Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Big in Icelandic

Big thanks to the supersonic Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl for putting “Slavoj Zizek” into Icelandic for the inaugural issue of Tregawött. I can’t read it, but I like just looking at it.
Slavoj Zizek

leyfið börnunum
að koma til MySpace
farið úr eldhúsinu eða ég sæki um skilnað

stríðið eins og það átti sér stað í kennslustundum mínum
kraftur internetsins versus fjölmenningarstefna samtímans
Slavoj Zizek trén standa öll í blóma

breiðast út fyrir sakir hárlenginga minna á YouTube
það var ekki að ég vildi þetta sérstaklega
hún bara gekk og þetta svona datt eiginlega af

þegar litið er til Etrúra
hlýtur að hafa verið skýjað
tunglið í fötu og vinir þvert yfir Alpana

það virðist vera fjarlægð í verkum þínum
SÞ-leiðbeinendur í dölum Slóveníu
kenna sérkennslunemum í gaggó að spila á gítar

líf mitt á tíunda áratugnum
fjármagnar vandamál
ungra gothara sljóvgaðra af mögnurum

Afsakið, ég er tímabundið vant við látinn
annars staðar en á einum stað í eldhúsinu þar sem ég fæ tvo takta
Zizek, Slavoj (f. 1949)

Amerískar landnemakonur
gerðu bragga úr þriðju mósebók
sérleyfishafar umkringja New York

Vertu sæll Slavoj Zizek
ég ætti líklega að klára Comus
safnöskju af Ólympíunælum

Við konan mín erum foreldrar
fallegrar dóttur frá Kína
hvers vegna getur sameiginlegt tungumál ekki skapað frið

—Rodney Koeneke

Slavoj Zizek

suffer the children
to come to my MySpace
get out of the kitchen or I’m having a divorce

the war as it was happening in a lot of my classes
Internet’s power versus today’s multiculturalism
Slavoj Zizek all the trees have bloomed

spreading because of my hair weave on YouTube
it wasn’t that I wanted it particularly
she’d just walk and it would fall off like that

Looking back at the Etruscans
it must have been cloudy
moon in a bucket and friends across the Alps

your work too seems to have this distance
U.N. instructors in the valleys of Slovenia
teaching remedial high school boys guitar

my life in the Nineties
is funding the problem
of gothic freshmen stupefied on amps

Sorry I’m temporarily unavailable
except for this spot in the kitchen I get two bars
Zizek, Slavoj (b. 1949)

American pioneer women
made Quonsets from Leviticus
concessionaires in rings around New York

Goodbye Slavoj Zizek
I should probably finish Comus
box of collected Olympic apparel pins

My wife and I are parents
of a beautiful daughter from China
why can’t a common language foster peace

first appeared in Abraham Lincoln #3

Friday, September 26, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dept. of Fallible Performance

“… we loved the mistakes because they seemed autobiographical, because without meditation or guile they wrote a naked heart’s wound. And if her notes had a tendency to wobble, to grow harsh, then this possibility of failure gave her fans a function. The infallible performance does not require an audience.”

Wayne Koestenbaum

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"I Shaved My Beard ...

... let’s get on with our lives.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

“Where did I locate my body in this vexed apparitional zone?”

The (New) Reading Series, which used to be The New Yipes, after a sort of community vote on names, and before that, The New Brutalist Series, is doing this new thing that’s perfect for distance lurkers like me: putting its readers’ “Artists’s Statements” up online with each event. You miss the drinks afterwards, and the poems, but you catch gems like this from Dana Ward, drink & poem in one:
“The World”, is it there or not? A presence/absence hybrid sort of deal? I always thought of this as a divinely sophisticated question, & wanted to be preoccupied by it in some unnavigable way. It seemed it would be productive, expansive, and that no matter where one came down on the question (if one indeed did), there’d be an enormous amount of space created by considering it. Maybe it was some Zen sort of thing I picked up on in the foamy edges of Beat infatuation I’d floated on in high school? I’m not sure. But then I remember sort of ‘forgetting it’, or finding it complaining at the edges of my radar, only to have it go silent again while I worried over other things. Then one night I was in DC at Kaplan Harris’s house and he said something to me about my poems “bringing the world back in” in some particular way. He said some other poets around my age were doing similar things. I was confused as I’d intended no such thing. Whatever he’d keyed into, that seemed so explicit in the poems (& I trusted Kaplan immediately because he was convincingly brilliant) was not at all there for me, certainly not as some kind of program. Well this was obviously philosophical negligence on my part. I had to re-consider.…

