04 December 2012


I'm very excited to announce that I'm curating a special event this month featuring two of my favorite poets EVER! On Friday, December 14th, we'll have the great pleasure of welcoming Myung Mi Kim and Craig Dworkin to the Bay Area as they join us for a special pop-up Small Press Traffic reading in Oakland. Myung will be in town to deliver the George Oppen Memorial Lecture for the Poetry Center, and I convinced her to join us for a very rare public reading while she's visiting. Additionally, I promised to make Craig a chapbook if he'd book a ticket from Utah, so we'll have the rare pleasure of seeing these two powerhouses on the same evening under the same roof! Myung will (hopefully) read from her work in progress Civil Bound, and we'll launch Craig's new Compline chapbook The Crystal Text, which I'm printing now for the occasion. This is a MUST SEE event: don't miss it! And bring a few bucks to toss into the hat for SPT! Finally, please spread the word through your preferred channels as you see fit!

The pertinent details:

Craig Dworkin and Myung Mi Kim
A Small Press Traffic Pop-Up
Friday, December 14th // 7:00 pm
@ The Bay Area Public School
2355 Broadway, Oakland

13 November 2012

CRISIS INQUIRY Editorial Statement

One last Rich Owens aside before moving on! I can't stress enough how exceptional the CRISIS INQUIRY yearbook proved, thanks to Owens's incredible editorial eye, and, as always, Rich's own critical statement is worth the price of admission alone. Read it below (in full) to whet yr. appetite, and pick up the journal here if you haven't already! I'm rereading the Keston Sutherland feature now in anticipation of a Sutherland house reading here in the Bay Area in a few weeks time (w/ the incomparable Jackqueline Frost). Send an email if you're interested (michaelthomascross{at}hotmail{dot}com). And the Rob Halpern feature is essential reading for those neck deep in Music for Porn

06 November 2012


Rich Owens's third incredible book of the year, Ballads, is just out from David Hadbawnik's Habericht Press in Buffalo. It's a pretty incredible experience to see Owens perform these "songs": I remember a pretty spectacular evening in Buffalo in which Owens turned Rust Belt Books into a roiling, drunken sailor shanty with a single poem. While he sang and stomped through a ballad, I remember thinking how rare it is to see a contemporary poet mine this ground. As is true with all of Owens's critical writing, his "Working Notes on Ballad Practice" at the end of the book stands next to the work itself. Rather than poorly summarize what Owens perfectly nails, I've asked Rich to share the text in whole as a kind of preview of what to expect from the volume. I think this perfectly captures his characteristic acumen, wit, and bite:



The species of an eye with the neck of an owl—a circumspect specimen that carefully considers the conditions of an outcome. Respectus. The act of looking round or back, to regard or attend to with eyes. The act of looking backwards with an eye that aspires to behold the whole so that when J.H. Prynne speaks of respect it is in the interest of fresh light—of reviewing what the eyes have already seen, a music previously muted by shadows:

"Since I crossed the sea just like a ballad, with the one guarded hope, to give you this as a totally specific gesture: a respect which runs out into time like light."

So he says to Olson, redirecting his gaze, running out. There is no deference here. Only the care of eyes for the potentialities of a buried music. Like Odysseus lashed to the mast—or more appropriately, Marina’s father moving across an oceanic expanse:

"His kingly hands, haling ropes;
And, clasping to the mast, endured a sea
That almost burst the deck."

Shakespeare’s Pericles—where the ropes that secure sails to masts and ensure good voyage vibrate like the chords of a throat. And the pressures brought to bear on the deck are no different than the altitudes and depths that push the drum of an ear near to the point of rupture. The mast that thrusts up from the deck is where we assemble.


