Wednesday, February 28, 2007

See My Friends

Wilde on Shaw: "Mr. Bernard Shaw has no enemies but is intensely disliked by all his friends."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dept. of the Unsung

Does anyone know of a study, or poetic project, that looks at some of the extraordinary modern(ist) women who set their lives, like parentheses, inside the sentence of their more public partners? I'm wondering about some of the parallels between them. I was thinking especially of:

Georgie Hyde-Lees ('George Yeats'): linguist, bohemian spiritualist, and inventor of the 'automatic script' that sparked Yeats's late poems.

Dorothea Richards: journalist and renowned climber of mountains, married to I.A..

Alice Toklas: best known of the bunch thanks to proxy autobiography and cookbook, and Stein's much more generous mentions of her.

Olga Rudge: internationally famous concert violinist who gradually disappeared herself into the Pound ménage. (Dorothy Shakespear would be a good candidate too.)

That's off the top of my head. Who else?

These were all (maybe Alice least so?) remarkably accomplished women who also had control of the literary estate for many years after their partners died (except for Dorothea, who didn’t outlive I.A. by all that much). So their parentheses don’t really close until long after their Modernist dies, which kind of screws up the metaphor but adds to the interest: Why not start right there, the lives of George, Dorothea, Alice, Olga and Dorothy just after Yeats, Richards, Stein, and Pound have died?

LATE ADD: Ada Russell, who gave up the Broadway footlights for Amy Lowell.

Monday, February 26, 2007

High Lonesome

If I did have one of those Star Trek transporter things, it'd be set tonight for the Poetry Project, where Julian T. Brolaski's reading with Tao Lin. Julian's one of my earliest poet friends; our leaving the Bay at around the same time made me feel a little less bad about moving.

Julian's work blends studies in medieval rhyme, high lonesome ballads, and a fearless vernacular insouciance as if it were the most natural thing in the world for those elements to go together, in poetry or anywhere else. I don't know anyone doing anything quite like it. Plus if you go there might be yodelling.

Fuck Me Harder Sonnet 2

Fuck me harder, leave the haters behind
As you know I am a slut for leisure
Arrest me on the mountain top’s incline
For I’ve klepted when I ought to please your
Neglected epic skin, and pull your hair.
When the ladies call my pigtails prairie
Step in, honey, and set the gender fair
Put me in a suit and call me Mary,
Transcoping this girl’s grist or that girl’s scope.
Holy monogram, how you like to tease,
Tender cufflink, I’m hurting for the grope
That sets my alpha at its churlish ease.
So strap me to the bed and knife my garter
Until I’m screaming baby fuck me harder.

--Julian T. Brolaski

Friday, February 23, 2007


1. Meeting Buck Downs, Michael Ball, Justin Sirois, Jamie Gaughran-Perez, Chris Toll, Kaplan Harris, Ryan Walker, and (too briefly) Cathy Eisenhower in exactly that order. This devoted crew endured both nights and half of them volunteered for the orchestra. “Love ya.”

2. Being given two free Narrow House CDs (Garrett Caples's and Women in the Avant Garde); a split Chris Toll/Buck Downs collection; and a hot-off-the-presses copy of Mike Magee’s gorgeously designed My Angie Dickinson.

3. Mel Nichols’s Valentines plushy puppet, “Love Ya,” singing Stevie Wonder and instantly assuming creepy weekend mascot status.

4. Playing a toy xylophone and kiddy-sized tambourine with Lesley in Drew's FlarfOrchestra.

5. Hearing Rod Smith do a Louis Armstrong and a Bob Dylan voice in the same six minutes.

6. Finding a full-length cashmere coat at a Goodwill inside a renovated church near Baltimore’s Greek Town on a half-price sale day: $7.50. (NB: Lesley did the finding.)

7. Staying in a D.C. hotel with a 7/8ths-scale statue of Marilyn Monroe in “skirt vent” pose in the center of the lobby for no discernible reason.

8. Half-priced hotel burgers in said hotel with Katie and Drew.

9. Drinking in a dungeon-themed bar two doors up from “Madam’s Organ” in Adams Morgan before and after the D.C. reading.

10. Being with Lesley for four days straight with the 3-year-old 3,000 miles away.

1. Not getting a chance to meet poets who came but aren’t in 1. above.

2. Losing freshly roasted Sharon Mesmer in Baltimore. ☹

3. Missing “Dark” Brandon Downing altogether, who had to stay in NYC while his ‘filmis’ did all the work of wowing for him.

