on poetry readings:

you have thirty minutes to make your case. show me you’ve thought about it (this includes your garments). don’t waste time with “framing.” use your time with verve. don’t give us an apologetic “nearing the end” marker. I want to see your energy focused on the words, you invested in the words. those words are your being. your case. come on.

thanking people is nice but it eats into performance time; everyone knows you are grateful to be there.

in some rare cases the patter is part of the whole art form, it’s essential. but in general a little framing goes a long way.

speak into the mic. that’s why it’s there. feel free to use the space. you don’t have to stay still the whole time. you can hold the mic, if you want to.

nothing you do should be perfunctory.

nervousness is good: focus it.

if you are going to drink water during your reading, consider making a kind of ceremony of it.

when I say “speak into the mic,” I also mean, enjoy hearing your voice in the monitor. let your own voice resonate in your head and in the room.

I have lots of other thoughts on poetry readings.

Doris & Degentesh: intros…

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Todays intro for Stacy Doris:

In Stacy Doris’ work, (to borrow a phrase Charles Bernstein used in his section of Bernadette Mayer’s “Utopia)” the only Utopia is a now.” There is no tiresome waiting around for, (as Charles writes, in a paraphrase of Blake) the calluses to fall from our eyes. Rather, Stacy forms Utopia by invention, by due order and arrangement of matter. What emerges is sublime: the hard won result of not one thing nor of two, but of the whole texture of her compositions. Sublimity fairly flashes forth, scattering everything before it like a thunderbolt. Pseudo-tragic “flame wreaths” belch to the sky as a sort of palpitating fancy roving into the fabulous or incredible. A nestling nurtured by doves introduces chinks or fissures into stately and co-ordered edifices. This produces the impression of an agitation which interposes obstacles and at the same time adds impetuousity – passion’s sap – its rich creamy buttery scent. This is known as a “gasp-inducer” – how the orange lasts through the heart notes in the mutual feathering of the warp and woof of every moment. Everything is so topsy-turvy, like the loud speech-colored hard candy that is also the syntax of the heart. She is at one time hot and cold, in her senses and out of her mind. That mind is sheer plenitude, hermeneutic organza. Examples may be spared because of their abundance. Stacy… her writing… a kind of auratic goat leaf or gorgeous plant with dripping reddish-purple stalks, all bathed in the pervading incense of a bewildering sublimity. She is the latest feminine pillar, amber-rich and resinous, Queen of combinations, adorned at her apex with a highly technical golden jewel.

Prepare to gasp. Hang on to your skulls. Utopia is now. I bring you the wondrous Stacy Doris.

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Here’s Gary’s intro for Katie Degentesh

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More attention has been given to Katie Degentesh’s The Anger Scale—from Goodreads.com to the Chicago Review and The Believer—than of any other associated with flarf. But, other than Michael Gottlieb’s brilliant take on it in Jacket, I don’t think anyone—at least anyone of public gatekeeper status—has quite placed their finger on its real value or power.

Actually, Franklin Bruno distilled the book’s appeal very nicely in a round-up of flarf books he wrote last year for Bookforum:

What could be less poetic than the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or MMPI, a psychological-assessment test designed in the 1930s? Titled after the test’s items Degentesh’s poems’ surface cool provides cover for unruly intimations of family romance and recurrent strains of visionary animism (“a black bird and then a sparrow flew in / through my bedroom window / to loot my life clean”)—moments made all the more outlandish by their clinical surroundings.

At least one prominent review charged that, while the procedure was brilliant—sculpting poems from the Google results of phrases from the MMPI, that because, as Katie admitted in the afterword to the book, that her searching was not “pure” and that she would “seed” many of her searches with words like “turtleneck” or “pussy” that somehow this tainted the experiment, almost as though they were reviewing the results of a clinical trial for a psychotropic drug called “Flarf” (flusomic acid refolia). Or whatever.
EARTH TO POETRY REVIEWERS: This is poetry—the result of a creative activity—not “evidence”! If the greatest heights poetry can scale are to merely remind us that the world is, that people are, far more fucked up than our surfaces would have us believe, then the Catholic Church is a far greater poet than all of us combined.

