Monday, March 30, 2009

Rules for Reading Rules

Stan Apps reviews my Rules for Drinking Forties at Freewill Applicator (“Socialize the profits, privatize the risk”).

He joins the snazzy Brandon Brown, who made Rules a Talking Point last month over at HI.

Cy Press publisher Dana Ward has bundled the chapbook with Anselm Berrigan’s Have a Good One; you can get both together for $15 here while supplies last.

Stan calls out the striking design, typical of the thought and work Dana and Brandon Goacher put into all the Cy Press productions:
There are only 200 copies of this lovely new book, which has a simple black-and-white ruled cover and a gorgeously complex title page in which hundreds of tiny icons have taken up residence in the words of the title and the author's name. The charming design is another little triumph for Cy Press.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lit Crime

The process of writing the last post, and thinking over Konrad’s responses to it, helped me to get clearer on what it is that has me looking for something other than formal innovation right now as a measure of the new. It’s just this: I don’t think change can come to poetry from within poetry, no matter how formally innovative or “anti-literary” its lineage. Poetry I think is kind of like the Eternals in Zardoz, waiting for Sean Connery to come and break the protective bubble so they can finally age and breathe. It’s ugly out there, but it’s also alive.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I wonder if the real innovative action in poetry today isn’t so much in form, but in format: the blog, the listserv, Goodreads, the Amazon review. The way poets relate to each other through these templates, and the new expectations of response they create—less delivered faster, criticism morphed into “content” or “feedback”—may be transforming the idea of the literary more powerfully than anything that’s actually said on them.

Which is one of the reasons I’m such a big fan of Kevin Killian’s Amazon reviews, which turn the possibilities of the format into a funhouse of multiple subjectivities. Each review promises access to a whole person that the template can’t possibly deliver; you get a glimpse of an “I” assembled by the products it describes, but who dreams of reading all 2,131 casually diverse reviews to put together the self behind them?

In Killian’s hands, the assumptions at the bottom of the Amazon template seem to mimic the assumptions of the financial system as a whole. The value of each review stems from the reader’s sense of a real “Kevin Killian” somewhere in back of them, but the template makes it almost impossible to assess the author who (under)writes them all. You can’t evaluate Amazon Reviewer #75 in the way you evaluate the author of a conventional novel or book of poems over the course of his or her career, though the writing in Kevin’s reviews is every bit as literary. The existence of the writing subject as a consistent bundle of interests and discriminations is kind of taken on faith, with stars, rankings, and “Helpful Votes” as its derivatives.

Recently, I’ve discovered a new dimension to the Amazon review: as a forum for global political sniping. American scholar Clinton B. Seely drew fire for his A Poet Apart: A Literary Biography of the Bengali Poet Jibanananda Das, 1899-1954, from “A Customer” who accused him of being “an Occidental explorer…taking Bengali to Bengal” and for writing about Das, “a Fundamentalist Bengali Hindu Cultural Nationalist with secular pretentions, as most of his fellow Bengal Hindus are.” “A Customer”[2] then replied “on behalf of decent Bengalis, East, West, North or South,” extending “our heartfelt thanks to Professor Seely for his interest, compassion and love for Bengal and Bengali culture, and the fine work he and other ‘Occidentals’ are doing to rediscover different exemplars of that culture through a variety of outlets.” “A Customer”[3] then riposted with a blast at “the illegitimate Anglo-American Hindu love affair whose illegitimate literary off-spring is the inquiry of an Occidental in the Bengali Hindu’s Kama Sutra,” backed up by A Customer”[4], who complains that “such Bengali-Hindu literary taste only reminds the people of Babington Macaulay’s Intellectual-Poison-Tree carried along by the Bengali Hindus all the way from Calcutta, India to Dallas, Texas.” Reviewer “R Endow” then takes things home with a swipe at Bengali-speaking Muslims: “You things are things of the past. Wake up and smell the reality.”

I’m less impressed with the exchange than with the occasion provided for it by Amazon’s craven marketing tool. The jostle of anonymous voices boxed within the format of a simple 5-star customer rating template is more instructive for me than a lot of what I read in contemporary U.S. poetry right now, with its focus on lineage, formal innovation, and guild consensus. I guess what I value in these reviews is increasingly what I look for in poetry: the feeling the machine is doing something it was never designed for, like one of those cartoon contraptions that threaten to blow because someone stuck a carrot in the nozzle where a widget should have been. I like innovative widgets, but I like the bulge in the pressurizer better. For better or (probably) worse, it looks to me more like the world outside our poetry.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spring Fever

Look! It’s spring on Nada’s blog. That time of year when Santayana blooms on iPhones. And the “i” becomes a beautiful handheld sound emitting device.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Wieden + Kennedy Sucks Eggs (For Free)

If you come to this blog for “Poetry” or “Poetics,” please indulge a short rant about “Portland,” or at least the small corner of it represented yesterday by advertising juggernaut Wieden + Kennedy. If you don’t know Wieden + Kennedy (I didn’t till I moved here), it’s an ad agency, one of the half dozen or so big employers in a city that could badly use more.

This weekend, they decided to mark the seven-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan & Iraq with 24 continuous hours of mostly classical music at their Pearl District “atrium.” If you don’t know the Pearl, it’s sort of Portland’s attempt to look like a set for a TV show about working in a large U.S. metropolis.

