Monday, December 13, 2010

Names of the Hits (of Diane Warren)

With just 12 shopping days left until Christmas, and Kwanzaa fruits about to pass beneath the nation’s kinaras, it’s high time to announce that the brave elves at OMG! Press have put together a one-stop-shop gift set for the small press poetry lover in your life. 14 bucks gets you a commemorative pen, a bonus CD, and four chapbooks featuring the literary stylings of Joseph Mosconi, David Brazil, Anna Vitale and me, in musical collaboration with America’s best-loved Warrens, Diane and Alli.

If you didn’t yet know this is Diane Warren’s world and the rest of us are just living in it, Names of the Hits (of Diane Warren), along with the companion The Hits (of Diane Warren), will show you why Devo’s rolled over for Il Divo, and how the Brill Building ended up inside a broody suburban kid from Van Nuys. What better way to say “(You Make Me) Rock Hard” to that special someone? 
from OMG!:

  Limited edition, 100 copies, commemorative pen (by my reckoning, the only pen with the word  “motherfucker” and  “Creeley” on it.)

  Limited edition, 100 copies.

  Hot pink covers, fresh new work by Anna Vitale!

  Limited edition, 100 copies of chapbook with text by Koeneke, and compact disc compilation edited by Alli Warren. Let freedom ring.
I’m selling these books! 1 for $5, 2 for $9, 3 for $12, 4 for $14 what a deal! Just tell me which ones you want in the paypal field.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Friday, December 03, 2010

Chicks Dig Kim Jong-Il

News (to me) of this really sort of amazing site compliments of Drew Gardner.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sympathy for the Garfunkel

Somehow I missed the magic week at the SFMOMA blog that opened with Dana Ward on Corey Arcangel’s editing down of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1984 Central Park concert to only the footage where Art’s got his hands in his pockets, and closed with Brandon Brown’s answering piece on the satanics of Kanye West. Brown pulls a thread through two centuries of “poetry which portends towards devotion to the Satanic,” his own days “entrenched in wizardry” in the 1980s, and the “audacious impiety” of Kanye’s Twitter pronouncements about his upcoming My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, while Ward reads angelic Art’s “increasingly enigmatic gesture”—boredom? regret? interpersonal friction?—as “a prosody to that which one never knew one desired to know.” Art’s remarkable “junction of poise and unease” through the concert, as Ward sees it, “speaks to the fragile happiness engendered by every false armistice.” I liked this, too:
“[Arcangel’s work] reminds me that reverie is the scholarship of unproductive time, and that inquiry undertaken there is hard won and precious and just what the world of work seeks to undo.” 
See what can happen when you let poets out of their usual malbolge?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Parking Lot of Terror

The 1977 Gay Sunshine interview included in John Wieners’s Selected is an Alp of spontaneous bop prosody, but this weekend at the Brandon Downing reading Sam Lohmann reminded me that Wieners’s interlocutor, Charley Shively, gets his licks in too. If you find a better 'poetry of place' question than “How important is geography or the turning of locations into a parking lot of terror?” shout out and let me know.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brandon Downing in Portland Tomorrow, 8 PM

 Poet, filmmaker, and lacustrine antiquarian Brandon Downing lands in Portland tomorrow to read for Bad Blood.  His videos are here; an eloquent review by Lucy Ives, with lots of illustrations from Lake Antiquity, is here; and a great interview with Ben Mirov in BOMB is here. Pop quiz at 7 PM; reading, with a few warm-up poems from me, at 8. Worksound Gallery, 820 SE Alder

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lewis Warsh's The Origin of the World

A seasonal time/energy deficit choked off the posts I meant to write on the strong run of readings in Portland lately: David Wolach with a laptop, Rachel Zolf with a Boykoff, Joshua Marie Wilkinson with a banjo, Katie Degentesh with unexpected sunshine, Mathias Svalina with surprise high school buds, K. Lorraine Graham with spangles, Anselm Berrigan with Sebaldliche syntax, Karen Weiser with Swedenborg, Alicia Cohen with autumn leaves, Kevin Sampsell with an SPD tee, Paul Maziar with a Catholic childhood, Standard Schaefer with false purgatories, Mark Wallace with lines for each audience member, Joseph Mains with skillfully held-back feedback, Les Fig with a pet caravan, etc. 

Those reports wont ever get written, at least not by me. But I did manage to write something about the Lewis Warsh books I got in advance of his reading, which I liked a lot. Soft rock and cowbell’s bound to sound like a diss out of context; I hope you can hear that its not. 
Lately, I hear ‘70s “soft” rock on the radio and wonder at the craftsmanship. It takes a lot of chops to sound that easy-like-Sunday-morning smooth, and measured against the digital wizardry that’s come since, the production seems warm and honest, not MOR-slick. Once in a while a sharp bass lick or drum figure bubbles up through the flow, and I picture the studio musicians who gave everything they had to hits that got plenty of airplay, but little critical respect.

