Jeff Keen movies tonight at the new Light Industry. Sublime!
I walked through Borough Park today as an ethno-tourist. Is is still ethno-tourism when, strictly speaking, it’s one’s “own” ethnicity? I wonder. Well, I certainly do feel like a different breed of person than the denizens of Borough Park, but I was sort of admiring them today, in their crazy Purim finery (I saw several pirate hats and cowboy hats, one green dinosaur, one “gangster” in an electric blue suit, one tall male youth in a slutty blonde wig, several children – boys and girls — dressed as cops and soldiers [what’s that about?], a couple of small girls dressed as grandmothers, lots of face paint: charcoal eyebrows, hugely rosy cheeks). When I told Gary I was going, he said, “but they’re dressed up anyway!” He’s right of course, but the ebullient expressiveness of Purim costumes is so perfectly bizarre; if I were Hasidic I’m sure I would live for this day. Well, of course I wanted to take photos, but they seem not to welcome that. They seemed once to even think it odd that I was taking pictures of signage, so I thought, well, I won’t be intrusive, I’ll just carry their images in my mind. I did, though, sneak this one, from the back.
I’m worn out, winter will never end, I’m thinking, but Segue is galloping along beautifully, and I apologize for my lapses in reports.
Last weekend was Jeni Olin a.k.a. Truck Darling and Steve Zultanski. Here is my intro for Jeni, who wore, as you may be able to get some sense of in this lousy iPhone photo, a red sequin tank top over a white boybeater, false eyelashes, 70s jeans, those “foot” things that surfers wear as shoes, a wooden cross, and sometimes designer-y black spectacles with dragon shapes on the sides:
I saw the Who play San Francisco’s Winterland in 1976.
In 1978, I was there for Patti and Bruce.
In that same year, I saw the Ramones live at the Old Waldorf.
I saw the Rolling Stones live in Prague a year after the Velvet Revolution.
In Tokyo in 1990, I was there for Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour, when she wore the now-iconic gold metallic Gaulthier bra.
And now, devoted listeners, I am here today, with you, at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City, to hear… the amazing… Jeni Olin.
Jeni’s poems are as crisp and powerful as pop songs, but more surprising. That’s a rare thing. They are fearless in their total embrace of affect. As she writes in a facebook update under the name of her Alter Ego, Truck Darling, “My idea of Heaven is feeling absolutely everything to an excruciating degree but nothing hurts.”
If she carries the torch for the New York School (she authored, after all, A Valentine to Frank O’Hara, published in 1999) she does so better than anyone else, without a trace of Sha Na Na-like nostalgic reification. Instead her poems are time capsules of contemporary New York, transposed into her own mode of the boyish feminine, infused relentlessly with wit, compassion for self and others, and an endearingly mannered sort of melodrama. As she writes in another update, “I want to be a holder forever, dropping everything, so when we swallow we choke a little & feel things like clumsy reindeer grace.”
Her first book, Blue Collar Holiday, with art by Larry Rivers, was published by HL in 2005. Her new collection, Hold Tight: The Truck Darling Poems, forthcoming from HL this fall. I urge you to put in an advance order.
And now, with almost inexpressible excitement, I bring you the jewel of our city: Jeni Olin.
Kids sway finchlike in the breeze
Are you so strong, or is it the Black Russian in me?
You cannot bring sexy back without a receipt
I feel virile, like an alpha lemming shouting “next!”
I’m all about silly cavorting here on earth
The agents of chaos grow glammier
I love you more than you love me just by loving you at all
Steve actually read first. Gary wrote a conceptual introduction for him:
Steven Zultanski is the author of the chapbook This and That Lenin (BookThug), plus the forthcoming volumes Pad (Make Now) and Copkisser (BookThug). He edits President’s Choice magazine, a Lil’ Norton publication.
Close observers of the steve project may have noted that the project’s first paper was entitled “Social Terminology Enhancement through Vernacular Engagement,” a bit of an in joke, but not (as some have suggested) the source of the project’s name.
Steeve. Etymology: probably from Spanish estibar or Portuguese estivar to pack tightly, from Latin stipare to press together — more at stiff. Date: circa 1644.
