Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jeffrey Side: Carrier of the Seed

Carrier of the Seed is a Blazevox e-book by UK poet Jeffrey Side. Those skeptical about the e-book format would do well to peruse it; it is proof positive that e-books are, in fact, both real and legitimate. This is a single long poem; 63 pages long, and its formal characteristics are unique: it features a single column composed of spare, terse lines, going straight down the page. This gives the poem a sleek, lean look, as is customary with Side. Reading the poem is like riding on a high-velocity train; it doesn't get sluggish, and there are no breaks in the continuity of the sustained, brisk rhythm. There is an obvious connection with some aspects of Language Poetry; the primary difference between, say, Barrett Watten's Progress and Carrier is that Carrier does actually tell a story, albeit elliptically. This is a story of love lost: memory associations, forms of consciousness which accrue to it.

What happens is that Side will often break through the fast-moving, but often opaque surface of language-as-language into something like this:

my love I
need you so
much but more
than else I'm
waiting for you

There is a relationship being posited, and the poem's velocity can be taken as a metaphor for the poet's escape, or attempted escape. It is also important to note that specific scenes do get interspersed in the "deluge" format:

as to how
many erections she
caused in a
crowded room who
can say with
signs and signals
from her hips

The title of the poem implies a kind of address to manhood itself, what constitutes being a man-in-the-world. This address to/of manhood is complicated by the relationship scenario that is enacted in the poem:

all day and
night I fight
for light while
you were with
my mistress it
just makes a
fuck of me
as I go
up to the
south of hills

The relationship is ambiguous, manhood (as presented here) is ambiguous, and it all goes by so fast that the poem demands multiple readings. There is also a song-lyric quality to many of the most memorable bits in the poem:

I can't get
you under I
can't be leaving
you not until
I've done everything
I have to

This visceral, heightened formality is one I look for in poetry right now. It's Language poetry, with greater velocity, more affective drama and intensity, a kind of balls-out sangfroid. Yet, the implied presence of music does not preclude an engagement with poetry-as-history:

calling all cars
calling all cars
Keats let me
down too much
you left before
we could be
strangers this is
a trying time

Burns and Milton also put in memorable appearances. Bits of rhyme jazz the thing up as well:

life with fetters
cut from water
pearl you never

The following bit, for me, is the heart of the poem:

night and you
had a pocket
to keep you
out of sight
as you tried
to be so
helpful but maybe
we never existed
separately so nothing
can be sacred
and I cannot
love or hate
and I have
no care for
fate and it
will be chaos
in the end

This is a poem that extends the thematic range of avant-gardism in the English language. It demonstrates the kind of humanistic gravitas which Barrett Watten does not, yet it maintains crispness, pungent sharpness for its duration. I immediately thought, also, of Chris McCabe and Mary Walker Graham, younger poets who are taking Language Poetry and expanding its parameters. If this is, in fact, a kind of movement (what is now being called "post-avant"), Side fits squarely into it.

P.S. New poem up in Venereal Kittens.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mini Q & A: Karen Volkman

Adam Fieled: I’m struck by the manner in which you manage the sonnet form. You manage to balance the formalist’s impulse to craft and the post-modernist’s impulse to abstract. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how this balance was achieved.

Karen Volkman: I'm afraid it's a bit difficult to say how I came to the "balance" --the sonnet project was a very unexpected development in my work, and took me by surprise -- continues to, in fact. I can say my touchstones through the writing have been the trinity of Hopkins, Mallarme, and Rilke. (Valery has also been a reference for some of the most recent poems.) I of course deeply revere the great sequences of the Renaissance, but it was reading Mallarme in French and Rilke's sonnets in German that really pushed me to try the form -- something about the intense materiality of sound impacting through the foreign words and syntax.

I hope to continue this conversation at some point in the future...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Opera Bufa in Sharkforum, etc.

Chris McCabe is putting two copies of the book in London's Saison Poetry Library.

Parts of Opera Bufa have come out in Simone Muench's (ed.) Sharkforum.


Six new sonnets in Lars Palm's skicka.


As is interesting, as of 2017, Opera Bufa has inspired legions of imitations. And imitations. And imitations. I mean, c'mon, Teens Poetry World: are you out of your fucking minds?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Brooklyn reading, Opera Bufa, etc.

This picture of me was taken in Brooklyn in March, where I read at Stain Bar under the aegis of Amy King/Mipoesias, who also took the picture. Mary came with me, and we met Mary Walker Graham and Briana Winter, also pictured, there.

Opera Bufa is going to have a picture of Amadeus on the cover. It's Mark's idea, and it's a good one.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

PFS Presents Pictures, courtesy Timothy Yu (flier courtesy Matt Stevenson)

Thanks again to Tim for taking pictures at the reading and sharing them.

P.S. More new work in Otoliths 6.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hikmet (a poem for Nazim)

most remarkable you loved a world
that nailed you like a too-vivid portrait
(red, blue, green) to soot-blackened
walls; that this love kept showing up
in poems like gold-rinded oranges;
that you kept it, always, close at hand.

stuck in thorn-bushes the length
of america, I look for this love
(fruit, flesh) inside myself, find
steel-hewn indifference, implacable,
endless, & america its faithful
mirror (informer, accomplice).

thus, all relation is blocked, unless I peel you away & swallow
your seeds. despite my cash-confiscated fingers, I'll try...

