Friday, December 29, 2006

Frankfurt School of Rock

Beatles = equipment speaking through sound.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Notley on O'Hara = Degentesh?

A while back I blogged about Katie Degentesh’s The Anger Scale and how the unique voice at work in the poems extends and amplifies O’Hara’s late style. There’s a lot more going on in the collection than that, but it’s one way of getting at what it is that doesn’t sound 'prodecural' to me (if procedure has a sound) in Katie’s deft fusion of the MMPI with Google. Out with the labcoat and the I Ching; in with wit, absurdity, looby satire, and a surprisingly intimate voice given the various sources used to call it into being. (Shanna Compton and Jasper Bernes have been commenting on this aspect of the poems as well.)

Recently I’ve been reading Alice Notley’s Coming After: Essays on Poetry. In it she talks about O’Hara’s late style in a way that reminds me a lot of The Anger Scale, though the things Notley objects to in O’Hara’s last poems are the same qualities that I think make Katie’s collection so engaging. Of those last poems, which O’Hara planned to collect under the title The End of the Far West or the New York Amsterdam Set, Notley writes:
"A new kind of voice is speaking, that of the poet becoming, and at the same time commenting on and changing, the story or issue on the screen. The voice is both satirical and mysterious; it’s anonymous and communal (in the bad sense) in its exploitation of verbal mediocrity, and works somewhat more through deadpan presentation and juxtaposition than through intricate linguistic closework.

What if that one, that entity [the ‘I’ of the poems], does think in the clichés of television, has a pile of these units, these lines clattering around inside waiting for further use and rearrangement in rather empty contemporary situations? It’s the space between sentences that’s now remarkable and impeccable, but these poems aren’t very pleasant, though maybe they shouldn’t be. A warning shouldn’t be pleasant, a pointing towards a future both inarticulate and full of words produced, recycled, and recombined by all sorts of machines.”

--Alice Notley, Coming After, pp. 12-13.

Among the many other things it is, The Anger Scale may be one of the first books to make good use of the neglected O’Hara. More pointedly political though: the backbeat of the MMPI suggests how subjectivity—or the exams, institutions, and (ulp) lyric poems we rely on to produce it—can be absurdly limiting, sinister, and laugh-your-ass-off funny all in the same breath.

It seems like a lot of contemporary poets are also pursuing a voice like this, one to which Notley's thoughts about O'Hara might apply, but charged positive. What is it about the culture right now that makes this tonal shift feel so right?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Dept. of Being Present (Spare Room)

Tony Christy and Jules Boykoff read last Sunday at the Portland Art Center, an airy downtown gallery on loan for the night to the Spare Room collective, which runs the most ambitious experimental reading series in Portland.

Tony Christy didn’t read so much as put into motion a set of antic verbal actions—many involving other readers, one involving a knife—centered on voices of authority (judge, bureaucrat, cookbook author, priest, rapist, God) to suggest the shared cadence of power in its various guises, its ways of making us “shut the fuck up” and feel small. But in his use of multiple voices, attention to the aural, 'pre-sensical' qualities of words, and vaudevillian stage presence, Christy also managed to point at some possible lines of resistance: Orthodox chant folded into polyvocal dada static.

Jules Boykoff opened with “Essay #5” from his terrific new Once Upon a Neo-Liberal Rocket Badge. One phrase in particular hit me as an apt description of Boykoff’s poetic practice: “helicopter as metronome.” It evokes all the current events, military and humanitarian, that require the intervention of helicopters in this our transnational age, while pointing to a beat—a structure—that underpins them, one that’s available, dub-style, for resistance as well as oppression. Just functioning like a metronome— making the repetitions visible—is itself a rebellious act in the Murdoch era: Boykoff goes one further by finding a music that gets information to sing:
“suckered again by the Lulu Guinness tulip detachable clutch

material frame now beyond the gumption of interest rates

[replica volcanoes spewing
replica sphinxes all plastic and shammy
like the massive between thank you & de nada]”
landlord as feudal hangover

mosque-hopping cassette-tape contraband

Thermidorian bevel torque

Sonuva horse baron!”

