Monday, June 30, 2008

On Michael Magee's "Paul Wolfowitz's Future"/The Sex of Imperial Power

Reading Michael Magee's Mainstream last week, I was particularly struck by the sheer anarchy of his flarf poems, enacting Kasey Mohammad's comment about the mainstream being a chaos of a power that pulls everything into its current. In "Paul Wolfowitz's Future," Magee plays out a little liberal revenge upon one of the architects of neoconservative mayhem, creating a cartoon world in which Wolfowitz is a priapic action hero with acquisition on his--ahem--mind, which appears to be located south of the waist line.

Even though the poem enacts the revenge of the artist upon the powerful, it also seems to acknowledge that power is exciting, and empire all the more so. In the words of Pedro the Lion: "power can be such a tease/it keeps you wanting more/it's good to know that just like sex/it can be paid for"...

I recently read a fascinating blog entry which quotes Badiou saying that a non-imperial art is necessarily an abstract art. I think that Badiou is drinking the elixir of generality here, since he neglects to note at the very minimum that marginalized groups deploy representational modes for very critical political and historical purposes. At the same time, I'd like to question the frame: what is at stake in wanting to create a non-imperial art? If indeed we as Americans live in and benefit from the empire, to create a "non-imperial" art may be to fail to create an art commensurate with our space/time. Or worse, may just be the marginal jottings on the pages of the History of Empire--the illuminations to the brute text?

Paul Wolfowitz's Future

"I gotta get off this squid base and hit the Viceroy, search the universe for a habitable planet to colonize." He popped a boner so fast that he had to bend over to avoid hurting himself.

She plucked a king-sized Viceroy from the pack and placed it between her lips.

"Just to make sure that America ends up with a boner big enough for the Viceroy's vast intergalactic Hong Kong, the Free Trade Federation."

He swore at the garlicky stench on the breath of a pretty young wench, Lord Viceroy limericking a "classic student boner" with a "christened man in the gutter with crumbs on his face."

"When she gives a radio to Burma, they say she falls asleep on the sofa with a lit cigarette."

Some of it was anger but some of it was giving him a boner. Trying not to look, he tried thinking of other things but his own cock betrayed him as it turned from flaccid to a full fledged boner in a matter of seconds. Now he could see why most everyone had a boner, it was just a given.

"Ostrich feathers and eggs, leopard skins, copper, amethyst, carnelian, feldspar, oils, gum." He was not a big fan of the extra hands but did like all the other goodies. "Your visit to Hyderabad will be considered incomplete without shopping for the pearls."

A very favorable exchange rate makes shopping for colorful handicrafts, bodies and other locally produced products a great bargain. This makes them distasteful to birds who avoid not only the monarch, but also the viceroy, which mimics the monarch patterns.

"Shopping for someone who has everything?"

"If you come round the supermarket with me, I'll drive you out to Avebury, and you can deliver the shopping for me, ok ... we're going to see the Viceroy. Also on the weekend I came in second in the Viceroy's Jewels tourney."

"Somehow, I think the Viceroy will remember that."

I explained our frequent absences by the need to do some shopping for the hacienda while we were in the city. "Blood wine is a very good substitute ... bit me and forced me to share." He called for wine, and drank with his old tiny leather sack of fouled blood and garlic. "The viceroy wipes at his mouth tastes of wine and some breath and the harsh sound of my blood coursing through."

With the permission of the viceroy, the corpse was exhumed. He then told her all about the Viceroy's usage of those tanks of blood to counter their wine, all because the practitioners had only sexual strangers who "eat hunks of white stone."

"Do you think the Viceroy will overlook that--the wooden horse as if it was stopping her from drowning ... sort of a way of holding a brown skinned erection in each Cambridge History of Egypt?"

There were numerous drowning accidents. A Trust Fund for the erection of a new church dedicated was seen to be in no danger.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

"Having a Coke With You"/Happy Birthday, Frank O'Hara, Ave Atque Vale

Thanks to Edward Byrne for sharing this O'Hara gem. Was any poet more childlike/adolescent in his avant-garde joys?

Friday, June 27, 2008

"What's Your Relationship to Flarf?" My Wife Asks Me Over Breakfast/Orono Part VI

As we're sitting down to breakfast, with a busy day planned, my wife turns and asks me, "What's your relationship to Flarf?" Dear, it's purely platonic. Actually, I kept waking her as I was scrawling lines for a book of poems I'm trying to finish (Obraz: A Petersburg Album), and random titles for some flarfy poems--so she deserves to know what's messing with her sleep.

She mentioned that I said I thought it was endearing that the elder generation of language poets were so friendly-like with the Flarf Collective at the Orono Conference; certainly, many other elder poets of other stripes would pronounce the youngers to be upstarts who don't deserve to poop in the same bathroom as they. So, kudos to you, language poets, for not being "the new boss."

I learned about Flarf from Mike Magee, who joined the Flarf Collective as it was reaching its second iteration (mature phase?), and was fascinated (if often aghast) at the new poems that Mike was sharing with me, (some of which he read at John Carroll in 2002--including one I asked him not to read, called "Practice Tests," so that I could avoid getting fired so soon in my new job).

For those who don't know about Flarf, just google it. Google is the goggles for Flarf.