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dept. of Purcell

“Peace and I are strangers grown”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Infinite Loss

I don’t think I’ve read a single word David Foster Wallace ever wrote. He was plugged too insistently as the Hot Young Thing when I was in college; I saw too many copies of Infinite Jest tucked under hip arms in the ‘90s to give myself over to discovering his work, an experience that should feel more private. I remember a long article some years back (NYRB?) about Wallace’s retro hang-up with his postmodern elders—Pynchon, Barth, Barthelme, Gaddis, Gass—which gave someone looking to dismiss him every reason to do so and just stick to the originals. A friend of mine worked for a literary editor who had a story about DFW, fresh out of school, coming around to the house with his agent, pushy and golden and hungry for fame. I hadn’t known about it till the obits, but the Pomona College teaching gig—“The Roy Edward Disney Professor of Creative Writing” has a kind of Barthelmean ring to it—would have seemed like the fitting court sinecure for such a charmed & well-trumpeted career.

Since Friday’s news, I’ve seen him in an entirely new light. Reports say he suffered from depression, which millions do; there’s nothing inherently authorly or deepening about a chemical imbalance. But I can’t shake the feeling, since his death, that there must have been more to the work than the ballyhoo around it ever let me hear. Is it nuts to take his writing more seriously now? Probably no more nuts than it was to pass on it in the first place because of the media scrim. I recognize I’m just swapping out one cliché for another—the enfant terrible becomes the suffering Romantic. But with so damn much out there, clichés tend to matter: they help you to sort and direct your attention in a world where information badly needs a human shape. Sadly, mine’s now on David Foster Wallace in a way it never was before.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Poetics of Distraction

I totally get how blogging, or theory, or all the 1,001 poetry-related things we do that aren’t sitting down in front of something blank to write poems can seem like distractions from the “real work” of writing. But what if this is the real work? What if this meme-driven, hyperlinked, content-hungry, information-overloaded form we’re all simultaneously collaborating on together is the main thing the future cares to hear of us? How often in the history of poetry has the “real work” school been off about where the real writing is?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dept. of Monday

The sleestack hate my archives.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Vasectomy Rebel

One last one from Guha:
An incidental victim of Sanjay Gandhi’s drive for family planning was the great popular singer Kishore Kumar. Other film stars and musicians agreed to perform in a programme to raise money for sterilization, but Kishore refused. As a consequence, his songs were banned from Vividh Bharati, the AIR channel that exclusively broadcast film music. The Film Censor Board was instructed to hold up the release of movies in which Kishore acted or sang. Sanjay’s men also warned record companies against selling Kishore’s songs. It was an act of petty vindictiveness keeping with the times.

—from Ramachandra Guha India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Ultimate Neglectorino: Huckleberry Hound

New York School = Warner Bros. cartoons

Black Mountain = Hanna-Barbera cartoons

Beats = Walter Lantz cartoons

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Politics of Bobby

Another gem from Guha:
“The elections [of 1977] had been scheduled for the third week of March. The opposition campaign [against Indira Gandhi] kicked off with a mass rally at the Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi on Sunday, 6 March. In a desperate measure to reduce the size of the crowd, the government chose to show a popular romantic film, Bobby, on television at the same time as the rally was being held. In 1977 there was only one television channel, run by the state, and in normal circumstances half of Delhi’s adult population would have been huddled around the screen. But, as one pro-Janata paper gleefully reported, on this day Babuji won over Bobby. A million people heard JP and Jagjivan Ram [“Babuji”] speak, along with the leaders of the other opposition parties, all now pledged to a common fight against Indira Gandhi and the Congress.”

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Global Ginsberg

Dry as it is thorough, Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi cites the following poem inspired by India’s humiliating 1962 border war with China. Ginsberg was on the first leg of his two-years’ dharma bumming around the subcontinent; yoking headlines into sturdy geo-political patterns of resistance and decolonization, it’s a great reminder—if anyone needed any—how far his head (and other members) extended past the ashram. Go Allen:
The Fights 1962:

U.S. vs Russia in General/China vs Formosa over possession/India vs
China over border territory/India vs Pakistan over possession Kashmir—Religious/India vs Portugal over possession Goa/India vs Nagas over Independence/Egypt vs Israel over possession of territory and Religion/ E. Germany vs W. Germany sovereignty/Cuba vs U.S.A.—Ideas/N. Korea vs. So. Korea—Sovereignty/Indonesia vs Holland—Territory/France vs Algeria—Territory/Negroes vs whites—U.S./Katanga vs Leopoldville/Russian Stalinists vs Russian Kruschevists/Peru A.P.R.A. vs Peru Mili- Tary/Argentine Military versus Argentine Bourgeois/Navajo Peyotists vs Navajo Tribal Council—Tribal/W. Irian?/Kurds vs Iraq/Negro vs Whites—So. Africa—Race/U.S. Senegal vs Red Mali—Territory/Ghana vs Togo—Territory/Ruanda Watusi vs Ruanda Bahutu—Tribe power/Kenya Kadu vs Kenya Kana—Tribe power/Somail vs Aethopia, Kenya, French Somali/Tibet Lamas vs. Chinese Tibetan secularists/India vs. E. Pak—Assam Bengal over Border & Tripura/Algeria vs Morocco over

Monday, September 08, 2008

Dept. of Monday

“Your Canto ran over my Gloucester.”

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The New Lyric

It’s because I like Mark Scroggins’s work so much as a writer and a blogger that I took his recent comments on lyric in his “100 poem-book” review of Peter Gizzi’s Some Values of Landscape and Weather as helpfully symptomatic:
A splendid extravagance of language, a brilliant eye for colors & for details, the objects/detritus/treasured things of the visible. Yes, the reinvention of the “lyric,” whatever that means–or a loving caress of the body of the sensual world. A splendid extravagance of forms, as well, from reinventions of the cante jondo to love songs built on syntactic games.
It seems a done deal that in our current poetic culture, “lyric”—except for the 87.9% for whom it’s still just oxygen—connotes “extravagance,” color & glitter, and a predilection for the (always almost excessively) sensual, along with the notion of “reinvention,” with its insinuation of a rescue operation, like you get on those well-intentioned radio stations that boast they’re “Keeping Jazz Alive.”

I don’t think Scroggins is saying exactly this, or that someone would necessarily be off-base if she or he did. But it bubbled in the background while I read his post, conditioned in part by the way I’ve heard Peter Gizzi’s work described elsewhere, partly by the half-cocked idea I have of New Brutalism and the New Sincerity and their quick roll off the glass mountain of the “new lyric.”

What is this “new lyric”—I mean the reinvented one you can indulge in now without feeling like you’re turning your back on 120 years of heavy linguistic invention—and why is it packaged as “sensual”? Do we need that materialist, semi-Marx gloss to work off our guilt about singing? Has the lyric gone totally emo? Or can it still be show tunes, like Elmslie?

And while we’re at it, who’s this “Cante jondo” when she’s at home? And have you read yet The Poem of A Life?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Chiriakhana (The Zoo)

The received wisdom about Satyajit Ray’s eccentric 1967 detective pic, Chiriakhana, is that he never intended to make it. He secured the project for the benefit of his long-time assistants; he had no say in selecting the story or in the casting; he didn’t relish working again with box-office superstar Uttam Kumar, who’d contributed little to the creative process while filming Nayak the year before. Once shooting started though, the producers insisted on Ray’s involvement, and out of loyalty to his crew he agreed.

But this story doesn’t entirely square with how Ray-like the film turned out to be. Uttam Kumar plays Byomkesh Bakshi, a bespectacled, scholarly detective who spends his unemployed days drinking tea with his Watson, Ajit Chakravorty, in a shabby Kolkata office. An armchair philosopher and polymath who can discourse on everything from herpetology to Shakespearean drama—not unlike Ray himself, and the urban Bengali professional classes he so often dissects in his films—Bakshi lives surrounded by the paraphernalia of scientific rationalism: an anatomy skeleton, a pet snake, a deck of cards for practicing sleight-of-hand, a corkboard stuck with random bits of English and Bengali that promise to add up to some kind of sense just beyond the viewer’s reach. In the opening dialog, Chakravorty—an author who, exactly like the genre writer Lalmohan Ganguly in Ray’s 1978 Joi Baba Felunath, hangs out with Bakshi in the hopes of collecting material for a story that presumably culminates in the film we’re watching—complains that if business doesn’t pick up soon, he’ll be reduced to making his fortune writing “romance novels.”

This opening contrast between romance and rationalism, which evokes the familiar divide between Bollywood convention and the more naturalistic “parallel cinema” favored by Ray, sparks a short but significant discussion within the film on the art of narrative. Bakshi, citing Shakespeare as his example, points out that there’s no play without a murder, just as there’s no romance novel without illicit love. Both these essential generic features clash with society’s everyday strictures, where murder and “illicit” passion entail serious reprisals. “Illegal affairs,” he tells Ajit, “may be illegal in society, but it is very necessary in literature.”

Having put the rules of the genre we’re watching into conflict with the laws of society, Ray goes on to tease out the implications of convention, in stories and society alike. The film’s opening shot tracks from a remote documentary capture of Kolkata street life to the four-walled, artfully chosen clutter of Bakshi’s office. Likewise, the plot takes us from Bakshi’s heterogeneous interior world to a groomed, tightly controlled reform colony run for the benefit of social outcasts and criminals. The mystery centers on a retired judge who decides to atone for the innocents he may have mistakenly sent to prison by recruiting the morally suspect to work in his rose business. (Allusions to roses and thorns are an ongoing source of play in the film.) Bakshi’s hired to investigate the disappearance of one of the colony’s members, a woman who once starred in a Bengali film, “The Poison Tree,” featuring a song “sung by the actress herself” called (generically enough) “What Do You Know of Love?” The song was a popular hit, but the woman disappeared soon after, having been accused of murdering one of the film’s producers, who was also her lover.

Bakshi visits the rose colony disguised as a Japanese businessman, and discovers his client’s carefully curated “zoo” of criminal types to be as artificial as the elements of any romantic plot. Far from cultivating his miscreants into model citizens, Bakshi’s client has unknowingly created an artful façade for deceit, violence, and—when our ex-judge is killed while delivering an urgent message to Bakshi over the phone—the generically required murder.

The rest of the film pivots on a deaf-mute witness to the crime, who himself gets murdered, but not before writing down the information Bakshi needs to find the culprit on a slip of paper. The clue in the note involves a pun in Bengali that doesn’t translate to English, and the deaf-mute witness idea, while conceptually interesting for a film, doesn’t add much to the themes Ray’s put into motion. Ray later dismissed the film as
“a whodunit, and whodunits just don’t make good films. I prefer the thriller form where you more or less know the villain from the beginning. The whodunit always has this ritual concluding scene where the detective goes into a rigmarole of how everything happened, and how he found the clues which led him to the criminal. It's a form that doesn’t interest me very much.”
Maybe because of his antipathy to the material, Ray manages to turn Chiriakhana into a sly meditation on form, generic artifice, and the social realities to which they’re accountable. Bakshi’s detachment from the crime he’s out to solve mirrors Ray’s disinterest in the “whodunit” form whose conventions he dutifully fulfills while at the same time pointing to why it is they fail—the thorns, it turns out, are more compelling than the roses, and reality keeps exceeding the moral and artistic conventions we devise to contain it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

“Hey any way to get hold of John Sakkis outside this forum?”

“Oh, but that’s right, to some hippy freak Frisco “poet”, anything that even just seems like an aspersion is grounds for, “oooh, you’re a racist.”

Congratulations to John Sakkis, the greatest “‘ultra-tolerant’, sneering, San Francisco avant garde, D&D playing pseudo-intellectual poet” of his generation, on the publication of Gary Gygax.

JS, don’t let the aroused Treants get you down.