Friday, February 29, 2008

McCaffery, Mac Cormack & oWEns Read in Portland this Sunday, 3/2

There's some electromagnetic Buffalo-Portland nexus I haven't figured out yet, but Portland benefits from it once again this Sunday, when Steve McCaffery and Karen Mac Cormack join local space-time phenomenon mARK oWEns at Spare Room.

NB: Spare Room's usual space, the New American Art Union, is unavailable due to installations (go figure). So this one'll be downtown at the Someday Lounge, 5 p.m.
Spare Room presents

SUNDAY, MARCH 2nd @ 5:00 pm
Someday Lounge125 NW 5th Avenue

Steve McCaffery
is the author of more than twenty-five volumes of poetry and three critical books. With bp nichol, he conducted the Toronto Research Group, and was a member (also with bp) of the pioneering sound-poetry and performance ensemble The Four Horsemen. Recent books of McCaffery's poetry include The Black Debt, The Cheat of Words, and Seven Pages Missing (in two volumes); his critical titles include North of Intention, Prior to Meaning, and the dazzlingly ambitious anthology Imagining Language (coedited with Jed Rasula). A founding theorist of Language Poetry, his work has been translated into more than a dozen languages. A long-time resident of Toronto, he now lives in Buffalo, New York, where he is The David Gray Chair of Poetry and Letters at SUNY Buffalo.

Born in Luanshya, Zambia, Karen Mac Cormack is the author of thirteen books of poetry, including Nothing by Mouth, Quill Driver, Quirks & Quillets, At Issue, and Vanity Release. Volume 1 of her polybiography Implexures was published by Chax Press/West House Books in 2003, and Implexures in its entirety is forthcoming from the same publishers in Spring 2008. Her poetry has been translated into French, Portuguese, Swedish, and Norwegian. Of dual British/Canadian citizenship, she currently lives in the USA and teaches at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Due to no fault of your own, mARK's last name is currently under scrutinous examination. His poems are typically found tangled in lines between concepts, sound, visual art, and performance. His designs have been unveiled in Portland; Seattle; Guadalajara, Mexico; Mexico City; Boston; New York City; Nice, France; and Dayton, OH. He organized the Northwest Sound Poetry Festivals in Portland, OR, in 2003 and 2004, and he is a founding member of Spare Room.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Delphi Intelligencer

Blogger favors counters.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Nayak (The Hero)

Bengali superstar Uttam Kumar was known to his fans as Mahanayak—Great Hero—and Satyajit Ray’s 1966 primer on the psychology of stardom was written so closely to the details of Kumar’s career that it’s hard not to read the film as his autobiography. In the process of dissecting Kumar’s celebrity, Ray takes gentle swipes at both popular Indian cinema and the censorious, would-be cosmopolitan business class that’s quick to condemn it, believing “nothing good” comes out of India. The upshot is an intriguing catch-all of Ray’s reflections on the relationship between art and society held together mostly by the strength of Kumar’s magnetic performance.

The film’s central conceit is Kumar’s trip by train from Kolkata to Delhi to receive an award. His latest film is shaping up to be his first flop, and in putting off the decision to accept the honor he misses the chance to fly. The trip requires him to mix with his fellow Bengalis—a successful businessman traveling with his sick daughter; an ambitious ad exec and his pretty young wife, with her own dreams of starring in films; an ambiguous guru of the World Wide Will Workers (WWWW) organization; and a bespectacled young journalist (Sharmila Tagore) traveling to Delhi to peddle copies of her highbrow women’s literary quarterly.

The train trip becomes a deft enough metaphor for Kumar’s journey into his past on the brink of his first failure, but it also acts as an interesting structural constraint that must have inspired Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited. Unable to sleep, worried about his waning market appeal, and troubled by an affair with a married actress that’s just hit the papers, Kumar strikes up a relationship with Tagore, who becomes his confessor and conscience during the course of an impromptu interview for her magazine. Tagore's indifference to his celebrity reminds Kumar of the artistic ideals he abandoned when he left theater for film, and as he opens up to her he begins to realize how shallow his subsequent life has been. Left-wing politics, his early drive to inject new realism into Indian film, and the chance to help old friends and colleagues have given way to boozy nights and casting-couch affairs fueled by an obsessive concern for his popularity with his “market.”

Ray’s script probes the split between popular cinema and “real” art, but his own efforts at psychological realism tend to flounder. Kumar’s dilemma is clear in the first fifteen minutes and never really deepens beyond cliché. That leaves the rest of the film without much to do but moodily elaborate his crisis: there’s a drunken stagger through the train played beautifully by Kumar, and a couple of Freudian dream sequences that tip a hand, but don’t really hold a candle to Raj Kapoor’s famous dream scene in Awaara. The film is also hampered by its claustrophobic “film about a film” structure, where a celebrity playing a celebrity comments on movies while inside a movie (though this also creates some of the film's finest moments: in one of Nayak's most powerful scenes, Kumar tutors Tagore on how to act normal as a crush of fans presses against the train window during a stop, sandwiching the couple between the mute crowd on one side of the glass and the unseen theater audience, us, on the other.)

But I think a larger problem in Nayak is Ray’s equation of “real” art with naturalism, and naturalism with psychological ‘inwardness.’ Where the Bollywood movies assign stock roles to their characters to get on with the business of zipping them horizontally through plot, Nayak slows down the rate of incident for the sake of the vertical, taking us down through the layers of Kumar’s subconscious to his hidden core (his love/hate relationship with Tagore, scribbling down his memories and dreams for her interview, resembles nothing so much as analysis.) Ironically, despite Kumar’s subtle performance, what we find once we’re down there is a tried-and-true Bollywood stereotype: the troubled, sensitive hero who drinks to escape a cruel world. Just like you end up sort of rooting for Kumar, despite his shortcomings, by the end of the movie I was cheering for Bollywood, with all its superficial movement, over Parallel Cinema’s naturalistic pretensions. It's a fun trip, but I was glad to step off the train.

Uttam Kumar died on set of a massive heart attack in 1980, at 54.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Insomniac's Bookshelf

1. John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua
2. Samuel R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War, 1642-1649
3. Thomas Campion, A Book of Airs
4. Sir Walter Scott, Journal, 1825-1832
5. John Wieners, Selected Poems, 1958-1984
6. Lucy Hutchinson, Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson
7. John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice
8. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem
9. Samuel Beckett, Molloy
10. Wallace Stevens, (i do) The Rock

Monday, February 25, 2008

Viva Kevin Killian

This phrase from KK's Amazon review of David Trinidad's The Late Show made me smile:
"Whenever it's Chinese New Year here in San Francisco, and I watch the giant dragon move sinuously through the darkened streets around Kearny, I think of Trinidad's longer poems and how the pieces fit so beautifully together, and yet they become a whole greater than any individual part, a sometimes scary and threatening and glamorous whole, a machine made of words as WC Williams said."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hejinian in Portland, 2/9/08

Whatever ‘power’ might mean in the miniaturized world of contemporary poetry, Lyn Hejinian seems like a model of how to use it if you’ve got it. One of the pleasures of the always frantic, often intimidating Bay Area poetry scene was Lyn’s warm and inclusive presence at any event she was a part of, no matter how small or junior-league.

‘Inclusive’ feels like the right word for Hejinian’s recent writing too, which repurposes long, lush syntactic constructions for hoovering up just about anything that happens in the mind in time. The result is that everything from childhood Victoriana to John Zorn ensembles get rolled into the poem, which becomes a field of surprise and play in every sense: play of signifiers, mind at play, the play’s the thing, play that funky music, you name it. Because her lines push clauses through time with the variety and complexity usually attributed to “fine” or elegant writing, the poems slip easily past the centurions of craft—there’s no doubt among the doubting that this counts as poetry. But beneath the surface shine, her poems in fact function as “a site of resistance to resolution,” as she read at one point, built from knotty constraints and purposive nonsequitors (“it’s actually really hard to write true nonsequitors!” she joked in the Q&A) that “refuse to accept the logic that makes death allowable.”*

What I think I like most in Hejinian’s poetry is the insistence that everything is fair game for the poem, that “thinkers get driven past their goal by the sheer momentum of thinking” all the time and that’s O.K. (the way stock phrases like “driven past the goal” and “sheer momentum” are O.K.), because momentum itself is a form of thought, and thought in motion is the poem and the goal, it was all along—look, you reached it at the same moment you were thinking it, and here you were feeling all frantic and junior-league. "What's the Use of Poetry" but that?

*One risk of Hejinian's "late" style may be that the delights of the surface can work to divert attention from, rather than enact, the case "against closure."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Clouds Taste Retallack

I’ve read The Poethical Wager, but until she came to Portland this month I’d never heard Joan Retallack in person. Blogs and PennSounds and Ubuwebs help—and, sure, books too—but it’s hard to find the fulcrum between a poet’s presence and their cadence until you meet them in the flesh.

The punning, improvisations, omnivorous reference and philosophical play of Retallack’s essays had prepared me for someone much faster, a sort of intellectual leaf-blower powering ideas up into a giant helix of perpetual wow. What came to the fore in her actual speech was the weight given to the spaces between words, so that moving through her syntax, whether prepared or spoken on the fly, was an adventure in possible meanings, as the clauses took new turnings in the pauses. More than any single thing she read, it was this manner of speaking, and its way of blurring distinctions between the read and spoken, the written and improvised, that stayed with me after the event.

What I see more clearly now in her puns and neologisms ("Other-Ness Monster," "poethical") are the traces of the word not chosen, but not quite relinquished either; a kind of thoughtful hesitancy that gives thinking a chance to register its own movements in language and offers that sound back into the syntactic flow as ‘feedback’: a clause extends, parentheses drop into the sentence, a portmanteau blooms.

A line from one of her poems addressed the sphere that is “the total curvature of all spheres,” and I wrote down something about “the prisms including their vertices” that must be close to something she actually said. It was something like that expanded, algorithmic sense of language that came through in her work, which calls attention in an especially intense way to the meanings or “vertices” that surround the language of any given sentence as possible inclusions. (Though, true, sometimes you just want your language to order lunch.)

Procedure, she read, lends “a tonic otherness” to words, and there was an implicit resistance to poetry as a display of mastery that made nearly everything she said, on the podium or off, sound like an incitement to explore.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

“A mandala-like criss-crossing wheel of two hundred and sixty-eight microgenealogies”

Sam Lohmann and Chris Piuma are both on top of the Hejinian/Perloff/Retallack event in Portland, a big-tent affair that brought the poetry tribes together in a town I thought too small for tribes. Notebooks are blooming from laps this spring: I hope there’s more surround-sound blogging to come.

Lewis & Clark titled the conference “What's the Use of Poetry?,” a question all the contestants avoided, or answered implicitly in what they did. Perloff zoomed through the intro to her forthcoming book, Unoriginal Genius, which offers a genealogy for an emerging 21st century poetics—conceptual, polyglot, world wide webbed, and rhymes with Kenny Goldsmith—that’s departed from the narrower concerns and “period style” of 1981’s In the American Tree. (It’s a safe bet that Perloff’s the first person to ever project a P. Inman poem on a Lewis & Clark overhead.)

Perloff finds the roots of the most exciting U.S. poetry today in Brazilian concretism, Oulipo, “plurilingual” poetries from ZAUM through Pound to Caroline Bergvall, and, oddly, in Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, which anticipates global shopping malls and the hyperlink. I share a lot of Chris’s doubts about Perloff’s horserace approach to poetry (“I like to pick winners,” she declared in the Q&A), but I also think she’s a good ambassador to the non-specialized, or “avant-curious,” who are used to thinking in that way, and want bullets for a syllabus. (I’m the same with new topics—I look for the illustrated timeline, and the Top Ten, then sort of let that melt away as I get to know the subject more.)

I’m doubtful we’ve moved on as far from In the American Tree as Perloff suggests. Anglophone poetry still seems surprisingly monoglot to me; the ethnic mix in many experimental poetry communities isn’t often a whole lot better than it was in 1981; the Web does as much to balkanize as globalize, and anyway experimental poets as a bunch tend to be more critical of the “global village” narrative than Perloff gives them credit for. But the bigger problem I think is that the logic of genealogies demands an endpoint, and Perloff’s efforts to build one for our particular nanosecond works to close down all these other horizontal alchemies that are going on all the time at any one time, between groups and scenes and genres and schools and political events and institutions and popular arts, Kasey’s “mandala-like criss-crossing wheel of two hundred and sixty-eight microgenealogies” that criticism as it’s currently practiced tends to scrape away in order to fit the poetry into the history. Is there a form of criticism since, what, Hugh Kenner, that’s changed to match the experiments in poetic form it sets out to describe?

(That last question's kind of rhetorical; tomorrow's answer is "Joan Retallack.")

Monday, February 18, 2008

That Abrupt Howl

At the risk of caving in to the local-yokel boosterism that nettles me about here, I've got to call out two Portland-based items in Silliman's epic Sunday links scroll.

Joel That Abrupt Here Bettridge pops up for his article on the heretofore unsuspected parallels between the Charles Bernstein of Shadowtime and Thomas Aquinas of the Summa;


Portland, not Berkeley, steps up as the site of Ginsberg's first recorded reading of Howl, on Valentine's Day 1956. He and Snyder read at Reed College (Snyder's alma mater) to around twenty people, about what Spare Room draws on a Sunday now. (N.B.: reading the article more carefully, it looks like Berkeley is still the home of the first complete recorded reading of Howl, so see, I didn't cave.)

THIS JUST IN: Bern Porter is likely to have no connection to Portland, OR whatsoever.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tribe of John

How long till Ashbery feels like our Eliot? The poet who creates, then fits, the period's idea of what a poet should be so exactly that the new has to change its whole idea of the art to swerve around him?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Delphi Intelligencer

Not even the news stays news.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On the Virtual Mesa

Joel Weishaus, Portland-based pioneer of the virtual, just launched himself into the blogosphere. His out-of-print Bolinas anthology, published by City Lights in 1970, is one of the books I'd most like to see this side of the vitrine.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

PSU Symposium

Some notes from Friday’s Symposium on Radical Poetics and Avant-Garde Poetry at Portland State.

Marjorie Perloff: Rrroaratorio. Lyric I as squeak once lyres fade.

Joan Retallack: “What if all the poets stopped singing to talk?”

Lyn Hejinian: Is it possible to hear Lyn Hejinian read without feeling good?

Hank Lazer: “Of course spirit is a topic that should produce squeamishness.” Cut with jazz and courtly prose, it don’t.

Monday, February 11, 2008

State of the Art

This forum on the response to Spahr and Young's "Numbers Trouble" feels way more important to poetry's current contours and possible future than AWP, The Poetry Foundation questionnaire, and the post-Blogger years of the BuffPo list combined. What will a poetry of real parity, when we finally get there, look like?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Hejinian, Lazer, Perloff & Retallack in Portland

Some giants of the contemporary trek through the old growth to Portland this weekend. I'm shooting for the trifecta.
FRIDAY, FEB. 8, 2-4 p.m.
Radical Poetics and Avant-Garde Poetry: A Symposium

Portland State University, Smith Memorial Union, Room 238
SATURDAY, FEB. 9, 1-5 p.m.
What's the Use of Poetry?

Lewis & Clark College, Smith Hall
SUNDAY, FEB. 10, 7:30 p.m.

Spare Room: New American Art Union, 922 SE Ankeny

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Dear Mark

Mark Wallace suggested I post this email about the AWP to the blog, so that he and others could respond.
Dear Mark,

I started this as a comment on your blog, but it got too long to fit there politely.

Here's what I see when I gaze into the dark heart of AWP. I see poetry made to dance to the logic of other large information industries: grow the business, get accredited, "facilitate network opportunities," pass out cards—the woiks. Because poetry's so profitless, the mimicry still looks kind of quaint and "off"; because it's small, relatively speaking, you can still make out your friends behind the banners. But the pie chart's swelling—how long till you can't tell po biz from the models it replicates in its PFs & AWPs?

Beyond that, I'm troubled that I can't seem to come to terms with a poetry that looks like that, one that resembles so closely the conditions of our actual social existence. Why do I expect poetry to get a pass from changes that are shaking up the culture everywhere else, and that in other genres—music, TV, film, standup comedy—yield critical, vital new work? Am I going to poetry for information, or escape? Has the idea of an avant-garde itself become a form of escape? A marketing niche? A shelter from the storm of other options? Do Jon Stewart, or Sarah Silverman, or Thom Yorke, or the writers of The Wire, think of themselves as "avant-garde"? Is poetry becoming the place we go to park all our leftover hopes from the last mode of production?

Ron Silliman's post today on the Poetry Foundation questionnaire implies that the AWPs and PFs and MFAs aren't the future; they're misguided responses to changes in "the relationship between poetry and its possible audience(s)" that no one's got a handle on yet (not even the "post-avant.") He might be right: maybe the corporate model's not "where it's at." When I hear of other poets I like and respect attending the conference, approving the panels, listing poets met and books acquired, I wonder though: what do we do if it is?

Thanks for provoking these thoughts with your post. Enjoying the blog.


Monday, February 04, 2008

You Are a Delight

Poet, cartoonist, and self-proclaimed "loudmouth" Gary Sullivan faces a stack of blue cards at the new MiPOesias.

Line Most Likely to Be Used in Pantoums: "And I still did not have the courage to talk to Lori Lubeski."

Friday, February 01, 2008


Apollinaire as concierge to a century's labial farts.