Friday, June 08, 2007

Jordan Stempleman: Horse Sense

I got a nice Dusie chap in the mail yesterday from Jordan Stempleman. His new chap is called Horse Sense. It strikes me as an odd title- horse sense usually implies practicality, an ability to see through blarney and unnecessary complexities to the heart of the matter. The Stempleman poems included here, however, are ornate, complex, and intellectually ambitious. They don't demonstrate horse sense per se, but create a kind of gilded labyrinth for the brain to play around with. I kept thinking of Self-Portrait era John Ashbery. Stempleman may turn out to be a kind of heir apparent to Ashbery; his formal elegance, rich vocabulary, and intricate layering suggest this. The chap is sprinkled with memorable lines- The night to remember is impatiently waiting/ to be left alone (which recalls Ashbery's famous the night, as usual, knew what it was doing), What a difference it is/ to be between the unwritten and the unsaid (this one strikes me as more Eliotic), There is a looseness in tending/ to look back (this could go either way). This particular chap is a pleasure, a reminder that a good chap can be as important as a good book.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


They sent a maid
to clean Jocasta's

chamber, a stout
ex-maenad, still

full of wine. She
happened upon

the two eyeballs
of Oedipus, doused

with blood, beneath
Jocasta's dangling

feet. They were
smooth, tender

as grapes. She
pocketed them.

They became play-
things for her cats.

Perhaps there is
use for everything,

she thought, raising
a glass to her lips;

and if I am a thief,
who will accuse me?

This poem is featured in the Dusie chapbook Posit, as included in the 2007 Kollektiv; and, as of 2017, in the Argotist E-Book The Posit Trilogy. More from Posit in Lars Palm's skicka 

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Theodor Adorno: Lyric Poetry and Society

Theodor Adorno asserted that lyric poetry, which tends to focus on individuals and subjective impressions, can in fact be used as a kind of societal barometer. It isn't what is in the lyric poems, necessarily; it's what is left out. Lyric poetry implicitly implicates an uncaring, mechanized, homogeneous society. Because lyric poetry is traditionally the province of the "epiphanic/Romantic I", and because Language Poetry has the dual aim of robbing this "I" of its perceived hegemony and also enacting an (often Marxist) critique of conspicuously consumptive (American) society, it made me wonder what, in fact, is a more effective method of effecting change: lyric poetry that implicates indirectly, or post-avant poetry that takes, not exactly a direct approach, but a more direct (even when "deconstructive") approach then the conventional lyric takes, in its assault on materiality and societal conventions.

Adorno uses the example of Baudelaire, and the note of despair which runs through his poems. The formal aspects of Baudelaire's poetry were, for Adorno, a way of classicizing his work, separating it from the heavy vulgarian influence of the bourgeoisie. Formality in high art is punkish enough to do that trick. By Adorno's standards, Baudelaire gets tangled, though, because by the time he wrote Paris Spleen he was criticizing bourgeois France rather directly. His allegories all demonstrated the cold, hard reality beneath the veneer of charm and lightness which dominated nineteenth-century upper-class France. How about the lyricists of today? This is hard for me to address- if there are any genuine ones, I don't really read them. I do write lyrically, and read poets that do lyrical stuff, like Corso, Larkin, and others, sometimes, but these poets don't seem to be pure lyricists. Many lyric personas do, in fact, implicate an uncaring "consumerist" society, and seem to move in a dark, miasmic wilderness. I think these manifest the sort of syndrome Adorno is talking about.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Narrativity and Stasis

A good number of the texts I've been dealing with on this blog over the last few weeks are non-narrative or anti-narrative texts. They do not tell stories or delineate premises in a linear or logical fashion, but move in ellipses. Something I said about Meteoric Flowers (Elizabeth Willis) holds true (more or less) for all these texts- they give an impression of stasis, of nothing moving. It is difficult not to feel psychically congested when you read them, because lines pile up, seemingly without rhyme or reason, and you feel no sense of velocity, of progress. This would seem to be a liability. On the other hand, many post-avantists claim this to be a conscious choice- that subverting, inverting, perverting, or (usually) simply doing away with conventional narrative structure is part and parcel of their stated or unstated mission. To my mind, though, in simplistic, reductive terms: the work winds up making no sense. Many post-avantists have very baroque explanations for not making sense, elaborate conceptual schemas. I would still rather read work which hinges on the incomprehensible than deal with Billy Collins, of course, but I don't feel that incomprehensibility necessarily equals profundity.

How much post-avant poetry is aware of the reader? If what you create is a kind of literary stasis or textual morass in which, for 20 pages or 200, nothing happens (or "dances," on either a logopoeaic or melopoeaic or phanopoeaic level), how much do you care about the kind of time your reader is having? Are you aware of an audience, or are you completely self-absorbed? I think it's a good question, an important question. My own feeling is that narrative cannot be thrown away as long as literature consists of word following word. If you use narrative in the simplistic way that many Centrist poets use it, then yes, narrative itself becomes (like stasis) a liability. However, why not play with narrative, skewer it, rather than discard it?

P.S. Anny Ballardini interviews me and "love love" on Lavender Ink (U of New Orleans).

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