Go steeeve. My first planned project is to paint steeeve three metres high on a large white board near my residences. I’ll be purchasing the paints in four weeks: Night Black and Verdant Sunrise. He shall be rendered in total glory.
Steeeeve wrote: I don’t mean to be insulting but it’s just not that hard to grasp. Yes the Sun is small if you compare it to something much bigger. That doesn’t chage the fact that the Sun is still incredibly large (trying to avoid the word massive since we’re talking about size).
Did you mean: steeeeve.
Hey there! steeeeeeve is using Twitter. … Join today to start receiving steeeeeeve’s tweets.
Haaaapy Biiiiiiiirthday dear Steeeeeeeve.
NASCAR definition by Steeeeeeeeve. I’m sorry, but I would rather watch competetive elephant ejaculation than a NASCAR race.
Re: The biggest whores in Hollywood. Nickyboy mentioned a giant of a contender today, a truly mammoth name in Hollywood whoredom. A once talented guy who dropped his strides and wrote “get it here studios” with lipstick across his buttcheeks. Who can it be? Steeeeeeeeeve Martin!!
And yeah, if you really want a bit of a meet, then Feb 5th is the time. Woo, Colin! Woo, hanging out with Steeeeeeeeeeve again! Woo, awesomness!
Please help me welcome the awesomeness that is Steve Zultanski.
Sadly, I forgot to take notes, but here’s what I remember about his great reading: he read a sizeable chunk of My Pad, his conceptual work listing all the things in his apartment he can and cannot lift with his dick. Each line begins, “My dick can lift/ My dick cannot lift” and catalogues every object in minute detail. The section he read focused on a bag of garbage in a garbage can in his bathroom, and we learned, for example that he could not lift the garbage can with his dick, but that he could lift the Q-tips in the bag, even the ones with earwax on them. This poem occasioned some pleasantly racy aftertalk at the bar, during which someone said he wanted to remind Steve that there might be better tools and appendages for lifting, and I told Steve, making sure to preface my comment with a disclaimer that I didn’t mean to be coy, that I appreciated the radical, self-reflexive masculinism of the poem. Blushing banter! Love it! OK, but it was the next poem he read that everyone seemed to agree was his tour de force. It was a kind of psychedelic list poem involving Lenin… stuff was shooting out of Lenin’s mouth or eyes… there were different sections… oh I wish I had notes… it was a terrific poem. Then he read a poem called “All My Women,” which was a list of women’s names preceded by “my.” I’m sure there was a trick to the poem, because the names sounded very much like pop star and actress names, and there were some repetitions, and I wondered whether he had gone through, perhaps, a magazine? or a CD/DVD collection? to compile them? Well, I was interested in how many of the names themselves, such as Brianna and Tiffany, had, for me, semantic/generational resonances, were somehow, without needing anything else to determine that: they were always/already superficial and diminufying. Steve dives into the wreck, I think. I’d be curious to know how other people apprehend possibly provocative gestures like this poem or My Pad.
Yesterday’s reading was, wow, the incredible Dana Ward. Look at him, with the kewpie hairdo! and the deep powder blue skinny jeans! And those frosty looking Timberland boots: what would you even call that color?
