Wednesday, March 31, 2010

David Brazil's Spy Wednesday

Spy Wednesday is the hump day of Holy Week, smack in the middle of Christ’s Passion, but it also evokes the surveillance and identity protocols that condition dissent in our age of “intense decathexes.” The title’s a great example of Brazil’s allusive dexterity as he plays embedded reporter to himself over the course of a single week involving protest, arrest, breakups and meetups, all set to the rhythm of a witty “call & response across the segment” with Beckett, Melville, St. Paul, Patti Smith, Machiavelli, Spinoza, Lou Reed, Ranciere, and Augustine (Dylans plus Benedicts), inter alia. A real-time interrogation of “the possibilities of/meaningful intervention” under Code Yellow conditions, the poem’s also a meditation on the value of ‘the literary’ itself, in which what you read figures as a Greek chorus of comforters and told-you-so confidants, and what you write becomes “an education in what/life is when it goes otherwise—/otherwise than planned.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Leslie Scalapino's Zither & Autobiography

Just hit 200 reviewsof poetry books on Goodreads and dont exactly know why. Partly its cheerleading, partly compulsiveness, partly the online fun of watching numbers climb. If I arrange them right, I wonder if they’d show a coherent poetics, or a map of friendships and affinities that amounts to the same thing. Ill post some here, for the few who still read blogs between Facebook updates, and who dropped away from Goodreads long ago.
Leslie Scalapino’s been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve admired the seriousness and dedication apparent in her work for years, but my mind just doesn’t work like hers. Consequently, as often happens in these cases, I’ve tended to take her sui generis explorations of time, memory, and the experience of subjectivity as prescriptive, even admonishing, like I ought to be taking in the world that way myself.

Somehow Zither & Autobiography helped get me over that hang-up. It couples a fairly accessible, straight-up narration written for Gale Research with a poetic “commentary” on the prose half that sort of writes through King Lear (“he hath ever but slenderly known himself”) to explore themes familiar from Scalapino’s other books: the slips and stutters of consciousness as it works to locate itself in the evanescent present. Together, the two contrasting texts make a diptych that highlights the strengths and limits of both approaches to narrating the story of one’s life, or even puzzling out which of the multiform pulses of consciousness count as “one’s” “life.”

The notes say that Gale rejected the prose section for being too weird, but if you’re familiar with Scalapino’s poetry, it helps to locate some of her philosophical and political commitments among her relationships within an exceptional academic family whose travels and interests inflect her heightened alertness to dislocation, the artifice of normative linguistic conventions, and Buddhistic insight. A great way in if you’re looking to get experienced with Scalapino’s work. No time like the present.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Su'al (Question)

“And many more poets … still went on halting over the abodes of their abandonment to direct to them their outpour of questions, which, indeed, was like one large, cumulative question, time after time, poem after poem.”

Jaroslav Stetkevych, “Toward an Arabic Elegaic Lexicon: The Seven Words of the Nasib

Friday, March 19, 2010

Intro for Brandon Downing, Powell’s Books, 3/14/10

Here’s the intro I gave for Brandon Downing at his Powell’s reading in Portland on Sunday.
Brandon Downing is the author of The Shirt Weapon (“You are a blue rat caught/In a black dog’s jaws”) and Dark Brandon (“Through a discount centre entryway. I come/Into piano spotlight”). He’s also the bricoleur veejay genius splicer behind “Dark Brandon/Eternal Classics,” a DVD which paradoxically convinced cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling “to pay attention to a poetry movement” again.

I don’t think we’ve had the full measure of Brandon’s genius though till now, with the coming of
Lake Antiquity. Lake Antiquity is the first book of poems I’ve seen that thanks Italian flea markets, vampire seductress comics, a famous British archaeologist, and several brands of glue stick. (He credits especially “the durable, glorious Scotch/3M Clear.”) There’s something durable and glorious about Brandon’s creations, too. He sinks a deep shaft into the cultural junk we’ve amassed and sold off, then draws up radiant artifacts from the mulch. Brandon’s “voluptuous assemblage” of text and image reminds me that all the best modern artists were wastemakers at heart, less towering Romantic creators than cheerleaders for things passed over, urging us to see the overlooked with new eyes.

Through Brandon’s, history runs like a film at 30 centuries per second; antiquity’s a Hollywood backlot of mobile exteriors; and modernity becomes an extension of chromolithography, all those thousands of mass-produced lines—poetic and otherwise—cross-hatched into something grandiloquent, personal, hilarious, lyric, novel, ingenious, and strange. I’m learning from the treasures that come up from Brandon’s lake all the time, and I hope you starbound twenty-first century types will, too. Please to welcome
Brandon Downing.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Intro for Macgregor Card, Powell’s Books, 3/14/10

About 45 pairs of ear turned out to hear Brandon Downing and Macgregor Card at Powell’s on Hawthorne Sunday, including those of local poets Jules Boykoff, Lisa Ciccarello, Allison Cobb, Jen Coleman, Gale Czerski, Donald Dunbar, Emily Kendal Frey, Lindsay Hill, Drew Scott Swenhaugen, Kevin Sampsell, Zachary Schomburg, and Wayne Craig Pernu of Portland lit rock act The Telling. Here’s the intro I gave for Macgregor. It missed the secret Dante/Futura font messaging Gary caught, but he did open with some Spasmodically awesome Dobbell.
Macgregor Card’s first name is Macgregor. Just stop for a second and think how cool that is. It suggests a kind of inborn gift for names, which extends to his legendary journal, The Germ—one of the last print journals to matter before print got precious and luxe—and continues with his debut full-length collection, Duties of an English Foreign Secretary, winner of the 2009 Fence Modern Poets Prize.

Besides being one of the best names for a book of poems ever, Macgregor’s title carries a whole theory of poetry in miniature. Isn’t it one of the poet’s duties to treat English like it’s foreign? To make the mother tongue feel new and strange? Shelley called poets the unacknowledged legislators of the world, but I’m inclined to Macgregor’s view that they’re more secretary than CEO, transcribing the minutes that get into the file marked History.

Many of the poems are made from lines Macgregor’s exchanged over the years with the poet
Karen Weiser, so there’s an element of correspondence, too—poetry as a product of friendship and social exchange. And the fact that the title’s borrowed from Sydney Dobbell, an obscure Victorian Spasmodic, points to a certain light-handed responsibility to the past—poet as rememberer and recoverer, amnesia’s wordy enemy. People, do your duty to la lengua and please join me in welcoming Macgregor Card.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Brandon Downing Is Some Kind of Genius..."

…says The Stranger, and he’s hauling the braincase to Portland for two prismatic displays. First, in celluloid form this Saturday, 3/13 with Vancouver BC-ite Reg Johanson & locally grown Jake Buffy for Tangent, then again at Powell’s on Hawthorne Sunday at 4 PM, where he reads from his new Fence book with his traveling partner in crime, Macgregor Card. It’s a one-stop shot to get your Lake Antiquity and Duties of an English Foreign Secretary from the hands of the genii who wrote them.

Monday, March 01, 2010