4. Failing to get good picture of astonishing gilt Fascist-chic Mormon temple rising from the trees on the way to D.C. from Baltimore.

5. Failing to visit Poe’s grave (cashmere comes first).

6. Neglecting to order Bloody Mary at breakfast in Baltimore.

7. Waving goodbye to Nada and Gary as they sped away in a black SUV through a snap D.C. snowstorm.

8. Having to follow Gary, who was “on”, in the reading lineup on Sunday.

9. Failing to get a commitment from anyone to come to Portland before 2008.

10. Being 3,000 miles away from the 3-year-old for four days straight.

Pictures here (Nada’s), here (Mel’s) and here (Kaplan’s), plus Gary’s write up here.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Père et fils

Caught Close Encounters on the hotel TV in Baltimore. It scared the bejeesus out of me as a kid, coming as it did in the thick of that late-‘70s “aliens are among us and the government doesn’t want you to know” fad, a weird confluence of blissed-out New Age hopefulness and countercultural post-Watergate conspiracy angst that must’ve been great fun for anyone coming down off the ‘60s, but was no picnic believe me for the under-10 set at the monsters-in-the-closet stage.

This time around, it struck me as kind of dull except as an artifact of the zeitgeist. In a lot of ways it feels like a bridge to the Reagan era. The WWII flyboys are virile heroes; the appliances threaten, but finally comply; the anonymous government scientists whose chatter through headsets and PA systems makes up the film’s backbeat are competent, sensitive, and ultimately benign. Even the Army’s cover-up (fake gas masks, dead livestock scattered like sacrifices at the foot of Mt. Sinai) turns out to be necessary and vaguely humane. This being Spielberg, the focus is on the family—the climactic moment of contact, the greatest event in human history, ratchets down to a little boy reuniting with his mom and an absentee father surrounded by child-sized aliens entering the mother ship.

What I’d missed as a kid though, and didn’t catch here until halfway through, is the bizarre presence of François Truffaut in the role of “Claude Lacombe,” a U.N. scientist combing the globe for alien-induced phenomena without managing to pick up enough English to dispense with his nebbish translator, hirsute Richard Dreyfuss-lookalike Bob Balaban. It’s hard not to see Balaban as a projection of Spielberg himself, playing American “translator” to a great director who really doesn’t need one. But Balaban’s resemblance to Dreyfuss suggests Dreyfuss too—the child-like father incapable of raising his kids, holding down a job, or feeling entirely at home in the decidedly goyish world of Muncie, Indiana—as a Spielberg stand-in. The real close encounter in the movie, as I saw it this time, is the one between Spielberg and Truffaut, as the young director works out his insecurities and artistic identity under the amused eye of the older alien filmmaker. Just as Dreyfuss finds his mountain, Spielberg finds his mojo: for some obtuse reason the aliens choose him, not Truffaut, as earth’s ambassador to the stars, or maybe just to the Cineplex, which the set for the final scene uncannily resembles, right down to the jumbo screen. Either way, Truffaut’s a mensch about it, tapping Dreyfuss just before he embarks to say with a wry smile: “Mr. Neary, I envy you.”

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Go East (3)

I’ll be gone for a few days for the events below. If you’re local to DC or Baltimore, hope to see you there. Back deep next week.

i.e. reading series
The Flarflist Collective, with Katie Degentesh, Drew Gardner, Nada Gordon, Rodney Koeneke, Michael Magee, Sharon Mesmer, Mel Nichols, Rod Smith & Gary Sullivan
Dionysus Restaurant & Lounge, 8 E. Preston Street
Baltimore, MD

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 3:00 p.m.
@ District of Columbia Arts Center
The Flarflist Collective! with Katie Degentesh, Drew Gardner, Nada Gordon, Rodney Koeneke, Michael Magee, Mel Nichols, Rod Smith & Gary Sullivan

Plus: Film by Brandon Downing

Plus: FlarfOrchestra conducted by Drew Gardner
featuring Flarf Collective members & Brain Wave Chick

2438 18th Street NW in Adams Morgan
Washington, DC

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Come Glitter

Lesley's last project (as in 'Alan Parsons') before we left San Francisco was Come On Come On, but she's just put up a MySpace page for Glitter Mini 9 too. Both kick equal though different parts of the ass. Lesley you're amazing I love you.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Extreme Portland

Bumper sticker spotted today (second time) in Southeast:


Monday, February 12, 2007

Are You Experienced?

