Monday, November 30, 2009

Jen Coleman & David Wolach in Portland, 11/24/09

This spring, poets Jamalieh Haley and Donald Dunbar launched a new reading series, If Not For Kidnap Poetry, in their home near Reed College. November’s installment brought David Wolach down from Evergreen State to read with local hero of a year now, Jen Coleman. I love house readings of any stripe, and Jamalieh and Donald’s was pretty much the quintessence of the genre, with PBR boxes and serve-yourself wine; pictures on the wall by Ashley d’Avignon Goodwin, who’s involved with The Benefactor Magazine, where Donald’s Poetry Editor; and loose sets played between readings by Kenny Anderson, who’d stripped down to a small amp and Stratocaster to fit the acoustics of the living room.

David Wolach’s in his fourth year of teaching at Evergreen, but I met him for the first time at the Econvergence reading in Portland just last month. David’s posted a helpful run-down of the projects he read from, in collaboration with Elizabeth Williamson and with spontaneous audience assistance from Allison Cobb. Standing in the back, I didn’t quite catch what Allison was doing with the tape recorded message David handed her, along with a pad and paper, or why David moved through the audience taking pictures while Elizabeth read from a text. Not being clear on the setup added to the air of surprise and incipient mystery that comes with being a public inside someone’s home, not sure what belongs with whom or how much the objects disclose of the lives lived among them. The space troubled the usual split between public and private, displaying Goodwin’s pictures—which I found out later were snapshots by mall cops of minority women caught shoplifting—in “family photo”-style frames scattered throughout the house, and featuring a bookshelf with the “Staff Recommendations” stickers from its previous home still taped to the edges, jackets with pictures of Oscar Wilde and Stephen Colbert turned in a classic bookstore “face out.” By the time David started to photograph the audience, it felt weird but also right to pull the listeners’ anonymity into the general display, and to not be sure which was which.

David’s language had a musical, gently oratorical roll that shot through the various conceptual framings; I appreciated that some of the poems were written on dérives through hospitals, but I loved that they included “pointillistic penises,” a “bellicose masturbator with baby fetish,” and full-throated punning—“CAT scam,” “World Wide Wedge,” “O say can you flee”—that did solid political work while also recalling the schoolyard fun of early language games. “Because money protects you from people who fuck you” was the night’s brutal takeaway for me, one of those lines that leaves you gloomy from the sentiment but laughing at the symmetry, relieved a little too at hearing thought hit the pith like that. (More to come ...)

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Remember that commercial from the ‘70s or ‘80s where two pilgrims, one of whom looks like or might even be the first Darrin from Bewitched, appear in a modern-day kitchen as a golden turkey’s slid effortlessly from the oven? Darrin Pilgrim turns to his wife: Thou never served so juicy a bird.”
Pilgrim Wife: Thou never brought home a Butterball.”

Can’t find it in the usual sources (10 minutes on YouTube and Google), but that little exchange has been lodged in my head for at least 3 decades. Partly because heads just do that, partly because it applies to so much.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Stephanie Young

Since Blogger unleashed the “dynamic blogroll,” I’ve been culling the blogs that hit “1 year ago.” Last week, those fell words appeared under Stephanie Young’s. It won’t get culled. The Well Nourished Moon was one of the first poetry blogs I was ever aware of, and I remember how it changed my sense of connection to the events and readings I haunted back then. Things suddenly seemed more personal and significant; I thought more about phrases and more about shoes. Even slow poetry nights took on a new sense of event, felt less ephemeral and more available to collective reflection, once it appeared on her blog. Paradoxically, through a highly personal voice and angle of vision, Stephanie made poetry and the people who surround it seem like a shared and public concern, which all of us, even the lurkers, had a stake in just by being present. There was a tiny charge of celebrity, too, in seeing who’d be photographed or mentioned the next day, which friends appeared, and what aspects of a poet’s reading wound up in her reports. Nada Gordon says somewhere that she misses new entries so much she sometimes reads the archives, and looking back at the early installments calls up a world that seems already romantically distant, like a bleached-out Polaroid, simultaneously immediate and vintage. Here’s an excerpt from the first post, January 24, 2003:
“But what I want to think about and focus on is the physico-emotional part of thought—this giddiness, of which I am also a proponent, which means Nada is not alone with her idea I had better email her, after reading her blog for at least a month now without a peep of response, I am a lurker in all of my secret heart of hearts. That the state of the body is in relation to the movement of the mind isn’t a completely new idea, but it’s nice to see it reiterated or described in a new way, especially one that points up a specific condition of the body–giddiness (oscillating: one possibility might be the opposite dregs of a carbo crash)

Giddiness being one of my favorite states of being, especially in relation to the TEXT and other writers. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, I like to finish a discussion of poetry drenched, slightly, in sweat, and with enough energy to run around a track at least five times.”
I miss The Well Nourished Moon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Poets Theater

I knew there was a big Poets Theater Anthology on the boil that Kevin Killian and David Brazil are editing for Patrick Durgin’s Kenning Editions. In advance of its Jan. ’10 (‘10!) release, Kenning’s started posting a series of “Previews and Supplements,” along with the full TOC. The book looks incredible—Charles Olson to Nada Gordon, John Ashbery to Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, WW II to whatever war we were on in 1985. It could do for Poets Theater what Kenning’s Hannah Weiner’s Open House helped do for Weiner—shine a light on something rich and big you knew was there, but couldn’t quite get in full view. First up on the previews is notes, a production photo, and a manuscript page from Fiona Templeton’s Against Agreement (1982).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Beverly Dahlen

Robin Tremblay-McGaw’s posting a detailed interview with Bev Dahlen in installments over at X Poetics. Dahlen, who gave a terrific “homecoming” reading this spring with David Abel for Portland’s Spare Room series, offers, among other things, a fellow traveler’s perspective on the formative “Language” years in San Francisco in the late ‘70s, a moment that’s undergone a lot of reassessment lately, from the serial Grand Piano volumes to research like Rob Halpern’s, Kaplan Harris’s, and Robin’s own on the fraught intersection of New Narrative and Language poetics.