Like sound and sense ballads circulate. And it is the circulation of air that creates the conditions for fire. Too often paper beats rock—but only so long as it stays in circulation, reified, away from the movement of the burning flames that call our attention to time. And if there is any one collection of ballads that most worked to retard the perishing instant of fire it is Thomas Percy’s 1765 Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. Published in three volumes, the collection is built around a seventeenth century manuscript and intended, Percy says, “to inquire by what gradations barbarity was civilized, grossness refined, and ignorance instructed.” Although Percy’s Reliques enjoyed a wide and enthusiastic readership that included Wordsworth and Coleridge, the “ancient” folio manuscript upon which it was built remained in the possession of the Percy family and unavailable to readers for a century until, at Francis James Child’s behest, F.J. Furnivall and John W. Hales retrieved it from Percy’s descendants and prepared it for formal publication in 1868. Brought out in four volumes as Bishop Percy’s Folio Manuscript, an opening essay contained in the second volume offers an account of the circumstances surrounding Percy’s acquisition of the manuscript. Here Furnivall and Hales quote from a note inscribed by Percy in the manuscript itself:

"This very curious old MS. In its present mutilated state, but unbound and sadly torn, I rescued from destruction, and begged at the hands of my worthy friend Humphrey Pitt, Esq. then living at Shiffnal in Shropshire, afterwards of Prior Lee near that town; who died very late at Bath; viz. in Summer 1769. I saw it lying dirty on the floor under a bureau in ye Parlour: being used by maids to light the fire."

Ignorance is instructed when unlettered, untutored servants are taught the error of their ways. Or a culture’s past becomes the infancy of its present when songs are rescued from children accused of mishandling the objects of their labor. But there are fires to build. And few know better than a servant the value of warmth and light generated by flame in a moment of bitter darkness.


Children love songs and in fact make them—but music properly belongs to adults. Adults are the guardians of children and their custody naturally extends to anything a child might make. In other words, employees that produce anything on company time know in advance these objects properly belong to the company. But 401(K) investment plans offer employees the illusion of ownership, suggesting workers are no longer employees but associates that now have a personal stake in the success of the companies they labor for. Apropos: the following passages from a recent exchange with Andrew Rippeon concerning lyric practice:

AR: Lyrical as an adjective, applied to the currency of popular song forms? As if popular song forms aren’t innately also lyrical? Lyrical as nothing without a direct object to modify? And I remember here Wordsworth in either his Advertisement, Preface, or Afterward to the Ballads, writing that he chooses rude or common life because invention and idiom (cult of “the new...”) are often mistaken for truly elevated experience—he calls the affectation of idiom the “hubbub of words.” So it seems like WW is trying to reduce the experiment (and I do think WW is experimental precisely in the degree to which he mobilizes folk forms, attempts various forms of empathy, and considers his use and circulation of the currency of metrical patterns...) to the lowest common denominator, to cut out Shelleyean whim and explore what remains as the possibility of lyricism.

RO: Thinking about Wordsworth and the mobilization of folk forms—that the ballad as form needs a qualifier in order to somehow recuperate or revitalize it, like the coronation of a peasant—man, my jerking knee coughs up Ives (selling insurance against the wrong disaster). In Wordsworth the modifier serves to elevate, right? I mean, everyone has an idea they know what a ballad is. It’s this degraded thing shot through with a sense of pastness, cultural infancy and a charming but sometimes dangerous rusticity that needs to be carefully framed and reigned. In the case of Wordsworth, his appeal to ballad practice—and lyric—is, like you say, considerably more complicated. In most cases ballads are nothing more than vehicles hijacked or manufactured to map a desired past onto the poverty next door—a sort of slumming that brings the black sheep of the family to the funeral that never ends. I mean, ballads are those angelic whores from the other side of town that rich men sometimes marry—but only in fairy tales (the appeal to gender is essential).

Women and children. In the cultural imaginary women are children. Like any good woman, children are pure. They are said to be what we were before the collapse, unsullied by knowing better or knowing at all. Forms are assigned to these children and sirens are the women Odysseus must delight in without being seduced by their song. He knows better.

Nor can we know how many ballads trickled down to common people from court poets through a specifically cultural form of supply-side economics. Wyatt was a poet of Henry’s court when he wrote: “Ye must now serve to market and to faire, | All for the burden for pannyers a paire.”

