Friday, December 29, 2006

Frankfurt School of Rock

Beatles = equipment speaking through sound.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Notley on O'Hara = Degentesh?

A while back I blogged about Katie Degentesh’s The Anger Scale and how the unique voice at work in the poems extends and amplifies O’Hara’s late style. There’s a lot more going on in the collection than that, but it’s one way of getting at what it is that doesn’t sound 'prodecural' to me (if procedure has a sound) in Katie’s deft fusion of the MMPI with Google. Out with the labcoat and the I Ching; in with wit, absurdity, looby satire, and a surprisingly intimate voice given the various sources used to call it into being. (Shanna Compton and Jasper Bernes have been commenting on this aspect of the poems as well.)

Recently I’ve been reading Alice Notley’s Coming After: Essays on Poetry. In it she talks about O’Hara’s late style in a way that reminds me a lot of The Anger Scale, though the things Notley objects to in O’Hara’s last poems are the same qualities that I think make Katie’s collection so engaging. Of those last poems, which O’Hara planned to collect under the title The End of the Far West or the New York Amsterdam Set, Notley writes:
"A new kind of voice is speaking, that of the poet becoming, and at the same time commenting on and changing, the story or issue on the screen. The voice is both satirical and mysterious; it’s anonymous and communal (in the bad sense) in its exploitation of verbal mediocrity, and works somewhat more through deadpan presentation and juxtaposition than through intricate linguistic closework.

What if that one, that entity [the ‘I’ of the poems], does think in the clichés of television, has a pile of these units, these lines clattering around inside waiting for further use and rearrangement in rather empty contemporary situations? It’s the space between sentences that’s now remarkable and impeccable, but these poems aren’t very pleasant, though maybe they shouldn’t be. A warning shouldn’t be pleasant, a pointing towards a future both inarticulate and full of words produced, recycled, and recombined by all sorts of machines.”

--Alice Notley, Coming After, pp. 12-13.

Among the many other things it is, The Anger Scale may be one of the first books to make good use of the neglected O’Hara. More pointedly political though: the backbeat of the MMPI suggests how subjectivity—or the exams, institutions, and (ulp) lyric poems we rely on to produce it—can be absurdly limiting, sinister, and laugh-your-ass-off funny all in the same breath.

It seems like a lot of contemporary poets are also pursuing a voice like this, one to which Notley's thoughts about O'Hara might apply, but charged positive. What is it about the culture right now that makes this tonal shift feel so right?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Dept. of Being Present (Spare Room)

Tony Christy and Jules Boykoff read last Sunday at the Portland Art Center, an airy downtown gallery on loan for the night to the Spare Room collective, which runs the most ambitious experimental reading series in Portland.

Tony Christy didn’t read so much as put into motion a set of antic verbal actions—many involving other readers, one involving a knife—centered on voices of authority (judge, bureaucrat, cookbook author, priest, rapist, God) to suggest the shared cadence of power in its various guises, its ways of making us “shut the fuck up” and feel small. But in his use of multiple voices, attention to the aural, 'pre-sensical' qualities of words, and vaudevillian stage presence, Christy also managed to point at some possible lines of resistance: Orthodox chant folded into polyvocal dada static.

Jules Boykoff opened with “Essay #5” from his terrific new Once Upon a Neo-Liberal Rocket Badge. One phrase in particular hit me as an apt description of Boykoff’s poetic practice: “helicopter as metronome.” It evokes all the current events, military and humanitarian, that require the intervention of helicopters in this our transnational age, while pointing to a beat—a structure—that underpins them, one that’s available, dub-style, for resistance as well as oppression. Just functioning like a metronome— making the repetitions visible—is itself a rebellious act in the Murdoch era: Boykoff goes one further by finding a music that gets information to sing:
“suckered again by the Lulu Guinness tulip detachable clutch

material frame now beyond the gumption of interest rates

[replica volcanoes spewing
replica sphinxes all plastic and shammy
like the massive between thank you & de nada]”
landlord as feudal hangover

mosque-hopping cassette-tape contraband

Thermidorian bevel torque

Sonuva horse baron!”

Jules also read all of Gringostroika, his new Dusie wee chap (yes, I said wee chap) and parts of his new The Metal Sunset of Tomorrow’s Ascending Dissension, also from Dusie. (apparently they work very hard in Switzerland.) The latter is an engaging writing-through of several friends, influences, and poetic fellow-travelers: 28 poems of ten lines each, with the first and last lines borrowed from another poet (“Poem that begins & ends with a line from David Buuck,” "Poem that begins & ends with a line from Judith Goldman,” etc.) It’s a clever, generous way of ‘doing’ community instead of just celebrating it, maybe also tipping a hand just a little to the competition that shadows any poetic scene (“man, I wish I’d written that!”) but turning its energies to the positive work of acknowledgement and production.

It’s not so wet but very cold right now in Portland. Jules wore a thick-collared coat through the reading and I swear I saw steam coming out into the mike—sign of life and breath and heat.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Brimful of Asha

Funny how in writing a tribute to the era of the 45, Cornershop managed to make one. 45 as bell jar of the one-hit wonder.

A thoughtful take on Cornershop’s 'hybridity problem' here. A closer look at the song’s lyrics here.

(pictured: Asha Bhosle at left with her sister, Lata Mangeshkar, also namechecked in the song.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Somewhere Else"

There’s a remarkable song in Gazal that goes like this:
The Taj [Mahal] may be
a monument of love for you
you may love this
beautiful monument

O my beloved, meet
me somewhere else
O my beloved, meet
me somewhere else

O my beloved
several people like us
have loved in this world
several people like us
have loved in this world

Who says their emotions
were not true
but they have no way they
can express their emotions
because even those people,
like us, were poor
because even those people,
like us, were poor.

O my beloved
This garden, the flowing river, this monument
this garden, the flowing river, this monument
these beautifully painted
walls, this décor—
a king, with the help of his wealth
has made fun of
the love of us poor people

O my beloved
O my beloved, meet
me somewhere else
O my beloved
meet me somewhere else.

I love the way this skews the ideas usually cued by the Taj—Mughal power, imperial serenity, conjugal love, Indian national glory—and spins them leftward. It leaves the conventional associations in tact (nowhere does the song suggest the Taj isn’t beautiful or grand or serene), but adds a new layer of meaning that reveals the contradictions implicit in the monument, and in the nation for which it stands as metonym.

Love—which in Bollywood, like in so much of pop culture, operates as the great leveler, its pleasures and headaches available to rich and poor, famous and obscure alike—gets tagged with a class position. Rich people who love aren’t like poor people who love at all, because the rich have the luxury of expressing their emotions, through buildings like the Taj and, by implication, through words, literacy: the preserve of the educated.

By using the Taj as an example of what divides society rather than an emblem of its unity, the song manages to insinuate other divisions as well: Hindu vs. Muslim, colonizer vs. colonized, Third World vs. First. At the same time, it collapses other possible fractures—most notably, caste and gender—into the “us and them” binary of rich/poor. Love is still the constant, but instead of using it to trump social conflicts, the song makes passion a media access issue: who gets the money to express themselves through art? In the end, it hasn’t razed the Taj as a symbol so much as moved it “somewhere else.”

The words are by Sahir Ludianvi, whose life isn’t so unlike that of the character in the film who sings them: a Muslim-born atheist who joined the leftist Progressive Writers Association in the ‘40s, Ludhianvi shuttled between nations—Pakistan and India—after Partition, until his politics forced him to flee to Bombay. There, he found himself an Urdu poet writing hits for the Hindi film world (a position few Hindi poets were willing to stoop to at the time). Ludhianvi also penned the stunning “Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par Who Kahaan Hai“ from Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957), which uses prostitution as an image for India’s moral failing in the wake of Independence. The lyrics are adapted from his poem “Chakle” (Brothels), which you can read here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

On the Clamways (dance edit)

Michael Magee just put a portion of my reading for his Downcity Poetry Series up on YouTube. He works some miracle with music and hilarious editing that makes poems about bivalves look almost cool. Almost. Check it out here.

