About Last Night
Here is the first section of the text of a talk/reading/mutual interview that Marianne Shaneen and I did last night at the Zinc Bar. The actual talk was both shorter and somewhat embellished. Thanks to Brendan Lorber for hosting, and to Tracy McTague, Nick Piombino, Mitch Highfill, Drew Gardner, Michael Scharf, Joe Elliot, Douglas Rothschild, Jen Robinson, Csaba, Marie, Virginie, Joseph, and a couple of people I don’t know for attending. Marianne’s sections were awesome. Perhaps she’ll post them on her long-dormant blog?
Q [from Marianne]: your writing as hermaphroditic- veering between being unabashedly unapologetically ‘feminine”, unafraid of lush ‘feminine emotionality’, vulnerability, sincerity, fragility,– and male irony, defiance and formalism.
Q: the role and need for the ornate, the opulent
Q: one of the most engaging and compelling aspects of your work to me is the tension and movement between its emotionality and its formalism and obvious awareness of formalism(s). your term ‘procedural expressionism’
(it might be interesting if you could talk here a little about how the irrational, hypnogogic, orphic, prelinguistic ooze factors in too – especially since it’s so ‘unfashionable’)
Let me open with a new take on a Funkadelic song:
No simple binaries — I rear up at these. Taxonomic nonsense — separating out qualities for fear of identification with what might be deemed “weak”…
Vulnerability and irony, sincerity and defiance, fragility and formalism — not mutually exclusive — intertwined, interpenetrating. And codependent.
Hermaphroditism — with Aphrodite in the center — she helps me to smudge the chalk at the boundaries of the “two” worlds. Then what’s contained in either can spill in and over.
Being a hermaphrodite also allows me to objectify women to the point that I can keep my own harem. I’m not sure, but I think this could be a form of table-turning or power-grabbing, revenge for the centuries of oppression that infect my gender-memory. When I say “harem” I mean my poems; they are more seraglio to me than any kind of usable or tradeable cultural capital. At once emotional chattel and dowry. To me, poems are odalisques, women. Bodacious, inscrutable, frustrated, querulous, seductive, languorous, fragrant, manipulable, manipulative, hard to understand, easy to please.
Anyway, I love all my women…
All my women…
I’ve lived with cats for years and I appreciate them. The same goes for women…. In a way I have an appreciation of cat-like women. There’s been a cat-like sense about all of my women.
–or this from Ludacris
Pretty ass clothes
Pretty ass toes
Oh how I love these pretty ass hoes
Pretty ass high class anything goes
Catch them in the club throwing pretty ass bows
Long john draws
Long john stalls
Any stank puss
Makes my long john pause
Women on the cell making long john calls
And if they like to juggle get long john’s balls
But she, she’s still floating over the smoke in all the rooms I play. I
keep her and all my women inside of me regardless of what they say.
It’s not exactly that I identify with these awful guys, but that in some sick sense I long to, to get their power.
So, because I am a hermaphrodite (as well as a whole gaggle of odalisques, since my poems are part of “me”), at the same time that I am this incredible virile polygamous stud or sultan, I also get to be a gay man trapped in a straight woman’s body. Feather boas, musicals. Eartha Kitt, Bette Davis. I’m a cabaret singer manque. Costume and drag. Drag is literalized irony: “woman.” As a hermaphrodite I can make love to everyone — “darrrrrlings”. Scrambling my messages and genders, I give myself the privilege of vacillating between sexes and perspectives (not to mention experiences I will never have). It lets me be true to the very shrill presence of the histrionic trannie who dwells inside me, and as whom I dress up every day, a female impersonator.
from Rodomontade, 1985:
As a courtesan, I teach men how to survive in the wild. Hawk’s breath, dandelion fumes, and wild checker make a salad that is good for the brain as well as the body. The brain is the body. I know, I just wanted to see if you were listening. I am listening to you darling, he said, caressing her downy, rounded belly, whispering your skin is the skin of mushrooms, your hair of an egret’s nuptial feathers, your eye of the wily squirrel.
I throw back my golden mane and bang on the keys. I am a writer of fiction. I am a mother.
My name is Percy Bysshe Shelley. I am rather delicate and morbid, but full of inflamed passions.
I am western thought and I am going to scramble your messages.
I am a demoiselle d’Avignon.
In my writing there is also a fascination, which erupted in that last passage, with the figure of the courtesan — in many traditional cultures the only women who were permitted to be artists or to have (admittedly secondary) power and influence.
I am an object entire to myself
I am made to lie down in green puddles
and walk the valley of the shadow of sound
for the whore is my better, I shall not wine,
but study the mistakes of my masters and then
(from foreignn bodie)
Studying the mistakes of my masters — why, that’s a western phallocentric education! Of course, we study their achievements, too, which I don’t mean to underestimate. But I have learned to examine their actions and achievements, their proclamations about what is correct and acceptable and desirable, with a good deal of skepticism.
Not long ago, for example, Ron Silliman was extolling the virtues of the clean line on his blog. The clean line… cleanliness… the inverse (pun intended) of the ornate and opulent. Is what’s opulent dirty? The frayed, disorderly opulence of Jack Smith’s “Flaming Creatures” ? What to do with this desire to doodle on everything? Curlicues, flowers, vivid colors, endless ornamentation — no straight lines. Is it too much to think of “the clean line” as an analogy to the (sort of ) rectilinear “uncomplicated” phallus rising to heaven in comparison to the complex folds that surround the vulva, pointing downward to the earth and what’s beneath it (magma!)? Is this the most obvious and boring kind of essentialism? If so, why does an expression like “clean line” get me so riled up? Why does minimalism make me want to SCREAM? I’ll talk about this later when I address defiance and anger — this constant feeling of embattledness.
See my first blog entry on Ululations.
My Whitman poem [posted here on this blog] is an example of what I call “procedural expressionism, ” my primary modus operandum. It means using procedural methods for expressionistic purposes. Here’s a little refresher on “expressionism”, from an online art dictionary. I think it works nicely as a discussion of my work, too:
The subjects of expressionist works were frequently exaggerated, distorted, or otherwise altered. Landmarks of this movement were violent colors and exaggerated lines that helped contain intense emotional expression. Application of formal elements is vivid, jarring, violent, or dynamic. Artists are trying to pinpoint the expression of inner experience rather than solely realistic portrayal, seeking to depict not objective reality but the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse in the them.
Expressionism easily enacts itself. I just let my consciousness loose in a kind of Nabokovian “referential mania” –but less paranoid, aspiring to a condition of obsessive love, in which everything in the world shimmers with significance uncannily reflecting my emotional state. It’s objectivism plus response. Even the Brownings Robert and Elizabeth bibliomanced, and what they found “by chance” echoed back onto their passion. A world undulating with so many objective correlatives that I can’t tell anymore what is “inside” and what is “outside.” Yes, this is a kind of pathetic fallacy. But so? Listen to this list of pathetic fallacies compiled by a science educator complaining about their use in science textbooks:
An anticyclone has higher pressure in its center than around its edges, so the air tries to flow away from the high-pressure core.
A small storm tries to develop in the stratiform-covered region
Because opposites attract, the – charge at the bottom of the thunder cloud wants to link up with the + charge of the Earth’s surface.
This hurricane wants to bring a powerful combo of wind and rain to our forecast
If the tornado wants the windows open believe me, it will open them whether you like it or not!
Because it gets colder as you go up, the atmosphere wants to convect.
Even though it sometimes seems like the atmosphere tries harder, the oceans are more successful at transferring heat…
The atmosphere likes to absorb IR radiation so we have an imbalance.
The water molecules align with the field, as the field changes, the water attempts to change its position to align with the field.
This list very readily becomes, in Kasey Silem Mohammad’s term, a “sought poem.” How? The pathetic fallacy is one of the many formal ways we have of making the world adorable and vibrant. It’s not scientifically proper, but it is instant poetry. Every conscious use of a poetic device is a “mini-procedure.” A procedure gives effective, more or less communicable, formal articulation to the endless feelings that bang about like trapped moths in the tinny shell of the sensorium. I have said elsewhere that a poem is (often) a kind of emotion-processing device (do I choose the mechanistic analogy to lessen my own identification with weakness?), i.e., a therapy. This does not mean that all means of processing emotions or all therapies are poems. Still, to those who would insist that “poetry is not self-expression,” I would reply: balderdash — of course it is, and many other things besides. I did a Google search on “poetry is not self-expression” and found this intriguing statement on a discussion list on the topic:
Gregarious Tory writes:
“Expression” means literally a squeezing out. Thus, “self-expression” translates as (quite simply) a squeezing out of the self. This suggests to me either excrement or disembowelment, neither of which I feel is reflective of the nature of poetry.
