't consider academic debates to be part of public life.).

So what conventions of representation am I talking about? Consider identity. Mainstream fiction tends to assume separate and coherent individuals, each with a single body and character which is built , rather than destroyed, by conflict.

I believe it is possible to have one identity in your thumb and another in your neck. I think identities can travel between persons who have an unusual mutual sympathy. Let's not even mention multiple personality.

But what I want to talk about today is the manipulation and construction of social distance. Mainstream fiction assumes a position not too close, not too far away. A situation is implied, an entire social horizon, which is speckled with white individuals who maintain distance from one another and from social 'problems.'

Containment. Segregation. A narrative structure which covertly mirrors the growth of white suburbs since WWII, where there is no discomfort around racism because only white people are present. Breaking this long chain of social convention at any link can easily result in personal and literary deformity, which is another term for experimentation.

"My sister was older, and kept her drugs and screwing in the basement the same way she kept her jewelry there. Her lovers were thin white men whose trouble was drug-related. When Paul got out of Cook County Jail he carried an odor of rape and had large nerve spots in his eyes. Fear moving like a breeze in a prison yard, I could feel that in my stomach when he was around; otherwise I didn't care. I thought about Monica. Her sharp teeth and brown cheeks. The way her greed slid across my hips could be scary but her palms were narrow as slots, that made it okay to have sex with her."

The well-modulated distance of mainstream fiction not only distances social conflict, it also doesn't represent lesbian relationships very well. Mainstream literary forms reflect conventions of identity that are dominated by the masculine and the heterosexual. I am not arguing for femininity in literature here. I don't find those essentialist positions very interesting. But I think relations between women have the potential to strain conventions of representation. HOW exactly. Consider the characteristics associated with women: weak boundaries between self and other, heightened capacity for intimacy, identification of self with other, and a more fluid sense of self. In mainstream contexts, these capacities are exploited until you reach, at the limit, erotic positions which have been emptied of subjectivity, e.g. BIMBO/CUNT. I think it's quite difficult, perhaps impossible, to represent a dyke as empty in that way. The corollary in the lesbian world to the empty sexual object is an erotic position I think of as invaded subjectivity.

"I was her idea, the fix for a wife with lesbian dreams. She never told me the details but I could feel them pushing out at night, in the way that there's a ghost town inside every city. It made her ferocious but not personal. Once she wanted me to tell her my sexual fantasies. Confession is good information, she said, stroking my clit with her finger. I shuddered, then recoiled. What could I say? My mouth was unconscious. I should have whispered, It feels like your nostalgia."

I take it as a given that the well-modulated distance of mainstream fiction is a system that contains and represses social conflict, and that one purpose of experimental work is to break open this system. But experimental work can require a context of aesthetic ideas which many people who might otherwise be interested in it don't have. In this context, intimacy, autobiography, and direct address don't function just as content but are strategies for pursuing a reluctant audience. So are genre narrative forms, such as sex writing or horror.

There are many roads into the succulent interior. How can the mechanisms of genre fiction get us (the cabal of experimental writers) there?

Consider porn narratives. Usually people do not appreciate being taken apart. They rely upon having an ego, enjoy feeling integrated and in control, and experimental work that questions this can arouse distaste. What is so interesting about pornography is that loosing it is the point. People want to be taken apart so that ego control (resistance to pleasure) is subverted. Where there was distaste, there is now desire mixed with dread. Pleasures of the rupture, rack and screw. The audience becomes an unwitting collaborator in its own disintegration, in the interest of pleasure, or just feeling, period.

Genre fiction is not about representing experience but producing and organizing feeling---sexual excitement, horror, mystery, fear. The aim is to invade the reader's subjectivity. To control, and then to release. The desire of the reader to be aroused or to otherwise escape is the key hole through which all the mechanisms of the narrative operate (note this turns the writer into a kind of spy!).

Because genre writing deals in something as low as feeling, these forms are relatively easy to use in other contexts and for other purposes. They are already degraded, so their resistance is weak. Experimental writers using genre forms are like drag artists.

