Friday, August 29, 2008

For Sam Lohmann

Here’s that quote with the thought I garbled last night in Guanajuato. The dream of Middle English as an “unliterary literature”—word art stripped of pointyheaded poetic ambition—seems close to what the language of the Internet at its best might be: an “illiterate literacy” untroubled by originality, canons of taste, or “the genius” and free to make new folk forms.

What would the lyric under those conditions look like? As language transmission shakes free again of the book, is Middle the new late?
“We do know, for example, that many of the earliest lyric poems [in Middle English], known from surviving fragments and references, were the words of popular songs and sayings of uneducated, unlettered people. The earliest fragments are quoted in such sources as sermons condemning the behavior that accompanied the songs—dancing, especially in churchyards; games and other enjoyments of pleasures of the flesh; non-Christian celebrations; and so on. When texts are numerous and complete enough to give some basis for comparison, it seems clear that many poems were perpetuated orally rather than in writing. There was, of course, no publication of texts. However, some texts apparently were composed in writing and propagated through copies or memorization of written versions…. Subsequently, among the preserved texts, the popular oral verse seems to disappear, and poems of poets, properly so called, remain as the principal texts of which we have record. This development suggests that the lyric verse of England has origins that are lowly, popular, and undisciplined (or noninstitutionalized) but tells us little that is more specific or substantial than that.

At the latter end of its history, the Middle English lyric form and its influence on later English poetry are difficult to trace. The rise to fashion of self-consciously educated poets, adopting modes, forms, themes, and techniques from foreign literatures, and experimenting a great deal, caused the earlier kind of verse to decline. So did the rise of conditions favoring individual authorship, reading, and, hence, fixed texts; printing is a major example…. A literate, self-conscious tradition of educated poets superseded the homely, religious, and unself-conscious tradition of the makers of Middle English lyric verse. In literature, the Renaissance displaced the Middle Ages.

—Robert D. Stevick, One Hundred Middle English Lyrics (Bobbs-Merrill, 1964)

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Is the reason “John Ashbery” hasn’t invited me to be a friend on GoodReads that I called him out there as our era’s John Dryden?

JA, dude, I totally LOVE John Dryden!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cento for Abraham Lincoln

Cento for Abraham Lincoln

Ladies whose book titles are anagrams for forbidden passion
has any number of headers in front of the actual data
Thigh chicken roast bottom bottom round roast eye of round
the shape of Asian grapes in the early morn

Names of flags suggest themselves
Hniyst! It’s my name
this seems like a name you would use

Run, inky racer, run
the future is where faith sets cash on fire
moblogging cedar shoe trees
while wearing a traditional Icelandic woman’s costume

Logs made of crustacean ringlets
and the gorgeous Saluki flying back from Peru
taught that the key to transcendence
is background
They snore while I look for the night

Are you OK? Then OK then
Hey, presto! you have a sleeping child

Lines from Abraham Lincoln #3, with help from:

Dodie Bellamy
Bill Luoma
Shane Allison
Robert J. Baumann

Rodney Koeneke
Lyn Hejinian
Joshua Clover

Tisa Bryant
Stan Apps
Angela Genusa
Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl

Lanny Quarles
Jim McCrary
Jack Collom
Anne Boyer

Jennifer Knox
Jordan Davis

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mainstream Versus Assclown

In a world of Cider Press Reviews, who wouldn't prefer to be DRUNK?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Thank You, mb

... for posting this. I want—demand—a full-blown reality show: LIVES OF THE SPD POETS. It'd leave the Spelling Bees, swell as they look, in the dust.

(P.S. Will settle for a 24/7 "Poet Cam" affixed to the top of someone's computer.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Memory 101

Gary Sullivan’s totally addictive new 101 Lives of the Poets project seems like an antidote to what I’ve been wringing my cyber hands about over here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Need for Speed

I’ve updated to one of those dandy up-to-the-minute blog rolls with equal parts pleasure and terror. The pleasure’s in the way the instant updates make you feel like blogging’s an almost real-time conversation with some of your favorite poetry-savvy friends and acquaintances. My blog roll’s not anywhere near exhaustive, but I’ve got a manageable 140-some links at right that feel more than ever like a giant cocktail party, where you hear snatches of interesting conversation in one group, then sidle up for a minute to the next. Thick as blogs are, I’m guessing we’ll look back on this as a dewy-eyed golden age, where things were still just manageable enough to seem anything like a conversation.

