Also, some eloquent and insightful comments here about Beverly Dahlen's work by Stephen Vincent, on the occasion of a reading they recently gave together.
I admire Beverly's work a great deal (as she knows), and I find the space it inhabits to be really pretty courageous: beginning inside of a Freudian architecture (which would under other circumstances reduce the feminine to an absence) and enacting a change into something more open and nomadic. But the writing still haunts that Freudian space in a very dark way, and this undertow propels it somehow. She encompasses all kinds of daring slippage while dealing head-on with the problem of patriarchy and its associated tropes. "A Reading" in its various manifestations has been an unusual demonstration of both struggle and poise.
I feel honored to be included among the many terrific poets in the new journal Fascicle edited by Tony Tost, Chris Vitiello and Ken Rumble, which features poems and prose by:
Peter O'Leary Carla Harryman Simon Pettet K. Silem Mohammad Meredith Quartermain Marcus Slease Clayton Eshleman Noah Eli Gordon Jerome Rothenberg Mary Margaret Sloan Linh Dinh Eliot Weinberger
... and many more, as well as a section here on translation by the determinedly omnipresent Kent Johnson (engaging the work of earlier poets by literally re-writing them). Great job, overall. It's definitely somewhat in the territory of Jacket, and it also seems to be avoiding the "Borg phenonemon" by including some substantial articles and reviews particularly strong on Black Mountain and associated poetries. On other fronts, I'm skeptical as to what Flarf might have to do with Wittgenstein, but at least they're trying. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this new journal is a section devoted to local poetry scenes that includes commentary by Shin Yu Pai, Gina Myers, CA Conrad, and others. Take a look here.
Here's a review that I did for the winter 2005 issue of The Poker, which is a journal I'd definitely recommend. The new issue (Summer 2005) features really good work by Rodney Koeneke, Rodrigo Toscano, John Latta, and Mitch Highfill among others, including a previously unpublished poem by Jackson Mac Low.
Around Sea Brenda Iijima O Books, 2004
Born2 Allison Cobb Chax Press, 2004
In her evolutionary epic Around Sea, Brenda Iijima states "I wasn't abducted / I was included." This is a significant distinction for a poet who understands how language is always implicated in the abuse of power, at its worst evoking an oppressive "system" in which "Heavily armed troops / file noticeable nails." Iijima knows how words can move, almost innocently, from nature to violent culture in the blink of an eye:
Similarly, her writing in this book slides between homage and caustic criticism, massaging these ambivalencies through a deadpan, quirky lyricism or "alien talk" which figures by the ways in which it differs from ordinary speech: "An instance. / inflected like this / leave it androgynous". Iijima's speaker, a "terrestrial in the presence of extra," sees both nature and culture anew from a strange perspective:
Window with shutters looking on to snow-covered mountains Alien surface or sandblasted territory ALIEN SPOTTING
By inserting her perspective at the moment between earth elegy and cultural critique, between pastoral and panopticon, Iijima manages to do both in a way that eludes the reifying power of "system," avoiding the sentimentalization of nature or the re-creation of cultural oppressions.
before image before imagine just the landscape before
us strange and un- bridled just the land
scape lone and bright. Just the
land scape lost.
A central ally in this fascinating attempt to circumvent "the master's tools" is the notion of collage. This primarily visual poet's patterning allows her to evoke a world in which words are palpable things, like scraps of paper plunked down. Add to this an Adamic awareness of naming in the correlation between words and things, and you get wonderful passages like the following.
Circumference: deep water species: beroe; Minute entomostracous crustacea
flying fish, bonitos, al-bakurah
coral and sea fan and tangle,
blooms and the palms
Combining an almost projectivist poetics reminiscent of Olson with the vocabulary of Stevens and a way of proceeding derived from Williams, Iijima names her odd version of cultured nature into being in a mode consistently "Pastoral" yet "no, not / ideal undiscovered."
The notion of colonization and the traces of its power in language are also themes investigated by Allison Cobb in her book Born2, a work centered on Cobb's birthplace of New Mexico and the legacy of the atomic bomb, overlaid with echoes of conquistadors and the recurring motto "Paso por aqui" ("passed through here"). But while Iijima sees the panopticon from a metaphorical distance, Cobb finds herself in the thick of violence, writing a world in which "Armless, each tender-headed General has packed up his own hair satchel with teeth." Cobb acts the messy role of the genealogist who finds herself imprisoned and oppressed by the historical events of a specific time and place which consitute an important part of her politics of personal identity. In fact, this world is at times so oppressive that it needs to be leavened with humor: "Who is not a rose and not groves but more like a spear as is Dr. Oppenheimer grinding his bones. Dr. please not so noisy." The childlike voice here encourages the reader to participate in acts of reading that blur boundaries between intimacy and cruelty, like the character who "…puffs he huffs he / Tender lets fly his bright / Bullet". So perhaps it's not really humor Cobb employs, but rather sarcasm as self-defense, creating ambiguously threatening scenes which also disorient: "Now Rose has a wound head -- how soft it is!" What's perhaps most disturbing about these scenarios is that we know there's some violence being enacted, but the innocent veneer's euphemisms don't allow us access to the gory details.
Cobb uses this sense of euphemism to continually re-contextualize certain terms so they acquire a contradictory history. For her, words are not objects so much as they are a nexus of sometimes conflicting associations. Cobb's character "the little box book" for example acquires resonances of the poet's mother (as protagonist), a baby, a pregnancy, the clitoris, and the atom bomb itself. Haunted alternately by Stein and by Duncan's tone-leading, these poems develop a vision of language as primarily sonic and organic, in which sound patterns disconnect accustomed ways of making sense while forging new kinds of connections through anaphora and juxtaposition: "There is that that wants for it all to burn: watching what wants." Though at times these methods produce a polymorphously perverse and nightmarish world, this is Cobb's trade-off in attempting a new vision of desire after the fact of violence, one in which "we make all that trembles and all. That trembles the names from us."
Jack Kimball and Tim Peterson Tuesday, August 9 at 6 PM
Bowery Poetry Club 308 Bowery, just off Houston. take the 6 train to Bleecker
Jack and I will be reading some recent collaborations which are kind of post-Foucauldian wallflower-meets-gaybar anamorphoses.
A Postcard from Dorian Gray
What does it mean to work? I don't know that either. What I know is how to form a chorus, stake out territory and bust heads, creating an atmosphere of trust that's a hubbub of sequins. By candlelight a goat is ladylike. An elegiac current next courses through a tungsten filament producing vapors, calamity and human depravity. That's why I told the skinny guy asking the questions if I had to choose the right hunk to be my mentor, it would be Baudelaire whom I see as the greatest gang member. And with the right guidance, Tristan and Ivetta could improve. (They are two sides like beeswax to spermaceti.) Meantime I ran into Emil and Chet in the chorus line -- they've settled into their angry sublet, Memory House, with vats of cologne minimizing noxious fumes that caught me once: it was rogue status, the colognists versus the empiricons.
All day long I've thus been pissing people off, and if feels like a sincere 7-course meal of elegy salad. The poor of New York stay up late, husking corn, spinning wool, boiling sap. It has never mattered much what Emil or Chet's work is about, has it? Calatrava and the other mudholers will always tell you what truth is as is the case with charismatically mysterious people. After the gangsters left, Chet picked up the business card and flicked it into the trash. Leaves outside waved in their shock of raw arabesques. "How do I get out of here?" As the day darkened, a crowd of new gangsters waving signs got clobbered by a big, somnolent thug wielding handlebars, and I watched them all, empty as Baudelaire's conscience. Chet is an artist of formidable lyric and analytic tics. I suppose this is how the cookie marinates, some guy in whiteface said. I feel so guilty still, because we have five minutes and I should drive around the block.
Stockholm is a city built around sex. Hi mom. We empathized with the parasites, you know? I had vader stigmata on our eyeholes until I learned to hold my weapon jovially. A great tower by Calatrava, my back was itching from the melting skin and the clamps that held my face upright, but I was wishing you were here, as Emil had predicted. Just then, the left side of my head separated off into sushi. Think about what I just said, and call me once Ivetta and staff have whittled away your bone.