My mistress cuts & tucks one silicone 38D into my chest and
then another, while I'm bound to our massive brass bed. Her
kinky breath is soft as suede.
When I cry she tells me,
The best titties are raised on the farm.
When I scream she says,
Pain shreds & relaxes. You'll stumble over the real thing.
Think of scrub brushes and the perfect ending.
When I sob in agony she comforts me,
Later we'll take a tour of the castle.
My mistress is cruel. She's bright as breath. She whispers
to me as she cuts,
I'm a fan of the flesh -- tits, stuffing, sweetmeats.
I suck the juice from the roast, I'm a pig with a straw.

How to pass suffering, eroticism ... from one person to another? Where does coherence fly apart? The answer to these questions does not lie in one or another particular strategy, but in the sensual devotion of the writer, taken to formal extremes. We explore our narrative tools, discovering exactly how they manipulate or release the contorted social body--because it's the one we live in, the one which feeds off us, the one which has swallowed the visible horizon.

2. Monsters

One of the forms of narrative I write is software. It can be lucrative. About four years ago I used stock options to buy a house right around the corner plus one block from one of the worst housing projects in San Francisco. A couple thousand people live there. It gives my neighborhood the highest child hunger rate in the city. Our first night in the house someone got murdered, just before midnight . It was a block a way but the shot sounded like it was in our back yard. One shot, a pause, then another. Purposeful. Somehow I knew it was intended to kill, and not just a couple of kids shooting at the moon. Plus the neighbor told us he'd had his car stolen 3 times.

Impenetrable poverty plus dumb fuck rules, class and race segregation: I'd moved into the only San Francisco neighborhood that duplicated on a smaller scale what I grew up with. It annoyed me.

Locality, forever. Skewed. Something huge gets mutilated as it slides through a stuffy tube. We're on the beach very far to the west, watching what pops out. It contains all of American culture. I came here so tightly wound, born on 43rd street south side Chicago & haven't been back to that neighborhood since I left the hospital.

From my dining room window, at the rear of the house, the project looks strangely vacant. There just never seem to be many people around. The buildings proceed down the hill towards the old industrial port like giant shabby steps, but there is never anyone on the racks of balconies. I've rarely driven through it. Structurally, it's sort of a dead-end place, the way it's laid out, like a suburban subdivision: streets point into it, then twist up like spaghetti. The few drive-through streets are dotted with dealers scoping out the passing cars.

When I first moved in I often found myself dreamily staring out the dining room window. I wanted to check out one of those balconies. The view would be amazing, they practically hang over the bay. Developers have been salivating over that piece of land for years. Nowadaze they are nibbling at the edges of the project, building expensive live work lofts for software designers on adjoining vacant industrial land. It's weird. Different economic classes get spliced together via crimes, their mode of interaction being criminal. So one day I mentioned to a friend that I didn't get it, how did dealers get kids to work for them--playing courier, or delivery boy. What would a dealer have on a kid? Why get involved with some jacked-up, scary asshole? I felt like an idiot as soon as the words left my mouth. Patiently, step by step, my friend explained how it was done, until I could have done it myself, as obviously he had. All I had to do was ask. Knowledge. The getting & taking and the tearing up. Did I want to go there?

Of course I did. One day I walked in, took a place on the balcony next to all of my friends & drank their salty water. I listened to the radio. I watched as a crack lady ran down the street behind a white dog. Then the dog was scratching at the door. When I woke up that sound was the shade, bumping against the window frame. And I was thinking, as I am always doing and my thinking told me this: This is what I want. It's inside my system of attractions. I'm penetrated by the present and it's always the same: chronic anger. Awful but refreshing.

I walked into the projects a couple of weeks ago. It's right around the corner, why not just walk? It was a friend's birthday. She told me where she lived, but it wasn't easy to find. The apartments didn't have numbers on them, you had to just know. I asked a bunch of people. Kids were running everywhere. How come I hadn't seen them from my back window? I look whiter than usual, I thought, looking at my hand. People looked at me skeptically. I felt skeptical about myself, but slick, as in greased. I wanted to fall off my little ledge: bored with what had gotten dished up as myself. With the backwash of swallowing it.

The balcony was great. I hung with my friends and listened to the radio. They played that song I like, the one about money. Later we went out to eat birthday steaks.

California is shallow. That's true. Though it thrills me that I can walk across the city without getting beat up for crossing some invisible dividing line of racial turf. Of course I could get beat up for something else. I'm so easy to please.

