Recent Reading

Robin Morgan, The Demon Lover: The Roots of Terrorism. This book is truly essential reading.

It proves, among other things, that the current state of disaster is all men’s fault.

Also: John Ruskin On the Pathetic Fallacy. According to his analysis, I am a poet of the second order (like Coleridge, Keats, and Tennyson!) and not of the first (like Dante or Homer — as if I didn’t know that!). At least I don’t have to hang out on the lowest rung with A. Pope (against whom I hold no grudge, actually, although it sure seems like Ruskin did).

I take some consolation in my position with these words of Ruskin’s:

The temperament which admits the pathetic fallacy, is, as I said above, that of a mind and body in some sort too weak to deal fully with what is before them or upon them; borne away, or over-clouded, or over-dazzled by emotion; and it is a more or less noble state, according to the force of the emotion which has induced it. For it is no credit to a man that he is not morbid or inaccurate in his perceptions, when he has no strength of feeling to warp them; and it is in general a sign of higher capacity and stand in the ranks of being, that the emotions should be strong enough to vanquish, partly, the intellect, and make it believe what they choose.

So, people, after you go and read Ruskin’s essay, or refer to your prior knowledge of it, tell me, do you or do you not believe that his distinctions, and his hierarchy, are still in place today?

Do you agree with them?

Are the distinctions in any way gendered, to your minds?

Or is there any way in which you think that they might reflect some sort of anti-pantheistic paradigm, Homer’s inclusion on the highest rung notwithstanding?

Do you honestly believe in a THING-IN-ITSELF??? or its “direct presentation”???

That’s the key question.

Introduction for Murat Nemet-Nejat, Bowery Poetry Club, 11/1/2003

Poet, translator, and essayist Murat Nemet-Nejat is the author of

The Blind Cat Black and Orthodoxies; I, Orhan Veli; The Bridge; State of the Union; and The Peripheral Space of Photography

In his anthology of translations from the Turkish, forthcoming from Talisman, he introduces the concept of eda. Eda is variously defined therein as

a continuum, a psychic essence, a dialectic which is an arabesque

the distance of a translation from its host language

the play of ideas through the body of Turkish

not just the poetics of Turkish poetry in the 20th century, but the extension of the language itself, the flowering of its inherent potentials

the alien other

the trajectory, poetics of a trip on a map

Eda emerges out of the inherent qualities of the Turkish language, which, unlike English, is agglutinative. As Murat writes, Turkish has,

” total syntactical flexibility. Words in a sentence can be arranged in any permutable order, each sounding natural.

The underlying syntactical principle is not logic, but emphasis: a movement of the speaker’s or writer’s affections. Thinking, speaking in Turkish is a peculiarly visceral activity, a record of thought emerging.”

It is only a small leap, then, to see the principle of eda at work not just in Turkish but in innovative English poetries of this century and the last, whether in “spontaneous bop prosody” or “the continuous present,” in the work of poets like Coolidge, MacLow, and Mayer, and probably that of just about everyone in this room.

If Murat is linguistically predisposed to liberate English from its post-enlightenment rationalism and constrictive syntax, it is not only because he is a Turkish speaker, but because the very fact of his identity is eda itself. His essay “Questions of Accent”, which you can find online, is essential reading. In it, he asserts that all poetry written in English is written in a non-native language., because, “The American poem (and poet) is always trapped in the space between words, in the crack between his/her vision and the language he/she is using, in the discontinuity (as opposed to cultural unity) between the self and his/her language.”

The essay opens with this bit of autobiography, or edabiography:

I am not Turkish. I am Jewish. In the fifties most Jews in Turkey were Sephardim and spoke Ladino Spanish. But I am not a Sephardi; I am a Persian Jew. My parents had moved to Istanbul on business, and I was born there in a Jewish neighborhood. But I learnt no Ladino, barely understood it. Jewish kids in the neighborhood thought I was Moslem, an outsider. At home, my parents spoke Persian with each other, which also I barely understood. Brothers among ourselves spoke Turkish. My mother spoke in an immigrant’s broken Turkish to me (my father barely spoke to me at all). Turkish became my mother tongue. I spoke Turkish in the street. I was, linguistically, most comfortable with other Turks, who mostly despised Jews. My speech became almost Turkish. Loving a language not completely my own was my first act as a Jew. And, despite my almost accentless speech, my first act of rebellion was to tell my Turkish friends I was not one of them. I was a Jew.

