Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Delphi Intelligencer

The Decembrists suck.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Double Date

If the dissenters start on clock time, and the poets start on poet's time, a nimble Missionista could make both these events in San Francisco tonight.
with JULES BOYKOFF, KATYA KOMISARUK, & a representative of the SF8
Friday Oct. 26th
7 PM - 9 PM
New College Theater, 777 Valencia Street, SF
$5-10 donation to benefit the SF8 Defense (no one turned away)
Friday Oct. 26
7:30 PM
Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia Street, SF

Thursday, October 25, 2007

School Bussing

A year ago yesterday, the Poetry Bus hit Portland. Remember the Poetry Bus?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kenning in Portland, 10/19/07

The Kenning Editions poets poured clown car-style out of an improbable green compact to deliver an extraordinary reading in Portland on Friday, anchored by multivoiced renditions of Hannah Wiener's work on either end and filled out with memorable work in between.

Patrick Durgin opened with "The Litmus Redact" from his recent Imitation Poems, another luxe chapbook from Michael Cross's Atticus/Finch. ("All/the accessories speak/of hospitality and bounty/in devotional airs.") Jen Hofer and Jesse Seldess then joined him with walkie talkies to read one of Wiener's "Code Poems" from Open House. Based on the International Code of Signals, a simplified sea language of gestures and pennants, Wiener's poem injected the bare bones denotative function of the language—one signal, one word—with double entendre and multiple meanings, which turned the workaday vocabulary of navigation into a suggestive sexual narrative. The poems seemed to turn one purpose of "code" on its head, building ambiguity from a system designed to resist it.

Hofer and Durgin swapped lines from a collaborative project, The Route, coming out from Atelos next year. The section they read was "an open letter to Carla Harryman" that fired off provocative 'generational statements' at manifesto velocity: "We want to mention a collectivity of perception itself." "We want to construct a library of limits so we can open and close them." "But more than protest, we want it not to be like this anymore."

Dolores Dorantes
read poems from her new Kenning book, SexoPUROSexoVELOZ, along with portions of Laura Solórzano's Lip Wolf, in Spanish, followed every few lines by Jen Hofer giving the translation. The work was intense and intensely embodied by Dorantes. I was too busy half-remembering my Spanish, trying to match what I thought I understood to Jen's translation, to write down more than a handful of lines. But that experience itself, of on-the-fly mental half-translation, paralleled the Wiener piece in a way that focused attention on the mysteries of transmission, that uncertain carrying-over of sign to meaning and what happens in the burrs where they don't quite match.

Jesse Seldess
, who joined the tour from Karlsruhe, FRG, read one long poem from 2006's Who Opens, and one new piece of about the same length. His performance was astounding. Not that he did anything especially performative; if anything, his delivery seemed to extract his person from the work, the poet as system for producing sound. His first piece built up from short, relatively simple, and relentlessly repeated phrases that reminded me both of the "loops" musicians use in performance and of those childhood games where you say a familiar word over and over until it sloughs off its meaning and turns to nonsense, then to a spell. "And so," "the scene rips through," "and overheard blended," "lifting you up," "to you here" mixed and varied, bumped off rhymes ("ear/here," "rendered/mended"), and worked the seam between music and meaning in a way that had me thinking of those lo-tech but still kind of phenomenal Viewmaster toys, where two lines of perspective overlap for a 3-D pop. The poem was addressed to the second person, and, like with Wiener's code for ships, it was hard not to fill in the outlines of a relationship from the artful static.

His last piece was an excerpt from a manuscript inspired by Gunter Deming's "Stumbling Stones" installation project in Germany, in which raised stones are set in front of buildings where people have been killed. "You can't choose to visit it, you stumble upon it, and most of the time you miss it." Like the first poem, it gained in effect from the pace Seldess was able to give it in delivery, with repetition ("to have been," "to be gone") taking the place of conventional syntax in moving the meaning through time. The poem's intense questioning of memory and being (or the transition from being to not being, meaning to not meaning) echoed with the last poem of the reading, which is also the last poem Hannah Wiener is known to have written, "Silent History." It's the final piece in Open House, and is about as great a précis of Wiener's particular genius as you'll find:

"silences understanding alone power employs understanding english culture history make
culture sorry history hurts obvious sometimes obvious hurts when culture knowledges"

One of the most thoughtful, exciting readings I've been to since I moved to Portland. They're in the Bay Area through Friday, L.A. on Sunday.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dept. of Blogging About Blogging

I've blogged before about ...