I've been feeling flarfy for a few years before that, probably also due to Mike's zaniness, and finally produced something that I more or less feel like showing around, a sequence called Ibn Gitmo Flarf Stations--poems of which have appeared or are appearing in Anti-, Coconut, Shampoo, and other places.

They are not trademark Flarf, they're knockoff flarf, everyone owns it now.

You can read some of them at Coconut here and at Shampoo here.

Here's one from Conconut:

So this is where you come to escape. He pointed
to my t-shirt while saying something in Arabic
sounding like "sling them" to the rottweiler
who had chewed through his leash. I smiled
at the dog. When I looked down, I found
Kathleen Turner on the other end of the leash,
smiling at me. People who go into Starbucks
do not see it's a quasi political show
of Sadomasochism that has nothing to do
with religion. I'm the centerpiece, you're
a mortice, I'm a pitbull off his leash.
All poets say: my legacy is latency.
A peculiar form of sadomasochistic sadness,
leather clad ashen and publicly.

After a conversation with Anne Boyer at the Orono Conference, I decided to play around with titling the poems. That's what awoke my wife.

As for the Flarf Collective, I am scared of Gary Sullivan, who patrols Flarf in somewhat the same way the Death Star is patrolled by Darth Vader. Gary, I love you man, just no Jedi choke hold, alright? And of course, I admire the enthusiastic and clearly supportive aspect of their collectivity. Being on the outside of the Collective, I can see all the benefits of membership only through the window; thus, I am jealous as hell, how they write with and for each other.

Anyone want to start a collective? Tha Lonely Protestah.

"The Two Israels" by Nicholas D. Kristof

A recent op-ed in the New York Times.

"The Two Israels" By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: June 22, 2008
HEBRON, West Bank

Inside the West Bank
To travel through the West Bank and Gaza these days feels like traveling through Israeli colonies.

You whiz around the West Bank on new highways that in some cases are reserved for Israeli vehicles, catching glimpses of Palestinian vehicles lined up at checkpoints.

The security system that Israel is steadily establishing is nowhere more stifling than here in Hebron, the largest city in the southern part of the West Bank. In the heart of a city with 160,000 Palestinians, Israel maintains a Jewish settlement with 800 people. To protect them, the Israeli military has established a massive system of guard posts, checkpoints and road closures since 2001.

More than 1,800 Palestinian shops have closed, in some cases the doors welded shut, and several thousand people have been driven from their homes. The once flourishing gold market is now blocked with barbed wire and choked with weeds and garbage.

“For years, Israel has severely oppressed Palestinians living in the center of the city,” notes B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, in a recent report. The authorities, it adds, “have expropriated the city center from its Palestinian residents and destroyed it economically.”

Rima Abu Aisha, a housewife in Hebron, has the misfortune of living in an area near the settlers. When she went into labor, an ambulance could not get the appropriate permissions in time and the baby died, she said.

Even if the Hebron settlement were not illegal in the eyes of much of the world, it is utterly impractical. The financial cost is mind-boggling, and the diplomatic cost is greater.

Perhaps greatest of all is the cost for any hope of a peaceful settlement: the barriers and checkpoints have undermined Palestinian moderates like President Mahmoud Abbas and have empowered Hamas. Polls show that two-thirds of Palestinians now approve of terror attacks against civilians in Israel, up from 40 percent in 2005.

The Palestinians are committing national suicide as well. By turning toward the zealots of Hamas, and toward the short-term thrill of sending rockets into Israel, they are building a tombstone for their state before it is even born.

Americans who haven’t toured the West Bank or Gaza recently may not appreciate how the new security regime of the last few years is suffocating, impoverishing and antagonizing Palestinians.

In the village of Ein Bani Salim, a farmer named Khalifa Danna pointed to his field, separated from his house by a barbed-wire fence that Israel built in 2004. Since then, he has been unable to get to the fields. Mr. Danna shows photos he has taken of Israeli settlers on his land — even using it to throw stones at him.

B’Tselem is giving video cameras to Palestinians to document the attacks and abuses they suffer. Just this month, a Palestinian woman near Hebron used a camera to record a group of four settlers clubbing her family in a field; two settlers were later arrested.

The settlers see the issue very differently, emphasizing the continuing Palestinian attacks on them and noting that the security steps were put in place only in reaction to Palestinian terrorism during the second intifada a half-dozen years ago.

“If people are trying to actively wipe you out and kill your people, then you have to take security measures,” says David Wilder, a spokesman for the settlers in Hebron. “If that antagonizes them, they should stop trying to kill us.”

So the chasm grows wider and peace more distant.

It is here in the Palestinian territories that you see the worst side of Israel: Jewish settlers stealing land from Palestinians (almost one-third of settlement land is actually privately owned by Palestinians); Palestinian women giving birth at checkpoints because Israeli soldiers won’t let them through (four documented cases last year); the diversion of water from Palestinians. (Israelis get almost five times as much water per capita as Palestinians.)

Yet it is also here that you see the very best side of Israel. Israeli human rights groups relentlessly stand up for Palestinians. Israeli women volunteer at checkpoints to help Palestinians through. Israeli courts periodically rule in favor of Palestinians. Israeli scholars have published research that undermines their own nation’s mythologies. Many Israeli journalists have been fair-minded toward Palestinians in a way that Arab journalists have rarely reciprocated.

