Monday, May 31, 2010

Larkin's DARC

Maryrose Larkin read with Bruce Boone earlier this month in Portland, where along with a cross-section from her various books, chaps, and procedural projects, she delivered a live film narration to Carl Dreyers 1928 The Passion of Joan of Arc. I wrote a little about her piece the first time around; for the reprise, she created a handsome new objet darc (ark! ark!) for her and Sarah Mangolds FLASH+CARD press.

Larkins text for Dreyers silent mashes language from Joans trial transcripts with pre-recorded phrases found on cards made for use with the Language Master, a boxy mid-tech speech therapy device designed to help 80s kids talk more pretty. In performance, Larkin intercuts her spoken script with short robotic phrases produced by the cards, which she feeds through the box—sometimes straight, sometimes tugged to scratch and wobble—in a way that seems to parallel Joans fate at the hands of all those Dutch-angled celibate monks. By the end of the piece, Dreyer’s frantic montage of whirling spiked wheels, Larkin’s inexorably sliding word cards, and the flat legalese of the trial text itself form a grammar against which Joan’s only option is to stutter, scratch, and iterate in the hopes of slowing down the process, or even exposing it as process, instead of the Way Things Are.

For DARC, Larkin turns the Scantron-sized Language Master cards into fields for the printed text, which replicates the Joan vs. received grammar” dynamics of her performance through clashing colors, diverse fonts, and eccentric lineations that play off the straight magnetic speech strips affixed to the bottom of each one. Packed in a transparent envelope, the series holds Larkin’s whole redaction of the trial in potentia, a grammar that given the right hardware can happen again and again, like history. There’s a paradox in language so ugly in intention being made so attractive in print, but thats the dark at the bottom of any poetry. Given current showroom models, I’ll have Larkins darkness audible.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Word

Jordan Davis just called Redburn Melvilles Rubber Soul in a comment box. The Mayan calendar ends the day no one trains kliegs over gems like that.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Deceived Pronunciation

Not really Poetry, Poetics, or Portland, but Im intrigued with aristo Sam Cams down-class accent being pegged as Estuarial.

Estuary English was first identified as such in 1984. Am I alone in noticing a distinct under-40 accent thats taken root here? A sort of regionless softened Valley one, ventilated with actuallys, where most clauses swoop up into questions, and the vowels lodge high in the nose? So common that you dont even think of it as accent anymore, just assume when you hear it the speakers somewhere below middle age?

In England, they link EE to the eclipse of the old school tie by celebrity, and a desire to camouflage class but sound young-urban. What change does our new sound link to?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bruce Boone in Portland, 5/12/10

I got caught up in the wave of Bruce Boone mania that swept Portland earlier this month, but because I lost my notes, and because so much of the fun was in the table talk, its been hard to decide what to report on here.

There shouldnt really be a problem; the book he read from is newly available from Nightboat Books, while table talk—with its intimacy, off-the-cuff fluency, elevation of the incidental, and promise of access to circles outside the recipients ken—is already part of the weave of Boones writing.

Robbie Dewhurst gave a remote introduction, all CA Conrad/Small Press Traffic-style, through the vox of David Abel that noted Boones ability to connect to a universe in which emotionality and experiment are not mutually exclusive terms,” a take on his work that reminded me of something Dana Ward says in his Century of Clouds review: What happens to us is profound because our feelings are endeared to our politics by way of lived relations.” Some of the recent excitement around Boone’s work I think involves his special fusion of the “third-person” registers of theory, experiment, and political sophistication with the kind of emotionality” and personal affections that come most alive in second-person address. The split between the two has always been more tonal than philosophical, since theory and affections can nuzzle up in any way anyone wants them to, but Boone’s especially deft at carrying on like theres no gap to bridge at all.

His route to the join in Century of Clouds is to tell a friend about the goings-on at the then-recent meeting of the Marxist Literary Group in St. Cloud, MN some thirty summers back. The straightforward formal frame turns out to allow for all kinds of complex refractions and meta-moments, where the actors in the story replicate the power hierarchies theyre so earnestly out to take down. That a gaggle of literary Marxists should themselves become subjects of literature is already kind of delicious, like those scenes in movies where the camera swivels around to include the studio and crew in the shot. The result is that anything the characters say in the story becomes a potential commentary on the story, really on the nature of story itself, which is also the topic of the conference that drives the plot. The set-up allows for the most ordinary details—a volleyball game, a passed note, a Midwestern sunset, or a leisurely discussion of ceremony—to move simultaneously in multiple directions, from critique to metaphor to pathetic fallacy to objective correlative to fierce reportage, without strong-arming the reader to settle on any one.

Boone’s own situation, having recently turned 70, reading in his hometown for the first time from a newly “rediscovered book published more than a quarter century ago, added an extra dimension to the narrative layering. For me, it gave his story the quality of a grand summing up, so that sunsets, the evening crossing of bridges, the falling arc of a volleyball, or the climactic rising up of our narrator to call out the academic Marxists on their homophobia all felt like tropes for ending, or interrogations of the idea of endings, a narrative convention that in Boone’s hands can feel casually descriptive, craftily contrived, and mythically profound all at the same time.

Early on, Boone read a passage in which he and another conference attendee talk about Marxism and funerals. Are they too bourgeois? Unnecessary? Should they be thrown out completely, or re-tooled to fit new social needs? What would a proletarian funeral look like? Do humans need ceremony, or should they be weaned from the urge for that kind of order? Aside from its obvious connection to death, the ultimate story-ender, the scene works equally well as a wry commentary on the ceremonial status of all manner of social conventions, from academic power structures to class divisions to religious rites to syntax itself, maybe the quintessential ceremony for enforcing and preserving communal meanings.

Boone deals with these heavy questions with such a light, insistent touch that when he told us he was skipping the volleyball game which launches the ball whose fall the story ends with, you could practically hear the audience collectively sigh.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Chris Daniels & David Abel read tonight in Portland

Chris Daniels and David Abel cap a great run of May readings in Portland at 7 PM tonight for Smorg. Chris, an exceptional translator of modern Lusophone poetry (dont settle for Portuguese), will be launching the first ever collection of his own work, porous, nomadic, brought to you by the soulful heteronyms at Airfoil Chapbooks.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Blogger Extraordinaire

Speaking of spring launches, have you seen that Jerome Sala (the poet, not the Filipino Balladeer Extraordinaire who comes up first on Google) has a new blog? Espresso Bongo promises blogging about poetry, pop culture, everyday life, and how they intermingle.” Plus if you read it daily, youll lose five pounds.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Spring Anniversaries

Its raining poetry anniversaries in Portland this spring. If Not For Kidnap marked the first year of its music-meets-poetry house series at the end of April; Loggernaut followed suit with a 5th-anniversary reading in early May; the Spare Room collective, which celebrated its 100th reading in January of last year, hit eight years of steady service this March; while Tangent, a more occasional affair, crossed the 4-year line this month. Throw in the Smorg, which launched in April 2008, and thats two decades worth of series packed into an 8-year interval since 2002. (So as not to produce a misleading skew of the data, I’m bracketing out the 1,001 poetry activities of the redoubtable Dan Raphael.)

Aside from revealing that Portlanders like to launch things in the spring (youve maybe heard it sometimes rains here), the numbers point to a hopeful uptick in local poetry capacity. Though add up their ages and they still fit cozily inside the lifespan of, say, a Small Press Traffic, which celebrated its 30th birthday in 2004 with a bill of readers all born the same year the series was. Which feeds my sense of Portland as a baby Bay Area, or a Midwest thats fallen in with glitzy older company. Check back in 2032 for a glamour vs. House Price Index update.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Intro for Chris Nealon, Portland, 5/15/10

Rumors of the death of the poet-critic have been greatly exaggerated, and Chris Nealons here tonight as living proof. They make nice across the hyphen, that poet and critic, but often the join conceals a hostile standoff. In one corner theres the poet, all subjectivity and trill; in the other, the Parnassian pro, dispassionately assessing the field.

Once upon a time, good poet-critics smoothed the rift by drinking. Chris, I think, provides a healthier alternative. Across his critically informed poetry and poetically shapely criticism, hes found a way to put his lefty-right brain to work on two sides of the same theme: the fizz that occurs when you drop a stray self into history.

Its a sharp, capacious, burning sort of remedy. The self in his equation can be anyone from Hart Crane to Alanis’s ex-boyfriend; the historical surround can be 50s muscle mags or plummeting derivatives markets. Along the way theres space made for Seleucids, Olivettis, Walkmans, JiffyLubes, Israelites, Tyvek and Lukacs; Art Song and techno; Marxist smarts and pure despair. To re-purpose a line from Yeats:

O poet swayed to music, O critics glance,
How can you be the disco and the dance?