Here’s my intro, which was so absolutely connected to what he read that it was almost spooky:
I keep hearing people say it: Laura Moriarty, Brandon Brown, and just last week Sharon Mesmer, in a phone conversation: prosody is what we live in, the shiznit, if you will it’s all there is: we’re soaking in it. Dana Ward’s poetry I hold up as exhibit A. Let’s say prosody is a crimson peony as big as a trampoline, its petals all satiny and crenellated, and in the center of it, like a latter-day Momotaro, is this bioluminescent being, poetry’s beatific firefly: Dana Ward. Dana and I, who magically share both a birthday and a first name, have been having an on and off correspondence around the notion of lyric. I think, you know, there’s Stepford lyric, a kind of zombified moldy twinkie of lyric, precious and myopic and self-important, and this might be what prevails, has prevailed, in the popular idea of what lyric is, an what has caused much discussion, even contention, amongst avant-gardistes about whether or not lyric is useful, valid, worthy of interest, and so forth. And then there’s lyric, which, like porn and beauty, I know when I see, and which Drew Gardner usefully reminds us, basically just means “guitar.” Not only is it not dead or dying, or in need of resuscitation, but it in itself is a resuscitator, an inflamed liquid fearless exploration into forward moving thought-as-song, born, like Dana, of prosody’s giant peony. Dana writes, in his Notley-infused poem “How Spring Leaves,”
every rapturous word pulling through naming nature
as if saying “lambent” acquitted my fear
in the timbral wing of the house of possession
the mouth making sounds toward the tree
It’s luscious, right? I’m reminded of how the Beatles in Nowhereland in Yellow Submarine SOW a path in NOTHINGNESS with magically arising foliage in the wake of their forward movements; they clutter an empty world into exuberant being. But lyric, real lyric, is more problematic. It’s not just pretty; it’s pernicious, too, and alarming. Dana writes in our correspondence, “A lyric then is… a struggle, with our inability to know it, skin-grafting our bodies on a topos for which there isn’t any map, an a temporal space contingent on a series of temporalities—prosody then of the living unknown.” So… the living dead (faux lyric) vs. the living unknown…
If, as I said two weeks ago, Anselm Berrigan’s poems are a little like carnival rides, Dana’s seem to more like slides, their temperature-conducting metal rubbed smooth by sliders’ gleeful bodies, their shapes and twists designed for both the unexpected and for whooshing momentum. That acceleration is part of the brilliance of their prosody. When they stop and I come to that bump at the bottom of the page, I find I wanna climb up the ladder and go again.
He read fast and I couldn’t stop to write down many lines, but here are a couple I fished out of the stream:
I summon my inner Snow White
babies dressed as ladybugs and spiders in the twilight
milk thistle flows through the tunnel of love, at the end of which is just intensive care
[and my all-time favorite ever]
the marriage of Watten and Watteau
Jordan read next, having made it down from Briarcliff where he’d been roughing it with no power, and looking very countrified indeed in red fleece, brown check shirt, jeans, and oldish black socks. No shoes.
Here’s Gary’s intro:
Jordan Davis’s poems have appeared in Poetry, The Nation and The Poker. His chapbook POD: Poems on Demand is forthcoming from Greying Ghost.
When I think of some of the more memorable or defining quotes of the last half century of American poetry:
Frank O’Hara’s “Grace to be born and live as variously as possible”
Philip Whalen’s “Continuous nerve movie”
Ted Berrigan’s “Feminine, marvelous & tough”
Rod Smith’s “Take what you need and leave the rest”
Jordan Davis’s work feels to me like the most successful embodiment of all of them. This is, after all, the guy who, in the late 90s, promised the world he would write a million poems and who has, since then, acted as though he meant it, producing, in addition to the lyrical and buoyant Million Poems Journal
(1) a handful of chapbooks, including A Little Gold Book; Poem on a Train; Yeah, No; Upstairs; and A Winter Magazine
(2) a translation-version project, My Orhan Veli, which takes English translations by Murat Nemet-Nejat and Talat Sait Halman of a poet—Orhan Veli—internationally known for his off-handed candor and makes him actually, finally read in English as off-handed and candid
(3) conceptual poetry projects, such as Poetry on Demand, wherein he writes poems in response to searches that have led people to his Million Poems blog over the years (e.g., “Poem for a Sixth Wedding”; “Pictures of Bugs Bunny Dressed Like a Thug” and my all-time favorite, “Turtles Generate Poems”
(4) some of the greatest flarf classics of all time, including “The Influence of Anxiety”; “Not Enough Pussay”; and the equally anthemic “Stupidity Is Eternal.”
I’m out of time and I haven’t mentioned even a half of Jordan’s projects—his numerous and insightful sweeping essays on major avant-garde poets for the Nation, his several-season running Million Poems talk show here at the BPC, his eye-opening wholesale lifting and relineation of biographical citations from a congressional Web site, his typing up and editing of all of the voicemails left to him by a certain former New York poet which resulted in what some might go so far to argue is that poet’s best book to date—the list goes on, as long and as various as life itself.
He is one of my favorite poets, and it gives me great pleasure to invite him now to the stage.
