Thursday, December 31, 2009

Two Last Apps for 2009


To wake up in frost,
ineffectual sun up in
blue sky bruised gray,
is to huddle into these
words, burrow down in
them until you hit a spot
of warmth, like memories
stuck like bark to roots,
of this or that, of she or
her, if this trope is over-
worn so be it, I’ve had
enough of pretending
this crux isn’t one, so
I’ll lean into it, again—


If I had Neko Case
for one night, I’d
dip her red hair in
red wine, suck it
dry, bathe
her in
into what’s
pink and blue,
roll out the red carpet.

If I had Neko Case
for one night, I’d
part the Red Sea
to make her
come, come
stiff from
ecstasy, I’m

If I had Neko Case
I would never
leave my bed
again; I’d lay,
awake to
never doubt
Heaven exists
on Earth, between

throats, notes, legs.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Essay in The Argotist: "On the Necessity of Bad Reviews"

Jeffrey Side has published a new essay of mine, On the Necessity of Bad Reviews, in The Argotist Online.

Also in The Argotist Online; an interview with me, as editor of P.F.S. Post, on Net publishing.

To Jeffrey, many thanks.

Apps for Winter


Oh you guys, you guys are tough.
I came here to write about some
thing, but now that I came, I can’t
come to a decision about what I

came for. What? You said I can’t
do this? You said it’s not possible
because it’s a violation and not a
moving one? It’s true, you guys

are tough. You know I have tried,
at different times, to please you in
little ways, but this one time I had
this student that was giving me head

and she stopped in the middle to tell
me that I had good taste and you had
bad taste, and I’ll admit it, I believed
her. She was your student too, maybe

you’ve seen her around. She’s the one
with the scarves and the jewelry and
the jewels and the courtesy to give the
teachers head who deserve it. Do you?


She hovers above planet
Earth, making strategies
for safe landings, but not
able to see that she is also
on planet Earth, watched
like a crazed cat, a maze-
rat, or a tied-up mime, I
cannot save someone so
high up or far down, it’s
like a black thread about
to snap, as it strains past
breaking point she reaches
for champagne, to celebrate—
bubbles lunge up to break.


Secrets whispered behind us
have a cheapness to bind us
to liquors, but may blind us
to possibilities of what deep
secrets are lost in pursuit of
an ultimate drunkenness that
reflects off surfaces like dead
fishes at the bottom of filthy
rivers— what goes up most is
just the imperviousness gained
by walking down streets, tipsy,
which I did as I said this to her,
over the Schuylkill, two fishes.


liquor store, linoleum
floor, wine she chose
            was always deep red,
            dark, bitter aftertaste,
            unlike her bare torso,
                       which has in it
                       all that ever was
                       of drunkenness-
to miss someone terribly,
to both still be in love, as
she severs things because
            she thinks she must-
            exquisite torture, it's
            a different bare torso,
(my own) that's incarnadine-

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Chaps, poetry chapbooks, are portable, cheap, and perfect for poets who write short, compressed, serial material. An advantage of chaps is a certain organic quality they can have, when they’re made by hand. Juliet Cook's chaps (and the soft-bound journals she publishes) all have this kind of organic quality which books cannot, and the way Juliet packages things make them seem like Dickinsonian “fascicles,” rather than products off a conveyor built: pre-made, pre-processed, delivered with clinical precision and not much feeling. I have a Nick Moudry chap called High Noon which looks like it was tied together with a kind of sewn thread; High Noon is a nice little poem, and I can’t imagine it taking any other physical form, as delicate and tiny as the chap is. Some cohesive units are just too small to be books— Brooklyn Copeland's chaps are a good example of this. Again, there’s preciousness (in the non-pejorative sense of the word) to these chaps that I find irreplaceable, and that I cannot designate as “minor.”

On the other hand, I will admit to having soured slightly on e-chaps. I like what Andrew Lundwall and Lars Palm have done with their e-chap presses— they are both competent editors— but generally, I’ve been finding e-chaps unsatisfying. There are genuine credibility issues with e-chaps— enough to make me think twice about publishing another one. Publishing in online journals is different; there’s more a sense of healthy limitation. But e-chaps are difficult, because the brevity of the form, combined with the difficulties in reading sustained things on the Net, can be irritating. I find e-books easier to read, because you can prepare yourself for them. The same applies to lengthy articles in journals like Jacket. The issue with chaps is that their substantiality as tactile products balances their small size and the compressed nature of what they contain. E-chaps are small, compressed, and non-tactile. They are also taken out of the context of a journal format. It’s just so easy for poets to knock out ten or fifteen poems and publish them as an e-chap. Poets tend to use e-chaps to publish their secondary work (though this is not always the case, as with Andrew and Lars’ presses, and many Ungovernable releases, including mine, are more like e-books). Then, “quick fix” folks on the fringes of the poetry world make snap judgments about certain poets based on their e-chaps. This has happened to me, and to others I know. So, to use the dread designations, print chaps to me are “major” while, for the most part, e-chaps are “minor,” though perhaps the advent of the Kindle will change things around again.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

More New Apps


terse as this is, it is
given to us in bits
carelessly shorn
from rocky slopes,
of this I can only
say nothing comes
with things built in,
it’s always sharp edges,
crevices, crags, precipice,
abrupt plunges into “wants,”
what subsists between us
happens in canyons lined
in blue waters where this
slides down to a dense
bottom, I can’t retrieve
you twice in the same
way, it must be terse
because real is terse,
tense because it’s so
frail, pine cones held
in a child’s hand, snapped.


When the sky brightens slightly
into navy blue, “what’s the use”
says the empty street to parking
lots elevated four stories above.


Hunters get smitten with their prey,
but to kill is such an amazing rush
who could possibly resist, I’m into
these thoughts because you dazzle
me away from words into your red
pulpy depths, which I resent, but I
can do nothing about, because you
have nails in your cunt and crucifix
in your mouth, when I come I’m a
perfect personal Jesus, but the gash
is all yours, did I mention I love you?


we can't stop trying to conceive,
even though our bodies are dead
to each other, and nightly deaths
I took for granted are razors in a
           part of my flesh that
           can never live again-
certain possessions possess us.

P.S. An interview with me in Goss 183.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

New in The Argotist Online

Several of my new Apparition Poems (more added in '17) have just come out in The Argotist Online, the excellent online UK journal edited by Jeffrey Side. Thanks to Jeffrey, who has, also, a new piece in PFS Post.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Four New Apps


You can't
get it when
you want it,
but when I
want it I get
it; she rolled
over on her
belly, which
was very full,
and slept; its
just shadows
on the wall, I
thought, dark.


To send bodies up into ether
(what does this no one knows)
all flesh become hands that can
clasp (ecstasy of joining things),

to be joined to a part that you
suspected evil of, but is really
only love, is to give thanks for
raised curtains which (sadly) are

doused in your own blood, & as
I join this exultant spirit, doused
in white light, I'm steeped in my
own darkness, death, excrement.


What words get sent up
on sharp frequencies are
fractious, bent from pain,
Hephaestus in iron-groans,
what goes up sticks around,
so that base/top get covered,

all things resonate like pitch-
forks, tweaked by conductors
before their final, triumphant
performance for a hall empty
of bodies, filled to capacity.


Here's where shifts (red shifts)
happen in perspective, I thought,
slopping dark meat onto my plate,
here's where angles converge to
put me past the nest. General
laughter over pictures, womb-
like spaces, but I was in hers as
I was in with them. It hurts, but
he's dead, I never met him. It's
a shame, I never met him. Blood
moves through air: between her,
me, them- leaves on concrete.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

No Recess...