Warsh’s poems from the ‘90s work sort of like that lick. You move along absently tapping your toes across the registers—“She drove up to Boston & bought a handbag on sale at Filene’s”; “Don’t be afraid of hurting my feelings by telling me/you hate me”—then suddenly, a sentence that pulls you up with its subtle vernacular majesty:

“Mansions where executives once lived with their families will
be split into apartments for the families of the workers”


“I plant the symbol of order, Neptune’s trident, on the opposite
side of the achipelago & set forth under warm skies to a
new terrain, spellbound by the possibilities of the future
& the shadows of the strange birds hanging motionless
on the horizon, but I don’t know the name of the boat
I’m aboard—it’s like a shadow of some other boat
that went down in the storm of the Isle of Good Hope,
where promises of love were made only to be broken
the next day, where marriage vows were spoken
in the shadows of an empty cathedral, where friends
& relatives gathered to wish you well—could
anyone of them, or you, predict
this spell of cold weather
we’ve been having recently?”

That last one’s from someone who owns a few Ashbery albums, but within the context of the assured, direct, observational comedy-like zingers that surround it, it leaps out with an intensity that’s all Warsh’s. If second generation New York School is Zappa, and Language poetry’s The Clash, and theory is techno, the poems here remind me that sometimes a reader just needs more cowbell.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Current Mood for the Oracle at Delphi

“The session’s gorilla on vox humana.”

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Poetry Month in Portland

November brings a perfect storm of poetry activity to Portland, including ... well, too many to name and they’re listed in the sidebar at the right. Fun starts this Saturday, when San Diego scops K. Lorraine Graham and Mark Wallace blow through town to read with Common Pornographer Kevin Sampsell. (Check out the glasses on those three.)  Sunday matches up New York’s legendary “Angel Hair” Lewis Warsh with 2009 Oregon Book Award finalist Alicia Debts and Obligations Cohen. Details for each at the Tangent and Spare Room websites: both series are under new roofs.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Haunting

I’ll cop to having never heard of Hauntology, the music or the French theory, until six hours ago when Michael Cross posted David Brazil’s extraordinary talk on the subject at the Berkeley Art Museum this weekend. “Because we’re creatures who love and remember we are haunted” vaults into the instant Top 10 Apothegms of 2010 list I just made up upon reading it.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Hannah Weiner Revelations

A procrastinating weekend webcrawl brought up Robbie Dewhurst’s enlightening paper on Hannah Weiner’s Country Girl (which, thanks to Patrick Durgin, you can read in typescript here) and the news-to-me that Weiner’s newly discovered last manuscript, The Book of Revelations, is now up on her home page at the Electronic Poetry Center. It’s tough reading online, scanned from notebooks written in pencil and crossed into overlapping strips, but if you’ve got more than a weekend surf session to burn, there it is for the electronic ages. “speak so as no one will listen” says page 6, not knowing so many no ones would. 

Robbie’s post also got me wanting to spend time with Page, which he describes as Weiner’s Behind the State Capitol. Would like to read that too, if I could find it cheap and complete; the sections from it in Wieners’s Selected are the Tibetan LSD of postmodern American poetry. More weekends, please.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Waste Land in Comic Sans

Since I found it, I keep thinking about Morgan Myers’s posting of The Waste Land in rainbow Comic Sans, most dissed of all fonts. Herodotus tells the story of the pharaoh Psammetichus, who left two newborns with a shepherd, free from language, to find out what their first “natural” words would be. I’d like to play Psammetichus to someone with The Waste Land, and see what came of a blank-slate reading of “These fragments I have shored against my ruins” in canary Comic Sans. Shantih!!!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dept. of Monday (Tsvetaeva Edition)

(Taken from “Poem of the End,” one of the best breakup poems ever written, even in translation. It’s the one with Tsvetaeva’s famous “All poets are Jews,” and the less-quoted but maybe still better “listen/to this flesh./It is far truer than poems. “An Attempt at Jealousy” isn’t too shabby on the breakup front, either. In case there’s anyone out there looking for great breakup poems on a cold fall Monday.) 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

New Tangent

Still warm from the afterglow of Karen Weiser and Anselm Berrigan's reading, Portland hosts Rachel Zolf, David Wolach, and The Oregonian’s intrepid poetry columnist, B.T. Shaw, tonight at 7 PM. The economy’s reached out and toppled the Clinton Corner Cafe, kind host to Tangent for the past four years, so the action’s transported to the green new Open Space Cafe, at SE 28th and Holgate, in the Brooklyn neighborhood. So Rachel can feel right at home.