Here’s Dahlen on Language poetry and psychology, an issue that’s come up in the past on Silliman’s blog:
BD: In the late 70’s the language poetsstar was rising. I was sharing a flat on Connecticut St. with Kathleen Frumkin and Erica Hunt—two persons who were at the time very involved with the LP movement. Barrett Watten lived right across the street. It was a very exciting time. I went to the lectures, to the readings, and sat up many nights talking about ‘language theory.’ I subscribed to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and read Saussure. But I was never quite convinced, because my bias ran toward psychology and, on the whole, there wasn’t a great deal of interest in that. I don’t know if ‘the unconscious is structured like a language’ as Lacan claims. But I was pretty certain that theories of language that left out psychology were too limited for me. But of course I read their work—I liked Lyn’s work, and Ron’s and I argued with it in my own writing. I liked a number of the poets who had associated themselves with the movement—Kit Robinson and Alan Bernheimer come to mind. They were all very intelligent and witty poets, given to punning and irony and non sequiturs—really amusing stuff, like the 18th century. But I’m not a language poet. In these days I’m reading The Grand Piano, I check Silliman’s blog, but I don’t read language poetry more than (maybe less than) other kinds of poetry, or other kinds of writing.

I should add that it isn’t quite accurate to say no one in the movement was very interested in psychology. Steve Benson has become a therapist and I believe Nick Piombino is either a psychiatrist or a psychoanalyst. There may be others I don’t know about.”

—Beverly Dahlen, interview with Robin Tremblay-McGaw, October 2009
There’s also a great anecdote about group-reciting of Silliman’s Tjanting over the roar of the trains at the Church Street MUNI station, which is all kinds of allegorical.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Community & Poetry

O.K., here’s the bit on poetry and community by Lisa Robertson I was thinking of:
“This word community is a common currency right now in poetry blogs and certain bars. Community’s presence or absence, failure, responsibility, supportiveness, etc—everyone is hovering around this word. It could be that I just feel its ubiquity since I moved to rural France from Vancouver, ostensibly away from ‘my community.’ When I think about it from here I feel ambivalent. I don’t miss community at all. I do miss my friends. How much of this notion of community is an abstraction of the real texture of friendship, with all its complicated drives and expressions—erotic, conversational, culinary, all the bodily cultures concentrated in a twisty relation between finite, failing persons. When I try to think of what a friend is, I imagine these activities we pleasurably share with someone we love—grooming, reading, sleeping, sex perhaps but not necessarily, intellectual argument, the exchange of books, garments and kitchen implements, all these exchanges and interweavings that slowly transform to become an idea and then a culture. Or a culture first, a culture of friends, and then an idea. Or both simultaneously. Writing is an extension and expression of friendship. Maybe friendship is more dangerous to think about and talk about because of its corporal erotics, mostly not institutionalized, not abstracted into an overarching concept and structure of collective protocols. For me, the drive to talk, to be in a room with someone I want to laugh or dance or fight with, to feed, all of those things—this has more to do with how writing happens for me, and also how I receive others’ writing, than community does. I think my friends have become models and incentives for my relationships with books and writing. Certainly I primarily write to my friends and for them, seeking to please and delight them above all, and sometimes mysteriously and painfully falling out. But I don’t want to call this community. I want to preserve the dark body of friendship.”

—Lisa Robertson, from Dispatch from Jouhet,
Then later, from the same piece:
“Is the idea of community in collective cultural life replacing the broader notion of a participatory public politics? Is our sense of broader collective agency being reduced to the limited scopes our most immediate productive microcosms and economies? I think that maybe the political disempowerment experienced by huge swathes of populations in the United States certainly, but everywhere, under the expansion of the global neo-liberal economy, is gradually causing us to act out our political drives within smaller and smaller circles. I have to say that for me the micro-economy of experimental writing or visual culture does not in itself constitute the polis. I can’t pretend the stakes correspond. And I don’t want to euphemize the complicated bodily texture of my specific relationships in writing and thinking.”

Monday, November 09, 2009

Poetry Community

Anyone know where to find Lisa Robertson’s provocation from a year or two back about poetry and community? I thought it was on Harriet, but looks like she’s been scrubbed from the site, at least as former blogger. She did once blog on Harriet, didn’t she? And once about not liking the concept of poetic community? If you’ve got the URL, I’d be grateful. I found this at Lemon Hound, from an interview with Vanessa Place, but remembered a larger discussion around Robertson’s comments:
LH: Do you think about community when you write? Or, is writing a kind of social praxis for you? Is it political?

VP: No. I hate community. Community breeds lynch mobs and Hallmark cards. Writing is ethical, which is the smallest unit of the political.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Poetics from the Oracle at Delphi

Poetry as Rush that believes its own 2112.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Dept. of Monday

The outcomes are invisible.