Wait, no I haven't.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Nobel Prizefighter

I saw Orhan Pamuk read for Portland Arts & Lectures last Tuesday. I’ve liked Pamuk’s work (Istanbul, The Black Book), but always with the uneasy sense that he wants very badly for me to like it. His 2006 Nobel Prize speech was a beautifully engineered machine for producing tears, oiled by the easy pathos of a son thanking his father for a giant award.

Pamuk’s self-presentation on Tuesday amplified this approval-seeking side of his literary personality. Not that he was especially genial or ingratiating; on the contrary, he came across as robotic, a hard-bitten lit geek who’s spent hours pondering his c.v. Pamuk’s tic of referring to his life in numerical chunks of ambition (“from ages 9 to 17 I wanted to be a painter; from age 18 to 19 I wished to be a poet; this novel that appeared in Turkish in 1999, in English in 2003; my books have been translated into 55 languages”) struck me not so much as boasting as the reflexive box-ticking of the lifelong grade grubber.

In a way it shouldn’t be surprising that a writer as meticulous as Pamuk would treat his own life as a sentence to be edited into perfection, with books as nouns, acclaim the verbs. But it seems to have led to his unmistakable anger, a pervading sense of self-betrayal that came through on Tuesday in ways large and small. He read, for example, a few excerpts from his new book, Other Colors, a ragbag of articles, interviews, and columns that he mentioned more than once reflect a rueful time when he was eager to make a literary reputation, so answered any questions from journalists, even featherweight ones about his wristwatch. He ridiculed interviewers who ask about the titles of his novels because they can’t be troubled to read the books. His columns about his love for his daughter—a subject, like that of his father, designed for maximum pathos—were written on the fly he said, often in a two-hour window, and proved to be more popular in Turkey than his well-wrought prose, which he produces in athletic 8-10 hour writing sessions practiced daily for 36 years. The overall picture was of a public too dense, undiscriminating, and shallow to appreciate him at his true worth, which he preferred to measure in numbers rather than readers (hours worked, languages translated into, years endured before prizes won.)

What’s troubling about this attitude is that the audience has never ceased to matter for Pamuk, at least in the mass. He courts the interview, the weekly column, the critic’s plaudits, the reader's tears without especially valuing the persons who bestow them. That’s also a classic grade grubber tic—to despise the judges whose approval you’re performing for—and I wondered, just a little, if Pamuk’s greatest fiction is finally himself, metaphor for Turkey’s ambitions and angers vis-à-vis Europe.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Poetica Gigantica

Big poetry weekend in Portland. The Kenning caravan stops in town tonight, fresh from Emergent Forms in Ashland; the next day, San Francisco arrives in the form of Sarah Anne Cox and Dana Teen Lomax to join forces with Portland (but also sort of Bay Area) poet Jesse Morse. Details & links below.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19 @ 7:30 p.m.
New American Art Union, 922 SE Ankeny
(a celebration of recent Kenning Editions books)

Spare Room
The Press Club, 2621 SE Clinton Street

The Tangent Reading Series

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dine, Katz, Michener Reading, 10/13/07

The Dine reading in Portland on Saturday brought a shiver of art world titillation to the usually dowdier realm of small press poetry. I say Dine reading because my hunch is that the 70-80 plus audience, shoehorned into a space for 40, crowding doorways, listening through windows from the outside, sitting on the floor and squeezing legs out of the way of the passing wait staff, included a large mass of visual folks taking a walk on the wordy side. From what I overheard in my corner at the back, a lot of people were eager to just see Dine, the Wizard come out from behind his canvas to address the Emerald citizenry. The crowd was a pleasure and a prick, a reminder of the audience poets always ought to have.

