Monday, April 30, 2007

Der Golem (1)

Been spending time with Paul Wegener's silent classic, Der Golem: Wie Er in der Welt Kam (1920). (That's Wegener as the Golem at the left.)

The Golem hasn't slipped under the cultural skin the way Frankenstein or Nosferatu did. He's sort of a bad cinematic bet—robotically slow, with a silly stone pageboy and beer keg torso that endow him with a strong underdog appeal. I'm intrigued by how willfully 'anti-cinematic' the film is: a study in heavy doors, massy walls (to separate the Jewish ghetto from imperial Prague, and the Rabbi's daughter from the sexual intrusion of the randy blonde courtier, Florian), close Expressionist interiors, and the Golem himself, awkwardly hominid, barely ambulatory: all clay, no breath. He's a sculpture trapped in a time-bound form.

The effect is weirdly syrupy and liturgical, like everyone's moving underwater. Time thickens and becomes nearly physical: there's barely a moment in the film where you're not aware of light being pushed through emulsions. That Wegener, Penal Colony-style, entered his own creation to play the Golem adds to the appeal—the auteur as misunderstood monster, disappeared into his own film.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Count Henry

Because it's Friday & I'm feeling mystically heteronymic:
All beginning's involuntary.
God's the doer.
The hero observes himself,
Multiple and unaware.

Your gaze drops
to the sword discovered in your hand.
"What do I do with this sword?"

You raised it. It was done.

Fernando Pessoa, Mensagem

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tropical Truth

"When trying to understand modernist ruptures, the revitalization of tradition inherent in supposedly destructive tactics is readily apparent.... In fact, all modernisms upon deeper examination show themselves to be a struggle against the immanent obsolescence of a past so beautiful as to be on the verge of banality."
Caetano Veloso, Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil (Knopf, 2002)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Equilibrium's Form

Rob Schlegel and Susanne Dyckman read in Portland on Sunday to a rapt and decidedly under-30 crowd, beards and crushed velvet and lime topcoats and a newborn, the welcome equipage of Bohemia Northwest.

Rob Schlegel read from two long poems, “The Empire Builder” and “Iceblink.” The first takes its name from the Amtrak line that runs the Chicago-to-West Coast route. The poem offered a fairly straight-ahead succession of images you might see from the window on a train (birds, trees, rivers in thaw, the lights of faraway T.V.s) while the experience of observing the world in that way—in blurs and snatches, faced with what’s immediately in front of you at the instant just before it disappears—gradually deepened into an analogue for consciousness more generally, with the landscape and the subject perceiving it treated as two fluid sides of the same interpenetrating mind. (“Is deer real, daddy, or is daddy real, deer?”)

“Iceblink” continued the interest in matters natural and phenomenological with a close attention to what’s observed that produced images freighted with philosophical, even moral, suggestion: “everything else emerging in increments of porch light;” “turns a flower into witness;” “to detect in the orchard/the orchard’s decay.” Schlegel’s work drew me most where it treated Nature as a theater of taut ambiguities; one of the risks that goes with that territory is a kind of loose, Robert Haas-y secular piety that makes of the world an occasion for baffled wonder.

Susanne Dyckman read “short poems, but a lot of them”—a selection of pieces in response to Frida Kahlo’s paintings; sections from Counterweight, her Woodland Editions chapbook; and a portion of equilibrium’s form, a new full-length collection from Shearsman, which sounds like it incorporates work from Transiting Indigo, her 2005 Etherdome chap (which I just saw reviewed in Xantippe).

Counterweight collages texts from Kabir (via Tagore), Artaud, and Dyckman’s own notebooks to create a calibrated mysticism that balances Kabir’s pull toward ecstasy with Artaud’s ascetic pursuit of ‘fecality,’ where no thought occurs without a body and spirit’s a temporary pulsation in the flesh. There was a similar play of weight and counterweight in the Kahlo poems, where the visual has to stretch to reach the verbal, and the “cacophany of color” implicit in images like “the cockatiel’s bower” or Frida’s pet monkeys (“rapture pivots on your neck”) was pulled through the cooler medium of words: “ours the surface of your dream.”