He goes on to describe his relationship to English as an American immigrant (who has, I hasten to add, lived in this country longer than I have). Lifelong an interstitial dweller (as historically we Jews have always been), he embodies “the distance of an individual speaker from his host language.” In his playful, dramatic, profound writing, we see more evidence of eda: “the play of ideas through the body of the poet,” “the flowering of the possibilities of total syntactical flexibility,” and “the poetics of a trip on a map of consciousness.”

Michael Scharf introduction, Bowery Poetry Club, 11/15

Michael Scharf is a contributing editor at Publishers Weekly and Poets & Writers magazines, and the editor and publisher of Harry Tankoos Books. He is the author of Telemachiad, a Harry Tankoos chapbook. His most recent book, Verite, is available online at Ubu editions.

If Michael Scharf were a kind of tea he would be …CONSTANT CRITIQUE.

If he were an animal he would be a pushmepullyou, one head political, the other personal, creating tension as they pull in opposite directions. His poetic essays and expository poetry constantly illustrate the tensions between human beings as social beings. He writes in his brilliant, uncategorizable thinkpiece, “I Love Systems,” which Drew Gardner has called “perhaps the most original _day my father died_ confessional poem ever written”: “in most climates one cannot live without working or paying or forcing someone else to work, so that capital, an image or expression carried and directed by people, makes use of psychological prejudice as part of its hidden mechanisms for exploiting labor.”

If Michael Scharf were from another planet, he would surely be here as an anthropologist. Perhaps because he loves systems, he has an extraordinary ability to get aesthetic distance between himself and his species, and therefore to describe it (us) systemically as something altogether strange and more than a little problematic.

If he were a mythological figure he might be Atlas. Or a reincarnation of Celan — to whom he pays homage with portmanteauish, not unGermanic neologisms such as carapacesararay and postrestantaurant.

Constant critique. His poems are the keenest coruscations of conscience criticizing cankerous capitalist corruption.

At the same time they are musical entities. They hum with the music of analysis — cantatas of concept, thought sonatas, fugues against the state.

There is a great range in them of stylistic approach, from a straightforward literary/historical/sociological/theoretical statement like this one:

After the nihilism of modernism

that either crashed and burned in

theological or fascist fervor, or into un-

healthy obsessions with the body’s many

manifestations, and after the frustrate ironies,

pop inoculations, bad faith appropriations and scare

quotes that followed in the poetry of Michael Palmer and others,

we are entering a period similar to the Age of Reason, but bereft…

to the odd and whimsical

Bee haven, paeanuts,

excreting hornden,

grand gallumpf.

Let us borrow that grand gallumpf, and welcome….

Can you Use the Word Hermaphrodite in a Poem?

Darling Buds

Shall I compare thee to a hermaphrodite (in a poem)?

Thou art as lovely and with as furious a temper.

Rough winds of hate do sometimes shake the darling buds of the real hermaphrodite,

And gender’s leash hath all too tight a hold on all of us.

Thus, sometime too hot the eye of the hermaphrodite shines,

And often is his/her gold complexion dimm’d by persecution ;

And every man from woman, or vice versa, sometime declines,

By chance or nature’s changing organs untrimm’d (or unaugmented);

But thy eternal gender continuum shall not wither into too-too solid definition

Nor lose possession of that fair undifferentiated zygote thou wast;

Nor shall Death brag (yet) thou wander’st in its androgynous shade,

When in eternal women to men (and vice versa) thou grow’st:

So long as human beings can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this metaphorical hermaphrodite, and this gives life to more metaphorical hermaphrodites, etcetera, etcetera.

Mutual Interview with Marianne Shaneen, Part II

[[Note: We did not have time to actually deliver this exchange at the Zinc Bar. Marianne is in bold below, Nada in plain text. Marianne please post your stuff on your blog…!]]

Q: you emphasize poetry as a form of bodily excrescence, bodily discharge- the role of ‘the body’, your body, etc.- (relates of course to the above ‘hermaphroditism’ and ‘feminine’)- the body as erotic, the source of pleasure and discomfort, your body as site of perception/sensation, conceptualizing and linguistic filtering and creation, the relationship between sexuality and language.