I'm supposed to write about narrativity but these problems of locality are where I get started. For me writing grinds itself into what's familiar yet unbearable. Add mobility to that and, voila, narrative. Disjunction is the formal consequence of this ripped & torn social life, and it's packed with information, almost to the point of being insensible.

The streets I walk measure me. They measure you too, through mechanisms both criminal and friendly. Writing that knowledge is a kind of spectacular innocence---the moment of saturation feels dazzling, but there is probably no point. Still I love it, formally and erotically. It's all about nested structures. I entrust my twisted little pieces to the warm nest of the sick social body, and I feel our bond. It nourishes me.

To theorize my point of view, to pursue critical formalism as a ritual and as a grasp for power, let me put it this way. Narrative provides context so that the rupturing of identity is recognizable. We are impossible beings, ruthlessly evading scrutiny. Yet recognition (linchpin of narrative) is the beginning of transformative emotion.

As a narrative writer I improvise recognition. It's a location from which mutant beings emerge. This feels true, in life they never stop emerging. Look---they even swarm through this text. I allow it because I'm terrified and seduced. To encounter them via narrative is to formalize a moment of surrender.


23 March 2011

New Delete Press: Kate Greenstreet's Called

Another impeccably produced chapbook by the dudes at Delete Press.

22 March 2011

More yo! eos!

I've shared countless conversations with David Brazil about the lasting legacy of Pound (and how younger poets seem generally apprehensive to acknowledge his influence). When I first read Brazil (probably his The Book Called Spring on Brenda Iijima's Portable Press at Yo-yo Labs) I was reminded, of course, of Pound's intertextuality: the polysemous, multivalent voice drawing from readings in anthropology, mythology, philosophy, sociology, histories of civilization(s), theology, the esoteric... 

Take this short section from "12.1.2010," the first poem in yo! eos!:

I wipe condensation off the
big front window with the
flat of hand so I could
see through it, drosos is the
word we find in Aeschylus for both
dew & the young of an animal,
xaire Eos,
salve Aurora,
I met dawn just out the
threshold of my dad's house in
forest, Forest Home...

While Brazil constellates his reading and thinking and writing as did Pound, I'm interested in how this material enters the poem. Brazil's conversation is never far from his pedagogy, and his pedagogy is never far from community building (a community, mind you, built through conversation and collective learning). His reading enters the work because it's furniture in the room (and, yes, there's a lot of furniture, and, yes, some of it is very ornate), but it enters into a line of thought meant to illustrate and/or illuminate and/or inspire. In conversation, Brazil possesses the rare gift of making each conversant feel special (as if he's always speaking directly to you) while completely side-stepping condescension (though he's regularly juggling a wide swath of sometimes esoteric material). His poems function similarly in that his "reading" isn't meant to function  as "learning" or "kulchur" or "sophistication," but part of the grammar or shape of the conversation itself.

Spicer claimed in his second Vancouver lecture that "it must have struck Pound as odd that he was able to write the most moving, the most immediate cantos when he was in the monkey cage, without any books." And while it's certainly true that the Pisan Cantos are some of the more moving poems in his oeuvre, Pound still weaves in all kinds of material (despite being far from his library). The difference (despite having on hand, what, like three books? Confucius, The Bible, the Pocket Book of Verse?), perhaps, is that he's working from memory, letting resonance and correspondence naturally lead through thought: letting the line breathe without plugging the more poignant observations with "kulchur."

From Canto LXXIX:

Maelid and bassarid among lynxes;
   how many? There are more under the oak trees,
We are here waiting the sun-rise
   and the next sunrise
for three nights amid lynxes. For three nights
   of the oak-wood
and the vines are thick in their branches
   no vine lacking flower,
no lynx lacking a flower rope
   no Maelid minus a wine jar
this forest is named Melagrana

Now take this section from my favorite poem in Brazil's chapbook, "12.8.2010":

I can feel the blood of my pulse in its
rhythmical travel,
what kind of ground is this in which to
cultivate a judgment,
Dante did it in hell, it's what
hell was for, for him & no one else in
history, to save him, by going to the
bottom, we all often go our own ways,
without all the scenery & set-pieces,
there's enough in us to make the
poignant matter from whatever
happens to be handy,
one two three four five lanceolate
leaves turned yellow & I
plucked them from the stem.