The Clayton Eshleman experience moved through Portland last week, leaving the Complete Vallejo and his new An Alchemist with One Eye on Fire in its wake. I caught the ‘Eshleman only’ portion of the tour at Powell’s, Vallejo being saved for a local university the next day.

It’s hard to hear Eshleman read without thinking of the remarkable acts of stewardship he’s devoted his writing life to: translating Vallejo on the one hand, explicating Lascaux on the other, with Caterpillar and Sulfur thrown in for good measure. There’s a pervading sense of the ‘long view’ in his writing, both in the subjects it takes on and in the notable lack of ego that seems fundamental to the voice at work in his poems. The new pieces he read at Powell’s, where “Dionysius is here, but so is John Ashcroft,” point to the ‘deep present’ he seems to write from, where the individual consciousness of the poet as it ripples through language is at once infinitesimally small and a part of the ‘big tradition’—the “back wall” of the human artistic impulse—that includes everything from the Upper Paleolithic to Presbyterian Indiana. (Lindsay Hill mentioned Eshleman’s urge “to find and face the back wall” in his poems in his deft introduction.)

What I think I value most in Eshleman’s writing is the way it insists on finding a new perspective—really, a new subjectivity—to accommodate all the global information that’s been pouring into the Anglophone since at least J.G. Frazer. Hearing him read, I’m reminded how modern our current version of antiquity really is, Sumer and Sutton Hoo, Mycenae and Tutankhamen, turned up by all those earnest imperial shovels in just the last hundred-plus years. Eshleman’s poetry is an experiment in what it would feel like to experience our current moment within that expanded context; Isis and Iraq, Cheney and Persephone, considered as part of the same “spacious cave of the dream” that is also the sum of all hominoid creative activity on the planet so far.

I can’t always enter into Eshleman’s poems in the way I’d like to—too much of the lithic and cosmic, too little bounce and distortion for my own poetic strike zone. But I recognize in his reach something cognate with the radical stretching of normative U.S. consciousness to fit global conditions you find in the work of Judith Goldman, Rodrigo Toscano, Jules Boykoff, or Laura Elrick; or, in a different vein, in the ‘othering’ encounters Gary Sullivan tackles so brilliantly in Elsewhere. Poetry understood not as self-expression, but as a way to “open a space for a nascent self” that’s continually being reshaped in the face of incoming planetary news.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Panic Picnic

I'll be reading with Radish King and Susan Landers this Sunday in Portland. If you're anywhere nearby, hope you'll think to come. Details here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Another World Is Possible

Matthew Stadler and Rob Halpern read for Tangent this weekend at the Clinton Corner Café, packed & warm & close & dark & Dutch. Until this Saturday, I knew Matthew Stadler mostly through his work at Clear Cut Press, which produces those beautifully designed and printed “pocket” editions of books like Robert Glück’s Denny Smith and Lisa Robertson’s Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture that call to mind the brainy glamour Edward Gorey brought to Anchor. (Stadler’s interview in the new Tarpaulin Sky explains Clear Cut’s alternative distribution model, where subscriptions trump Amazon and the unseemly wooing of chains.)

Since moving to Portland, I’m learning more about Stadler’s fiction, which he instanced on Saturday with a long excerpt from an early piece that grew into his 1994 novel, The Sex Offender. Why am I always so wary of prose/poetry double bills? When it’s read aloud, fiction sort of has to enchant to work; I need to go under its spell, grammar to glamour, and when I don’t let that happen, it’s like finding out part way through a root canal the Novocain’s not kicking in. Poetry, by contrast, divides my attention into shorter units, so that even when I’m lost or confused or just plain bored, there’s some tiny felicity of diction or alliteration that can turn me suddenly forgiving and benign.

I shouldn’t have worried Saturday. Stadler’s prose moved in a rhythmic, unhurried, richly-claused roll that put me in mind of a river passing through an established European capital at dusk. The manner was in pointed contrast with the matter: a schoolteacher (history) undergoing “correctional” therapy for falling in love with a male—and by all signs vigorously consenting—12-year-old student. As the story unwinds, the narrator’s complacence about his crime, and his reluctance to claim it as an act of political resistance in the face of his doctor’s promptings, itself becomes a highly polished political act (in every sense of that word) as he calmly refuses, Bartleby-like, to recognize any terms for understanding the affair other than his own. Stadler opened with a description of a burlesque show he used to attend in New York in the 1980s, and his story seemed in part a meditation on the subversive possibilities inherent in drag and burlesque, where the alternate reality created is so intense that the ‘alternate’ in it at last burns away, and you’re left living fully in its own terms, like the story’s narrator, or like the story itself, its peculiar swing and cadence determined to move at no century’s pace but its own.