Or a culture’s modest past becomes the infancy of its wealthy present when children are accused of making the objects rescued through the labor of adults. Adults often play the role of rescue workers that pull bodies from under the rubble of collapse, not so much to save them but rather to preserve and memorialize. Ann Yearsley, the milkmaid of Bristol, is said to have been rescued by Hannah More. But children often know well what is worth rescuing, even when they themselves are the object of rescue. More importantly, they know what is properly theirs. If it is not theirs they actively make it their own, mutilating and defacing the objects in their possession until they can one day be restored and preserved again by adults.

Guthrie and Leadbelly often performed for children and some critics have even called attention to their child-like qualities. Here one can reasonably assume that for an adult like Robert Southey both Guthrie and Leadbelly would have been—as Stephen Duck or John Taylor were—ideal specimens of untutored genius. They certainly were for Alan Lomax. On the other hand, Bascom Lamar Lunsford—esquire, to be sure—was known to travel dozens of miles on foot through the southern Appalachians of North Carolina to collect the ballads of the people he so loved. Something like a father picking up after his children. And children are never to be trusted with large sums of money—or anything more than what they immediately need to satisfy baser but permissible appetites. Adults handle capital. But servants often know well when to start fires and what to fuel them with.


Chanson polemique. In the ancient sense polemic—the polemical—is war and the internal contradictions at play within the frame of any ballad make of each a protracted conflict often violently disarticulated from the processes that keep them alive. Like any order of song, ballads are sites of struggle; their production and reproduction are interventions, willful or otherwise, in that struggle.

Music properly belongs to Apollo not Dionysus. Ian Hamilton Finlay knew this well when he had inscribed across the fa├žade of his cottage home: HIS MUSIC | HIS MISSLES | HIS MUSES. Chilean soldiers knew this well when they broke the hands of Victor Jara, threw down a guitar and asked him to play.


Per the Greek suffering and experience are one and the same: pathos. But on the terrain of classical rhetoric pathos is neither suffering nor experience as such and is instead a species of persuasion that reproduces experience in order to carry one capable of decision or intervention into a certain condition. It is never more than one component of a much larger whole, a part among parts integrated in an overdetermined complex of ongoing processes. But it is precisely this part that moves one to give the shirt off their back against the better jury of our reason. And this can only be the work of pathological liars or what lies through the grace of a lyre—a set of strings signaling the coordinates of a distant situation. It is not the whole of a situation but a distress signal that simultaneously sounds and responds to a situation. And depending on their situatedness such signals either challenge or act in accord with other parts embedded in the whole; or like pharmakoi these signals move as slaves among criminals, heroes among rescue workers, whores among men; they are both the cause and the cure, the ochlos—at one and the same time the people and the rabble; they are the ground any successful democracy wholly depends on, wholly produces, publicly celebrates and secretly despises. These signals are the mast we assemble around.

30 October 2012

No Class

Rich Owens's second book of the year, No Class, was published by Keston Sutherland and Andrea Brady's legendary Barque Press. This represents some of Owen's most incendiary work to date: massive, raging swells of unrest (in the best possible way!)a perfect counterpoint to the tightly wound stanzas of Clutch. He sent me the title poem in an email sometime last year, and I was convinced that his life was in shambles. Turns out, he's simply paying attention! If you're not acquainted with Owens's work, this is the place to start. Get it here.

29 October 2012


One of my very favorite poets, Rich Owenseditor of Damn the Caesars, one-time member of New Jersey punks Those Unknown, and all-around fantastic human beinghas no less than THREE books out this year, all of which are totally essential (to say the very least)! The first is this killer suite of new poems called Clutch, just out from the ever-mysterious Vigilance Society. I say "out," but it's not super clear how these books are distributed (that is, unless they arrive directly at your doorstep, usually sans return address!). Mine arrived a few months back in the tell-tale unmarked circa 4 x 5 white envelope (with our address nearly illegible on front (despite being typed by hand!)).

