Portrait by Juliet Clark
. . .

Nothing Personal, 8

"But then Michael Palmer might not be a Language Poet. We won't know until he dies and they cut his heart open and see if L=A can be found there.... And the politics of it all is fascinating, but there are people who are much better equipped to speak about it than I am. You might want to go and talk to some of them about it, if you're interested."
- David Bromige

Note: The following is based on second-hand hints and third-hand extrapolations. That is, it's gossip. And since I'm art-for-art's by nature, it's not even good gossip. But my essay's carried me out of my depth, and in this deep water I'll paddle. Feel free to administer a little paddling of your own.

I told my conversion narrative because it's not unique. (It's not interesting, either, but that wasn't why I told it.) For me it happened in 1989; for others it happened in 1982 or in 1999, or it will happen in 2007. All that changes is the number of precursors and passersby clumped into the Katamari Damacy of "Language Poetry".

No conspiracy lies behind that phenomenom, and protests were futile. It's merely a side-effect of success, enthusiasm, and inattention. I've witnessed similar confusions in punk and hip-hop, and a recent museum show dedicated to "the Beats" included work by Frank O'Hara and Jess.

What distinguishes LangPo is the stability and range of its success. The Beats weren't moving by the time of that pleasant curatorial blunder; the Language Poets continue. And the formal advances responsible for that success were political ones:

Instead the group's glue is found in the non-poetic work of "poetics": self-publication, self-promotion, self-defense.... Creative members could parlay any diction they liked so long as they cooperated with the critical members. And, David Bromige aside, those critics weren't fooling around: they've been painfully sincere, with most of the pain directed outwards.

This community, like any community, coheres by selective memory and selective attention. I share a class background with Ron Silliman, and an allergy to academic power structures. Naturally we except our friends from our prejudices. Silliman, however, sometimes deploys those prejudices even in defense of his friends and despite the disposable incomes which back their publications. Then there's the contrast between Perelman's finger-wagging and high-fiving, and in another way Susan Howe sacrificing her own layouts while insisting on the primacy of Emily Dickinson's....

I don't mean to characterize them as villains in this history. (They are, after all, three of my favorite writers.) Conservatives and the old-garde haven't been shy about marking their dry discolored turfs, would-be Young Turks tried similar tactics, and when Bromige enlivened the Buffalo Poetics list, the mob who shouted him down wasn't led by his fellows. The Language Poets didn't invent the game: they only managed it better.

I do mean to imply that the game has a human cost. If I haven't heard versions of Luther Blissett's story quite as often as versions of my own, still I've heard them. And worse, the one-time-enemy may be appropriated: I remember some poet I respect (whose name I don't remember) being asked by someone somewhere if she considered herself a Language Poet, and her answering something like she wouldn't have minded but someone I respect less (whose name I also don't remember) said she wasn't Marxist enough. (As I warned, my gossiping skills are weak.) Then there's Benjamin Friedlander, often called a Language Poet because he paid them close attention, and scarred by them for the same reason.

Given the human payback, though, was it worth it? Could any avant-garde have managed the scarcity-economy of print better?

I don't know; I just hope the post-print world does.

* * *

The web hosts an economy of attention: Who's attended to? Who should I attend to?

It's one question with two faces, self-ish and other-ish, inseparable yet rarely perceived simultanously. We become two-faced in asking it. We lament the lack of attention paid our so worthwhile work and then spend a half-hour responding to an irksome comment made by someone who doesn't particularly interest us.

In the mailing lists, there was no way around it: you had to slog through mire to reach anything at all. While the web allows for greater selectivity and wider browsing, established algorithms steer us towards continued dysfunction. Jordan Davis may have closed Equanimity to focus on other projects, but (as usual) I fear the worst. And there's Gary Sullivan's recent comment....

The next innovation in American poetry might better target LangPo's social aspects than its lyric ones.