All told, the most persuasive indictments of Israeli actions come from Israelis themselves. This scrupulous honesty and fairness toward Israel’s historic enemies is a triumph of humanity.

In short, there are many Israels. When American presidential candidates compete this year to be “pro-Israeli,” let’s hope that they clarify that the one they support is not the oppressor that lets settlers steal land and club women but the one that is a paragon of justice, decency, fairness — and peace.

Installing Lev Rubinstein's "Farther and Farther On": From Note Cards to Field Walks/Report from Orono V

This is a link to my conference paper given at the NPF/Orono Conference, the abstract of which is posted here:
In the early 1970s, on opposite sides of the Cold War divide, and in complete ignorance of each other, Russian poet Lev Rubinstein and American poet Robert Grenier initiated a series of poetry raids on the fortress of the book: both began composing poems on small cards, a practice that would culminate in Grenier's Sentences (1978), a box of 500 such card-poems, and Rubinstein's own boxes of serial cards (beginning around 1974).

Rubinstein, born in 1947 in Moscow, came to the cards for three reasons: instrumentalism, avant-gardism, and undergroundism. The legend is that Rubinstein, a librarian for twenty years in the Soviet Union, lacked paper. But index cards abounded. Like William Carlos Williams' prescription pad, Rubinstein's library cards were handy and at hand when poetry called. And because, in Rubinstein's words, "poetry is everywhere, man," he didn't have time to choose. Card led to card, then a whole series would stack up like a little Tower of Babel. Sheer inertia set in, so even today Rubinstein composes by the card.

For my talk, I will focus on a single poetic text of his, "Farther and Farther On"—in its various print, audio, video, and installation iterations—to demonstrate the ways in which this sort of poetry signifies in multiple ways once it moves from script to performance. Like all of Rubinstein's poetic texts, beginning with the 1970s, "Farther and Farther On" was typed on the back of library note cards, and read by the poet using the card as a temporal space; I will discuss how the 2006 staging of the poem, and a 2004 and 2007 installation of the poem, embody and proliferate this generative poem's possible significations, and point to the limits of each iteration.

Other excellent papers from the conference can be found here.

"The Mailman" by Joshua Parker/Ecce Homo Documentus

This piece, called "The Mailman" (Joshua Parker), recently was delivered to a Cleveland gallery. I've been thinking about how much of my days are composed of papers and envelopes. Ecce Homo Documentus.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cleveland Food Machine Company

I love the name of this place, on 37th Street. Sounds like a Guided by Voices song, to be sung as an alternate chorus to "The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory..."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Passing Cleveland's "The Politician: A Toy" by Billie Lawless

I've got jury duty this week, and for the hell of it, I've been biking down from University Heights to the Justice Center. It takes me nearly an hour, but in the process I've gotten to know my adoptive city of Cleveland a bit better. When we lived in the city, driving downtown, we'd often pass this weird sculpture by the side of the road, at Chester Avenue and East 66th, but I'd never stopped to check it out more closely.

It's called "The Politician: A Toy," and it's been there since 1996, in the middle of an empty yard behind a warehouse. It's surrounded by a wrought iron fence, which, once you near it and look closely, is covered with parodies of statements made by President Bush the First, one line per side:

Riffing off of the promises made my the president, and what it has borne, Lawless had made a poem in iron. The language aspect of this piece is almost completely unmentioned in stories about it, even in the artist's own description of the piece (where you can see, incidentally, the piece in motion--it's in motion day and night).

Apparently, the piece was not received well by the former mayor of Cleveland, Michael White, and perhaps for good reason. It's both a period piece (in the sense of its satire of Bush One), and speaks volumes about the present. It looked at first like a child's wagon (is it a phallus? the pull of big money?), and the axle is made of "Faber No. 2" pencils. The eyes are ominous television monitors which, at night, glow with television snow, and the mouth never ceases to open and close...

Last year's story on public radio does a solid job talking about it, particularly in relation to another piece of big public art in Cleveland, Claes Oldenburg's FREE STAMP. Yet the tagline is suggestive of the rather narrowly conceived sense of audience of NPR--the Starbucks drinking, surburbanites who work in the city:

If you've made the commute from University Circle to Public Square on Chester Avenue, you've probably seen it - a colorful, mechanical contraption that rises forty feet above the street. Some say it looks like a robotic chicken. The artist who built it ten years ago says it's a piece of political satire. Whatever you call it, it's about to move to a new location.

Later in the article, it says: "A non profit group is currently negotiating to get the piece moved to a more pedestrian-friendly location." Pedestrian-friendly seems like a nice way of saying "nice middle class white people," since there is no reason anyone can't walk up to it if they happen to be in the neighborhood.

Here's another Lawless piece I'm dying to visit (480 and Pearl Road):

Monday, June 23, 2008

Patrick Durgin's Hannah Weiner's Open House: The Poetry Project Performance

Patrick Durgin, poet and and publisher of Kenning Editions, recently released Open House (2006), a selection of the poems of Hannah Weiner, an experimental poet whose work has become one of the bridges between New York School and Language Poetry, and then took her work on the road, as in the above performance at the Poetry Project.

