Segue Intros Spring 2009

Here are my Segue introductions for Spring 2009. The first two are collaboratively written with Gary. Kasey’s is posted earlier (scroll down).

KENNETH GOLDSMITH & EDWIN TORRES

Kenneth Goldsmith is the author of ten books of poetry and founding editor of UbuWeb (ubu.com). He is the host of a weekly radio show on New York City’s WFMU and teaches writing at The University of Pennsylvania. A book of critical essays, Uncreative Writing, is forthcoming from Columbia University Press.

Edwin Torres is a NYC born lingualisualist currently on hiatus from the apple, living upstate. A NYFA recipient and 2006/7 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Writer-in-Residence, he’s been widely published and taught his Brainlingo workshop at numerous venues & universities. His books include, The PoPedology Of An Ambient Language (Atelos Books), The All-Union Day Of The Shock Worker (Roof Books), Onomalingua: noise songs and poems (Rattapallax e-book), and Please (Faux Press CD-Rom).

A couple of months ago Kenny told me that, when he thought about New York poetry, one of the first poets who came to mind for him was Edwin Torres.

Both Edwin and Kenny are possessed of a fierce, quintessentially American charisma that makes them near-mythic: indeed, if Edwin is a free-spirit Johnny Appleseed of the imagination, sowing bits of his wildly fertile sonic constructions in his downtown peregrinations, Kenny is a sort of latter-day P.T. Barnum, who in his time was called the “cultural manager of the century,” the “Shakespeare of Advertising,” and “the prince of humbugs.”

Even more so, they have long seemed to me to be the quintessential _New York_ poets of my generation, the people who, in the 90s when I was living in Minneapolis, I looked to for some understanding of what it might mean to be a poet in this city—they, as much as the New York School and the east coast language writers, had a big hand in ultimately drawing me here.

Information fairly streams from them like light from lasers at a rock show or like water from an opened fire hydrant; in Kenny’s work, the information is very often recognizably external, from the newspaper or television, or from his conversations, or his movements, whereas in Edwin’s work the information that reaches us, in his trademark ludic phonemes, seems to have passed through the synaptic distortion machine of his alchemical sensorium.

Kenny, from an interview: “There’s a type of sports practice that calls itself Extreme: Extreme Skiing, Extreme Skateboarding, things like this. I’m interested in Extreme Writing; and I’m convinced that the procedures that set it up inform the intensity of the writing.” Edwin, from an interview: “Q: Who are your precursors? A: Everyone who’s come before me.”

So, with the dual glories of Kenny’s informed intensities and Edwin’s radically, even cosmically inclusive literary DNA, we can fully expect to be wowed by this afternoon’s event. Let’s give an extreme welcome to our first reader, Kenny Goldsmith…

STEVE BENSON & STEPHANIE YOUNG

How fitting that Steve Benson and Stephanie Young should be our Valentine’s Day readers, as they are both paradigmatic practitioners of EXTERIOR PROJECTIONS of INTERIORITY, which we might take as one definition of love.

Yes, and I think equally crucial to establishing and maintaining that kind of connection, whether romantic or platonic, is a mix of spontaneity, enthusiasm, openness, and willingness to improvise, which I think both of these writers possess in spades—both seem comfortable being defined by what they do “off-page” as much as on—Steve, obviously, through his legendary performances, and Stephanie through her blog her Flickr account, where at the height of her productivity online I used to frequent regularly to get a sense of what was going on in the Bay Area.

“On-page,” Steve’s most recent book, Open Clothes, is composed of existential questions that probe the most basic confusions and discomforts and puzzlements that form an examined life, and we see this probing also in his autobiographical contributions to the Grand Piano series; Stephanie’s most recent book, Picture Palace, operates similarly in that it is a compilation of lateral movements toward memoir as an exploration of the lineaments of selfhood.

But they’re not islands unto themselves—community is crucial to both Steve and Stephanie’s projects—which I think will be evident by the end of today’s reading.

Let’s get back to Projection for a moment. Neither poet today will stand before you merely reading. They will be accompanied, enhanced, inspired, and changed by the visuals and text you will see projected on this very screen. Do you remember Donne’s neologism, “interinanimate” from his great love poem, The Ecstasy? The one with the intertwining eyeballs? (If not, It’s homework: you should go home and read it after today’s event.) In any case, the visual projections will interinanimate with Steve & Stephanie’s words and physical presences.

So, without further ado, let us intertwine our own eyeballs around the fabulous Stephanie Young.

JOHN GIORNO

Let’s see, Ron Mann’s classic film, Poetry in Motion, came out in 1982, when I was eighteen. I remember sitting through it twice, enthralled, thinking, OK, that is where my life is going to go, and sure enough, here I am today, standing before you, still on poetry’s crooked path. I can remember many of the readings and performances in that film, but one of the most memorable was John Giorno’s. Who could forget? He reads like no one else – although he has many imitators – transforming his body into an intense column of force and breath, of sheer performative presence. His signature double reading of lines creates a kind of echo in the listener’s ear: the first iteration burns the line into one’s consciousness, and the second makes it shine.

Indeed, John has been a pioneering presence in poetry since the 1960s, and has done so much to get poetry off the page and into people’s ears, eyes, and minds. The artists’ collective he founded, Giorno Poetry Systems, is responsible for a wealth of recordings and videos that document the excitements of New York poetry in the 70s and 80s. His Dial-a-Poem project, which he began in 1969 after a conversation with William Burroughs, offered a truly revolutionary, 20th century way to deliver poetry.

Despite his immeasurable influence on slam and spoken word poetry, John is not merely a “performance poet.” His textual innovations are present on the page, too, in the form of cinematic intercutting that challenges linear reading habits. His work is expansive enough to please and inspire poetry aficionados of all stripes.

John’s many books include Cancer in My Left Ball, You Got to Burn to Shine, and the recently published Subduing Demons in America: Selected Poems 1962-2007. He also has the special distinction of being the star of Andy Warhol’s five-hour and thirty-five-minute film, Sleep. It is a great thrill to welcome to the Segue series the legendary John Giorno…

MELANIE NIELSSON

Dear Melanie,

I’m home today trying to get over a nasty flu, and I’m really so sad not to be there, because I’m intensely interested in how your writing has evolved since 1991’s Civil Noir. That’s pretty much all I have to go on for this epistolary intro, plus the link to the How2 poem you sent me, plus a memory of a delightful reading I heard you give maybe 8 or 9 years ago at NYU. I remember you were sourcing nursery rhymes for those lovely poems. Anyway, looking into Civil Noir again is a huge pleasure: it’s whimsical, unpredictable, sonically and syntactically inventive, rhythmically adept… basically, all the things I want poetry to be. Yesterday, home with a fever, I wrote on my blog about a west-coast trend I’m seeing towards “docu-poetry,” and a tendency in a lot of poets these days to require of their poems some sort of explicit social critique… a “moral,” really… at the expense, sometimes, of the poetry. “Isn’t, um,” I write on my blog, “aren’t the lessons already in the fabric of the language? Can’t we just write inductively, forefronting the senses?” and I think you do that. In my febrile meditation on what I see as essentially the anti-poetic reportage and mimesis in docu-poetry, I write:

“it’s just that, there’s something else I want
from poems, something not so controlled by the superego
or by external conditions, something that rolls
about in language and gets covered with its secretions,
… something that foils the message instead of making it more
transparent, something that forefronts cadence.
Think of cadence as a kind of skipping through
a little bit of time, just that much duration and the
sound and meaning and syncopation in it. Material.”

Your poems give me (to evoke, for a moment, Eddie Cochrane) this “something else.”

I really do wish I could be there.

Audience, how fortunate you are to witness the marvelous…

Melanie Nielsson.

RACHEL ZOLF

Rachel Zolf is the author of the brilliant Human Resources, which most deservedly won the 2008 Trillium Book Award for Poetry, Shoot and Weep, a chapbook of poems made with found text about the Lebanon/Israel war, and Masque. She hails from Toronto and is currently gracing our fair city.

Her writing weaves together many of the most vital tendencies in contemporary poetics: it is conceptual, procedural, feminist, wryly humorous, a little bit lyrical, and profoundly investigative. Her most recent poems, some of which I think she’ll be reading today, have actually emerged from a real trip to Israel/Palestine. She wrote to me in an email yesterday, “I’m using various procedures to try and probe my questions about I-P from various angles,” and at first when I read that, I read I-P as “investigative poetics” and not “Israel-Palestine.” To me, that is what is remarkable about her poems: they are as engaged in events and issues as they are with form and procedure, without loss of energy, I think, either on the side of “form” or “content.” She knows that material can speak for itself, as in her poem in Shoot and Weep, “Grievable”, which is a list of Arabic names, followed simply by the line “at five o’clock in the morning.” And she also motivates that material with a keen inquisitiveness, her “need to know,” which very often in her work focuses on the fraught question of Jewish identity.

Her procedures and sources are fascinating in and of themselves, whether she is using (and here I quote from the coda to Human Resources) “the Gematria of Nothing engine at http://www.mysticalinternet.com,” which is “a method of Biblical exegesis based on assigned positive or negative numerical values of Hebrew letters and semantic links between words based don their values,” an online bible concordance, or the Harvard Business Review. She truly explores what is described on the back of Human Resources as “the creative potential of salvage,” recuperating language for examination under the fierce spotlight of poetic framing.

I haven’t heard Rachel read before, but I’ve been told her reading style is singular and striking, so I can’t wait. Please welcome our fearless war correspondent, Rachel Zolf.

ADEENA KARASICK

Adeena Karasick does not merely “write”; she gushes, explodes, squirts, and drips. Like a big, full, brash wine, her poetry gushes oranges, golden raisins, brandied corrupt cherries, licorice, mint, and maple sugar, sun-baked black plums and fresh, fuzzy figs.

It takes for its raw materials things like honey, olives, meat, and coffee; processed foods like tapenade, marzipan, and chocolate; quasi-edibles like violets, tea roses, dried leaves, beeswax, and green tobacco; inedibles like oyster shells, camphor, and stones; and imponderables like “orange-scented peach,” “precious, very roasted wood,” cocoa, marsh flowers, irises and undergrowth.

Adeena’s writing flows forth suddenly and violently like a massive waterfall straddling the border of Canada and the United States, full of unceasing, deafening, creato-destructive motion.

Did I say “violently”? Why yes, I did! As much as her poems are “hedonistic,” “pretty and caressing,” “ravishing,” “pillowy,” “seductive,” and “overendowed,” they are also sizzling critiques of global conflict, mordant indictments of power struggle; they exude raw energy even as the jump from the frying pan of sense into the fire of sound. What finally emerges, fully roasted on the torquing spit of Adeena’s mind, is delicious beyond mere description.

Truly, Adeena is one of the great natural wonders of the world. Here’s “TWO THUMBS UP!” for the “BREATHTAKING”, “MESMERIZING” Adeena Karasick!

CECILIA VICUNA

Cecilia Vicuña is a renaissance person and a visionary superstar. Born in Chile, she performs and exhibits her work widely in Europe, Latin America and the US. She is also a political activist and founding member of Artists for Democracy.

She has been creating “precarious works”, ephemeral installations in nature, cities and museums since l966, as a way of “hearing an ancient silence waiting to be heard.” She lectures and teaches workshops and seminars for indigenous communities and at universities.

She is the author of 16 books which have been translated into several languages, and is currently at work on an Anthology of 500 Years of Latin American Poetry for Oxford University Press. Templo e’Saliva / Spit Temple, a collection of her oral performances, edited by Rosa Alcalá, is forthcoming by Factory School Press.

Her work is a meditation on and an enactment of the fine.

Not fine as in the sense of “precious” or “luxurious,” as in fine wines or “she lived surrounded by finery,” but fine as in “precise” and “delicate.”

Not “delicate” as in weak. Vicuña’s fine is penetrating and effective, like a string cutting cheese, like laser surgery, like the fine link of the copula in an uncannily exact metaphor.

Not fine as in “refined” — which calls up sugar, oil, and pretentious manners. Vicuña’s fine is the fine of nature, like that of spiders’ webs. Or the fine of manipulated nature, like goats mixed genetically with spiders to give silk in their milk. The fine of DNA.

It is the fine of lines.

She explores the mine of the f(emin)ine.
Or the filaments of the infinite.
Or onto the tightrope of the written word into sound and its unpredictable trapeze into meaning.

Vicuna’s fine can be graphic or liquid or fabric or light, and also can it be sound, as when in her performances she enters a room first with her voice — small (fine) but, even unamplified, capable of filling the huge hall at St. Mark’s church with its shivery resonances.
Just think, then, what she can do within these cozy brick walls…

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