Diana Michener opened with a generous swatch from DOGS, FIRES, ME, which recalls the warmth, violence, and vivid religiosity of a mid-century childhood in Ross, CA. The narrative involves the growing self-awareness of a young girl poised between the revivalist fears of the beloved cook who helped raise her, for whom every seismic tremor is stage one of the Apocalypse, and the complex social pressures of the adult world, as the protagonist begins to suffer the schoolyard consequences of her father’s big city reputation for philandering. The piece stood out for the fine-grained detail that brought this particular social milieu to life through a young girl's eyes, but also for the sense of presentness that Michener gave to her delivery, which felt less like a “reading” than a remembering aloud in public, like she could have reached into the book at any point and touched one of the figures she was writing about. She prefaced the reading by saying that the work came out of the same field as her images, and I had the sense while she read that we were being invited to peek under the usual surface of art, literary or visual, to consider something more personal and primordial.

Vincent Katz read a span of work stretching from several years to “just a couple of days ago.” He began with a succession of short poems, half-koan half-zinger, playfully deep and seriously witty. The standout of his reading for me was the sections he read from "Barge," a poem that takes on politics, identity, and the turmoil in the Holy Land in an artfully wry way that seemed to color outside the familiar lines. Writing this, I looked up "Barge" on Google to help supplement my memory, and came across this thrifty description by Katz himself. After locating the poem among Roman images of the afterlife (the barge in part is Charon’s), Katz writes:
“I had been looking over the Hudson River towards New Jersey in the area of Manhattan in the 20s and become enamored of the vision of nature that one can find there. There is so little nature in Manhattan, that the artist who wants to paint or write about nature must find it in narrow vistas or expanded glimpses. At the river, I could gaze for hours at untrammeled water; even the actions of boats and helicopters seemed to be part of a less structured urban life. In particular, I became obsessed with those heavy, flat vessels used to transport large containers and huge piles of grain. Their slow-moving choreography seemed at once ancient and modern; I fixed on the title, “Barge”.... It would allow for all kinds of unruliness, rudeness, and impromptu spasms of thought and vocalization.

The poem was written during a period of two and half years, ending in August of 2006, in a variety of locales on different continents. The first sections set the stage for spatial and verbal experimentation, and the later sections, although they arrive in different formats, are not quite formal. Form is an expediency, to arrive at a different mode of expression, rather than a goal."
Katz goes on to describe his poetry in terms of temporal “frames,” fixed boxes of time (an afternoon, late nights after an evening’s event) into which he pours thought until something “occurs” in the writing—or in the process of thinking induced by the “frame” provided for the writing—that “sets the tone for that segment of time.”

This reminded me very much of the effect of hearing Katz’s poems as a whole: an attentiveness to time as a corral for observations and the choreography of consciousness; the sense of the poem as a frame for things to happen in—a chamber of "tones" rather than a formal straitjacket or procedural machine; and a governing sense of poetry as a kind of “expediency,” a means for shaping, recording, and ultimately seeing thought, not so unlike the picture plane. Vanitas, which is a type of still life and also an orientation towards existence, moved off the edge of the bar like free peanuts; I doubt Katz had a single issue to haul back home.

Jim Dine read what he called “recent” poems, from 7 years ago to as recently as this summer. His work encompassed the color blue, alcohol, political invective, and, especially, elegy—several for Creeley, for his own lost 30s and 40s, for a loved dead friend. The pleasure for me in hearing Dine read was in watching the lines unflex without apparent regard for the usual moves on the chessboard. Often at readings, where poets tend to read for other poets, I have a sense of the invisible L-shape the knight’s described to land on its particular sentiment or idea. With Dine, it was all pawns moving as many squares forward as he wanted, the sentiments arrived at with an appealing directness and disregard for the usual po-biz syllabus. Dine said later that he writes many of his poems in charcoal on walls, both to photograph them and to get the look right, tighten up the spelling etc., writing being for him, like drawing, largely a matter of “correcting.” I don’t know many (any?) poets who approach their work this way, with the lines as visual objects to be corrected and redrawn, like a charcoal sketch. It might account for the different kind of weight his lines seemed to carry, a poetry deeply in touch with the creative, but not overly worried about poetics.