What people mostly do on the Net is read (and write). Fortunately or unfortunately, most of what they read is not what could reasonably called "art." Blogs, web-sites, Wiki entries, sports sites, fan sites for bands, movie stars, movies; that seems to be mostly what people are looking at. If there were more "art texts" on the Net, would people be reading them? It all goes back to something fundamental about Western society, as it exists in 2009; most people learn early that serious reading is done in school. People associate literature with high school, college, and graduate school classrooms. It isn't just that literature is thought of as "school"; the layers of staid veneration with which these texts are treated in the classroom make the vibe much more like Sunday School. Depending who you ask, this could be considered a problem (and a societal liability) or not. I, personally, wish poems were much more than an "academic religion," indoctrinated into students who soon forget what they've learned.

It would be nice if the Net could engender a new breed of serious reader, capable of appreciation and analysis away from the classroom. Part of the problem (as I see it) is that many professors themselves believe in the religious conflation of literature and academia. Where literature is concerned, is school necessarily a "real" place? Privileging academia, where literature is concerned, is putting the cart before the horse. Writers write to edify the brains of their audience, not to have their work force-fed to unwilling victims. All art is meant to restore the liveliness to life, not to restore material to a professor who needs fodder for a survey course or a conference. The situation, down the ages, is really chicken or the egg: are people not reading because they're tired of being force-fed, or are they being force-fed because they're unwilling (even unable) to read on their own? The answer, I'm sure, is somewhere in the middle. But academics get so deeply involved in academia that the notion of a Reading Public (not just groveling students) leaves the picture altogether. It also neatly avoids the issue of relevance. I don't just let the general public off the hook: I think the decision not to read is a lazy one, and, without back-peddling into sterile pessimism, it seems like a kind of cultural degeneration is going on. Two hundred years ago, there was little to do but read; now, we have more amusements then any one person has time for. Still, I'd argue that for general enrichment, on the greatest number of possible levels, it's hard to beat reading. Maybe people being force-fed literature is not such a bad thing. But I sure would be gratified if that "luxuriant misgrowth," a Reading Public, would declare itself to the world.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Early Fall Apparition Poems


She was seated at a desk,
giving a dramatic speech
(pronounced with acidic
bitterness), glaring at me,
I was punching a telephone,
trying to reach Dominique,
who had given me a phony
number, while two young,
androgynous sprites made
love in a chair, Leonard
joined my committee—

she was seated at a desk,
her voice rose to a pitch I
couldn’t tolerate, but also
it brought me to the verge
of orgasm, because she was
sucking myself out of me,
doing it psychically, when
I woke up, she was updating
her Face about lost sleep—


The essential philosophical question
            is incredibly stupid-
why is it that things happen? You can
           ask a thousand times,
it won't matter- nothing does, except
            these things that
keep happening, "around" philosophy.


Sky of mud, what we
have placed in you is
much more rank than
any rapist ever put in
prone woman— like
a race of rapists, we
have prowled earth in
search of womb-like
comforts, sent vapors
into ether just to get
someplace sans loss
of time, expense; for
us, no defense, death—
as rapists, caged, gored.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Apps


It is by dint of great labor
that lines heap up on one
another (enjambed or not),

it is by dint of great labor
that they take on the cast,
die, substance that sticks,

it is by dint of great labor
that poets must forget this,
because to stick means not

to stick, it means to loosen
perpetually out of grooves,
let things topple into place,

let shapes manifest slowly,
let life meander, be rolling—


The Tower of Verse
is a Babel, no one pays
their rent, many leap
from windows to sure
death, many leave, yet
there is a strange sense
of satisfaction given to
those who stay, and it
is merely this-
           clean windows
           allow us to see
           wisps of smoke,
           (grey, red, turbid)
            rise from ashes-


As a child, I
reached up,
towards my
Mother; as

a man, as I
reach, I am
deep down
in earth, or

I reach out
to find air,
nothing to
mother me,

soot & ash.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Death Paintings by Dario Argento

What would happen if Bonnard (or Heller-Burnham) decided to paint the Texas Chainsaw Massacre? The result might be something like Dario Argento’s Suspiria, a cult classic dating from the mid 1970s. The average horror movie has, as its foundation, two elements: death and the revelation of secrets. Suspiria expands upon this to include two other key elements: space and color. Ultimately, it is Argento’s use of space and color that lifts Suspiria out of the realm of the banal and into the realm of art. The most stunning cinematographic moments in the movie seem to revolve around corpses and death scenes; Argento crafts gorgeous “death paintings” from gore, blood, and lurid lighting. He also repeatedly evokes Poe’s Masque of the Red Death. In short, this movie is a visual feast, and almost every shot has a painterly quality. So much so, actually, that (for me at least) it’s a little hard to take in all at once. The only criticism I have of this gem is that it sags in the middle. But it would be pretty hard to beat either the first or the last fifteen minutes for pure ambience, gorgeousness, tension, and death painting ecstasy.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

John Carpenter's The Thing

I'm not sure why I seem to be going through a horror movie fetish. Is it the horror of dealing with insurance companies? Is horror built into the Zeitgeist of 2009? And will someone please tell me where good horror poetry is being written (besides Philadelphia)? In any case, John Carpenter's The Thing is a classic of the genre. Kurt Russell gives a riveting performance as MacReady, a true hero in a genre that produces few true heroes (unless you want to valorize Jason Vorhees). The story involves courage, reserve, and deep strength; it transcends some of the movie's garish special effects.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Other In All This

Preservation of art is essentially a social phenomenon. It happens through a social nexus and a social context— through an Other, or (usually) many Others. Put simply, preservation is the result of people wanting to preserve your work. What motivates this process? Why do certain poets inspire this dedication while others do not? It depends what we may find at the root of dedication (to a poet or to any artist.) The question arises (and it is an uneasy one) whether dedication is more emotional or intellectual, more about feelings or thoughts, or whether it is caught somewhere in between. My own sense is that this kind of (internal, psychological) scaffolding is more affective than intellectual. It is a compelling emotional drive. That is why poetry which demonstrates little affect would seem to have meager chance for continued life over a long period of time— decades, centuries. Why would anyone want to preserve you, if you have no emotional gravitas? Who's going to develop an affective drive to resuscitate you? Of course, there is no affectivity in Kant either. But philosophy engenders a very different horizon of expectations— cognitive complexity is a sine qua non, and affective flatness is desirable. There are moving passages in Kierkegaard, Buber, Sartre, but they usually result from rhetorical flourishes, rather than demonstrated passion (though these two sometimes merge, and it can be hard to tell the difference.) Poetry that is all intellect falls between two stools— it lacks the intellectual rigor of philosophical discourse, and the emotional gravitas that usually attends durable poetry. I think that most poetry which survives for any length of time generates an implicit affective compact between reader and poet (or, to be more deconstructive, reader and text). Those who preserve poetry do so because someone has engendered an emotional reaction and attachment in them. Engendering emotional reactions is one point of Feel and some of my other, earlier work; and the more recent portions of my work, which have more to do with form and avant-gardism, engender their own difficulties, in the composition process, when emotion still needs to be accounted for somewhere.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

On Shelley's Birthday

This weekend, I was in New York to do a reading in Brooklyn, and I got my first chance to talk in depth to a member of the Flarf Collective. It was a stimulating, if invective-laden, conversation, but my opinion remains unchanged- I don't think that flarf makes for the creation of memorable (or even coherent) poetry, and I fail to see how it adds (as Warhol and Koons don't add) to the Duchamp paradigm (of the "ready-made") that was put into place one-hundred years ago; presented again here, in a mystifying fashion, as new: anti-art. How retrograde is it to want to produce a durable body of work? Most manifestations of a post-modern sensibility encourage a sense of ephemerality, transience, "positive obsolescence." Post-modernists often tend to adopt the opinion that any other mode of perception is backwards; though, if the tide turns in my direction, this theoretical approach may itself be perceived as junky and corny. Anti-art is junky and corny. And I am developing a new philosophy of readings.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jacket 37: Eight Pages on When You Bit.../ When You Bit... at Southbank Centre

You can read an eight-page review of my book When You Bit... written by UK poet/Argotist Online editor Jeffrey Side, in Jacket 37. Many thanks, Jeff (and thanks again).