Dyckman seemed to share with Schlegel an interest in the poet’s role as seer or spiritual seeker, most at home where everyday reality softens and gets a little crepuscular: “there’s no rising moon, no sun, just/the in-between.” Both also read work that conveyed a sense of great care being taken with language, not 'crafted' necessarily in the precious Poetry way, but weighed and scrupulously placed: “every word sought/is collected and distilled.” Listening to both poets, I had the impression—suggested in part by Dyckman’s titles—of a yen for the mystical squared and brought into equilibrium with a reverence for the world we find ourselves in here, with its particular blurs and shadows, and for the words that make it present.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sic Transit

So Sanjaya's gone. But not to be defeated, he left another poem auf der fansite:
1. Sanjaya is going to the White House for dinner tonight April 21st to meet the president.
2. Sanjaya will be on David Letterman Monday Night April 23rd.
3. There are plans in the works for a possible Hair commercial.
4. Sanjaya met Billy Ray Cyrus and may be appearing on Hannah Montana.
5. Rumor has it that Britney Spears has expressed an interest in working with Sanjaya.
6. Rumor has it that there have been talks with Sanjaya's agent about a recording contract.
7. Sanjaya was on Jay Leno and met Jack Black last Tuesday night.
8. Sanjaya says he would like to pursue acting, modeling, Broadway and music.

Sanjaya says he is considering a career in the louche world of small press poetry.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Friday, April 20, 2007

"Early Morning, April 4" (2)

Corrine Fitzpatrick (who reads tonight with Anne Waldman in New York) read a mix of recent work and poems from her new chapbook, On Melody Dispatch, which she forgot to bring copies of, so offered to send for free to anyone who left her an address. Her work stood out for its sound-driven feel for internal rhyme, assonance, and sharp alliterative thrusts that concentrate the listeners’ attention on relatively short but dense verbal units: “no honor in that Bosporus;” “the factions monastic;” “sour as a rhetor;” “make muscle in that brittle dress.”

What she read from the chapbook had me thinking at first of hip-hop with its staccato and heavily end-stopped lines, but the meter seemed to stretch out in places to resemble that other popular (and political) form, the ballad. Many of the poems were responses to the war in Iraq and the sinister economic matrix that feeds it: “listen for glitches in the technocrat control,” warned one poem; another opened with the “pneumatic clatterings of paper factories mid-morning,” which has a great mimetic sound but doesn't induce much pastoral calm.

I read Alice Notley's Coming After recently, and a phrase she uses to talk about O’Hara—“intricate linguistic closework”—came to mind while Fitzpatrick read. It gets at the sense of sounds being especially close-knit or tightly embroidered, but also suggests the work a boxer does when he’s up close in a clinch with his opponent. Fitzpatrick’s writing, in manner and in matter, seemed tight like that to me: somewhere between a cross-stitch and a counterpunch. “Machine of surface luster, come whistle through that door.”

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Early Morning, April 4" (1)

Corrine Fitzpatrick read with Geneva Chao two Wednesdays ago in North Portland. (Janet and Kate will be glad to hear the Concordia now rolls out a flashing mothership of a PA head to mike the barbaric yawp.)

Geneva Chao’s work was new to me, though it sounds like we overlapped in San Francisco, where she has a new chapbook coming out with Suzanne Stein’s Oakland-based TAXT Press. Chao opened by reminding us it was the anniversary of the King assassination; she asked how many of us knew that date, like her, from U2. (At first I thought she said ‘YouTube,’ like TMZ had a clip up or something, which shows what high-speed Internet’s done for me.) Her work, too, seemed to push serious political content through the confetti shredder of pop culture; “politics like pixie sticks” sweetened for emergency distribution to the masses.

The pieces she read on Wednesday were structured by a repeating series of shifting identity statements—“I’m the type of person who …;” “I’m someone who …;” “We’re the kind of people who …;” “In America, we …;” “We stand united, meaning …”—that managed to graft Whitman’s sprawling democratic form onto the flattened self of the focus group or MySpace page. The armature was flexible enough to support a range of familiar contemporary reference (“I wish there were only one kind of Dorito;” “When I’m feeling homesick, I get the kung pao from Panda Express”) while attending to the ironies of America’s recurring dream of itself as a post-racist, prelapsarian ‘cittie on a hill’ that seems most durable where we’re most banal: “America, your pure products have perfect skin and non-functioning gonads.” “I’m not racist—I love Thai food and basketball.”