This one goes out to all the Scientologists in Wetumpka.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dept. of Film (Bollywood)

GAZAL (1964)
Sunil Dutt stars as an experimental poet who spends his days editing an avant-garde literary journal with his atheist Marxist cohorts. When he overhears Meena Kumari—a skilled School of Quietude versifier struggling to get published—reciting in a garden, Dutt instantly falls in love. A formidable succession of veils, burkhas, partitions, and garden walls keeps Dutt from discovering the poet’s identity, so he decides to plagiarize her work at a mainstream poetry conference in order to smoke her out.

The ploy works; invited as the enfant terrible, Dutt wows the crowd with his lush, formally correct ghazals (provided by real-life poet and famed Bollywood lyricist Sahir ‘Magician’ Ludhianvi) and an irate Kumari reveals herself. Soon after, Dutt gets fired by his editorial board for printing one of Kumari’s rearguard poems. No matter: he’s a confirmed traditionalist now, happy to wander the streets of Agra going moony at views of the Taj Mahal, that all-purpose symbol of Indian grandeur that also happens to be the greatest forget-me-not a prince ever gave his gal.

Yes, they end up together. Yes, I would love to see this remade with modern American poets.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Found In Translation

Being told to read more 'world' poetry is like being told to eat more vegetables—you know it’s good for you, but translations just aren’t as sweet.

Still, recently found this handy digest of what’s up outside the Anglophone:

International Exchange for Poetic Invention

Added to links at right.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dept. of Amusement (Magic Helicopter Prayer)

Caught The Perpetual Motion Roadshow last night here in Portland, which I heard about through Mike Young. Mike was one of the poets I met in Ashland earlier this year at the Emergent Forms series at Southern Oregon University, along with Jessica Rowan (featured in the new issue of Foursquare) and an impressively tight group of writers that felt just a few hairs away from becoming a sort of "Ashland School."

Mike read from his chapbook "That's Not the Face I Was Giving You," which he delivered like youth's ambassador to the Sanhedrin. One from the set:


Oh snap! According
to tonight's work
zee past
just sits there

I feel like a Clydesdale
watching NASCAR
in a nice bathtub.

Stops to come in Berkeley, San Francisco, San Jose.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Fill The Blank

“Poetry ____________.”

a) community
b) scene
c) conference
d) world

Friday, December 08, 2006

Thug Life

A life in poetry: what might that mean? How do poets occupy office jobs or fly in airplanes or deal with bureaucrats differently from non-poets?

I can recognize poets whose writing is on the same continuum as their everyday life (for some reason it’s not “professional” poets I think of this way so much as activist poets like kari edwards, or writers like John Wieners or Hannah Wiener, whose phone calls and poems and notebooks and symptoms seem of one piece). But in so many situations that happen off the page, I’m not sure what the ‘poetic’ response is. Some soufflé of openness, freedom, orneriness, goofiness, and encouragement where possible of those values in others, plus not being a Republican.

That doesn’t seem grand enough to constitute “a life lived in poetry,” the way an Alice Notley or Nada Gordon or Ezra Pound or Juliana Spahr conceives it, or the way I imagine they conceive it judging from the energies that animate their poetry.

If there’s still any romance left in being a poet, it hovers around this question for me. It’s the life you want in the end more than the poems—otherwise you’re just left with some version of that creepy Eliot/Stevens/Gioia model of the businessman-poet, spreadsheets by day and poems slipped out of a drawer by night.

I guess what I’m wondering is what poetry looks like without the poems.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Stein's Fords

Stein’s writing as not outside the law, but parallel to it. Modern as making and making as embracing, embracing as engaging and engaging as owning, as in a succession of Fords.

Buy it then wrench it slightly out of true. The force of its need to be true.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Being Living

Alongside Stein's new way of writing, a new manner of feeling, of committing to seeing with feeling; new ways of "being living."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Go East (2)

Modern Americans,

I’ll be reading with Arthur Sze this Monday, Dec. 4 at The Poetry Project. I have never read at The Poetry Project, only the book about The Poetry Project. Hope you will please come see.

with Arthur Sze
St. Mark's Church
131 E. 10th Street
New York, NY

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Anger Scale

Thinking how the voice in Katie Degentesh's The Anger Scale extends and amplifies O’Hara’s in those last couple years: odd bits from Westerns, purposive rudeness ("SHOULD WE LEGALIZE ABORTION?"), a gift for zany non sequitur ("Just because I’m alone in the snow/doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a Nazi."). With both there’s a clear sense of a self behind the mayhem, but strategically occluded, leaving you to sort out what’s Wizard and what’s canny Nebraskan behind the curtain.

Instead of exposing the author, Katie's Toto goes straight for the confessional workshoppy tissue-on-Oprah “I”, along with the culture that keeps prodding us (women especially?) to present ourselves like that. But so much squirts out around the edges of this reading—“It started with being attacked by a large male pigeon/in a big square in Copenhagen/This was followed by having a boy throw a live chicken at me”—I wouldn’t try to make it stick for more than a stanza or three.

The structuring frame—Katie ran phrases from the widely-used Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) test, “the benchmark for determining people’s mental pathologies as well as their fitness for court trials and military service since the 1930s,” through Google and made poems with the results—seems like it’d put The Anger Scale in a line with procedural poetries from Jackson Mac Low to Kenny Goldsmith. But I hear a lot more New York School: critical social listening via the Internet, the postwar New York of our time.
“It is extremely difficult to achieve perfect randomness
the Sun will not always shine just enough and not too much
But I read, and make such memorandum as I can.”

--Katie Degentesh, “My Sleep Is Fitful and Disturbed”

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

One Hit Wonder

The sweetbitter beauty of the one-hit wonder: how it hangs by itself in the firmament of random radio play, dead star delivering spent light, no larger body of work to give it shape or context.

Or how it becomes all context, the pure sound of a gone era, free of the need to be a point in somebody’s arc of development--early late-early [HIT HERE] middle late middle sad late--pulling it out of the instant where it had its special genius. No longer a song, it’s a time: 1961, 1982, 1995. Modernity begins with the one-hit wonder.

What’s the equivalent in poetry?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Poet Content

Poet as content provider: How would that change the art?

Experiments not in form, but in format.

Poetry should be at least as well-written as spam.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Crave Human Sound

“it's on a station i always listen to, Minn. Public Radio, not b/c it's such a great station but b/c i crave the sound of the human voice in conversation.” (Maria Damon, Nomad Ink)

Because I am doing things other than reading, more often NPR stays on as background. From the kitchen (where I am doing things other than reading) it’s not even really audible, just delivers the sonic shape of people talking.

Poetry won’t work: tried Leonard Schwartz’s Cross-Cultural Poetics, Rod Smith’s terrific Fear the Sky, they ask for too much deep. Knowing it’s repeatable makes it less disposable: seems wrong to waste their words on shape.

Once thought to rue the day talk radio beat out music or poesy--so 'grown-up'. Now come to see the scarcity (having to do things other than reading) of the shape of people just speaking.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Autumn in Paris/Total Celebrity

Paris Hilton: celebrity cipher or limit case that reveals fame's basic structure?

Britney's all gospel of work (those abs!); Aguilera the myth of talent (those pipes!); Idol/Top Model drips with American self-actualization (believe in yourself and hold onto your dreams.)

Paris—already rich, effortlessly thin, and free of discernible talent—detaches success from the usual narratives that give it meaning. Celebrity Paris-style exists in its pure state, “total celebrity”, like those pure poetries where syntax gets to be just syntax, grammar grammar, without the usual “justificatory” props that give them social purpose.

There’s something about the Paris phenomenon that mirrors the conditions of success in America 2.0 (a lot like the earlier military/industrial version but with twice the profit for half the people.) Overfilling a role can serve the same function as deconstructing it. Or can it? This is a post about poetry.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Fine Lines

Spotted today on the MAX train: one of Portland's 'Poetry in Motion' placards with a poem by Alison Luterman called "I Confess." The small print says it was chosen by Lee Ann Brown as winner of the Olay® Total Effects Fine Lines Poetry Contest.