Also, When You Bit... has been placed at The Poetry Library at the Southbank Centre in London. Many thanks to Chris McCabe

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Brooklyn Copeland: Longing/Belonging

Longing/Belonging, the new chap from Brooklyn Copeland, is a collection of ten brief poems that seem to focus on the natural world as a metaphor for a troubled marriage. The edges we see in this collection are what could be called natural edges. A natural edge could be a number of different things, but in this collection natural edges manifest in three ways: as something broken or fractured in (raw, pastoral) nature; as some kind of remnant of life/death processes; or as anything odd or disfigured. Natural edges function here to represent a failed or failing relationship; as a way of expressing frustrated sexuality indirectly; and as a reflection of internal/cognitive discord. A look at some of the particular poems will help to elucidate what I am talking about, where natural edges are concerned. This is the seventh fragment in the piece:

A robin's egg, shocking
blue. Inside, the yoke is green
as snot. The egg did not
fall: it was pushed
from the eaves. Husband,
a nest is no
mere rustic thesis
to nail above
our apartment door.

The exquisite delicacy of these lines is reinforced by assonances and rhymes: robin's/shocking, not/snot, eaves/thesis. The yoke of the egg being likened to snot is, indeed, "shocking," and what gives the fragment its peculiar edge. Once the edge is in place, the dissonance of the situation (and the dissonant affect behind it) becomes clear. Eggs are a symbol of fertility; here, we see a cracked egg. There are overtones of waste and the squandering of natural resources, that seem to have a personal resonance. The "nest" functions on a dual level; it is something seen outwardly by the protagonist, and also something referred to indirectly, in a suggestive way. Whatever the protagonist is living through, it seems that the comfort and safety of a nest is inaccessible to her, something that either her husband is not providing or that she herself is unable to create; a tangent to Jordan Stempleman's crafting of a domestic landscape. This usage of eggs is a prime example of what Eliot calls an objective correlative, a concrete symbol that embodies an inward reality. What is surprising (as always) in Copeland is how deftly she manages to present her objective correlatives, how seamlessly interwoven they are in her constructs. Yet Longing/Belonging is quite laconic, and this is how it ends:

You aren't discouraged by how little
I have to say? Be furious,
instead. Be the winter
sun, the unlit white
flare. My heart's not where
I feel this little
towards you, for you've
shattered me back years.

The final three lines take us to a rather different locale, as we see the protagonist "a happy trauma shivering/ down Peru Street/ on my banana seat." Though this is not overtly stated, it seems like the happiness of the trauma has to do with the protagonist's ability to express herself. Notice that the Other never finds a voice; Copeland either silences him or does not deign to repeat the things he says. In Mary Walker Graham, this has to do with solipsism and self-contained sexuality; Stacy Blair leans more towards coyness; Equations explores relationships-into-philosophy; there is an element of all this here, but there is more affective vulnerability at work with Copeland, a sense that a maintained silence is a way of keeping control (perhaps on/for both sides of the relationship situation.) In any case, the poet's sense of Longing/Belonging has much to do with finding ways to represent the reality of longing and the perceived inability to feel a sense of belonging in marriage. There is a bravery at work here, the courage to tell a certain kind of truth, not only with raw data but with imaginative imagery. "Be the winter sun" sounds less like a threat and more like a sort of resigned encouragement, the protagonist's way of being generous with someone who is not being generous back. The poems ends with a "shattered" protagonist "shivering," but awash in liberation. It is the achievement of Copeland's chap, its terse prosody, which shows us this deliverance into liberation.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Sex and Terror

The poems I would like to feature today belong to Boston's Mary Walker Graham. Graham's poems adopt the stance that the protagonist seems either to be a sort of victim, or in the process of self-castigation; veer towards the straight Confessional, but always with an added dimension and depth (imaginative capacity) which places her (to my eyes) squarely within the confines of post-avant. The following is a prose poem, it is entitled A Pit, A Broken Jaw, A Fever:

When I say pit, I'm thinking of a peach's. As in James and the Giant, as in: the night has many things for a girl to imagine. The way the flesh of the peach can never be extricated, but clings- the fingers follow the juice. The tongue proceeds along the groove. Dark peach: become a night cavern- an ocean's inside us- a balloon for traveling over. When I said galleons of strong arms without heads, I meant natives, ancient. I meant it takes me a long time to get past the hands of men; I can barely get to their elbows. How a twin bed can become an anchor. How a balloon floating up the stairwell can become a person. Across the sea of the hallway then, I floated. I hung to the flourescent fixtures in the bathroom, I saw a decapitated head on the toilet. I'll do anything to keep from going in there. I only find the magazines under the mattress, the Vaseline in the headboard cabinet. A thought so hot you can't touch it. A pit. A broken jaw. A fever.

This poem practically oozes creepiness. Among the aspects I find most notable: the way that Graham's protagonist self-infantilizes (regarding herself not as a woman but as a "girl"), the imagery that conflates the sexual with the horrific (Vaseline butting against a decapitated head, broken jaws, fevers), and the intimation that what is at the heart of this confrontation is some sort of compulsive relationship. Yet the poem is intriguing because, despite its intimations, it never abandons the first person singular. Whomever the "you" happens to be, we never see them, they are never addressed, and the poem contains no "Other." There is solipsism at work, that cuts the implied "you" down to size; the narrator may be involved in an unhealthy relationship, but the primary feeling we get is one of self-loathing and self-disgust. The generalized phrases that are addressed to men serve to illustrate, as is Graham's wont, the narrator's alienation from whatever specific man is involved in the situation. There is also an unlikely quality to Graham's metaphors: what exactly could "balloon" imply, in this context? How can it be connected to the "peach" that Graham puts it up against? At one point, Graham creates a metaphoric chain, all meant to represent the same thing: dark peach, night cavern, ocean, balloon. The most obvious interpretation is that the metaphor is meant to signify the female sexual organ. However, the metaphoric chain is distorted, disturbing, and macabre. You have to stretch to allow the metaphoric chain to work, just as Graham stretches to convey what she wants to convey, which is equally brutal and surreal, and supports a consistent persona. The following poem, Double, has roughly the same feel:

Here is a box of fish marked tragedy.
Is it different from the dream

in which your alter ego kills the girl?
You are the same, and everyone knows it,

whether tracing the delicate lip of the oyster shell,
or sharpening your blade in the train car.

The marvelous glint is the same.
Though you think you sleep, you wake

and walk into the hospital, fingering
each instrument, opening each case with care.

The scales fall away with a scraping motion.
You are the surgeon and you are the girl.

Whether you lie like feathers on the pavement,
or coolly pocket your equipment, and walk away...

You are the same; and you are the same.
You only sleep to enter the luminous cave.

I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that this poem places itself in a realm of infantile sexuality. Yet that it is written from an adult perspective gives it a kind of double edge. If there is terror here, it is terror of the protagonist's own sexual power. The pleasure for the reader is in trying to understand the different levels of self-evaluation that are going on, and how they tie in to the narrator's sense of herself- how her persona is constructed. As in A Pit, there is a level of sexual solipsism going on that becomes a maze, in and of itself. There is also a level on which the poem exteriorizes its own discomfort through the use of "gross" imagery: box(es) of fish, blades, surgeons. What is the nature of the operation? What necessitates it? The poem is given added depth because it is presented in the second person: not "I" but "you." It takes on the quality of a narrator talking to herself about herself, and makes the poem an exercise in imaginative self-consciousness, more so than the first one. I find this compelling because it picks up the tone of Confessional poetry but puts it through a new kind of synesthetic light filter. What Graham sees as "Double" could be a split between her body and her mind, or between her sexuality and her intellect, or even between herself and an Other. Whatever it is, it has left her in pieces, and the poem seems to be an attempt to put herself back together again. Both of these poems, and other Graham work, present a consistent persona, a tangent to Stacy Blair's: a polymorphously perverse girl-woman lost in the never-land of her own body (and polymorphously perverse can imply a body of thoughts and ideas in addition to the mere physical mechanism.) Though possibly mainstream-consonant, as has been duly noted, it would be difficult to get more edgy than that.