I've only posted a few pages above, but you can read the whole thing at Craig Dworkin's Eclipse along with scans of other Vigilance Society books. I'd wager that you could also get a copy from Rich directly by emailing damnthecaesar [at] yahoo [dot] com (if there are still copies knocking about). And if you haven't picked up the Damn the Caesars 2012 yearbook, Crisis Inquiry, you must do so NOW. It's been one of the highlights of my year, no question...

23 October 2012

A Fireside Book of Gurus

Another impeccable reproduction from Cuneiform Press, this time of the mighty Zephyrus Image (perhaps my favorite small press EVER! (that is, next to Cuneiform!)). A Fireside Book of Gurus is a curious novelty: its pages depict nothing but dated zinc cut images of furniture. The gurus of the title have supposedly "defied the delecate waves of photography," refusing "to allow (their images) to reach the negative." Alastair Johnston, author of the ESSENTIAL Zephyrus Image biography, calls A Fireside Book of Gurus "The finest manifestation of (Zephyrus Image's) Dadist aesthetic..." He continues:

"The plain cover has plainer typography (in Parsons, a rather banal and certainly dated typeface from the late Victorian era), on coated white card stock. On browsing through it, the reader sees armchairs, sofas, and other groups of furniture: images recycled from newspaper ads. Each page has one of these vacant chairs and nothing more. The curious reader then turns to the introduction and learns that these "spirit photographs" were made of famous gurus who did not allow their images to reach the negative. It's a brilliant visual pun on the Victorian albums of manipulated photographs purporting to contain ectoplasmic images of the deceased...The book is divided into "Lounge & Parlor Gurus," "Dining Room Gurus," and "Bedroom Gurus." Among the first group is Swami Ribber, among the second, Four Doiley Lamas, and among the bedroom gurus is Krashnamurty."

Essential for collectors of small press curios...Get one at Cuneiform here...

22 October 2012

Jean-Luc Nancy is FUNNY!

In Jean-Luc Nancy's contribution to "Little Dialogues," a talk series at Montreuil's Center for the Dramatic Arts which pairs philosophers with an audience of children, the author of Noli me tangere: On the Raising of the Body chose to address the idea of "heaven." In a moment that brilliantly highlights the difficulty some pedagogues have in addressing a multiplicity of interlocutors, he makes the following claim to a room full of children:

"...god names the possibility that there exists for us collectively, as well as for each of us singularly and individually, a relationship with this nowhere and everywhere. In other words, god, or the divine, or the celestial, would name the fact that I am in relation not with something but with the fact that I am not limited to all those relations I have with all the things of the world, or even with all the beings of the world. It suggests that there is something else, which I will here call "the opening," something that makes me be, that makes us be as humans open to something more than being in the world, more that being able to take things up, manipulate them, eat them, get around in the world, send space probes to Mars, look at galaxies through telescopes, and so on. It suggests that there is all this but also something else."

The Opening! HA! I read this to Ezra, and here's how he responded:

The other best moment in the talk is the following exchange between Nancy and a child in the audience:

Q: Why and how does god exist?

J-L N: Oh boy.

This, to me, is the primary difference between a teacher and a thinker: a teacher knows how his/her interlocutors masticate and digest, and prepares the meal accordingly...a thinker simply thinks.

19 October 2012

Peril As Architectural Enrichment // Poetry Walk

Hazel White and Denise Newman are leading a poetry walk through their collaborative "Botanica Recognita: Signs to Facilitate a Greeting" this Saturday morning at 10:30 AM at the UC Botanical Garden, in Strawberry Canyon, Berkeley. You can learn more about the event here.

This announcement reminds me that I still haven't posted excerpts from White's excellent Peril as Architectural Enrichment, one of my favorite books from last year. Take a look at some of the following stanzas from the poem "Truant" and pick the volume up from
Kelsey Street asap: 


The canopy of a tree, say a poplar, like a round house, removes the site of vulnerabilitythe obvious entrance and back with no protection.