As a political statement, the event ran about as deep as a Gandhi quote on a Starbucks cup. But as a civic gesture, it seemed good-natured enough at a time when Oregon’s unemployment rate tops 10%. We could use a little free anything right now, and Portland’s classical scene, with its yen for experiment and crossover, is a strong one worth supporting.

When we turned up a little after 5 PM on Sunday, we found about fifty people milling around the foyer, no musicians in sight. One of the persons working the event immediately offered us a giant-sized poster showing all the concerts W+K had lined up for the public for free, every hour on the hour, 7 PM Saturday to 7 PM Sunday. He explained, though, that this particular public standing in the office foyer couldn’t attend this particular hour—it was seated at capacity, and we’d have to wait till 6 to find out if enough people would leave to make room for us.

There was no announcement about seating capacity in either of the weeklies that carried news of the event, or on the event website, or printed on the posters. No suggestion that the concerts were first-come, first-serve, or that one should plan to arrive early because seating was limited. You might think that W+K got caught with its pants down, surprised by the size of the crowds that turned out. But I counted at least four on-duty staff, telling us where to line up and smoothly managing the overflow. Since I was there with a child, I couldn’t afford to wait 50 minutes in line with no guarantee of a seat at 6. So we left.

Normally this would be a minor annoyance. But with things as they are in Portland right now, with the mayor under criminal investigation, the 12-lane ungreen freeway bridge over the Columbia approved, and Major League Soccer coming to town on mostly public money at the call of Henry Merritt Paulson III, 35-year-old millionaire son of W.’s former Treasury Secretary, the W+K “free but not for everyone actually here” stunt symbolically galls. How much of what Portland promises—free, green, grassroots, or growing—does it really deliver? What’s the truth behind the ads?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bioku for Barnaby Jones

The large souls at Ashland, Ore.’s Pinch Pinch Press, instead of contributors’ bios, requested “biokus” for the new Barnaby Jones #2 (which is out but I can’t find online to link to.) Here’s mine:

waiting to publish
some other person’s opus
published instead. Shit!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Having a Coke with Edoardo Sanguineti on Tiananmen Square

What Google’s “Translate This” did with Sanguineti’s controversial remarks on Tiananmen Square:
“forty boy lovers of western myth and the Coca-Cola have made more noise of thousands of workers killed in Chile.”

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Gruppo 63

“Translate this page” is the goofiest word detourner since Telephone. For Gruppo 63, it spit out a complete poetics:
The Group 63 had the merit of proposing and groped in a renewal rather closed view of Italian literature, but his aristocratic detachment from the common feeling and complexity of the codes of communication made it an elitist movement, accused of the brain.

Friday, March 06, 2009

On the Oregon Trail

Alli and Brandon report on warm rabbit legs, boar collars, Ashland dancing, porches, prop planes, misspelled orientalia, and civilization without sales tax here and here.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Brandon Brown Tangent Intro, Portland, 2/28/09

For Brandon’s Tangent reading in Portland on Saturday:
For a long time now, Brandon Brown’s righteous careen through poetry has been a model to me of how much the art can be. Curator, crooner, translator, blogger, linguist, scholar, Jam of the Year nominator, study group joiner, and all-around renaissance all-star, Brandon reminds me how “poetry” is really just shorthand for “people,” and how people are really just nodes in a debate about Aeschylus that lasts past 2 AM.

Earlier this year, Brandon helped out at a poetry fundraiser by transforming himself into “Dessert Storm,” a one-man mobile whisk-and-pastry unit that delivered emergency confections to listeners at the break. It’s a typical Brandon Brown effort, “dessert” being maybe like one of those scribal slips that goes viral across the centuries, or infects a bad translation, until the sweet you thought you wanted turns out to be the Sahara abutting Dad’s broken storm door.

That’s not such a bad analogy for tradition, as it gets handed down to us with key letters doubled or knocked out, but I wouldn’t have thought of culture or letters or Saharas in quite that way without Brandon there with a whisk and a lexicon to show me. Ladies and jihadis, let’s rattle the Sanskrit for San Francisco’s own Brandon Brown.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Alli Warren Tangent Intro, Portland, 2/28/09

Tom Fisher, Alli Warren & Brandon Brown gave one of the best readings I’ve been to in Portland on Saturday, bringing down the variegated house with poems in the form of email apologies, wolf teats swollen with political allusion, and bathrooms in secret perpendicular to Levinas. Intro for Alli:
So far as I can tell, Alli Warren sprung fully formed from the head of Santa Cruz. Whatever magic first pulled her up the 101 has since distributed itself across many chapbooks, readings, parties, direct-to-cassette recording sessions, and after-hours banjo jams. I love Alli’s poems for their bruised and vulgar eloquence, like Dante’s but with God and the Italians left out. The Emperor appears sometimes, but only to be taken down, and it’s the whole ethos of the take-down that Alli seems to take on in her work, connecting the everyday language of the BART taunt or advertorial surround to the larger geo-political horn honking that makes up our episteme’s grammar. Alli’s poetry helps me to imagine what it would sound like to honk back. I’m glad she’s made it up the I-5 to bring the noise for us—please welcome San Francisco’s favorite parthenogene, Alli Warren.