B.T. SHAW lives in Portland, where she edits the Poetry column for The Oregonian. Her first collection, This Dirty Little Heart (Eastern Washington University Press, 2008), won the 2007 Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry. She teaches at Portland State University and the Independent Publishing Resource Center (despite her wariness of staplers).

DAVID WOLACH is editor of Wheelhouse Magazine & Press and an active participant in Nonsite Collective. His most recent books are Occultations (Black Radish Books, 2010), the multi-media transliteration plus chapbook, Prefab Eulogies Volume 1: Nothings Houses (BlazeVox [books], 2010), the full-length Hospitalogy (chapbook forth. from Scantily Clad Press, 2010), and book alter(ed) (Ungovernable Press, 2009). A former union organizer and performing artist, Wolach’s work often begins as site-specific and interactive performance and ends up as shaped, written language. Wolach is professor of text arts, poetics, and aesthetics at The Evergreen State College, and visiting professor in Bard College’s Workshop In Language & Thinking.

RACHEL ZOLF’s poetic practice explores interrelated materialist questions concerning memory, history, knowledge, subjectivity and the conceptual limits of language and meaning. She is particularly interested in how ethics founders on the shoals of the political. Her fourth full-length book, Neighbour Procedure, was released by Coach House Books in 2010. Previous collections include Human Resources (Coach House), which won the 2008 Trillium Book Award for Poetry, Masque (The Mercury Press), Shoot & Weep (Nomados), from Human Resources (Belladonna books) and Her absence, this wanderer (BuschekBooks). Born in Toronto, Canada, she lives in Brooklyn.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Anselm Berrigan & Karen Weiser in Portland this Fri. 10/15

Karen Weiser and Anselm Berrigan light out for Portland this Friday, 10/15 to read at the swank “near Mt. Tabor” demesne of Jen Coleman and Allison Cobb (street address in sidebar). Both have new books to read from (Karen and Anselm I mean, though Allison’s got one, too). Fun starts at 7 PM, “poet snacks”-inclusive. Bring self, drinks, friends.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dept. of Monday

“'Our chief business at present,' said Marlborough, 'is to subsist.'”

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Michael Gizzi

I don’t know what to say about Michael Gizzi, except to collect some of what I’ve said elsewhere about his work. He hardly knew me from Adam, but blurbed my first book when I found the courage to ask him. The times I met him he kept me on my toes, afraid I’d be the fool he’d have to suffer. His writing’s like an air vent opened on a close room; the last book had a new ease and sweetness along with his famous razzed-up verbal closework that got me eager to see what’s next. A beautiful vernacular maneuverer—I turn to his books to learn from all the time. Thank you Michael and goodbye.

 Gizzi’s the Moses of tablets turned to sound, then dropped from the cliffs to hit ‘C’. This new Sinai’s pure Barbasol, all wobble and aloe and swing. When “blessings descend but no one knows how to redeem them,” then “grammar cracks eggs as best it can.”
Attention Span 2009

Anyone who wears their heart in their head and considers the tongue a reed instrument will find in this book, my favorite from my favorite Gizzi, a rope dropped down from the lip of the well. 

The first real literary concentration of I guess what you’d call “ethnic” names I ever saw was in the Donald Allen New American Poetry anthology, where O’Haras, Duncans, Gleasons, Olsons, Blackburns, Adamses, Williamses and Guests shared pride of place with Levertovs, Eigners, Meltzers, Lamantias, Loewinsohns, Wienerses and Kochs. I wonder for how many people in the '60s—and even now—the special promise and threat of that collection began with the TOC.

But the top spot on my list of all-time-favorite poets’ names goes to Michael Gizzi. Like his poetry, it’s fun to just say out loud. I’d like to know how much those double ‘zz’s flanked by the goofy ‘i’s drive his poetic practice, where neologisms and hinky slang and improbable made-up proper names get to buzz like they haven’t since be-bop (“Klackoveesedstene!”)

Last month I found his “Just Like a Real Italian Kid” in the stacks at SPD, which is like finding a sliver from the true cross in that warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s an amazing little chapbook that in 20 short pages manages to connect the jazzy, slangy, fun-just-to-say-it wordplay of his other books to the voicings and rhythms of immigrant Italian English:

“Stazzit! Mangare! Horizontal wicks of fennel breath crisscross dinner board to lodge in prepubescent mustachio. Yuk! how can you eat that shit? Perpetual smiles of grief-striken gumbare.”