Privacy can creep about in the leaves and below them, hang here as lungs on the outside.

Isometrics will show the interior corridors, ways to habituate oneself to curvature.

To take a house up on stilts also, above that first tall leap that allows a beast into the tree and onto her.


The eye and then the heart give themselves over to a soft bowl. A way of opening wings without pain: reveal a broad, assertive breast (keep legs forward and away) and uncurl musculature by patching with feverfew daises that branch and rebranch into plenty.

Self-sprung sets the story on the move again. Arms wide. For example, she, by chance, was seen kissing him.


A plan libre is its openings, though the cone of vision is achieved through abandonment. Le Corbusier's structures, for example, reveal unusually generous, I'd say harrowing, transparency. Just how safe is it to leave a female figure in an open space?

The distinction between her plight and the farm architecture is crisp. It lodges in her throat. She surrenders the back of herself.

A long vista weakening the space behind the eye.

Panorama, equal to exile. Absurd therefore to nest here.

18 October 2012

Market Fitness Trailer

MARKET FITNESS from Azin S on Vimeo.

Heavy Rotation

Andy Stott: "Numb" (Modern Love)
Andy Stott: Live at the Boiler Room (You Tube)
A$AP Mob: Lord$ Never Worry (self released)
Car Bomb: w^w^^w^w (self released)
Fennez: FA 2012 (Editions Mego)
Kendrick Lamar: good kid m.A.A.d city (Interscope)
Silent Servant: Negative Fascination (Hospital Productions)
Trash Talk: 119 (Odd Future)
Vatican Shadow: Atta's Apartment Slated for Demolition (Hospital Productions)
Vatican Shadow: Jordanian Descent (Hospital Productions)
Vatican Shadow: Ghosts of Chechnya (Hospital Productions)

Honorable Mention:
Raekwon and Ghostface contributions to Cruel Summer
Freddie Gibbs: Baby Face Killer (self released)

17 October 2012

Poets Theater at SPT

As some of you might know, I'm on the board of Small Press Traffic, indisputably one of the most important literary organizations in the Bay Area. We're starting to prepare for Poets Theater 2013, and I thought to post the call here so it goes out far and wide. You DO NOT have to live in the Bay Area to propose a play, and we welcome participation from all walks of life! The "official" deadline for proposals was October 15th, but you know how poets are! If you get something in SOON, I'm sure you'll be fine! Here's the official call from SPT Executive Director extraordinaire Samantha Giles:

Hey you out there: It's Poets Theater Open Call Time!!!!

Poets Theater is an annual festival in which innovative works are performed, enduring avant-garde plays showcased, and the boundaries of theater generally jostled by artists and writers in collaboration to ask questions around and negotiate the possibilities of poetics of and in performance.

This year we are, once again, happy to announce two evenings of new plays slated for January 18th and 19th 2013 at CounterPulse!

Most importantly, we want you to be involved by contributing a performance to this year’s events.

Contributions can range from brief plays to improvised performance to participatory instructional pieces to cross-genre collaboration – or anything you might discover between or beyond those suggestions.

You've got 10 minutes: be astonishing!

We won’t be able to offer payment for your participation, but the experience of the festival affords communion, conversation, sometimes a little collusion and always a lot of fun. We, of course, would love to accept every proposal we receive, but sadly only have room for two nights of performances.

The process goes like this:

1) you send us a brief proposal for what you'd like to do following the guidelines below; then

2) we will review the submissions and notify you by November 1st regarding your proposal and next steps including the deadline for the full text of the play on December 1st


1. All proposals must be submitted by October 15th to smallpresstraffic@gmail.com and must adhere to the full guidelines.

2. Proposals must be no longer than one typed 8.5×11 page of text.

3. Proposals must be for performances that will not exceed 10 minutes in length.

4. Proposals should include the following:
a. a basic idea (with maybe some lines of dialogue);
b. general technical needs for the performance (music, lighting , props etc.);
c. number of performers; and,
d. if you are unable to attend but would like to send in a proposal for others to perform on your behalf, a suggestion for a director/performers.