Rob Halpern read from the manuscripts Disaster Lyrics (of which the mysterious and recent Disaster Suite is a part) and Music for Porn, along with a selection from his 2004 Krupskaya book, Rumored Place. I’ve seen Rob read several times, each time I’m left amazed at how he extracts so much that’s lyric from the stupefying news feed of our grim late-capitalist moment. I think of his poems as resisting hymns to the episteme, a portable Egypt for some intrepid geographer of the future to prize open and discover what went wrong. It’s usual to say about poets with Rob’s feeling for language that they “have a great ear”; in Rob’s case, you get the sense of an ear that’s managed to produce a body around it, itself a material instance of the rhythm that’s coming in all the time from the social: “ear” as metonymy for interface; economy as anatomy; body as pure product, “identity’s fleshy yield.”

Rob’s manner of reading is impassioned and enraptured and nothing like the dark harangue he told us he feared it might sound like. In his opening remarks he paid tribute to kari edwards, “who for me,” he said, “will always be a reminder that another world is possible.” Where the world is produced, not given, it is. Rob's gift is the work to remind us of that.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Killian's Read

Avant-Amazon reviewer #113 tackles the Portland Art Museum. "Thank you, Mark people."

Friday, February 02, 2007

'Bobby Halpern'

Googling for new work by Karlien Van den Beukel, I found the (new to me) Archive of the Now, a great collection of sound files and other info on writers at the more experimental, ‘Prynnish’ end of the U.K. poetry spectrum commissioned by Andrea Brady. Lots of listening ahead.

(Could Karlien's 'Bobby Halpern' be "our" Rob Halpern, reading at Tangent tonight in Portland? Could it not be?)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Do The Police

Differences are easy to call out, but it’s the uncanny synchronicity in Linda Russo and Joel Bettridge’s excellent readings at Spare Room on Sunday that stuck with me most. To wit:

JB: Opened with a love poem. (Opening line: “I don’t want children, ever.”)
LR: Opened with poem in dialogue with Ovid’s Art of Love. (“I am wounded and troubled and delighted and aroused and appalled.”)

JB: “California poems”
LR: “Oklahoma poems”

JB: Pre-Socratics sing the blues
LR: Roman speaks “low tech-like”

JB: “I’m Ready to Send Advanced Arms to India”
LR: “India needs more energy”

JB: Closing poem made from what sounded like symptom descriptions on the back of medicine bottles.
LR: Closing poem, “Pharmacopoeia”, made from what sounded like symptom descriptions and the language of current beauty therapies. (“life-affirming, non-invasive, tummy re-attach.”)

JB: First full-length poetry book due out in 2007: That Abrupt Here
LR: First full-length poetry book out in 2007: Mirth
(Linda’s also written the introduction for Joanne Kyger’s About Now: Collected Poems, out this spring from the National [“Man and Poet”]ry Foundation.)

JB: Poetics Program at SUNY Buffalo
LR: Poetics Program at SUNY Buffalo

Those last two are kind of cheats, since I knew that going in and it didn’t affect what they read in any immediate way. It did tempt me though to wonder about the particular blend of humor, erudition, sex, colloquial swagger, and political unease that seemed a large part of their poems’ appeal, and whether there’s anything like a movement bubbling up from under it. I thought about the new/old sincerity, about the different strategies poets are using to assemble a speaking self that can talk about more than just the conditions of its own creation—can hit the big monosyllables like love and faith and death and Bush and Dow—without sidestepping a postmodern praxis where “prices fix like identities” (Russo) and writing is often a ‘writing-through’ of earlier movers-along of the discourse.

In his introduction, David Abel mentioned the “humor and romance” in both poets’ work, and what he called their “passionate detachment,” which seemed right on to me as a way of describing how Ovid and the blues and newspaper headlines and pharmaceutical argot were employed as a way to produce the kind of distance, the stutter, you need in order to talk about the range of subjects these poets tackle with anything like sincerity now, a quality that’s bestowed from the outside, a gift from your listeners, not drawn up via booze or therapy or languid mountain retreats from the deep within. “Botoxic” (Russo): not the lineless perfect surface, but the prick of the silver that pushes the toxins inside. Beauty like that, abrupt and aware and infinitely surprising: “a cross between a handgun and a tea towel.”