Thursday, September 27, 2007

Which came first, the desire to master, or the desire to wonder?

An interesting follow up to Winger's book, and speaking of photographs...much hubbub over at The Times regarding two sentences in an essay by Susan Sontag, but clearly about much more than that. An intriguing undertaking. However, the project seems less in the spirit of inquiry that Susan Sontag inhabited, and more in the spirit of mastering and undermining her sense of wonder. I'm not sure what this project adds to our ability to read a photograph. On the other hand, I'm quite sure of the impact Sontag's essays have had, and no doubt will continue to have.


By Rob Winger
Nightwood Editions, 2007
When I pulled Muybridge's Horse down off the "new books" shelf at the library I was very pleased by its weight and heft, by a quick glance through the pages, the occasional glint of metaphor, the curt lines. Then I looked at the cover again and thought who is Rob Winger? No idea. But the book had already compelled me, so I had to pick it up and sit a while.

Now clearly Winger hasn't appeared out of the blue, and a quick google will tell you that an excerpt from this book won the CBC Literary Award back in 2004, which means that the book has been a while in coming (a very good sign). Then the blurbs: all weighty. And recently a review in the Globe and Mail calling it one of the most impressive debuts in a long time, an assessment I can agree (though the language of reviewing "best since..." "best thing..." should always be suspect.)

But the work, the work, and as usual, good work recommends itself. There are many strengths, a sense of whole, a unified world, a wide canvas, largeness of vision, sustained narrative--we get the life of Muybridge, and with much detail and beauty and passion. There is also humour:
(plot, plot, plot, plot:
why do these chronologies insist so much?)
there are deft movements, tough emotional confrontations:
he ploughs through proper streets
startling horses, smashing into ribs
elbowing Jesus Christ woman corners
stomach held out..
I won't spoil the plot there--for there are real events that startle. Winger rises to the challenge of mixing biography and poetry in the sheer breadth of the narrative, in the amount of detail and fact he works in here. There are moments where he achieves something quite distinct in terms of melding form and content too. Here is an excerpt from a section called "Palo Alto," in which we see Muybridge working at his invention in studio/shed in California:
In two-thirds of a second, the shutters rattle into life,
their sights crossing in front of the lenses,
zapping plates with yellow bursts
that explode in the shed like bullets,
cart wheeling down the track
as Eadweard hears the muffled cheers of newsmen,
Stanford uncorking champagne and distributing goblets
Narrative poetry, if it is to be poetry, has to have multiple pressures on the line. To be simplistic, the tension of narrative, the fuel of it, must shift from the long gait of plot to syllabic tectonics...not just imagery, not just accounting. Of course this is arbitrary in that there are poets and prose writers who willfully and successfully navigate and decimate all such attempts at categorization, and yes, every writer finds his or her source of energy. Still, one wants to have one's little calculations and justifications even if they are fluid. And compression seems to me an essential element, at the very least a shift of emphasis from the line to the word; not just condensed or annotated.

The comparisons to Michael Ondaatje's Collected Works of Billy the Kid are inevitable, but they reveal more about the reviewer than the text itself. What makes it like Billy the Kid? The fact of its narrative force? That it contains a horse? The west? A frontier landscape? A line of photographic inquiry? Certainly the language of it achieves something like the beauty of Ondaatje's work...but in terms of the cosmology of the text it seems relatively pedantic in comparison, and certainly less structurally and theoretically complicated. I'm not sure I could see it is a text that has "moved on" from Ondaatje's, in other words.

For example, the decision to separate the narrative from the photographs--the albums which make up the sections of the book. Oddly, as a reader I found it difficult to move from one album to another, and I wanted to see or experience some shift in language that was more pronounced than there is here. In Ondaatje's text the seismic shifts that occur create moments of rupture and wonder, here they seem to simply shift. I wanted details that are added to the epilogue, to be folded into the narrative, for example, to meditate on them in more narrative/poetic imagistic ways, to see a few leaps, asides, there is so much to work with here!