Brazil's books are certainly always open, but his reading enters the poem more as a desire to learn than knowledge as such. I continually get the sense in Brazil's work that, in the words of Zukofsky, we "rate the impalpable 'compounded' event (i.e. thought) by [a] senuous stand in the 'simple' look." If the "simple were so well compounded" (get it?! com-Pound-ed?!), in Brazil's work the compound is always pointing back to very fundamental, simple truths about being together. As such, reading Brazil's yo! eos! feels a bit like suffering Pound to arrive at Eigner: that while "the 'simple' cries out to be 'well compounded,'" "the nature of the object is 'simple' because there is no other way to see it with the eye..." (Zukofsky, Bottom: On Shakespeare).

My thanks to Chris Daniels and his Berkeley Neo-Baroque chapbooks for getting this into my hands. Go here to learn more.

18 March 2011

Tonight's SPT Event Cancelled // Divya Victor moved to Sunday!

I'm sorry to report that tonight's much-anticipated SPT event featuring Brian Kim Stefans, Divya Victor, and Meg Day has been cancelled due to unforseen venue conflicts. However, we promised the world Divya Victor, and we're giving the world Divya Victor! Local hero Erin Morrill is hosting Julian Brolaski and Lindsey Boldt at her crib this Sunday, and she gratiously added Divya to the bill! Now the proper-ness of this reading has exponentially increased, adding additional grandeur and radness to the East Bay's already grand and rad legacy. Which is to say, you should totally stop by Erin's house on Sunday for the event (more info to follow at the end of this (slightly hysterical) missive!).

AND, as if this lineup weren't enough, AMAZING PRINTER and all around awesome dude Aaron Cohick of New Lights Press printed a kind of sublime (and really hard to describe!) broadside for Divya which we're selling for only $5 (!!!) to raise monies for SPT (detail above).

With more energy, I would extol the virtues of all three of these wunderkinds. But because I haven't slept in awhile, here's the short version: if you were planning to go to Timkin Hall tonight for the reading, you've already made your first mistake. If you were planning to go to SPT's Mackey Hall in Oakland instead, you were on the right track, but now the reading's been cancelled. As such, you should go to Erin's on Sunday instead and see the truly unimpeachable lineup of Julian Brolaski, Lindsey Boldt, and Divya Victor. THEN, you should buy Aaron's badass broadside for Divya to support Div. and Aaron and SPT. Then you should go to New Lights Press and learn all about Aaron and his press, and then you should find everything by Divya you can, including SUTURES which you can download for free over at Little Red Leaves.

And then you should catch up on all of this info below:

Julian Brolaski, Lindsey Boldt, and Divya Victor
The New Front Row reading Series
1445 Lakeside Drive #202 Oakland
Sunday, 3/20
5pm doors (homemade soup)
6:30pm reading

Come hear poetry and some sing along style in this laid back lakeside house reading. There will be soup. BYOB (for real) BYOB

Julian T. Brolaski lives in Brooklyn, NY and teaches in New York.
gowanus atropolis=new book from ugly duckling
Juan and the Pines=new band

Lindsey Boldt lives in San Francisco, CA but will soon be migrating to the East Bay, does work with Post Apollo Press, runs Summer BFF chapbooks w/ Steve Orth.


Divya Victor lives in Buffalo, where she is a doctoral candidate at SUNY Buffalo’s Poetics Program. She has two new chapbooks: SUTURES (Little Red Leaves Press) and Hellocasts by Charles Reznikoff by Divya Victor by Vanessa Place (ood press). Recently, she was invited by Les Figues to perform and install her work HELLOCASTS, based on transcripts of the Eichmann and Nuremberg trials, at the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibit (L.A.C.E), where she was artist in residence.

17 March 2011

yo! eos!

I was very excited to learn that Chris Daniels is knocking out the chapbooks again, especially when I received David Brazil's new yo! eos!. These are Brazil's morning poems, odes to dawn and thinking at dawn and writing and thinking at dawn. There's something really comforting about the conceit: waking up, wiping the condensation off the windows, looking out into the world, onto the street, into one's books. The poems open as the mind calibrates, allowing what's happening in the world to suggest correspondences with memory, books, friends...But it's also a mourning poem, a sustained response to the loss of a father: part eulogy, part poetics, part naked observation, the lines move fast and ring in the ear with the wit and brilliance of Brazil's real-time conversation, in which sparks lead to correspondence, lead to correspondence, lead to correspondence, thinking through loss by thinking through...

Take this one from 12.9.2010:

Walled up by mists & with
a typewriter hot to the touch from its
seat atop the steam-heat radiator,
water is the fact no matter how you slice it,
as I wrote to Alli on the postcard, as I
realized when the Philly poets did a
salute to Niedecker, who was coming up all
year, and why, well, water for one thing.
The crisis in water.
And let me incise on the lintel
Which I wrote, accidentally transposing the first two words,
(which I should know better than to do since MEN's postpositive),
on a scroll of receipt tape I tacked inside my
office door on Ellis St., after hearing Norma Cole read a poem called
"Water is Best" at Moe's, I
said "It's a teaching," & she said
"yes," we
were sitting in the rooftop garden of the
SFMOMA talking about how we always got stuck
reading the first chapter of Genesis over &
over again & she said, "like, what's ru'ach?"
And we sat there for a moment in the silence
opened up by absence, I
notice eidola of trees which
lived inside of paces of glass like
facts that you can't touch.
In no wind or little smoke ascends
in a straight line toward heaven, I
open up the window to
give it an outlet.

And this from 12.25.2010:

"the saintly Vail of maiden white," the
sky a solid wall of cloud like
armies massed against our vision,
which obstruction wrecks how
we would live among each other &
within, I can see individual drops of
the storm that is coming, not a metaphor or else
itself but a metaphor also, & we
find ourself a stray in that abyss of
figuration, by which one's made what, an
intercessor among men, "the
Greek alphabet was the real trojan horse,"
you study all your life to make some
bare conclusions via which you maybe
shrive yourself, it's
nothing fancy after all, a "bare
common," a roadway, this morning, some
little ditty no overhearer would
understand as prayer, we offer to
whichever second person might be
auditing our plight, "gay
transports soon end,"
"for if such Holy Song
enwrap our fancy long,"
we give to them what our hands got
pure enough to hold without them burning,
"false priest that I am,"
& this the warning song, "there,"
Would that all God's people were prophets,
and the christmas morning storm starts up,
A cough, Charpentier, a little white in
bottom center "like a rushlight," go's
in the imperative, "GO!"
And these three things alone remain,
rattling around the bottom of my backpack.

In some ways, yo! eos! beautifully captures the process of mourning: getting up, establishing a routine, working through it by writing and thinking and spending time with friends. So morning poems are mourning poems. As Brazil puts it:

I'm going to write a book about you and this is
going to be the last thing in it.
But the last thing always echoes, dont it,
like the clatter of this typewriter, and
meantime picture me here, out far past where you are, I'm
stirring the porridge,
just like you said.

11 March 2011


Just a reminder that tonight's SPT event is in OAKLAND (booya!), so don't drive to the city. Macky Hall is comfortable and intimate and welcoming, so be excited. While there isn't a special broadside for this event, we'll have copies of the broadsides for Sueyuen Juliette Lee and Laura Elrick for only FIVE BUCKS (!!) so get 'em while their still available!! And of course the line-up is piping hot, too, so you'll want to be there. Here's the rub:

The Document: an investigation in the remains
with Thalia Field, Allison Cobb and special guest Erin Morrill
Friday March 11, 2011, 7:30 p.m.

5212 Broadway at College


Thalia Field has a new collection of interlinked stories: BIRD LOVERS, BACKYARD (New Directions) and a new book-length essay, A PRANK OF GEORGES (co-authored with Abigail Lang and published with Essay Press.) Her other New Directions titles include POINT AND LINE and INCARNATE:STORY MATERIAL, and she published her adaptation of Berg's Lulu, ULULU (CLOWN SHRAPNEL), with Coffee House Press in 2007. Thalia teaches in the Literary Arts department of Brown University.

Allison Cobb is the author of Born2 (Chax Press, 2004) about her hometown of Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Green-Wood (Factory School, 2010) about a famous nineteenth-century cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Her work combines history, personal narrative, and poetry to address issues of landscape, politics, and ecology. She was a 2009 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow and received a 2011 Individual Artist Fellowship award from the Oregon Arts Commission. She worked for many years for the Environmental Defense Fund in New York City. She now works for an energy conservation nonprofit in Portland, Oregon.

Erin Morrill was born in Tennessee. She currently lives in San Francisco where she received her MFA in writing at California College of Arts. She has worked with Wolverine Farm Publishing and Kelsey Street Press. She currently co-produces chapbooks for Trafficker Press with Andrew Kenower.

08 March 2011

More Thoughts on Keenan

I've been struggling to articulate for myself the quality that makes Lauren Levin's writing both propulsive and disorienting. Something seems to slip in the predicate, like the sentence is trying to recalibrate or defrag due to a repurposing or unhinging of grammatical affect. I'm reminded of Stein in "Poetry and Grammar": "Verbs and adverbs and articles and conjunctions and prepositions are lively because they all do something and as long as anything does something it keeps alive." Take the following, the first poem in Keenan:

So, the vertiginous energy of the poem is certainly related to the speed of the lines, but also, too, to the mobilized verb tenses. Here, a weirdly passive construction "You know your thoughts, believed inside," next to "you shout and are to be": the third-person plural indicative "are" next to the infinitive "to be." The language gets really interesting, however, in the off-kilter verb/preposition phrases such as "to become upon every person" or "basis starts, permeable into death" or "a hose you've heard presented about."

My favorite poem in the chapbook is also its most sustained (though it's not always clear where one poem ends and another begins): here Lauren perfectly marries her tightly wound grammatical constructs ("I think we should be serious and be people") with a really moving, elegiac softness:

I can't get the scan clear due to the saddle-stitch (don't want to break the binding), but I'm sure you get the idea: that is, you probably need this...

07 March 2011

Rob Halpern's Somatic Excercise

I guess Rob was sick for much of the Somatics, Movement and Writing Conference in Michigan, but he sent on the following directions for his somatic exercise nonetheless. Here's to imagining an organ together, dear Disinhibitors. May our collective imaginings send ripples through the shapelessness of Monday:

"Imagine an architectural structure: any building or designed social space will do. Within that imagined space as it appears in yr sensorium, imagine an organ from within yr own body. Imagine placing that organ at the center of the architectural space as you imagine it. Align the position of yr organ so that a north/south axis runs through it, and so that the magnetic field oriented around northerly and southerly exposures within yr architectural space is slightly disturbed by the presence of yr organ. This slight disturbance in the electromagnetic field is important, so do not proceed until you are able, by virtue of yr chosen organ, to perceive this minimal rift, ripple, or fold in the imagined architectural surround. Allow yr organ to conduct sensory impressions. Note how the architecture stabilizes or destabilizes the stream of information. Note how yr organ is conducting, and whether the impressions are registering on the surface or the in the depth of yr organ.

Now imagine a limb from the body of a contemporary war zone casualty suddenly situated in the same space as yr organ. Record, with copious detail, the distractions this limb creates in yr imagined space."

04 March 2011

Erik Waterkotte and George Albon

Check out these beautiful prints by visual artist Erik Waterkotte in response to George Albon's classic Brief Capital of Disturbances. To call them "Dantesque" is a bit of an understatement!

Some Murmurs from The Somatics, Movement, and Writing Conference

I've been desperate to hear word from the Somatics, Movement, and Writing conference organized by Petra Kuppers and Thom Donovan at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor weekend before last. Rob Halpern, Eleni Stecopoulos, Robert Kocik, Brenda Iijima, Brian Whitener, Bhanu Kapil, Petra, Thom and others gathered together to "engage in experimental writing and art practice at the sites/cites of the moving, living body and the moving living text." While it sounds like participants are still reeling from the experience, Thom's posted a suite of photos here and Bhanu has a series of really beautiful notes here (which include the following: "Rob Halpern said: 'Imagine a part of your body, an organelle, placed in the center of a social space, a space you bring to mind.'" Boy, do I miss Rob!). Eleni promises to post notes at Poetics of Healing soon, so hopefully we'll hear more about this crucial conference...

03 March 2011

Norma Cole at Open Space!

I ran into Norma yesterday, and she confirmed she'll be posting at Open Space for, like, many weeks (I think she said 14?!). Anyway, she's just posted her first contribution here, so you'll want to tune in...and I can't get enough of this photo: she looks poised to school a busta!

Also, if you haven't seen my review of her selected, Where Shadows Will, please take a second to read it here.

And finally, while I'm on the topic of reviews, I'd be happy to turn over the reins of this blog to anyone interested in saying a few words about Norma's crucial new "essays" collection To Be At Music. Just wanted to put that out there in case someone's sitting on some reading notes...

01 March 2011

David Wolach's notes on SPT

David left these notes in the comment stream a few posts back, but they're too good to bury, so I'm exhuming them here for yr. pleasure!

Here's David:

*Driving in the rain with Tanya Hollis and Elizabeth, Tanya deciding in a moment of being slightly lost, to rebel against and shut off the gps and go by instinct. Conversation about labor history and her archival finds, really exciting stuff. We arrive in plenty of time.

*Walking in from the most dreary weather and seeing you, Brazil, Samantha, Lara. Michael's embrace plus the cozy room plus the immediacy of friendship counter-weighs and then erases the night previous: E and I huddled in MOTEL METROPOLIS without heat enacting the Hegelian object-displacement fight: bickering at one another instead of at the faceless company that just took over the place and decided basic necessities like food and worker safety were too costly.

*Buuck arriving out of the darkness. A great sudden hug. A sweater that should be given the props it truly deserves. I turn to tell him this. He's mysteriously disappeared inside.

*Smoking outside with Laura's awesome brother -- who is a geographer, discussing Laura's poetry, its geographical and topographical lyricism, its desire to poke holes in maps a la Katz.

*Nice, cozy and clean bathroom. Small. Good lighting.

*Samantha's gorgeous introduction once the room--miraculously, this wound not happen out my way--fills up and we sit down with, as Lara called it in an email (paraphrase) a quiet intensity and a looseness / lightness that (my thinking) has a lot to do with SPT and Samantha et al's (eg your) approaches to poetry as lived, intensely dialogic, humorous, inclusive, familial, undefinably salubrious.

*Wishing I'd written that intro down. Wishing I could ask her to forward it to us without sounding icky.

*Wondering whether, half way thru the stress position sound composition, I'd fall. Hurting afterwards for the duration of my part of the reading, so blind to what came out of my mouth, or that I was bowing. That back and forth, tho, I am told I do when I read. A student from one of my classes said it reminded him of the incantation prayers from the Tanakh: the silent rhythmic chanting from Lamentations, etc. I am, by birth, Jewish...

*Andrew & Rich's broadsides, beautiful. The story above: resonating with my experiences (goofy/untrained) with the letterpress, my comparative lack of dedication. My comment that book artists are a strange breed. YOUR response that you aren't a book artist!

*Lara's reading. A revelation. Releasing pressure in the room at beginning. Building it back up as she reads over her recorded voice--the economy of clothing/wearing--and my thoughts towards end: is she going to run out of surfaces to stick her poems on?

*The prosody and precision and raging calm of Laura's reading. The room becomes intensely quiet. The room gets smaller. The feeling of being inside someone else's head or body, drawn in, as it's cut over and over.

*Laura, in response to someone's comment (I forget the context), that the ass-hole is often sexy... (I applaud).

*Reading with E, thinking that her voice is beautiful and I wish I had a voice that could register different colors.

*David handing me a TRY magazine. These appear frequently, as if by magic, or hidden assembly line (the former is true). It occurs to me this is one of a few zines I look forward to reading as one looks forward to seeing old friends--what HAVE they been up to?

*Michael talking dry-wall. Commiserating on the excitement and stress of moving. Elizabeth looks at me like: "you see, some people DO fix things up without immediately thinking outsource." I'm imagining a new house (congrats!) that now has walls covered in typography--Centaur in the dining room.

*E: "the swaying branches casting shadows thru the big bay window during Laura's reading."

*Dispersing into the evening refueled.

Leslie Scalapino Memorial Reading @ UC Berkeley

Lots of great stuff throughout the nearly 3 hour presentation. If you're interested, my contribution can be found near 2:02...