The snappy rush of these 14 short pieces makes an implicit argument for the pleasures of English as an almost second language, a tongue that still feels new enough to stick out and twist at the boss. But Gizzi’s also a serious recorder, out to get down the echoes of the “latinate herb breathy ‘come sei bello ragazzo’ litany” before the onset of “primness on Lake Amnesia,” where everything ethnic sinks and goes white:

“Edison it was said had invented the phonograph to capture Caruso for posterity, that catch in the throat when he cried about being so much emotion trapped in the garb of a clown. That essence is Italian pressed into an essence of plastic come to mean maudlin. Those Pavlovian platters were tear-jerkers sure to make a paesan let his hair and everything else down.”
  —blog post on lime tree, 8/7/2005

The latest COMBO, double issue 14/15, has a long interview with Michael Gizzi, one of the best with him I’ve read. Gizzi’s one of those touchstone poets for me, whose work I go back to whenever I feel my own writing slipping & getting crappy. Michael Magee leads him down conversational chutes that turn to his poetic influences, family history, aesthetic development, and take on contemporary poetry. Best of all, Magee asks substantial questions about Gizzi’s writing, & how he arrived at his particular way with words:
Michael Gizzi: My two loves were poetry and athletics. I now realize that I was always trying to bring some sense of athleticism into my poems—I wanted things to speed along. I remember that little scissor step you had to do on the sidelines to catch a pass while still remaining in bounds. I tried to get that into a poem, or some sense of that.

Michael Magee: Did you do that by thinking about words themselves as physical?

MG: Well, I would try to get mentally engergized and then write as though I were involved in some sports event. I had bits of Latin like ecce homo and noli me tangere written on my helmet and because I'd studied opera with my father I knew that if you were screaming and your diaphragm was tightened you couldn't get the wind knocked out of you. This was pre-Bruce Lee. I'd run screaming through the line with the ball, which would freak some guys out. "What's he screaming about, and what's that crazy shit on his helmet?" which would give me a second in which to pick a hole in the line. So I really did bring poetry and my love of literature onto the playing field. Did I mention I wasn't a team player?


MM: [Your use of archaic or outmoded language] seems very local and I wonder where you get it from and how you do it and how you decide to do it.

MG: Maybe it’s an audio-visual tone, like listening while you read. It also comes from swinging for the fences or tapping a pinstripe for syrup. It’s just this side of nonsense, the magic of names and neologisms. It may be three senses channeling an experience at the same time. Sitting in my yard years ago I transcribed perfectly (to my mind) a sentence in birdspeak as “capuana keester meal gringa hocks of ham”—I’m also thinking “language surpasses itself by pointing out its limitations.”
MM: Right.
MG: The English language is rich. Imagine finding actual cream in the dictionary, making the hoard that much richer. You’ll know it when you see it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dept. of Monday (Fall Gumption Edition)

         “and in bronze tangle square of light
The master has said to you, Style”

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Hard Day's Night at the Opera

I asked operaman; now I’ll ask you. You know that scene in A Hard Day’s Night where Wilfrid Brambell, the “clean old man” from Steptoe and Son, accidentally throws the switch on a stage elevator that thrusts him up into the middle of a televised opera? Which opera is it? It’s in German, the tenor’s dressed as a hussar, and its sounds like it might be an operetta. Google’s failed me on this one. Help!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Michael Cross just posted a text copy of one of my favorite recordings from the Bay Area Labor Day 2010 EventDavid Brazil’s wide-ranging riff on the idea of vocation that spins out from his reading of Paul. That, along with Benjamin Friedlander’s searching revision of Paul in the recent Radical Poetics and Secular Jewish Culture, has me seeing Paul’s prints on everything lately, from discussions of poetic coterie to the Spahr/Clover statement on the 95 Cent Skool, where their “double faith” in the changes a group of 12 gathered around a table could effect, seeding skool after skool, has a strong Pauline ring.

I used to think of Paul as the Brian Epstein to Jesus’s Lennon, but now he seems the sexier of the two, taking on the heavy labor of social networking and community organizing while Christ gets star billing on the icons. I suppose any movement that sees tiny grassroots communities, open in theory to anyone willing to participate, as a potential force for social change is bound to echolocate a little off Paul, but he’s sounding especially loudly right now, here in capital’s Rome, with all our clear-eyed poetic efforts to be in it but not of it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Onngh Yanngh

With the first-years all settling into dorm rooms, shocked to think it’s twenty years since Barrington closed.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Georgians on My Mind

Nicholas Manning & I traded comments about Robert Graves, wondering how his opposition to some of the key strands of literary modernism shapes what we make of the formal & metrical directions he took in his poetry. If Graves’s verse doesn’t float your poetic boat, does he get a pass, or take more kicks, for his principled rejection of the period style? Do the Georgians come off any better for writing like they didn’t know the 20th century was happening? (As late as the 1970s, Philip Larkin’s Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse, leaning hard on the Georgians, could create a mirror-world where it more or less hadn’t.) Here’s Nicholas pulling things deftly into the present:
“This might be then an important distinction to make: on the one hand formalists or "conservatives" who militantly argue for this aesthetic, and those who pretend nothing has happened and that this aesthetic constitues a norm.