He read first a piece that appeared to be responses to war and violence, a frustrated musing?…. then some shorter poems “eagles nesting in the gargoyles,” “I stayed up writing a report on the sphinx…. then what he called “blues poems” from 7th/ 8th century Japan… it had been a long time since I had thought of the Manyoshu, and these poems were hugely pleasurable: “the ruined castle/ they unfriended it,” “ so much better than committing all this bullshit/ is this sake,” “oh my god , I better do something good ¬– I’m a man!”
Favorite title came next: “The bright ages”
and this line: “as for me, I like liking. There you have it, I’m a liker.”
Thank you, poets! Now, this is my Sunday evening, and I must try to wind down, in hopes of slumber. I would like to dream at the very least of crocuses, if it’s too much to ask for wisteria…
Look! Look! Gary made a special blog just of the talk we gave at SPT on the Autré! With new links and videos! Cool!
so much to say, and no way of saying it, because I am a sleepless zombie.
Tony Oursler, Insomnia
Magnificent readings from Rick Snyder and Anselm Berrigan at the Bowery Poetry Club on Saturday.
Here’s Gary’s intro for Rick:
Sometime between 2002 and 2004—my memory of the exact year is too hazy to retrieve—Rick Snyder stunned New York’s experimental poetry scene when he announced that he was leaving not just the city, but the east coast, to study Classics in Los Angeles.
According to San Francisco poet George Albon, no less a figure than W.H. Auden once claimed that the ideal home for the poet—if he or she was to be truly contemporary—was somewhere that had recently gone from hopeful boomtown or near Utopic status to disappointing, crumbling—ideally frightening—Dystopia. For reasons that George explained, but which were nonetheless still unclear to me, while New York had been that place at the time of Auden’s residency here, Los Angeles—Rick’s new, if temporary, home—was Dystopia Central, and thus where you as a poet speaking of and to your time wanted to be now.
I was not exactly convinced by this, and am still not. But there is something distinctly contemporary and American that resonates with this idea of boomtown/utopia gone afoul—which seems to be not only part of the “natural” course of our cities—consider the steady “clean-up” of New York only to end in the apocalyptic 9/11 attacks and subsequent economic slump—but our online and other, conceptual, spaces, too.
Of all of the poets I can think of, Rick Snyder seems particularly keyed into this entopic aspect of American space and culture. It’s almost frightening, for instance, what he sees, focusing on what is still the primary site of most poetic dissemination: paper. As he playfully writes in Paper Poem:
Your papers litter the floor
your litter papers the floor
your papers had a litter
and none of them survived
the poems you put on them
That Rick seems to be particularly aware of the seeds of Dystopia in every Utopia is particularly evident in his first full-length book, just out from Ugly Duckling Presse: Escape from Combray. Combray refers of course to Proust’s fictionalized childhood village, and this book features a detail of a map of Rick’s own “childhood”—poetic childhood, anyway–“village”—Chicago, where, as he writes:
back and forth
but no one else
were dark and hollow
the higher windows
and far ahead
glowed so bright
I could hear it
And here’s my intro for Anselm:
One reason, perhaps, that the audience for poets is composed mostly of poets is that to really get inside a poem, it’s very useful to try to put oneself inside its compositional gestures, almost as if, in reading or experiencing it, you are writing it yourself. For me, some poets facilitate this more readily than others, and I’m thinking of those whose work is imbued with a sense of its making-at-the-moment, like Philip Whalen, and Bernadette Mayer, and Allen Bramhall. I would include Anselm Berrigan among them. At the outset of each Anselm poem, I feel as if an exploration or adventure is about to start, rather like waiting in line for a ride at a carnival or starting a road trip. His poems seem not so often created with strategy aforethought: rather, their strategies emerge in time as discoveries. They are full of the propulsion of lyric, but it is a totally non-precious lyricity enriched with a swirl of influences (many outside of poetry) as well as what he endearingly calls a “messiness” that shows up in the poems as multiple unpredictable registers and vocabularies, although what dominates is his own “Anselm voice”, which strikes me as kind of boyish and at once funny and sadly ironic, and not at all ever stuck-up.