Mark me as a Luther Blissett story. Sure, I like\love 80% of first-gen LangPo, but would you speak as kindly of the things you rightfully mention to be the actual correlate of the LangPo appellation -- their theory, norms, critical language, self-definition of their practice, analysis of literary history? This aspect wasn't only lackluster, but managed to salt the earth rather thoroughly with unimpeachable dogmas, and as much as I love A.K.A and Sunset Debris it wasn't worth it.

It *isn't* worth it, even. Which is why I'm halfway to goodbye poetry hello video-games, and even though I probably won't, I'll always feel a little miserably about my field of interest\study in a way I never thought I would before I discovered that the guy who wrote Tjanting has essays.


A God's mask have ye hung in front of you, ye "pure ones": into a God's mask hath your execrable coiling snake crawled.
shiver down the spine


Turbulent Velvet extrapolates.

. . .


We wake from a dream to enter, clearly, a daydream.
- Nick Piombino, 1980, as reprinted In the American Tree

I balked a bit at that last, writing about something I don't particularly understand or want to research for the sake of readers who don't particularly care. I've never acted suave with a fake ID I forget what my last name's supposed to be, all that.... So it's not by chance that I opened by asking you for correction and closed by advising you not to argue with a fool, or that mid-balk I went priggish over expertise, or that I began it around the anniversary of my resignation from the Valve.

Or that I've been thinking of Nick Piombino, who wrote discursive lyric prose decades before blogs provided a medium, who avoids fruitless debate, and who, I suspect, has sometimes been prompted towards more recognizably generic approaches.

Or that I've been reading his book, and noticing how easily this peculiar form moves between paper and browser, so that I can desire both the bound Eeksy-Peeksy and the re-clicked-through fait accompli with no hunger pangs, just a drowsy anticipation of surplus.

Or that I've been looking through my own notebooks, which, like Nick, I've mixed in promiscuously from the start, albeit without dates, not having noted them in the first place, and thinking I've prompted myself too far from those impulses, and it's time to renew promiscuity. How did Delany put it? "On the smell of old effort, new effort bloomed"?


Nick Piombino provides relevant contradicta and a gawjuss re-selection from In the American Tree.

. . .

Nothing Personal, inconclusion

Criticism being a discursive form, it's natural that readers should guess at the critic's intention. And since I didn't describe my intentions at the start, some readers guessed wrong. Not surprising at all, very much business as usual, but given what those intentions were, I'll attempt a settlement.

(Although I've always been lousy at wrapping up. I look at the rumpled wads covering the gift and hope it's the thought that counts, but when the gift itself is only a thought you really have to wonder....)

  1. No, I don't believe we should judge poems by the lives of their authors. I've denied that across all my changes of taste.

    But somewhere enabling that bendable "taste", like the wire embedded in Gumby, I suspected a thin core of hypocrisy. The experience of poetry conveyed more "person" than my preferred critical rhetoric allowed. (And, yes, it also conveys more "other-than-person" than the rhetorics of political righteousness or self-help or histrionic heroism allow. But what would be the point of arguing with people who aren't my friends?)

    And so I investigated my terms, flipping over each rock until "diction" paid off, insofar as one can describe an unattractive pale slimy creature as a payoff.

    Immersion in a writer's work creates an ephemeral social contract, each author founding a Republic of Letters in which we feel welcome or not, an aspect of poetic experience which the communally-rooted blarney of pop music criticism gets at more directly than close reading ever could. I wondered (not for the first time) if it would be possible to achieve a similar informality (creased jeans allowed) in poetics. But however I tried styling it, the admission didn't come naturally to me. Only this morning did I find a clear formulation:

    Poetry can't depend on the personal but can't avoid conveying a personality. Readers grasp that personality and put it into narratives. And there's apparently some peculiar glamor in imagining oneself the sort of person who gets put into such imaginary scenarios.

