23 September 2011

What Lyric Itself Thinks

I'm finally getting around to reading Andrew Rippeon's brilliant take on the Dan Beachy-Quick/Srikanth Reddy collaboration over at Jacket 2. Sure, the collaboration is interesting, no question, but it's really Rippeon's treatment that takes center stage here for me. Essential reading if you're interested in how to write a "review" that's not really a "review": http://jacket2.org/reviews/what-lyric-itself-thinks.

22 September 2011

The Hole...

...is coming! Thom Donovan's highly anticipated first book of poetry is on the horizon from Displaced Press, and I'm very proud to report that I've spent the last month or so designing it. Take a look at the cover above (intriguing, no?). This book promises to make real waves, and it promises to be in your hands SOON!

21 September 2011

More Wax World

My favorite poem in Mittenthal's Wax World is the very last piece, "Afterword." (which I'm reading as both a "poem" and a statement of poetics). Here it is, in full, to pique yr. interest:

The simple register misplaced whenever forgetting is in ascent. It's a short walk home. The body wants to forget - but becomes a victim of the involuntary. It collects itself as it falls, tumbling forward.

Proprioception of the dash - a pause longer than a comma and
less than a full stop. Don't be fooled by the appearance of prose -
something lurks in the pudding. Remember how the boat in the bottle
stays there.

It's a mystery or betrayal, where stasis partners with the virtual.
Instinct remains a control - as if it were a preserve of the actual, an
internalized contradiction.

Marriage is a machine that talks back - but its revolution was too late.
Each song boils down to one phrase. An algorithm that forced value
into serial form. As if it simply harnessed a blind spot for authority.

No, he is the unstoppable author, the Stephen Spielberg of structural engineering.
No, we can only pray for failure.
Yes, time is deserted in quantified segments - in the modular engines
that debase labor.
Thesis: We need to own our own prosthetics. My hand in relation.

The machine was No's other lover
What was once conveyed is now lost
At the innovation station locusts lift the landscape
A network of exemplars abandoned the family store
Urban planning as fear of Detroit

Ok. Take a brief look at the star structure. A face emerges from
the assembly line. Neither materially grounded nor aloft. What a
beautiful ass it has. Forget you.

Labor produces its own aliens. For example, the Pinkertons were
agoraphobes who voted against themselves. Trenchcoat libertarians
adrift in the flows of capital.

The urge is to worship our own abstraction from labor. Just wait for
the return to lotto tickets, the next round of unfiltered cigarettes.
Realizing the body's capacity to absorb even more savage value, I took
my daily constitutional. Prozac and a single malt.

Sentences because to get inside beneath attention's filter, one must
build a kinescope that holds the scene together, where the viewer enters
lost in wonder as the whiplash of thought carries it to the end.

19 September 2011

Wax World

Robert Mittenthal is to Seattle what Kevin Killian is to San Francisco or David Abel is to Portland. He's the guy you want to track down immediately to catch your bearings, to see what people are up to, to find out what folks are reading and talking about, and, like Kevin and David both, he's super generous and super, super smart to boot.

I lived in Seattle for a tiny window in 2008, and the highlight of my time there was getting to know Robert and Will Owen and Nico Vassilakis and Joel Felix and Jeanne Heuving, etc., etc. PEOPLE! Living and breathing people making poetry in a town that isn't exactly known for its huge poetry scene.

Upon moving to Seattle, it was clear that Robert was the guy to talk to about plugging in to local activity. And given the interest around his work up north (he's something of a FIXTURE), it seems impossible that Wax World could be Mittenthal's "first book," but, yep, I think it really is the first widely available edition of his work, and we owe Charles Alexander and his Chax thanks (once again!) for making it happen! [On a side note, I think it should be publicly said that Charles and Chax deserve a ton of props for printing totally crucial first books from tons of folks, highlighting Charles' interest in supporting lesser known writers. Thanks, Chax!]

Anyway, the first thing I noticed when I opened Wax World is Mittenthal's use of verbs. Take a look at the first poem in the book, "Skill Set":

Skill Set

Today, the usual money vectors as events describe me

This rhetoric describes how failure holds
To rewrite what cannot be renamed

Monday verbs as lunch then snip snip
Day eats at cloud until its tooth clips and records

Tuesday sleeps with cirrus cumulus
And hands off what in sleeveless flight
Corpuscles an engine to styrofoam white

Wednesday's soup alone clouds
What tied together disjuncts
Any shape at all

Tomorrow, animated - shorter, cut off
Darkness all the way back to land
A little image engraved upon it
Shadow of sea - calm a very narrow
Sockets revolving, swollen

[end Mittenthal]

Here, "money vectors" and "Day eats" and "tooth clips," which are admittedly pretty surprising and interesting twists in the line, but even nouns are verbing here: "Monday verbs" and "corpuscles" might be the verb compliment to "flights" and maybe "styrofoam" is used as a verb in the phrase "an engine to styrofoam white"?

I'm interested in the way Mittenthal's lines slip out of recognition at the moment they seem most familiar. He's playing with recognition and misrecognition here, like a figure in a wax museum. It's not so much how a wax figure "resembles" its subject, but the ways it doesn't. Camille Roy pointed to this idea here on the blog back in May when she wrote: "as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the appearance and motion continue to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels. The moment of revulsion, where the robot is recognized as non-human, is called the uncanny valley." Part of the interest in wax figures is this revulsion: the complex reaction we have when we recognize that a representation IS a representation trying not to be a representation. In other words, when the mimetic shows its seams.

Take the phrase "Until yes thanks you" from the poem "Diseconomy of Scale." Most readers will hear "Until then, thank you" while their minds are wrestling with the shift from "thank you" to "thanks you" which means, of course, that "yes" is the subject: "yes thanks you."

There are so many examples of this creeping misrecognition that it's difficult to choose a representative poem. However, I'm partial to "Gag," which begins with the following epigraph from Agamben: "...indicating first of all something that could be put in your mouth to hinder speech, as well as...improvisation meant to compensate for a loss of memory or inability to speak."


Permission to approach the yellow disk at a distance.

Enclosed in the gesture, a man twists an orange into his mouth.

If appearing not said is lost, memory a speech defect comes with it.
Hand holding hand - no engine of taste forgiveness.

Can't get enough difference - a concrete antenna to balance the sky.
Liar! You glisten beneath narrow cast frequency arrays.

A pun riveted until punched - until its pencil of light cannot be
contained. The sculpture says nothing. It harvests only the gray
grain & cackles when a crow swallows.

Silence is its stupid thing. A body English out of words - out of
names. It fights the flicker of stunted dots - up-screen of erratic paint.

In this school of other import, against the sterile comforts of unbound
life, contagion springs a monster. Its original revolt was too jealous -
earth flattened in the eccentric threads of that one thing.

We removed the grass, the ants and the words - leaving the precept
in a vividness of dirt. Thumbing its green at you - no sweat in relation to time.

A cinema whose separate vacation withheld the steady state.
Investigating the awkward between, fact as boundless self-organized.
History's order - less the crowd.

At the end blossoms go white - tyrant steam to flame. A copyrighted
face on the list of names.

In order of appearance, physical traits empty out - barefoot but fast.
It's a euphemism for the poem - a horror of thought. A parade of
names scrolled out in the colored lights.

12 September 2011

Sensitive Correspondence

This from Thom Donovan at Others Letters:

"The following PDF contains Taylor Brady's and Rob Halpern's 'Sensitive Correspondence,' a pamphlet distributed during their November 2007 reading at New Yipes series in Oakland for their book Snow Sensitive Skin, first published by Michael Cross' Atticus / Finch press in the fall of 2007, and recently republished by Displaced Press. (You can read Cross' introduction to the reissue here.)

'Sensitive Correspondence' offers insight into the process of the two collaborators as they reflect, via email, upon the particulars of their collaboration, with special attention to the role of time and duration in their writing, engagement with source materials, and to what Rob calls 'patiency,' a condition in which one becomes susceptive to the thought and affect of others, a mutual subject of prosody emerging through the work.

The correspondence culminates with Brady's 'Trumpet Notes,' a short essay considering the place of non-European musical composition with regards to US military history since the Civil War."

Download the PDF here, and much love to Donovan for posting this material!

09 September 2011

A, a, a, a, a

Chris Daniels has produced a clutch of essential chapbooks with his Berkeley Neo-Baroque imprint (only one of his MANY projects!). Of the recent chapbooks, however, one has left an indelible impression on my reading: Sara Larsen's A,a,a,a,a (the title of which begs comparison, of course, with Zukofsky's big "A" but this one begins less ostentatiously again and again and again with more interest in chance, imperfection, imbalance, and a disunified speaking subject in flux).

I had the pleasure of seeing her read from this work over the summer, and I was struck by how powerful these poems are in person, in the air. She read with David Brazil in this lush garden, like a scene from a Pre-raphelite painting, but the aura was disrupted by her super fierce delivery, like Corin Tucker from Sleater-Kinney as the subject of a Rossetti painting: part riot grrl, part earth goddess, part post-Marxist militant. Larsen's one of the few poets of her cohort carrying the torch of poets like Diane Di Prima and Anne Waldman, but she's channeling their energy without "reproducing" anything: this project might have "spiritual" antecedents, but her line is her own.

In A,a,a,a,a, Larsen makes pointed reference to Wallace Berman and his Semina (including the punctuated image of the aleph: see Semina #7), which leads me to read this as something of a homage, but there's so much more at play. Here's one of my favorites (though I won't get the spacing right using Blogger's editor):


love the savior     true nature of spermaceti     grace
joy     sorrow have not seen you,     wavecrest     tranced
between yr boots     whitewashed transit comes kohl-eyed of
the crown and bethinks thee of the albatross.

behind these frets, pioneers. a pupusa that speaks of travellin
g, i no longer forogt this sleep, send me free i remain but
a letter,
     aleph, the one on your hand.

i do not know what to bring to tophet, nor what is sacred.

i can only hit at darts of a Great Whale that has shown
up in a material dream

the hells are everywhere we are empty-handed with
emptiness of their innards
     the despot eye that follows their forms

[end S-LRSN]

Needless to say, this chapbook is worth your time. Don't sleep...     