Asked in an interview a few years ago about the ratio of “found” to “created” language in his poems, he responded,
I could be a pain in the ass and say that all language is found and all language is created, but I’ll spare you that even though I just said it. I’d say it is something like 85/15 created/found. I’ll take a little from here, a little from there, but I like to come up with my own combinations as much I can. My mind is a just a little too blank sometimes. I often think that there are no words in my head until I write them down.
Anselm thinks and writes and talks about writing a lot, and always engagingly. I love these two quotes from his mutual interview with Marcella Durand in Gary’s old magazine readme from ten years ago:
I leave wide open the possibility that this world is not the real world. But I’m interested in this world as a subject for poems. I had an interesting experience once, which suggested to me that the dimension which we take ourselves to reside in is rather thin, and could be torn away as if wallpaper.
The compositional space I operate out of is living, and ideas related to artifice, language, form, etc. I take to be encapsulated within that space, so that it’s completely open as to what a poem can do, or be.
Some favorite lines:
I guess the ass is cleaner and better and doesn’t have any teeth
It curls up at the corners like a dog’s mouth but only if you think about it
They don’t have syntax so we can eat them
I hear the watercooler bloop bloop when I close my eyes
It’s uselessly unhip to penetrate a machine gun
I pushed the stroller calmly, deliberately, past the wild turkey
I only eat chicken before I swing
My bones are filled with pink lemonade
No one listens to bios
I hate pathos
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.
Can one make an argument for the “greenness” of appropriated poetry?
I suppose it’s a bit of a stretch.
— Post From My iPhone
Oh did I mention that this morning on the way to work I found a VHS copy of my favorite movie: “High Society”? And also “Learning about Letters” by Children’s Television Workshop. Apropo of scavenging, I mean. So I was four minutes late to class, having rummaged a little through garbage.
So, recently I had my students watch a video called “Art City: Making It in Manhattan,” that features interviews with several illustrious visual artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Pat Steir, Elizabeth Murray, Chuck Close, Neil Jenney, St. Clair Cemin, Ashley Bickerton, and Brice Marden, as well as many others. Of all of them, I thought that Ashley Bickerton was the one I most wanted to meet. I was interested in the way he described the explosivity of his creative process and his wry sense of humor; he would, I thought, be very amusing to talk to at a party.
He discussed the vexed problem of political correctness in regard to artworks. He said that aesthetics are not easy like the military, which is all about rules; aesthetics are difficult precisely because there are no rules.
Elizabeth Murray said that she begins a painting by “sort of heaving paint on the canvas” and not really knowing what will become of it. She said she enjoys the physicality of that struggle, or “tussle,” I think she called it.
Brice Marden discussed his picture-making process in very Orphic terms; he referred to the drawings he had “been getting lately” as if they were being channeled rather than created. We see him at one point in the video somewhat awkwardly using a long stick dipped in ink to draw, and he says, “It’s not like I have a plan here.”
I drew out several quotations from the video for my students to record responses to. Interestingly, a few of them chose that quotation from Brice Marden. They all felt that “having a plan” could actually be a hindrance to creativity. I keep thinking about that. I recorded responses to their responses, asking whether not having a plan is in itself a kind of plan, and whether the natural limits of materials don’t actually impose a kind of de facto plan on the process of making something.
I often find that my brain generates a lot of plans, although they are not really plans, they are notions based on impulses, not entirely worked through as a proper plan ought to be. And then I find that once I sit down to work, the materials fight my plan and take over, and what I finally end up calling “finished” (probably incorrectly) is not at all like what I had “planned.”
So now that I am into my second movie project, Gary comes and stands over my shoulder asking what the themes are. He really wants my movies to cohere. He says he’s more conservative than I am that way. The thing is, to the extent that they do cohere, that coherence doesn’t really emerge until very late in the process. Sort of like that great essay by Max Ernst on frottage, which did you know also means dry-humping? :-0
Anyway I begin as a hunter-gatherer (thinking here of the description of Rachel Zolf’s Human Resources as exploring “the creative potential of salvage”; I like to think we are all working in a kind of Mad Max landscape at this point), and then look at how the contours of one unit will alchemically react with the contours of another.
