31 October 2011

Occupy Oakland General Strike, November 2nd

Converge on downtown Oakland on Wednesday, November 2nd in solidarity with the worldwide Occupy movement! Help to stop police brutality! Join marches at 9am and 12noon starting at 14th and Broadway to shut down local banks! AND THEN, join the march at 5pm to shut down the Port of Oakland!

As a tax-paying citizen of Oakland, I refuse to accept police brutality as a viable political model! Recall Jean Quan!

27 October 2011

Haecceities Group Review and Sourcebook

I'm still struggling to express my gratitude to the participants of the massive review and sourcebook of my Haecceities (Cuneiform 2010) just published by Little Red Leaves. A sprawling 76 pages, this project sees some of my most valued contemporariesDavid Brazil, Thom Donovan, Brenda Iijima, C.J. Martin, Kyle Schlesinger, and Jamie Townsendthinking through Haecceities in a series of email exchanges between September 2010 and February 2011. It's available for download as a free ebook here and can also be purchased as a physical book from Lulu here.

I never imagined my writing would earn such attentive, generous readers, and I am forever grateful for their engagement. And as an experiment in collective, community-based thinking, this project is peerless!    

25 October 2011

Listening to Stephen Ratcliffe

Jacket 2 has consistently curated some really spectacular features since its launch at the beginning of the year, but this new spread on Stephen Ratcliffe, edited by Julia Bloch, is really something to behold!

Featuring critical contributions by Vincent Broqua, Norman Fischer, Ariel Goldberg, Carol Watts, and myself, along with interviews instigated by the likes of Linda Russo, Jonathan Skinner, and Jeffrey Schrader, the feature offers a plethora of perspectives on this crucial (and often overlooked) body of work. "Listening to Stephen Ratcliffe" also features some of Stephen's thinking on his own project, including crucial "critical" interventions such as "Words as 'things' ('actions'/'events')" and "Reading 'sound.'"

My own contribution, "Stephen Ratcliffe's Hamlet," focuses on Ratcliffe's Reading the Unseen: (Offstage) Hamlet (Counterpath Press, 2010), a remarkable book about the play, the poetics of off-stage action, and the labor of poetry. Here are the first two paragraphs of my contribution in hopes you'll stop by Jacket 2 and read around the feature:

In the early 1990s, Phillip Foss and Charles Bernstein coedited a special double issue of Tyuonyi ostensibly addressing contemporary tendencies in late twentieth-century poetry. To do so, they distributed a short survey asking participants to address what they called “patterns, contexts and time,” shaping (sharpening?) a praxis of the present by investigating the social and political factors influencing (both positively and negatively) tendencies in contemporary writing. In response to the question “What patterns, if any, do you see developing that are presently influencing habits of reading or readership within poetry?” Stephen Ratcliffe curiously addressed his contemporary scene by invoking none other than William Shakespeare: “The writing of today that most engages my attention reminds me of Shakespeare’s plays; one doesn’t so much want to ask ‘What is the meaning?’ but rather ‘Where does the meaning lie?’ — which is to say, ‘How does the work make meaning?’”

I’m immediately reminded of a dictum adduced by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben that “the contemporary … must firmly hold his gaze on his own time,” in order to stare squarely into darkness — to face the aporias, the crucial absences that all but define one’s contemporary scene (despite the glare of the popular, the fashionable — the bellicose glare of what comes to stand, for better or worse, for an age and our participation in it). For Ratcliffe, however, Shakespeare offers the possibility to read what a text does rather than what it says — to stare into the darkness of meaning in order to meditate more intensely on how it works. He writes that Shakespeare’s words “send a current my way, through the ear by way of the syllable, whose sense so to speak won’t hold still, isn’t easily tamed, caged or made in any way to fit the pigeon-hole paraphrase would set to trap it, chew it up, digest away the play.” Shakespeare, then, is Ratcliffe’s closest contemporary, for he is precisely the poet (to use Agamben’s terminology) who knows how to see this obscurity — “who is able to write dipping his pen in the obscurity of the present.”