Durgin and Koeneke both pointed out that Hannah Weiner had the third-most panels at the recent Orono conference dealing with her work, after Bernadette Mayer and John Ashbery, which suggests that her once-marginal position may be shifting. Weiner's "clairvoyant" poetics invites a blurring between the formalist operations and the performance trajectories of the avant-garde (another way of saying that she is writing a poetry that is both text-centered and invites performance), and so Durgin's staging of her poems is a natural leap that the work itself coaxes.

Durgin's work on Weiner has already been widely praised, by Ron Silliman no less, further cementing his role in the Experimental Poetry Community as a team player in the best sense of the term. I asked him to share with me any words of introduction to the Open House performance, and he kindly gave me his tribute talk, which I give to you here:


An identical impulse set this book and this event in motion. It was the conviction that the vitality of Hannah Weiner’s work is, at this time, equal to the degree to which its historical importance has been under-appreciated. I owe Stacy [Szymaszek] for being some kind of silent teacher and creating this gathering. As for the book, since I am both editor and publisher, I could say a lot, but I’ll address something I haven’t done before.

Clearly it requires great care to set the type in a book of Weiner’s work, especially her work from the 1970s; and I address this in the introduction. But I simply didn’t have the mechanical reasoning required also to design the cover. And so I collaborated with Jeff Clark, aka Quemadura. We decided to replicate, at an elegant angle, the invitation Weiner printed for her “Open House” event. That’d be the front cover. We’d use a dull matte gloss on the front cover and the spine, and use what they call a “spot varnish” on the text. The intended effect was to make the text gleam. The back cover, filled with blurb, was printed in reverse—the white background is glossy and the text has a duller matte finish. All of this trickery cost the equivalent of printing a full color cover, so it’d at least be nice to see it pay off somehow. When the books came back from the printer, though, the effect was so subtle that it goes unnoticed—some texture would have helped. However, I gradually noticed that the ultra-high-contrast black and white, the negative and positive and other bogus oppositions are undercut by the reverse patina, which by chance manages to render the blacks a very dark grey. If you hold it at the proper angle, that is.

Weiner might have seen this coming. As a successful clothing designer, she had an enormous capability for mechanical reasoning. And this is worth mentioning because this was surely an enabling factor in what might have been her greatest achievement: the creation of a new and enduring poetic form in response to particular lived experience. And this is why, when we encounter Weiner’s work, we are met with the shocking recognition that the autonomy of lived experience is a pernicious hoax. A thorough retooling of the all-in-one and all-or-nothing ethos that pits us against one another, by the hand of commerce or otherwise: this is what so many who are new to Weiner’s work respond to in it. And if it’s familiar, it’s because its value persists, says Ben Friedlander for this year’s “Attention Span”:
the impression of omniscience …the sort of poetry I hate most these days is written [to produce]…depends precisely on the exclusion of language that allows for embarrassment, stupidity, simplicity, banality, conventionality, confession. Hannah Weiner’s writing (its “clairvoyance”) stands as a rebuke to all that.
What’s more, readers are responding to something consistent and logically developed over decades of various methods and media. This consistency is what I hoped to make visible in putting this book together.

In October, I went on a book tour with three other poets, editors, and translators in their thirties—and we collaborated on performances of texts from Hannah Weiner’s Open House. Over two weeks of doing this up and down the west coast, a passage from what you might call Weiner’s middle-era, from her long poem “Written In,” became alternately a set of introductory or closing remarks. Tonight, it stands to manifest the clarity of purpose Weiner’s work happily evokes for several generations of artists, poets, readers, audiences:


This is principle to sacrifice comfort
for a long line equi-distant between
margins and sleep on the floor between walls
Between walls is where all the furniture is
and the books and the people


That is space longer across than down
that I write on and contrary to habit
The white space stilll goes from left to right
and we read the words across and then


This is sleep we could write this in
or read this in the sleep of consciousness
which imposes no telling the truth (seen)
is just telling a little tale alertness
to grasp meaning or language


This is language this is written in but
the ordinary form of the simple spoken


This is omitted – thedifficulty and
pleasure of language used to open
and tempt the mind of the reader
to new experience and new form


This is objective although this is also
my personal experience as a writer
and the personal experience of writing
goes down with each word on the page


This is word spelled backwards is drow
which is how English amuses me
because you can draw in the a


This is impossible to finish at one



Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Total Enlightenment: Moscow Conceptual Art 1960-1990 Opens at The Schirn Kunsthalle"/If You're in Frankfurt, You Must Go

Total Enlightenment: Moscow Conceptual Art 1960-1990 Opens at The Schirn Kunsthalle"/If You're in Frankfurt, You Must Go!
from a piece in Art Daily:
The artists of the first generation of Moscow Conceptualism of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Ilya Kabakov, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, Dmitri Prigov or Lev Rubinstein, mainly used the language of the “simple Soviet person.” The carefully selected and iteratively censored formulations of official Soviet ideology were inevitably damaged and displaced by their quotidian “uncultivated” use, and simultaneously “adulterated” with every conceivable purely private and unconsidered opinion. Ilya Kabakov and Dmitri Prigov in particular helped themselves liberally to this trove of everyday, uncultivated theorizing in their commentaries on their own and other art, and often in a highly entertaining fashion. One can say that Moscow Conceptualism made the discursive mass culture of its time into its object. On the one hand, it was indeed a kind of conceptual art. But it was much more than just a kind of discursive Pop Art.