Did you know there was such a thing as an Olay® Total Effects Fine Lines Poetry Contest?

"The word verse derives from the Latin word for how a plow turns as it makes furrows—that is, the labor of making lines."

There's something perverse but also kind of wonderful in the idea of an ad exec connecting the ability to create fine lines with the desire to erase them.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Shadows Know

How far civilization's gone with a sneer and a pompadour.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Go South

Modern Americans,

Amanda Davidson, Steven Vincent and I will be reading in San Francisco this Saturday for the Artifact series, one of the City's warmest. It'll be my first Bay Area reading as an out-of-towner, sure to be notable for a helluva lot more than that.

Saturday, November 18, 7:30 p.m. (reading begins at 8 p.m.)
with Amanda Davidson, Stephen Vincent
San Francisco

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Deviant Propulsion

As if anyone needed another reason to love CA Conrad:


Barr's recent remarks on the state of US poetry are yet another reason (if anyone needed another reason) to see the Lilly endowment as the cultural analogue of Halliburton fixed-fee contracts in Iraq.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I Am Formica

Memory as a function of film stock: how even the most specific, individuating features of a past--aunts lined up on a lime green couch, mom in her macrame poncho, gold-flecked formica kitchen table--come to seem interchangeable with those of anyone else about your age whose parents used the same Kodak.

Or music: that momement when your most formative bands, the ones you would have killed for, resolve into "early '80s", same Rolands and big drum sound, now a digital patch ("tube amp") in a menu of effects options.

Awareness of color as position on a palette.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

From the Vaults

Jack Kimball with a reading report from Providence (thanks Jack). Also saw Michael Gizzi, who runs the Downcity series with Mike Magee, which made me want to re-post this, from about a year ago when I filled in on Kasey's blog, same week we moved from Noe Valley to Glen Park, which turned out to be the prelude to Portland.


I’m in the middle of a name shift—KONE-uh-key to KER-ne-kuh. Lesley thinks the German pronunciation sounds better and she wants our son to have it. She’s a pro at these things, having swung her own family, Poirier, single-handedly from POOR-ee-er to PWOR-ee-ay.

I remember noticing as a kid how all the famous poets I could think of had these rich English-sounding names--Wordsworth, Byron, Berryman, Dickinson, Lowell, er, Rich. I tried hard to like Roethke for no other reason than that he had an “oe” and “ke” in his name, which I’m still not sure how to pronounce. Same with Koethe. Rhymes with Goethe?

The first real literary concentration of what I guess you’d call ‘ethnic’ names I ever saw was in the Donald Allen New American Poetry anthology, where O’Haras, Duncans, Gleasons, Olsons, Blackburns, Adamses, Williamses and Guests shared pride of place with Levertovs, Eigners, Meltzers, Lamantias, Loewinsohns, Wienerses and Kochs. I wonder for how many people in the ‘60s--and even now--the special promise and threat of that collection began with the Table of Contents.

But the top spot on my list of all-time-favorite poets’ names goes to Michael Gizzi. Like his poetry, it’s fun to just say out loud. I’d like to know how much those double ‘zz’s flanked by the goofy ‘i’s drive his poetic practice, where neologisms and hinky slang and improbable made-up proper names get to buzz like they haven’t since be-bop (Klackoveesedstene!)

Last month I found his Just Like a Real Italian Kid in the SPD archives, which is like finding a sliver from the True Cross in that warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s an amazing little chapbook that in 20 short pages manages to connect the jazzy, slangy, fun-just-to-say-it wordplay of his other books to the voicings and rhythms of immigrant Italian English:

“Stazzit! Mangare! Horizontal wicks of fennel breath crisscross dinner board to lodge in prepubescent mustachio. Yuk! how can you eat that shit? Perpetual smiles of grief-striken gumbare.”

The snappy rush of these 14 short pieces makes an implicit argument for the pleasures of English as an *almost* second language, a tongue that still feels new enough to stick out and twist at the neighbors. But Gizzi’s also a serious recorder, out to get down the echoes of the “latinate herb breathy ‘come sei bello ragazzo’ litany” before the onset of “primness on Lake Amnesia,” where everything ethnic sinks and goes white:

“Edison it was said had invented the phonograph to capture Caruso for posterity, that catch in the throat when he cried about being so much emotion trapped in the garb of a clown. That essence is Italian pressed into an essence of plastic come to mean maudlin. Those Pavlovian platters were tear-jerkers sure to make a paesan let his hair and everything else down.”


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Contra Dicta

How is it that I ever stopped going to Nick Piombino's blog? Bad I.

Nick's Contradicta--a winning set of micro-meditations on the interpersonal ethics of making art--condense what was most distinctive about his blog in the days when his good sense and kindness cooled many a flame meme. Nick's aphorisms are more general and abstract now, like pictures from an observation balloon that permit a view of the topography all the blurred little trees occur in below.

Factory School is due to publish a selection of writings from Nick's blog as a book in its Heretical Texts series next year. Nick's committment to blogs as a major force for change in American poetry has always come with a willingness to push the form. He was one of the first bloggers I know of to interleaf his posts with excerpts from old notebooks, carefully chosen to skew the linear sense of time the blog template enforces. (I wonder if the unapologetic "I" that organizes most blogs is a function of the same template feature.)

The new direction of his Contradicta, and the forthcoming "translation" from blog to book, got me thinking about the unique thing that makes blogs blogs, not just online journals. What range of expression can the form accomodate? When does it make sense for a blog to cross over into book (with the risk that runs of making the blog look like a 'pre-book', one step lower on the food chain), and at what point does print kill the shimmer that made blogs so attractive in the first place?

One criticism of books online is that it's a hassle to read for long stretches at a screen. Yet maybe the main feature that distinguishes blogs from books is their length, and beyond that, the potential for endless content. I'll visit two or three dozen different blogs a day without blinking, but give me a "13 printed pages" Jacket essay, or a 20-page PDF of poems, and I'm out.

It's not just the screen, it's the rhythm of reading you get used to online, where there's always an awareness of OTHER INSTANT CONTENT pressing down on you. Hyperlink to this. Check Google for that. See Wikipedia for the history of the Chilean comic book industry referred to on p. 69. Online, the white space talks, like reading Ulysses with James Joyce over your shoulder to annotate the margins in real time.

One consequence is that poetry as it's conventionally read and received doesn't really cut it on blogs. The slower rhythm imposed by the silent page feels wrong on the Web. Nick's thoughtful Contradicta feel to me like they're evoking a page around them, trying to see if you can conjure the condensare of the aphorism online, where content wants to sprawl.

When Pompeii went down, the ash was so fine that it preserved, unbroken and whole, a single egg.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Go East

Catching the red eye east tonight for readings in New York and Providence. Hope you east coast-dwelling modern american types can come.

SAT., NOVEMBER 4, 7 p.m.
with Katie Degentesh
34 Avenue B

with David Trinidad
Tazza Cafe, 250 Westminster
Providence, RI

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Garrulous Ginsberg

Two recent articles on Ginsberg Ron Silliman links to remind me how much the Beat movement was about talking, writing as transcribing of talking, talk itself—that intensely personal and potentially self-absorbed bond–as holy. Kerouac’s transcription of the Cassady tape in Visions of Cody. Ginsberg “acknowledg[ing] every person who approached him on the street,” stopping to explain Whitman on electricity to a student while the Hopkins greybeards wait. Talk vs. prairie/immigrant loneliness.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Stumptown Racers

Sullivan! LRSN! Amanda Davidson! Get your poetic illustratin' derrieres up to Portland next year ...


Friday, October 13, 2006


Big thanks to everyone who came out to the release party for Musee Mechanique last night at Modern Times. True Modern Americans.

One of the best treats of the night was to find this review when I got home (scroll down), from Amazon reviewer #133.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Go North

Dear Modern Americans,

Since I'll be moving to Portland, OR in a few weeks, and since none of us has posted for a while, thought I'd convert "Modern Americans" from a group blog to an unabashed puff piece for Portland, where I hope to convince a lot of Bay Area poets to move. Check in now and then--we'll try to get a Flickr page going too.