Jules also read all of Gringostroika, his new Dusie wee chap (yes, I said wee chap) and parts of his new The Metal Sunset of Tomorrow’s Ascending Dissension, also from Dusie. (apparently they work very hard in Switzerland.) The latter is an engaging writing-through of several friends, influences, and poetic fellow-travelers: 28 poems of ten lines each, with the first and last lines borrowed from another poet (“Poem that begins & ends with a line from David Buuck,” "Poem that begins & ends with a line from Judith Goldman,” etc.) It’s a clever, generous way of ‘doing’ community instead of just celebrating it, maybe also tipping a hand just a little to the competition that shadows any poetic scene (“man, I wish I’d written that!”) but turning its energies to the positive work of acknowledgement and production.

It’s not so wet but very cold right now in Portland. Jules wore a thick-collared coat through the reading and I swear I saw steam coming out into the mike—sign of life and breath and heat.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Brimful of Asha

Funny how in writing a tribute to the era of the 45, Cornershop managed to make one. 45 as bell jar of the one-hit wonder.

A thoughtful take on Cornershop’s 'hybridity problem' here. A closer look at the song’s lyrics here.

(pictured: Asha Bhosle at left with her sister, Lata Mangeshkar, also namechecked in the song.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Somewhere Else"

There’s a remarkable song in Gazal that goes like this:
The Taj [Mahal] may be
a monument of love for you
you may love this
beautiful monument

O my beloved, meet
me somewhere else
O my beloved, meet
me somewhere else

O my beloved
several people like us
have loved in this world
several people like us
have loved in this world

Who says their emotions
were not true
but they have no way they
can express their emotions
because even those people,
like us, were poor
because even those people,
like us, were poor.

O my beloved
This garden, the flowing river, this monument
this garden, the flowing river, this monument
these beautifully painted
walls, this décor—
a king, with the help of his wealth
has made fun of
the love of us poor people

O my beloved
O my beloved, meet
me somewhere else
O my beloved
meet me somewhere else.

I love the way this skews the ideas usually cued by the Taj—Mughal power, imperial serenity, conjugal love, Indian national glory—and spins them leftward. It leaves the conventional associations in tact (nowhere does the song suggest the Taj isn’t beautiful or grand or serene), but adds a new layer of meaning that reveals the contradictions implicit in the monument, and in the nation for which it stands as metonym.

Love—which in Bollywood, like in so much of pop culture, operates as the great leveler, its pleasures and headaches available to rich and poor, famous and obscure alike—gets tagged with a class position. Rich people who love aren’t like poor people who love at all, because the rich have the luxury of expressing their emotions, through buildings like the Taj and, by implication, through words, literacy: the preserve of the educated.

By using the Taj as an example of what divides society rather than an emblem of its unity, the song manages to insinuate other divisions as well: Hindu vs. Muslim, colonizer vs. colonized, Third World vs. First. At the same time, it collapses other possible fractures—most notably, caste and gender—into the “us and them” binary of rich/poor. Love is still the constant, but instead of using it to trump social conflicts, the song makes passion a media access issue: who gets the money to express themselves through art? In the end, it hasn’t razed the Taj as a symbol so much as moved it “somewhere else.”

The words are by Sahir Ludianvi, whose life isn’t so unlike that of the character in the film who sings them: a Muslim-born atheist who joined the leftist Progressive Writers Association in the ‘40s, Ludhianvi shuttled between nations—Pakistan and India—after Partition, until his politics forced him to flee to Bombay. There, he found himself an Urdu poet writing hits for the Hindi film world (a position few Hindi poets were willing to stoop to at the time). Ludhianvi also penned the stunning “Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par Who Kahaan Hai“ from Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957), which uses prostitution as an image for India’s moral failing in the wake of Independence. The lyrics are adapted from his poem “Chakle” (Brothels), which you can read here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

On the Clamways (dance edit)

Michael Magee just put a portion of my reading for his Downcity Poetry Series up on YouTube. He works some miracle with music and hilarious editing that makes poems about bivalves look almost cool. Almost. Check it out here.