I disagree with Tony, and I am interested in the repugnance he exhibits at the notion that writing is something humanly, corporeally, exuded. I most certainly do see writing as a kind of bodily excrescence — a discharge that forms an encrustation. It just doesn’t end there. And the writing doesn’t necessarily come from “my” body, although it certainly comes from someone’s, ripe for appropriation.
Appropriation is a favorite procedure, so I steal language all the time from everywhere. I like especially to steal “emotive” and “vulgar” language to work in service to my own base nature.
Also, because I am allergic to creating my own poetic “architectures”, I like to inhabit others’ as I am Whitman’s.
I like to translate others’ language into other languages and into my own idiolect. I like to invert things: like Barrett Watten, I am interested in “subject/predicate relations” — I like to change subjects or predicates to foul things up — in general I like to foul things up. To me poetic language is dirty language, messed up language, rule-breaking: “I do it because I want to, even though you told me not to!”. Here are some of the many formal devices I intentionally use in order to achieve what are to me poetic effects both in poems and other sorts of writing:
overqualification and hesitancy: “perhapsiness”
obscurely nested sentences with lots of dependent and relative clauses
limitless adjectives and other modifiers
faulty nominalization (subject/predicate relations)
deliberately vague language or “garbage” (filler) language
inappropriate, vulgar, sentimental, embarrassing, violent, stupid, and unfashionable content
and my personal favorite, the wedding of the abstract to the concrete (a form of pathetic fallacy). This last one is meant as a slap in the face to Ezra Pound’s condemnation of “dim fields of peace.” The reason the phrase is ineffective is not because it combines something abstract with something concrete, but simply because its elements are not interesting. By contrast,
“dim cones of lassitude”
“pretzel face of sophistry”
All of these things I’ve listed are things that I have been explicitly told, in my study of writing and poetics, not to do. Most of these are things that I tell my students not to do in their own expository writing, at the same time that I am writing down instances of their language “abuses” to use in my own poetry.
Reiteration: I don’t see emotionality and formalism as two separate poles or as opposed in any way except in rigid, dualistic, and fundamentally inaccurate thinking. For this reason I am fascinated by the Hindu concept of “rasa” or emotion. The rasa are formally articulated by types of ragas. Here’s a list of the nine rasa. Although I don’t agree with its exact classifications, I find this list, and the Indian notion that emotions can and must be dealt with formally, both inspiring and descriptive of my poetic concerns:
1. Shringar – This depicts the sentiment of love, sensuality, and erotic emotions.
2. Raudra – This covers the realm of anger, rage, and other violent wrathful emotions.
3. Hasya – Under this Rasa come the joyful, the comic, and happy emotions.
4. Vibhatsaya – Disgust and ludicrous emotions.
5. Veera – Bravery, heroism, and manliness are some of the attributes of this Rasa.
6. Karuna – Sadness, pathos, compassion, sympathy.
7. Bhayanak – This Rasa caters to the emotions of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty.
8. Adabhuta- Wonder and curiosity are two of the attributes of this Rasa.
9. Shanta – Contemplative, meditative and peaceful emotions form this Rasa.
That last one is probably the least present in my work at the moment. I think I need to move out of NYC for that. I may not display a lo of bravery and heroism either. The problem with the taxonomy of these emotions is very like the problem of the taxonomy of colors — a problem of naming. I like very much what Heriberto Yepez said on his blog about this:
Experimentalism is a structural function whose purpose is to open the way to the emergence of new emotions through language. That’s what Stein, Spicer and Hejinian did. So if new emotions don’t come after experimentalism, something went wrong. And American contemporary poets didn’t find new emotions. They only found new careers.
He’s overly harsh, but he’s funny. And I love his definition of experimentalism (it’s not so far from procedural expressionism) — it made me begin to consider the many emotions we have yet to precisely name:
the feeling one has doing domestic chores while listening to music
the unknowable spectrum of animal feelings
the feelings one has thinking about animals
the certain kind of remorse we feel for no reason
the feelings we have in very crowded, lively places
the feeling of gentle, detached violence
the shameful pleasure of certain kinds of suffering
the feeling we have imagining the organs of our bodies
the feeling of recognizing the membrane between anxiety and pride
the exact feeling of impatience one feels when confronting some conceptual art
the rush of feelings about the goddamned fucking fucked-up socius
and the feeling of being unsure of one’s own relationship to it