Q: talk about ‘irritation as a form of pleasure’ (i’m probably misquoting you here) and to what extent and how that is one of the hubs of your work- the role of discomfort, disturbance, agitation, fury, kicking the podium, risk, contraryness, defiance, rule-breaking

(this is related to your ways of being and not being ‘procedural’ and ‘formal’, the langpo ‘tradition’, etc- but that’s only one aspect of what I’m talking about)

and /or…to what extent is poetry, or what fuels and generates your writing, reactive, a defiance. and, how within the writing process itself, it is a defiance, podium-kicking, in the sense of what you’ve said:

“Writing demands limits (do you know who am paraphrasing?) but that doesn’t mean that I don’t always perceive them as something to push against, needle, expand, stand up on (if they are walls), dismantle, prod, kick at, or huddle up against, sobbing inconsolably. What’s interesting to me about poetic language is the way it naturally fights, insofar as it gets irrational, its own limits.”

To address “body” and “sexuality” and writing, I’m going to read from an interview Tom Beckett did with me that was just published online in Jacket 24. That interview answers the question about limits more fully than I have here.

I have said in other contexts that the definite article preceding “body” [the body] strikes me as quite Cartesianly distancing and non-particularizing. It seems to me more accurate to say “my body” as in my individual Nada-casing, Nada-matter & Nada-sensorium or to simply say “body” as in “the feeling of body-ness.” Maybe what you mean is “sensation” or even… “sensationalism”? Because that’s what a body is in relation to what is not that body — a means of sensing, a great fleshy antenna, a corporeal mind. In carnation — a big red one, smelling slightly cloyingly of cinnamon. The seas incarnadine — of wasted bodies, punctured by ideology. How could body not be present in anyone’s work? Even an ectomorph has a body — and is defined, in some sense, by his body. There are some writers, it is true, who seem to be cut off at the neck, whose oeuvre hatches mainly from the part of their body that is between the temples — is “the” body a temple? — but that nevertheless is body.

Body in relation to writing. Writing in relation to body. Not such a huge difference to me — organic metaphors, poems as “birth canals, negative vaginal space” or as what is born, coming out coated with meconium — (can you detect my fondness for a certain brand of highly gynecological “chick art” — still totally necessary to combat the centuries’ vestiges of men’s supercilious suppression, condemnation, and envy of women’s “bodiment”?). Bisexual — poem is also phallus springing up out of nowhere very excited, aroused by what’s around. Or let’s get away from the genitals, shall we? Poem is legs, moving around, exploring. Arms & hands, embracing, feeling up, or just working, getting things done. Little navel void hollow, remembrance of connection. That too. Poem is oversensitive nose, limpid eye, tongue for probing and tasting. Poem is labyrinthine ear — duh. Like a body, a body of work — poems — is *in essence* free — of the market system, I mean. Except both of these you have to pay to maintain. Free health care!

87 billion dollars. How to be other than angry? 87 billion. The clenched body in a state of embattledness: clenched energies. Menstrual blood leaks out… shit… urban environment… guy spreading legs too wide on train… touching my leg… ecch… guy talks to himself, bangs umbrella on floor… it’s sweaty… having to coexist among all these other bodies… poets… with their clenchings and muscular memories, all the pain and rage and fear and lasciviousness each of these beings carries at any moment. The body in dreams: dreamed the other night I wanted to have a baby but had to do it covertly, couldn’t ask Gary, so I needed to seek alternative methods — thought to use another poet guy as a donor, someone I’ve been arguing with in “real life”, who recently accused me, not entirely incorrectly, of using him “as a buttress for your own self-identity, as neo-romantic, humanist,”eroticist,” feminist, identifier with “younger writers,” spontaneously creative, whatever suits your fancy because it’s all so terribly inconsistent….” [yeah, well…] then considered a new cloning method that involved implanting whole or partial babies into the uterus… these babies were frozen. I went to get one but it turned out the frozen baby was only a head — someone asked me, after I had tried unsuccessfully to “implant” it, “did you warm it up first?” oh, I thought, and put it in the oven, but left it in too long — the baby head — it came out yellow, dried, with gnarled teeth (teeth?) grotesque as a mummy.

I apologize in advance for the neo-surrealist truism, but indeed, isn’t it true that the more you explore language, bodies, or dreams, the stranger and more complex they become? You begin to realize the connections between language, bodies, and dreams. All or nearly all people dream, and the site of their dreams is their bodies, which twitch in their dreams and even convulse in orgasms because their bodies and dreams and minds are filled with language (and problems), which in their dreams slips around in the murkiest kinds of ways. Only poetry can formally approximate (I say approximate because even though my poems are freaky and filled with wild imagery and combinations they are nowhere near as vivid and disturbing as my dreams) that slippery problematic dream language.