But these quibbles are pleasant quibbles, and speak to the enormous potential of both author and book, and to that I say simply, bravo. This is a book one should feel proud of. It's certainly one of the strongest, most daring, original and polished debuts I've seen in some time and one that should be discussed. It serves as a reminder to young poets. Don't rush. Don't rush. Let the project build beyond what you dreamed you could achieve.

And thanks to Silas White and Nightwood for a beautiful book too.

Original draft September 10th.

Mary di Michele

Mary di Michele's tranelation of Passolini up on the Parliamentary Poetry Poem of the Week website.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Nicole Brossard

Nicole Brossard read last night at the Nickle Arts Museum at the University of Calgary to a full, attentive crowd. One thing that never fails to impress me about Brossard's reading is the intensity and pleasure of hearing her, how the text seems to weave such a confident air that one feels quite literally to be floating from one idea to the next. I'm always taken by surprise when the reading is over, it always seems, not too soon necessarily, not too abrupt, but aspect one can attribute to what? The grace of the reading? How she moves from text to text with a soupcon of introductory notes...and voila. She is unfailingly uplifting, even when--as she did last night--she delves into the darkest aspects of humanity. "Give me a match..." a refrain that lilted through a poem translated by Caroline Crumpacker.

Brossard read from Yesterday at the Hotel Clarendon, the novel recently published by Coach House, and then a little French--the title eludes me. However, Robert Majzels and Erin Moure, translators of three books, were also on hand and the three of them read from Notebook of Roses and Civilization ending with all three of them reading in an incantatory style, the final poem, "Soft Link 3," which I offer an excerpt from here:
It's names of places, cities, climates that haunt. Characters. Clear mornings, a fine rain that falls all day, rare images from elsewhere and America, two natural disasters that make us close ranks amid corpses, it's quiet or violet acts, mortars, ice cubes in glasses at cocktail hour, noise of dishes or a slight stutter that momentarily torments, a slap, kiss, it's names of cities like Venice or Reading, Tongue and Pueblo...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Hound at UBC this Thursday

I'll be heading back down south in a very tiny Dash 8 early Thursday morning...

PLAY Chthonics Reading Series invites you to the first reading of our 2007-2008 season: Catriona Strang and Sina Queyras will read September 20th at UBC.

PLACE: Thea’s Lounge, Thea Koerner Graduate Student Centre
6371 Crescent Road, UBC

Reading 7:30
Cash bar 7:00

The Skeena River, 8 am

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Calgary Blow Out, Round 1

More tonight. Plus the Hound reads. Very glad NOT to have to follow Robert Majzels, pictured above. Fabulous reading.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Zolf & Thesen

Rachel Zolf, Human Resources, Coach House 2007
Sharon Thesen, The Good Bacteria, Anansi 2006

Sharon Thesen edited one of my favourite Canadian anthologies without exception, and that was the second edition of the Canadian Long Poem Anthology, published by Coach House in 1991. Recently she followed that up with third edition, and despite the fact that she included Erin Moure and Lisa Robertson in that latest edition, and I love both of those poets, the anthology didn't have anywhere near the weight and force of that earlier edition. Odd how that works, but there you go. Doing the right thing doesn't always mean you end up with a great mix. And not that the Robertson/Moure selections weren't great, the whole book just didn't gel, the layout wasn't working, and after using it in an undergraduate workshop I couldn't recommend it again.

Now I have The Good Bacteria here before me and with much pleasure can recommend it. Thesen's poems are intimate and confessional, but not in a typical manner. I found a copy of A Pair of Scissors in the Strand a while back with an American reviewer's notes in the margins--a found poem in themselves. But I mention that here because this odd combination of intimate distance is one of the things the reviewer couldn't seem to understand. Confessional poetry in America isn't quite as unruly as Thesen's can be. She doesn't seem to play by confessional's rules of propriety. She has the audacity to reference too many distinctly Canadian things, and to allude to Canadian poems, and poets--by first name! How are we supposed to know who George Bowering is? Who is Jerry? Angela? And are we to make our own leap from Pear Tree to Willow? I'm having fun everyone, but also serious. Let them take out the atlas and look up Skidegate. They can place the Mars bars from there, a kind of pin on the map of poetry.