Might this not be two rather distinct (and interesting) groups?
With Graves and Thom Gunn and Robert Lowell maybe at one end of the spectrum (the critically aware and aesthetically argumentative end) and then the Ted Koosers and Billy Collins at the unthinking other?

Maybe this would be an important distinction for Ron Silliman to make regarding the controversies of Quietism too, as Ron often seems to imply (anyone correct me if they don't agree) that "Quietists" invariably presume that they constitute a middle-road mythical normality, whereas many, and this seems to be Graves's case, explicitly and often eloquently argue for the superiority of their poetic tradition. Even if one doesn't agree, this explicit, cards on the table argument is obviously the one we need be having.”
This got me trying to gauge the distance between “normality” and period style, a two-edged concept if there ever was one. On the one side, you want to believe that your aesthetic position—your “poetic tradition,” as Nicholas puts it—bears some necessary connection to the important poems being written in the present. It’s what puts the avant in the garde: Their eccentric became our normal. At the same time, that particular view of tradition—one damned avant after another, to tweak Henry Ford’s famous quote about history—implies that your own poems will, at best, become outmoded, mulch for the next era’s advances. New then, you’re “period” now, and the anthologies need to push on. Isn’t that proof that your style, qua style, succeeded?

In practice, though, “period style” is a stone thrown more often at poets seen as derrière, not avant. I remember the small shock I felt when Marjorie Perloff during a lecture in Portland projected onto the overhead a Language poem (one of P. Inman’s, I think) as an example of writing on its way to becoming a “period style.” Why was that such a strange thing to hear about a poem nearly a quarter-century old? And why should it sound dismissive? Doesn’t the idea of a poetic avant garde, or experimental tradition or whatever, automatically trigger the notion of a period style? Whereas if you sit all Graves and lordly above history, you can claim the White Goddess, or time-resistant craft standards, or centuries of poetry as ritual practice, or the universal nature of the human condition to buoy up your efforts against the faddish present.

Maybe the notion of a period style only really comes into its own with the idea of an avant garde, so that Graves or the Georgians or a Lowell (broad brush for a short post) are inoculated against the “period style” charge, at least in their own minds, by their very different understanding of poetic tradition. If you don’t concede there’s a road, you never have to be in the middle of it; no train, and you’re never off the rails.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Robert Graves's Poems Selected by Himself

To add to the this. (A click on books summons the rest.)
Id like to like Graves’s poems; his surefooted defiance of Modernist convention is the kind of sacred cow-tipping that often shows better over time. Graves was badly off in his gamble, though. Certain that verse libre was a fad, and the Pound/Stein school would go the way of cocktails and the Charleston, he willfully closed himself off from the main creative seam of 20th-century poetics, building his own house on flat metrical sand. Despite its intellectual intensities, Graves’s poems straitjacket themselves in a formal wrapper that it’s hard for most modern readers to see their way around, sounding more like brainy oddities with a Victorian comic-verse twist than a daring riposte to Modernist poetics. Maybe he only wanted the few to find him, or maybe his sensibility was best pitched backwards, towards the Romans and Greeks and the Welsh Fusiliers that paid the bills on Majorca. Still, if Graves was “wrong” about modern poetry, he was wrong in a cranky, mad-uncle sort of way completely his own, as much a part of the century as, well, cocktails or the Charleston.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Dept. of Laborless Monday

Two-thirds through the Harold Pinter/Joseph Losey film collaboration, & about to lose him with The Go-Between, I’m giving over my small corner of Labor Day to the languorous Dirk Bogarde.

Friday, September 03, 2010

George Hitchcock

Poet George Hitchcock died in Oregon last week, and while I knew next to nothing about his work and career (shame on me), Stephen Kessler’s moving remembrance did more to bring him to life for me than all the info-rich obits. Thanks to Pierre Joris for pointing to it.