Dine, a strong performer who was clearly delighted to be reading, seemed happy for the chance to pull down the scrim of art world celebrity, and used his last poem to settle old scores against thickheaded critics in a way you'd think JIM DINE might be beyond, but I found it endearing and human that he wasn't. The reading ended with Dine singing a few verses of an old blues or folktune, Muddy Waters maybe, deep and received with huge applause.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cloud Watch

I've been writing some poems from Amazon word clouds, those nouny clusters that show you by size how often certain keywords appear in a text. It's a gimmick with the feel of a coming form. The one on Nada Gordon's blog achieves an astonishing verbal portrait. In part:

Language poetry
Louis Aragon
New York
urban spelunking
weird orientalia

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Vincent Katz Intro, 10/13/07

I'm behind on reading reports; plan to catch up soon. In the meantime, here's the intro for Vincent Katz from his Tangent reading with Diana Michener and Jim Dine on Saturday. Thanks to the Portland press--and the growing poetry community here--the joint was jammed.
The crystalline insouciance Vincent Katz achieves in his poems spills into his criticism, translations, art writing, and stunning work as editor of the literary magazine Vanitas. Katz makes The New York Times into poems, and makes Sextus Propertius sound as current and urgent as The New York Times. The first time I saw Vincent read, he was providing the voice for a jewel thief in one of Frank O’Hara’s favorite ‘30s films. That aura of New York and elegance, the shine and honk of the urban that Vincent carried for me then has never dimmed, and I’m glad that tonight he’s here to export it to Portland. Please welcome Vincent Katz.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Don't Look Back

A year ago today we left the spreadsheets, crammed the U-Haul, and rolled up the I-5 to Portland.

Poets of San Francisco, when are the rest of you coming? (Beards optional.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dine, Katz, & Michener Read this Saturday

Through some secret of magic and rain, painter JIM DINE, he of the There at the Birth of Pop Art, has been induced to give his second poetry reading in 40 years here in Portland this Saturday. He'll be joined by New York's own VINCENT KATZ and photographer/poet DIANA MICHENER.

Details below; come out if you're close. This one should be An Event.
Clinton Corner Café, 2633 SE 21st Ave., Portland, OR

The Tangent Reading Series

JIM DINE was born in 1935. He has been a painter, sculptor, and poet all his life. This is his second reading in 40 years.

is a poet, translator, art critic, editor, and curator. He is the author of nine books of poetry, including Cabal of Zealots (1988, Hanuman Books), Pearl (1998, powerhouse books), Understanding Objects (2000, Hard Press), and Rapid Departures (2005, with artist Mario Cafiero). His new book, Judge (2007, Charta/Libellum) is a collaboration with artist Wayne Gonzales that takes its words entirely from The New York Times. Katz writes frequently on contemporary art and has published essays or articles on the work of Jennifer Bartlett, Francesco Clemente, Jim Dine, Robert Rauschenberg, Kiki Smith, Philip Taaffe, and Cy Twombly. He won the 2005 National Translation Award, given by the American Literary Translators Association, for his book of translations from Latin, The Complete Elegies of Sextus Propertius (2004, Princeton University Press). He was awarded a Rome Prize Fellowship in Literature at the American Academy in Rome for 2001-2002 and was a Guest of the Director for a one-month residency at the American Academy in Berlin in Spring, 2006. He is the editor of the poetry and arts journal VANITAS and of Libellum books.

was born in Boston in 1940. She has had many exhibitions of her photographs in the U.S. and Europe. In 2001, she was given a retrospective at the Maison Européene de la Photographie in Paris. A book of her photographs and writing, DOGS, FIRES, ME, was published by Steidl Verlag in 2005.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Dept. of Monday

Detourn my episteme.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Note to the Aspiring Professional Avant

Your terminus is somebody else's syllabus.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Note to the Aspiring Avant

Your terminus is somebody else's Etruscan.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Dept. of Poetics

Not "poems shouldn't do that," but "poetry's already done that."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

No More Song

I like this poem by Tom Fisher in the latest Cultural Society:
No More Songs

Sing goodbye to song in songs:

protest is dead
and song shakes
that weight of
being for

to take the shiny robe
of summer breeze and
ecstasy, the golden horn
of song
and imagine full
its elixir of abductions
and refusals.

song now serves the imaginary,
the secret catastrophe,

undone in its own
and open aftermath.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Dept. of Monday

Please monetize my innocence.