I was writing to Stephanie early this morning that my early impressions of the process of “film repurposing” (I don’t think it’s exactly right to call it filmmaking, but then again, why not?) is that it asks for pretty much the same skill set as poetry writing: senses of juxtaposition, rhythm, surprise, etc. But I also wrote to her that many effects that I aim to achieve in text are really much easier to achieve with moving images.
In Folly, for example, because always being caught in one’s own subjectivity is just too sad, I made the poems into plays, or operettas, really, with a multitude of characters giving them their voices. The lines were therefore “nested” into other people’s interiorities. It’s incredibly easy to do this with film, and rather more powerful, I think. All you need is a close-up of a face and suddenly you are looking through that person’s eyes; their character and perspective suddenly pierces the frames both before and after. And the even cooler thing is that in film it’s easier to nest interiorities within interiorities within interiorities so that the person-medium through which one is experiencing the images gets, oh, incredibly layered and wonderfully bewildering. I find I am getting very attached to all these “people” (for they are all “acting” and therefore not “themselves”) I am manipulating and through whom I see. Several of them I’m sure I consider as mouthpieces or avatars for “me” (c.f. my comment on Stephanie’s film narration last month) or at any rate my fantasy of “me.”
I am sure that for real filmmakers this is all yawningly obvious, but this is a new medium for me, so I think I can be forgiven my enthusiasms.
I’m curious, at any rate, what other people think about this notion of “having a plan” vs. “planlessness” especially with a view towards conceptualism (which is, in a way, all plan) or strict proceduralism. I mean, I’m a proceduralist, too, after a fashion, but I’m interested in the way the rules for procedures get FOILED in the interest of aesthetics (or of whim) in the process of making something. Your thoughts?
The strange ritual of the morning paper with breakfast. Gore and conflict with eggs.
Took two books out of the Pratt Library yesterday: a pictorial history of vaudeville (suddenly wanting to do some pencil tracings from it) and “The Ends of Performance,” mainly for Mady Schutzman’s essay on buffoonery, which I referred to here a couple of years ago.
The Pratt Library is a beautiful space. The aisle floors of the stacks are semi-opaque (semi-transparent?) glass bricks, the ends of the shelves ornate brass art nouveau designs. I love to be in there.
Moody this morning. Rain sounds on the street. I let the cats lick the egg pan. I’m grateful not to be carrying a bloody compatriot up to the photographers. We’re all in such a state.
Gary comes in: “Girl has her own ideas about life.” He’s wearing just a towel and is steamy from the shower. He tells me he plans to blog about Googoosh, about whom he just watched a film (I watched some of it, but it was rather badly made, so I got impatient with it). Do you know who that is? She was a child star, singer, and movie star in Iran before the revolution. She didn’t leave during the revolution, which silenced her. Her lyrics are strange and compelling.
Here’s a translation I found online of her song, “Pol”:
برای خواب معصومانهء عشق
Baraye khabe masoomaneye eshgh
For innocent sleeping (dream) of love
كمك كن بستری از گل بسازيم
Komak kon bastari az gol besazim
help to make a bed of flower
براي كوچ شب هنگام وحشت
Baraye kouche shab hengame vahshat
For migration of night in horrible time
كمك كن با تن هم پل بسازيم
Komak kon ba tane ham pol besazim
help to build a bridge by our bodies
كمك كن سايه بونی از ترانه
Komak kon sayebooni az tarane
Help to make (prepare) a shelter (awning) of melody (song)
برای خواب ابريشم بسازيم
Baraye khabe abrisham besazim
for sleeping of silk
كمك كن با كلام عاشقانه
Komak kon ba kalame asheghane
Help, by amorous word (speech)
برای زخم شب مرهم بسازيم
Baraye zakhme shab marham besazim
make a salve for wound of night
I hadn’t realized how much vocabulary there was in common between Hindi and Farsi. Just listening sporadically to the film I heard “batchi” (child) and “zindagi” (life).
Oh, but this is Gary’s diary topic, I shouldn’t be stealing it from him. It’s 8:09 am and I should be getting in the shower myself, deciding what to wear on this rainy day, etc.
All I want to do is make things.
Snow is falling snow on snow here at Pratt Institute, where my classes have finished and I’m impatient to not be here but rather at home working on the plethora of projects that taunt me constantly with their charms. Will there ever be a life that consists solely of working on projects? I think of Peter-in-Mexico’s statement that he is not “a real writer.” What does it mean, indeed, to be “a real writer?” Shouldn’t it be that writing is pretty much all what one is obliged to do? It’s not that I mind my obligations… so much… but I can’t help but wonder what a life would be like devoted entirely to the realization of one’s poesis and techné. One manages to do an awful lot interstitially, but maybe not quite enough to completely form what one dreams of forming. “One.” Well, I mean me. It could be a kind of problem with my internal pacing. If I were only more deliberative and less generative, I could fully realize fewer visions better, but I suppose one can’t wish to be what one is just not. I mean me.
Even if I can’t be fulltime at the business of making stuff, I can still rejoice a little at the lovely pleasure of being surrounded by inventive and brilliant peers, whose very existence and productions serve to make being here on this planet and in this city exciting. There are so many good reasons to be a poet, but one of the best, for me, is the privilege of the company of other poets. How stimulating they are! How pensive! How intricate! And what is more fun than to attend a book party in the middle of the Fabric District, already a kind of heaven for me, celebrating three luminescent stars in the poetry firmament?
The party to which I’m referring was held last Monday upstairs from a Chinese restaurant called Chef Yu, and celebrated new books by Tan Lin, Kim Rosenfield, and Mónica de la Torre. I only had enough money to buy Kim’s and Monica’s books (although I later found out Gary already had the latter in his possession, so it turns out I could have bought at least one of the two Tan was selling, alas), so these are the two I will discuss on this snowy afternoon:
re: evolution Kim Rosenfield Les Figues
Public Domain Mónica de la Torre Roof Books
I should stress that I adore Tan’s writing, have read both Lotion Bullwhip Giraffe and Blipsoak engagedly (as to the latter, even though I personally have no desire to create poems that are remotely ambient, I think it’s an interesting notion), and FULLY INTEND to purchase his two new books in the near future.
Physically, Kim’s and Mónica’s books are quite different. Mónica’s has a big, light yellow sans-serif title, and also the signature size and glossiness of a Roof book, its cover showing “film strips” of a painting? a photo? moving from, to me, right to left, beginning with an image in color of a person walking down the street about to be engulfed in a cloud, and as the images move towards the left the more the color desaturates and the cloud engulfs. Kim’s book, from the front, anyway, has the Frenchified simplicity for which les figues design is known… it is narrow and rectangular, dark gray with delicate text in a bright turquoise double bordered by two frames, one thick, the other not. On the reverse side, no blurbs, thank goddesses, but a manipulated photo plus drawing of very disorienting and disordered architecture (just the way I like it).
The covers and design qualities of the books speak to their content. Mónica’s is in a way a friendlier book, a bit broader in its humor and perhaps more easily entered for the uninitiated. Kim’s is more blatantly intellectual, a little subtler and harder to characterize. Still, both books are notable for a kind of lightheartedness, especially in approach to materials. And this lightheartedness, interestingly, pervades despite the profundity of the themes each book addresses. In Kim’s case, those themes are evolution, gender, and science (particularly evolutionary science) as it interacts with art. In Mónica’s case, the overriding theme is identity, although there are several sub-themes such as linguistic identity, obsession, war, music, and names.
Kim’s book is bracketed by essays on the work: an introduction by Sianne Ngai, and (count ‘em) two afterwords, one an “analysis” and the other a “research paper,” all of which lend a fascinated validity to the slippery text. I have heard Kim read from this work a few times now, and I must say that I love what her performance brings to the work, as bits are sung (and the text is scored for that), and other bits are deliberately hesitated through, or read with great aplomb. Reading the book inside my head feels a little different, a little colder, but there is something I like about that coolness. It’s what Sianne refers to when she writes in the (gorgeous) introduction that, “nothing could be less like a Joseph Cornell box than a poem by Kim Rosenfield,” or when she describes this writing as (citing Laura Mulvery) being “anti-fetishistic.” (Again, this, like “ambient poetics,” is not necessarily a quality I strive for in my own work, but it interests me, particularly insofar as it refuses both preciousness and a too-heavy signifying.) I’m not sure I want to surround re:evolution with much more commentary, especially given that so much of it is so thoughtfully (much more so than I can accommodate in a blogspace, especially in a post composed on a snowy day after finals at work) part of the book’s actual “theoretical surround,” but I would like to quote a couple of my favorite passages, which are naturally some of the most hilarious. They are de (re) contextualized, but then so is everything else in this collaged book, so I hope that won’t matter too much. This one had me screaming “eww!” at her recent reading at the BPC:
I saw some spittle, the most disgusting that I had ever seen and I had to put my tongue and lips upon it. The act was so nauseating that I could not control myself and my heart beat so violently that I thought it would burst every vein in me and that I would vomit blood. I continued doing that as long as my heart revolted, and it was rather long.