The second portion of the Sex and Terror post is being scribed at a later date: January 2017. With the addition of new material to PFS Post both from Mary Walker Graham and Stacy Blair, there is more to see and say about the pertinent issues hewn into their texts- the creation of a new kind of female persona in American poetry; a new approach to female sexuality and the female body; and a continuing, obsessive interest in the dark or shaded portion of human reality. As of January 21, the poem by Stacy Blair which crowns PFS Post is called Photo Experiments:

Blonde locks jut out over the tops of pigtails,
bleached beach/sand-color by the sun.
Time's short between this photograph and my regard.
Picture: no flower lays or shoes, just
young grass hips. She is, I am, we were,
very young. The entire page of this album
flanks history; under my mind, another
helpless time explosion. I was, we were, are,
naked newborn, as our little limbs on film.

What might strike the reader as most urgent thematically- the artful insinuation of pregnancy- is buttressed by the same strain of self-castigation, self-reproach, and self-mistrust we find in Graham. Like Graham, "young grass hips," "flanks," and "flower lays" are all heavy innuendo about carnality. What makes the poem so fascinating are the divisions and precisions Blair incises into her perceptions of identity- who she was, who she is now as two distinct selves; who she is and who her assumed lover is, also as two distinct selves; and the third entity they create together (possibly the unborn child) being distinct from them as another gestalt entity. It is difficult not to read "helpless time explosion" specifically as a reference to pregnancy- and equally gripping, because addressed, text-wise, with taut, terse authority, caesuras creating a sense of hypnosis for the reader, brief incantation. The poem ends in irresolution, purposefully- and the creepy edge (or edges) of what I called post-avant many years ago is very much in effect, on display. Why the Aughts created this sense of dread, of foreboding, along with the shadowy seductiveness of stark eroticism, is anyone's guess; a reaction, perhaps, to the stunted quality of the female body (and the female brain in response) in century XX art?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Artaud and "Profound Anarchy"

The spirit of profound at the root of all poetry.

Poetry is anarchic to the degree that it brings into play all the relationships of object to object and of form to signification. It is anarchic also to the degree that its occurrence is the consequence of a disorder that draws us closer to chaos.

To make metaphysics out of a spoken language is to make the language express what it does not ordinarily express: to make use of it in a new, exceptional, and unaccustomed fashion; to reveal its possibility for producing physical shock; to divide and distribute it actively in space; to deal with intonations in an absolutely concrete manner, restoring their power to shatter as well as really to manifest something; to turn against language and its basely utilitarian, one could say alimentary, sources, against its trapped-beast origins; and finally, to consider language as the form of INCANTATION.

It is readily visible here that some parts of Artaud's formulations fit post-avant (and the Philly Free School) better than others. How much in common does edge, in its generalized, denotative sense, have with anarchy? Artaud does not give examples here of what would constitute a resolutely anarchic language. It would seem that, because post-avant (as I have formulated it) has a strong narrative sense, the kind of anarchy that Artaud is naming would be inadmissable. On the other hand, poems with edges can impart the feeling of anarchy, rather than the anarchic state itself. That is part of post-avant, and applies to performance/spectacle, such as ours at the Highwire Gallery, too: creating affect out of semblances of anarchy and/or chaos. The irony, and it is one that Artaud does not address, is that to create this kind of affect takes tremendous formal discipline. You cannot waste any words, make any false or half-assed moves, produce anything which does not enhance the overall effect. This, to me, is one of Artaud's Achilles' heels: he does not offer examples (at least where poetry is concerned), but a kind of Science of Imaginary Solutions, so that we are left to piece together and reconstruct our version of what Artaud is talking about. One thing that would be hard to argue with is that Artaud wants words to transmit a certain vision of reality, rather than any artifice or self-absorption.

This is what I referred to earlier: a certain way of making art through authenticity, which in this case means channeling and accessing the primeval chaos that lies beneath all language. Language serves something deeper, rather than being an end in itself. Where post-avant is concerned, this depth flows from a commitment to expressing every kind of edge which can incise into human beings: psychological (and Artaud happens to hate psychology, which is another stumbling block), emotional, metaphysical, sexual, and all the other ones. Physical shock, as Artaud describes it, is an apt description of what post-avant poetry should produce (in its ideal form, which many poets are still working towards.) Incantation, however, is problematic, in the sense that it aligns poetry with music, and language that merely "chimes," that is merely musical, can never suffice for post-avant. Although, who knows, perhaps someone will write a striking anaphoric poem in the post-avant mode, and show us how it can be accomplished. In Feel, I tried. Perhaps I was held back by the Beat association, perhaps not. I do not see any reason why it could not happen. All it takes is a commitment to edge and to affixing it to poetry's long history; ambition, in other words. How ambitious is post-avant? Artaud seems sometimes too scattered, to diffuse, to be truly ambitious.

Here's another interesting Artaud bit:

We must get rid of our superstitious valuation of texts and WRITTEN poetry. Written poetry is worth reading once, and then should be destroyed. Let the dead poets make way for others. Then we might even come to see that it is our veneration for what has already been created, however beautiful and valid it may be, that petrifies us, deadens our responses, and prevents us from making contact with that underlying power, call it thought-energy, the life force, the determinism of change, lunar menses, or anything you like. Beneath the poetry of the texts, there is the actual poetry, without form and without text.

Artaud wanted to transcend, circumvent language, and to do it through theater; poetry (of course) does not have the option of getting beyond language. Nonetheless, these are useful insights, because it shows what post-avant has in common with its parent movements: a hankering for something "deeper than language." It is also useful to think of post-avant as an irreverent movement, which acknowledges lineage without being willing to sacrifice any of its edges. Post-avant, and post-avant poets, should be polyglot. I want post-avant to be in that prized second category: a movement which succeeds via authenticity. I do not want to cast aspersions on other movements, but there is a potential for a new mode of humanism in post-avant, and the opportunity is too good to waste. We cannot be the ideal artists that Artaud would have wanted; we rely too much on what Artuad wants to get rid of. However, that Artaud associated affect, chaos, anarchy, and physical shock with his Theater of Cruelty is a good sign. There is genuine overlap. The idea that post-avant could manifest a Poetics of Cruelty is not too far-fetched. The point Artaud was trying to make is that what is most cruel can be what is most real, and post-avant is attempting to prove precisely the same thing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Post-Avant and Personism

Frank O'Hara's Personism, though not as stringently defined as Breton's Surrealism, or our own Aughts Neo-Surrealismis another movement (a one-poet movement, in this case) that can and has had a fruitful interaction with post-avant. There are solid reasons to say that post-avant can go further than Surrealism; where Personism is concerned, I would say that post-avant does not necessarily go further, but is substantially different in its approach. Personism involves the social aspect of poems; how they can serve as links between individuals (or groups), and in doing so enact a tender (or fierce) intimacy. What is intimate about the O'Hara poems we know is that we never doubt his sincerity as a (usually first-person) protagonist. The edges come from a certain honesty at all costs; that O'Hara does not pull punches, though he is seldom brutal, either. O'Hara is sincere, overt, direct, and touchingly so. What post-avant wants to do is to take Personism and darken it. Post-avant's spin on the Personism ball often produces poems that have an edge of detachment, parody/satire, or even meanness; taking Personism and giving it an edge of experience over innocence. Rather than reality infringing on dreams, reality infringes on relationships. People's edges are exposed, their weaknesses probed, their insecurities laid bare.To demonstrate the darkening of Personism, I thought to bring in a poem by Jason Bredle, one of the darkest (and funniest) poets working this terrain.

