|. . . 2007-03-21|
A certain type of ambitious twentieth-centry poet I saw, writhing, quivering, in whose throat was lodged the heavy black snake of subjectivity.
As muffled retching goes, some of John Berryman's "Dream Songs" still seem melodious. Mostly, though, I'm stuck with horror, hatred, loathing, pity, and so on.
Even to my teenage ear, his refrain of "Delmore" thudded flat, the wake an excuse to make a crying jag a chore; not nearly as believable a gesture as Bellow's snatch from the dead man's drawers. What's it say about isolation when a melancholy traditionalist can't even pull off an elegy?
I read this interview, with its literally monologic annotation — "Delusion.... Delusion...." — and its pathetic disavowal of "Henry". (As the poet sang, "There's a man who looks like me, and talks like me, and acts like me. But that's where the similarities end.") And I see homophobia in the Greek sense of "homo".
And there cries out of me the admonishment: "Swallow! Swallow!"
|. . . 2007-03-29|
Around 1960, Robert Lowell and James Wright switched to publishing free verse. In hindsight, I take these "raw" breakthroughs / breakdowns as resigned admission that the sole craft their readers sincerely cared for was the craft of self-fashioning — in this case, crafting the role of sour overbearing alcoholic old bastards. And they called their act: "The Aristocrats!"
I prefer their later stuff myself, if "prefer" is the word. Consider Lowell's clunker couplet:
free-lancing out along the razor's edge.
This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge.
Or this top-of-the-line 1959 stanza from Wright:
Nothing to mark you off in earth but stone.
Walking here lonely 1 and strange now, I must find
A grave to prod my wrath.
Back to its just devotions. Miserable bone
Devouring jaw-hinge, glare gone blind,
Come back, be damned of me, your aftermath.
And compare the conclusion of "Ars Poetica" in '73:
We had a lovely language,
We would not listen.
I don't believe in your god.
I don't believe my Aunt Agnes is a saint.
I don't believe the little boys
Who stoned the goat
Are charming Tom Sawyers.
I don't believe in the goat either.
7When I was a boy
I loved my country.
Ense petit placidam
Sub libertate quietem.
Hell, I ain't got nothing.
Ah, you bastards,
How I hate you.
Play to your strengths, you know? The first is a naked hairy bald fat guy demonstrating solo Twister on a stage. The last is a clothed bald guy muttering to himself on a barstool. Much more dignified.
My favorite cussing's by Alice Notley, though:
I can't get to the poem of this
though I choke with it again being there
in another decade being here's not much different
the rage of unremunerated work —
can't you hear the voice in my head
can't you hear the fucking voice in my head
of course I'm not right I'm never right
I'm fucking lazy unskilled and you deserve your money.
It sounds better.
Now, I'm not going to pretend anything about metrical analysis, assonance, all that stuff. It's a difference in tonal quality, all right, but tonal as in "Don't you dast take that tone with me, missy." Missy Notley takes surer tones. She knows who she's talking to.
I don't believe that footnote for a second. Too perfect, I say, too perfect. SEK
Too perfect is right — I almost posted it that way without noticing. It says something about our own chosen form's vexed attitude toward community that I'd swap the words.
|. . . 2007-03-30|
THEATRICAL NOTICES FROM ALL OVERFrom The New Yorker, April 2, 2007, "Bringing Back Berlin":
Their impudent satire snubbed its nose at monogamy and at anxiety.Moss Hart was always the kind of guy who'd cut his nose to spite his face.
From The New Yorker, April 9, 2007, "Corrections": ... should have read "Their imprudent satire stubbed its toes" ...
|. . . 2007-03-31|
What is hell? Hell is oneself,
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
No particular technique or taste associates T. S. Eliot with post-1940 conservative American poetry. Only agreement on what poetry is, practically speaking, for:
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be....
What a silly complaint. Hamlet was a loser. We're supposed to feel sorry for you because you're not Hamlet? Who the hell would want to be Hamlet?
Answer: No one. But lots of us would want to act Hamlet. What rankles is not being John Barrymore on Tour, nor being meant to be.
Eliot's legacy: a nation of Malvolios performing air soliloquies in front of their mirror.