Hitchcock, Bruce Boone, Beverly Dahlen, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen—all born or raised in Oregon, all moved to San Francisco as young adults. That’s a weird legacy to brag about, but you get what you get, and anyway looks like the trend’s reversing. Who am I forgetting?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Bryan Coffelt's The Whatever Poems

Sun didn’t start until nearly July, rain came yesterday, so the 2-month summer is almost a memory whose madeleine for me is Bryan Coffelt’s The Whatever Poems. Though he’s Portland’s now, Coffelt’s a founding member of the Ashland School, which surely has as much right to the name as Ashbery’s “soi disant Tulsa School” ever did. Draw a loose circle around poets like Maurice Burford, Jess Rowan, Lacey Hunter, Mike Young, and Willie Ziebell, throw in a rejuvenated West Wind Review, check the Southern Oregon University faculty page for K. Silem Mohammad, and you’ve got some idea of the energies that move through Coffelt’s work. There’s a terse, Internety overlay to the poems (“the 80s was a motherfucker,” “i’ve been advised by,” “McAfee is #1 in/threat detection,” a dedication “for facebook”) that acts as a tonal blind for catching the empire’s blues in situ. “This is intended to make a statement/you know/and again/oh my gosh it’s horrible” is as good a precis as any for the areas the writing explores, where “a loss of market share” and “the sitcom fantasy/of the American dream” fuse with “The End of Major Combat”—Lincoln’s to Obama’s—in a war that never really ends at all. Coffelt’s especially deft at loosening affect from content; “everyone here is/losing at something” gains for not trying to pin down what the everyone, here, or something might be, which gives the “losing” an allegorical weight that can settle on almost any of the nouns that surround it: clubbed seals, Nagasaki, Vietnam, Baghdad, “expansionary policy” or Keynesian economics “of the tongue and genitals.”

Coffelt’s sharp sense of protest stays true to the weirdly distanced, spectral, technologically mediated nature of the disasters we face off against right now, but that riff on Keynes reveals a knack for charting these abstractions at the intimate, lower-case lyric “i” level. It’s an “i” that often sounds courtesy of Google, but wound around a coherent and affecting core of pathos:

“i slept with a gun
for nearly 25 years”

“i love you
i Google Street View you”

“as i returned to this
i talked
about the nothing that i could

“i said i wanted you
i said i wanted something
to wake up for but i just
got a Game Boy Color
puzzle game developed
by Konami”

and, wrapping up the collection:

“i told my friends
one night in the kitchen
what i thought of everything

i made a circular motion
with a pen and paper.”

It’s the “motion” in The Whatever Poems that prevails over the “everything,” and circular, not Vico/Greenspan-cyclical, feels accurate, plangent, affirming, and magically exorcising all at once.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Steve Evans On Coteries, Infrastructure, and Gossip

On the sonic tick, just got around to Steve Evans’s talk about phonotextuality—what happens to poems when they get recorded—at Naropa this summer. In a sleek 12'14", he points out that the ability to record readings goes back to just 1860, which hasn’t given poets (or their assassin-critics) much time to figure out what taping will mean for the art. So anecdote, gossip, and group indiscretions leak into these supposedly ephemeral recordings in a way that’s not usually permitted within the statelier confines of the page. Taped poetry also shifts attention to the room and the group at the expense of the solo poet, who’s often relieved at the chance to slough off the responsibilities of the author function. As Evans puts it in my hands-down favorite line from the talk, “Gossip is history that nobody wants exactly to be traceable back to them.”

Friedrich Kittler and Lytle Shaw both came to mind while I was listening, but for this talk anyway, Evans helpfully zeroes in on the relief from footnotes and careful theory that recording provides, at least for the poets doing the talking. In the Bay Area, he argues, there’s been something almost like guilt at the split between the heavy poetics and “ragingly great after-parties” which recordings like the ones Andrew Kenower’s done for A Voice Box help to preserve for those of us listening in from the world’s Portlands and Oronos.

The talk got me thinking about the recent wave of anecdotal histories coming out of the Language generation in the past few years, one of which, Michael Gottlieb’s new Memoir and Essay, gets a killer review from Jordan Davis here. Blogs too, which may turn out to be more permanent and accessible than any of us who’ve been writing them since 2002 ever think when we hit “Publish,” bob a little differently in the wake of Steve’s talk. No one can predict what the future—which now I picture as sort of a giant eavesdropping Orono—will care to extract from our noise, but as the codex becomes just another handheld information delivery system, smart money might be on the gossip. Only who’s going to be our Steve Evans?

Monday, August 30, 2010

King of the Beach

What Bruno says. Wavves’ King of the Beach and Ariel Pink’s Before Today have been two of my summer’s bigger disappointments, in almost exact proportion to the excitement of their earlier efforts. Both scrubbed and buffed all the cool burrs away, or enough of them to reduce their songs to just a crafty catalog of their influences. But I’ve learned you look square and bitter when you criticize pop music, as if you expected something from it in the first place, so let’s end on the sonically positive: Drew Gardner doing “Pop Rocks” in a cattle auction amphitheater. “Nothing in my life is the way it’s supposed to be” is about as sharp a summation of the pop ethos as I’ve heard this side of Eddie Cochran.