In the meantime, a brief announcement:

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 12 @ 7:30 p.m.

Modern Times Bookstore
888 Valencia Street (bet. 19th and 20th)
San Francisco

This'll be my last reading as a Bay Area poet. Hope you can come out!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Rodney Koeneke's Musee Mechanique

Friends, Romans, Countrymen,

I’ve written a book. I've found someone to publish it. It’s for sale here. I hope you'll consider getting it.

Want to look before you leap? Sample wares here or here. Video available here.

Read more about flarf, the controversial poetry movement my book is a part of.

Many thanks for supporting my work!(and special thanks to Gary Sullivan for the cover.)

xo Rodney Koeneke

Class Poem at Cato's

Below is our class poem composed at Cato's in the style of the New York School (you can fill out an online application here). I've titled it, hopefully appropriately, in the whimsey of Ashbery.

"We Came for the Catatoes"

I'm going to go to a San Francisco game on Tuesday.
Rivers and mountains rose golden in color & depressing in form,
Wood worn in fingers and ale-scents of meat --
Once belived you'd never be independent.

Wheel, wheel

wheel, headlight x2, wooden red table
Someone gonna gimme their seat?
Rodney is short and Jeff sober.

Chain links steam inviolable indesolate...
You once fell into something resembling falling,

Monday, May 01, 2006

John Ashbery & Frank O'Hara

Check out the brief bios for John Ashbery (left pic) and Frank O'Hara (right pic).

Given the short timeframe, we will be presenting an overview of John Ashbery and Frank O'Hara in relation to the New York School of poets and doing a close reading of a couple of their works. Be sure to read O'Hara's "Why I am not a Painter" (in your texts) and Asbhery's "The Painter" pasted here:

Listen to Ashbery read stuff.

The Painter

Sitting between the sea and the buildings
He enjoyed painting the sea's portrait.
But just as children imagine a prayer
Is merely silence, he expected his subject
To rush up the sand, and, seizing a brush,
Plaster its own portrait on the canvas.

So there was never any paint on his canvas
Until the people who lived in the buildings
Put him to work: "Try using the brush
As a means to an end. Select, for a portrait,
Something less angry and large, and more subject
To a painter's moods, or, perhaps, to a prayer."

How could he explain to them his prayer
That nature, not art, might usurp the canvas?
He chose his wife for a new subject,
Making her vast, like ruined buildings,
As it forgetting itself, the portrait
Had expressed itself without a brush.

Slightly encouraged, he dipped his brush
In the sea, murmuring a heartfelt prayer:
"My soul, when I paint this next portrait
Let it be you who wrecks the canvas."
The news spread like wildfire through the building'
He had gone back to the sea for his subject.

Imagine a painter crucified by his subject!
Too exhausted even to lift his brush,
He provoked some artists leaning from the buildings
To malicious mirth: "We haven't a prayer
Now, of putting ourselves on canvas,
Or getting the sea to sit for a portrait!"

Others declared it a self-portrait.
Finally all indications of a subject
Began to fade, leaving the canvas
Perfectly white. He put down the brush.
At once a howl, that was also a prayer,
Arose from the overcrowded buildings.

They tossed him, the portrait, from the tallest of the buildings;
And the sea devoured the canvas and the brush
As though his subject had decided to remain a prayer.

- John Ashbery from Some Trees (1956)

Emily & Anna

Sunday, April 30, 2006


Location: Cato's Ale House
3891 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, CA View Map
When: Sunday, May 7, 2:00pm
Our all-volunteer last class/end of semester party is happening at Cato's next Sunday and you're invited. Discuss Ashbery and O'Hara over ale; cantos over catatoes; modernism over margaritas. Hope to see you for at least a little while that afternoon. From c. 2:30 to 3:10 we'll have Anna and Emily lead a discussion on the New York School, the rest of the afternoon is just for fun. Feel free to bring poetry-loving friends, family, or significant others. Try to come--you've earned it!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

As a defense for my exegesis of Spicer's "A Book of Music." I refer you to this site

Though the references here portray crass heterosexual definitions, I think that this poem has underlying homosexual references that enlighten and enliven Spicer's relationship to poetry. To over look the codes in his poems is to ignore the overwhelming sarcasm in his work as well as a tradition of poetry being a medium for "outsider" philosophies and sexualities. This also ties into Duncan's essay "The Homosexual in Society," and his (Duncan's) chastising of these "outsider" codes.

If you are still not convinced after pondering the above link, I direct you to the first line of Spicer's poem, "Coming at an end." Which reads as an allusion to anal sex....

There is a lot of juicy sexuality that did not have a place in the class, yet I feel is integral to Spicer and Duncan and anyone who still reads the blog after class is over may have some interesting rereadings of these poets.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

the duncan and the spicer

hey everyone,

elka and i are geared up and rearing for tuesday, look out...
we'd like you all to pay particular attention to "often i am permitted to return to a meadow" and "poem beginning with a line..." (duncan) and "ballad of the little girl who invented the universe" (spicer)

for those interested in hearing Robert Creeley's lecture on Duncan and Spicer
go here for part 1
here for part 2

go here to hear duncan

(Spicer pending)

here for PDF of Duncan's HD book (rare and fantastic)
here to read an excerpt from Lisa Jarnot's soon-to-be released biography on Duncan

here for fun...

happy reading.

m & e

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Amiri Baraka (1934- )

Here are the Baraka readings for this week:
"Somebody Blew Up America"
"I Will Not Apologize, I Will Not Resign", 10/02/02
"A Conversation with Baraka" (1998)

For the intrepid:
Baraka's website

Biographical & Historical Context

Blues for Allen, Baraka on Ginsberg

Baraka reading "In Walked Bud" (rec. 2005)

Jennifer and Susan, feel free to post any other relevant information, questions, thoughts, rambles, etc. on Baraka as they occur to you. Kerouac & Ginsberg links to come ...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Medium the Message?

From the desk of Lizette:

Just one further note about Creeley’s abbreviated writing style. I see that many folks tended to connect the “shorthand” with the typewriter, or felt that castings such as “sd” and “yr” evoked a typewriter idea. My take on this is different only because traditional shorthand (someone else had raised this inquiry about shorthand), such as the old Gregg style, was written in cursive, frequently in steno or yellow legal pads. When I said that I found this part of Creeley’s work to be nostalgic, part of the nostalgia was that this shorthand was in huge demand during pre-PC, pre-fax days. Of course, one would later transcribe the cursive on a Wheelwriter, IBM Selectric or Smith-Corona typewriter, but the print would not be abbreviated. Only the handwriting would.

So Creeley’s poetry reminds me of handwriting rather than the typewriter. And I still compose stories (not nonfiction or papers, just fiction) in longhand, which is another reason for waxing nostalgic. I don’t know too many colleagues these days who write fiction in notebooks and turn to the computer only at the end of the composition process.

QUESTION FROM RODNEY: Any thoughts from people on how the physical process of writing--longhand, typewriter, computer, etc.--influences your poetics? How does your medium shape your message? Just curious.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Sing Along for Jack, Allen, & Billy.

Since Rodney always has the cool links to contemporary music, I thought I'd try to beat him to it--

There's a 10,000 Maniacs song entitled "Hey Jack Kerouac", which also gives mention to his buddies Allen (Ginsberg) & Billy (William Burroughs, whose most famous book Naked Lunch, is funnier than hell), and to their old San Francisco haunts. I do have the song (though I'll admit I find it a bit irritating). Here's a link to the lyrics.

Of course, there's Kerouac alley, between Chinatown and North Beach:

(I took this picture in November 05 from the Chinatown side).

And word on the street is that Ginsberg used to hang at The Mediterranean, a cafe on Telegraph: Alice in Wonderland on the inside, vagrants with joints and pitbulls on the outside. Apparently he worked on "Howl" there over a cup'o'joe (and, knowing him, probably a joint he bummed from the guys outside).