Whenas, opening up the cast, the best of the New York School were willing to play Sir Andrew, Feste, or Sir Toby Belch.
Consider their collaborations and plagiarisms, and imagine the scandal if Jarrell had ripped off a stanza of Lowell, or Sexton of Plath. In a democratized revival of manuscript culture and sprezzatura, these were social acts.
Try to reach directly from the alienated individual to the vasty universal and you're apt to sprain something. Instead, poets could escape solipsism by embracing and populating insularity. The lyric "I" presented a formal problem whose formal resolution wasn't so much supported by coterie as it expressed the music of the thing itself — or, as Lytle Shaw put it, The Poetics of Coterie. 1
By that I don't mean to imply that all of O'Hara's or Mayer's best work, or any of Ashbery's or Guest's, is "occasional verse" in the traditional sense. Remember: This is New York. Is a momentous event upon us? Only with every little breath I take.
and you take a lot of dirt off someone
is the character less bad. no. it improves constantly
you don't refuse to breathe do you
I've acted perfectly dreadful, true, but why should I pretend to be so upset and expect you to be interested? I've acted perfectly dreadful at lots of parties.
Sure, it's an emergency; that doesn't mean it's serious.
Because (as the poet sang) every time you chase me down the street with a knife, it's a real special occasion.
Peli responds with kind words followed by an understandable protest:
But, way unfair on Eliot!
It's hard to properly state my contention and I'm stuck with rabidly overstating it, so please downgrade its volume when reading : Starting to feel like I've had a linguistic error and in America Avant-Garde refers to a personality type -- vaguely correlated with the poet's aura being vigorous, excited and humanistic or stoically domestic (meanness is allowed in measured dosages, as long as it's a vigorous meanness) -- and has fuck all to do with one's approach to constructing texts. To you guys Paul Celan is probably indistinguishable from Anne Sexton.
Ah, but I didn't say that was all there was to Eliot — I said that's what conservative poetry took from Eliot.
More generally, I agree I'm emphasizing personality here more than seems realistic. That's because I'm trying to balance my more ingrown tendency to overstate the possibility of pure formalism. (When I was eighteen, Frank O'Hara sounded like noise.) What counts as a correction in my own course would count as a wrong turn for some other navigator on some other trip.
It is the most shattering experience of a young man's life when he awakens and quite reasonably says to himself: "I will never play The Dane."
|. . . 2007-04-01|
John Rastell reminds me that alienation and appropriation are near-synonyms:
Alienation, is as much to say, as to make a thing an other mans, to alter or put the possession of lande or other thinge from one man to another.- An Exposition of Certaine Difficult and Obscure Wordes and Termes
of the Lawes of this Realme, 1579
Alice Notley reminds herself of one occasion and me of another.
Once, in London, I got so tired on
(This is the middle stanza of five. I wish I felt comfortable quoting them all. They're nicely linked, and the end of the last one would strengthen the illusion that I know what I'm talking about. But the collection is readily available, and she's fucking lazy unskilled and deserves your money.)
As the years go by, I get less and less excited by the fact that America is where Block is: the only work of his that I return to is that song on Dave Van Ronk's second album.
|. . . 2007-04-06|
Early to bed and early to rise
Makes a man early.
|. . . 2007-04-07|
In 1998, the Village Voice published "Close Encounters: The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction" by Jonathan Lethem. Lethem and I exchanged email on the subject, and he later edited that portion of our correspondence for publication.
Recently, after noticing a couple of academic sites which pointed to the Voice cut of the essay, I asked Jonathan for permission to post our sequel online, and he's graciously agreed. (To use his exact words, "Get it shackled at the ankles to the Voice piece if you can!")
Readers of the world: Mistakes Were Made.
[On a more strictly personal note, those emails from September 1998 also mention my decision to withdraw from fiction workshops, my lack of interest in becoming a reviewer, and my desire to "produce fewer promises and more (if un-genre-publishably weirder) writing instead. Still mulling over what that might mean...."]
|. . . 2007-04-10|
From a place you've never heard of...
with people you'll never meet...
comes a story you've heard before.
of forbidden passion...
between attractive actors...
fully-clothed on a table top.
of three children...
and laughing or crying or quietly smiling or with their incomprehensible gibberish drowned out by music...
in a land of peace...
in the shadow of broken glassware...
and of the secret that will forever change their lives...
Yap. Our American Pie equivalents [or our Animal House equivalents if you want to be really nice about it] -- the "Lemon Popsicle" series films -- are marketed in the U.S as art-films. Peli
And the closest thing the USA has to a high-culture broadcast network showed endless re-runs of Are You Being Served. Because any inanity turns intellectual in a British accent.
|. . . 2007-04-12|
It's an odd thing about science fiction, given its world-diverging goals, that so many of its professionals have difficulty coming to terms with the existence of usages, tastes, and experiences other than the ones they find most familiar.
Then again professional analyzers of the beautiful and profound are often mean motherfuckers, and computer programmers, slavish go-betweens swatted down by both masters, are often strikingly arrogant, and professional Christians are often bloodthirsty and intolerant, and professional iconoclasts dish clichés, so maybe it's just an odd thing about professions.
Or not odd. We want our lives to sound difficult and be made easy.
That's why most sf ages as badly as most of the mild epiphanies of mainstream fiction and poetry: they all lower the cost of supermundanity by cutting corners on the real.
What then of professional epiphanists?
PS: Don't go there
More fool I, who would gladly move to Toronto if they weren't so persnickety about employing USAnarians.
Is this an obituary for Kurt Vonnegut?
Not that I know of — the last time I read Cat's Cradle, I still liked it.
Lawrence L. White writes:
I just finished the Sutin biography of Phillip K. Dick, & found myself puzzled: for someone who believed that all we take for reality is an illusion, old Phil had some pretty common & unswerving ideas about gender relations. Oh well. Humans! What are we going to do w/them?
Re: PKD. I know, it was very deflating when I learned that the "dark haired girl" was Linda Ronstadt.
I haven't read the biography, but friends have told me that pretty much any not-too-tall woman with dark hair he met would be the "dark haired girl" to Dick.
|. . . 2007-04-21|
I took an early lunch, and ate in a bit of a rush because I planned to stop at a second restaurant for a second lunch before returning to work. The hostess tallied: "Fancy roll, home roll, house wine, saba, franchini —" She looked up at me and asked "Sleeping pill?" I said "Huh? No. No, thank you." Then I paid, walked out the door, and woke. It was 2:47 AM.
Clearly in yer cups. 4 or 5, I'd say. (Ever notice how RW 3 of cups rips off Botticelli's Primavera?)
New one on me — I've always gotten the Four.
Funny, last night you had a walk-on in a long dream about an aesthetics reading group. You introduced yourself saying you'd started out in math, which provoked spontaneous applause and made you frown since you didn't think aesthetics should be like math. You picked up a violin, holding in your right hand both the bow and a brush dripping white paint, so that in the process of playing a brief, dissonant Elliot Carter-ish piece you also sketched some Pollock traceries on the instrument's surface. I thought it was eloquent. -atem
Dreamy! In the real world my only performance skill is speaking from the diaphragm while pacing and handwaving.
|. . . 2007-04-24|
"I am the gateway to another world," (said I, looking in the mirror) "I am the earth-mother; I am the eternal siren; I am purity," (Jeez, new pimples)
Joanna Russ, The Female Man
One reason I react against Adorno's cultural classifications and (brow at midpoint) against talk about the Great Works and (lower still) against complaints about sell-outs and so forth is they remind me so much of that fine old Virgin / Whore dichotomy. Either the artifact's holy, pure, and life-affirming or it's greedy, depraved, and besmirched. (Either it's holy, pure, and life-denying or it's depraved, besmirched, and with a heart of gold.) Such a stark choice embroils both audience and artist in frustrated contradiction and leaves out any recognition of the mere and fully human.
I can't deny it: the humans stretched and broken across those high idealized bars can take on fascinating shapes and say fascinating things. My tastes may not be that far from Adorno's; speaking strictly proportionately, I probably do like more "canonical" or "avant-garde" art than "commercial" art. But polite aesthetes, like polite male heterosexuals, should bear in mind the costs and contexts of their preferences.
DYM Virgil / Horace ?
Those guys were not polite male heterosexuals!
|. . . 2007-05-02|
The difference between reviewer and critic is that the former's subject is what you haven't seen, the latter's, what you have.
