Monday, June 29, 2009

Tangent Intro for Dana Ward, Portland, 6/27/09

Dana Ward’s poetry reminds me of that arcade game where you have to steer a grapple over a pile of soft toys. The object is to get the claw to drop on the prize you want, then carry it off to the chute. In the real game, the toy seems a little sad once it comes down the chute—it never looks as good as it did when it was part of that colorful assortment behind the glass. In Dana’s version, the claw never has to drop; you get to keep moving the grapple over a beckoning surface of feeling and detail and variegated cultural reference that doesn’t force you to choose between Jay-Z and Alice Notley, or Caravaggio and John After a while, the meaning of the poem seems less about grab and capture than the pleasure of motion itself, which is also the beauty of being various and contradictory and alive. “I can see,” Dana writes, “how the words haven’t changed me but my/affectations have changed/like a firefly alters the neighboring particles.” Neighbors and fireflies, let’s get altered together with Dana Ward.

Friday, June 26, 2009

American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

Emily Dickinson & Walt Whitman enter the blogosphere, with a whole age in train. (With help from Benjamin Friedlander.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tangent Reading this Saturday, 6/27: Cynthia Sailers, Dana Ward & Stephanie Young

Stephanie Young and Cynthia Sailers lift off from the East Bay to read with Cincinnati’s Rilke, Dana Ward, this Saturday in Portland for Tangent. The stars line up like this only sometimes—come see.
Tangent presents
Clinton Corner Café, 2633 SE 21st Ave. Portland, OR

is the author of the poetry collections Lake Systems (Tougher Disguises, 2004) and Rose Lungs (Atticus/Finch, 2004). She is writing a dissertation on perversion and group psychology. She is currently in private practice as a therapist in San Francisco and works at a publicly funded clinic in the Mission, where she leads a process group for women. She serves on the board for Small Press Traffic and is expecting a new book, Ladies of Leisure, in June from Cy Press.

DANA WARD is the author of a couple of books that just came out in 2009—Roseland (Editions Louis Wain) & the Drought (Open 24hrs). He lives in Cincinnati, edits Cy Press, & works as an advocate for adult literacy at the Over-the-Rhine Learning Center.

STEPHANIE YOUNG lives and works in Oakland. Her books of poetry are Picture Palace (in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni, 2008) and Telling the Future Off (Tougher Disguises, 2005). She edited Bay Poetics (Faux Press, 2006) and her most recent editorial project is Deep Oakland.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Style and the Stylized

I’m late to the parade on Edwin Denby, but glad I finally got there. Almost everything he says about dancing translates to writing, or any of the arts involving humans, because he’s really less interested in this or that piece than in art as a kind of teaching of living. The Denby ethos includes clarity, sincerity, unpretentiousness, enjoyment, youth, unselfconsciousness, expression over perfection, and individuality within a collective of others allowed to develop as individuals. Part of the fun of reading his reviews of performances over half a century gone is the way he connects dancing to other registers of life—movies, lindy-hopping at the Savoy, basketball games, musicals, that new billboard in Times Square—so that everything seems part of one thing: “Civilization is really a great pleasure.” More O’Hara than Ashbery, but you can see how Denby set the stage for both.

Here’s Denby on the “stylized”—the artifice that paradoxically makes everyday life more visible (and makes individual “style” accountable to collective social life.) He’s talking about motion, but it’s not much of a jump to move from there to poems.
“What is a ‘stylized movement’? It is a movement that looks a little like dancing but more like nondancing. It is a movement derived from what people do when they are not dancing. It is a gesture from life deformed to suit music (music heard or imagined). The pleasure of watching it lies in guessing the action it was derived from, in guessing what it originally looked like, and then in savoring the good taste of the deformation.”

—Edwin Denby, “On Meaning in Dance,” July 18, 1943 in Dance Writings

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tropical Hot Dog Night

Promised a well-deserved shout out last night to Harry & Carol White of Northwest Hot Dogs, who make the best BBQ pork sandwich I’ve had in Portland, or pretty much anywhere else. The dogs aren’t bad either, and I was sort of in the trade.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jerome in His Study with Coolidge

Sam Lohmann puts Joos van Cleve back together with Clark Coolidge’s “no ekphrasis but in weird background things” poem, “Jerome in his Study,” from Solution Passage.

Monday, June 15, 2009


“Historically, timber, wheat, and fish dictated that Portland would be a commercial and transportation center. Economy and society in Portland developed logically from this base, producing a comfortable, if somewhat provincial, service-oriented city. Thus spared from many of the social effects of late nineteenth-, early twentieth-century industrialization, Portland was consequently denied the benefits of a more diverse population and a more heterogeneous economy.”

—Marshall M. Lee, Winning With People: The First 40 Years of Tektronix (Techtronix, Inc., 1986)

Friday, June 12, 2009


“These floors of ours call for some explanation but certainly no apologies.”

Nirad C. Chaudhuri

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Nada Gordon’s had a great pair of posts this week about the ornamental, conceptual, and plain-spoken in poetry, and the consequences they have for the practice of writing conceived as an allegory of living. I left a comment on her post “ornament is neither functionless nor superfluous,” a response to a provocative insight by Ross Brighton. The exchange got too long for the space of a comment box, and might attract other responses here, so thought I’d paste it below. Nada’s original post is here. In the comment stream, I wrote:
Hi Nada,

I like Ross’s comments quoted here, and liked your response. I wouldn’t want to see ornament become a dogma—“Ornamentalism”?—so esp. glad at how wide this opens the field. Colloquial speech, baroquespeak, appropriated language, your “pavan between two modes” from the other day: all is permitted, or maybe more precisely, no tone or technique is sacred enough to NOT be permitted, if the mood is right.

Whatever else it does, the insistence on ornament seems to counteract the pieties that sneak in with the “sparse and laconic.” I don’t mind that tone, though I don’t seek it out. But the moral apparatus it arrives with—the presumption not so much that the boring isn’t boring (as you point out, boredom has its place), but that it’s good for you, or closer to “actual speech” or “the way things really are,” makes the fingers curl on my chalkboard. Whereas your poetics jingle and gong.
Nada replies:
Rodney, yeah, no... I certainly don’t INSIST on “ornament”: that would be tiresome. I’m a great adorer of early Creeley, and Issa, and lots of other relatively unornamental poets. The thing is, I wonder to what extent “device” and “rhetoric” and “trope” might be considered types of ornaments–in other words, as moves against “plainness” (which of course is as artificial as anything). Maybe ornament doesn’t need to be thought of as a kind of noise or excess.

My objection, philosophically, really, is to asceticism, which always struck me as a kind of death-in-life. I especially do not want to see that tendency in poetry, which I like for its pulse. You know?
Then, my comment box-buster:
Hi Nada,

Yes to no ascesis! I’ve got enough death-in-life just getting to work on time.

“Device,” “rhetoric,” and “trope” are on my mind a lot too as I try to connect the dots between my attractions to Bollywood, opera, Internet speak, pop songwriting teams, troubadour and Urdu poetry, etc. What these performative contexts share I think is an embrace of convention (“device, rhetoric, trope”) at the expense of originality. They slip the knots that tie up so much contemporary poetry, where everyone seems to more or less hate the conventions, so is either working to topple them, expose them as instruments of power, or escape them altogether through something entirely new. In the process, a whole new set of devices unwittingly springs up that aren’t always acknowledged as devices, but as a more accurate representation of “things that are the case.”

The “I” dies just as surely in the tropes of Bollywood or opera or Diane Warren love songs as it does in, say, Language poetry. Since everyone in the audience collectively shares a grasp of the conventions and their artificial nature (precondition maybe of their being shared, like nouns), innovation arrives in the form of small variations, not in a grand overturning of the code. Why call out the artifice of what you (and your audience) already appreciate as totally artificial: a language for things that aren’t the case?

The upshot is that more than just the death of the author or the ideological bankruptcy of the idea of a self becomes possible—a distinctly different something emerges from the shuffling of the generic conventions, as in a Pynchon novel or a Brandon Downing film. What this different thing might be is something like looking at a chart of all the gestures assigned to particular emotions in Kathakali dance, then feeling that emotion in the moment of performance at the same time as you recognize its utterly artificial place in a sequence of tropes. That double movement—the feeling and the awareness of the feeling as an option in a system of devices—fascinates me right now. I’m drawn to the idea that you could accept your writing—your self—as entirely conventional without losing the hope that it could also be ornamental: a receptacle for attitudes, gestures, flourishes, curlicues, pouts, moods, and tears. The idea that what isn’t the case can become the case via, well, not the self exactly—that artifice thrown up by social security numbers and tax records and search histories and professional degrees—but subjectivity. Subjectivity with a collective dimension though, like an audience for a double-feature. Like a culture.

A comment this long is blog rudeness. Please forgive, and keep the great posts coming!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Hoover's Farm

Paul Hoover dissects the shift from farm—no credit cards, one restaurant visit a year, chicken blood flowerets, and a national army the size of Sweden’s—to “internal exile” in the land of strip malls and oil wars using only a single lifetime.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Suggestions from the Oracle at Delphi

Don’t go to the Web for disjunction.