Like almost all avant-garde movements of the twentieth century, the Moscow Conceptualists systematically organized a counter-public, which primarily comprised the artists themselves and their friends. They met regularly to discuss new works and texts. They issued their own and international publications, and created archives. Particularly Andrei Monastyrski and his group “Collective Actions,” which started staging actions in the mid-1970s, contributed to triggering a process of self-institutionalization of Moscow Conceptualism. Monastyrski organized performances to which he invited other Moscow Conceptualists, and these events were painstakingly and quasi-bureaucratically documented, annotated and archived. Additionally, Monastyrski involved many younger artists such as Pavel Pepperstein, Vadim Zakharov and Yuri Albert in the activities of the group, thus passing Moscow Conceptualism onto the next generation.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Thinking about (the Experimental Poetry) Community/Report from Orono Part IV

Having written only about some particular readings at the NPF/Orono Conference, I've gotten it in my head to write a few general observations about the conference and the culture it springs from and nurtures.

The experimental poetry community (hereafter, EPC, not to be confused with the Electronic Poetry Center) is, for lack of a better word, a community, a network of personal and professional affiliations which, in my experience, are collaborational, dialogic, and communitarian in practice. That's an overly academic way of saying that one of the great strengths of the EPC is that, when you connect and participate in it, you feel part of something larger, without the sense of hypercompetitiveness and atomism that surrounds the larger poetry network, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).

This great strength, however, also can mask the way in which outsiders feel just as outside of the EPC, and that, though these poets and scholars have attached themselves to what has long been a minoritarian tradition, they (we?) have now developed an institutional presence which makes it as vulnerable to (and responsible for) the exclusions (or even absences) that invariably occur.

If one takes the "Poetry and the 1970s" conference in Orono, 2008, as a test example, one must be careful not to overgeneralize any observations to the larger EPC--which, as I'm writing, I'm well aware I'm in danger of reifying into a meaningless category.

The great strengths were fully in evidence at the Orono conference. I personally had a blast, meeting for the first time or catching up with longtime friends, conference colleagues, quasi-mentors, and co-conspirators (in no particular order, Kasey Mohammad, Andrew Epstein, Lytle Shaw, Barrett Watten, Steve Burt, Grant Matthew Jenkins, Anne Boyer, Kevin Killian, Aldon Nielsen, Linda Russo, Maria Damon, Tom Orange, Kaplan Harris, Bill and Lisa Howe, Ben Friedlander, Scott Pound, Andrew Rippeon, Rodney Koeneke, Patrick Durgin, Bob Perelman, Steve Evans, Jennifer Moxley, Robin Tremblay-McGaw, Burt Kimmelman, Joel Bettridge, Joshua Clover, Bruce Andrews, Susannah Hollister, Marit MacArthur, Aaron Kunin, Stan Apps, and Piotr Gwiazda). Some of these folks I met for the first time in person, having cyber-corresponded with them over the years. Some I'd known from other conferences, including the 2004 Orono Conference. Some I'd read before.

It's quite a stir and stew, and a sense of kinship invariably accompanies the proceedings. There were plenty of thought-provoking and dynamic papers, talks, and readings, and just enough time for after-talks and between-talks interactions that make such events so critical not only to the promotion of ideas, but to the affiliative aspect of the EPC. With the vitality of such academic programs as SUNY-Buffalo's Poetics Program, UPenn, UCal Berkeley and Davis, Wayne State, and Brown, the EPC has established itself as a vital institutional presence that spans both academic and non-academic worlds.

At the same time, Anne Boyer noted in her blog of the predominance of men at the conference. I counted exactly 2/3rds of the papers were delivered by men. So though the main poets and presenters were equally split in gender, the conference (and perhaps the EPC in general) is pretty male. That is not a fault of the conference, but probably just a reality of the profession, since Steve Evans, Jennifer Moxley, Ben Friedlander and Carla Billiteri are incredibly progressive and sensitive people who have an eye to such exclusions.

Another attendee made mention of the paucity of African-American conferees (and, one might add, ethnic-Americans in general).

One other area of relative lack, to my mind, is representation of what has variously been called Official Verse Culture. On the one hand, it seems as if the Orono conference is vital because it brings together the critics and poets of a shared tradition (though it is itself rife with difference, contradictions, and heterogeneities). It is a place/time where such people can strengthen and revitalize the conversation about experimental poetry and the avant-garde. On the other hand, for whatever reason, Official Verse Culture critics and poets are mostly not in attendance.

In my counting of papers delivered at the "Poetry and the 1970s" conference of 2008, Bernadette Mayer emerged as the most-talked-about (8 papers), followed by John Ashbery (7 papers), and a small batch of others with 3 papers. This is highly unscientific, since clearly I've gone by the titles of papers, and could not have attended everything anyway. The NPF conference organizers are, like every other conference organizer, beholden to what comes to them. As with any conference, there will be figures and movements that go unmentioned, and it's too much pressure to place on a single conference to solicit specific papers when none have been forthcoming. But I think it is significant to note that there was no paper or mention of Robert Lowell. By Official Verse Culture standards, Lowell was probably the OVC's "most important poet" from 1959 until his death in 1977 (after which he has suffered a precipitous critical decline). There were also no papers on Adrienne Rich, W.S. Merwin, Denise Levertov, and others of that generation.

