Japan Itinerary

Tomorrow I leave for Japan for five weeks. My bags are 90% packed and I am dithering only about what my electronic connectivity options should be but my outfits at least are decided on, and indeed that is the hardest part. I notice sometimes before I travel I buy cheap “practical” clothing that I don’t actually like and this is a very stupid thing.  Cargo pants are light and comfortable, it is true, but they do NOTHING for me, and I shouldn’t buy them, even if they are mint green and have interesting zippers.
Here is my itinerary.
My plane arrives on Sunday evening, and my dear friend Atsushi, who with his lovely family lives near Narita, has kindly offered to pick me up. I will stay there Sunday night and Monday night as well.
Tuesday morning I will leave early for Okayama, where I will stay for one night at Sogenji, a beautiful old zen temple. There are several international people studying zen there. I am not sure whether I will take part in their meditation as I worry a bit about my sciatica, but I look forward to drinking in its peaceful atmosphere.
From there, I am going to take the train to Kyushu, where I have never before visited. Another old friend lives in Beppu, a hot spring town said to be “the Vegas of Japan.” I will stay two nights in a lovely hot spring inn and take day trips to the beautiful onsen towns of Yufuin and Kurokawa.
Then I will take a scenic train ride across Kyushu to Nagasaki.  Nagasaki is unique for its international history even at a time when the rest of Japan was closed to most of the world. I will stay two nights in a hotel with “mediterranean” décor.

On my way back to Tokyo, I’ll stop again in Okayama and take a train and boat to the “art island” of Naoshima, and stay in a little pension near the ferry port.
Then, once back in Tokyo, I will be staying at the Reversible Destiny Lofts in Mitaka, performing some of the architectural procedures in which Madeline Gins herself has tutored me, and seeing what it feels like to inhabit such a revolutionary space. I will stay there for one month. Here is me in 2008 on a visit to the lofts.
It is a long time to be away, and I will miss my sweetheart, my cats, and my friends… but I am so hungry for Japan and its grace. I can’t wait to be there. 

The Norton Got it Wrong

I am glad to be included in the new Norton Anthology of Postmodern Poetry. I guess I have earned it, having plugged away at this racket for a few decades now? Of course, there are so many others who have as well, and who should be included, but then the book would be even more unmanageably massive than it is now. Poetry has reached a state of uncontainability, and that is an excellent thing.
What is not so excellent, at least from my point of view, is my bio entry in the book.  I suppose they have a good reason for not running these by contributors, and I do recognize the enormity of the task of putting together all the materials. Still, there is at least one bit in mine that is so egregious that I want to go to all my friends’ houses who have the book and black it out with a Sharpie.
Hoover included material from an interview I did with Tom Beckett as a setup for the poems he chose from Swoon, but he rearranged it in a misleading way. He begins by quoting this paragraph:
Gary and I had a crisis, and one of the ways we dealt with it was to write a blog to each other. The material of the blog was therefore ‘natural’ ‘expressive’ language. I used a random poem generator program to generate thirty pages of stuff from the language on that blog.
Now, this blog had NOTHING to do with Swoon, except that it was a (hopeless, it turns out) attempt to recover something like trust in our relationship after his extended clandestine affair with the “poet” Wanda Phipps.  We thought that since we had initially built trust in writing, we might be able to rebuild it.  But the experience of writing that blog was not Swoon. In a way, it was Swoon’s unraveling, an anti-Swoon. Hoover, however, collages the passage in such a way that it seems that Swoon was the blog the passage refers to! I find this vexing, as if someone had misspelled my name on my tombstone.
Beyond this erratum is the problem of the poems he chose to include. The poem of Gary’s that is in the anthology was not written to me, and although it is published in Swoon, it is there as a kind of quotation, not as part of our collaboration.  In fact, Gary wrote it for his first wife.  More disturbing to me is that it hardly represents Gary’s most important contributions to poetry. His bio note mentions the Flarf Klassic “Mm-Hmm,” the poem that launched a thousand Google searches, but does not include it.  This is, to my mind, a grave mistake.  The one that was chosen, “Among the Living,” is a kind of blancmange of a piece that better represents the sort of work coming out of the Bay Area in the early 90s with its shifting pronouns and high, still diction – almost a kind of homage to Michael Palmer – and has nothing to do at all with the mark that Gary made on poetry. If anything, his later poems to me and his Flarf work come out of a reaction against that sort of poetry.
My poem, “Moonscape with Earthlings,” in some ways foreshadows my riper poetry: it is playful, Oulipean at moments, sort of macaronic (although in a dumb way; if you understand Japanese you can understand just how dumb, in retrospect), multiform.  I am not entirely embarrassed by it, but it is definitely not my best or my most representative work.
Finally, and I know it is futile to rail against something like this, because it does make some kind of editorial sense, but I can’t STAND that it is a dual entry. I might feel less that way if the poem of Gary’s that had been included was the one to which my poem responded. But the poems don’t read as a collaboration, because strictly speaking, they are not. And beyond that, we each have made contributions to poetry separately that surpass anything we did in Swoon, IM(maybe-not-so)HO. I do think the dual entry is a problem not just because of our vicious divorce, but on historical and feminist grounds as well.  I’m emphatically my own thing, not a Gary thing, even if he was instrumental in helping me get to where I am.

Q & A

A student of Sandra Simond’s asked me some questions. Here are some of the answers I sent her:

1.     What influenced you to write poetry?
As a child I learned to talk early and from three or four years old was a voracious reader. I don’t remember so much liking to run around; I liked to read. I read books totally absorbedly over and over and over I suppose there has always been as a result a lot of language in my head. I was the only child of a single mom and entertained myself a lot, writing stories and poems. Writing served (serves) as a refuge from boredom, chaos, and loneliness. At one point – I couldn’t have been very old – maybe 12? – I had a job in a little used bookstore. It may have been there that I picked up a hardback green copy of an anthology titled “Major Poets.” I read this book as I had the books of my earlier childhood, and certain poems really penetrated me:  John Dryden’s “Song for St. Cecilia’s Day,” D.H. Lawrence’s “Bavarian Gentians,” Dylan Thomas’ “Fern Hill.” I liked Shakespeare, Shelley, Plath and cummings – maybe a fairly typical taste-constellation for a young literary aspirant of my generation? Then as now I was drawn to musicality in language, finding music the ultimate “transcendent” art and also interested in how language strains against its limits in poetry, and sometimes breaks through to something like music.
2.     How long have you been writing poetry?
I recall dictating my first poem to my mom when I was about seven.
3.     Are there any poets whom you are heavily influenced by?
I suppose the snowball of influence that encases me is at this point rather heavy, although I’m not sure that naming a few names is a useful exercise here. Because I so often inhabit others’ poems from the inside, and then set about transforming them, it may be more accurate to talk about my outfluences.  I have rewritten poems by many poets: traces of the originals streak the poems themselves.  I like to think of beings and also artworks as porous, leaking into each other in all sorts of ways. In Vile Lilt, for example, I rewrite poems/texts by Marianne Moore, Dana Ward, Havelock Ellis, William Blake, George Herbert, Brian Ang, John Keats, and The Internet. I also rearrange the dictionary a bit.
4.     What is your favorite poem from ‘Vile Lilt’ and why?
I think I like “Droop Loss Slave” and “Wildcats Can Be Revealed (Vile Lilt)” the best. In these poems the vocabulary is quite various and rich, as are the sources. Many of the words are woven in from online lists of obscure words for spammers hoping to evade detection. I use the words in service of cadence and emotion. At a remove from simple “expression,” they amplify the aesthetic power and complexity of the lines in the way that a wisteria vine climbing over the face of a building makes one more fervently desire to enter or inhabit it. Such baroquerie, to me, redounds upon the quality of the emotion as well, making of the poem a fearfully poignant code.
5.     Any advice on becoming a better writer?
Focus. Trust your impulses. Always have a pencil ready. Try different materials, styles, environments. Have writer friends. Steal and borrow, but always transform. Have a ball. Don’t worry about being “better.”
6.     What is your writing process like?
My process varies according to the piece. I collage a lot, weave things into and around each other. Sometimes I “just write.” I often add and substitute language to existing texts.  I am less likely to subtract (erase) things as this strikes me as the least interesting of procedures, at least according to my “wisteria” aesthetic. I also like to remind myself that nothing is “set in stone,” that I can always bend, twist, modulate, or modify things.  I find myself often gathering language “to use later,” and this is very useful.
7.     What are your goals for the future?
Mainly to write more poetry, as well as other sorts of things, but I am actually superstitious about public enunciations of goals.
8.     What inspired you to write your poem titled ‘poetry’? (which is my personal favorite from Vile Lilt)
You may have already guessed that the poem is a rewrite of Marianne Moore’s poem of the same title.  This was actually my contribution to a group “intervention” by the Flarfists. We all wrote poems to submit to Poetry magazine, and each poem had to include a line about a nuthatch perching in a urethra. We all submitted our poems under separate cover; not one was accepted by the magazine.