Friday, August 27, 2010


“Sir Matthew Dudley turned away his butler yesterday morning, and at night the poor fellow died suddenly in the streets: Was not it an odd event? But what care you; but then I knew the butler.”

—Jonathan Swift, Journal to Stella

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Everything Is Quiet

It’s one of those lose/lose questions that makes you look old, prurient, and clueless all at once, but what is “dirty period sex”?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

Poetry & Anti-Poetry

In an age of Too Much, the Recovery Project at Octopus is an intriguing intervention against the rising slush pile of the now. A poet writes about an older book, often one that’s been passed over or forgotten too quickly, and argues against its neglect. The pieces often take an autobiographical turn, with some account of how the book reached the writer, the mysterious heart of that mysterious process by which poems beat time and find their fans.

Joel Bettridge’s take on the poetry of Robert Service—near the outer historical limit of the books under recovery—twins Service’s poems of the Yukon (“the snows that are older than history”) with Sarah Palin’s description of Alaska in her gubernatorial farewell speech last year. This was the speech that William Shatner parodied with bongos and jazz bass on Conan O’Brien. The part he recites goes like this:
“And getting up here, I say it is the best road trip in America, soaring through nature’s finest show. Denali, the great one, soaring under the midnight sun. And then the extremes. In the winter time it’s the frozen road that is competing with the view of ice-fogged frigid beauty. The cold though, doesn’t it split the Cheechakos from the Sourdoughs? And then in the summertime, such extreme summertime, about a hundred and fifty degrees hotter than just some months ago, than just some months from now, with fireweed blooming along the frost heaves and merciless rivers that are rushing and carving and reminding us that here, Mother Nature wins. It is as throughout all Alaska, that big wild good life teeming along the road that is north to the future.”
Joel reads Palin’s string of shameless cliches as “the opposite of poetry”—a use of language that, instead of defamiliarizing the everyday a la Shklovsky’s ostranenie, serves up exactly “what every American thought he or she knows about Alaska.” He sees this in part as a populist political gesture with the unintended consequence of “[making] the landscape disappear” inside her formulaic, almost nonsensical, celebration of it.

By contrast, Robert Service, who employs an equally familiar, even cliched poetic diction that revels in “the 'thrill' and 'wonder' of the Yukon’s beauty, and the 'stillness' that brings the narrator 'peace',” emerges from Joel’s comparison as an underrated champion of our desire for ostranenie, which for Service means Alaska, and which appears in a poem like “The Spell of the Yukon” less as a landscape than an occasion for “[wrestling] with the overwhelming problem ... of trying to locate what it means to inhabit, even belong to, a place that inspires a profound sense of intimacy and love in the face of its indifference.”

It’s a powerful reading that rescues Service from our condescension to his anti-Modern poetics, and maybe to his own populist politics: cranking out rhymes and ballads deep into the '50s, his dogged rejection of Modernism surely had a political edge. Service aside, Joel’s account of the opposite of poetry—an anti-poetry—has stuck with me since I read it. His analysis works so well because Palin and Service are so close in their verbal resources. Palin’s self-conscious stab at being poetic is funny and late-night-parody-worthy because it reaches back to language not unlike Service’s for its idea of what poetry is. Joel spots a “contorted reference to 'The Call of the Yukon'” in Palin’s speech, and it’s the surface resemblance between her merciless rivers and soaring Denalis and Service’s “big, dizzy mountains” and “mighty-mouthed hollows” that provokes Joel’s sensitive re-reading. One of the uses of anti-poetry, if it has one, is to help us distinguish poetry not so much from its opposite, which is easy, but from its evil twin.

Problem is, I kind of like the evil twin. I like Palin’s strangely musical repetitions (“soaring,” “summertime,” “road,” “months”), her slipshod take on the demotic (“I say it is,” “as throughout all Alaska,” “that is competing”), her staccato pile-up of adjectives (“that big wild good life teeming”), and her insouciance with sonic oddities like “Sourdough” and “Cheechako.” I’m sure Joel’s right that the poem has nothing to do with the wonders of Alaska. But it does have a lot to do with the syntactic contortions, verbal squash and stretch, embrace of the hackneyed, and ear-driven sound forms I value in a lot of contemporary poetry. It’s not a great poem, not even a great anti-poem, but it’s sort of a pretty good anti-poem that I prefer to a lot of “real” poems that aim to be great.

Where the speech goes off the rails, I think, is where it tries to conform to common ideas of arresting poetic language: merciless rivers, midnight suns, ice-fogged frigid beauty—phrases that Palin, a gifted improviser of anti-poetry, would never say off-script, and which she ejects from her mouth in the video as if they were miniature turds slipped under her tongue. Shatner’s parody proves that her speechwriter was ultimately right; these phrases were instantly recognized as a special, “poetic” use of language, and the Beat setting Conan gave it goes straight to the heart of how poetry’s thought of in the larger culture.