Human Resources, recently reviewed in the Toronto Star, is a work I've had the pleasure of watching develop over the past few years. It's a language experiment, a bit of office thievery, a slight of hand, and gorgeously executed. Why wait for the corporate world to raid the world of art and verse (we know you're all looking here for your next idea...). "If I could divine nausea fuelled by wiping off shame and writing about money." Why not turn the tables around? Take all that prime double-speak, all those matted down, watered, battered, and barely understood workplace words and run them through the poetry mill?That's what Zolf does here and with aplomb. Words that have never been intimate are suddenly very high, attending an all-night rave (are there other kinds of raves?): "nailing jello," "orphan organs," "lucille lattice," "not warm hard phallus but Bataille...." "I don't want to make an 'event' out of this slippage in language suffice to say." Nor does she want to let you settle into a safe lyric journey. And it is a bit disconcerting for the uninitiated, but don't worry, there is plenty to hang on to as the floor slides out from under you:
Early in the new millenium (G18) hello (Q18) of vagina
america bitch cat, on our 35th birthday in fact, the New
York Times Magazine declared that theory was dead--
just when you'd gotten round to reading it...
I have had the pleasure of hearing Zolf read--certainly one of the finest readings I witnessed over the course of my time in New York. Hear her if you can, and read it too. But hearing it really brings the text to life and the stark words are much friendlier with an ear to guide.

And for all of you still clinging to lyric-only, come on! If all poetry suddenly had to look and sound the same you might have a point, but this is a big world. Plenty of room for all the voices. We're not recruiting. You don't win a toaster. Just dip in and feel free to move on.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

sept 11 2004

sept 11 2004, originally uploaded by lemon hound.

This is the first September 11th I haven't been in America...very different feeling. As I lived next door to a fire station in Brooklyn the day was always marked with ceremony. From my old window on State Street. More of Brooklyn here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Jason Christie, iRobot

Every once in a while a book comes along that seems so perfectly conceived that it seems, well, natural...or perhaps inevitable. Christian Bok's Eunoia is one of those books, Lisa Robertson's Debbie: An Epic, Dennis Lee's Un (grossly overlooked in this country and now followed up by yes/no which hopefully will not meet the same fate.)...I could keep going...but you get the idea, various and full. A project fully realized. I had a sense from seeing excerpts of Christie's i-Robot prior to its publication that this would be such a project. The voice seemed so assured, so completely, believably, bang on; the palette right, the language, the form, the tone, all on. The only thing that surprises me about the publication of this book is why more people aren't talking about it.

Why indeed. Fascinating hesitations around tonal qualities in poetry--the only kind of humor mainstream poetry seems comfortable with is the Billy Collins variety (other than perhaps James Tate, who manages to be funny and complex at the same time...). Christie's project is fun, there isn't much on the line emotionally, it isn't "lyric," at least it isn't a lone voice in the wilderness, but it is among the smartest and funniest satires of our technologically befuddled culture.

The robots here long for things, they get fed up, they are confused--they mourn. "We want fair treatment," they shout. "Why," the young robot wants to know, why? They want to be unionized, they are cautioned about who and where they stick their sockets into, they howl about "the newest processors" of their "generation destroyed by malfunctions, datastarved, hysterical naked..." No, these aren't poems that are going to ward off the edge of catastrophe, nor of existential anxiety, nor loneliness, nor loss--but they will make you think about what you are engaging in right now, what you are so unconsciously accepting. Oh, and yes, they will make you look twice at your answering machine.

Where will Christie go next?

More sample poems are available here.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Weekend Round Up

You've gotta love George Saunders. He leaps into the very tiny pool of writers who have straddled the literary to limelight...

Ah, Bukowski. I have such a soft spot for him.

800 years since Rumi's birth?

Yay, George! Bowering to judge the Griffins.

Chinese artist Zhang Huan has a new show up in NYC. I've blogged about him here.

Edwidge Danticat memoir.

Madeline L'Engle gone.

The Good Lesbians--they should have been in the Drunken Boat Issue.

The Hound reads in The Calgary Blowout, and with outgoing WIR Jaspreet Singh at the Epcor Center this Thursday, September 13th.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A new play from Ken Urban

Ken Urban is a playwright and director. His plays have been produced and developed by Moving Arts, Lincoln Center's Directors Lab, Soho Rep, Rude Guerrilla, Annex Theatre, Luna Stage, kef productions, Son of Semele Ensemble, and others. He is one of the hardest working writers I've come across, and certainly one of the more interesting thinkers. Ken took my questions via email. Turn around time? Snap.

LH:Why Eskimos?

KU: I had the title for this play for a long time kicking about in the back of my head. I was supposed to be writing another play but the title and the Eskimos wouldn't leave me alone. I kept seeing big big Eskimos that looked liked diseased Yetis. The kind of thing you'd see
on an episode of Doctor Who. Or some kind of goth Teletubbies. I kept seeing those Eskimos so I knew they had to be in a play.

LH: You recently finished your Phd, started a new position at Harvard and yet continue to produce new plays at a startling rate. How do you do it?

KU: Well, I guess I work all the time. But it doesn't feel like work since I love it so much. My time at Rutgers really trained me to juggle way too many balls and now that my teaching job is just a teaching job: no administrative responsible, no teacher training, nothing but teaching
a few times a week, I find I have more time. But don't tell my employers that. I want them to think I'm overworked and underpaid, which I am, of course. Plus, finishing that degree was like being cured of a terrible disease. Not having that hanging over my head, it feels even better than coming out. It's like a great feeling of liberation. Now I never have to write anything like that again if I don't want to.

LH: I know you are a fan of Sarah Kane and British theater in general. Is there a difference between contemporary British and American theater?

KU: I would say that American theater tends toward the sentimental in a way that British theater doesn't. I'm not sure that's always true, but generally. American theater, though, doesn't have the shackles of naturalism to the same degree as British theater. American theater
still has a pretty active avant-garde impulse and that never really took hold in British theater, even while Sarah's plays moved in that direction. The biggest difference between the two right now is the culture of new play development. Here, when you write a new play you expected it to have multiple readings, some workshops, some more readings, before anyone even takes a chance on a production. And some great plays never even get produced. In British theater, you write a play and then it is produced. They don't believe in developing a play to death. That is a very good thing.

LH: Do you have a favorite play?

KU: I have so many and they change all the time. Right now if you put a gun to my head and asked me that, I'd have to say, Spring Awakening by Wedekind. Or maybe Cleveland by Mac Wellman. Or maybe Kroetz, Through the Leaves. Kane's Cleansed. You should just shoot me because I could keep going on and on.

LH: Are you familiar with Canadian theater? Daniel MacIvor, Sally Clark, Morris Panych?

KU: Not as much as I want to be. I like MacIvor's work a great deal, and The Crackwalker by Judith Thompson was a play that I really loved when I first read it. There was something very cold and helpless about that play that appealed to me a lot. But you should tell me who I should be reading because the sad bane of New York theater is that we don't see enough international work especially from Canada and Latin America.

LH: You are the founder of The Committee Theater which also produces your plays--are you also developing other new plays?

KU: Yes, we have a new play of mine in the pipeline called The Awake, which Judson Kniffen is going to direct in 2008. We also going to do a reading festival of new plays in 2008 and so when Eskimos closes we will start reading plays for that. We did readings of new work by
Caridad Svich and Crystal Skillman for the last one, and there's a number of play I'd like the directors to consider for our next one, including a play by an Iranian writer.

LH: Are you a fan of the Fringe Festival scene?

KU: Listen. The Fringe in NYC gave me my first show in New York so for that I'm grateful. But I'm not sure the Fringe in its current incarnation is really all it could be. But I still think it is a great way to get a show on in New York and to get to know folks. I still have friends that I met when I did the Fringe in 1999. For that alone, it is worth it.

LH: What advice do you have for young playwrights?

KU: Don't wait. Have the mentality of an indie band. You want to put a show, put on a show. Don't wait for the official theater world to come knocking because they won't. Do it yourself. There are ways to do it. Meet directors and actors. Go see theater as much as you can and meet
people. You like an actor and think you would like to work with her, tell her. Grab coffee or beers. It is really a great time to be in the theater. Yes, there's no money, and yes, nobody cares. So what? Do it for the art. I know that sounds incredibly naïve, but that's how I
feel today. You have to believe in yourself. There is so much rejection that comes with being a writer, you got to be strong and to be strong, you need friends and lovers that have your back.

By Ken Urban
Directed by Dylan McCullough
A man and woman in trouble. A lost cell phone. Spam-speaking Eskimos. A dark comedy about life after anti-depressants.

Sept 8th to Oct 1st • Friday -- Monday
w/ an additional show on Thu Sept 27
The Linhart Theater @ 440 Studios
440 Lafayette Street (across from the Public)
All shows at 8PM, Tix: $18

To buy tickets, go to
or call 212 352 3101

Andrew Breving
Melissa Miller*
Carol Monda*
Michael Tisdale*
Sets: Lee Savage
Costumes: Emily Rebholz
Lights: Thom Weaver
Sound: Elizabeth Rhodes
Special Benefit Performance
Saturday Sept 15th
Tix: $30
Featuring a panel discussion moderated by playwright Caridad Svich and a reception with the artists.

(* appearing courtesy of Actors' Equity)

Margaret Avison

Words at Large over at CBC is featuring the late Margaret Avison.

One for the good guys...

Yay, Farley! Farley Mowat is putting is 200 acre parcel of land in trust.
"Nova Scotia is like every other part of the western world, teetering on the edge of falling into some developer's hands and being destroyed for money," Mowat told CBC News.
Indeed. And we're just beginning. Sustainable, green developments, please. Innovation by design.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


This is a great idea! (And for those of you entrenched in your idea of what poetry is notice the wide range of poets who are involved in this.) For those of you in Toronto, pass it on. For those of you elsewhere, thank Christakos, take it and run.

Register NOW for:
SCS 1777 - 003 Fall 2007
September 26 to November 28, 2007
Wednesday Evenings, 7 pm – 9:30 pm.

facilitated by
Margaret Christakos

Join other poetry afficionados for this flow-chart series of prepared talks by Toronto poets becoming fluent in the work of some of our contemporaries, combined with dynamic poetry readings and discussion. Seven accomplished Toronto-based poets working in distinctive contemporary styles will appear as guest critics in this unique lecture-reading salon series, to be followed by a half-hour live poetry reading by the poet under discussion. This course will introduce a range of themes and styles in contemporary Canadian poetry and offer live in-class presentations by Toronto poets. Discussion among the critic, poet and course registrants will then be facilitated by Christakos.

This session the class will be held in the U of T Pharmacy Building at the northwest corner of College & University, in “The Pod,” directly accessible to streetcar and subway.

By including poets from many of the micro-communities in the city's literary scene, we create the opportunity for social and critical interaction among them, and build an informed audience for contemporary poetry in general.

Over the nine-week course, registrants will accumulate critical vocabulary for discussing contemporary poetry alongside an enhanced range of sensibility and ability to fluently discuss the nuanced divergences of approach, motive, process and literary product typical of Toronto's multitraditional literary culture.

This salon course is offered at an accessible price of $199. Course materials (7 books, one by each participating poet) will be available in class, for $100.

For Listings:
Influency: A Toronto Poetry Salon

What: A unique Poetry lecture/reading Salon Series, offered as a 9-week course by The University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies Creative Writing Program, for readers and writers alike.

When: September 26 to November 28, 2007, Wednesday Evenings, 7 pm – 9:30 pm.
(No class October 31.)

Who: Seven accomplished Toronto-based poets working in distinctive contemporary styles —Antonio D’Alfonso, Triny Finlay, Maggie Helwig, Robert Priest , Stuart Ross, Karen Solie, and Souvankham Thammavongsa— will appear as guest critics in this unique lecture-reading salon series, to be followed
by a half-hour live poetry reading by the poet under discussion and a facilitated Q & A.

Where: University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, at the University of Toronto St. George Campus. This session the class will be held in the U of T Pharmacy Building at the northwest corner of College & University, in “The Pod.”

Why: To celebrate and explore Toronto’s diverse poetry scene. To build appreciation and understanding for contemporary poetry.

How Much: $199 plus $100 course materials (7 books) for 9 -week course.

Register online for SCS 1777 – 003 by going to

Art blogs

Hey kids, a new blog from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council filled with news for artists...

And have you all seen Akimbo? This is a Canadian site that promotes international art. You can sign up for kimbits!

And then there's Art Fag City out of NYC.

Hmm...maybe there should be a list of all the best art blogs/sites? Good idea someone.

belladonna* has the most excellent Carol Mirakove



September 11, 7:30PM
@ Dixon Place (Bowery between Houston & Prince)
$6 admission

Harriet Zinnes is Professor Emerita of English of Queens College of the City University of New York. Her many books include Whither Nonstopping (poems), Drawing on the Wall (poems), My, Haven't the Flowers Been? (poems), Entropisms (prose poems), Lover (short stories), The Radiant ABsurdity of Desire (short stories), Ezra Pound and the Visual ARts (criticism), and Blood and Feathers (translations of the French poetry of Jacques Prevert). Forthcoming are a new edition of the Prevert and a new collection of poems called Light Light or the Curvature of the EArth. Zinnes is a contribuing editor of The Hollins Critic and as art critic a contributing writer of The New York ARts Magazine. Her poetry will be included in the September 2007 edition of Scribners The Best American Poetry.

Carol Mirakove is the author of two books of poems, Mediated published by Factory School, a collective concerned with the social and cultural reproductive function of the multiple media arts, and Occupied published by Kelsey St. Press, dedicated to experimental poetry by women. Additionally, she has authored two chapbooks, temporary tattoos and WALL, and she appears on the Narrow House spoken-word CD Women in the Avant Garde. Recent poems appear in The Brooklyn Rail, MiPoesias, and West Coast Line: Poetry and the Long Neoliberal Moment. She is currently at work on The Fiesta Project.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Very cool...

An obsession I can relate to...and I'll bet Jeff Wall can too. More here.

Lisette Model and her Successors

One of the many openings I would like to be attending the first week of the season in NY... Aperture in New York will feature Lisette Model and her Successors including work from...Lisette Model, Diane Arbus, Bruce Cratsley, Lynn Davis, Elaine Ellman, Larry Fink, Peter Hujar, Raymond Jacobs, Ruth Kaplan, Leon Levinstein, Eva Rubinstein, Gary Schneider, Rosalind Solomon, and Bruce Weber.

Monday, September 03, 2007

How visible is the average work of art?

Check out the Artforum Ad Project, an ongoing work by Jeffrey Thompson which you all can take part in.

Natalie Simpson, accrete or crumble

Ah, the Canadian west. Here the lines of geography and time are still very much apparent. History's crossroads often singular, lines in the prairie are still lines in the prairie, train lines through mountain passes are often the only cut lines other than tree lines, and of course, the lines of fire, of logging, of strip mining...but the signs and lines are still readable, they don't have the layers, the confusion of intention that one has when driving through Williams' New Jersey for example.

And the poetry? Well, there are big leaps out here, and big canvases. Did I adequately convey my delight with Mancini's text? And Walschots? These are impressive debuts. And now Natalie Simpson's accrete or crumble, one of the first titles to be published by Line Books, in association with the excellent West Coast Line.

accrete or crumble is a perfect title for a text that takes aim at the very core of language, the structure. I'm reminded of Annie Dillard's Wreck of Time where she describes watching the water lift and separate from the back of a boat, looking deeply into the molecular structure of it...the incessant and random nature. A simple image, but powerful too, and that's what Simpson is doing here, fomenting language, moving through it like water. And she achieves this with no small measure of erotics. Not unlike Walschots, but without the flogger lammy. Echoes of Margaret Christakos and Rachel Zolf are here too, but Simpson has her own approach to language. She lilts into it, slips into it, taps into the rhythms. "History lilts," she suggests, and in the speaking of it words lose meaning, or shift or change. Language is context too, and speaker, and as Mancini's Ligatures points out, it hardens or softens depending on how the vowels fall in a piece. The tongue shapes these fonts. These three poets remind us of that, and even as I type am mindful of the tongue's necessity in bringing them alive...

What can I say about the text? "Not an equal here to be seen..." metronomes, symbiotic, iteration, finding the tune in words under the pedantic and commodified familiars of them. Walking through these lines you won't feel like you're in the Eaton Centre, you won't feel like you're walking mournfully along a pine barren, or a prairie river, lamenting the meaninglessness of the human condition: here the canyon is the runnels between sentences, and there is a kind of energetic looking that is hopeful without being sentimental. This is a feature in many of the poets I have mentioned lately in fact. "bracket small ways:" the structures are meanings, associations, narratives and open to rebuilding. Indeed:
that this is a narrative
scrape of boot on concrete
squeal of heel in fuel
In a world where we are trained daily to accept language without meaning, and to support it, buy it, vote for it, collaborate in the death of it, these words in their mellifluous order, let us look again, and hear, and in the seemingly random couplings new meanings or possibilities emerge.
I work to displace you or centre you or enter you.

Shriek through naked the story was a staleness
a not-going-nowhere taking form.
It's a text that requires an adventurous reader. So if you're looking for a fully formed poem, one that leaves little to your imagination, one that tells you how to feel, how to think, when to have your epiphany, etc., it's not for you. But if you're a collaborative and open reader, there is a lot of pleasure to be had.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Donato Mancini, Ligatures

Ligature is a typographical joining of letters, and Ligatures, by Donato Mancini is an investigation of the phenomenon. It is conceptual poetry at its best: entertaining, illuminating, intelligent. Ligatures, or letter pairings, reveal much about the way we use language, not unlike the revelations Christian Bok offered us about vowels with Eunoia. Here we are looking at words and their mirror, or perhaps syllabic opposites:
Hollywood wooden denim nimbus bustier tiered
redundant Dante anteater terse seat atop operator torso
soursop soporific fictive veal align ignite iterate teem
embargo Argonaut autopsy psyche
cheddar daredevil villanelle
lemur murmur murder derange ranger angered
redbird birdbath bathos hostile stiletto
toro roof offer feral almost ostrich riches
chestnut nutrient entrée tree
reed re-educate categorical callous louse
seethe ether thermos mosque
I had a hard time deciding what to excerpt because although there isn't "meaning" so to speak, there is sound, and the sound and associations have a cumulative affect. Once the reader figures out the notion of ligature itself thee are all manner of burbling connective pleasures. Go ahead, read it out loud.

"The Starfield Series" may be my favorite, casting letters and words up to the night sky is a practice I imagine poets have engaged in for centuries. Mancini achieves the impossible:

There is a lot of fun here, and some of it, such as "The Body Remembers: an @lphabet reader," or @lphabet (see that here), while exciting to look at, didn't speak to me as much as others--22 baby mesostics for example, and "Still Lifes with Alphagetti":

“The new teachers at Lord Elgin are settling in nice, and wow
what a great bunch of people. They come

from many backgrounds and have enough initials
after their names to fill a can of Alphaghetti.”
and fun is good, fun is something lacking in much contemporary poetry that favors revelations of sympathy (often from rather unsympathetic sources!) as opposed to discovery. So yes, fun. But I wanted the whole alphabet, and I wanted it pushed to its extreme a la Christian Bok or Kenny Goldsmith. And that is really my only critique of the book. Some of this work has appeared in galleries as text based art, and one does have the sense one is looking at sculpture, and sometimes an artifact or documentation of an undertaking. Not surprising given the work looks at typography itself, meditates on varieties of typeface--Q for instance, which appears to be here an ashtray, here a side view mirror, here a nail in a coconut shell--font, filial sounds. Others are more difficult to interpret:
Clearly this is a poet with a lot of talent. I'm very curious to see where his investigations will lead him, and eager to see the forthcoming book, ?thel, also with New Star, the small west coast press who had the foresight to publish Lisa Robertson a decade ago.

I've been thinking of the whole iPod generation of poetry and its place in our contemporary world. Surely there is way that it can do more than soothe and replicate, or act as a nature preserve. Can it not inspire new ways of thinking? No one wanted to invest in that little wooden Apple computer. They couldn't imagine the use of combining a computer with a keyboard...well, imagine people.