Open your notebooks and prepare to learn from the many-minded Chris Nealon.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Chris Nealon & Sam Lohmann read in Portland this Sat. for Tangent

Chris Nealon, one of my favorite poet-critics, furloughs from D.C. to read in Portland tomorrow with one of my favorite poet-editors, Sam Lohmann. I predict a your chocolate in my peanut butter kind of experience itd be sinful to miss.
Tangent presents
7 PM Clinton Corner Cafe, 2633 SE 21st Ave. (@ Clinton) Portland, OR

CHRIS NEALON grew up in Binghamton, NY, and moved out west in the mid-90s, where he taught at UC Berkeley for about 15 years. He recently moved back east, and teaches in the English Department at Johns Hopkins. Hes the author of two books of poems, The Joyous Age and Plummet, as well as two books of literary criticism: Foundlings: Lesbian and Gay Historical Emotion before Stonewall (Duke, 2001), and the forthcoming The Matter of Capital: Poetry and Crisis in the American Century (Harvard, 2011). He lives in Washington, DC.

SAM LOHMANN lives in Portland, where he edits the poetry zine Peaches and Bats. He’s a member of the Spare Room reading series collective, and the author of several chapbooks and pamphlets, most recently Onlooking and Fluted Octaves (for nothing).

TCHAKA ANGHELOS SIKELIANOS is a Portland-based filmmaker who has worked on a variety of feature and short film projects. He is currently at work on a graphic novel called R.O.M.E./PDX about the racial/racist history of Portland.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dept. of Monday

Re-reading the Necronomicon while YouTubing the Phos Hilaron.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Homecoming King

The rumors have cleared & its official: Bruce Boones coming home, reading with Maryrose Name This Intersection Larkin this Wednesday, May 12 in Portland for Spare Room. Like Bev Dahlen, who read here almost exactly a year ago, Bruce is Portland-born but hasnt been back for a writerly victory lap since he blew town in his teens. Dust off the pennants & brace for an I that revs like this:
“So lets put it another way. In the normal course of things its the cerebellum that musters emotion. To write in order to give the reader access to heights of transport is to reverse things and to harness the intellect to the service of emotions. To elicit emotions, you need a kind of false subject that will make the reader comfortable. Traditionally it was the work of shamanism and now its the task of psychoanalysis to unravel that false 'I.' The work of writing is the oppositeto reconstitute this phoney 'I.'

—from Century of Clouds

“When you tell something to someone, doesnt it change their life forever? For me such questions bring with them a great sense of melancholy, as if in interrogating language I come that much closer to some bedrock loneliness inseparable from history itself. But perhaps I should really say prehistorysince I dont believe that these foreclosures are fated to remain forever. And what does narrative open up into, if not human love, called into existence for the first time.

—from My Walk With Bob

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Dick Davis's Shahnameh

Dick Daviss English is the closest Ill ever get to the Persian of Ferdowsis famous epic, a multi-volume poem condensed here into a version that leavens the inevitable tedium of the chronicle with a string of well-realized vignettes related in supple, vivid prose, with the occasional rhyming stanza for more festive or elevated moments. In Daviss translation, each of Ferdowsis many kings and heroes miraculously stays distinct, and you get enough of each story—especially the famous Rostam’sto gain a feel for the aesthetic predilections of classical Persian poetry: the jewels spilling from goblets, the kingly demons, the cypress-slim heroes and raven-haired princesses, the splendiferous banquets, thwarted loves, and shah after shah handing on the regal glow of his farr. Undercutting the bling is Ferdowsi’s insistent warning that glory’s born to fade, and that death meets us all when the wine cup’s dry; a little sour pathos to season the narrative sweet.

For historians, the Shahnameh is a rare window onto pre-Islamic Persia, as Ferdowsi carefully marshalled the legends and folktales that were diplomatically forgotten at the glittering Muslim courts:
No one has any knowledge of those first days, unless he has heard tales passed down from father to son. Ferdowsi, who ended his days (and this volume) lamenting how little his efforts brought him, found a way to be distinctly Persian but still a sound Muslim, and his work lives on in the plots of a thousand and one Bollywood films, as well as in this effective translation by the man Penguins backflap doesnt balk to call the greatest translator of Persian poetry.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Imperial Peach

Treat yourself and click through immediately to Trane DeVores great reading of an extraordinary Japanese jazz/scat rendering of the Momotaro (“Peach Boy”) folk tale. Monk and Mingus never looked so imperially ambiguous. Danke, Trane.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Duncan is Jandek

Nice writeup from poet James Yeary on the radium-rare Jandek appearance in Portland last week with, um ... whats the name of that guy who was in Sonic Youth? Apparently, both go well with vegan nachos & Robert Duncan. Seems like everything goes well with Robert Duncan these days. Robert Duncan: the Jandek of postmodern American poetry? (With Spicer his Thurston Moore?)

Saturday, May 01, 2010