Click here for more...

18 October 2011

Bob Grenier on Etel Adnan

Small Press Traffic just posted a rich festshrift of work in tribute to Etel Adnan, featuring writing by Ammiel Alcalay, Cole Swenson, David Buuck, Jen Benka, Michael McClure, Stacy Szymaszek, Thom Donovan, and many others. You can find the project in its entirety here (and while you're there, you should become a member!). The following is Bob Grenier's contribution in full...


Straight from the heart (from the character for ‘Heart-Mind’ that possibly exists in Chinese (?)), a transformative/ ‘rocklike’/ unrepentently ‘naïve’ & ‘downhome-perceptive’/ playfully ‘logical’/ sternly educated/ fully knowledgeable/ ‘simple-steady’ Socrates-like person who goes about her work (painting, too!) & (without giving up on this Earth) teaches (in her writing, & by ‘personal example’) Embodied Intelligence & Fairness In All Matters (rarer & rarer), while passionately advocating for certain causes in which she believes (like the Rights of Multiple Kinds of Beings/Almost Anybody on Earth to Be Alive) . . .

A Whole Personage
/ Etel . . . I would like to walk with (& look round) and talk & walk with & sit down with (Anywhere, maybe in a street café), and speak together in order to try to know (living) what was Going On Around with (books &) the behavior of people, indicating/together what . . .

OR we might ‘explore’ together the World of the Dead (as Lawrence did the ‘parallel’ to Tarquinia) / City of Tombs (with such affecting rendition of lifelike features & faces that the (faded) colorful portrayal on the walls ‘rivals life’) on the opposite hillside . . .

Or we might go immediately to Greece, & revisit ‘grounds’ Henry Miller celebrates in his Colossus of Maroussi together, & try to ‘physically fathom’ what we should do . . .

Or we might be in Paris, When It’s Naked, and Etel might lead me to a brothel of her own choosing . . . for ‘pure Aventure’ . . . (doubtless we would Cling to Each Other, in part in order to avoid having to associate with Strangers !)

A Consummate Writer with an ‘advanced interest’ in real life & its mysteries . . . ! I really remember looking at a Cezanne with Etel (at the MOMA in NY) from afar—speaking to & with each other ‘about it’—then walking/pushing together closer to it, to look & talk some more (as people do) ‘about it’—to See It (& Be In Relation With It) from that spot . . .

An utterly-different-from-myself ‘Human Being’, with whom I feel an immediate Kinship—a ‘Stranger’ (like myself), and yet a ‘Native’ operative—with whom I wish to communicate, ‘now & forevermore’ . . .

Robert Grenier
May 19, 2011

17 October 2011

Study in Pavilions and Safe Rooms

Here's the proem to Paul Foster Johnson's new Portable Press number, Study in Pavilions and Safe Rooms, just to give you something to ruminate on as you start your week! PFJ punctuates what he calls "Panic Rooms," "Safe Rooms," and "Pavilions" with these "I did something" poems, and they have consistently proved my favorite extensions in the collection. I'm especially digging the caesurae here! Here's Paul:

I did something emblematic of a life in the Aughts
several of us narrated, twitching to repeat a song
encapsulating one feeling. In a hunched posture,
clicking furiously, I was shocked by the self-idealizations
of my enemies. Knowing their limitations I noted well
the eloquent strands of one dressed like a box jellyfish.
An outfit defined the contretemps and form
drew it out forever. Pathos in the guise
of a repeating song buffeted indifferent objects.
No one made tea or borrowed from my life
of beauty. In this life I dedicated myself to deciding
whether I was offended. Here I reenacted something
trying not to look bored because I was not bored
but deeply interested in preserving a record
of all transactions if only to fling it into the ether.