This one goes out to all the Scientologists in Wetumpka.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dept. of Film (Bollywood)

GAZAL (1964)
Sunil Dutt stars as an experimental poet who spends his days editing an avant-garde literary journal with his atheist Marxist cohorts. When he overhears Meena Kumari—a skilled School of Quietude versifier struggling to get published—reciting in a garden, Dutt instantly falls in love. A formidable succession of veils, burkhas, partitions, and garden walls keeps Dutt from discovering the poet’s identity, so he decides to plagiarize her work at a mainstream poetry conference in order to smoke her out.

The ploy works; invited as the enfant terrible, Dutt wows the crowd with his lush, formally correct ghazals (provided by real-life poet and famed Bollywood lyricist Sahir ‘Magician’ Ludhianvi) and an irate Kumari reveals herself. Soon after, Dutt gets fired by his editorial board for printing one of Kumari’s rearguard poems. No matter: he’s a confirmed traditionalist now, happy to wander the streets of Agra going moony at views of the Taj Mahal, that all-purpose symbol of Indian grandeur that also happens to be the greatest forget-me-not a prince ever gave his gal.

Yes, they end up together. Yes, I would love to see this remade with modern American poets.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Found In Translation

Being told to read more 'world' poetry is like being told to eat more vegetables—you know it’s good for you, but translations just aren’t as sweet.

Still, recently found this handy digest of what’s up outside the Anglophone:

International Exchange for Poetic Invention

Added to links at right.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dept. of Amusement (Magic Helicopter Prayer)

Caught The Perpetual Motion Roadshow last night here in Portland, which I heard about through Mike Young. Mike was one of the poets I met in Ashland earlier this year at the Emergent Forms series at Southern Oregon University, along with Jessica Rowan (featured in the new issue of Foursquare) and an impressively tight group of writers that felt just a few hairs away from becoming a sort of "Ashland School."

Mike read from his chapbook "That's Not the Face I Was Giving You," which he delivered like youth's ambassador to the Sanhedrin. One from the set:


Oh snap! According
to tonight's work
zee past
just sits there

I feel like a Clydesdale
watching NASCAR
in a nice bathtub.

Stops to come in Berkeley, San Francisco, San Jose.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Fill The Blank

“Poetry ____________.”

a) community
b) scene
c) conference
d) world

Friday, December 08, 2006

Thug Life

A life in poetry: what might that mean? How do poets occupy office jobs or fly in airplanes or deal with bureaucrats differently from non-poets?

I can recognize poets whose writing is on the same continuum as their everyday life (for some reason it’s not “professional” poets I think of this way so much as activist poets like kari edwards, or writers like John Wieners or Hannah Wiener, whose phone calls and poems and notebooks and symptoms seem of one piece). But in so many situations that happen off the page, I’m not sure what the ‘poetic’ response is. Some soufflé of openness, freedom, orneriness, goofiness, and encouragement where possible of those values in others, plus not being a Republican.

That doesn’t seem grand enough to constitute “a life lived in poetry,” the way an Alice Notley or Nada Gordon or Ezra Pound or Juliana Spahr conceives it, or the way I imagine they conceive it judging from the energies that animate their poetry.

If there’s still any romance left in being a poet, it hovers around this question for me. It’s the life you want in the end more than the poems—otherwise you’re just left with some version of that creepy Eliot/Stevens/Gioia model of the businessman-poet, spreadsheets by day and poems slipped out of a drawer by night.

I guess what I’m wondering is what poetry looks like without the poems.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Stein's Fords

Stein’s writing as not outside the law, but parallel to it. Modern as making and making as embracing, embracing as engaging and engaging as owning, as in a succession of Fords.

Buy it then wrench it slightly out of true. The force of its need to be true.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Being Living

Alongside Stein's new way of writing, a new manner of feeling, of committing to seeing with feeling; new ways of "being living."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Go East (2)

Modern Americans,

I’ll be reading with Arthur Sze this Monday, Dec. 4 at The Poetry Project. I have never read at The Poetry Project, only the book about The Poetry Project. Hope you will please come see.

with Arthur Sze
St. Mark's Church
131 E. 10th Street
New York, NY