This famous Personal Poem is taken from O'Hara's Lunch Poems. It is representative of O'Hara's vision of Personism (which he did, in fact, patent):

Now when I walk around at lunchtime
I have only two charms in my pocket
an old Roman coin Mike Kanemitsu gave me
and a bolt-head that broke off a packing case
when I was in Madrid the others never
brought me too much luck though they did
help keep me in New York against coercion
but now I'm happy for a time and interested

I walk through the luminous humidity
passing the House of Seagram with its wet
and its loungers and the construction to
the left that closed the sidewalk if
I ever get to be a construction worker
I'd like to have a silver hat please
and get to Moriarty's where I wait for
LeRoi and hear who wants to be a mover and
shaker the last five years my batting average
is .016 that's that, and LeRoi comes in
and tells me Miles Davis was clubbed 12
times last night outside BIRDLAND by a cop
a lady asks us for a nickel for a terrible
disease but we don't give her one we
don't like terrible diseases, then

we go eat some fish and some ale it's
cool but crowded we don't like Lionel Trilling
we decide, we like Don Allen we don't like
Henry James so much we like Herman Melville
we don't want to be in the poets' walk in
San Francisco even we just want to be rich
and walk on girders in our silver hats
I wonder if one person out of 8,000,000 is
thinking of me as I shake hands with LeRoi
and buy a strap for my wristwatch and go
back to work happy at the thought possibly so

Now, a post-avant response; Bredle's Girls, Look Out for Todd Bernstein:

Because after sitting out for a spell
he's back with a degree in accounting and a high
paying position in one of the leading
pharmaceutical corporations in the country
and aspirations of owning that exotic yellow
sports car, license plate EVIL.
And like Dennis Meng at Sycamore Chevrolet
stakes his reputation on his fully reconditioned
used cars, I stake my reputation
on telling you Todd Bernstein means business
this time, girls. No more of this being passed over
for abusive arm wrestling stars. He's got
a velour shirt now. No more of your excuses-
if he wants you, you're there. None of this
I'm shaving my pubes Friday night nonsense-
come on, you think Todd Bernstein's
going to fall for that? He knows you're not
studying, not busy working on some local
political campaign, not having the guy
who played Cockroach on THE COSBY SHOW over
for dinner, not writing any great American
novel. He's seen your stuff and it's nothing more
than mediocre lyrical poetry with titles
like "The Falling" and "Crucible" and "Waking to Death"
that force impossible metaphors, despairing
about love and womanhood and how bad
your life is even though you grew up happily
in suburban America, or at least as happily
as anyone can grow up in suburban America,
which normally, you know, consists of
the appearance of happiness while your dad is doing
three secretaries on the side and your mom
pretends not to know and brags to the entire
town about how you're an actress about to star
in a sitcom about the misadventures of a cable TV
repairperson who, while out on a routine
installation one day, accidentally
electrically blasts herself into the living room
of a family of barbarian warloads on a planet
near Alpha Centauri who force her into slavery
before sending her on a pillage mission
to a planet of Cloxnors who capture her and place
her in a torture institution where she meets
a vulnerable Meeb whom she convinces, because of
her cable TV repairperson skills, to let her
become nanny to its impressionable Meeblets just
before it's about to rip off her limbs
with its ferocious abnons and devour her.
The results, according to your mom, are hilarious,
but come on, you and I both know the story
is just so PREDICTABLE. And Todd knows
your writing doesn't pull off any metaphors
for the happiness taken from you by some dude
who played bass and called himself a musician
when all he could really do was play a couple
of chords and sing about true love and alligators
and how the alligator represents true love
which somehow explains the legend where the guy
cut open an alligator one time in Florida
and found a golfer. There's just no fooling
Todd. Sure, he'll act like he's interested, that's
Todd Bernstein, and he'll make claims
that he too has written or been artistic
at some point in his life, but Todd Bernstein
knows all you girls really want is a piece
of good old Todd Bernstein. No longer
will any strange auras enter the bedroom
during sex and keep him from maintaining
an erection, no longer will any women
walk out on him repulsed. If anybody's walking out
after sex, it'll be Todd Bernstein, I can assure you.
He won't be humiliating himself by falling down
a flight of stairs in front of a group of Japanese
tourists anymore, but rather coaxing entire
masses of women into his bedroom. Because
that's Todd Bernstein. He's on the move.
And he wants you to know, girls, that he's well aware
you certainly can't learn Korean sitting around here
which is why he's out there right now, preparing
for the slew of women just beyond his sexual
horizon, spray-painting GIRLS, LOOK OUT
of a Village Pantry.

A mouthful, to be sure. But, as funny, perverse, and on-the-surface as much of the humor is, notice that there is an ambiguity here that is not in O'Hara. What we have is a poem mostly written in the third-person, with an "I" here and there thrown in for good measure. The effect is to call into doubt what the relationship is between "I" and the legendary Todd Bernstein. The narrative has so many edges in it that the implied relationship could not be farther from the relationship between Frank and LeRoi in the first poem. There, Personism means straightforward friendship, camaraderie, a sense of being in cahoots against the rest of the (especially literary) world. We do not learn anything embarrassing about Frank or LeRoi in the poem (unless we want to count Frank's "batting average.") Here, we learn nothing about the poem's "I," and everything (and more) than we ever wanted to know about Todd Bernstein. Frank and LeRoi are equals; the narrator in Bredle's poem seems to be looking down on Todd Bernstein from an omniscient perspective. When put through the post-avant skewer, Personism comes out twisted by the recognition of human frailties. We see so far into Todd Bernstein that he becomes a joke- his delusions of grandeur, sexual frustrations, inability to connect. Bredle's tangents (and there are a bunch) are another way of creating edge; it is the literary equivalent of playing bumper cars. Bredle includes the raw and the brutal, to hilarious effect- the gruesome detail about girls "shaving their pubes Friday night," the suburban dad "doing three secretaries on the side." The net effect is Personism shot through with black humor and satire, and it is, to my eyes, at least as potent as O'Hara's original version.

P.S. Jason Bredle on PFS Post.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jordan Stempleman: Softer Edges

I am by no means convinced that Jordan Stempleman's work fits into a post-avant frame-work. As with Andrew Lundwall's Neo-Surrealism and some of Chris McCabe's work, there are edges, and what Stempleman is doing is (more often than not) substantially new, but edges are usually overtaken by an impulse towards grace, delicacy, charm, and sophisticated perspectives. These are the thematic issues Stempleman raises which this discourse needs to deal with: non-edgy affect (love), straightforward sentiment, caring, affection, and the domestic. With Stempleman, as with Steve Halle, what you get, as has been shown in PFS Post,  is frequently an air of the domestic sublime; poems which address private concerns in resolutely subjective language. All these things seem incompatible with the brutality, rawness, razor-sharp edges, and modes of affect that I see as pivotal to post-avant.

This poem is called Love, and it is from the Otoliths book Facings. It can be considered an archetypal Stempleman poem:

I told them, you can take half the conversation
away from a stranger without them ever knowing

it, take the real side away, and then turn it
into that place, that day that never happened

to you, some intended thought, now yours. There,
you will have it for years, or because of the excitement

that will no doubt accompany this treasure, the night
will come when, not alone to repeat it only to yourself,

perhaps, lying down in a close but uncomfortable
position, faced with a person equally as exciting (in

their own way) as what you've heard, you will tell
them this side of things, so they can stare at you

as you tell it. And afterwards, before falling asleep
near them, they will tell you, I know, I was there.