The terror’s in the potential to turn all poetry talk into blog-sized banter, and to lose the poems for the trees. My own online reading habits are sloppy and horizontal—perfect for these dynamic new blog rolls—while the Ubuwebs and PennSounds and Cross-Cultural Poetics interviews go almost totally unclicked. The instant updates also encourage me to read the frequent posters who climb to the top, while the week-olds languish without any visits. I guess my concern is that poetry will come to resemble more than it already does the conditions of blogging: no past, bottomless present, future three minutes from now. Though why should that be a concern? Shouldn’t it be the chance for a new poetics to emerge that matches the new ways we read?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Speed of Sound

Philip Metres and I have been talking through his blog about Tom Raworth and his famous reading speed. Metres mentions Raworth’s lightning pace as a “counterpoint” to the lines as they appear on the page, and cites “Listen Up,” a satiric poem in end-rhymed couplets, to make a comparison with Tony Harrison’s “working class political aesthetic” and, inevitably, hip hop.

But what got me thinking about the exchange with Metres was how much meaning we were willing to squeeze out of Raworth’s speed without any reference to his poems at all. If you didn’t know the lines were often Creeley-skinny in print, or he didn’t happen to be reading in rhymed couplets, his delivery alone invites interpretations, independently of any of the formal features of his work, that say a lot about the hopes and assumptions many of us bring to contemporary poetry.

I don’t really believe you can “read” Raworth’s speed by itself, and the possibilities below all show signs of knowing more about Raworth than just his reading style—that he’s British, for instance, or that a “working class political aesthetic” might be relevant. But I think our tendency to mask this essential contextual knowledge in a discussion of a “poetics of speed”—our need to find a poetics in even a manner of reading—reveals something crucial, or at least symptomatic, about the state of the art, and the pressure we put on it to effect change.

Here are a few readings Metres and I turned up. Others? And any explanations for why we’re doing this at all?
+ Raworth’s speed as a way to “[destroy] the polite conventions of the traditional poetry reading.”

+ Speedy delivery as a means for pushing words closer to “the status of pure signifiers, disconnected from any system of meaning but the sounds themselves.”

+ Reading fast as a Wallace Stevens-like “‘pushing back’ against the pressure of reality.”

+ Quick reading of short lines as Raworth’s reaction to Creeley’s (mis)interpretation William Carlos Williams, who understood line breaks as a notation of speed.

+ Raworth’s rapid-fire delivery as a strategy for signaling urgency prior to any grasp of the poems’ content. The comparison here might be with those government-mandated side effects warnings at the end of TV drug ads, which alert you to their importance by being read so fast that you can’t catch all the details. Raworth’s speed could be a way of asking us to pay attention to his language with the same kind of out-of-focus focus we bring to the “small print.” (Poetry as the “small print” at the bottom of everyday language use?)

+ Raworth’s pace as a response to the “increased time/space compression” of late capitalism, “where the subject is increasingly subject to the hurtling of postmodern life.”

This was a biggie, and opened up a few different readings:

1) As an act of resistance—comparable to the speed of hardcore punk—against our precarious subject position in “the hurtling of postmodern life.”

2) As a celebration of that hurtling …

3) … or a value-neutral reflection of it. (Raworth himself inclines this way in an email to Metres—or, really, slips out of the noose of this reading altogether—when he writes: “I never thought of it as a style: simply the way I read what I've written, if aloud—and now I've realised, over the years, that people think I read quickly, it would seem totally false to deliberately slow down.”)

4) As a parody of the “fast-moving, high-pressure, get-it-done yesterday world” reflected in popular media, like the fast-talking FedEx ads of John Moschitta.

5) Since the FedEx ad itself parodies the “increased/time space compression” of late capitalism, in order to sell you a service to relieve it, Raworth’s Moschitta-like speed could be read as a capitulation to the rhythm of everyday work and social life, exaggerating its qualities for humorous effect.

+ Raworth’s speed as a way of delaying listeners from identifying his social class via accent, so as to focus attention on the poetry rather than the class position of the poet. This is an air ball, I think (it’s mine). I’m not sure reading fast blurs anyone’s accent; I can’t think of an instance where reading faster obscures accents in U.S. speech.

+ Raworth’s speed (Metres’s counterpunch) as a way of asserting his “pride in being working class,” and reminding the (presumably non-working class) listener that “not only will you not understand me because of my accent, I will read in such a way that you will never be able to ‘understand.’”
That’s it so far. Condolences to Raworth for the loss of Vinnie.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Let me join the 21-blog salute to Dodie Bellamy starting one. She's a natural born blogger & it's already bringing up gold.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tech Talk

All the vivid tech und theory talk blooming on the blogs prompted me to post these comments I’d left on K. Lorraine Graham and Johannes Göransson’s sites. If there’s any theory they're inching toward, it might be that technology makes visible changes in our social reality—in the kinds of labor we’re doing, and the characteristic shapes of our encounters with one another—which, in turn, make themselves felt as shifts in our time sense. A poem is in one of its aspects a representation of time, both visual and aural, so has a way of finding the pith of the now more quickly and cheaply than, say, software upgrades or new CGI.

The way parts of speech connect in a sentence has been seen as analogous to the way persons are connected within a society. What about the speed at which those connections within the poem happen, and the patterns of repetition—the meter—within that speed? Can that be socially meaningful, too? And does a poem have to be socially meaningful—does its “meter” have to have the pace of lived experience right—before it can be politically meaningful?
Lorraine had posted about her work life leaving her tired in a way that “changes how I experience new work.”

Hi Lorraine,

I've been thinking along these lines, too. For me, it's been more a form of wondering how the sheer quantity of blogs, and the speed-reading (and writing) they encourage, extend the day job rhythm you describe into private life. I like Galatea Resurrects, and Ron's big links pulls, but there's too much of both I think, all pulled together too fast, to encourage much quality thinking or responding.

Since I've lost the wind on my own blog lately, I was looking back at some old posts and came across one on "Numbers Trouble." That seems a decade ago in blog time, but I was shocked to see it was only Feb.'08. For those of us who ride the blogs regular, since then there's been a large round table on the Gurlesque, Orono, Flarf vs. Conceptual Poetry, announcements for the launch of precisely 234.6 books and chapbooks I'd like to read, and Heath Ledger as The Joker.

I keep imagining there's some place I'm not privy to where people keep in touch with poetry in some other way, discuss poems in paper journals that appeared more than a year ago, savor and carefully respond to something as serious as Numbers Trouble. Or that the future will sort it all out: some scholar will write on the "Numbers Trouble" debate deep in the next century and it will shine with its proper significance. But in my neck of the woods, everything's feeling a little these days like noise. Corporate fighting-for-mindshare day-job-like noise.

I'm with you in thinking there's no no easy solution to this problem, until something in our neoliberal work life changes. That won't happen I think until they (we?) stop spinning downturns, in every sense of the word, as disasters.
Johannes noted his recent habit of reading poets mostly 40 or under. “When did this happen? When did I start to ignore my elders?”

Hi Johannes,

I’m sure the neglect of the elders is a regular stage-of-life thing, but I’ve been thinking lately too how quickly the blogs and la vie Internet are shifting our time-sense, so that poets who came of age even as late as the ‘90s feel quaint and slightly antiquated to me already. Looking back to the elders may be coming to feel like looking back six months on a blog roll—who needs yesterday’s papers?

If I’m right, I should say I’m value-neutral about the change—it’s just a change, not a decline, and a fact either way whether I like it or not—but that’s not entirely true. The way poetry’s normally preserved and transmitted is through a sort of informal underground protection of the elders—a minyan of the freakishly committed—that shelters them until the university finds them. Is that still happening as our attentions stretch out more horizontally online? Probably I guess, it’s just no easier to see than it was before, despite the Internet’s promise that you just might be able to see just about everything.

The poetries I find most interesting these days are the ones that try to tackle that new time-sense on the level of meter or ‘tude, but the big challenge I think is won’t that look like yesterday’s papers soon, too? Or is all “Tradition” yesterday’s papers yellowed until they become desirable as antiques, projecting the sexy aura of the archive?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

PDX Writer Daily

... has been singlehandedly getting me through the poetically slow & sleepy Portland summer. Who is that Masked Man?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Friday, August 08, 2008

Guest Blogger: Undersea Ordnance Edition

A certain housemate's submarine obsession has crossed into the dark world of misslrey. Enter: the Shkval.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

News from the Oracle at Delphi

Identity fed through context equals bruised Tater Tots.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Dept. of Continuous Peasantry

Chris Stroffolino is broadcasting himself from a continent I wish I had bigger on my globe.

Intrigued too by his “book of questions” response to this query in Jeffrey Side's The Argotist Online about pop music and poetry:
Q: Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?

A: Does most poetry want to be popular with people? Do most people who write poetry hope it will reach a mass audience? Do most poets like performing their poetry? Do they want to be on TV? Do they need to dress up and make themselves ‘a motley to the view? Are Shakespeare’s plays poetry? Is any particular Tom Waits song as popular as the image of Tom Waits? Is the media to blame for not giving poetry a chance? Is it a form of ‘market censorship? Was Allen Ginsberg’s Howl really, as a recent anthology claimed, the poem that changed America? Are most songs really that popular? Or are they only sonic wallpaper for many these days? Are songs more popular in England than they are in America? Why are sports and “reality TV shows” more popular in America than either songs or poetry? Are these questions your readers would sincerely address (or try to answer)? If I put them to music, or made a book of nothing but such questions, could it be called art (and would that get in the way of people taking the questions as sincere?).
Then there's the political blogging on Barak Obama and the music biz.

Viva la Stroffolino.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Air Check

It’s tempting to compare Franklin Bruno’s substantive quick takes on recent work by Jan Clausen, Pattie McCarthy, and Matthea Harvey to the kind of condensed intelligence and fair-game questioning you get in pop music crit, but that’s sort of like pointing out Clark Coolidge is a jazz drummer when you talk about his verse. If column inches devoted to 'the pome' are disappearing, this may be a working model for air checks of the expanding now.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Dept. of Monday: August edition

Like summer threw a fistful of ducats, then left.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Warmly Received

I’ve been wanting to write about the trip to San Francisco, but the feelings that came up being back there are wrong for the tone of this blog. I thought about describing the old haunts I saw, most outside the City’s photo-ready heart and along the pastel phalanges, on the rickety wood fire escapes tucked behind the facades, but that seemed like a bid for insideriness, disease of the Bay refugee. I tried to write about the people I talked with, but since most of them were at events I was in, it sounded self-important, and I didn’t want to leave anyone out. I worked on some Proustian drivel about time collapsing and how much of my self is still there like stuck gum, but it was too Proustian-drivelly. So I didn’t write anything at all, and thought that'd be that, but now that seems wrong, too, like the trip never happened, or the years I was there.

Maybe the safest way to go, and in its way the truest, is a list of Books Received.* If this goes OK, maybe I’ll be able to say something later about Stas Feldman and Leonard Cohen singalongs, The New Talkies, and dirty noon martinis. Here goes:

Cellini, Benvenuto The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, trans. George Bull (Penguin, 1956)
Bought for $2 in the Book Bay to make change for MUNI. MUNI!

Peirce, Kathleen The Ardors (Ausable, 2004)
Discovered the outdoor Library Sale around the other side of the building and picked this up for a buck, then borrowed the poems’ names—“From the Shore,” “Fondle Pearls and They’re Quick to Fly,” “Linen Napkin”—for titles to my own poems during the reading that night. Sorry, Kathleen Peirce, whoever you are. Though you must sort of know when you name a book The Ardors and fill it with poems like “Time Shall Not Lose Our Passages” that you’re asking for someone to wobble the pedestal a little, no?

Julian of Norwich Revelations of Divine Love, trans. Clifton Wolters (Penguin, 1966)
I’d rather just find this in Middle English and slog through, but then I’d miss the pipesmoky intro Penguins are famous for, this one by an English Catholic priest—yes, Virginia, there is a Clifton Wolters—who’s capable of lines like: “As she stands Julian is wrong. One can believe her to have erred from the best of motives.” Lost a little noon martini through the nose at that.

de Nerval, Gérard Aurélia, trans. Monique DiDonna (Green Integer, 2001)
Gift for my brother and his wife, who put me up that night, though tempted to keep for myself. Good brother.

Cross, Del Ray Ein frisches Trugbild: Ausgewahlte Gedichte, aus dem Amerikanischen von Peter Rehberg, with illustrations von Jessica McCloud (luxbooks. americana, 2008)
German never looked so good enough to eat. Del, I want an Ausgewahlte Gedichte. Can you ask for that for birthdays?

Larsen, Sara M. and Brazil, David Try! Issues #1 & #2, June/July 2008
Floating Bear sans underwear.

Stuart, Francis Black List, Section H (The Lilliput Press, 1995)
I accept David Brazil as my personal savior … from Fascists!

Warren, Alli and Nicoloff, Michael Bruised Dick (no publisher listed, 2008)
You can hear the poets read from this here, but you’ll miss the unsettling half Alli/half Michael cover photo that makes the case for their being twins separated by Greek comedy mishaps at birth.

Ward, Dana Goodnight Voice (House Press, 2008)
Stephanie’s already taken this down to the pith, so here just thanks to Michael Slosek for slipping me the goods.

Young Brandon You Better Ask Somebody (no publisher listed, 2008)
Kathleen Peirce, take note: “Half On A Baby,” “I Want to Play Catch With Bill Luoma,” “No Bombs Raining Down On Our Heads By Sextus Propertius.” And that’s just the first three.

After reflexively looking for Clay though I know he’s no longer there, I picked up in the land where cheap postwar paperbacks never died:

Everyman, and Medieval Miracle Plays, ed. A.C. Cawley (Dutton, 1959)

Kalidasa, Shakuntala and Other Writings, trans. Arthur W. Ryder (Dutton, 1959)

Restoration Plays, Introduction by Brice Harris (The Modern Library, 1953)

One Hundred Middle English Lyrics, ed. Robert D. Stevick (Bobbs-Merrill, 1964)
Myrie songen the monkes binne Ely
Whan Cnut Kyng rewe there-by:
Roweth, knightes, neer the lond
And here we thise monkes song.
*“Received” here can mean books I passed cash to a clerk for and "received" in return.