This is not to say that Katie’s art is without critique or reality check. But that it draws its power from rejuxtaposition—something akin to Clark Coolidge’s “arrangement.” To the extent that the titles of the poems in The Anger Scale loom over the poems as a kind of potentially overdetermined shadow, what emerges—in true poetry fashion—is both unexpected and, finally, inevitable—but in a way that poetry is inevitable, not argument. Logically, we wouldn’t expect a title “I Sometimes Tease Animals” to end up with the final couplet

then my son gave a pint of gin for a squaw
and lived with her as such until his death

but in the course of this poem, which veers from crushingly “normative” language (“because my husband and I have given one another the freedom to stay alive and growing”) to the horrific (“My son takes showers for the longest time and/ he has the cutest bounce to his little step/ the backs of his legs look like the little lines on a road map/ I’ll snip them off and make pillowcases out of them”), one almost can’t imagine the poem ending any other way. Please help me welcome the fabulous Katie Degentesh.

Nick Piombino reports at length on the reading here!

I have to be on the jagged ray.

We paid someone to pour milk over our bodies, and to scrub off gray layers of cellular history. Apparently we each thought of each other, viewed reclining from the back: “ah, Odalisque.” In that steamy Ingres space.

Sharp, almost antagagonistic conversations despite the warm affect and sensuous bonding. These conversations truncated by time and other limits, so there was no way to work through the dialectic. This leaves an unsettled and frustrated feeling in me, but then these days so much does.

Thinking of Spicer’s line, “no one listens to poetry” as a morph of that childlike plaint: “no one listens to me.” I have felt this since childhood and feel it still. I extrapolate that no one listens to me because what I have to say is not really worth listening to. Of course, even this thought may be just another form of self-involvement, as I know full well that others are busy listening to themselves, for one thing. Still, my extrapolation brings on a tantrum of rage and frustration that I internalize into any number of symptoms. I blog anyway. The blog becomes the place that no one can listen to me in public, the great exposed negligible void into which I can put the language that will otherwise make psychic whirlpools. Ululating. The poetry also exists as many things, but partly as a rebuke to those who did not listen to me, or those who did not love me.

Well, I think I am the devil’s child. This is perhaps just another manifestation of the neurosis, to think that. That “Artauldian” thing in me. But I am also seeing into life and death all the time, their terrible racket and bruit, so much that I can’t help but comment. Not to put on vatic airs, really: many of us do, and I think this is a fairly ordinary thing; this is what I think of as a life led in a state of “noisy desperation.” It would be good, I think, if I had turned out to be a little more intellectual, as the search for structures and patterns in the noise seems to happily, or at least constructively, distract many who might otherwise get bogged down in the desperation part.

I don’t feel bogged down, I feel churning. I’m in a tizzy of chemicals all the time: it fogs analysis. Therefore, this isn’t worth listening to. The churn seeks form (better form than this). I’m not ashamed of my angst, no, I mean, I am, but I’m not ashamed of being ashamed by it. It’s real, it’s just a human thing. At least, I cannot be accused of being calculating because I am too guileless.

A day without pain is a day without poetry! We’re supposed not to think this way anymore, and yet…

Well, I was interested in Stephanie’s piece how the “appropriated” danced with the “authentic.” That is a dynamic I have addressed many times in this space. The blur in between those notions. The allegorical grid of what’s appropriated is subsumed into autobiography, and changed by it, too, but I’m not sure how those without privileged knowledge about the writer would have heard it. I wonder. Not that those distinctions need to be clear; I suppose that’s the point.

I ran into Cheryl Donegan outside of Pratt yesterday and we rode the train together for about five minutes, talking of appropriation and its appearance recently in the mainstream of the NY Times. She wore a wonderful grey suit, little multicolored striped socks, and strappy pumps. I told her that I don’t think of appropriation as the gospel. I am not into gospels. Coincidentally, today I am taking my students to see the 45 years of performance video show at PS 1 and Cheryl’s video is in it.

To be honest I sometimes feel as if I have been appropriated (by the zeitgeist) into appropriation. What would I have written if I had never fallen into these circles, I wonder. Something more like the Book of Disquiet, perhaps. Because that is what this writing is like, a little, just sloppier. Always needing to make a space for sloppiness because the sloppiness is what generates unexpected curves and angles of form (back to odalisques, I guess). Then I fall into a pile of exhausted ragged weeping, but only in the text, because I am at work right now, and coping.

Anything is so complicated, like a spider donkey. I can’t stay happily in discursiveness because it doesn’t take me to the jagged ray. Not as escape, but as dimension. I have to be on the jagged ray. Its noisome caw and haunting interpersonal peeve. This other space of thinking where webs have dots of moisture/toxins that gleam in emotional blacklight and hazy strobe. The beautiful milk body and the beautiful oil body. The problem of the wiry cave, and the view from the prism (triangle). The problem of the alabaster slope. All this in ceaseless and organic palpitations…

Blastopore

Anyone came into this world
with a squirt of sticky coding and pain –
there’s no avoiding that, comrade,
and I just have to tell you that, O elephant
I’m not thinking about in this psychic
room of convoluted tubules…
Primitive groove.
Trying and trying to put on
the big incognito sunglasses in the harsh light
of the cogito (neural crest)…
so there’s that distance I bend over
into in the false early spring…
contorted, but not masochistically,
and not with contrition… I don’t feel
contrite, but anyone’s feeling is…
irritating. Chorion. Cleavage.
A radial cleavage that is indeterminate.
A membrane bulges outward. You know what you
need? A little… bird…because… who
cares… you were born. Cord blood. The lines cross
into opposite directions into different
abandoned lots (intervillios space) with junk
and new grass and ducts and cloacae and oh
I’m straining for some proper code
or beneficent felicitation in the face
of hostile you who developed and were born.
But I can’t it, and that enrages me, your rage
(a knob-like thickening) enrages me,
so I weave this ugly potholder as occupational
distraction. Inner cell mass. Primitive knot.
Hey, the film is flapping, it’s making that
flapping sound and it’s time to change
the reel. I can’t. Seem to. Change. The reel.
Did you know that cornification is a form of cell death
exclusive to the eyes? And Phenoptosis affects
many species, from yeast to salmon?
Look, the G train floor is covered with pastel
starfish, but ONLY I CAN SEE THEM (my sweet
misfortune). They are laughing at me! Hey!
They are laughing at me! Laughing.
Heart development. Development of the urinary
and reproductive organs. Cubical or prismatic
cells. The word EMPTY scratched on the side
of the seat then X’d out with black marker:
an observation, not an objective correlative.
Everyone is (duh) a dark mushroom.
Blonde in green, everyone has earbuds –
and was once a tiny zygote with DARK IRISES
alone in a liquid place. Then there’s this forcing,
all these women SCREAMING and SWEATING:
they HEAVE and PUSH. Lines of hair on melon bellies.
Porous nipples. Eww. New nerve sensations. Life:
eww. Yolk sacs. Limb buds. First dryness and breath.
Smooth infants flail tiny limbs. Splanchnopleure.
Baby, each neonate is a locus of wild needs.
If I say I miss you I will feel sick so I won’t
say it but time elapses and hapless we (duh)
are folded into it: irises, elephants, earbuds,
nipples, starfish, Wharton’s jelly, everything.

Karen Weiser & MacGregor Card: our intros

Karen And MacGregor have been swapping lines to include in their poems for over a decade, and now there are two new books, from which each of them read on Saturday. They shared the stage and alternated their readings.

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Here’s Gary’s intro for MacGregor:

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Macgregor Card’s first full-length collection of poetry, Duties of An English Foreign Secretary, is just out from Fence Modern Poets Series. He also, along with Andrew Maxwell, was co-editor of what I think of as one of the defining poetry magazines of the last 15 years or so, The Germ.

Maybe it’s because I just watched “Geoul sokeuro,” or “Into the Mirror,” a 2003 Korean horror film structured more like a poem, or Maya Deren’s “Meshes of the Afternoon,” than a narrative, I’ve been thinking about mirroring, correspondences, and form. Or, more specifically, how form creates internal mirroring and correspondences that then resonate outward, like the surface of a mirror. The greatest formalists—Dante, for instance—created forms intended to mirror the larger structures (e.g., the universe)—and I think that something along these lines, in a knowing, 21st century way, is going on in Macgregor’s first book. Which was typeset, by the way, in two faces: Dante and Futura, the latter being one letter off from the Italian word for Future, futuro, making it an impossible to ignore poem itself: Dante, on one side of the coin, or mirror, pointing into the past; Futura, obviously pointing forward. Those who remember how meticulously The Germ was designed will not altogether dismiss this as coincidence.