There are no edges, as I have defined them, here. The poem takes its energy from an intimacy that is graceful, relaxed, and even (slightly) epiphanic. Beyond an obvious glow of genuine human warmth, the poem is charged by a subtle kind of pronoun game: who is "them" in line one? Why does the third person plural not appear again? The conceit of having more than one "I" in the poem creates an effect of boundaries being blurred, which is very similar to what we experience in close physical proximity to a lover or mate. Yet the poem's peculiar grace lies in the combination of familiar and unfamiliar elements: it is never obvious, and, while it does not exactly attack, it is certainly multi-leveled. This impression is heightened by a kind of twist ending, in the sense that the poem deliberately leaves unanswered questions. This is done without ever losing sight of an immaculate internal smoothness, the opposite of edginess. How could the second "I" have been there to witness the fabled conversation? Was it a miraculous occurrence?

Here is another Stempleman poem, from his Blazevox book String Parade. It is called Unlike Weight:

There are more faucets
in this house than hands.

My daughter thinks of telling
me, the time is now

to go out and get myself
a gun. She silently looks

at me, eyeing my gumption,
determining how much firepower

my wrists will take.
She looks at me differently

in these times, with a doubtful
pattern of the eyes, quite unlike

when we swim in large bodies
of water. There she is light

enough to carry. There she trusts
my arms will never snap.

There is a sweetness and a vulnerability to this which suggests edginess without being edgy. Edge here is an undercurrent, a darkling hint. I cannot think how this can be done in post-avant, unless it is made threatening and/or surreal, which is of course what Brooklyn Copeland does in Borrowed House. The dynamic between Copeland and Stempleman is interesting: both are low-key, subtle, nuanced, detailed, and (seemingly) rural. The difference seems to be that Copeland focuses on an edgy sense of her own sexuality, rather than on the settled domesticity that Stempleman highlights (as Nick Moudry plays the middle between them.) Stempleman comes ever so close to overdoing sentiment; but there is an imaginative edge, amidst all the grace, which redeems him most of the time. Here, it is displayed in the issue of fire-arms, in a very unlikely context. Domesticity is a theme or trope which will need to be addressed over a length of time. It is too broad and too complicated a conundrum in serious poetry to solve instantly, even in a discourse which aims to be as inclusive as possible.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Brooklyn Copeland: Borrowed House

Borrowed House, by Brooklyn Copeland, is a chap released this year by Greying Ghost Press. I do not know if Brooklyn will have a problem with the post-avant appellation; yet these poems are, in fact, exemplary of what poems from the narrative branch of post-avant can do. They derive their energy from dramatic metaphors, some of which are extended for the length of the chap. Copeland's language never veers into the literal; figurative language predominates, and so narrative (in these poems) is immediately distinguished from "literal" narrative sense, as it appears in mainstream poetry. Copeland's poems haunt out of a sense of heightened tension and drama, more potent for being understated. Despite their reliance on dramatic metaphor, these are demonstrably "relationship poems," that work out their edge via "we" rather than "I." Between these divergent impulses, unique textual entities present themselves, that demonstrate both the freshness and the disturbing quality that I look for in post-avant poetry.

The conflicting strains manifest palpably in He Is Watching which, in its eight solid lines, brings together many of the best elements in Copeland's poetry:

Press into the window.
You become

the shallow face
that presses into the window,

surveying all that was
and wishing for just one

more chew on the blade,
another second to swallow.

As is the case in Stacy Blair's work, the understated quality of the poem belies its visceral intensity, the physical nature and sensations that accrue to close readings of it. This response is encapsulated in the final two lines: "..chew on the blade,/ another second to swallow." Revulsion is part of the point, what lends the poem its potency, and why I would align it to post-avant. It disturbs, unsettles, yet is not presented in a grandstanding way. In fact, if read quickly, it is rather inconspicuous. It must be read slowly and carefully for its spell to be cast. The title (He Is Watching) clues us in that the poem, on at least one level, concerns voyeurism. It could be emotional, psychological, or sexual, but it undoubtedly involves a self-conscious narrator, who cloaks her rhetoric in metaphoric terms; a sophisticated narrative-thematic gambit Copeland makes. It is, also, a surprisingly complete performance from a younger poet, and doubly surprising because the different levels are not immediately apparent on first reading. If you dig deep into this poem, it is perceptible that the lack of sentiment and fanfare are specifically what allows the poem to turn its tricks successfully. Levels of temporality are salient here too: the narrator is "becoming," while "surveying all that was."

Other poems in the collection play their games more overtly. Flirtations turns psycho-affective confrontation into a children's game, minimizing its seriousness with dollops of irony and raw frankness:

Drunk beside the pond, we play
with ultimatums

:if you cannot fathom this thick mud.

:if you cannot pull the legs from this daddy-long.

:if you cannot stew this prepubescent carrot
in your own blood.

:if you cannot hitch the butterfly with your sugared thumb.

:if you cannot look me in the eye
when you recite

the filthiest passage in the grassiest language.

The anaphoric catalog presented here is interesting for a number of reasons. Since both partners are "playing," it can be difficult to tell which partner is saying what. The most obvious ultimatum, of course, is the "prepubescent carrot in your own blood," which issues from the female protagonist. She seems to be indicting her partner's sexual immaturity, his inability to raise himself above infantile self-obsession. These two lines are placed in the center of the anaphoric structure, making them both more visible and asked to carry more weight. Conversely, we are presented initially with the fact that these lovers are "drunk": this would seem to cast doubts on whether the catalog can be taken seriously, or if it is merely a kind of game again. Why are the lovers placed "beside the pond"? The pond, in fact, reappears throughout Borrowed House, but what it denotes remains elusive. A pond is not wild or active like a river or a sea; it is (like the astrological sign Scorpio) "fixed water." As such, it can be taken to denote the established feeling of unease that has developed between the two protagonists, or something they have in common, or something between them that is draining their energy; or a little bit of all of these. Ultimately, Flirtations is interesting because it seems to contradict its own title; rather than seeming like flirtations, these ultimatums feel more like a game of Russian Roulette. Between the title and the substance of the poem, a layer of irony is added which makes the poem that much more satisfyingly obtuse; and that kind of depth, of multi-leveled attack, is what post-avant is all about, or should be. I continue to explore these issues critically here, and creatively in the new denver syntax.

Friday, June 05, 2009

"Anything with an edge": Rethinking Post-Avant

Many definitions have been posited for post-avant. There was a flurry of action about five months ago, in which I and a handful of other poets had it out over what post-avant means and what it does not. It was my impression that no general consensus was reached, and that much had been said but little of it had a substantial impact. This goes, certainly, for the things I said too; I do not privilege my own formulations here. Nonetheless, I think the discussion is a worthwhile one, and thinking about it has led me to some new conclusions. Here is the original definition I posited for post-avant: the diasporic movement of Language Poetry towards a new synthesis with erotic and narrative elements. That's roughly it. What I have been thinking over the last week is slightly different, and simpler. It is defining post-avant poetry as anything with an edge. This begs some immediate questions. What do we mean when we say that a poem, or a book of poems, has an edge? How do we strictly define edgy poetry? Colloquially, if it is said that something has an edge, it usually denotes that it is pointed, direct, sharp, and that it skirts the uncomfortable or the unsettling. It may deal, thematically, with a difficult issue, or it may take an unusual stance on an issue that has become stuck in a rut of settled representations.

These are the names of some poets you will see mentioned in the days to come: Jordan Stempleman, Brooklyn Copeland, Nick Moudry, Mary Walker GrahamStacy Blair, Jason Bredle, David Prater. To start with: all share a sense of vested intensity in representations of affective extremity in collusion with delicate, sensuous handling of metaphor and prosodic effects. What I call edgy in them may be an edge of humor, or of sexual hunger, or of desperate longing for any kind of transcendence, over circumstance or sense. Why this edge leads these poets away from disjuncture, back into narrative and erotic engagements, is that the ultimate textual idea or ideal here is fulsomeness, of being well-rounded, or of being a synecdoche of what is most compellingly human, humane. Avant-gardism, with its willful obfuscations, finds its wings clipped on one side; Centrism's insipidity and hackneyed expressionism finds its wings clipped on the other. Interesting to me is that so many of these poets were raised, nurtured, and found their voices in the Midwestern United States. How long has Indiana been waiting to express itself in a profound way?

The Midwest is in the middle of things, where the larger United States is concerned; so is post-avant poetry, as I have defined it here. If, because interrogations of text and textual efficacy must remain a post-avant imperative, the connection to Language poetry must remain staunch, it is nevertheless the case that post-avant can never settle for less then a cards-on-the-table confession of general emotional urgency and (perhaps spectacular) expressive intensity. Thus, the ways and means these poets have of developing this dichotomous dynamic- avant-garde interrogations towards linguistic innovation, offsetting a Neo-Romantic sense of appreciation of emotional and aesthetic gravitas- will be what we look into, hopefully with a refreshed sense of solid ground being broken, and with it a strain of American art guaranteed to live a long and healthy life in the world, as an ancillary branch of the Philly Free School, and Neo-Romanticism itself (as has been defined here).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Apparition Poem #542

Angie did not
arrive to white
me out— alone
in bed, 3 am, I
smoked butts,
blue lights, haze-
like, spinning, an
angel’s halo— I felt
dirty, upbraided by
blueness, as if it
showed me what
I was past
redness in me
atrophied— I
would have been
better, I thought,
inside Angie,
That’s what
was in dreams
once the haze left.

P.S. Some companion Apps in P.F.S. Post.    

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Copeland and Harp on Chimes

Brooklyn Copeland has blossomed into one of my favorite younger poets. I have a review of her Borrowed House coming out soon. I was honored that she chose to review my Blazevox book Chimes on Goodreads. Here is what she said:

To be perfectly honest, I was equally excited and skeptical about reading this, and I still wouldn’t want to read about EVERY poet’s childhood/adolescence… especially not in such literal terms. But the fact is that Adam has created a very likeable character, and it’s that character (and what he chooses to reveal v. what he leaves out) that keeps you reading from one colorful burst of recollection to the next- and even forget that you're reading "poetry." Many of his subjects are immediate, from takes on fractured family life to experiences with classic rock music, but the presentation is a really comfy blend of fresh-enough perspective and common-ground heartache/insecurity/self-obsessiveness. I hate the word “poignant,” but that’s the one that comes to mind. You almost wonder if you’ve seen this character before, in a classic novella or short story- Salinger or early Roth. Or as Bud Cort in Harold and Maude. There’s also something kooky and affected about the tone sometimes- almost like an imitation of an older way of talking. Like listening to old recordings of the first modernist poets. It’s usually pretty endearing. Since I don’t know Adam personally, I’m allowed to say something like that. It’s a lovely book all-around. You can’t NOT like it. The design is cool, too...

And this is Grady Harp, from the Chimes Wiki:

Adam Fieled is a poet who has discovered (or has evolved from) those fragile filaments that connect the cells of thought in their most nascent stage: he makes us aware of the intangible moments in the development of our memory and history that make us unique. Where this gift begins is offered in evidence in this magical collection of poems, CHIMES.

Able to retrace early thoughts from childhood in the voice of the memory catcher of that age is only one of the little miracles of these very personal poems. Perhaps autobiographical, perhaps not, the poems contain moments of awakening that are fresh and novel and yet connect with the reader in a way that makes them part of the reader's musings on pasts that hold moments of change or connection to the world of 'otherness'. From childhood through the journey to adulthood each of these poems - free form in style and placed at the top of separate pages to allow each thought to digest - describes moments in a manner that is deceptively simple. Re-reading or just recalling each poem unveils more, much like the music of wind chimes once moved by the air leaves vibrations in the atmosphere. In #20, 'Things shifted. I went from cool to killed-by-lack-thereof. In a period of isolation, I learned about reversals, about temporality and its ruthless one-handedness....I learned thusly how one must wait to be blessed, that patience is a virtue close to heaven, that all things are eventually answered by their opposites, if the soul is maintained closely. I learned that seasons have each a particular flavor and shape, like candy and snowflakes, and that each season must have a slightly different meaning.'

Adam Fieled takes us through discoveries, through music, through infatuation and tactile sensation to relationships, through moments of humor and of profound introspection. He is a difficult poet to quote for single lines of example, so tightly bound are his 59 poems shared here. On the cover of this very special book are simple handprints - green, blue, rust - from different hands, different lives, different beings. The manner in which Fieled writes somehow ties us all together, if just for a moment, as though he is able to see his and our thinking painted in words. This is a gifted poet whose talent in discovering our consciousness has only just begun. Highly recommended.

Chimes can be listened to in its entirety on PennSound (1, 2, 3, 4). This is a piece from Chimes in Scotland's Osprey Poetry.


Chimes is now ('12) placed in The Poetry Library, Southbank Centre, London. Thanks to Chris McCabe.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Bourdieu and the Big Picture

Internet Theory is closely related to a concern that is pertinent, both to America and to the entire Western world- the necessity (in 2009 and after) for a totalized sense of humanity, as it actually subsists on a global level. Bourgeois ideologies are difficult to overcome, particularly in America- material abundance is (often) presupposed, and minor setbacks in material gratification are taken for major crises. A "downsized" America is still the richest country in the world (despite China's recent displays of affluence), and Americans (particularly Blue Americans) have the tendency to view America as a miniaturized version of the world, rather than as an autonomous state, raised far above its neighbors in affluence and military power. Worse than taking affluence for granted, many Americans do not consider themselves to be affluent at all- only the super-rich are deemed to be legitimately wealthy, and those beneath gaze up, we assume, in envy and admiration. When competitive ideologies are thwarted, they transmute into a kind of "helplessness before riches," an envious gaze that has its roots in a feeling of absolute lack that is purely illusory. Illusions are always dangerous, but this kind is particularly pernicious- rather than positing the subject (through grandiosity and conceit) as having more than he or she has, this kind of illusion shows a wealthy subject to him or herself as being impoverished. This phenomenon, of bogus impoverishment, is endemic to bourgeois life in America- that nothing (materially speaking) is ever enough, and that economic modes of production are hegemonic to the extent that nothing else actually exists.

What is important to my thesis is that digital consciousness, in its ideal form, subverts both the base and the superstructure of American bogus impoverishment (the base being the perceived inadequacy of economic modes of production to produce an adequate superstructure, thus displacing the actual Marxist paradigm with an illusory one.) It is doubtlessly true that many Americans use the Internet to stalk celebrities (enacting a post-Roman sensibility), but there is no context or medium that cannot be abused. Moreover, in a digital context, stalking is far less destructive then in other contexts; traces are quickly covered over, the ability to disguise the Self is super-available, and actual violence is less of a possibility. However, the very ease with which linguistic traces are covered over can be problematic for serious discourse. This is a legitimate weakness of Net discourse, and difficult to surmount. What concerns us here is merely the implicit (and necessary) insult to bourgeois illusions of impoverishment visible, in the Net's own richness.

The richness of the Net can only be fully appreciated when thinking people recognize the cultural capital that can be gained there. However, it will first be necessary to recognize the inadequacy of Bourdieu's formulation. More than one of Bourdieu's formulations, in fact, suffer from the intellectual equivalent of bogus impoverishment that I have ascribed to bourgeois America. What is the ideology behind "cultural capital" and the positing of intellectuals as the "dominated of the dominant class"? It is an ideology of competition (though Bourdieu was not American) that nonetheless wants in to the institutionalized avarice that it reacts against. Bourdieu's strategy in these formulations is to join by competing, to emulate-via-rebellion. Bourdieu pays overt homage to the system he seemingly disapproves of; he defines himself in their terms. Thusly, he makes himself, and the thinkers he is speaking for, subaltern. It is the ambivalence of wanting in and out at the same time, and is not, in my opinion, the most intelligent strategy for subversion. "Cultural capital," puts culture, like held capital, strictly in the private sphere; culture is (as in Pater) a personal possession, leading (possibly) to a state of self-absorption and atomized lethargy. The indolence of the rich becomes the indolence of the cultured; the atomization of a materially wealthy subject becomes the atomization of an intellectually wealthy subject. All this cuts against the grain of digital consciousness and IT, which wants culture to be available for usage in the public sphere. Rather than cultural capital, what we should seek to develop is cultural fluidity; a sense of self-comfort in navigating the terrain that connects public and private culture, public and private discourse, public and private encounters of Otherness.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Do you save your e-mails?

Would we have Keats' letters, if there had been Internet in Keats' time? Think, we could be living in a world without Negative Capability (hoary as it has become) and the egotistical sublime. Yet, I do not know anyone that saves their e-mails, and there seems to be little cognitive dissonance about this. We know why- though some of us have begun to argue for the potential durability of blogs and web-sites, most currently accept that e-mail communication is ephemeral, a way of expediting other matters rather than an end in itself (as snail-mail letters often were.) What an unfortunate change! If younger poets want to develop a serious relationship with the epistolary form, attitudes towards e-mail will have to change. In this context, Reception Velocity is probably a bad thing- it encourages writers to treat e-mails in a cavalier fashion. Expecting instant gratification engenders a sense that communication can be taken for granted. Snail-mail letters from writers (often to other writers) tend to be discursive; e-mails are comparatively abrupt, and discourse is kept to a minimum.

Yet e-mail is another digital form that has potentiality for development- there is no evidence that e-mail cannot be used as a tool for discursive development. In fact, e-mail offers distinct advantages for such usage- Reception Velocity, if employed properly and not used as a kind of excuse, can manifest as discourses more heated, genuine, and (even) intuitive (born of a fluid context) than the discourses previously developed in epistolary exchanges. As with all the facets of the Internet Theory I am developing, what is required (for my own and previous generations) is a change in attitude- an awareness of the literary past as it applies to the literary present. Generations to come will (I predict) feel less conflicted- continued exposure to the Net from a young age will engender a sense of digital consciousness more thorough and more well-employed than we can even imagine. E-mail text will be a specific sub-genre of speech-as-text, with its own forms, potential permutations, advantages and limitations. There will eventually be a hierarchy of digital forms- how the forms will be placed in relation to each other I have no idea. But that decades of negotiation will take place before these questions are decided (and in literature, thankfully, little is decided with authority anymore) is one reason to begin a serious investigation of digital forms now.

What kind of subject is engendered by e-mail as a digital form? E-mailing, of course, presupposes an engagement with an Other- yet the non-tactility of e-mails abstracts the encounter, brings it into the realm of cognition. E-mails are resolutely private, while blogs are public; yet e-mail lists create the e-mail as a "public sphere phenomenon" not unlike Facebook- the difference is in the performative mode. Status updates on Facebook are expressions of compressed subjectivity; e-mail lists can engender expressed subjectivity, but are more likely to manifest demonstrations of rhetorical strength. They are politicized- the one stands before the many. Unlike writing on a blog, in this context the subject knows that he or she will be heard. People are generally more diligent about opening their e-mails than about visiting blogs- the subject addresses a crowd of known Others. E-mail lists, as textual contexts, do encourage soapbox pronouncements. Yet the circumstances around these utterances are interesting- performed for a group, geographically scattered and (in attendance) disembodied, who are not compelled to listen by the crowd psychologies that might have attended actual soapbox performances.

This can work for or against the speaker- some who would feel compelled to listen by the (physical) crowd will not listen, while others who would be loathe to listen if engulfed in a crowd will allow themselves to listen. That these pronouncements are made to an abstracted crowd can lead to a certain extremity- a disembodied gaze is less of a direct threat. It often leads to a scenario in which the reader feels like a voyeur- this is less the case in more formalized settings, like blogs (though some blogs do have a flair for the outre). Blogs necessitate a sense of responsibility that e-mail lists do not, especially individually maintained ones. Yet e-mail lists offer a guarantee; your words will enter the in-boxes of these people. E-mail lists are good examples of the ideal balance between sameness and Otherness- a crowd you both know and do not know at the same time. They are a kind of digital public square, or a marketplace of priceless commodities. Textual personas are on sale- speech-as-text becomes a mask to reveal, hide, or deconstruct ideologies. Discourse, on e-mail lists, is less likely than the perpetual enactment of competitive ideologies- it is a form that lends itself to the atomization of individual subjects (an audience not needing placation, as on a privately run and maintained blog), through the performance of rhetorical gestures. Yet there is potential here for great comprehensiveness, where Reception Velocity is concerned.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

In Praise of Flame Wars

Objections have been raised to me that much of the substantive content that constitutes the Net is negative. Even within the realm I have privileged (blogs), "flame wars" have taken their place as a not uncommon occurrence. What is a flame war? Essentially, a flame war is discourse gone bad; a digital conversation that has degenerated into a digital argument. As always, Reception Velocity insures that these fracases are fast and fluid (almost as fast and fluid as argumentative and/or discursive speech acts.) I see flame wars as positive incidents (apropos, considering how many I have been involved in), for several reasons: because they affirm speech-as-text as an adequate means of rhetorical display; straddle the line between public and private sphere engagements (and can thus, ideally, engender mass cultivation and availability as a "personal possession" at the same time); and because they subvert Romantic notions of the author as separate and atomized. When someone is flamed, a double vulnerability is made apparent: the target is exposed as subject to public censure (and even, sometimes, ridicule); the culprit displays in him or herself the weakness of the warrior- those who take the initiative to attack are most likely to be attacked. In this double vulnerability is the element of the human that grants digital consciousness amnesty from accusations of coldness and, to some extent, superficiality (flame wars tending to peel back and expose woundedness and insecurity.) An author in duress is more human than an author atomized.

Flame wars only get to be a nuisance to the extent that certain Net writers become addicted to the adrenaline rushes and frissons that they engender. Those who go around looking for flame wars are to be avoided. A healthy flame war involves both spontaneity and calculation, like a high stakes game of chess- as the one that happened between myself and several other poets over "post-avant" a few months back. Misunderstandings created self-revelations- I was accused of being (more or less) someone's dupe, and was forced to publicly state both the ethos and praxis of my poetics, and their connection to an entity known as post-avant. The revelation of character, where literature is concerned, comes to light in flame wars- what is usually visible (on the American side) is ideologies of competition and the desire for instant gratification. That substantial definitions of terms can (and usually do) take years to sink in is lost on the American, who wants resolution, affirmation, and acceptance now.

So bloggers are left to answer a pertinent and potentially confounding question: when to flame and when not to flame? When is it profitable to use specific names, and when to generalize? It would seem wise to apply the dictum of Wilde's Lord Henry Wotton: "one cannot be too careful in the choice of one's enemies." In other words, you learn certain lessons in maintaining a blog: if you flame a fool, or get drawn into a flame war with a fool, you will get a foolish response. Flame an intelligent poetry blogger in a purposeful way, and you may begin a valuable discourse. On the other hand, it is possible to be blind-sided, in such a way that self-defense is simply necessary. One cannot always choose the Other that one encounters. Heteroglossia is not always fun; it can be painful to be addressed in an alien language (especially when it seems to hold no rhyme or reason.) Yet this post is meant to act discursively, rather than as a how-to manual; what is important is that flame wars are both valuably illustrative of the most positive attributes of digital consciousness and valuable as incidents that demonstrate their own kind of heterogeneous logic.

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