14 October 2011

Blood Counts

I stopped by John Taggart's "Mixed Blood" lecture this afternoon, a talk he dubbed "Blood Counts," organized by Cecil Giscombe at UC Berkeley. The talk connects Billy Strayhorn's last composition "Blood Count" to Taggart's "Henry David Thoreau / Sonny Rollins" from Pastorelles (Flood Editions, 2004) and the current work he's undertaking on Robert Duncan, but I couldn't stay for the whole event so I'm not sure he made it to the Duncan material. All the same, here are my kind-of-incomprehensible notes from the afternoon:

*Blood can be language also / Language can be blood also
*Jazz is America's "classical" music
*Blood news: birth, death; news that stays news
*Blood counts in beginnings and endings / Blood is relation
*Drought is an absolute condition / Drought is blues: you may wish you were never born
*Blood ratio needs to be balanced, as does the poem
*Taggart played Duke Ellington's (Billy Strayhorn penned?) "Blood Count"
*Bridge [AABA]: B statements cut and lift and improve the A statements: recomposition within old composition: this is where the solo happens
*Taggart wrote an essay as an undergraduate comparing Thoreau and Sonny Rollins; he then assigned himself the same project as a poem [see "Henry David Thoreau / Sonny Rollins" in Pastorelles]
*Your blood is autologous
*AB count [see bridge!]
*At least two nurses must watch a blood transfusion [by law]: cf. Duncan in H.D. Book reading Joyce to two muses / two nurses on UC Berkeley Campus!

And then I had to leave (lame!).

However, Taggart will be reading with Cecil Giscombe at the Meridian Gallery on Saturday (535 Powell, SF, 7:30 pm), so maybe I'll see you there?

And here's the entirety of Taggart's "Thoreau/Rollins" poem from Pastorelles (if you don't have the book at hand):


Two years and two months
alone in the woods
where he had vast range and circuit

his nights black kernels
never profaned by any human neighborhood
and no courtesan with a wound to be rubbed and to be kissed

who heard sounds in his nights
and no courtesan who heard the sounds of owls

sounding like

like that I had never been born
like that I had never been born.


Who rejoiced that there are owls
who rejoiced in reading
in reading the classics "the noblest recorded thoughts"

having spent youthful days
costly hours
learning words of an ancient language
an ancient language of perpetual suggestion and provocation

me phunai nikai
three little suggestions


singing if it can be called singing
to sing along with the sounds of owls.


Cut of the slash
which cuts
which cuts and which connects

of the cut of
time itself

which leaves a blue mark
black and blue mark
which can be read as a kind of bridge

connecting black and blue and
the abstract truth of
time itself.


Fled the clubs
nightclubs meccas of smoke clatter
and chatter amid smoke murmur and murmur of assignation


for two years
alone with the alone

alone with the alone saxophone
in the air
alone in the night air and high above the East River
heirmarmene and black water of the river

without a you to do a something to a me
without a song in the air.


In the night air
the seven planets in material orbits
so huge and moving at so great a speed must produce sound

harmonia of heimarmene

ringing and roaring sound the sound of a grinding down
"heavenly harmony" in waves and particles

in the air in the ear in the heart
since birth
in the heart there is a melody of heaven's harmony
ringing and roaring

alone with that
without a song with that.

13 October 2011

Hanging Quotes

I'm very, very eager to read this one! I received this notice in the mail today from Kyle Schlesinger at Cuneiform Press. Here's the press release:

"Cuneiform Press announces the publication of Hanging Quotes by Alastair Johnston. In this book of interviews with book artists, typographers and poets, Johnston discusses the transition from cast metal to digital type with the prime movers in the field: Matthew Carter, Sumner Stone, & Fred Smeijers; he takes stock of the field of artists' books in wide-ranging conversations with Sandra Kirshenbaum and John & Nathan Lyons, while his ground-breaking interviews with Nicolas Barker, Robert Creeley, Dave Haselwood, Holbrook Teter, Bob Hawley, Walter Hamady, Graham Mackintosh and others shed new light on the history of the book in the 20th century."

This book promises to be totally essential reading, especially the interviews with Teter, Haselwood, and Mackintosh. And I still haven't had the time to read Johnston's "..." which was released on Poltroon last year, but I hope to address both here once Hanging Quotes is in my hands...

12 October 2011

Recalibrating and Poetry Activities This Week!

Lately, I've chosen sleep over blogging, which is probably not the right decision, I know, but my body's been super slow to recover after that bout of pneumonia. Rather than push through and feel even sicker, I've been pacing my commitments, which means less blogging, sadly; however, I hope to return to a regular schedule, like, starting now! (we'll see!) 

I've been reading Paul Foster Johnson's excellent Portable Press number Study in Pavilions and Safe Rooms, which I hope to think about more concertedly here, and then, any number of other books and projects on the desk to sing about (including Joseph Bradshaw's George Oppen book, which I've been slowly reading, like, all year: reading and putting down, reading and putting down; how to talk about this project?).

In the meantime, while I muster enough energy to pull myself back on the horse, I thought to mention a few of the bazillion super interesting events on the immediate horizon:

* John Taggart is in town this week to make a few rare Bay Area appearances. He'll be at UC Berkeley this Thursday, October 13th to give a reading and lecture (lecture at 4 pm, reading at 6:30 pm // 315 Wheeler Hall, Maude Fife Room, UC Berkeley) which I hope will detail some of the work he's currently undertaking on Robert Duncan, and then he returns to give a reading with the mighty Cecil Giscombe at the Meridian Gallery in SF thanks to the Poetry Center (535 Powell Street, reading at 7:30 pm).

*Small Press Traffic is presenting an early show of Kevin Killian's new play with Karla Milosovich, DANCE WORLD GYM, this Sunday, October 16th at 5:00 pm. While SPT's been trying out new digs at Artist Television Access in the Mission, this event will take place at its tried and true venue, Timkin Hall at California College of the Arts, SF.

*My student, Alex Rieser, a super interesting young poet at USF, will be reading from his new chapbook Emancipator at Troung Tran's house in the Haight on Friday, October 14th at 8 pm (email for directions).

*And then probably other stuff that I'm already forgetting.

I'm looking forward to seeing living bodies out in the world this week...See you at one of these maybe? 

05 October 2011

HOW(ever) Celebration

Small Press Traffic hosted an intimate celebration of the foundational feminist guerrilla poetry mailer HOW(ever) this past Sunday at Artist Television Access, featuring Kathleen Fraser, Beverly Dahlen, Susan Gevirtz and contributions from the audience by the likes of Robin Tremblay-McGaw, Camille Roy, Yedda Morrison, and Norma Cole (thanks to Camille for sharing the pictures above). It was fascinating to hear Bev and Kathleen discuss the genesis of the project: their early meetings with Frances Jaffer (who was certainly present in spirit (Kathleen saved her a chair!)), how they settled on a name for the project, the way the magazine morphed over time, etc. And great, too, to hear Susan Gevirtz talk about getting in touch with Bev and Kathleen as a graduate student at UCSC in the early eighties, searching for a cohort using the words "feminist" and "poetics" in the same sentence (as she had it); finding out later that her advisor, Donna Haraway was already a subscriber! And to hear Kathleen address her own changing consciousness in the early eighties: "I wasn't a feminist, I was a poet!"

I didn't get a chance to ask the many questions I'd stored up in anticipation of the event, mostly because folks were super tired by the time we made it to the Q & A; however, I was hoping the panel would specifically address the intimacy of production and distribution: how this particular model led to further collaboration and direct action and community building. I asked at the very end of the evening if they made the magazines together, in person, which seems crucial to the project (they did!). I was also interested in how anxiety positively factored into the inception of this project: Kathleen spoke at length about the different anxieties that served as an impetus to start the journal, including anxieties about being heard, about "legitimacy," about women "performing" inside and outside of the academy. In some ways HOW(ever) is a direct product of this deeply-felt anxiety, and the editors deserve endless appreciation for filling the enervating void with so much energy and vibrancy and LOVE (in Zukofsky's sense: "the desire to project the mind's peace," but in a tragic sense; that is, love as tragic hero, suffering a passion that is often not reciprocated).

I am infintely grateful to the editors for their service to the community, and my thanks, as always, to Samantha Giles and SPT for making this event happen!