What struck me about the work Chao read wasn’t just the ‘message’ carried by its individual voices, but what it implied about the larger cultural space they unfold in. Without directly referencing the culture of the Internet—the blogs, banner ads, chatrooms, breezy online quizzes, and viral social networking that increasingly shape our public expressions of selfhood—Chao's work suggested for me that what’s changed about America isn’t so much the yawp itself as the room it has to echo in now, where so many registers of discourse bump up against one another without the standard social filters. Chao’s intentions were clearly parodic, but I was drawn most to the moments where the language came untethered from the irony to explore the more ambiguous pleasures of the sound bite: “Culture is what keeps your intestines clean;” “We’re the kind of people who are superior in our levity if not our gravity;” “This is America: the country that took the ‘ugh’ out of ‘donut’.”

Still, in asking us to imagine the social spaces where lines like these might be taken straight, or even look good on a bumper sticker, Chao's reading reminded me how the word “we” may be the sharpest parody of all.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Jewel Blurb

Nicholas Manning offers a challenge grant to anyone who can out-blurb HarperCollins in nine clichés or less. Here goes:
“With this dazzling second collection, Jewel confirms her place as one of the most equestrian voices of her generation. By turns zippy, fierce, heart-breakingly original and always immensely human, these sharply observed yet intricately crafted poems remind us what it is to be horsed on the shrinking veldts of the U.S. social imaginary. “It works on Macs, it/works for Lycos,” and any serious lover of poetry will delight in the rich diversity of platforms upon which Jewel invites us to re-think the critical distance between lyre and liar. Quite simply, one of the best we’ve got.”

Do your bit for National Poetry Month and drop your entry in the comment box here. Salutary as sneezing.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sense of Place

"Wet winters and relatively dry summers characterize much of the Pacific Northwest, just the reverse of the weather pattern of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. People in Portland and Seattle must water their lawns during the summer, and August is a time of forest-fire danger. The relationship between temperature on land and sea explains this phenomenon: during winter the land is cooler than the sea; during summer the reverse is true. Summertime air increases in temperature as it moves from sea to land and is thus able to retain more of the moisture it collected from the Pacific."

--from The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History, by Carlos A. Schwantes (University of Nebraska Press, 1989)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Hair Peace

Though I've only seen clips on Talk Soup, I think I'm a Sanjaya fan. He's helped usher two neologisms into the U.S. lexicon so far—"Fanjaya" and "faux-hawk"—and defies before millions the myth of talent that underwrites the middlebrow notion of the arts. His father is also a classical Indian musician, or so says Sanjaya; just wanting to say that's a plus with me.

I found this poem under the "Sanjaya Fun Facts" section of his fan site. Prosodically it kicks Jewel's heine.

Sanjaya says that he doesn't get embarrassed.
Sanjaya's friends never get surprised by his musical choices.
Sanjaya claims that one of his other talents is Culinary Arts.
Sanjaya's favorite judge is Simon.
Sanjaya's life goal is to become witty.
Sanjaya has had formal singing training.
Sanjaya started to sing once he stopped crying.
Sanjaya can independently raise both corners of his upper lip.
Sanjaya was born with brown hair and brown eyes and he has never changed his hair color.
Sanjaya's favorite female artists are Lauryn Hill and Susan Tedeschi.
Sanjaya's favorite male artists are Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.
Sanjaya's number for auditioning was 80283.
Sanjaya is 2 years younger then his sister Shyamali Malakar.
Sanjay's hero is Joseph Paul Recchi Sr. (His Grandpa).
Sanjaya is 5 inches taller then his sister.
If Sanjays wins he will thank his family first.
Sanjaya didn't celebrate his audition victory right away so he could console his sister.
If Sanjaya does not win American Idol, he will continue his career in the music business.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

About the Town

DAVID ABEL opens in The Theory of Love this Friday the Thirteenth and reads his poetry with Charles Alexander on Thursday, 4/26.

GALE CZERSKI'S Invocation is just out from FLASH+CARD Press.

The Book of Ocean is now available for pre-order from Catherine Daly's new i.e. Press.

KAIA SAND has a recent interview up with Leonard Schwartz at Cross-Cultural Poetics (scroll down to #132 New Directions, 3-4-07, or click here). She discusses and reads from her new manuscript, why this body decided to be left-handed.
"I'm a whisper in the amphitheater/a deserter reporting live."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sorry Mike

We now return you to your regularly scheduled NaPoWriMo.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hey Mike

Hey Mike, cook down those unwanted Lithuanian hill colts for the wine stock.

Hey Mike, use utility grips in areas where thin patches appear on the chicken urethras.

Hey Mike, have eight different scenarios for consommé memorized by Thursday.

Hey Mike, stiffen this meringue for the service personnel.

Hey Mike, re-braise the ocelots.

Hey Mike, we need new bovine eye paste.

Hey Mike, reduce some goat testes into the almondine.

Hey Mike, I need you to scrape and repurpose these remains from the sneeze guard.

Hey Mike, leave off admonishing the European kitchen help.

Hey Mike, more coke for the prep cooks.

Hey Mike, go titillate a shellfish.

Hey Mike, let’s fricassee a subgenus.

Hey Mike, remove the fatty organs nasally from anything defenseless.

Hey Mike, please carmelize these innards for the sou chef.

Hey Mike, let's euthanize Republicans for canapés.

Hey Mike, better loosen the elastic on that toque.

Hey Mike, construct a pudding to mimic the area’s prime geographical features.

Hey Mike, drizzle booze on the cream and make it flame.

Hey Mike, enigmatize the framboise.

Hey Mike, beat the restaurateurs senseless.

Hey Mike, sniff this guac.

(Tagged by Rod. Tagging in turn Sharon Mesmer, Mike Young, Shanna Compton, Catherine Meng, & Stan Apps. Details here.)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Dept. of Monday

nothing in this drawer.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Suspect Thoughts

Fred Rodgers is perfection, but I've got my eye on that Mr. McFeely.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Muhammad Alli

Another knockout from Alli Warren, in COMBO 14/15:
Please to Have Goring

Oblivion outbound sleep around Pound. Double bag shop and awe cutting edges crank. Two jugs spiced milk straight sticky plot. Was and was again. Built on built. Built ocean built. Those who cease to be alive built.

Shutter grated seagull whoop. Sea mouth poked hambone. Rosebud shuddered sissy stunt. Parceled and porked. Lacking lock logic. Thick and irregular fascist says what?

White meat white quarter white short seizure recess. Semitic seal thick coat. Dirty bay done done it done it. Means meet Ends; Ends, Means.

When is it again that Bound to Get Fuller tours the Northwest?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Dept. of Broken Heartedness

Os Mutantes shilled for Shell?? Please tell me this is a goof.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Subways & Om Cakes (2)

Mark Wallace read a generous cross-section of his recent work last Sunday in Portland, including portions of a work-in-progress, Notes from the Center on Public Policy; his forthcoming-in-2008 Edge book, Felonies of Illusion; and 2005’s Temporary Worker Rides a Subway.

Hearing Wallace read is like discovering a self turned inside-out to expose the back weave of bureaucratic questionnaires, public policy studies, HR procedural handbooks, and darkly insistent security concerns that go into its making. In place of the standard-issue expressive lyric ‘I’—truths drawn up from the inner depths and swaddled in sincerity—his writing seemed to posit a subjectivity that’s assembled at the shifting points of contact (and conflict) with institutions and other mechanisms of social control whose logic is opaque and whose purposes are always impersonal. Notes from the Center on Public Policy employs a complex syntax that conveys some of the ‘rationalized absurdity’ of the systems under critique, pushing long, perfectly sensible clauses out into time with such velocity that you’re apt to forget where the referential anchors are; your attention's drawn to the structural shapes grammar creates before it sets into meaning. (In this way his work recalled for me some of Taylor Brady’s writing in Microclimates, or the “Zoning” section from Occupational Treatment).

Wallace introduced Felonies of Illusion by situating it among the debates in the SUNY-Buffalo Poetics Program in the early ‘90s over ‘representational’ vs. ‘non- or anti-representational’ writing. One feature of an ‘anti-representational’ writing, he said, would be that it relies more on the connotative function of language to communicate, so that if we found what he read going ‘in and out of meaning,’ it was working like it was supposed to. It was in that ‘going in and out,’ in the provisional condition of any of the meanings arrived at, which were subject to change with the movement of the next verbal unit, that the writing seemed most political to me. Just before the reading, I’d seen this comment that Wallace left on Stan Apps’s blog:
“There's something to be said (as I think Stan is moving towards) for a refiguring of the notion of the persona poem. For instance, I think we're now long past the old argument that the problem with lyric poetry was its use of a transcendent "I"—clearly, lyric poems can also work with partial, contingent, historicized subjects, or reject the concept of subject position completely, although the latter now feels to me like an old move too, the sort of pure reversal of the binary that tends to go too far.

So I'm not at all sure that we need to understand by "persona poem" a creation of some kind of transcendent, unified sense of character (or of a "voice" meant to stand in for character). Of course, as a fiction writer and someone interested in the history of psychoanalysis, I'm not at all persuaded by any kind of Marxist criticism that suggests that character is somehow a dead issue, one that can be replaced by focus on language or social structure. Yes, various notions of "self" are constructed in various ways through language and history, but many other aspects of it are not so clearly containable in that way. Perhaps, following say the work of Erving Goffman, we might begin to think of character not as essence but as a fundamental kind of interaction. Remember The Great Gatsby; "If personality is no more than a series of successful performances..."

Character as a sort of performative linguistic interaction was one of the things I was working through in Sonnets Of A Penny-A-Liner, for instance.”

Felonies of Illusion seemed to put into motion something very much like the “performative linguistic interaction” Wallace talks about here, where the voice is clearly produced by “language and history,” but also slips ‘in and out’ of those limits—or pushes against them—to explore parts of the self “not so clearly containable in that way.” Where things aren’t entirely containable, resistance is possible: connotation may be the linguistic analogue for that larger social fact. What would it mean to be a ‘connotative self,’ an amalgam of the parts left unsaid after discourse has its say? A lot of what Wallace read on Sunday seemed to revolve around that question, or questions like it, or maybe just question itself, a feeling for the lyric as an intensified form of the interrogative.
“Imagine then if a person could become a social pleasantry, or speak their deepest feelings like filling out a form. Would it be frightening or a relief?"

--Mark Wallace, Haze: Essays, Poems, Prose, p. 51.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Subways & Om Cakes (1)

K. Lorraine Graham and Mark Wallace came to read at Spare Room last Sunday, with sun and a good chunk of the local Buffalo diaspora in tow.

Graham’s reading mixed two manuscripts that in turn mixed poetry and prose, so that fragments of what sounded like memoir or freestanding sections of a connected narrative piece took on a lot of the disjunctive play and connotative looseness I associate more often with contemporary poetics. Food and the predatory advances of strange men seemed to anchor a purposively abstract, non-linear travelogue that carried a cast of nameless “hes,” “shes,” “theys” and “yous” across California (vegan OM cakes), Southeast Asia (banana dhosas), China (“Dunkin Donuts at the foot of the Temple of Heaven”) and a shifting global zone thick with ‘internationals’—sunburned British travelers, Bhutanese economists, and carriers of official EU umbrellas—whose relationship to their environments felt as provisional and exploratory as the language Graham used to get us there. “The weather is nice here in Bucharest, and tonight I am taking a train north.”

The work she read was full of memorable lines that had me scribbling when I should have been listening; the ones that stuck with me most combined the kind of declarative sharpness you find in, say, tourist phrasebooks or language learning tapes with a wry detachment from the authority their diction implied. Phrases like “of course,” “obviously,” “usually,” “I have found” set up sentences that slipped away from the certainties they’d prepared us for (sort of like the women in the story who keep gracefully eluding overly 'friendly' men). Not sure how well the lines below capture this, but they’re the ones I was able to get down whole:

“birds fly away and come back”
“we’re usually being fucked while men found cities”
“of course when alone one has no love either”
“the breath sings when it is supported on speech”