This interview therefore is a reproduction of one I saw in Rome. Do you smell something? A cultural institution is so marginal, see? Isn't it a dingaling chiding oracles with need? Any postcard of the night would be incomplete without a word about sleep. Man began with flint and wool. What does it mean to get up in the morning and go to work? For all my faults, I would soar higher than any other structure if Chet were to squeeze even just one of the New School graduates. Anyway, so the lid of the helmet snaps down and the sinister breathing starts, so what? You know the way I really gestate: Stockholm reciprocation. The A&E interrogator asked me about the relevance of my story, how it pertained to the present moment. "You want rogue status?" I snorted. Façade or no, we waited in the de-briefing room for cake. I thought, fine, from here we could burst into the literary scene. This reminds me, accusations flew -- Emil got so angry that it made me chuckle. Is it last weekend or the one before he handed wasps to babies, encouraging their grunt potential? I'm making a scrapbook, any who, to document how I made you curdle too, like an insignia.
Saturday night is special. I killed a rival in Rome and fled to Naples. I could write a book about it. Well, why not? The past decade I've seen books on codicils, toboggans, silt, bourbon. It seems any noun in the dictionary can be tricked out into a book. It's sad, can't you see that people are dying of thirst in your politicized depiction of closed throats versus open throats? Then I stomped on the guy's neck, the most embarrassing moment of my life! After breakfast, then, I asked Chet about his own speech. It was like, double-yuck, he was delivering some kind of activist song, but his speech was particularly incendiary, overflowing with an artisinal idealism that a freethinking Santa-believer might deploy with no place to stroll, a chaotic 'nowhere' devoid of waifs to bring around for the first time. But enough, okay? Let's climb over the mountain of self-doubt and struggle through the mudholes of poetic agonism. Okay? Gulls in the harbor are flying lower, as the dusk musk dies. Their wings are kind of crumpled, marginal Nascar budget, anonymous rind. The place is busy four nights a week.
So what's the next step for Dorian? There's a parade, and you can bet I'm going to be an entire float. I want to be anorexic but I can't stop eating. Stick wheels on the prosthetic torso, and the police who had by now grown horns had stopped protecting you. It's the best floor show in Vegas. Sun exposure will be the new oppression this spring or fall or whenever, misshapen flesh outfits hanging from the mantle, right? Ivetta and I are thinner now, in the manner of folks who are very pale or very Spartan. No doubt, somewhere hippos dance in a green colony, and pride in my shirking has aligned me with a failing name.
Just noticed that 3 of the people I was eating dinner with last night have blogs, and I've enjoyed becoming acquainted with them...that would be Alex, Gina, and Matt whose reading I also enjoyed...particularly when he was bagging on Fronds Write (whose wildly irritating poetry is now available in your local "deep thoughts" bookstore).
A fabulous reading by David Shapiro this evening for Alex Young's series at the BPC (see Jordan's trustworthy review here for more details), and Happy 35th anniversary as well. Shapiro's frenetic early work seems to have segued into something a little more deceptively clear though not really so ("I am language"), filtered as it is through Whitmanesque catalogs and employing odd juxtapositions which are not surrealist, not capitalism-swallowed-my-syntax, but something more interesting and playful, oddly childlike and libidinous at the same time. Someone said he has no affect? On the contrary, I think the various conflicting layers of affect here are fascinating. An original intellect, friend to painters, and stubbornly individual. Would you leave this man out of your NY School anthology, as if we could possibly imagine that School without him...down with those ignoramus editors!
A brief story on the man: we were eating lunch in Cambridge before his reading for the Analogous Series last year, and Mr. Shapiro was evoking the old adage that one probably had to be crazy to be write well. I responded to this with a piece of would-be evidence: "Well, I happen to have Tourette's..." A medium-length silence ensued. David squinted his eyes a bit and said slowly and cautiously, "Well, it's not that unusual... I mean, some people have guinea pigs... or maybe a gerbil..." Another medium-length silence settled -- then it occurred to me what had happened: he thought I had said "two rats" and was trying to be polite! (What is it with this kid who thinks it's weird to own two rats?)
I won't say more at the moment, except to point out that a "bare nostalgia for the higher orders" is sometimes not "as useless as a ski," but rather something glowing queerly, perhaps "half / concealing half / revealing a still / smoldering passion."