5. Proposals should reflect the constraint of the performance space, which has a limited area and minimal lighting, and minimal rehearsal access.

We are so excited to collaborate with you! Please feel free to e-mail smallpresstraffic@gmail.com with questions! We look forward to hearing from you.

The SPT PT 13 Committee (Samantha Giles, Sara Wintz, Lauren Shufran and Megan Camille Roy)

Visit Small Press Traffic's website here!

12 October 2012

CJ Martin on Norma Cole

The following is CJ Martin's review of Norma Cole's new Win These Posters and Other Unrelated Prizes Inside, just out from Omnidawn. This was published in the most recent American Book Review (available here), and is currently up at CJ's tumblr Rhyme Eats the Words. Here's Chris: 

Norma Cole’s new book of poems is a fact book. Two long sequences—“14000 Facts” and “More Facts”—comprise the bulk of what’s here. The poems are angular, explosive. Their crystalline syntax offers nothing short of an encounter with the remarkable world. But to clarify what’s at stake in even the poet’s own efforts at observation, Cole offers the opening poem, “Facetime,” as cautionary envoi:

Santa from a tank, sun over
The minarets
Signs of identity
Soundtrack—by and by

When the morning comes
Heartfelt thanks […]
(Win 13)

Even if American crusaders for democracy abroad startle at the fact that not everyone says thanks for the tanks, Cole’s poem doesn’t startle, but it sets out regardless. The inquiry that embarks blithely on a fact-finding mission conceals a threat that Cole works to lay bare throughout this book. Despite being fundamentally shared, event is multiple, refracted across cultures and continents, and mediated by observation itself—so that to seek out fact in a militarized world means not only sifting through the remains, but knowing that one’s efforts are likely implicated in the destruction.

In the aftermath of a (jolly) tank invasion, there’s this dance:

[…] One knee bent, the other
Straight out behind, as if

You turn suddenly
Deep into a pirouette
But instead stay still
Then fold to the ground

Arms, legs folded as fact […]
(Win 13)

Lightness is crucial in this work that strives to hold disparate facts aloft. The fallen body, “folded as fact,” also lifts off in an abstraction of body. The dance “you” do leaps nimbly across lines, but it’s also a danse macabre (i.e. your last). I linger on this first poem because it exemplifies the locomotion of Cole’s book: at every turn the poems turn, double, double back, pirouette then fold, often lighting on travel or exploration or thematizing a kind of itinerancy. Win navigates, divagates.

Throughout, Cole complicates our sense of how to establish a context for understanding the world, how to assemble a sketch of what happened, positing that, above all, our findings needn’t presume to be final. In “More Facts,” she clarifies: “illusions // questions / are facts” (Win 79). In “14000 Facts,” she adds translation to that list, which in her rendering multiplies a text, rather simply relocating it. Cole points to two different translations of a phrase from Song of Solomon 2:4: “He mistook ‘and his banner over me / was love’ for ‘set love in order in me’” (Win 32). Rather than test whether we recognize which phrase is a translation from the vulgate, these lines simply stress the mistake of conflating one phrase with another. But this is an observation, not a corrective: misunderstanding, mistake is a fact.

The book’s title resists grouping all of the contents under one heading in order to reassert relation itself, highlighting the interrelatedness of seemingly discrete parts of a world. Cole’s is a prosody of groups, multitudes. Though I’ve called the first poem an envoi, it’s also a piece in a set, one or two facts among many.

Part of what Cole curates in “Facetime” is arrangements of words as sets of sounds or textures—as part of a sonic progression moving alongside whatever’s taking shape in the syntactic or semantic meaning, and hovering just outside etymology. The path from “tank” to “Heartfelt thanks” is a traversal of sets announced from the very first word (“Santa”). Likewise, the move from “fact” to “maps” serves as this book’s manifest: one can’t simply catalogue without encountering the innumerable world, since a catalogue itself is dynamic, an encounter with “Things of time and space” (Win 13).

The book deploys several formal strategies for navigating that encounter. In the first long sequence, “14000 Facts,” Cole explores the line as concretized, adopting segmentivity itself as an organizing principle. Just a few poems in, the poet offers a succinct manifesto on the sculptural nature of poetic lines as perceptive units:

(Not the other way round)

thought shards
lined up

little ships
lit up
(Win 26)

Then later in the same sequence, these “little ships” measure time, thus serving as a stand-in for musical measure:

Slow walking, play
of evening, the silver
ships measuring time

Venus, a sliver
of time
beyond words
(Win 45)

To move from “silver ships” (as measure) to “a sliver of time beyond words” is to locate sound as a material slippage. Attached to words are “beyond words” (i.e.—sounds in excess of words, from the beyond, for the beyond). Though the poet doesn’t presume to see clearly, she does at least hazard an attempt to line up the little ships of perception.

If the procession of basically discrete poems in “14000 Facts” develops segmentivity itself as a perceptive strategy, “More Facts” relies on narrativity and propulsion, despite its visual similarity to the first sequence. The poems occupy as little page space as the ones in “14000 Facts,” but phrases often continue past the page break in twists of syntax and sense that send the reader reeling, rereading. One illustration of this poetics of vertigo (to borrow the title from Cole’s 1998 George Oppen Memorial Lecture) appears as part of two ostensibly separate poems:

[…] waiting at a bus stop

waving at a little
boy in a floppy orange
hat running

[page break]

towards soldiers […]
(Win 61-2)

The turn across the page break is a jolting image of contemporary life hurdling into a war zone. Alongside this sped-up narrative, sound itself speeds up, spills over:

[…] just
the sight
the eyes


[page break]


hanging on
to sound
Milwaukee […]
(Win 71-2)

Confronting words as physical shapes produces a lexical drift in these lines, so that what builds is an accumulation of sound. What follows is a plea: “tell me about / the driftless region” (Win 72). We can retrace our steps from “tell me” back through “Milwaukee” and the sound set that precedes it, but the poem turns here (stops on a dime) to consider how to proceed where there’s no discernable path. So there’s lexical drift, which is dizzying, but then there’s driftless (a “driftless region” being a geography where there’s little or no evidence of glacial drift). In “the driftless region,” bearing threatens to be entirely lost, evidence occluded. So there’s a heartening humanism in the next turn (across another page break) from “compass” to “compassion” (Win 72-3).

Cole’s book closes with a turn to more liminal perceptive realms in “If I’m Asleep,” which opens with a cloudy dream dialogue where the separation between the speaker and “the other” is barely discernable, as if spoken “with our general mind” (Win 89). In prose, scattered notes, lists and lines, the poem confronts, finally, the barely legible world. Cole offers Carroll Pickett, a former Death House Minister at a TX prison, as someone who can attest to a clarity beyond words: “‘you can hear the difference between pain and just air’” (Win 97). These poems inhabit a world where illegibilities do not necessarily limit understanding or engagement (our world).

“Existing in the moment,” reads a quote from Peter Sloterdijk inserted between the last two poems in Win, “means having survived oneself up to that point” (Win 83). I would argue that the formal strategies traversed in Cole’s book are attempts to arrive at such a state, which Lebanese writer Jalal Toufic might call “dying before dying”—the state wherein one is capable of “piercing sight.”

11 October 2012

Terrace Fence

The first of two PERFECTLY EXECUTED reproductions from Cuneiform Press. When this arrived in the mail, I thought Cuneiform's main-mensch, Kyle Schlesinger, had somehow wrangled up an original to show me what he hoped to reproduce. But, nope, this is the actual reproduction, which somehow looks weathered and totally perfect—straight from the rare books library! I'm not sure if Kyle is even distributing these, but if he is, they will probably show up here!

10 October 2012


A few favorites from Fledge...

09 October 2012

Another Market Fitness Session Tonight!

I've been deeply aggrieved to miss ALL of Chris Nagler's MARKET FITNESS sessions, as they're often during times I teach (as is this one, sadly) or really far away. But if I had the night off, I would surely go, which means if YOU have the night off, YOU should surely go! And I love that this is taking place at Sports Basement—an added bonus! I'm most interested in "the permissibility of selling 'what is not with you'"...

Here's the announcement from Chris:

Dear Friends,

Just a reminder that (today) Tuesday, from 6-7 pm is another MARKET FITNESS session on

Commodities Futures

Which will happen at Sports Basement, 1590 Bryant St. In the Mission District of San Francisco

And if you're planning on going, take the elevator to the 1st floor walk through the bike clothing department to a space called the Grotto

This session has been curated by Glen Helfand in association with the CCA P.E. (Physical Exhibitions) project

Highlights of this upcoming session will include:

- the history of food security, storage, and distribution
- oil prices and energy trading
- debates over the permissibility of selling "what is not with you" in Islamic law
- organized speculation on weather, disaster, and film profits
- the theology of gambling - corners, squeezes, and bear raids
- a refresher on basic derivatives (futures, forwards, options, and swaps)
- the relation between index funds and food riots
- backwardation theory
- cries and hand signals
- contraband footage of the Conoco Phillips oil refinery just north of Vallejo, CA

We would love to see you there.
Christian Nagler, Azin Seraj, and Jesse Meade

08 October 2012


I finally framed this BEAUTIFUL broadside from one of this year's crucial full-length's, Stacy Doris's Fledge. Without a doubt, one of the most moving books of the year (of the decade, as far as I'm concerned), this broadside, produced by Laura Woltag (and others?), totally does justice to the spirit of the project. And for being Laura's first letterpress project, it's really, really remarkably beautiful! I've tried to make it all the way through Stacy's book, but it's just too fulltoo much. It's the kind of book that I hope I'll be skilled enough to produce in my lifetime—perfectly capturing what poetry should be doing at the moment. I can mostly get through two or three pages at a time, and then I put it back on the shelf to savor it. It makes me swoon. Thanks Laura (and friends) for this fitting tribute, and thanks Nightboat for releasing this masterpiece.

05 October 2012


Bifo on poetry and finance?! Have all my dreams finally come true??!

More Mesmer

Here's a new one from Yellow Field editor Edric Mesmer, one of the coolest, most generous people holding down the Rust Belt. This tiny chap was printed by Mark Dickinson for Seapressed/ meta in North Ronaldsay, Orkney (!!), and nicely represents, to my mind, what Mesmer's up to these days. He doesn't publish often enough, so when these chaps come around, you've got to get them quick! If you want one, maybe send a message to Edric through Yellow Field? Otherwise, you can always travel to Scotland, I suppose...

04 October 2012

New Yellow Field!

I'm so behind on posting about the many things I've received and loved over the past year (for good reason I guess: new baby, work, etc.) that TWO issues of Edric Mesmer's Yellow Field have come and gone, and I've yet to really dive into either. Yellow Field is one of those crucial regional ecosystems, filling the void (as I've mentioned here before) left by Stacy Szymaszek's Gam, focusing on writing produced specifically in the Great Lakes region. Mixed among this regionalism, however, is all kinds of other cool stuff, like local wunderkind Stephen Novotny's "review" of Mei-mei Berssunbrugge's recent reading at USF, this within spitting-distance of blue-collar Buffalo hero, Mike Basinski (but please don't spit on Mike!).

In the most recent issue, I was surprised and delighted to find a pop-up review of my own The Katechon (lines 101-200) (presumably penned by Mesmer?) featuring the amazing opener "Picture Jonas, yet to be vomited, bolas in the thorny belly of humanity..." I was also super excited to see new work from Pittsburghian Terrance Chiusano, whose work I haven't read since his wonderful Handwritten edition On Generation and Corruption (which, it turns out, is still available at SPD here). I'm not sure that Yellow Field has an official website, but you can become facebook friends if you're into that kind of thing...