Seen subjects are sweet, but those unseen are sweeter.... I guess I'm an extreme critic type, but even as a completely clueless reader, I prefer that approach, like I prefer hearing gossip about people I don't know. Befuddlement makes the whole procedure seem more humane somehow....
|. . . 2007-05-04|
Speaking of raving, Renfrew Q. Hobblewort continues his friendly takeover of the Dovetonsils Industry:
Found this on the back of a bookjacket at the local used bookstore — at first I mistook it for newsprint — unfortunately the rest of the jacket and the book were missing. I think the book title was The Very Highly Abridged Anselm Dovetonsils Reader, edited by Will Shortz — in any event this seems to have been reprinted in altered form in last week's Sunday NYT's magazine section:
"Praise for Anselm Dovetonsils' poetry:
'Truth in its Monday clothes.' - Joseph Roux
'An echo asking a shadow to dance, but the shadow is busy and gives the echo a rain check.' - Carl Sandburg
'The defecation of reality.' - Edith Sitwell
'An act.' - Pablo Neruda
'Doing, not being.' - E. E. Cummings
'Like fish.' - Osbert Sitwell "
The last one reminds me of Elizabeth Bishop's famous tribute to the oeuvre of Dovetonsils pèrecy: "It feels, like, gay."
|. . . 2007-05-09|
Then there's "style", best defined as that characteristic stink we're unable to cover up or scrub away.
Writers "find their voice" by painfully working though and being forced to discard all the voices they're incapable of. Sometimes the attempt's a little tardier than usual and the embarrassment's a little more public. And so Exiles and Pomes Penyeach and the Bollingen Eugene Onegin read as juvenilia.
Translation, as a form defined by loss of voice, would seem to be in a glum spot.
Luckily for juvenilia and translations, some people find the sound of awkwardness charming in its own right: waddling, or even sinking, seems straighter than the high-flown.
The Boll. Eugene Oregon is Nabokov's *only* decent moment, sirrah. Attempts to prove otherwise (by algebra) doomed to the Larkin bin.
|. . . 2007-05-10|
The hardest and most important lesson I learned early in online life was to walk away from a fight after I'd had my say. It's the interpersonal equivalent of "Just pay the five dollars, George."
Or maybe of "I been thrown outa sweller joints than this." No need to scrawl toilet stalls with the Troll of Sorrow so long as Mr. Waggish or Dr. Lukin remain willing to call me on BS. To use the elegant formula which first crystallized at age nineteen, "Why am I standing here arguing with this shmuck about Dhalgren when I could be back at college getting laid?"
Oh, I remain thin-skinned, quick-tempered, and gullible, and so I can still forget that lesson when anxious and exhausted, just like I might forget to use a knife and fork when I'm very hungry, except scarfing hurts less in the aftermath; yes, even if a cayenned finger wanders to my eye it pains me less. There's less collateral damage, for one thing.
As for needing to set the record straight, the record's advice is unambiguous: Forget it. If history teaches us anything, it's that historians will treat us like dirt. A subject who attempts to stage-manage his reputation is handled with special contempt by biographers. (Who then mail scathing corrections to the biography's bad reviews.) Stopping first is not an admission of defeat: it's an admission of maturity.
I for one was arguing with schmucks about Delany when you were in short pants. And your spelling of "collateral" is as loose as your logic.
... or my short pants, for that matter. Anyhow, thanks for the spellcheck!
If you're trying to get the last word, you're too busy to get the last laugh.
|. . . 2007-05-14|
What does it mean to talk about a poet's "voice"? Or to praise a poet's contribution or opposition to "diction"? Something about a poem in a particular context, context and poem held as a unit.... It's an intuition of vocabulary and aim, stops and breaks, approach and territory. It's what good parody flushes out of its home digs and into the open.
Whatever it is, what I wrote earlier didn't quite get it. Personality per se isn't the issue and depersonalization isn't the goal — "depersonalizing"'s just another formula for sounding like a poet. Personality is undiscardable: it's not in our hands to discard, being a matter of how a subject is perceived. Posing or not, once the camera snaps, I'm captured in a pose. With all the will in the world, ideas seep into our things.
No, Marcel Duchamp wasn't trying to escape marcelduchampitude. What he disliked was not himself, but a certain rhetoric of self-presentation which leads to a certain social relation....
For example, to comments which read like a pro-anorexia support group's. Honestly pursued self-indulgence is a rare thing; what usually goes under that name is a desperate fraud of self- and peer-flattery. Jack Spicer's and Frank O'Hara's flatness — "I am a real poet" — opens up that window lets the bad air out.
Not that window openers necessarily benefit directly. Unhealthy as their verses sound to me, Duncan, Ginsberg, Berryman, and Lowell all outlived O'Hara and Spicer. A fresh expression of acerbic alcoholism is nicer than a stale one, but that doesn't make it safe to operate heavy machinery: you're still alone in a room with a hangover. The mostly-sober Objectivists were unusual in being able to take the matter of the contemporary lyric past how someone fucked you over, how you fucked someone else over, or how fucked up you are.
Which may in itself be enough to justify associating them with Language Poetry.
As much as their left-wing earnestness and their formal choices *what*?
I see what you mean. Would I could return the favor. I hope trimming the sentence helped a bit — letting it grow didn't seem to.
Speaking of compression artifacts, I got an email this morning titled "GMT Book" and starting "Dear GMT Event Contributors," and I must've spent two minutes trying to remember when the hell we ever discussed time zones on the Valve.
|. . . 2007-05-21|
From Carve Her Name with Pride :
For Teddy Adorno and Sylvia Plath
Lawrence L. White critiques:
Man, that's one tough workshop. But it's got an excellent teacher-student ratio!
and Hold the Epitaph.
|. . . 2007-05-22|
Pop music makes a horrifically misleading comparison point. English song and poetry in English have diverged too much since Campion's day, and as much as I love the lyrics of Chuck Berry, Lord Melody, Smokey Robinson, Tom Verlaine, the Coup, Mos Def, and Slug, none would fit a little magazine or chapbook.
A closer demotic relative of contemporary lyric is stand-up comedy, with its definitional dictions, its canonical revolutionaries, and its School of Quietude.... They're different forms with different capabilities, but there are examples from both who'd fit either.
Ask Ron Silliman about the Russian edition yoking him with Louis Zukofsky and Woody Allen.
"a something along these veins .."
And while we have for decades been told that the lyrics of Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith et al (rarely however is this said about Slug) can be read without music as standalone poems, the same is never claimed for the work of Richard Pryor or Eddie Izzard.
Ah, but Steven Wright...?
First thing they teach you in Narratology school is in the face of a literary theory scrutinize the selection of evidence. I counter with: Brian Eno, John Cale, 'Berlin' David Bowie, Early and mid Beck, Destroyer, Jonathan Richman, Pavement, MF Doom, Li'l Wayne, Ghostface Killah, and a bunch of Israeli stuff. Not that their lyrics are in anyway better or more interesting than your batch, just that they're all both a) very good, b) modern poetry is a somewhat relevant frame of reference to their work either historically or theoretically or both.
|. . . 2007-05-24|
It's not true that only poets read poetry. It is true that keeping up with poetry comes close to a full time job, like keeping up with international cinema or popular music or genre fiction.
Job markets vary by geography — even avocational job markets. Taking similar land routes, I and Joshua Corey traced similar reading histories, and the ten years between us made comparatively little difference. Although a quirk of publishing history had led to Zukofsky being stocked by the Chillecothe, Missouri, library, and although the Black Mountain lost-leaders were widely available, there was no collected Niedecker or Spicer in my youth, and what I could find in Philadelphia and NYC led me, like Corey, to posit a post-1940 decline into the poetics of lithium. (Things are better in Brooklyn now.)
When I moved to Cambridge, Mass., I lost access to international cinema but gained access to WordsWorth Books and the Grolier. (I also gained a three-hour daily commute, and I also lost my lover and my mind.) At one of those shops, I bought Sal Salasin's first book because it reminded me of Ed Bluestone in the National Lampoon. And I bought Bloomsday by Jackson Mac Low because it was Bloomsday. And then I bought Sulfur 24 because Jackson Mac Low was in it.
I can't find that issue — must've lent it to someone and never gotten it back. The web tells me it included one of my favorite Ron Padgett poems, and something by the incomparable David Bromige. But what struck hardest was a long excerpt from Ron Silliman's Toner.
"It spoke to me."
Diction is about shared assumptions, and diction varies because what's "universal" varies. For example, pace Berryman and Hacker, not all of us have had the universal experience of sleeping with our students. So it's possible that you just need to have been a commuter to really get Silliman's poetry. But I got it, and got it bad: here was someone who'd experienced this previously unsung, astonishingly stupid side of life, and found redemptive lyric possibilities in its suspended-yet-mobile state of consciousness. A suspension so extended that it became epic: Kinda-Ron kinda-Endures.
One Age of Huts later, I walked away with the ugly mossy block of In the American Tree. I wouldn't say it changed my life — I haven't led that sort of life — but it certainly changed my buying habits.
What the anthologized pieces shared was an absence of recognizable names (other than the dedicatee, Larry Eigner) and anything resembling well-established subjective lyric stances. The range of alternatives seemed even wider than what Donald Allen had come up with. And yet Silliman didn't present himself as an outside arbiter or professional event organizer; apparently this range belonged to something he thought of as one group, his own.
The nearest thing to a new norm here was parataxis, which seemed to account for many of the precursors paid tribute in the essays at the back of the book: Ashbery (although not Allen's Ashbery), Stein, Spicer.... Still, there wasn't a "standard Language Poet poem" as far as I could see — at least not among the ones I liked. Lyn Hejinian's My Life and Bob Perelman's a.k.a. were both beautiful little books of paratactic prose paragraphs, but you couldn't mistake Hejinian's VistaVision montages of Northern California for Perelman's grim resignation to "cleverness", young Beckett pressed into an old Beckett role:
He heard the music and stood up. Played at appropriate speed, incurable motion out the window. The names are maintained to prevent the accumulations of self-esteem from crashing too harmlessly into private abysses. As if hearing were a perfection of air perpetrated among rivals, sets of teeth, synonyms, sentence structure, ruptured blood vessels. He held on, in advance. Night fell, and I lived through that, too, expressing the expressible in terms of the expressed. On good terms with neighbors, dependable, daily, there, smiles, and is currently writing and reading this sentence.
Susan Howe suffered megalomania of the archive in a way I found much more congenial than Charles Olson's: high on dust mites and the glare of wide margins, the texture of the paper, the impress of the type, a whited-out thought balloon of imminent immanent insight tugging gently at our scalps....
And sure, lots of us have words appearing on our foreheads, but Hannah Weiner was the first to accurately transcribe them.
Depersonalized? No, just respecified: new specs in front of the eyes, less heavily tinted, and, in some cases, less smudged.
I moved to San Francisco in 1991, when Small Press Distribution and Small Press Traffic both had storefronts, and my binging intensified. Like Corey, I learned to browse bookshelves by publisher name. Some of Silliman's also-rans were as good as he'd implied: Rosemarie Waldrop, Robert Glück (who turned out to be a very different sort of writer indeed), Beverley Dahlen, Alice "Notely", Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. Some of the included gained importance: speaking of Campion, Stephen Ratcliffe's spaces in the light said to be where one / comes from is subvocalized MDMA. Some seemed to drop out: Stephen Rodefer's Four Lectures were primo, and his Villon translation was a pungent pinch of Spiceresquerie, but then what happened?
Most were uneven. There was such a thing as The Charles Bernstein Poem, and I didn't think much of it, but just often enough he'd come up with something unexpected like "Artifice of Absorption" or "I and The", and even The Charles Bernstein Poems had their place. On the other hand, Susan Howe, always worth reading, was worth surprisingly less in dowdy paperbacks than in her expansive expensive smaller press editions. Silliman's Tjanting played to his weaknesses, despite the conceptual catchiness of its form.
But they continued to be more uneven sometimes than others, and they led other places, like Jackson Mac Low had, and so the binging goes.
Here ends my happy consumer conversion narrative. "Or like stout whosits when with eagle eyes," "Nirvana made me a better student," "I can't believe it's not butter," and so on.
Happily, I wasn't a participant.
Next: I finally get back to where I was more than a year ago!
Joseph Duemer has some questions.
|. . . before . . .||. . . after . . .|
Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2007 Ray Davis.