If the EPC were to elicit greater participation by OVC-aligned poets and critics at events like the NPF conference, some possible scenarios might occur. First, OVC-aligned people would be tokens who simply create a parallel mini-conference, shut off from the rest. Second, OVC people could actually get exposed to the vital poetries that the EPC theorizes and practices, thus converting some to a larger sense of poetry (this is what has happened to me over the years, thanks to people like Alan Golding and Barrett Watten). Third, OVC people could provide a critical "outsider's" perspective that would hold EPC accountable for its own blindspots, exclusions, or doxa that need re-examination. Even though there is great beauty in the harmonies created at Orono (and there were also plenty of creative dissonances as well), a part of me always holds to the Blakean principle: There is no progression without contraries.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Report from Orono, Part III/The Clark Coolidge Experience

The National Poetry Foundation Conference in Orono is one of those experiences where one feels alternately very informed and completely stupid. In that, it is an incredibly stimulating experience, to be among the partisans of various poets and poetries who threaten to inject you with their particular loves--each paper a gateway drug to a new figure and figuration of poetry.

Though I have often read about the poet Clark Coolidge in various accounts of experimental poetry from the 1970s, I admit to having read almost nothing--that, despite the obsessive love demonstrated by poet and scholar Tom Orange. Orange noted Coolidge's connection to Kerouac's bop poetics, as well as his early experiments to bringing language down to the phonemic level.

Hearing Coolidge read poem after poem, utterly without commentary and framing anecdotes, and barely stopping to read the titles, was like being immersed in a steady stream of language. I found myself in it, and then unaware of it, and then completely riding the current. The poems reminded me of the surrealist disjunctive poetics of other poets ("waiter, there's a hole in my soup,") but I found myself thinking of Lev Rubinstein for his humor and use of dialogue speech. Here's a clip from the reading:

"Everything You Don't Know is Wrong": Why Bruce Andrews was a "Standup Guy" on Bill O'Reilly's Factor in 2006/More on Orono Poetry Conference

For those who missed it, Bruce Andrews--a political science professor and an experimental poet of the "language school"--appeared on Bill O'Reilly's phantasm of reality show in 2006 to defend his pedagogy, and he more than holds his own. Turns out language poetry may be O'Reilly's kryptonite.

At Andrews' reading this past week, Ben Friedlander's introduction noted how Marx once spoke of revolutions "produced by contradictions, not ideas," and that Andrews' poetry works through the "power of friction." Might I add, any poet who titles a book with the same title as a Clash album (Give 'Em Enough Rope, their weakest production, but it's the Clash) already deserves special attention.

Capturing what Andrews does in language is difficult to describe, though the simplest rendering might be: Andrews collides the various languages and discourses that we speak and write against each other, in ways that destabilize language itself. Decontextualized, stripped of their locational meanings, words suddenly become fraught with danger, humor, and possibility.

His reading was damned funny. That's something that's gotten lost in all the poetry world's worry about language poetry--some of it is just pleasureable. It's even harder to quote selectively from poems, since they function as the poetic equivalent of the machinegun, and to quote selectively is "to murder to dissect." So much logorrhetic chaos!

Still, in his hour long reading at Orono, I found myself jotting down some particular phrases:

from "I Work the Time Up":

sugar triangulation...
hatband of regret...
Afghanistan Cadillacs never die...
book ization, but you can't beat them walkie-talkies

from the table of contents to I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up:

Border State Has to Grow Up
Cerebellum Replaced with Joystick
Could Darwin Instruct Those Turtles
Don't Write Down Your Thoughts
Everything You Don't Know is Wrong
I Can't Watch the Freedom
I Regret Zoology
Is There a Hyphen in Hard On?
Tuck in Your Chains
We Confine Ourselves to Other People's Beds

Each title itself here has a resonant quality: "Tuck in Your Chains" feels like what Marx's mother must have told him, and how style itself becomes a kind of slavery. (Sometimes parsing these poems is like parsing a joke: thank you, idiot, for explaining why I laughed.) It occurred to me, mid-reading, that Andrews was a proto-Flarfist, maybe the language school's closest thing to Flarf. Though Andrews must have seemed really edgy when he began, next to Flarf, he felt somewhat restrained; even lines like "menstrual sorbet" can't quite compete to the truly offensive poetics of the Flarf people (who, incidentally, were well represented at the conference).

Andrews concluded with a new piece called "Uncle Abe," which was either a celebration or mockery of the Appalachian dialect's various tics and sounds. Though there was something absolutely brilliant about it as a sound piece, I could hear my inner Chris Green (an Appalachian poet) boiling inside--was it yet another yokelization of real people, or an homage to their tongues? Since the words were often lost in the sounds, I wondered.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Palestine: A Sestina" by Peter Cole/Shoe-Horning Land into Form

On a website called "Jewcy," Peter Cole--a recent MacArthur Fellow whose translations from Hebrew and Arabic make him one of my literary/intellectual heroes--has some new poems up, among them, "Palestine: A Sestina." There is something dangerous in trying to "sum up" "Palestine" in anything, let alone a sestina--is there another geography (Palestine/Israel) that has been so written and unwritten in the longings and fantasies of the peoples of the Book?