    The same uncomfortable state of affairs holds for the performing arts: Professional ethics dictate the loss of self; audiences dictate a pseudo-self back again; and finally a host of wannabes dream of jumping straight to the vices. The "depersonalizations" found in literary history might be compared to theatrical techniques like "the Method" or "the alienation effect", originally taken as ways to make the actor invisible, while in retrospect we see the usual shtick and celebrities.

    I don't mean to celebrate this process only to acknowledge it.

  2. No, I don't believe "the New York School" or "Language Poets" hold exceptional positions. (At least not more exceptional than anyone else.)

    I started from Eliot, but I could've started anywhere, with Yeats or Swinburne or Tennyson, or Byron's millefeuille of sincere insincerity, or his contemporaries' sometimes literally fraudulent tapping of the national soul, or the sweat-soaked Augustans, or the political-sexual-financial desperation of Tudor classicists. Always the risk that the Muse ain't talking, it's just ol' Virgil makin' shit up.

    No, I retraced this particular arc of the literary roundabout only because someone on the Valve had expressed a certain conception of "the New York School" and then someone else on the Valve had expressed a certain conception of "Language Poets", and I'd promised to attempt reconceptualizations.

    Message, if not legible, at least delivered. Or if not delivered, at least sent.


A Derrida reference? Quelle horreur!


. . .


Assholes to be useful must be inconclusive.

Put that way, it doesn't sound so paradoxical.


Scruggs associates.

My notebooks write several years ago:

I dreamt I saw a news clip from 1964, Jerry Lewis interviewed in a French airport on his way to a Pan-Am plane, saying, "All my movies from now on are going to be five hours and over. I'm mature now; I don't know how to stop."

. . .

Only the gunky build-up knocks the valve

"I think the idea was I would provide balance, but it doesn't feel like I even made good ballast."


Although bilgewater might be a better analogy: the amateur scholar, the lyric critic, the Sunday poet, collecting at the bottom of her Majesty's ship Belles-Lettres over much too long a voyage....

Why do you seek the living among the et cetera.
First Literature, now Belles Lettres? Is that a promotion for me?

I don't know who you are, but of course I hope so. To my limited knowledge, however, it's merely an example of my revision process: Literature was unsatisfactorily unpompous, but it took a few hours of sleep before I realized what would both make a more "realistic" ship's name and more tightly knit the hermetic self-laceration of the whole.

the Midlist Passage
And good-bye to you too, old Rights-of-Man.

Return to Bellona with Scruggs.

I started to build my credit history many years ago in my student years. My parents helped me to choose a credit card and make an application. It was the beginning. Now I have excellent credit and use the best credit cards. Best credit cards for students and consumers are presented at

. . .

Resentment is my difference. Value my difference.

Approximately one out of every one Americans suffers from self-righteousness. And in some areas of the country, the epidemic has reached even higher levels. Here in Berkeley, we snatch at cause for grievance like it was the last roll of toilet paper in the store

* * *

There's something empowering about resentment particularly when combined with megalomania. Just look what it's done for God!


I depreciate the ressentiment.

Don't mention it.

. . .

Bathos : The Art of Thinking

Adam Tobin and Nick Piombino recently described this venture in extremely complimentary terms and conditions, the latter attached to a "Thinking Blogger Award." And as it happens, "Thinking" was already on my mind like a not-very-close friend you encounter thrice in one day.

First, the perennial question "Consciousness or What?" sprigged at a couple of online stops.

Then Joseph Kugelmass denounced IQ tests. Since those are the only tests I've ever done well at, I naturally share his disdain. But having someone agree with me naturally makes me rethink my position. By design the test is an equalizer not strongly determined by economic position or sex. Before we shout "IQ is dead!", shouldn't we have a replacement ready?

And finally, firstly, overwhelmingly, there's the dayjob, which is currently like being paid to wade knee-deep into a swimming pool filled with fleas a great advance from 2005 and 2006, when it was like being paid to swallow live caterpillars.

