Thursday, July 31, 2008
So much happinessand a snippet from Laynie Browne:
to burst out
What is benathe this cacauphonyand Ariana Reines:
is an unknown carraige's depth
so stepping in, you've gone below
the level of the horse's hoof.
Poplars shimmy like Liza Minnelli.I've been curious about Reines, who won the Fence book prize a while back with Cow, and recently self-published Coeur de Lion on Lulu. I heard her read somewhere, and had tingles and prickles, mixed with a certain hesitation. The kind that makes one notice and file away a tiny folded note...intriguing poet. An event that doesn't happen as often as one would think. I leave you with an excerpt from another Reines poem found elsewhere on the web:
Steeples up in the air like what you want.
Their verdigris like what I am.
Students are slimmer now; their pills are better.
A clean text is hard against the tongue, like toast well done, which is one way of accepting the doom of morning. A clot of residuals banks up in the mouth; this will have to be gotten rid of somehow. In time, a little softening. Not to bend away from a less delectable air but to find what hardens in it, or how it marks its very going as though a gong. A gong, that is, the grandeur and catastrophe of itself, itself which could be only this single peal and the hundred veilleties of its reverberations, but which can and will be more peals, each one an awful singular, a solid shiverer.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
I've mentioned Bernadette Mayer's extensive list of writing experiments before, but here it is again.
And for those who want to think about the way they approach poetry--something beyond the basic formal models--here's a useful list of questions to frame your reading from Rachel Blau Duplessis.
Still looking for interesting critical work on the lyric and eco-critical in Canadian poetry.
Monday, July 28, 2008
From Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson:
In the college library I use there are two writers whose work refuses to conform to the Anglo-American literary traditions these institutions perpetuate. Emily Dickinson and Gertrude Stein are clearly among the most innovative precursors of modernist poetry and prose, yet to this day canonical criticism from Harold Bloom to Hugh Kenner persists in dropping their names and ignoring their work. Why these two pathfinders were women, why American--are questions too often lost in the penchant for biographical detail that "lovingly" muffles their voices. One, a recluse, worked without encouragement or any real interest from her family and her peers. Her poems were unpublished in her lifetime. The other, an influential patron of the arts, eagerly courted publicity, thrived on company, and lived to enjoy her own literary celebrity. Dickinson and Stein meet each other along paths of the Self that begin and end in contradiction. This surface scission is deceptive. Writing was the world of each woman. In a world of exaltation of his imagination, feminine inscription seems single and sudden.
As poetry changes itself it changes the poet's life. Subversion at- tracted the two of them. By 1860 it was as impossible for Emily Dickinson simply to translate English poetic tradition as it was for Walt Whitman. In prose and in poetry she explored the implications of breaking the law just short of breaking off communication with a reader. Starting from scratch, she exploded habits of standard human intercourse in her letters, as she cut across the customary chronological linearity of poetry. Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), influenced by Cezanne, Picasso and Cubism, verbally elaborated on visual invention. She reached in words for new vision formed from the process of naming, as if a first woman were sounding, not describing, "space of time filled with moving." Repetition, surprise, alliteration, odd rhyme and rhythm, dislocation, deconstruction. To restore the original clarity of each word-skeleton both women lifted the load of European literary custom. Adopting old strategies, they reviewed and re-invented them.
Emily Dickinson and Gertrude Stein also conducted a skillful and ironic investigation of patriarchal authority over literary history. Who polices questions of grammar, parts of speech, connection, and connotation? Whose order is shut inside the structure of a sentence? What inner articulation releases the coils and complications of Saying's assertion? In very different ways the countermovement of these two women's work penetrates to the indefinite limits of written communication.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
In June I walked into the Monte Clark Gallery on Granville Street and experienced an odd disconnect. I was seeing a densely populated urban illumination that was obviously an unfamiliar landscape, but it seemed very familiar to me, a kind of futuristic version of Vancouver. Or, at least, to have a Vancouver sensibility, or a Jeff Wall sensibility. You can see the gallery images here. Of course the preoccupations of this photography are not specific to Vancouver (probably more Frankfurt really), but they have for me at least, come to signify a certain juncture of east/west modernism/postmodernism working class/academic aesthetic. You see these beautiful illuminated storefronts, and the muted and worn lumber of the domestic as 19th Century high-realist painting (Wall, The squid, the painted sink, etc.) But I thought, this influence surely is more international than a singular Vancouver moment. But I find out from the show notes that Greg Girard, the photographer I'm talking about, was born and raised in Vancouver and now lives in and photographs, Asia.
Now I pick up Unfinished Business, and one sees the roots of this Vancouver aesthetic--and one encounters a series of photographs by the same Girard from above, circa 1975 . The West Coast Line publication is a heady mixture of photographs, essays and an interview with luminaries such as Fred Douglas and Jeff Wall, as well as essays by people like Wayde Compton (a Hound fave). I ordered it and have been looking forward to spending time with it. But dare I say there are no women in here? Well, there are a few essays by women about the men, but good god it gets boring to always be asking the same question...where are they? That is the real unfinished business. Perhaps there were no women photographing the streets of Vancouver from 1955 to 1985? I find that a little hard to believe. It really put a damper on the whole issue.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Oliver's plain poetic speech, meant to serve as a marker of both accessibility and authenticity, represses the strangeness and vitality of language beyond its usefulness as a resource. Her language gestures at wildness, tries to terrify you like a lion at the end of a leash—but it is tame, and we never lose sight of the lion tamer's whip and chair.And for some reason I come here to Elizabeth Treadwell's Lilyfoil. A few years back I was sitting in Washington Square Park eating (very subersively eating I might add), an ice cream bar, and I had the foil wrap in my hand. It was a windy spring day, and my wrap kept brushing up against the tulips connecting, refracting sunlight and the tulip--that most oft grafted, cultviated, artificial of flowers. I pointed my lens (attached now, I believe, by very fine microbes to my right arm) and shot off a few dozen photos of the creamy foil reflecting and interacting with the tulips. That, in a sense, is the essence of Lilyfoil: replication, duplication, assimilation, association...she is aware of where she is...what she sees and what the implications might be both in a physical sense, and in language...no? Not separating out what might sully the mood. There was ick on the wrapper, it was bent, it had unfortunate wrinkles, my finger there too...
How does this fit, this next leap? Listening to Elizabeth Bishop reading from Geography III a while back I had the sense of a woman coming to terms with the limitations of her ability, or willingness to look. Two Bishop quotes to leave you with. One on Charles Olson: " I can't say I like his poems," and the last one on herself: "I've worked very little in my life."
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
From an interview here.
At bottom, the body is has never been diminished, repressed, or denied in philosophy except to the very degree of the account [exposition] that it has seemed to be ever since the gods ceased to inhabit the world. The body is the outside itself: the “inside” as outside. I said “a house that opens onto concrete,” I could say: the body, soul that opens onto matter, which is to say on the outside-of-what. Soul beside itself, and thus soul, yes! “Body” is the weight [pesée] of the soul upon us, today.
That is why I would say that the body is not so foreign [étranger] to philosophy as one would think: “body” is the strangeness that philosophy names because she discovers it, and philosophy discovers the body because the world effectively becomes a stranger to itself. That is what we call the “Occident”…That opens just as much upon the diminution and the rejection of the body as on the exaltation of the body’s power. In one way or in the other, it introduces a fundamental strangeness to ourselves, a strangeness of the world to itself. We have called it body/mind, matter/idea, exteriority/interiority…in reality, it is a matter of the distance between the same and the same, and thus sometimes rejection of one by the other, sometimes a burst [élan], escstatic from one towards the other…Strangeness is none other than this strangenes to ourselves, in ourselves. It is our torment, as tragic as it is erotic.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
We come into the world and there it is.
The sun is there.
The brown of the river leading to the blue and the
brown of the ocean is there.
Salmon and eels are there moving between the brown
and the brown and the blue.
The green of the land is there.
Elders and youngers are there.
Fighting and possibility and love are there.
And we begin to breathe.
We come into the world and there it is.
We come into the world without and we breathe it in.
We come into the world.
We come into the world and we too begin to move
between the brown and the blue and the green of it.
--Juliana Spahr, Gentle
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Sunday, July 13, 2008
July 14th, 7-11pm
Our annual Scream in High Park!
This year’s lineup features:
Wayde Compton with Jason de Couto
David W. McFadden
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Relative newcomer Vanessa Place, a criminal appellate attorney and co-founder of the magnificent Les Figues Press, offers a 50,000 word, one-sentence novel set in World War I, and often right in the trenches of it. Circumnavigating, diverging, listing, relishing in the feast of language on so many levels...it comes out, as Stein says, and after a while it doesn't have to come out ugly. This is the price paid for all the experimenting...our "crisis jubilee"....
Dies: A Sentence is a thing of beauty right from the beginning:
The maw that rends without tearing, the maggoty claw that serves you, what, my baby buttercup, prunes stewed softly in their own juices or a good slap in the face, there’s no accounting for history in any event, even such a one as this one, O, we’re knee-deep in this one, you and me, we’re practically puppets, making all sorts of fingers dance above us, what do you say, shall we give it another whirl, we can go naked, I suppose, there’s nothing to stop us and everything points in that direction, do you think there will be much music later and of what variety, we’ve that, at least, now that there’s nothing left, though there’s plenty of pieces to be gathered by the wool-coated orphans and their musty mums, they’ll put us in warm wicker baskets, cover us with a cozy blanket of snow, and carry us home...Difficult to excerpt, but my experience with it so far is really one of waves, small, very distinct movements that blend one into the other. And the language! Check this out:
there was sausage in my veins and roast pork beneath my feet, what's worst you say, you callous bastard, how can you squat there armlessly stirring a pot of camp stew and feign sudden irony, it'll get you nowhere, you know, that bit of levity one wears like a rubber nose in the face of cold terror, such weak crooked lenitive proves a man's uncrutch... (29)Not since The Waves have I been compelled to read an experimental novel through. Not just to appreciate the concept but to actually read it through...and I am still reading and thinking about what makes conceptual fiction work. And why this one seems to work so well. I've made it through to the end, but only because I had to for the sake of discussion. I'm going through again, and it's a slow, sensual pleasure and a much deserved break from various essays on the boil. Vanessa Place agreed to talk to me via email. Due to time constraints our conversation has taken place over weeks and it isn't finished either. I offer you round one.
LH: Vanessa, from what I can gather, Dies is your first published novel, but surely you have written fiction before that?
VP: This suggests Dies is fiction, which suggests interesting issues of form and institutional critique. The shortish answer is I had been working on a large project (La Medusa) and wrote Dies between drafts. I spent about 10 years writing Medusa; the first draft of Dies was written in about three months sometime around year four. I then put Dies away, and returned to the bigger monster. I did write a few odds and ends along the way, pieces published as everything from experimental nonfiction to straight poetry, but no sustained work. After finishing my final draft of Medusa, I took Dies out and polished it for Les Figues. Happily, Fiction Collective 2 is publishing Medusa this August.
LH: I should have said "prose" rather than fiction. Is your resistance one of genre, or form?
VP: I have no resistance to form, which would be like having a resistance to red clay, or lead white. Genre's the thing, foolish thing, oddly stubborn. The most avant-seeming people ask you straight-faced if you are a poet or a fiction writer. I find yes is a very good answer. It reassures the questioner, without solving the question. Rather like answering whether someone is guilty or innocent.
LH: Where did the idea for Dies come from? Was it an idea that morphed, or a project that you proposed and then fulfilled?
VP: Dies was contrapuntal. As noted, I had been working on a very big project composed of very many fragments for a very long time, and wanted a palate-cleanser. The plate-spinning of the larger work immediately suggested its opposite: a single form that falls constantly, though incompletely, apart. The sentence is the basic formal unit of prose, counted as the container of thought. Shortly thereafter, I saw a photograph of a WWI soldier crossing a field who had gotten a leg snagged in some wire, and wondered what it would be like to be suspended in that wait, anticipating the bullet or blast that you cannot escape but can only attempt to negotiate. Death marks, or punctuates, the basic formal unit of human existence; death is the basic human sentence. The formal question becomes how to kill the sentence, how to grope pathetically towards "Death, once dead there's no more dying then."
LH: The torn leg is one of the tropes that leads us through the text. It's a powerful image, and speaks to the obvious disconnect of war and carnage, but also to our investment in compartmentalization I think. Was that something you were thinking about?
VP: Fragments, I suppose, are always on the mind. They can be a bit of a cheat as they too easily serve as synecdoche, but are not a cheat in that they also incant the missing, playing the positive role of negative space. Compartmentalization is a gorgeous device for feigning wholeness, just as warrens create the illusion of connection and at least the potential for movement. Stew is good for food.
LH: “Death marks, or punctuates, the basic formal unit of human existence; death is the basic human sentence…” This is intriguing, and certainly forces one to think of text literally as body. I’m thinking too of Stein’s bumpy ride through the first world war, which one feels here. As one feels the resistance to closure. A resistance that becomes emblematic of a desire to live. Which leads me to ask, is this found text?
VP: That's a wonderful question; I wish it were, or I wish I'd thought of incorporating found elements within its folds. But aside from the Hugh MacDiarmid poem near the beginning of the book, it's all my creation. That makes me slavish to that same desire, I think.
LH: I am astounded at the deft way you shift in and out of consciousness. I'm working through the novel and I keep being distracted by my desire to pinpoint transitions. They are so seamless. How did you do that?
VP: I like to listen while I'm talking.
LH: Recently I watched Atonement, which I wasn’t intending to, and to my surprise I found the movie intriguing, particularly the war scenes in which Robbie finds himself wandering in a kind of carnivalesque masquerade. I come back to this notion of literalization, which I’m trying to work through—it comes from Marjorie Perloff and has been a site of interrogation recently by Jennifer Ashton. In any case, your novel takes us through many consciousnesses, which all seem convincing, the language, the cadence of mind but also very tangibly body. Perhaps this is why I was so convinced the text was found. It seemed like a time capsule of this moment. Then the contemporary references started to crop up etc. Is there something about the body and consciousness you wanted to say in particular?