"Palestine: A Sestina" by Peter Cole

Hackles are raised at the mere mention of Palestine,
let alone The Question of-who owns the pain?
Often it seems the real victims here are the hills-
those pulsing ridges, whose folds and tender fuzz of green
kill with softness. On earth, it's true, we're only guests,
but people live in places, and stake out claims to land.

From Moab Moses saw, long ago-a land
far off, and once I stood there facing Palestine
with Hassan, whose family lives in Amman. (We were his guests
in the Wahdat refugee camp.) Wonder shot with pain
came into his eyes as he gazed across the green
valley between NĂ©bo and Lydda beyond the hills.

Help would come, says the Psalmist, from one of those hills,
though scholars still don't know for certain whether the land
in question was Zion, or the high places of Baal. The green
olives ripened, and ripen, either way in Palestine,
and the memory of groves cut down brings on pain
for those whose people worked them, for themselves or guests.

"I have been made a stranger in my home by guests,"
says Job, in a Hebrew that evolved along these hills,
though he himself was foreign to them. His famous pain
is also that of those who call the Promised Land
home in another tongue. Could what was pledged be Palestine?
Is Scripture's fence intended to guard this mountain's green?

Many have roamed its slopes and fields, dressed in green
fatigues, unable to fathom what they mean, as guests.
And armies patrol still, throughout Palestine,
as ministers mandate women and men to carve up its hills
to keep them from ever again becoming enemy land.
The search, meanwhile, goes on- for a balm to end the pain,

though it seems only to widen the rippling circles of pain,
as though the land itself became the ripples, and its green
a kind of sigh. So spring comes round again to the land,
as echoes cry: "It's mine!"-and the planes will bring in guests,
so long as water and longing run through these hills,
which some (and coins) call Israel, and others Palestine.

The pundits' talk of Palestine doesn't account for the pain-
or the bone-white hills, breaking the heart as they go green
before the souls of guests-on-earth who've known this land.

Monday, June 16, 2008

"Incandescent War Poem Sonnet" by Bernadette Mayer

Just back from the National Poetry Foundation conference on "Poetry and the 1970s"--another incredibly stimulating time with a horde of scholars, poets, poet-scholars, most of which have affiliations with the alternative/experimental poetries that the NPF has published and promoted (the Pound/Zukofsky/Williams line, the New American Poets as represented by Don Allen's famous 1960s anthology, and Olson/Creeley and the Black Mountain School in particular). One of the half-dozen poets featured at the conference, Bernadette Mayer read while sitting down, in the Colby Museum of Art, because she had recently had a fall and broken her neck. Still, she was spirited and funny, wondering if Elvis were also in the crowd of luminaries. Here's a poem of hers that Halvard Johnson happened to pass through his email list, and, given its title and concerns, I thought I'd pass it along to you.

Incandescent War Poem Sonnet

Even before I saw the chambered nautilus
I wanted to sail not in the us navy
Tonight I'm waiting for you, your letter
At the same time his letter, the view of you
By him and then by me in the park, no rhymes
I saw you, this is in prose, no it's not
Sitting with the molluscs & anemones in an
Empty autumn enterprise baby you look pretty
With your long eventual hair, is love king?
What's this? A sonnet? Love's a babe we know that
I'm coming up, I'm coming, Shakespeare only stuck
To one subject but I'll mention nobody said
You have to get young Americans some ice cream
In the artificial light in which she woke

--Bernadette Mayer

fr. Sonnets [New York: Tender Buttons, 1989]

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Farther and Farther On...."/The Orono Edition

I'm on the road, now just down the road from Walden Pond, preparing for a talk on and installation of a poetry/piece at Orono, Maine (site of the National Poetry Foundation's conference on Poetry and the 1970s). The talk and installation are inspired by Lev Rubinstein's "Farther and Farther On" (for more pics from a previous iteration, go here.) I'll be more or less spotty on the internet, as I'll be heading even farther north, and even more roadbound than usual.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Leevi Lehto's Sound Poetry

I first saw the Finnish experimental poet Leevi Lehto in December 2006, at a large reading in Philadelphia that was part of the leviathan of the MLA. He was probably the most memorable of all fifty poets reading that night, even outdoing fellow sound poet Christian Bok (no slouch himself in the performance department). Sound poetry of this variety hearkens back to the Dada movement in the early 20th century, and though for the rigidly traditionalist poetry fans, I'm sure for some it seems like nonsense, it is a kind of blessed nonsense that brings poetry back to its love affair with intonation and sound--that materiality of noise that coheres and melts again and coheres again...

Friday, June 6, 2008

Everyone's Running for President...of Israel?

On the Death of Bo Diddley/"Road Runner"

Having recently read Don Quixote, I've been thinking about the picaresque tradition, and its relationship to road-adventuring, how it gives birth to all sorts of novels and films (Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Augie March, On the Road, not to mention the countless buddy/road films...). But I neglected to think about songs, such as Bo Diddley's "Road Runner." Here it is:

"Road Runner"

(Ellas McDaniel) 1960
I'm a road runner honey,
Beep! Beep!
I'm a road runner honey,
And you can't keep up with me,
I'm a road runner honey,
And you can't keep up with me,
Come on, let's race,
Baby baby, you will see,
Here I come,
Beep! Beep!
Move over honey,
Let me by,
Move over baby,
Let this man by,
I'm gonna show you baby, look out your head,
Gonna put some dirt in your eye,
Here I go!
Oh yea, how am I doin?
Beep! Beep!
Take my hand baby,
I'm gonna prove to you that I'm a road running man,
I wanna show you something,
That I'm the fastest in the land,
Now let me by,
Beep! Beep!
Oh yea, you said you's fast,
But it don't look like you gonna last,
Goodbye! I've got to put you down,
I'll see you some day,
Baby, somewhere hangin' around.

One of the immediately obvious aspects of the picaresque tradition is not only the relationship between freedom and mobility, but also how the picaro, the adventurer, is almost always male--even if he claims (as Quixote does, fantastically) that all his adventures are on behalf of a beloved woman.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Lev Rubinstein reading "Time Passes"

I was thrilled to find this youtubed selection of Lev Rubinstein reading his poem, "Time Passes." Having translated Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Selected Poems of Lev Rubinstein (2004), and after having read with him this past fall, I am further convinced of his poetic genius--his ability to recycle and set into motion shreds and fragments of language and discourse--a mobile of words and situations. I'll provide a translation of this text shortly (with my co-translator)...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"Behind the Lines" with David Baptiste Chirot (from the "The Cinema of Catharsis" series)

Scott McClellan, Too Damned Late, My Sweaty Friend

First, Fred Schneider of the B-52's going all "Rock Lobster" on Scotty's ass.

Now, Scott McClellan, the former Bush press secretary, on the Daily Show. Dear Scott, my friend formerly sweating under the White House press lights, you're way too late. Why did you need to leave the bubble to realize that you were the voicepiece of deception?

Good News: International Treaty to Ban Cluster Bombs

It seems that though I try to take note of hopeful trends, peace actions, reconciliations, witnessing, etc., there can be a baleful tone to the proceedings on Behind the Lines. Here's some good news: cluster bombs can go the way of the dodo. Clusters, go handicap yourselves!

30 May 2008


Contact: Dr. George Cody, Executive Director
Phone: 202-223-9333 Email:

(Washington DC). The American Task Force for Lebanon (ATFL) applauds the 110 countries that reached agreement in Dublin, Ireland, on Wednesday, May 28, to ban cluster bombs. We congratulate the United Kingdom, a staunch NATO ally, for its turnabout and now fully supporting the treaty. Lebanon is a signatory and staunch supporter of the treaty.

ATFL is proud that one of its principal objectives in the ATFL "Action Plan: Stop The Carnage, Ban The Cluster Bomb!" campaign has been achieved. Since December 2006 ATFL has called for an international treaty banning cluster weapons and has specifically been urging the United States to support an international treaty to ban the use, transfer and sale of cluster bombs.

Dr. Cody, ATFL Executive Director, commended the parties instrumental in making this treaty a reality. He said "ATFL salutes the 110 countries that made this agreement possible and urges the United States to join the community of nations and ban these weapons." Dr. Cody further stated "ATFL commends Senator Diane Feinstein, Senator Patrick Leahy, Representative Darrell Issa, Representative James McGovern, and other Members of Congress, for their bipartisan leadership on this humanitarian issue."

This treaty is the culmination of a process that began in February 2007 when 46 governments met in Oslo, Norway to endorse a call by the Norwegian government to conclude a new, legally binding instrument in 2008. The purpose of the treaty was to prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians and provides adequate resources to assist survivors and clear contaminated areas.

In the draft Convention in Dublin at the diplomatic conference for the adoption of a Convention on cluster munitions, the State Parties to the Convention have agreed "...that each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to use cluster munitions, develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, cluster munitions or assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under the Convention...."

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bob Dylan's "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"

Bob Dylan's "It's Alright Ma" still brings me chills--it's probably the first song I'd heard by Bob Dylan where I began to feel as if I was in the presence of a kind of genius. In "Desolation Row," Dylan mocks T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound as they fight in the captain's tower; somehow, amazingly perhaps, Dylan became more important than the high modernists to that generation of poets coming of age in the 1960s; poets as different as Mark Halliday, David Wojahn and Barrett Watten (all of whom I've spoken to about Dylan) have name-dropped Dylan as essential. Wojahn has gone so far to say that "Maggie's Farm" outstrips nearly all of the political poetry of the time, and remains a touchstone for how to write politically.

"It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)
Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child's balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying.

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool's gold mouthpiece
The hollow horn plays wasted words
Proves to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying.

Temptation's page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover
That you'd just be
One more person crying.

So don't fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It's alright, Ma, I'm only sighing.

As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don't hate nothing at all
Except hatred.

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Made everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It's easy to see without looking too far
That not much
Is really sacred.

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have
To stand naked.

An' though the rules of the road have been lodged
It's only people's games that you got to dodge
And it's alright, Ma, I can make it.

Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you're the one
That can do what's never been done
That can win what's never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks
They really found you.

A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit to satisfy
Insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not fergit
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to.

Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.

For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something
They invest in.

While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him.

While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society's pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he's in.

But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it's alright, Ma, if I can't please him.

Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn't talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony.

While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer's pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death's honesty
Won't fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes
Must get lonely.

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
False gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough
What else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They'd probably put my head in a guillotine
But it's alright, Ma, it's life, and life only.

Copyright © 1965; renewed 1993 Special Rider Music