I don’t mean to suggest that anything I quote from re:evolution typifies it in any way. I don’t actually think it’s typifiable, despite being concerned with science and taxonomies in its content. I mentioned as much to Kim after her BPC reading, that I was still trying to figure out what the limits of the text are, and she of course countered by asking whether it needed limits. Well, that’s a very good question, and one that I will leave rhetorical. Here’s another favorite passage, somewhat similar in mood to the one above but again not typical of the book per se:
The extraverts will dominate the sexual scene. The young extraverts will come running into the early dawn from their empty rooms out into the clean open, their naked bodies still sluggish and unkempt, unbeautiful in their bed-besprinkled sleepiness, all ready for a hectic plunge into the river of life, in their crude immersion revealing no special exquisiteness of body or grace of motion as swimmers in the river of life, a little polluting the fresh dawn of day by their noisy assassination of the day’s wonder and beauty. Strange fishes in the awkward contortions of the day’s wonder and beauty. Strange fishes in their glad way through the exhilarating waters of life.
[perfect place for a pee break here!]
Every page of re: evolution brings a surprise – nothing is predictable – and the same can be said for Public Domain. With both a variety of appropriated sources and a variety of formal approaches, these books keep changing the music the reader dances to, and I applaud both DJs for never boring me. Thank you for no homogeneity!
Mónica’s musical range runs the gamut from detournements to Zukofsyesque, often macaronic, sound-centered poems, vispos that are also performance texts, co-interviews on language acquisition ( a wonderful collaboration with Sujin Lee that incidentally speaks to my profession as an ESL teacher), a partially erased text culled from letters to the editor, a whole almost Arabically vowelless page of text that seems to address war, a wonderful carnival of emails (with photos!) regarding “other” Mónica de la Torres, oh and very very much more. You will love this book and you will love Kim’s book, too, please buy and enjoy them both.
I haven’t told you yet, though, what is perhaps my favorite piece in Mónica’s book, a section of poems & texts entitled The Crush. All the pieces in this section deal with an infatuation – real? imagined? : “I have a crush on a musician, or is it his music.” I do so want to ask Mónica if this “really happened,” but of course, that’s beside the point. “This piece is therapeutic,” she writes, and, “If this piece seems adolescent to you, there you go.” It doesn’t matter if it’s real, but it’s convincing, it’s pathos-funny, it mimics the forms of obsession, and emerges as almost Yoko Onoesque conceptual art:
Tell one of our mutual friends that an acquaintance of mine wants to do an interview with Blank for the publication that I work for, and needs to contact him. Once I have his contact info, write him a letter for every pice of music that he’s ever composed, performed, or produced, each one revolving around the idea of air. Write it on a surface on which it will disintegrate ¬ a block of ice, sand, on the sidewalk with a watering can – take a picture, and fax it to him.
[and note that this is only one of the brilliant schemes that emerges in this list of how to move through her obsession]
Just to give some sense, also, of the phonemic sensuality of this book as well, I quote from another poem in this section (beautifully footnoted, “Lists could turn into lisps”) entitled “Telephone Cryptomessage”:
oh yo be
fir, oh moon
o’ mere wrong
coo, no, totter
I need to say it loud: I love both of these books, and their authors. I’m thrilled to have such entertaining, ingenious virtuoso sisters writing in the same city as me, no less. Run, don’t walk, to the websites of les figues and Roof Books, or SPD if these books are stocked there, and get these in your backpacks. You will surely be amused and enriched by the experience of reading them.