VP: I think I say it more directly in La Medusa, and said so again in my paper for the Conceptual Poetry conference that Marjorie Perloff sponsored: we are embodied in a post-Cartesian sense. There is no split between consciousness and the sack of skin it comes in. Kenny Goldsmith’s nice mention of my paper in Harriet misses precisely this point, as the paper included not only tampon insertion instructions, but an Army marching song and a Yeats poem. Language may be found roaming about or Romanticized, but always falls with an orific splat.
LH: There are several sequences I want to speak of, the Time for one: “Time took a foil from its throat, well, I can’t answer that now can I…” (49). In her introduction to the novel Susan McCabe points out that time is animated here, and further that “hanging over it all is the despondency of the future conditional.” Perhaps this gets at the immediacy of the text, a kind of avant-terrorism (in McCabe’s words) that illuminates as it interrogates the constant creative force of thinking/remembering. It feels very reorienting, and I wonder if that is partly your intention.
VP: Constant reorientation. English is a wonderful bastard tongue, but comes up short in its verb tenses; to remedy this, I gave the future conditional a personality (like Time has its high-heeled personae), and then resorted to enjambing tenses. Time being physically reconstituted space, the enjambment forces a constant shuffle between history and geography, until, with any luck at all, there’s no divide between the two – just like real life. It’s very mimetic in that way.
LH: As you know I’m a big fan of Beckett. Could he have been a figure in Dies?
VP: He could have been its wet-nurse.
LH: I’m marveling at the language, which I’m still surprised to find isn’t found. Your text has the energy, the enjambed imagery of a found and/or sculpted text—flarf or recombined. You talk about reorientation—and yes, it is, but strangely so given the compact and often startling word combinations. It’s like oral/aural crack: “chill and cannonade,” “tinted an ill-augur’d pink,” “our bailiff will gladly comb you for nits and eggs of hate” (40), “we marveled at the knacked welter of our biceps” (66), hard to choose from so many on every page! And then there is the imagery, not just the sound: ”each cage thickly trophied with these thin and brittle scalps” (74), “he tied a length of silk to one of the sparrow’s legs” (13), “a golden turtle with alabaster mail, a mutton-mouthed lion with candlestick paws” (104). Are you a collector of sounds? Is this beadwork? Is this a Panopticon of perspective?
VP: Sounds, yes, not so much collected as petted as they trip through the pats of text. That’s what’s so ineffably lovely about writing, you know, the meat and musical motion of the thing. These examples you’ve picked are nice in that you call them oral while they are aural and textual, and still, I aim for language that begs to be put in the mouth. And I do love the panopticon, almost as much as I love the eyes of flies. But beads are a bother.
LH: “…for it’s a plain truth that color trivializes life…”(30). I loved this section—which goes from grays to granite to pale fingers a “lacquered pumice,” to a meditation on time—one of many—or Hannah Arendt navigating LA freeways?
VP: I want writing that’s so thick with sound and sense that you can see right through it to the pent little hearts within. We are a terrible and puny species. Don’t you think tatting is our grace?
all unhappy families are identical as apricots, and all men idem,
and the stone-centered quiddity of our suffering is what puts the
bread on the butter or the butter on the bread, it’s all very sad,
this bread and butter business, it’s as if we’ve given up dancing
altogether and although I find myself temporarily legless, I keep
my hops up, never say die, that’s what I say, not while there’s
still another limb of lamb, for that’s what hope dines on, and
there is hope, sure as bread pudding, you see how I retreated
there, I saw you wince at the coming shot and so I
recharacterized, I can, you know, nothing’s written in stone, or it
is, but we’re penciled in at best, we’re a sketch-book of emphatic
caprices, a homespun comfort for the quilted set, those happy
many, who damn violence with but a single hand, brightly
ribboned at the wrist, still, a passing paraphilia made Time tarry,
the two struck up an argument on the pleasures of sheet music,
for which the spoiled beauty was a heartless advocate, but Time
sneezed, categorically dismissing the whole encounter as
hoarding and wasting, what was the point, Time clucked, of
keeping track of a tock, it’s a schoolboy’s trick to note the
passing minutia, and the lady, whose nails were bitten to the
quick but to no end, begged to disagree, she said such sweet
sounds were in themselves sweetly spent, whereupon Time
puffed its bejeweled breast and bragged there was no knell that
wouldn’t lisp under his authority, but Time’s rude boast was
duly altered by me, yes, you too, Juan, you’re a genius, don’t let
them tell you any different, well, let’s be honest, we’re both
geniuses, we have that at least, that’ll give us some comfort in
the early fileted light, we’ll go out in a blaze of particulate glory,
I imagine, with an éclat of fat and a frenzy of mythomania,
More to come on Dies, and the upcoming Medusa.