Language is cream.

Language is crisis.

In a poem called “Essay” in Swoon I describe “the gleeful intensity of opening to crisis”. Crisis, in addition to meaning “life-changing difficulty” is one of those weird French euphemisms for “orgasm,” like “petit mort.” When I write, I feel like I am opening to crisis, exactly as I do if I have fallen in love. Suddenly, there’s this whole new territory — terrifying, gleeful, and intense, as the words open out to and attract other words and I find myself somewhere totally unexpected, aiming for a hypnotic state of hilarious abandon.

more from “Essay”… “love is experienced/as among other things/ rubbing”

This is an echo of my poem “Nothing” in Foriegnn Bodie (p. 32), where

I originally said “Irritation is a form of pleasure.”

It’s true of course — think of irritation as simply friction, without which sex as we know it would not exist.

It’s just one step from friction (or conflict, which I say in Swoon is essential to romantic love) to fury. Here’s the whole poem:


Nothing is as it was said —

not the man who I was so

beautiful and I said so what

Not the wing just out of the

chrysalis (gold dot), not the plastic

chonmage wig, not even the web

Only love has the fury to make peace

in all the layers of the onion

sprouting in a black palstic box

Cats yowling together make the sun rise

and dogs bark, irritation

is a form of pleasure

Like strong from a yogi’s nose, devotion

doesn’t pour from your ears — or throat —

diamond shapes from a revolving lamp

I’m not really here

except for the glowing red light

under my arm…

Even the quiet little poems I wrote in Japan tend to be furious:

an inky smell


feeds on

banging my feet

on mother’s cold stained glass

thinking to break it.

I’m sure the fury is more primal than anything I can address here without having to pay you $85 for 50 minutes, but it comes from feeling

worthless trivial abandoned unappreciated powerless gratuitous unnecessary disposable ineffectual unappreciated unsupported and betrayed, not to mention in pain

on micro and macro levels. Is there anyone in here who can’t empathize with this? be honest. Sometimes I think my entire oeuvre can be summed up in the howl, “IT’S NOT FAIR>>>>” I don’t mean that in any “merely” personal way.

How to cope with those defeatist emotions? Rage is a survival mechanism, screaming infant big noise red in the face with protest: FEED ME. PAY ATTENTION TO ME. Here’s a poem from 1978, the middle of my adolescence (I was fourteen) which I apparently have not outgrown:


I just quit school

I scarred up my arm

Got too drunk

Lost that charm

The other night we trashed some cars

Set a bin on fire

I ripped up my bellbottoms

And sewed them up with wire

I smoked a cigarette today

Got burnt out on speed

So sick of safety pins

What the hell do I need

No solution

No solution

Here’s a concrete poem also from 1978 that attempts a formal diagramming of extreme forces, positive and negative, positing a kind of equivalence. [sorry folks, I misplaced this one — if I find it I’ll put it up here.] Neither of these poems is very interesting to me, but not because of their concerns, which obviously reverberate throughout my work 25 years later, but because I hadn’t yet learned enough chops. An XBXB rhyme scheme fails to thrill. Now I hope I’ve learned how to make my writing seethe with the tension between its artificed plasticity, its repertoire of disguises, and its primal GRRR (if you’ll permit me a momentary McLurid voicing).

A kind of fury and defiance move through my first collection, “Lip” (1988) as in “Don’t give me none of your lip” — but with much more formal (and therefore emotional) complexity

What life the world hath still

Deliberate verandas, swimming feels

Delight to douse the splendor of the heat

And in the umbrage of your sexuality

I sing a tone, in some sense howl it.

Worst, a small passionate self.

Best, a thinking flower who is a virgin

but a favorite of hell

Delicate viands, swimming feet

Delight to rouse the speaker from his seat

And in the umbrella of your eyelashes

A thing or two can, in some sense, be howled.

Firstly, a cold class-in-itself.

Second, an infant voyeur who is a version

of the sadist as well

I’ll read a little from Vicious Etudes (the angriest poem in V. Imp) and then I’ll stop answering this question.


I have an exaggerated sense of my own unimportance.

–Nada Gordon

i HATE the avuncles

and their stinging

when the fiery concrete tower

rises in the head and

i’m appropo of nothing

standing at the edge

of the hissing stage

and missing far apart

from spiritual dignity.

the narcissi in my arms

smell like rotten breath,

nervous sweat, underwire

undercutting the man in me

with cheap, cloying, adolescent

powder. come here, i want

to alienate you. dyssemia

the volatile prosody i auto-eroticize

with (chick art ) in full view of the panel

of droning authorities in their

“moderation”: they (pea-green)

reduce awareness. stand clear

of the closing mind

of the eternally jerking emotional knee.

the hairshirt pink, frilly, jagged,

dissonant as lava flying up

“more sensitively”

from the dead moon

kissing the white wall

leaving a white (red) stain

and howling inarticulate

into “fabulous opera.”

the “sweetie-pie” flaps

in the detritus (of literature)

like a disjointed secretary

on angeldust.

a deafening chorus

of CLUCKING is heard.


ROSES – pulverized. ultimately

it doesn’t nausea because

i’m not nausea not a mother

self-effulgent of my own

misguided mother of intention.

the writing falls apart (again…)

when the beautiful boy (me)

gazes into the water

and his phallus becomes

all of him, giant stalk

takes root blooms waxy

veins bursting out and then

there’s me! (again) bursting out and then

again bursting out! my head

the WRITING as two horned


come, come, lunge

at my dungheap.

this is the summer of dissonant

content again, when

all education is

“special” and euphoric

(pulverize) natural (pulverize)



IRONY, people. You all remember what that is, right?

I thought Kasey’s blurb for Rodney’s book was super.

I thought Rouge State was a super book.

And I think Rodney should do his reading in drag. As an odalisque.

Kisses to all!

Talking the other day with a male friend about feminism:

“The battle has already been won,” he said. “Men are emasculated.”

“Not emasculated enough,” said I.


Ashcroft on the one end and on the other, a different kind of censor, the pious liberal [sic]. They both want to tell me what I can and can’t say. Where does that put me? Not in the “center,” surely. The only thing that is in the center is the tiny erect penis, perfectly formed, shimmering gold, that springs out of the center of my forehead, precisely where my third eye would be.

I had the idea that if I were to stroke this lovely little phallus it would exude exquisite, hitherto unexperienced wafting fragrances…

something like frangipani????


I apprehend her, I have to say, as just another man trying to circumscribe my speech, behavior, and imagination. Metal clamps: perhaps the vestiges of her “manhood”, stirring?


Female-ly gendered emotional argument tactics” lash out — then cower — “I’m a victim.” She did this. I do this frequently.


Metaphor as a thought crime?


As zygotes we’re undifferentiated. I really try not to forget this.


It’s an exaggerated analogy, but what if I were to get my knickers all twisty every time someone used the expression “a pain in the neck.” As a person with chronic pain whose scalenes (neck muscles) feel at most time like steel cables, should I take umbrage? How can those myriad insensitives not understand my plight? It is true that this disability is not something for which I am likely to be killed out of hate (although my congenital “disability”, ethnic judaism, surely was, and may be again in the future), it is certain that I have experienced job loss, greatly reduced income, callous treatment on the part of supervisors, co-workers, some “friends,” and some of those in the legal and medical professions, not to mention the daily tension and pain I can do no more but “manage.” “A pain in the neck,” indeed.


Petty tyrants everywhere. The preacher on the 5 train, haranguing the full car of weary people. How easily is my admittedly restive irascibility aroused!


A cornucopia of ideologues…


My teaching keeps getting more and more radicalized, the worse the situation in this country gets. I am an ideologue too.

I asked my students the other day, “Is America a free country?”

Most of them said that yes, comparatively speaking, it is.

One said, “yes, but there’s been a regression.”


I like acting.

Yesterday, walking down Fifth Ave. with Gary right after my belly dance class, talking with him about all the recent debates, I grabbed my crotch, sneered, and made a fuck you sign to the world. For a minute, I really was Sid Vicious.


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:

False dichotomy

False di-cho-to-my

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.

–Paul Blackburn

–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.

Lady’s Prayer

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

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:

pathetic fallacies


overqualification and hesitancy: “perhapsiness”

obscurely nested sentences with lots of dependent and relative clauses

limitless adjectives and other modifiers

misplaced modifiers.

faulty nominalization (subject/predicate relations)

comma splices

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”

are interesting.

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