Concise Creeley

I had another Creeley poem in mind last night, felt a little nerdy for knowing the poem by heart (though my email address is derived from this poem), but couldn't remember the correct line breaks. It seems to sum up some of what we were discussing as projectivist ideals, first of the rush of the moment, the rush of poetic inspiration equated to the muse by Saranique, to the orgasm by Katrina, here to the gong (that silly carnival strong man game) by Creeley; and second, to that crashing into the building, that notion of being a little unrefined in order to retain the passion of the moment, rather than editing it away. Creeley gets at this second notion in that his "method is not a tenderness."

The Carnival

Whereas the man who hits
the gong dis-
proves it, in all its

________________Even so the attempt
makes for triumph, in
another man.

Likewise in love I
am not foolish or in-
competent. My method is not a

tenderness, but hope

(The underline before "Even so..." is my add, to stay true to Creeley's original spacing, b/c the damn blog wouldn't let me indent otherwise)

Diane di Prima's "Rant"

Since we're on the topic of the Beats and although there won't be time to delve into di Prima's work next week, I thought I'd share a poem of hers. She ended her acceptance speech for the Fred Cody Lifetime Achievement Awards, last week with a reading of this, her fine rant.


You cannot write a single line w/out a cosmology
a cosmogony
laid out, before all eyes

there is no part of yourself you can separate out
saying, this is memory, this is sensation
this is the work I care about, this is how I
make a living

it is whole, it is a whole, it always was whole
you do not "make" it so
there is nothing to integrate, you are a presence
you are an appendage of the work, the work stems from
hangs from the heaven you create

every man / every woman carries a firmament inside
& the stars in it are not the stars in the sky

w/out imagination there is no memory
w/out imagination there is no sensation
w/out imagination there is no will, desire

history is a living weapon in yr hand
& you have imagined it, it is thus that you
"find out for yourself"
history is the dream of what can be, it is
the relation between things in a continuum

of imagination
what you find out for yourself is what you select
out of an infinite sea of possibility
no one can inhabit yr world

yet it is not lonely,
the ground of imagination is fearlessness
discourse is video tape of a movie of a shadow play
but the puppets are in yr hand
your counters in a multidimensional chess
which is divination
& strategy

the war that matters is the war against the imagination
all other wars are subsumed in it.

the ultimate famine is the starvation
of the imagination

it is death to be sure, but the undead
seek to inhabit someone else's world

the ultimate claustrophobia is the syllogism
the ultimate claustrophobia is "it all adds up"
nothing adds up & nothing stands in for
anything else



There is no way out of a spiritual battle
There is no way you can avoid taking sides
There is no way you can not have a poetics
no matter what you do: plumber, baker, teacher

you do it in the consciousness of making
or not making yr world
you have a poetics: you step into the world
like a suit of readymade clothes

or you etch in light
your firmament spills into the shape of your room
the shape of the poem, of yr body, of yr loves

A woman's life / a man's life is an allegory

Dig it

There is no way out of the spiritual battle
the war is the war against the imagination
you can't sign up as a conscientious objector

the war of the worlds hangs here, right now, in the balance
it is a war for this world, to keep it
a vale of soul-making

the taste in all our mouths is the taste of power
and it is bitter as death

bring yr self home to yrself, enter the garden
the guy at the gate w/ the flaming sword is yrself

the war is the war for the human imagination
and no one can fight it but you/ & no one can fight it for you

The imagination is not only holy, it is precise
it is not only fierce, it is practical
men die everyday for the lack of it,
it is vast & elegant

intellectus means "light of the mind"
it is not discourse it is not even language
the inner sun

the polis is constellated around the sun
the fire is central

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Typewriter Poets

Since I’m sick tonight (and I’m pretty certain you’ll appreciate my not being with you physically), I wanted to share a few thoughts and links on Olson (right) and Creeley in our virtual classroom.

Three themes really struck me about Olson and Creeley:

Musical analogies: Williams wanted his poetry to capture the musical rhythms of everyday speech, Zukofsky actually composed poetry as music, and with Olson, again, there’s a connection between the linear art of poetry and the rhythms and sounds the words make in our heads. I imagined reading his work to the accompaniment of a typewriter, with that lovely staccato sound – fast, slow, then fast again – that one makes when the typewriter and your thoughts become one. (Well, for me, it’s a keyboard, but I can remember a typewriter’s sounds.)

What made the most impact on me was to combine Olson’s thoughts on poetry as a musical form of composition and his belief that poetry transfers energy from the poet, through the poem, to the reader. Music is also a transfer of energy – the way you tap your foot or join the rhythms of a really great song. The set of poems that really exemplified this concept of poetry as both music and energy, to me, was the La Chute I, II, and III. To me, these seemed to be the music of Modernism. I saw the remains of Pound and H.D. in them (the bases of the trees that were felled), with wonderfully descriptive words that carry their own “sounds” to the reader’s ear – lusty, wrought, pulsations, lute, fallen. There was also just enough repetition for that, too, to create a musical quality to me.

We’ve shared lots of links to poets reading their own works, and I wanted to do likewise with Olson. Here are links to:

A variety of Olson’s recordings, mostly short files (sadly, nothing we read for class, but lots of Maximus!)
A Vancouver 1963 book reading by Olson (very long file – nearly 1.7 megs, or 90 minutes, if you’re interested to download)
Not a sound file, but another blog all about Olson

Post-modern life: The second theme that struck me was how integral the aftermath of World War II is to these two poets. Unlike H.D., who told a story of redemption and rebirth following the destruction of the war, Olson and Creeley seem to express the hopelessness, horror, and senselessness of this War, where America (and the Allies) were on the side of Right, but yet, there was – and we also caused – total and utter destruction. Kingfisher was especially moving to me, and while I’m not sure if my read of it is “right,” what I took away was this sense of post-WWII horror. The sense of having witnessed the absolute worst of humanity, knowing that the price of righteousness was more violence, and just … deep down in your bones … wondering if it was worth it.

with what violence benevolence is bought
what cost in gesture justice brings
what wrongs domestic rights involve
what stalks
this silence

Likewise, and with an altogether different tone but similar theme, Creeley in I Know A Man captures the wonderful societal desire in the 50s to simply cover up the horror that we collectively witnessed with a new Chevrolet. As if living a “normal” life and buying a new car will somehow erase the memories.

… the darkness su-
rrounds us …
… why not, buy a goddamn big car.
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.

How beautifully put: Look out where you’re going. Very 50s, and it almost seems that this poem couldn’t have been written at any other time in history BUT the 50s.

The eternal now: Lastly, commenting on Olson and Creeley’s letters, it seemed to me that Olson was talking about breaking through the myth of time to the eternal “now.” That history teaches us, that it illuminates the present, and that, ultimately, time is just a fabric that folds back over itself – and there is no moment but now, with history co-existing at the same time.

Plus, I just love the mental picture of Ezra with a beak.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

In Cold Hell, In Thicket

In Cold Hell, in Thicket

In cold hell, in thicket, how
abstract (as high mind, as not lust, as love is) how
strong (as strut or wing, as polytope, as things are
constellated) how
strung, how cold
can a man stay (can men) confronted

All things are made bitter, words even
are made to taste like paper, wars get tossed up
like lead soldiers used to be
(in a child's attic) lined up
to be knocked down, as I am,
by firings from a spit-hardened fort, fronted
as we are, here, from where we must go

God, that man, as his acts must, as there is always
a thing he can do, he can raise himself, he raises
on a reed he raises his

Or, if it is me, what
he has to say


What has he to say?
In hell it is not easy
to know the traceries, the markings
(the canals, the pits, the mountings by which space
declares herself, arched, as she is, the sister,
awkward stars drawn for teats to pleasure him, the brother
who lies in stasis under her, at ease as any monarch or
a happy man

How shall he who is not happy, who has been so made unclear,
who is no longer privileged to be at ease, who, in this brush, stands
reluctant, imageless, unpleasured, caught in a sort of hell, how
shall he convert this underbrush, how turn this unbidden place
how trace and arch again
the necessary goddess?


The branches made against the sky are not of use, are
already done, like snow-flakes, do not, cannot service
him who has to raise (Who puts this on, ths damning of his flesh?)
he can, but how far, how sufficiently far can he raise the thickets of
this wilderness?

How can he change, his question is
these black and silvered knivings, these

How can he make these blood-points into panels, into sides
for a king's for his own
for a wagon, for a sleigh, for the beak of, the running sides of
a vessel fit for

How can he make out, he asks,
of this low eye-view,

And archings traced and picked enough to hold
to stay, as she does, as he, the brother, when,
here where the mud is, he is frozen, not daring
where the grass grows, to move his feet from fear
he'll trespass on his own dissolving bones, here
where there is altogether too much remembrance?


The question, the fear he raises up himself against
(against the same each act is proffered, under the eyes
each fix, the town of the earth over, is managed) is: Who
am I?

Who am I but by a fix, and another,
a particle, and the congery of particles carefully picked one by another,

as in this thicket, each
smallest branch, plant, fern, root
---roots lie, on the surface, as nerves laid open---
must now (the bitterness of the taste of her) be
isolated, observed, picked over, measured, raised
as though a word, an accuracy were a pincer!

is the abstract, this
is the cold doing, this
is the almost impossible

So shall you blame those
who give it up, those who say
it isn't worth the struggle?

Or a death as going over to--shot by yr own forces--to
a greener place?


any longer

By fixes only (not even any more by shamans)
can the traceries
be brought out


ya, selva oscura, but hell now
is not exterior, is not to be got out of, is
the coat of your own self, the beasts
emblazoned on you And who
can turn this total thing, invert
and let the ragged sleeves be seen
by any bitch or common character? Who
can endure it where it is, where the beasts are met,
where yourself is, your beloved is, where she
who is separate from you, is not separate, is not
goddess, is, as your core is,
the making of one hell

where she moves off, where she is
no longer arch

(this is why he of whom we speak does not move, why
he stands so awkward where he is, why
his feet are held, like some ragged crane's
off the nearest next ground, even from
the beauty of the rotting fern his eye
knows, as he looks down, as,
in utmost pain if cold can be so called,
he looks around this battlefield, this
rotted place where men did die, where boys
and immigrants have fallen, where nature
(the years that she's took over)
does not matter, where

that men killed, do kill, that woman kills
is part, too, of his question


That it is simple, what the difference is---
that a man, men, are now their own wood
and thus their own hell and paradise
that they are, in hell or in happiness, merely
something to be wrought, to be shaped, to be carved, for use, for

does not in the least lessen his, this unhappy man's
obscurities, his

He shall step, he
will shape, he
is already also
moving off

into the soil, on to his own bones

he will cross

(there is always a field,
for the strong there is always
an alternative)

But a field

is not a choice, is
as dangerous as a prayer, as a death, as any
misleading, lady

He will cross

And is bound to enter (as she is)
a later wilderness.

what he does here, what he raises up
(he must, the stakes are such

this at least

is a certainty, this
is a law, is not one of the questions, this
is what was talked of as
---what was it called, demand?)

He will do what he now does, as she will, do
carefully, do
without wavering,

as even the branches,
even in this dark place, the twigs

even the brow
of what was once to him a beautiful face

as even the snow-flakes waver in the light's eye

as even forever wavers (gutters
in the wind of loss)

even as he will forever waver

precise as hell is, precise
as any words, or wagon,
can be made

---Charles Olson (1950)

The Kingfishers

The Kingfishers


What does not change / is the will to change

He woke, fully clothed, in his bed. He
remembered only one thing, the birds, how
when he came in, he had gone around the rooms
and got them back in their cage, the green one first,
she with the bad leg, and then the blue,
the one they had hoped was a male

Otherwise? Yes, Fernand, who had talked lispingly of Albers & Angkor Vat.
He had left the party without a word. How he got up, got into his coat,
I do not know. When I saw him, he was at the door, but it did not moatter,
he was already sliding along the wall of the night, losing himself
in some crack of the ruins. That it should have been he who said, "The kingfishers!
who cares
for their feathers

His last words had been, "The pool is slime." Suddenly everyone,
ceasing their talk, sat in a row around him, watched
they did not so much hear, or pay attention, they
wondered and looked at each other, smirked, but listened,
he repeated and repeated, could not go beyond his thought
"The pool the kingfishers' feathers were wealth why
did the export stop?"

It was then he left.


I thought of the E on the stone, and of what Mao said
la lumiere"
but the kingfisher
"de l'aurore"
but the kingfisher flew west
est devant nous!
he got the color of his breast
from the heat of the setting sun!

The features are, the feebleness of the feet (syndactylism of the 3rd & 4th digit)
the bill, serrated, sometimes a pronounced beak, the wings
where the color is, short and round, the tail

But not these things were the factors. Not the birds.
The legends are
legends. Dead, hung up indoors, the kingfisher
will not indicate a favoring wind,
or avert the thunderbolt. Nor, by its nesting,
still the waters, with the new year, for seven days.
It is true, it does nest with the opening year, but not on the waters.
It nests at the end of a tunnel bored by itself in a bank. There,
six or eight white and translucent eggs are laid, on fishbones
not on bare clay, on bones thrown up in pellets by the birds.

On these rejectamenta
(as they accumulate they form a cup-shaped structure) the young are born.
And, as they are fed and grow, this nest of excrement and decayed fish becomes
a dripping, fetid mass

Mao concluded:
nous devons

nous lever

et agir!


When the attentions change / the jungle
leaps in
even the stones are split
they rive

that other conqueror we more naturally recognize
he so resembles ourselves

But the E
cut so rudely on that oldest stone
sounded otherwise,
was differently heard

as, in another time, were treasures used:

(and later, much later, a fine ear thought
a scarlet coat)

"of green feathers feet, beaks and eyes
of gold

"animals likewise,
resembling snails

"a large wheel, gold, with figures of unknon four-foots,
and worked with tufts of leaves, weight
3, 800 ounces

"last, two birds, of thread and featherwork, the quills
gold, the feet
gold, the two birds perched on two reeds

gold, the reeds arising from two embroidered mounds,
one yellow, the other

"And from each reed hung
seven feathered tassels.

In this instance, the priests
(in dark cotton robes, and dirty,
their dishevelled hari matted with blood, and flowing wildly
over their shoulders)
rush in among the people, calling on them
to protect their gods

And all now is war
where so lately there was peace,
and the sweet brotherhood, the use
of tilled fields.


Not one death but many,
not accumulation but change, the feed-back proves, the feed-back is
the law

Into the same river no man steps twice
When fire dies air dies
No one remains, nor is, one

Around an appearance, one common model, we grow up
many. Else how is it,
if we remain the same,
we take pleasure now
in what we did not take pleasure before? love
contrary objects? admire and/or find fault? use
other words, feel other passions, have
nor figure, appearance, dispositin, tissue
the same?
To be in different states without a change
is not a possibility

We can be precise. The factors are
in the animal and/or machine the factors are
communication and/or control, both involve
the message. And what is the message? The message is
a discrete or continuous sequence of measurable events distributed in time

is the birth of air, is
the birth of water, is
a state between
the origin and
the end, between
birth and the beginning of
another fetid nest

is change, presents
no more than itself

And the too strong grasping of it,
when it is pressed together and condensed,
loses it

This very thing you are


They buried their dead in a sitting posture
serpent cane razor ray of the sun

And she sprinkled water on the head of the child, crying
"Cioa-coatl! Cioa-coatl!"
with her face to the west

Where the bones are found, in each personal heap
with what each enjoyed, there is always
the Mongolian louse

The light is in the east. Yes. And we must rise, act. Yet
in the west, despite the apparent darkness (the whiteness
which covers all), if you look, if you can bear, if you can, long enough

as long as it was necessary for him, my guide
to look into the yellow of that longest-lasting rose

so you must, and, in that whiteness, into that face, with what candor, look

and, considering the dryness of the place
the long absence of an adequate race

(of the two who came first, each a conquistador, one healed, the other
tore the eastern idols down, toppled
the temple walls, which, says the excuser
were black from human gore)

hear, where the dry blood talks
where the old appetite walks

la piu saportia et migliore
che si possa truovar al mondo

where it hides, look
in the eye how it runs
in the flesh / chalk

but under these petals
in the emptiness
regard the light, contemplate
the flower
whence it arose

with what violence benevolence is bought
what cost in gesture justice brings
what wrongs domestic rights involve
what stalks
this silence

what pudor pejorocracy affonts
how awe, night-rest and neighborhood can rot
what breeds where dirtiness is law
what crawls


I am no Greek, hath not th'advantage.
And of course, no Roman:
he can take no risk that matters,
the risk of beauty least of all.

But I have my kin, if for no other reason than
(as he said, next of kin) I commit myself, and,
given my freedom, I'd be a cad
if I didn't. Which is most true.

It works out this way, despite the disadvantage.
I offer, in explanation, a quote:
si j'ai du gout, ce n'est gueres
que pour la terre et les pierres.

Despite the discrepancy (an ocean courage age)
this is also true: if I have any taste

it is only because I have interested myself
in what was slain in the sun

I pose yur question:

shall you uncover your honey / where maggots are?

I hunt among stones

La Chute III

La Chute III

The mother, the pleasure. To return is
to advance, to ravin, to hunt
is more than the beginning, to enter
is more than the womb

the hell
is the present descent, the hell
is the guilty present, the descent
is not to the past, the descent is
the pursuit, the desire and the door

For the door is the second birth
the crime none no longer dare
not the advance by the womb of the mother
the advance by the mother's hair

La Chute II

La Chute II

If you would go down to the dead
to retrieve my drum and lute
a word for you, take my word
I offer you directions

Do not wear a clean garment
they below will dirty you
they will mark you
as if you were a stranger

Nor rub yourself with oil
the finest oil from the cruse.
The smell of it will provoke them
they will walk round and round
alongside you

Carry no stick. At least
do not raise it,
or the shades of men will tremble,
will hover before you

Pick up nothing to throw, no matter the urging.
They against whom you hurl it will crowd you,
will fly thick on you.

Go barefoot. Make no sound.
And when you meet the wife you loved
do not kiss her
nor strike the wife you hated.
Likewise your sons. Give the beloved one no kiss,
do not spit on his brother

Behave, lest the outcry shall seize you
seize you for what you have done
for her who, there, lies naked
the mother
whose body in that place is uncovered
whose breasts lie open to you and the judges

in that place
where my drum and lute are

La Chute

This and the next two posts show Charles Olson (1910-1970) in 1949 working through three takes on similar themes: the mythic foundations underpinning our everyday reality; the musical legacy of Modernism (form as rhythm, "my drum"); and the meaning (or meaninglessness?) of civilization in "the guilty present," in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

Like the Objectivists, his interests look backward to the high Modernism of figures like Pound, Eliot, Williams, and H.D. (the interest in periplum, the world from where I stand, a map made while moving; myth as reality's fundamental armature; form as an aspect of content rather than a tidy, predetermined metrical shape; history as "simultaneously present, i.e. the ancient as something available for use, not something we've progressed beyond, like H.D.'s use of myth to understand WW II; the poem and page as a field of action, etc.); but also point forward to whatever that something after Modernism (literally Post-Modern) will be. What sense of that "something" do you get from these poems?

La Chute

my drum, hollowed out thru the thin slit,
carved from the cedar wood, the base I took
when the tree was felled

o my lute, wrought from the tree's crown

my drum, whose lustiness
was not to be resisted

my lute,
from whose pulsations
not one could turn away

are where the dead are, my drum fell
where the dead are, who
will bring it up, my lute
who will bring it up where it fell in the face of them
where they are, where my lute and drum have fallen?

--Charles Olson (1910-1970), May 1949

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Northern California Book Awards

Hi everyone,

Yesterday evening I attended the Northern California Book Awards sponsored by Poetry Flash. It was exciting. Like the Oscars of Nor Cal literature.

Brian Turner's book Here, Bullet won for best book of poetry. The poems are based on some of his combat experiences and he read a few of them.

The most exciting part of the night for me was hearing Diane diPrima speak and read. She was honored with the Fred Cody (of our very own Cody's bookstore) Lifetime Achievement Award. The audience gave her a standing o, and she was witty and moving. Spoke of some of her own heroes and friends like Ezra Pound, "Larry" Ferlinghetti, and Audre Lorde. The poem she read was "Rant."

I would have posted about this event beforehand, but found out about it at the last minute. Keep an eye out for these awards next year. It's a free event, and pretty fun. Lots of books for sale and authors sign them too.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Audible Oppen

Here's the link to the Oppen reading that I promised. 20 minutes of the entire Of Being Numerous. It's really a great book. Listen.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Zukofsky and Oppen

Did anyone see a similarity between Zukofsky’s A-2 and H.D.’s “Sea Garden?” After reading the poem, I was able to draw a somewhat unexpected parallel (maybe it was abstract) between some of his imagery and language in this poem and several of the floral/fauna images H.D. uses in her work. The fourth stanza read so musically and I loved the lines: “The music is in the flower / Leaf around leaf ranged around the center; / Profuse but clear outer leaf breaking on space / There is space to step to the central heart” (7). I found A-2 to be the most musical of his poems; the others seemed a bit more controlled, so that spontaneous quality was subdued. I also really liked Oppen’s “Of Being Numerous.” It read like a wonderful reflection on so many interesting possibilities, and at times, it seemed to take off in many tangents (corporate vs. spontaneous, emotion vs. intellect, the pulse of the metropolis). I suppose all of those possibilities are reflected as tangential offshoots of the title – numerous options in a varied world.

Ezra in Pictures

Slightly off topic, since we're meant to be thinking about Objectivists, but, here again, all roads seem to lead to Ezra Pound. Which had me wondering what Pound looked like. Many of you may have already seen loads of pictures of Pound, so apologies if the following images are commonplace. I found Pound to look suitably crazy! Following are pics of a young Pound, an old Pound, and Pound being arrested in 1945 by Italian separatists (classic "booking" photo!).

Sunday, April 02, 2006

[B] 1 0 [G]

To help yr reading (a preface to nonsense):

From Listening to Reading by Stephen Ratcliffe:

“the sound of a poem’s words and their visual shape on the page are interconnected: that the sounds of words is, literally, an acoustic shape (the shape of words in air), their shape literally a visual sound (letters waiting to become sound)”

“What happens when the words of a poem are put into the air by a voice or voices intoning syllables at certain precisely measured pitches held certain precisely indicated durations? And how is it that when the words of a poem are sung the result in its effect is more than either of its constituent components, its words, its music?”

“The music makes adjustment to our perception of text, what we think we hear when we read those words.”


Please leave yr inhibitions at home on Tuesday (for a variety of both legal & not-so-legal methods to this effect feel free to contact me)

Yeder mensch hot zeiner aigeneh meshugahss … er bolbet narishkeiten.

Pop quiz: who #@$**^ -- or hangs to the left???

Really... Jeff and I aren't going to spend much time on bios this week since you can just as easily do that on your own. And check it out, juicy...

But--here is a pic of Oppen, that little rich boy, just because he looks so all-American football playerish its funny:

And, yes, we're serious. You must bring your instruments, of any sort, out of tune or not, whether you know how to play them "properly" or not. If you don't bring one you may be forced to play a baby piano or a maraca shaped liked a bumble bee. Or worse, you may have to make embarrassing noises with your mouth, or sing.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


How many people in class play a musical instrument? Seriously. If there are enough 'yes' answers this will make sense ...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Lorine, Lorine, the Thirties Machine

San Francisco's own Rumor Books, edited by Steve Dickison from the SFSU Poetry Center, recently published Niedecker's New Goose poems, a series she wrote from 1935 to 1945 based loosely on nursery rhymes, but filled with all sorts of sharp political and social comment.

The first poem in the series strikes me as a great illustration of that shift in tone that comes with the Thirties, modernist wineskins for socialist wine. Kind of takes as its subject too Williams's idea about the intimate connection between speech forms and social structures. What do you think?

A country's economics sick
affects its people's speech.

No bread and cheese and strawberries
I have no pay, they say.

Till in revolution rises
the strength to change

the undigestible phrase.

Nice essay on Niedecker for the interested here.


That’s the one date you need to remember for next week’s poets, the Objectivists. It was the Feb. 1931 issue of Poetry (maybe the last memorable one??) that contained Zukofsky’s selection of poems by George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff and Carl Rakosi, among others, under the title ‘Objectivists 1931.’ All the poets were relatively young and virtually unknown. Pound (again!) had arranged for Zukofsky to edit the issue (Zukofsky had begun writing Pound soon after his graduation from Columbia), and editor Harriet Monroe insisted on a name for the group, which Zukofsky coined almost as a joke. Lorine
Niedecker somehow got the issue in Wisconsin and began corresponding with Zukofsky, from which all sorts of goodness and trouble flowed.

So … Feb. 1931.

Then they promptly fell into silence or neglect until the 1960s, when they got a second life. (Oppen and Rakosi spent their last decades here in San Francisco.)

So … hang in there.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Geek Alert

KQED Channel 9 is showing a documentary on Eugene O'Neill tonight at 10 p.m. It's by Ken Burns's brother Ric, which makes me kind of nervous. But O'Neill's so right smack dab in the middle of the revolution in words we're studying this term--b. 1888; debut play staged in Greenwich Village in 1916; comes to first fame in the heady experimentalism of the 1920s--that it'd have to be in Esperanto or something not to be worthwhile. And maybe even then ...

In 1937, O'Neill moved to Danville, CA of all places, and his house there--Tao House--is now a National Historic Site. Anyone been?

Friday, March 24, 2006

WCW on Mina Loy

"Mina was very English, very skittish, an evasive, long-limbed woman too smart to involve herself, after a first disastrous marriage, with any of us--though she was friendly and had written some attractive verse. I remember her comment on one of [Alfred] Kreymborg's books, Mushrooms--something to the effect that you couldn't expect a woman to take a couch full merely of pink and blue cushions too seriously. But when the Provincetown Players [best remembered for their association with the plays of Eugene O'Neill] has accepted Kreymborg's play, Mina had consented to take the lead. I was to play opposite her."

Which he did, convincing many on the Greenwich Village scene who saw it that he was half in love with Loy.

WCW on Marianne Moore

From WCW, Spring and All (1923):

"...I believe in the main that Marianne Moore is of all American writers most constantly a poet--not because her lines are invariably full of imagery they are not, they are often diagrammatically informative, and not because she clips her work into certain shapes--her pieces are without meter most often--but I believe she is most constantly a poet in her work because the purpose of her work is invariably from the source from which poetry starts--that it is constantly from the purpose of poetry. And that it actually possesses this characteristic, as of that origin, to a more distinguishable degree when it eschews verse rhythms than when it does not. It has the purpose of poetry written into it and therefore it is poetry."

From The Autobiography (1951):

"Marianne Moore, like a rafter holding up the superstructure of our uncompleted building, a caryatid, her red hair plaited and wound twice about the fine skull, though she was surely one of the main supports of the new order, was no luckier than the rest of us. One night (Mina Loy was there also) we all met at some Dutch-treat party in a cheap restaurant on West Fifteenth Street or thereabouts. There must have been twenty of us. Marianne, with her sidelong laugh and shake of the head, quite childlike and overt, was in awed admiration of Mina's long-legged charms. Such things were in our best tradition. Marianne was our saint--if we had one--in whom we all instinctively felt our purpose come together to form a stream. Everyone loved her."

WCW on H.D.

WCW remembering a turn-of-the-century afternoon walk with H.D., when she was still Hilda Doolittle and Pound and WCW were undergraduates at Penn:

"As we went went along--talking of what?--I could see that we were in for a storm and suggested that we turn back.


She asked me if when I started to write I had to have my desk neat and everything in its place, if I had to prepare the paraphernalia, or if I just sat down and wrote.

I said I liked to have things neat.

Ha, ha!

She said that when she wrote it was a great help, she thought and practised it, if taking some ink on her pen, she'd splash it on her clothes to give her a feeling of freedom and indifference toward the mere means of the writing.

Well--if you like it.

There were some thunderclaps to the west and I could see that it really was going to rain damned soon and hard. We were at the brink of a grassy pasture facing west, quite in the open, and the wind preceding the storm was in our faces. Of course, it was her party and I went along with her.

Instead of running or even walking toward a tree Hilda sat down in the grass at the edge of a hill and let it come.

"Come, beautiful rain," she said, holding out her arms. "Beautiful rain, welcome."

And I behind her not inclined to join in her mood. And let me tell you it rained, plenty. It didn't improve her beauty or my opinion of her--but I had to admire her if that's what she wanted."

--from The Autobiography (1951)


from WCW, The Autobiography (1951):

"These were the years [Greenwich Village in the Teens] just before the great catastrophe to our letters--the appearance of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. There was heat in us, a core and a drive that was gathering headway upon the theme of a rediscovery of a primary impetus, the elementary principle of all art, in the local conditions. Our work staggered to a halt for a moment under the blast of Eliot's genius which gave the poem back to the academics. We did not know how to answer him."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Williams on Pound, The Rematch

I found a really tiny image of Pound and Williams standing next to each other in old age that I was going to include here. But you couldn't really see it so why slow down the load time? Insert [Poignant Image(tm)] here.

Here's an excerpt about Pound from Williams's sequence “A Folded Skyscraper” (1927):

“…thinking of Ezra Pound, our greatest and rightest poet, how excellent he is in his self-deception—opposed with a laugh to my fervent, my fierce, anger to have a country—speaking of his work, deriding me, saying that in the end his artificial pearl will be longer to last than anything I have made with all my striving—writing the greatest American poems today, his pearl-like cantos, so purely American—his self-deception, thinking how right he is in his self-deception that he had found poetry in the quattro cento in Dante, in them all of those old countries—when as a fact he had found poetry—how right he is a United States poet—when he thinks he has found poetry in the Renaissance, in his self-deception—for he HAS found poetry, an artificial pearly Pound, exile,--he has welded his material, he has what he has discovered, he has taken what there at least is—driven from my country that I strive so wildly to possess, he has taken the false, the make shift—the thing that they have here—made him take—not the thing I want, but the thing I want.—it is poetry, it is United States poetry—but he is deceived in thinking the medieval is the poetry, he is the making of the poetry, it is artificial pearly poetry because it is driven from being MY poetry—still I am right and still he is righter than I and still what I see exists and still he is right in doing poetry out of what is left—and still he is self-deceived—thinking of these things.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Williams on Pound

I don’t know what to do with myself without our class meeting tonight. Thought I’d fill up the time by posting some of William Carlos Williams’s reflections on his contemporaries. They’re helpful for locating him in his world, but they’re also just fun and kind of gossipy—perfect for spring break!

From WCW’s autobiography, called (um) The Autobiography (1951), remembering Pound as an undergrad at Penn:

“Ezra never explained or joked about his writing as I might have done, but was always cryptic, unwavering and serious in his attitude toward it. He joked, crudely, about anything but that. I was fascinated by the man. He was the liveliest, most intelligent and unexplainable thing I’d ever seen, and the most fun—except for his often painful self-consciousness and his coughing laugh. As an occasional companion over the years he was delightful, but one did not want to see him often or for any length of time. Usually I got fed to the gills with him after a few days. He, too, with me, I have no doubt.”

“I could never take him as a steady diet. Never. He was often brilliant but an ass. But I never (so long as I kept him away) got tired of him, or, for a fact, ceased to love him. He had to be loved, even if he kicked you in the teeth for it (but that he never did); he looked as if he might, but he was, at heart, much too gentle, much too good a friend for that. And he had, at bottom, an inexhaustible patience, an infinite depth of human imagination and sympathy. Vicious, catty at times, neglectful, if he trusted you not to mind, but warm and devoted—funny too, as I have said. We hunted, to some extent at least, together, and not each other.”