Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Let's Go to the Bar

Grabbed a brief wedge of sun this weekend to work through a stack of TRY!s, David Brazil & Sara Larsen’s freewheeling collage of the now. Apropos of community, the March 29th issue has a witty call-and-response between Alli Warren and Suzanne Stein about where to go drink after 21 Grand readings in Oakland. There’s been a seismic shift from Luka’s to Mwa—“The Great Migration, (c. 2009)”—and they’re trying to make sense of the aftershocks. In the process, both manage to talk about the anxieties and limits of poetic communities while avoiding words like “poetic community,” the $3 fish taco of contemporary literary discourse.

Alli’s piece makes light of “the richness of the phenomena of the after-party universe” by dispassionately toting up the pros and cons of each space—décor, menu, bar service, yelp reviews. (The fried chicken, yelp says blithely, is “smack your momma good.”) I read it as a wry calling-out of the class equipment we use in making any kind of discrimination, between bars or poetic schools. “And apparently, like Luka’s, the place fills up with laborers come weekday clock-out”: Culture workers of the world, unite!*

Suzanne does what I think of as a uniquely Suzanne thing by training attention on the performative context until that becomes the text.** Here, the performance is the fraught ballet between conversations, predilections, diverse “social organisms” and the cavernous spaces that divide them. She has this bravura conceit of Mwa as a “giant digestive tract,” mouth, guts, intestines, asshole, etc., with the poets bunching mostly in the building’s throat, “that funnel of lubricity, inchoate gurgling, speech chakra, etc.” In the end, Suzanne wants the not so politically insignificant question of Luka v. Mwa decided “by audience vote every single time.” How else? How is it that artists, or any other group, settle their “X”s v. “Y”s?

In a funny and unpretentious way, both pieces take on what may be the central question of poetic community: What do poets behave like once the poetry’s switched off? And how does it differ from what anyone else does in social groups? Are the things it takes for poetry to change the world the same things it takes for poets to switch bars? That’s three questions, but whatever, hurray for metaphor and the chops to work it like Alli and Suzanne.

*Alli, if this is wrongheaded, please comment or email to tell me!
**Suzanne, you too!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Word of the Day from the Oracle at Delphi

kekmeikotes: “those whose labor is finished.”

(Apparently the Oracle reads Brandon Brown.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Hole That the Poetry Manages to Leak Through

For a long time now, seems like I’ve been looking for the poetic in all the wrong places: Zardoz, blog wars, movietelling, Amazon reviews—almost anywhere that doesn’t label itself as “experimental” or “poetry.” In response to Gabe’s question about Twitter poems, Drew Gardner left a comment that gives me a better handle on why:
“It can be hard to find poetry in places you’re supposed to find it, like poetry magazines. Because poetry is a thing that happens as the natural expression of an occasion and certain combinations of elements like hail in sunlight. Finding FRONTING and MANNERISM in the place you’re supposed to find poetry is a bummer, but the point is those are NON-POETIC bummers. So WHERE you’re looking for poetry when it doesn’t just OVERTAKE you on a DVD or on the sidewalk is a good question. You could look at the ELEMENTS at play that seem to be activating it, like maybe -- intelligibility / surprise, engagement with a living vernacular as an OCCASION, POETIC NON-BUMMER or POETIC BUMMER -- either way. SOMETHING / LIKE SOMEBODY’S LISTENING and CONSTRAINT (MANIFESTATION SHAPE) -- and yr INTO IT.

w/ Zardoz, free artistic license combines with an inadequate budget to make poetry -- the inadequate just means constraint and it turns out to be not at all inadequate, it turns out to be a hole that the poetry manages to leak through....”
If that’s not an up-to-the-tweet defense of poesy, sign me up as key grip on the Zardoz remake.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Algernon Rock

“Rock lyrics should have noisy words. You get to have a lot of double talk and excessive alliteration, and that kind of aligned in my mind to later 19th century or early 20th century writing, before the crystal-clear Ernest Hemingway and William Carlos Williams style. Browning and Swinburne and Kipling, those are the writers who are appropriate to steal from for rock lyrics because they’re big and noisy and vulgar in a certain way like rock music is supposed to be. That’s the costume rock music should be wearing.”

Matthew Friedberger

Friday, April 17, 2009

Edward Fortyhands

How’d I manage to name a book Rules for Drinking Forties without knowing about Edward Fortyhands? I even used a line about it in the title poem (Once the forties are empty, you can untape your hands) without recognizing the reference. Thanks to those of you under forty who came out Saturday and clued the graybeard in.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Parallaxis in Portland this Friday, 4/17

The year-in-the-making, Anna & Leo Daedalus-driven Parallaxis music and moving picture extravaganza happens this Friday in (post)Colonial Heights (really more of a small rise). Konrad Steiner of kino21 fame and a passel of other visiting filmmakers will be on hand to watch their work paired with 20th-century new music classics played live by Portland’s own fEARnoMUSIC. Totally worth not missing.

Monday, April 13, 2009

They Shoot Unicorn Structures

Nada Gordon left some characteristically wowing comments on my last blog entry about Barbara Guest and the pitfalls of poetic structure. The full quotation from Guest is this:
“The structure of the poem should create an embrasure inside of which language is seated in watchful docility, like the unicorn. Poems develop a terrible possessiveness toward their language because they admire the decoration of their structure.”

Barbara Guest, “A Reason for Poetics” in Forces of Imagination
Nada writes:
There’s a fundamental problem with her thinking here.

The decoration is the structure. I don’t know how many times I have to say that.

Without decoration (think of flowers) everything would collapse and life, unpollinated, could not continue.

In the case of a poem, it’s not like there’s a skeleton the words as flesh adhere to. The words are the poem, therefore the words (in their arrangements) are the structure.
I responded (having initially quoted only the second sentence in Guest’s passage above):
Hi Nada,

I don’t know if the sentence preceding this one does more justice to her thought:

“The structure of the poem should create an embrasure inside of which language is seated in watchful docility, like the unicorn.”

Setting aside the prim “should,” I liked the Cloisters-tapestries image of language seated unicorn-like inside the frail enclosure of the poem. The possibilities of language as a whole are there in potentia in any arrangement of words, seated in “watchful docility behind the particular poem.

I guess Guest is shaking a finger at those poems that get too possessive of their language, thinking they’ve got the unicorn by dint of their well-wrought fence.

That’s still a diss on “decoration,” I suppose. But there’s the implication that the possessive poem isn’t able to appreciate its structure as decoration, mistaking it for something more substantial. Where in fact, language could pull up to full height and leap the fence at any time: it’s there not at the poem’s behest, but for mysterious reasons of its own.

That all sounds a little flutey now that I lift it out of Guest’s sentence, and it’s probably run off. Thanks for your comment—I should’ve have quoted the whole thing right from the start.

(What, btw, would a poem of “terrible possessiveness” look like? I feel like I know ‘em when I see ‘em—highly turned and crafted things polished to look like they’re not so crafted, or certain “book-length projects” rich in purpose but short on the pleasures of surprise—but wish I had specific examples.)
Nada answers:
Hi Rodney!

Does she mean “language in potentia,” I wonder? Because she does say, in the first sentence you quoted, “their language.” I don’t mean to quibble (although I am quibbling).

I woke up thinking about all this. Just because I “loathe structure” doesn’t mean, in fact, that a conceptual structure can’t exist “outside” of a poem, like a rhyme scheme or stanza pattern. I was too glib, I guess, in my dismissal of her binaristic notion.

And I also suppose that changing a word or two in a poem doesn’t, strictly speaking, make it a different poem, although that also is something one could quibble about, until one got all caught up in Wittgensteinian definitions of definition.

Still, I have this thing in me that wants that twain (material/structure) to meet: “IN a glass not air or water/ but glass itself” (from foriegnn bodie): in other words, a form is sustained, necessitated, defined, “held up,” by its material: no separation.

and maybe that’s why I want to say that the icing is the cake, too?

I’m not sure I’m making sense here, but then, I never am.

I can’t think of any examples of the “possessiveness” of a poem because the statement doesn’t quite ring true for me; not sure, too, whether she means the statement as a criticism (as you seem to interpret it) or an endearment.

I do like its pathetic fallacy very much, however, and want to substitute “women and men” for “poems”, “charms” for “language”, and “bodies” for “structure.” I’m always happy to think of a poem in terms of an odalisque basking in self-regard.

Always happy, too, to think of anything in terms of unicorns, although if I ever write a poem that evokes anything like “watchful docility,” could you just shoot me?
How do you read the passage: criticism or endearment? And does the notion of “poems of terrible possessiveness toward their language” ring true, as either praise or diss? Ideas/examples? Finally, here’s the Gordonized version of Guest:
“The bodies of women and men should create an embrasure inside of which charms are seated in watchful docility, like the unicorn. Women and men develop a terrible possessiveness toward their charms because they admire the decoration of their bodies.”

Friday, April 10, 2009

Decorative Structures

“Poems develop a terrible possessiveness toward their language because they admire the decoration of their structure.”

Barbara Guest, “A Reason for Poetics”

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Fisher & Koeneke read in Portland this Sat., 4/11

That’s Alameda, CA’s finest, Dan Fisher, at left, fortifying himself for his first ever trip to Portland this Saturday to read poems for Smorg. Dan, who clearly knows his way around a dram, may not need any Rules for Drinking Forties, but they’ll be on offer all the same, since this is their Portland launch. Please don’t let this man drink alone (again).
Smorg presents
SAT., APRIL 11, 7:30 PM
The Waypost, 3120 N. Williams Ave.

DAN FISHER lives on the island in the East Bay. An island that has 4 bridges and a tunnel. He makes poems and some of them have appeared in Bay Poetics, Viz, Work, Cricket Online Review, Lament, and some other places too. He also makes collages under the name Fish Fishtofferson. He works for Upward Bound at Mills College in Oakland. He's never been to Portland.

RODNEY KOENEKE blogs here.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Guess This Guest

Do I have this right? Barbara Guest marries Stephen Guest, a former lover of H.D.’s*, whose father gets made a Labour lord, Baron Haden-Guest, a title now held by Christopher Guest. From “The Türler Losses” to Nigel Tufnel via a Moravian Modernist and the British House of Lords—how flarfy is that?

*“During the early days of Kenwin and H.D.’s later retreat to London, there was an affair changing into a tender relationship.” (Barbara Guest, Herself Defined: The Poet H.D. And Her World, p. 204.)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Troubadour Ruses

“Those poetical conventions were essentially stage conventions. Yet for all their artificial character, they harmonized as a whole, if not in detail, with the spirit of the social circles they were designed to entertain. If the poetic passion was in large part fictitious, its seductive intention was real enough. Both men and women liked to let themselves be deceived by the fictions which at times deceive our critics and historians. Fantasy was invited to effectuate itself in actual life.”

Robert Briffault, The Troubadours