Nor will they dismiss the TOC, which was designed to look like a series of tercets, if not exactly terza rima, nor will they dismiss the title page, with three—count ‘em—three rings circling around the title, which is here doubled, mirrored, or shadowed, beneath itself.

The title is originally Sydney Dobell’s, a member of the so-called Spasmodic school of poetry, whose poem, “Wind,” serves as epigraph to Macgregor’s book, and a stylistic cue.

Oh the wold, the wold,
Oh the wold, the wold!
Oh the winter stark,
Oh the level dark,
On the wold, the wold, the wold!

That word, “wold,” I believe comes from the German, Wald, which means forest—wold was a word used in England to describe an open, rolling hills sort of area. But—it’s also “World” without an “r”—that is, it’s a slightly spavined or disfigured or off representation of world—in other words, what you are presented with in a mirror, or a poem. And, speaking of mirrors, it is also one letter off from the word “word.”

I think Macgregor is a kind of formalist—that is, someone who has, in this book, at least, created a new kind of form, which uses and stacks up repetitions and “off-repetitions” in a way somewhat similar to both the rhyme scheme of terza rima and the line-by-line scheme of the sestina—but it’s a form all its own, manifesting into these brilliant, shiny, mirror-like poems, that resonate simultaneously internally and externally:

A CHAIR IS NOT A SINGING MAN

But the table is deaf
like a metal rail
And flat as a board
like the deaf
I know you hear this
“beef needs salt”
But table understands

“ ”

It is an absolute pleasure for me to now welcome Macregor Card.

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And here is my intro for Karen Weiser:

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Just curious who in this audience has ever had a dream about giving birth, and if so, if any of those dreamers are men… Karen Weiser, in her brand spanking new “To Light Out” relates one such dream:

Inch-long baby. Climbs out and up, kangaroo style. I eat her. Once inside again, she’s a million stars.

When I read this, I had a sudden jolt of recognition, for I have had similar dreams myself, especially of giving birth to tiny animals, and I also had a jolt of memory, of myself as a preteen, living in Bolinas in a tiny studio by the ocean with my mother, reading, surreptitiously of course, her dream journal… and finding in it a dream in which I appeared as something like a joey.

That this book is dedicated to both Karen’s mother and daughter, and that it is also echoic of her mother in law, who indeed wrote a book of poems to her unborn baby, feels especially significant to the project of the book, which addresses, to put it extremely simply, nothing less than the mystery of being. I don’t know about you, but for me not a day goes by when I don’t think of how completely bizarre it is that we are quite literally made of our predecessors, and our descendants are made of us, and somewhere in this whole strange process is the origin of the universe. Honestly, the very notion makes me so vertiginous that I couldn’t even bring myself to reproduce.

Karen is clearly bolder than me, and to help herself grapple with all this, she invokes, in her extremely illuminating introduction to the book, Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences, in which, by looking at the symbolic or spiritual dimension of language, one can find what he calls “angels.” Karen suggests that Swedenborg might be using “the etymological resonance of the word angel with ‘messenger’ to imply bearing a message across something that lies between states of being.” She compares Swedenborg’s ideas to Spicer’s notion of “the outside,” which “is the thing one must tune into in order to receive the poems,” and to Spicer’s idea of poet as radio. She also looks at the Penzias and Wilson’s accidental discovery, in 1964, of cosmic microwave background radiation, which came, they found, with the help of astrophysicists, not from any human -made source, but rather from the explosive beginning of the universe itself, and made itself manifest through a radio receiver as static. Where Karen takes the static, to a place that is at once completely personal and also completely cosmic, I will leave to her to explain.

I haven’t said anything about the poems, I realize, but I think that’s OK, because Karen is here, in the flesh (which is also her mother’s, and her daughter’s, and if you think about it long enough… ours…) to read them to us. Visionary, subtle, and slightly iridescent, like umbilical cords, they posit correspondences as form, or in Karen’s words, they “costume a pulse.’ Please welcome Karen Weiser and MacGregor Card…

recliner + the orgy

I bought a recliner because I am getting old and I wanted a corner in which to read and write in my notebook. Of course, the recliner is purple. It just happened to be the last surviving member of its species, a discontinued product at the downtown Brooklyn Macy’s, so I got a good deal on it, and hey, it’s purple. But when you live in a small space, the addition of one big piece of furniture means everything else has to shift.

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I had to get rid the weird awkward piece of furniture that was in the spot where the chair is now (isn’t it a sweet domestic scene?) – a kind of giant bedside table with two drawers at a skewed angle, but that entailed finding a space for my tights (I don’t know, a couple hundred pairs? because what if I was missing a color or pattern?), boxes containing miscellaneous items like sunglasses, half-finished packs of gum, matchbooks, barrettes, fake birds, umbrella condoms, etc., and mug holders over which I’ve draped numerous baubles, mainly bracelets… and since there was no space anywhere I had to empty a cupboard of fabric, try (unsuccessfully) to consolidate it with another cupboard of fabric, and get rid of lots of stuff in the process, making the dust bunnies scurry right into my nostrils, ugh.

It’s 11:51, I’m still up. Not trying to write a T. Berrrigan poem here, just saying. Found out today my thyroid is still high, which explains the sleeplessness, let’s hope I can relax soon, but not before I’ve spring-cleaned all 850 square feet of the apartment, you know? And not until I say something about Brandon Brown’s chapbook “The Orgy,” which actually seems to come from a similar kind of hyperthyroid state to the one I’m in now: it’s jazzed, and anguished, but jazzed.I know I seem lately to be mentioning his poems rather a lot, but DAMN, this book is just exactly what I want from poems right now.

Without wanting to say something so hackneyed about a chapbook that its central metaphor “functions on several levels at once,” I don’t know quite how else to put it. That orgy, from what I can divine, seems to hop around on at least four levels, like some kind of mega-disco where each on each floor you can hear a different kind of music but all throb with party energy equally (you know?) So.. the orgy, certainly alludes in some sense to an actual group sex encounter, or something like it (some of the gossip indicates it wasn’t really all that lurid), that actually happened in the Bay Area and has worked its way into a kind of legend; the orgy may also allude to the somewhat licentious (again, this is all secondhand, so what do I know) youth poet party scene there (and is it still like that, or was that a little inflammation?); it certainly alludes to ancient Rome, for our friend Brandon has at least one sandal in those olden days(“Siphoned milk raptors make a smorgasbord/ of Roman history”); it most definitely spreads a metaphorical net onto the orgy of late capitalism in the hyper-information age (“this crystal mall must be destroyed”); and most compellingly, to me, it seems to refer back on itself to the orgy of writing that makes itself felt in every moment of this galvanized, kind of emo (in the best possible sense: “ “My heart struggles./ It’s big as a chard, but it never learns.”) poem. OK, so that’s five ways, maybe there are more.

Its snappy never-fail pacing helps to infuse (I overuse that word, I know, but what else… imbue? I overuse that, too) its abjection and nausea with a bitter and endearing hilarity: all of course the wages of orgy and excess. BB makes such deft shapes out of his misery, that’s poeisis, it’s alchemy, because the poem is so pleasurable, and it’s effective. Reading it, I feel with and for him: Indeed, an enactment of Dana Ward’s marriage of Watten and Watteau, or, as I put it, form + fauve.

The poem has this repeating figure: “For months I was trying to stop the orgy/ but I couldn’t,” “For months I was trying to stop organizing funky honey showers,” “For months I was trying to stop the overflow of with belying underflow of pith,” “There was no way I could stop/ the orgy. It was too big and powerful./ Too many people owned the story/ of the orgy. I had to let the orgy stop me.” “For months I was trying to stop this orgy.” Each time it comes around in the poem I feel the incredible strength of his resistance to the orgy, but also a simultaneous protesting too much, like there’s something about the size and power of the orgy that fascinates him, that makes him feel so keenly pained that it is also almost pleasurable, just as you can feel him pleasurably constraining the orgy of his energy in the poem’s tight form and clever wordplay. OK, I’m not going to give any examples because you know what, this isn’t a “review.” This is an “I’m just sayin’” and plus it’s 12:18 and I REALLY have to try to sleep.