07 September 2011


Speaking of Armed Cell, I've been reading Brian Ang's new Berkeley Neo-Baroque chapbook and it's straight up audacious, no doubt about it!

It's called Communism and it begins with a poem entitled "Third Part of "A"-9" (BOLD!) which runs "Donna mi prega" through the ringer yet again (w/ all the appropriate pyrotechnics, etc.) using Badiou as his interlocutor (rather than, say, Marx or Spinoza). Brazen!

THEN Ang has this suite of poems that's meant to "resonate dimensionally" as you read across four poems at once (a simultaneity Zukofsky was fond of, for sure, and which, according to ME, was inspired by reading James Clerk Maxwell's science textbooks!). Ang calls this form "Late Dialectics." I call it going big or going home!

Here's "Inaesthetics" (Badiou!):

of truth-value before silence-speech
which subtracts from their alternation

a crushing victory for democracy
unthinkable by terror-virtue

nothing but takes and editing
mathematical correspondence

imperial democratic phraseology
atoms by degrees of existence

the virtual spies with hats
a tsunami of avant-garde rats

what are numbers
the relation is total

entirely nothing than one riven
after a delay of varying length

below the encyclopedia of the situation
a moving division forever tangled

sexuated topology
hard-working between differences

kinds of inscriptions
pieces of the game

a symptom too little too much
intuitive universality variable

politics thought traversed
requirements of the epoch

masterplan as drawn
as implemented existence

to think change in being
intellectual racist blustering

no concessions to democratic debate
production by the finite of an infinite

the international moribund creeds
the exceptional stable paradox

the slow repressive inversion
not good-bad but is or is not

a transcendental algebra for the evaluation

imperative and immobility called masculine
wandering and story called feminine

the affirmation of chance
the possible objects at once pure and solid


A tsunami of avant-garde rats, indeed! You'll have to get the chapbook yourself to read this baby in the context of its suite. Head over to Berkeley Neo-Baroque here for the hook-up.

06 September 2011


I've been reading Brian Ang's new magazine Armed Cell while in bed with pneumonia (pneumonia! people still get pneumonia?!), finding all kinds of interesting stuff like David Lau's "Tiqqun" poem ("We are in a civil war, irremediably there") and Jeanine Webb's theses ("In the future, dolphins will no longer own stocks or attack drones."). According to Ang, Armed Cell "seeks to publish what is urgent and necessary in poetry and poetics" but it does so by very specifically situating itself among the big dogs like Badiou, Zizek, Agamben and others. He continues:

It insists on militancy "working for the emancipation of humanity in its entirety" (Alain Badiou) to confront the notion of there being at present "too much anti-capitalism" (Slavoj Zizek) and not enough direct action against "capitalism (or whatever other name we might want to give to the process dominating world history today" (Giorgio Agamben). Armed Cell seeks relationship with those engaged in research and practice with this matrix of concerns, in order to be, like Lenin's pre-revolution withdrawl to study Hegel, a site for the study necessary for executing political actions.   

There's plenty of interest here, for sure, like Dan Thomas-Glass's "100 Partial Theses on Beauty," but I think I was most won over by Wendy Trevino's "Phalanstery for Imaginary Friends" which I reprint here in its entirety to pique yr. interest:

Phalanstery for Imaginary Friends

"In fact, young children are very dialectical; they see everything in motion, in contradictions and transformations."
-David Harvey, A Companion to Marx's Capital

Bloo was like a hippy telling a Buddhist to shut up
Becacuse he wouldn't stop telling people to shut up
Because throughout the war they'd been so

Quiet Eduardo was like Cesar Chavez and Che shaking their heads
Like Pinky mirrors Firefly in Duck Soup like who wore it better
Frames dresses and action figures the last that nobody

Comes in Wilt lost like most of his arm was imagined tall
Father stay at home like a Coca Cola-iced tea taste test
Grandma sister's husband's brother &

Still alive Coco could do slapstick but only at podium like Harpo
Like that was a curse contingent with credit the university's call
For jihad against the Cotillion PTA the criminalizing of

Slapping Mr. Herriman fought in one of the wars worried he enjoyed
Shopping for his girls too much sent them all to college
But was mostly tired always between meetings a

Communist Cheese was post-Dr. Strangelove pre-something id shaped smudge
Spread around the eyes of Jackie Kennedy in the commonest
Of dreams the passports & degrees counterfeit

Armed Cell is free and can be had from Ang directly here: armedcell[at]gmail[dot]com.