Geohistorically speaking, I'm lucky to have any dayjob at all. Unhealthy, impatient, clumsy, and ill-bred, I boast but one single talent: I easily (compulsively, even) exchange and extend abstract verbal models. This can make an amusing party trick, but until the advent of software engineering the only career it opened was that of heretic.

There are two essential feeds to the rattling jolting smoking metamachine in my head: a haze and an interruption. It ingests the interruption and reshapes the haze accordingly. Remove either component, and it stops. Thus I'm not a particularly observant person: perception stops being interruption when it becomes continuous, and when that happens I fall silent. Nor am I a particularly systematic person: I can develop a software application over several months with frequent checks against customer expectations and reactions, but I can't sit in a room by myself for a year and come out with an operating system.

Like my vocation, my avocation underwent a slow whittling down of possibilities. In poetry, fiction, reviewing a few pastiches and no more: the metamachine lost interest. Speculations, revised speculations, gags, counterexamples, juxtapositions are its natural products.

And serialized self-publication is its natural outlet. My early peers took this form as an adjunct or a preliminary to more "serious" work. For me, it was and remains central: a last resort in both senses (as seen in the major motion picture, Day of the Dead).

I mention all this to explain the difficulty of "writing a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think." I might've been able to come up with such a list in July 1999 it's easy to choose the top five finalists from a field of six contestants and that list would do you little good now, since from it only Geegaw is still active.

But with blogs abounding, a shared medium is no longer enough to establish a connection. (Music blogs being, still, a bit of an exception.) Instead I find clumped cross-linkings: clumps by profession; clumps of expertise or political opinion; clumps of wannabe for each subgenre of journalism; clumps of happenstance.

You can perhaps see why I prefer the last. Like browsing randomly across the library shelves, or like attending every film shown by MOMA, dipping into different weblog clumps increases the chance of "interruption", and thus of "thinking" as I experience it.

And so I'm reluctant to select five blogs myself. What if I include one of your clumps, dear reader? Wouldn't that be thoughtless of us?

Instead I ask that you pick five URLs which mean nothing to you at present from my daily checklist don't be afraid to scroll to the bottom follow them, and read at least one page from their archives. A few sites virtually all of you will know already, but unless you're Mark Woods (dear reader) it seems unlikely you know all the rest.

And to improve the odds, I've just added seven new ones.



You know, I was going to tap you in response to my being tapped, but never acknowledged my tap in the belief that you wouldn't acknowledge yours. Alas! My faith is shattered: Ray's (almost) been memed. - SEK

It (almost) happened once before. It's (almost) impossible to refuse anything to Messrs. Piombino and Waggish.

There's no meme, huh, there's just me-me.

Nick's the first to take up the challenge.

Kip Manley works it.

A few days after I posted this bit of self-analysis, Mark Dominus coincidentally pointed to an entertaining paper uncovering a solid predictor of programming success: the ability to assume and consistently maintain arbitrary conventions.

It now seems to us, although we are aware that at this point we do not have sufficient data, and so it must remain a speculation, that what distinguishes the three groups in the first test is their different attitudes to meaninglessness. Formal logical proofs, and therefore programs -- formal logical proofs that particular computations are possible, expressed in a formal system called a programming language -- are utterly meaningless. To write a computer program you have to come to terms with this, to accept that whatever you might want the program to mean, the machine will blindly follow its meaningless rules and come to some meaningless conclusion. In the test the consistent group showed a pre-acceptance of this fact: they are capable of seeing mathematical calculation problems in terms of rules, and can follow those rules wheresoever they may lead. The inconsistent group, on the other hand, looks for meaning where it is not. The blank group knows that it is looking at meaninglessness, and refuses to deal with it.

. . .

Found Poem; Lost Uncle; Please Advise

Scientists love  abstractions,  whereas  humanistic  scholars are
buried in the concrete. They cannot see the forest for the trees.
I'm sure  we all have an Uncle Fred  who thinks  that we shall be
quite fascinated  as to where he plans  to plant the carrots next
Spring  and as to what his wife said about Mildred  to her second
cousin.       Uncle Fred is buried in the concrete.      This can
be verified if one tries  to tell  him about  abstractions; he'll
not  understand them  and become quite  bored. There can  be many
reasons  for this, but  a very  likely one is that he is not very
intelligent.  Thus, he cannot  understand abstractions. Could the
problem  with humanistic  scholars  be that  they tend  to rather
untelligent? This is in fact no doubt one of their many problems.

From "The proper place of humanism: Qualitative versus scientific studies of literature"
by Colin Martindale
in The Psychology and Sociology of Literature: In honor of Elrud Ibsch,
ed. Dick Schram and Gerard Steen,
John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2001.
BYO "[sic]"s.


"they tend to rather untelligent"? wot?

There you go again, noticing things....

ROTFL!!, as they say
Asberger militias. The love them concrete abstractions. The ones you can get your hands on, and do things to.

T.V. points us to Dr. Martindale's Regressive Imagery Dictionary. I foresee many Creative Writing assignments....

. . .

How to Philosophize With Mike Hammer

Consciousness exists to note what intrudes into consciousness.

That's your superpower? Sorry; I'm not impressed. The emergence of digestion seems more essential, at least as miraculous, and with results just about as unreliable. It's as a cognitive dyspeptic that Nietzsche first attracted me and still seems most prescient.

His style permitted his insights. (His realizations shaped his prose.) Most philosophers and cognitive scientists are led by personal inclination and generic constraints to overstate the power and sustain of consciousness particularly verbal consciousness: "I think, therefore there is always thinking. I drown you out, therefore there is always talking."

If Descartes had been one of those people who fall asleep as soon as they start to meditate...? But he wasn't.

Although psychiatrists and gurus get credit for acknowledging unconscious forces, their own career paths encourage their own characteristic fib: the manufacture of trademarked homunculi which can be moved around the Barbie Dream Boudoir or G. I. Joe Battleground of the mind.

Even Nietzsche tried to cast a romantic lead, but Will T. Power is no James Bond; after all its twists and back-doublings and self-overturnings and face-reversed masks, it looks more like Melville's Confidence Man and sounds more like a chant of "We're here because we're here because we're here because we're...."

Better to just watch Kiss Me Deadly.

Ralph Meeker has been knocked out, dragged to a beach house, spread-eagled ass-up on a bed, subjected to a speech by Albert Dekker, and then administered "sodium pentothal the truth serum." "Pleasant dreams, Mr. Hammer."

Next scene. Meeker is mumbling incoherent complaints. The drug has taken effect! Paul Stewart leans over Meeker and prompts him.

Meeker mumbles incoherent complaints louder.

Paul Stewart checks his watch

Because this truly is truth as known by Mr. Hammer: a drone of what would be obscenities if they were words.

This gag's been set up by an earlier gag where Hammer plays brilliant detective ("He can sniff out information like nobody I ever saw") by parroting his "secretary" Velda.

What's left for a parrot to say after you strip it of pretense?

* * *

The movie's also pretty good on hermeneutics:

MIKE: "If the darkness and corruption leave a vestige of the thoughts that once we had...." But if it's a thought, it's dead... because she's dead. It's got to be a thing.


"Consciousnes" is a polyseme. Care to make a more precise incision on which sense of the word you're picking a fight with?

I guess that would improve the odds a bit, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, having dashed a bucket of slops across everyone at the table, it's probably too late to have my choice of combatant. I'll just wait and see who slugs me first.


. . .

Perplexities from All Over

David Denby wonders at desperately ingenuous length why Knocked Up doesn't look like a Cary Grant picture. Didn't Columbia ever teach him about Joe E. Brown pictures? They were always more profitable than screwball comedies.

Me, the only '30s throwback I still hope to see from Hollywood is a Marie Dressler & Polly Moran picture.


Why do you watch old movies from the '30s?

Because they don't make new movies from the '30s.

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .