I can’t do it. I can’t post on “poetry and personality.” To do so I would have to a) define my terms and b) totalize, and honestly, every time I start to try to think about “personality” even pretend-methodically I can feel my mind start to flail about thinking well then I will have to know what a self is, won’t I, and then I start generating conjectures like the self is the sensorium, you know, that which loves and exults and suffers and gets bored, but then I wonder, isn’t it just my personality to reduce everything to sensation, to be so predictably emo? And is that my personality or my persona making those reductions? It could be that in fact I am truly much more methodical than my persona, who just likes to put a frosting of gaiety on her fatigue, and maybe under that fatigue there’s a kind of beautiful clockwork after all like a Cartesian animal.
What kind of animal? I imagine a kind of cat or donkey.
Reading Santayana on my iPhone:
The beauty of material is…the groundwork of all higher beauty, both in the object, whose form and meaning have to be lodged in something sensible, and in the mind, where sensuous ideas, being the first to emerge, are the first that can arouse delight.
To love glass beads because they are beautiful is barbarous, perhaps, but not vulgar…
Form cannot be the form of nothing. If, then, in finding or creating beauty, we ignore the materials of things, and attend only to their form, we miss an ever-present opportunity to heighten our effects.
Whenever the golden thread of pleasure enters that web of things which our intelligence is always busily spinning, it lends to the visible world that mysterious and subtle charm which we call beauty.
Etcetera. I could go on and on quoting this quaint philosopher (if only in an attempt to dodge my failure to address “poetry” and “personality” at all satisfactorily).
Bruce Andrews seemed very amused that I was reading Santayana on my iPhone (thanks to Project Gutenberg! Coolio!).
“You’re reading Santayana? George Santayana? That’s so… fifties!”
“I like the clear prose style. None of this… textuality nonsense…”
(that’s a joke. you understand that’s a joke, right?) (why is everything a joke for me? I should look at that.)
So, it’s Bruce’s personality to make comments like that, kind of affectionately sneering, and mine to be “sassy” (Bruce later in the conversation used the word to describe my personality) in response.
Personality, whatever it is, has an awful lot to do with voice, then, and voicings: what are they called, “performative utterances,” in the sense that I commit to a personality, promise the world at least a measure of repeated personality, in the accruing predictability of the kinds of statements I make and the way I inflect them. I shudder a little at the words voice and voicings, though, because I don’t want to mean them in any sort of Iowa-workshop way, but when I actually try to consider how I do mean them, I think it might actually not be very different. Those Iowa-workshoppians might not know it, but when they say a writer needs to “find her voice” what they really mean is that she needs to find a persona or personae to perform via utterances so that she can accrue an artificed writing personality and bequeath it “performatively” to the world. I do think that actual physical voice sounds and accents and lexicons give permissions and limits to the artifice. I mean like how Bruce sounds funny and caustic and sort of nasal, and how his voice is not small, and aren’t these aspects of his personality? My voice when I hear it sounds kind of pedantic, but I laugh a lot and use a lot of emphatic/ecstatic adjectives, or at least I think I do, and I think this has something to do with my personality as well. For those of you who are worrying about sincerity at this point, can’t we say that this voice to the extent that it is intrinsic, like really biologically so, it is “sincere”… and the rest is creative artifice, and leave it at that?
There’s something to be said, really, for living a life among poets and hearing them vivify their words with their peculiar voices. That certainly gives their poems even more personality. Kasey’s voice for example is deep and sonorous and metrically precise and also oddly goofy, a quality that contrasts with the other three qualities I mentioned but all the qualities very much define his poetics. I can’t look at a poem on a page by Katie, say, and not imagine it in her factual kind of deadpan voice punctuated with her sort of no-nonsense strong laughter, or read a poem of Drew’s online that I don’t hear in his special sarcastic/mystic/brainiac enunciation. I mean, right? Don’t these voices just ooze personality? And doesn’t whatever oozes inhere in the poems, even those poems that are composed only from “outside” materials? I’m thinking of Kenny reading at the BPC the transcript of the 9/11 newscast, for example, how the “art intelligence” of his voice transformed the words.
Oh okay but that’s reactionary, right, like I’m proposing some sort of essential self-voice that we already argued away in the 80s, right? But wait. What is this tenacious thing: personality?
I don’t know. I mean I’m not Santayana and I don’t have time to lay out my arguments in pretty aphorisms the way he did although it is fun to quote him. I have to get the words out REALLY FAST because tomorrow there will be some other whirlwind thought and also I have to blog about Terayama Shuji, I said I would, and besides I’m not doing this for school. I think a lot of poets behave as if what they are doing is something they are doing for school, and I say that not as an anti-academic, because I’m not, and I already said my voice sounds pedantic and a little snotty or self-conscious, and I’m a teacher, and I’m all for everyone learning as much as they can all the time, but then of course learning something and doing something for school are entirely different activities much of the time, now aren’t they. Is it a kind of torture reading this? I apologize in advance. I’m just trying to keep you with me in a simulacrum of real-time associative thought.
I suspect that when we read the work of writers who are no longer alive that we project our concept of their personality and voice onto the words, we deduce it from the syntax and the diction, and our projection sort of weaves into our Vygotskian stream of self-talk until we have an idea who is talking to us, even though that “person” is part “us.” Any biodata we are possessed of regarding the writer goes into the mix too, doesn’t it. I think even the most purist of us can’t keep it separate. Does anyone want to disagree? This is why I feel like I “know” Tolstoy (even in translation: sure, why not), Lewis Carroll, Gertrude Stein, etc.
It happens sometimes that the poetry a poet emits, though, and here I’m talking about poets I know, is strikingly different from how I conceive of their personality. This is very disorienting. I actually don’t want to give examples of that, because most often it is the personality I am more attracted to than the poetry, and the poetry disappoints me because I want it to be like the personality. Is this what it means to have not “found one’s voice”? When the disparity between the performed self in speech and the performed self in aesthetic writing is too great? It disturbs me that I might even think like that. That disparity is the essence of theatre, isn’t it? I don’t know, I’m confusing myself again. It strikes me though that in these cases what I am seeing is poets who are swayed by trends or who write how they think they ought to or out of maybe undeliberate pastiche of writers they admire? So that their enthusiasm or intention (the best media for “personality”) is interrupted or diluted by obligation in some cases? and possession (the extreme of “influence”) in others?
I really had intended to work on my movies tonight. It’s 10:11. I need to make better movies as I can see now how floppy the first one is. Or maybe I should just keep adding to it until I have a movie equivalent of that crazy painting of Jay deFeo’s? Since I made that blanket statement about no erasure? You see, I HATE when I totalize! I need to put away a pile of clothes. I need to not stare at a screen all the time. Do you guys remember this NY Times article? By Kevin Kelley?He wrote, I mean typed:
We are becoming people of the screen. The fluid and fleeting symbols on a screen pull us away from the classical notions of monumental authors and authority. On the screen, the subjective again trumps the objective. The past is a rush of data streams cut and rearranged into a new mashup, while truth is something you assemble yourself on your own screen as you jump from link to link.
OK look, it’s not that we don’t know that, that it’s not painfully obvious. It’s just a nice clear prose style, not like Santayana’s who also had a nice clear prose style, and nothing at all like mine because I apparently do not have a nice clear prose style even though I am not abstruse either. What can I say? I’m all over the place! I’m a total spaz [can we still say that?]! Help! Maybe it’s just my personality…
At Sean Killian’s house party last night after Kasey and Lytle’s great reading I at some point declaimed, in answer to Michael Golsten’s question, “What do you really look for in poetry, anyway?”: “Two things,” I said, “and they are totally démodé: personality and style.” A moment later I added “music” to my list. Kasey seemed to agree, and Gary, too, although Kasey was quick to say that a poet does need at least a smattering of other concerns so as not to just write “beautiful words,” and of course he’s right.
I have been wanting to engage “poetry and personality” here for a while, and threatened to over on Brandon Brown’s blog, but life has been a bit busy and interesting over the past few days, so I haven’t got around to it. Even at this moment I am wondering whether to report on my busy and interesting life or to engage the terms, and I can feel myself swaying over to reportage as I’m a bit too hungover for analysis. Yes, dear reader, I who usually total only tea did indulge in some horseradish-infused vodka shots (piquant!) last night, which had the predictable and temporary effect of making me even more giddy than usual. While I did refrain from dancing on the table at the Anyway Café, a subterranean Russian tiki room cluttered with antique tchotchkes, I do recall screeching when Drew poked me in the ribs, which he did more than once to everyone’s amusement.
Rewind to Thursday, when with Sharon Mesmer, Ekkehard Knoerer (visiting from Germany), DJ Huppatz (visiting from Australia), and Gary, I went to see the latest Richard Foreman piece, an opera, “Astronome,” created in collaboration with John Zorn. The piece is touted as being extremely loud, and they ceremoniously give you earphones when you pick up your ticket, but honestly it was much less loud than most of the punk shows my youth was steeped in, and although now as an adult I am quite noise-sensitive, I enjoyed the intensity of the music. Foreman is iconic to me, and I think I’ve said on this blog before that if I were in theater in any way, as writer or producer or puppet or extra or prop-maker, it doesn’t matter, his is the sort of theater I would want to make. I love the claustrofeeling of the cluttered theater space, the complex determinations (some of them under-, some of them over-) of the sets and objects and costumes, the choreographed gestures, the tableau-like shock imagery of them. Honestly, the productions don’t feel all that different (from each other) to me, and I have liked none of them so much as the first one I saw, “Panic,” but I mean neither of those assertions as wounding criticisms. It’s just that I know now that when I go to see a Foreman piece I am going to experience a highly stylized version of the most disordered workings of my own psyche, and that’s cool. What struck me about this one was how adolescent it was, with the “metal” “opera” complete with barfing sounds and noodly guitar solos, the freaky goth ambiance, the urges on display (as when a woman actor put on a headpiece like a giant strawberry and a man actor made like he was “eating” her face to the accompaniment of outrageous slurping noises courtesy of Zorn). There was also a sort of Alice Cooper figure like a voodoo chieftan in a giant feather headdress, his face painted Kelly green, with a fake eyeball popping out of one of his eyes. Magnificent.
I love how the text of Foreman’s pieces is so spare. It seems that often it can be reduced to about a paragraph total; Daniel said afterwards, it’s as if language is just another prop. And how brilliant the props! Like the claw device one uses to get a roll of toilet paper down from a high shelf at the corner bodega! There is indeed a kind of equivalence created by the highly artificed everything in Foreman’s plays, but it’s not the kind of equivalence that bores by flattening; it’s quite the inverse: suddenly everything becomes bizarre, and of course that is precisely the effect one wants, and that I guess I go for in my verse, which is admittedly also sort of adolescent.
That would seem a natural point to start in on poetry and personality, but I haven’t yet exhausted my report. I will post clips of Kasey’s and Lytle’s readings anon, but I should say that Kasey’s Sonnagrams were so gut-bustingly hilarious that I just want to genuflect. Listening to them, I told Gary in the cab home last night, I was really on the edge of my seat breathless for what was going to come next. How often does one feel that way about poetry? Lytle’s presentation of his multimedia conceptual art collab with Jimbo Blachley, The Chadwick Papers, was elaborate and brilliant, and I especially enjoyed the final video that featured Lytle in a Dutch Renaissance ruff reciting a homophonic translation of a Dutch poem. From there we found ourselves at the aforementioned Anyway Café, where some other alt-culture types had gathered, separately from us, one a former member of Fluxus, whoa, and much horseradish-infused vodka was imbibed by everyone not excluding yours truly.
Marianne Shaneen, who usually is occupied with her film-in-progress, “American Furries,” and doesn’t get out to poetry stuff much anymore, was (yay!) in attendance and she said, “Hey, it’s Saturday, Bradley is working at Anthology!” and I got very excited because I hadn’t seen Bradley Eros in years, and I adore him, so I said, “yeah! let’s go see Bradley!” So several of us descended upon him and crowded into the back office, where we convinced Kasey to read another sonnagram and we convulsed with laughter again. Then Bradley showed us some crazy films: Dorsky’s rare first, “Revenge of the Cheerleaders,” replete with terrifyingly exuberant stripping cheer-nymphs; some hilarious Kuchar (I don’t remember which one) that featured a seemingly fine actress acting deliberately as badly as she could, taking direction and caressing a mannequin whose wig kept falling off, and then weirdest of all, these Terayama Shuji films that were so wrong and so beautiful in so many ways, as if a Japanese Jack Smith had mated with Warhol and made politically-fragranced child porn cabaret. I have plenty to say about Terayama Shuji, and should just commit here to a post about him later on although I haven’t yet got around to the other post on poetry and personality that I’ve clearly not yet written.
OK, this post right now is cutting into my hangover recovery and my Sunday morning, but how thrilling, really, these last few days: all this mad culture, and its attendant fabulous personalities (there, I said it!)! Whee!
I’ll just end here by posting my intro to Kasey, which I thought, if I do say so myself, was pretty funny:
K. Silem Mohammad is the author of Breathalyzer (Edge Books, 2008), A Thousand Devils (Combo Books, 2004), and Deer Head Nation (Tougher Disguises, 2003). Abraham Lincoln, which he edits with Anne Boyer, is the single most significant poetry magazine in North America that always features a large cat and a rainbow on its front cover. Like all great poets, K. Silem Mohammad has a back story.
While undergoing a tonsillectomy, young Kasey was badly overanesthetized. After emerging from a 10-day coma he developed St. Vitus’s Dance and epilepsy. He was seized by fits of uncontrollable laughter and experienced hallucinations. For the rest of his life, he has seen visions and conversed wittily with the world of the undead. Physically unfit for military duty, Kasey began writing his very special brand of poetry after attending Stanford University.
Often categorized as a flarfist, he has created an artistic circle that overlaps with the worlds of conceptualism and B-movies but remains distinct and apart. Kasey, a kind of self-created planet, has found a way to combine Old World mysticism and New World nausea. A poet prey to visions and hallucinations, a philosopher, a scholar with a deep understanding of Renaissance poetry, an enthusiastic consumer of TV dinners, perhaps the great white magician of our time — he is all of these, and something else besides. I adore him, and lay this little sonnet at his feet as a garland.
Shall I compare thee to a ZZ Top Concert?
Thou art more heinous and less hirsute:
Rough winds do shake the asses of your screaming fans,
And your visit here in NY hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot is the macaroni and cheese,
And oft’ is its orangey color dimm’d;
And every freak from freak sometime recoils,
By chimps or unwashed intercourse untrimm’d:
But thy eternal grooviness shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that old time rock and roll;
Nor shall, uh, Alice Cooper, brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou rulest:
So long as men can snort, or eyes can squeal,
So long lives this, and Kasey, you’re for real.
Please welcome my homie, my comrade, my idol… K. Silem Mohammad…
Substitution & Addition: yes
A beautiful day.
The sycamore trees outside my window starting to sprout little burgundy pre-leaves.
Walking through the Fulton Mall this sunny afternoon, a couple: her hand tucked in his back pocket.
Men-of-the-hoi-polloi addressing me wolfishly, although I am 45 and look tired.
Many tulips (for sale).
Street revellers in shades of green in the very Irish Windsor Terrace.
Jay St. station smelling inexplicably like the Paris Metro (dusty, sweet).
Unrelated, but notable: Extraordinary reading by Larry Price at the Poetry Project last night.
Oh and, last weekend Anselm gave me a copy of Have a Good One. The pages smell of cigarettes: traces of Dana Ward?
Up too late! My movies did this to me! Must go to sleep.
Words and voices by Nada Gordon, translated idiolectically from a poem by Kimberly Lyons. Images from the 1942 version of The Jungle Book, The Magic Sword, and The Legends of Belly Dance (the dancer is the great Najwa Fouad). Sung to the tune of Pur Dicesti o Bocca Bella as sung by Cecilia Bartolli.
This is my third movie, but I should say it’s really more like 1.5, coming in between the rather more epic Op.1 (“You Won’t Ever Learn”) and Op. 2 (the still-in-progress-at-the-time-of-this-wr iting “The Garden of Life”), which is also more elaborate..
Those two are not really you-tube-able, so consider this a kind of teaser.
p.s. I need to tweak the sound at the beginning, make it fade in. Well, later.
Adeena Karasick reads her version of “The Rules” at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City on3/14/09 as part of the Segue Series.
Charles Bernstein reads what is either one or two poems (if it is two, he kind of runs them together) at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City on March 14, 2009.
Jerome Sala reads two poems about poetry at the Bowery Poetry Club, New York City, March 7, 2009.
Rachel Zolf reads at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City on March 7, 2009.