I guess what Joel’s article helped me get clear on is that finally I’m not very interested in sorting out poetry from anti-poetry, or in embracing anti-poetry as such, like some strands of contemporary poetics seem to call for. In the end, I’m not even all that concerned with ostranenie, a mantra that’s been chanted so long it’s become a cliche of its own. Right now, reality seems more than capable of estranging itself from us without any extra help from poetry, the rise of the Thrilla from Wasilla being one of its latest, greatest examples. It’s in the shifting dialectic between poetry and anti-poetry that the language I’m most drawn to lies, with one forever stepping out ahead to re-frame and lend new meanings to the other. A literary language is always bound to harden into set formulas; the vernacular’s condemned to seldom recognizing itself as poetic. It takes a Palin and a Service together in some weird way to make a poetry, and a poet like Joel to call out the heretofore invisible strings that bind them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Marina Tsvetaeva's Art in the Light of Conscience

Its been a Tsvetaeva/Mandelstam kind of summer, for no reason I can really account for except that the Rethinking Poetics kerfuffle (remember that?) got me curious about a time when the gulag, not Facebook or a conference room, was the endpoint for those kind of discussions. The troubles been finding translations, which never seem to bring over the poetry with the intensity of the critical responses it provokes. Prose carries better; so here’s something about that, for this.
Thanks to a wealth of publications since the ‘60s, there are lots of ways into Marina Tsvetaeva’s work via English. For my money though, few capture her force of mind and powerful wit as vividly as Angela Livingstone does in these essays, most written during Tsvetaeva’s prose-heavy émigré period in Paris in the ‘30s. Watching Tsvetaeva clarify for herself and her public where she’s been, what poetry means, and what value it has in the political roar through which she lived is fascinating, in part for the uncompromising way she responds to her contemporaries, partly for the rigorous measure of the art she leaves for us.

The circumstances that history forced upon Tsvetaeva and her cohort make our own hand-wringing about the efficacy of poetry look like a grade school play. I don’t mean that to put us down (well, maybe a little) so much as to elevate Tsvetaeva’s razor-sharp and intensely particular approach to poetics, which for her reaches beyond any syllabus or specialty to become a manual for how to stay human in a world with shrinking space for that.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Free Samples

In anticipation of tomorrows Market Day reading, here are some online samples from the writers.

Island, by Erika Recordon

Two poems from La Petite Zine
One poem from Verse Daily
A Recovery Project on William Dickey from Octopus
& an article on “Digital Diplomacy from The New York Times Magazine,
by Jesse Lichtenstein

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Market Day Poetry: Koeneke, Lichtenstein, Recordon this Saturday 8/14

I give my last reading of the summer this Saturday, August 14 at 12 noon for the Market Day Poetry Series at St. Johns Booksellers in North Portland. I’m reading all-new work, but even better inducements to come are Jesse Lichtenstein and Erika Recordon, whom I was lucky enough to get for the bill, plus Nena Rawdah’s eclectic and totally reasonably priced collection. Come quiz her on where she got each book and I’ll bet she can tell you.
Saturday, 8/14, 12 noon
Market Day Poetry Series
St. Johns Booksellers, 8622 N. Lombard St.
Portland, OR

The St. Johns Market Day Poetry Series continues its summer reading series with local writers Erika Recordon, Rodney Koeneke, and Jesse Lichtenstein. Readings begin at 12 noon at St. Johns Booksellers, just off the St. Johns Farmer
’s Market in North Portland. Admission is free.

JESSE LICHTENSTEIN is finishing his first book of poems, excerpts of which appear in Boston Review, EOAGH 6, Diagram, Denver Quarterly, Verse, Gulf Coast, and The Paris Review. His journalism has been published in The New Yorker, Slate, the New York Times, n + 1, and The Economist. He lives in Portland, where he also teaches poetry and co-directs the Loggernaut Reading Series.

ERIKA RECORDON is at work on her first collection of stories. Her fiction has appeared in the local journal Poor Claudia, The Denver Quarterly, and other on-line publications. She lives in Portland, OR and works in a fancy grocery store.

RODNEY KOENEKE is author of the poetry collections Musee Mechanique and Rouge State. Rules for Drinking Forties, a chapbook, appeared last year from Cy Press; another, Names of the Hits (of Diane Warren), is due this year from OMG!. His work has been anthologized in Bay Poetics and in the forthcoming Flarf: An Anthology of Flarf. He lives in Portland, where he helps curate the Tangent Reading Series and blogs mostly about poetry at Modern Americans: