Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas offering, with apologies

The chilled air stretched
cautiously under his wife.
One by one, shades

Pass boldly, full glory
of passion wither
locked heart lover's

eyes. Generous tears:
such a feeling thickly
partial, young, standing

under a dripping tree.
Other forms were near.
His soul where dwell

the vast hosts of the dead,
wayward and flickering
out into impalpable dissolving.

Light taps upon the pane:
sleepily the flakes, silver
oblique against time.

Yes, snow on every
part: plain, hills, westward,
mutinous waves falling

upon the lonely, the crooked
the spears, the barren swooned
falling faintly and faintly falling,

like the descent
of their last upon
all the living.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Good
  • A new online journal looks very promising indeed. Agora Review is publishing reviews and interviews regularly, though not poetry it seems. They are doing chapbooks and broadsides that you can download but I can't see online pages per se. Recently they have printed a series of essays from Margaret Christakos Influency Series. Great idea.
  • The Poetic Front: a promising journal out of SFU, taking advantage of the pdf format.
  • The KSW website. Kudos to Donato for creating a useful online resource in Canada.
  • The big American poetry sites: Ubu.Web and Penn Sound thank you, thank you, thank you Kenny, Al Filreis, Charles Bernstein--these resources are amazing. The Poetry Foundation comes third after those two, and yah, the PF has much, much more money. But money is only useful if its used. And used with vision. The Harriet blog is a fantastic start. How did Kenny Goldsmith create UBU? More people should be talking to him about that.
  • Kenny's avant garde podcasts rock.
  • Poem Talk has some great episodes.
  • rob Mclennan's issue of Open Letter 13, Number 6, Summer 2008 is a knock out. Great interview with Lisa Robertson, essays by Donato Mancini, Allessandro Porco, derek beaulieu, Jill Hartman and Jonathan Ball. Now can we get a sampling online please?
  • The editors that chose to do the concrete and visual poetry feature in Poetry Magazine: bravo, bravo.
  • The New Yorker fiction podcasts. I know, I know, we aren't supposed to like New Yorker fiction, but I do. I admit it. Nowhere else can one find such a high proportion of excellent, engaging fiction. Sorry people. Do I wish the editors were more inventive in terms of what they included? Absolutely. Am I not sometimes disappointed by the sameness of the worlds? The formulaic structures? Absolutely. Still, no one else consistently publishes this kind of satisfying, quality fiction. Nowhere. And the fiction podcasts make the best case for the magazine. An amazing resource. There is no Canadian publication that even comes close...oops, that goes on the bad column. But it's true.
  • Geist Magazine on the other hand, does publish consistently good excerpts and is single-handedly attempting to offer space for entre-genre work, great photography and intelligent commentary. This is a stellar publication and a bright spot on the internet. This is in fact, a magazine with vision. The editors have not only been publishing the magazine for a decade, but mentoring young Canadian writers directly and indirectly.
  • BookThug shows vision in reprinting an out of print Steve McCaffery text, Every Way Oakley, alongside its muse text, Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons.
  • Les Figues for Vanessa Place's Dies: A Sentence and Stan Apps' God's Livestock Policy and the promise of much more to come, bravo.
  • Ugly Duckling Presse for everything.
  • belladonna for everything.
Books that made an impression (in no particular order):
  • Margaret Christakos, What Stirs, Coach House 2008
  • M. Nourbese Philip, Zong!, Wesleyan/Mercury, 2008
  • Jeramy Dodds, Crabwise to the Hounds, Coach House 2008
  • Vanessa Place, Dies: A Sentence, Les Figues
  • Jason Camlot, The Debaucher, Insomniac 2008
  • David O'Meara, Noble Gas, Penny Black, Brick Books, 2008
  • Helen Humphreys, The Frozen Thames, M&S 2008
  • Tim Lilburn, Orphic Politics, M&S 2008
  • Henri Cole, Blackbird and Wolf, FSG 2007
  • Rachel Zolf, Human Resource, Coach House 2007
  • K. Silem Mohammad, Breathalyzer
  • Dawn Lundy Martin, A Matter of Gathering / A Gathering of Matter, University of Georgia Press, 2007
and a few that I'm still considering/reading:
  • Alison Pick, The Dream World
  • Jacob McArthur Mooney, New Layman's Almanac
  • David Trinidad, The Late Show
  • Rita Wong, Forage
  • Sachiko Murakami, The Invisibility Exhibit
  • Elizabeth Treadwell, Wardolly
  • Kevin Connolly, Revolver
  • Vanessa Place, La Medusa, FC2
  • Stan Apps, God's Livestock Policy
Incomplete list as half of my books are in my office at school...and I must admit that I have not read all the books I wanted to read this year either. A few in particular: Ariana Reines' Coeur de Lion, Patchen's The Walking-Away World, the collected Oppen, Silliman's The Alphabet, my vocabulary did this to me The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian, and so on.

Women Who Do! I haven't posted one of these in months...but here's a women who does. Carol Matthews, a former teacher of yours truly and an inspiring woman gets an honorary degree from Malaspina.

The Bad and the Ugly to come after Christmas, and this list will change over the coming days too. Meanwhile, Happy Holidays all. Thanks for all the great poetry.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Avant Lyric, a few observations toward an essay, part one

Anyone who has read the anthology of Canadian poetry I edited a few years back, or has read this blog must know how much I love lyric poetry. They might also know that I love avant gard poetry, and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, sound poetry, visual and concrete poetry, formal and even new formalist poetry. In short, this blog loves poetry. Not one version of poetry, not my version, or my mentor's version--if I had such a thing--no, I love poetry, or poetries. Multiple.

So what's the problem with avant lyric then? Why am I giving these particular poets such a hard time? If my perspective is all open and inclusive what's the big deal? A good question. It is perhaps not the poetry itself (though upon a closer reading there are some issues there), but the way we talk about it; the way we publish or don't publish, what we include in categories--categories in fact are bothersome, categories that make modes of writing exclusive, that brand one person as accessible and others not.

Why for instance, is someone like Michael Dickman, published three times in the New Yorker this year, accessible, and someone like Katie Degentesh or K Silem Mohammad, not? My problem is with the equations that keep some poets out of publishing circles and some poets in.

There is likely a more rhizomatic way of thinking about, and discussing poetry. There are connective aspects to the craft...and there are huge blocks about what the general public can or can not understand. And there is of course the Steinian obvervation that original is ugly and then others make it beautiful and accessible. Or others water down innovation. Or others "tone" it down.

There is, to my mind, a great deal being made of tone these days. People are offended by flarf, they hammer away at conceptual poetry with words such as "nonsense," "about nothing," "dead ends," and all matter of insults. They conflate conceptual poetry with conceit, with artiface. They link lyric poetry with painting and avant garde with conceptual art far too easily, far too simplistically to my mind. For evidence of this see comment streams everywhere....

And meanwhile there are certain poets and poetry that tend to rise above these little entanglements. Poetry that takes a little of this, or that, and goes off on its own to become somehow accessible. I'm interested in what this is. What makes this happen. I'm curious about this question of proportion. About the Michael Dickmans, and here in Canada publications such as Jeramy Dodds' Crabwise to the Hounds, for example, a highly enjoyable, well crafted book. That is, a wonderful stream of energetic images, questions, fragmented and yet thematically linked statements, bits of artifact and archival materials that document, gesture toward essay, toward catalogue, and not so much collage as work up a kind of temporary psychological, or intellectual dust-storm, a kinetic event that seems for a moment solid.

What is it about this avant lyric poetry that makes it so much more palatable than other contemporary modes? Take Kate Hall, whom I also blogged about earlier. You can find her "Little Essay on Genetics" and "The Shipping Container" online. Here are two poems that tend to "sound" more like prose poems than they look. Very quickly you get the voice, a quirky, inquiring perspective, you also get a sense of the kinds of tropes that appear frequently--even in the small sampling that I found after reading Suspended. As we see here at the end of "The Shipping Container:"
It’s true, the container
has great aesthetic value but I was really hoping
for a free watch with a rechargeable battery or
at least a better kind of nothingness.
Read as a prose line I'm quite content with such a line, but, but, but, what makes this poetry? And what makes this more coherent somehow than the flarf texts?

The text made me question (and re-question) my desire for a kind of polish that I don't ultimately believe in so much anymore. At least not in theory. The rough edges, the emphasis on the thinkingness of the text rather than its polish, those aspects speak to my current interests. I'm not sure I want a poem to tell me how to feel or what to think. I'm quite tired of poems that tuck everything in neatly in the end. Poems that don't recognize the world they are being carved out of. And in terms of the poem on the page, I found the actual layout, the presence of the poem on the page, to be both compelling and slightly irritating--a retrofitting of a kind of poetry that exists elsewhere in rangier forms. And gangly references to more conventional aspects of poetry. Why line breaks if one isn't going to do something with them?

But line breaks are not what this chapbook is about, and it is a random event that these questions are being tagged on Hall's chapbook because they are questions that have lingered in my reading for some time. And the irritation stems perhaps from the fact that they are sufficiently accentuated to notice the dissonance of them but for no apparent reason. Why? A poet like Anne Carson is very, very attuned to how things are laid out on the page. Even Short Talks, her early Brick book of short prose pieces, are meant to have space around them and they are meant to be read as "prose poems." Her insistence on having them "not" be run on one after the other, "like a grocery list," I think she said, actually dictated the entire formatting of Open Field. And with good reason: the poems were formally and consciously presented on the page, fully justified, smaller margins, etc. Nothing haphazard.

Again, this is not necessarily a problem of Hall's text, which is, as I've said, a very compelling one. It is a question of the discussion and organization of contemporary poetry and one of several questions I bring to my reading these days. One question has to do with the use of formal elements. Where and why. What are line breaks doing circa 2008? And why is there so much poetry that is not acknowledging its place on a page? This spins out into, why do so many poems seem unaware of their place in a poetic tradition? Lryic or otherwise. Where are the elements of "poetry"? What is going on here? What makes this more "poetic," than the apparently less successful modes of poetry including flarf?

The oddness of the line breaks and the lay out on the page made me look more closely, and then the closer I looked the more the poems seemed, not quite to fall apart, but perhaps to seem flimsy as poems. Yes, we have musings, and they are quirky and hold together thematically, but as Hall says in the end of her chapbook:
...I didn't want to know
that you could add up so many things
and have them equal so few.
Which, going back to my little analogy of the dust storm, begs the question, what happens after the dust settles? You tell me--is there some base line thrum under the event? Because what you have after the dust settles is all that longtime engagement not only with the ideas, the thinking itself, but the shaping of the line and the project, the well-honed craft. Or not.

One of the things lyric poetry does to my mind, aside from a providing a kind of speaking subject or subjectivity (an entity can work, no), is to provide an anchor in the poem--an emotional and intellectual anchor. That "thing," you find yourself face to face with after the dust settles. Someone, depending on your temperament, like Anne Carson or Lisa Robertson, Karen Solie or Ken Babstock, David O'Meara, Margaret Christakos, Juliana Spahr, perhaps even a newcomer such as Jeremy Dodds, or for that matter Mohammad. A good poet will leave you, not alone, but alone with your thoughts.

Your thoughts are your solace. Not the poems easy placations...

The question remains, is this lyric mode doing anything different? Is it taking risks, or is it taking the foment of the innovative response to lyric and making it cozy once more? Surprising surrealism in the texts, yes, but benign collections of ideas that go...where? Is it terribly old fashioned of me to want poetry to be about something? To go somewhere? And who is to judge where it should go? Who is to judge what a reader finds meaning in?

Further, are these lines more coherent than the flarf poems we have read on this site in previous weeks? Take Mohammad's "I said to Poetry."
poetry has died, just as easily
as junkies who spent all their money
on dope were killed
and later,
of course, I love Courtney, and her essays
have appeared in the future
some are embellished, and some are just
a blast furnace act for all the world to behold

what a sad violent fact it is
that poetry is just a bank or something
Indeed, it is a sad fact that poetry is "just a bank" or something. And that certain poetries are ascribed to have, or to evoke feelings, and meaning, whereas others are not. I'm tempted to read Ryan Fitzpatrick's piece about Katie Degentesh's Anger Scale, and Jason Christie's piece on Fitzpatrick's Fake Math, and Jordan Davis' on Drew Gardener, side by side and ask just what is the difference between flarf and this avant-lyric mode? Is it social, rather than individual in the way that Fitzpatrick describes flarf as being or back to the lone individual in the surreal world of self-referentiality? How can we be so unsophisticated in our reading as to not note these registers in tone? Or read them. So, I guess what this unruly rant is really all about is not so much a complaint as a query about this mode and avant lyric in general, and more precisely into where do we talk about our reading of poetry? One must address the question of tone, yes. As Lisa Robertson points out, sincerity is rhetoric. But perhaps more importantly we really need to unearth and investigate these assumptions around our reading and corralling of poetry.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Upon reading a recent poem in a magazine she reognizes the difference between imaginative lyric poetry and what is purported not to be real poetry

As long as the title is clearly connected to the mid-section of the poem. As long as the eating of people is clearly a metaphor. As long as the idea of human longing is signaled early, best in the first stanza. As long as the question "What do you love?" appears. As long as there is a sense of "teasing" disunity, not too teasing though. As long as "My" and "I" appear with minimal irony. As long as the reader is constantly reminded they are human, their longing is human, and given a glass of wine, a Rusty Nail, anything in stemware, they will be fine by the end of the poem. As long as intestines aren't the end of the poem, as long as we don't spend too long on on illness. As long as the doctor's appearance is not expressly for the speaker of the poem, rather say, for a brother. As long as their aren't too many specific contemporary cultural references (after all the poem is a transporter not a mirror). As long as abstract ideas are minimal, as long as metaphor is present and doesn't stretch the imagination too far. A long as God appears (or his intestine), and at least one exclamation mark. As long as the poem ties everything together in the end. As long as there is only a residue of thinking after the event of the poem. As long as the wonder lasts only as long as turning the page. As long as it contains the word "miracles," and better if it ends there. Yes, best if it ends there.

Another here...it seems we are back to the question of the avant lyric poem.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chap book Round Up 2

JAKE KENNEDY, HAZARD

Hazard (2006) won the bp Nichol chapbook award, and for good reason. As with Jay Millar and Kate Hall, this is a beautiful artifact. Not quite the same technical quality as a Greenboathouse chapbook, which can be a year in the physical making, but it is mindful of its materiality, a distinction that I suspect will make it impossible for the book (or chapbook) to actually die out (as the fear mongers are wont to propose). Those of us who love books, love books, and while we might appreciate the access to them online as etexts etc., I highly doubt we'll want to let go of physical libraries and pages and editions and covers. In fact, it may be that we become more concerned with the object itself.

Kennedy's chapbook reveals an engaged reader and lover of books. One who interacts directly with others: Balzac, Rossetti, Mandelstam, Cahun, Beckett, Lowry, Acker to be precise. The poems range from visual cheekiness to narrative biographical interventions, dramatic structures to prose poems. Here from a three part response to Beckett:
In this space the words do not meet their
destinations. The words start out alright
but they end up turning into other things.
or from another variation:
My art is for shit. This really
hurts. I am hurt. Do you like this? It seems
there is no division between I-can-speak-
to-you and I-can-kill-you. I can't say I like
it.
Having only recently met Kennedy and discovered the chapbook I wonder how I missed it? But as this line-up of mini-reviews suggests, there is more compelling work out there than one can reasonably comment on. And when commenting on, one begins to see strands that are of larger interest than the immediate text one is faced with. This new avant-lyric mode that both Christie and Fitzpatrick point out. What makes this avant-lyric mode work? What makes it distinct from flarf? If I compare a Degentesh poem, or a Fitzpatrick poem to a poem from Hall or Millar for example, or this one from Kennedy? Tonally? My musing undercurrent is twigged here, but in a good way. Very curious to see what is next from Monsieur Kennedy.

SAWAKO NAKAYASU, INSECT COUNTRY (B)

Insect Country (2007) is a tiny chapbook from Dusie, a small press based in Switzerland that has been publishing fabulous projects, many of which are available for download as pdfs. While I constantly bemoan the state of the Canadian online literary presence (or lack of), one is reminded of the prevalence of the gift economy in the avant-garde writing community where so much is made available at no cost. Perhaps because unlike the SoQ stream, there is an understanding that poetry isn't about money, or isn't *so* much about money, or about single careers.

The prose pieces in Insect Country feel more prose-like than other pieces I've read from Nakayasu involving ants. The two that were included in a recent Filling Station section on American poets, for example:

Box with arms and butterflies

A large box with many arms reaching out of just as many holes in the box. The arms reach out and grab butterflies, deposit them back in the box. The butterflies go out the holes, some go so far as to fly away forever, while some get grabbed and returned to the box. The arms look like they just might try to leave the box as well, if they only had bodies to take along.
There is something so visually surprising in this one: the butterflies go out holes, the chaos of entrapment and dispersal, the many arms that remind me of Lydia Davis' "Cockroaches in Autumn"( which you can hear, Davis read here). ("The forest of moving legs..." What a line.)

You can read more poems from Sawako here in Coconut, and check out her blog, Insect Tutelage, here. Nakayasu has been working on the Ants for several years now, and when they surprise, it's so satisfying.

AMANDA EARL, ELEANOR

I discovered Earl's chapbook in an envelope filled with chapbooks and broadsides in a mail-out from rob mclennan out of Ottawa. Receiving such a pile of texts can be daunting; difficult to know how to handle so much. derek beaulieu, who like mclennan, publishes others constantly, has a great system: he has files for friends and students and publications that don't necessarily speak to him are quickly passed on to someone who will appreciate it. My own desk is often laden with piles of read, half-read, want to comment on, when will this be commented on, piles.

Earl's chapbook has been in the "want to comment on," for some time. The fragments of this narrative concern Eleanor of Aquitaine, referenced in the title and in the epigram at the beginning: "They left me word, these men and their ties, but they did not level me." After years of resisting this impulse in poetry now I can't get enough of it. But not all fragmented poetry works, or is satisfying. What is it about one text that seems to be at a level of interrupting itself that shakes the very idea of its being on a page, but holds together enough to offer a willing reader a way in and through? From the beginning of this text I am quite taken: "all night on a curb is this where you expect to find me/music and tin cans rattle." There is something musical here. Something that, like Jeanette Armstrong's "Winds," operates like wind chimes, notes hitting and resounding. Earl's text jousts images and expectations, mundane glasses emptying, histories, feuds, mostly self-referential, domestic images, but still enough surprise here to keep me grasping through. Visually the text reminds me not of Armstrong, but of Rachel Zolf's earlier work, as well as parts of Zong! the brilliant new book from M. Nourbese Philip.

The fragments of this woman's life come together even as "Yesterday fused glass shatters." The gaps are effective:

seep ssssssssss like ssssssssssssss october a hurried sssssjune heatwave ended

and

ink runs dry ssssssssssssssmy thraoatmy throat without beer

talk to me you cannot hear

or you choose not to

Earl has a book out from BookThug which I'm now very curious to see. As well, I would like to hear this text read.

And there are a few newcomers--undergraduates to be precise, both published by Kevin McPherson Eckoff.

HEATHER MCINTYRE, TWO HAIKUS

Tiniest chapbook award goes to Kevin McPherson Eckoff for his sweet little production of two haikus from a student reader at a recent literary festival in Kelowna. No bigger than a gift tag with two pages.

HELEN HAJNOCZKY

Hajnoczyky is an undergraduate at the University of Calgary where they have Nod, an excellent undergraduate publication.
A Portrait of Gertrude Stein

I find her incredibly irritating. I’ve read her before in other classes and I just find her so annoying, and I think that if I understood better what she was trying to do or why she writes this way that maybe I would find her less annoying, but she is so irritating because I really just don’t understand what she is doing, and if I just understood her intentionality then I think I would like her more, but I find her really irritating because I don’t understand what she’s doing and so it’s just really annoying, which I think I would not feel as much if I knew what she was doing, but it’s just so irritating.
This is, if I recall correctly, a poem based on fellow classmates' responses to Stein. That's okay. If they're complaining, she has done her job, has gotten in there. And Hajnoczyky has caught the experience of coming to such strange shores brilliantly.

More and more chapbooks to come.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Virginia Woolf reads K. Silem Mohammad

Formalism Doesn’t Kill People

A curious poem this morning. You will note the title above from a poet I have never met. Strange tensions from the beginning. I am assuming, given the tone of the poem that the poem in question isn’t what the poet thinks of as “formalism.” I’m thinking too that Eliot might signify formalism. Eliot, Yeats, Byron, and down. Though what might formalism mean now? And please, tell me poets aren’t writing the same as the old poets? What would be the point in that? Though with all of these many poets zinging lines toward each other in the air, with a click, what does being a poet even mean?

But back to the poem, which suggests, if I’m reading my irony correctly, that formalism is the opposite of this poem. This poem starts with a series of observations. Small ball-bearings that go forward and backward.
a brave vastness (faith)
dovetails with concerns
of what music is
A poem like a necklace, gathering momentum. About nothing it might seem. Tiny snapshots calling out to each other. A world I have no idea how to enter. A scrambled world of anachronism and quotation marks. Tonal. Exemplary. But I like the “brave vastness” contrasted with “faith,” clearly lacking, and mocking. I like dove tailing in with concerns and music—a natural pairing? What a strange meshing together of words without, it seems, attention to meaning:
thinking being analogous
to “breakthroughs”
turns them into formalist armatures

abstract or optical effects bend words
to painting’s non-retrospective
melting plaid center
It does make one reconsider each word. “Armature,” for example, a word that has morphed from meaning “armour,” or "arms," from the Latin armatura, to suggest a motor, or coils in a motor, how they are structured one assumes, to create energy. So the poem once again, speaks to the aspects of formalism, which clearly is suggested here relies on structure to create coherence. The “abstract or optical effects” create these non-retrospective melting plaid centers. The poet does seem to shake out these words and render them fresh, crisp, more themselves if that is possible. What is a plaid centre? An intersection? A meeting place? Something non-retrospective must be non-representative, the new formation playing on the many layers of realism and romanticism laden with the word “representation.” As I once said of Donne, this poet “leaps into poetry the shortest way.” This poet offers a new kind of poetry: punctuated, severed. The old associations having been lopped off. No whiff or romanticism here. And yet I feel something under the posturing, some kind of earnestness that seems profoundly familiar. As if, by squinting into the future we had seen such poetry occurring. And we had, without knowing it, been longing for this very thing.

Where at first I felt lost facing lines such as “sense of the Infinite/an image obtains a moss,” I quickly became excited. “An image obtains a moss,” is an unusual construction, but it is very clear too: and not stagnant. I am reminded of the pompous American who liked to eat and produce words at an alarming rate and was quite full of herself. Gibberish yes, but not without intelligence. Made me feel seasick to read her. As if suddenly I was floating high above, looking down at my ridiculous, grounded self. Look up, look up! I wanted to shout—Words need not be anchored.

Now, if it would only own that it takes itself a tad more seriously than it wants us to think...and if only formalists would take themselves a little less seriously. Good lord, as if they are out in the trenches protecting poetry from the senseless hordes of avant-garde flarfists...as if lyric poetry is at all under threat!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Chap book round up part one: Millar and Hall

JAY MILLAR, WOODS/PAGES

Jay Millar is quickly becoming one of Canada's most ambitious publishers of poetry, with an impressive and diverse line-up including Elizabeth Bachinsky, Lisa Robertson, Nathalie Stephens and most recently, Steve McCaffery and Gertrude Stein. He is also the author of the small blue (2007), False Maps for Other Creatures (2005), Mycological Studies (2002), The Ghosts of Jay MillAr (2000), and this chapbook from Greenboathouse (see interview). Millar offers us a slender affair concerned with looking and nature:
How to desire that crackle trees half
empty of leaves crackle? A mind that
will run their minimalist instincts
through an environment only to
build nests in the whole of the sky...
These poems feel organic in an unsettlingly contemporary way, crafted from ideas of leaf and wood. They are couplet and free formed, they have "lingual tics," long for names, for sound, "the foliage scoots/a leaf scream." This is familiar poetic territory. Particularly here in Canada where despite our communal dissatisfaction with the likes of Atwood and her Survival tome, we are still very much face-to-face with weather, temperature, a constant reminder of our tentative clinging to the earth, the temperatures about to dive into the well-below zero zones.

But "eco" is everywhere at the moment, and with good reason. The escalating climate crisis demands we rethink our relationship not only to technology and culture, but to nature. So yes, the "rotten tree-falls" the "toe nudge," the "trajectories mammals/insects and birds weave" we are here. How do we think about it? How does all of this embodiment play out in LANGUAGE?
Patient for lines, impatient language asks of trees
who has spoken lately? Who has shed their leaves in

this long tradition of the best of the worst to
become the long arm the world casts out: great shadows

deliberately tedious, meticulously
limitless? I must ask who draws which attention

from who. Who owns the woods when the owls start to call
themselves a play on words: that first hoot a hollow

the second fills in for the third's sheer panic. The
wind dies away. Warm softness. Imagine the sound.
These poems are not offering a kind of transformation of these things it lists (See Gary Barwin, below), rather, more like the lyric nature poetry it seems to echo, it is a kind of marking, or witnessing. The language is not innovative, not flarfing, not googling, it insists on a language one might describe as romantic and yet there is a twinge in the perspective, no? Something slightly outside of that familiar kind of seeing. A movement toward this avant-lyric, a subject of much rumination, notes on which should appear some time soon.

KATE HALL, SUSPENDED
Tracking a package can be so easy.
It can be traced backward from any point to
the source. Other times, my watch
falls off my wrist and I don't notice
until I reach and it's gone.
You are like an old cotton sweater--
your bones clasped together by ligaments
slowly losing shape and deteriorating...
Kate Hall, Greenboathouse, 2007

Jay Millar's chapbook was the last to come out of Greenboathouse, Hall's the second last. Like Woods/Pages, Suspended is a testament not only to Jason Dewinitz' technical skill, but his (and Aaron Peck's) ability to choose intriguing texts. Printed on "Rising Bristol Vellum," with a handmade "Tibetan wrapper, cover & flyleaf," the book feels good in hand. And the text doesn't disappoint--at least not the first time through. Suspended is a short thesis in seven parts, both surreal and lyrically grounded, echoing, at its best, Lydia Davis and Anne Carson (Short Talks). "Bats basically scream/until they hear their voices..." the sequence begins. There is much to chew on here, strange mail, "epistemic hunger," many suggested statements of fact: "we'll begin in a vacuum with/artificial tools," statements of the absurd: "nothing will be/ a substance to suspend years of facts..."

Hall has been called a powerful poet, and I think that is partly due to the assured investigations and weavings-in of thinkings and poetries while maintaining a kind of accessible "lyric" base. There is something very welcoming about this particular pitch, and at first read it caught me as well. But there is something jagged too--which became a jumping off point for a set of larger questions that arose for this reader, not only about Hall's poems, but a strand of "new lyric" or "avant lyric" poetry that is becoming more and more common (what does this look like in Canada? Is it different from the neo-liberal poetry described below?). One needs to take a serious look at that strand of poetry alongside other contemporary lyric modes as well as the much disdained flarf, Langpo and all the rest...but I'm going to take that conversation and set it aside for the moment because it is probably not fair to pin it on a first chapbook which in many ways is completely satisfying and rife with promise.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Jordan Davis reads Drew Gardner

Fixing a Real Phantom Limb

with a special glove
fits real life to a private message
the abominable pixels
that help people with snow.

a lifetime watch battery for allowance
encyclopedia soda,
name and profession,
I should be mimicking things
context is vinyl
I am, but that's not me.

refill packs drive home all night,
sneezing and snorting into everyone's self.
still at work, I eat bunnies and rainbows for breakfast
real estate on the wall of harping on it,
not because I don't have freedom
what I have is a quick run around with the Hoover.

the thing about me
is that I enjoy personal experience
I don't know where the nearest video shop is,
and for some reason
I can never bring myself to drink on my own blood.
I like sunlight.
analyze it for me.

Drew Gardner

*

For the last oh let's arbitrarily say forty years the main way art has earned the right not to be destroyed by the so-called real world is to a) annex some previously anesthetic territory or b) engage in whatever pendulous dialectic is happening in the art world in such a fantastic and vulgar way that admirers of sheer nerve everywhere take note. In his role as a chief engineer of flarf, Gardner has been viewed as precisely the kind of militarist any definition of avant-garde would imply. But as "Fixing a Real Phantom Limb" demonstrates, Gardner is a cuddler, not a punisher.

Wide reading in the key psychology texts of the last midcentury -- Karen Horney, D.W. Winnicott, S.J. Perelman -- informs Gardner's therapeutic approach to the lyric. An empath, he is acutely aware of pain and ignorance as motivating factors in your basic everyday human foibles. He begins the poem by segueing directly from the title -- is the traditional opening of the poem the lack Gardner is mediating here? In any case, the tone is simultaneously disorienting and reassuring. The scenario in which pixels "help people with snow" is specious yet plausible, just as the contrast between real life and a private message points out a chasm that, whether or not it really exists, slows the reader down a moment.

These microdistortions will be familiar to anyone with more than passing exposure to John Ashbery's work, and Gardner did study with the master. But he is not merely borrowing Captain America's costume here. Where the traditional Ashberyan folkdance inevitably dislocates the reader's attention, Gardner recalibrates it, returning again and again to the not-quite-legible activities observations and aversions of a stable first person, albeit one who eats bunnies and rainbows, performs menial tasks, ventriloquizes hippies.

This eternal return is prompted by the sense of responsibility and obligation that leaks out of the poem in places. Horney has written extensively of the trauma the ego sustains in the face of unreasonable expectations which it experiences as "shoulds." "I should be mimicking things," Gardner writes, letting us know he both knows the rules and knows how to cooperate with and subvert them. As a moment in a poem it's probably a little over-compressed, nevertheless I take "context is vinyl" to be an affirmation of the old-school premodernist value of explaining what one is talking about and why, just as audiophiles have come out swinging for predigital recording techniques. Gardner affirms his alliance with the folkways -- "I am" -- even as the poem's speaker asserts an independence from purism and programmatic behavior -- "but that's not me."

We hear more about this underused "I," this so-called "me" and their dialogue with the lyric a few lines later. Where the poet is expected to provide an engaging first-person experience, Gardner's speaker admits to liking that kind of thing -- the experience, that is, not providing the depiction. As conscientious objection goes, it's cheerful, fannish even. Gardner even comes close to ending the poem with the standard American poetry move of shifting to a natural phenomenon, such as the beauty of light. But where that tactic is ordinarily deployed in hopes of simulating a feeling of sublimity, of submerging the reader into the writer's mastery of the grandiose, Gardner instead offers to share the experience, appealing to the reader to come closer, to tell the speaker, the poet, what it's like.

I don't know what "encyclopedia soda" is, what "refill packs" are. I too am unaware, now that Blockbuster has imploded never mind Kim's, of the location of the nearest video place -- unless we can count Netflix or hulu.com? And I am baffled what the Missy Elliot prepositional phrase "drink on" is doing next to my own blood. But I recognize the feeling of wanting to recycle all this trash into something functional, to harness ambient confusion and hostility as the energy sources of the future. More importantly, these strange phrases make me smile more and more as the poem goes on. They do not have that old-poem smell. They are not ugly. They surprise me. They indicate that art may be happening. It is.

"Fixing a Real Phantom Limb" appears in the eighth issue of The Hat, which I co-edit with Chris Edgar, and which is arriving in December. You can preorder a copy at http://hatpoetry.com/.

Jordan Davis was born in New York City, where he lives and works. He has written about poetry on-line for such audience-estuaries as UBPoetics, Subpoetics, Subsubpoetics, PaperMag.com, Nytoday.com, Equanimity, Constant Critic, and Slate. More information about Jordan Davis is available on the internet: http://www.jordandavis.com/
Photo by Alison Stine Davis.

See Ryan Fitzpatrick on Katie Degentesh and Jason Christie on Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Governor General calls a Time Out

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper digs in and the leader of the Liberal party, the opposition, and now the "Coalition," tries to get himself back in focus....

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Chris Piuma reads Catherine Daly

Three nice poety things about Catherine Daly’s Vauxhall

1. From “Art Art Art”:

Is art a way?
A truth?
A light-
well?

—Oh no, more poetry about poetry, more art about art. But yes, art is a way. Yes. OK? It was a rhetorical question, and we knew the answer. Is it the way? No, it is a way. (When is art not a way? When it’s away.) As a way, it is a creation of truth; by the way, it is a well of light. Well? Right? Isn’t it? Let’s say we call truth the satisfying connection of A to B. It is satisfying, in a way that we call “true”. Because we can connect it, which is like being able to explain it. This doesn’t tell you anything about this book. This is a nice poety thing about poetry. But this particular book is relentless and baldfaced about its drive to connect. It is a manual of connections, or an exhortation to connection, written in slinky steps.

2. I have been reading rhetorical manuals lately, starting with Aristotle’s On Rhetoric. There is this idea that the orator should have a mental commonplace book of maxims, of ideas or phrases which “everyone knows”. The orator takes one of these ideas – “Life’s a game; play it as it lays” – and drops it into the situation at hand, thus reassuring the audience that its native wisdom is respected. The better orator can twist the maxim, put new wine into the old skin, and get a new win from the old skein. Or from the old scheme? Vauxhall is the better orator working without any situation at hand, and weaving with whatever tattered yarn you offer. Like, what, golf:

Anything with a ball
any game Life’s a game,
lends itself to puns.
fun golf is serious.

Play it as it lays,
“A young woman with long hair and a short
white halter dress walks…”
Golf is a game where the ball lies poorly
and the players well. People lie.

(“Golf”)

N.B. People do lie! Are the long (hair) and the short (dress) of it as seductive as a well-turned phrase that revolves around opposites? Even if it’s about golf?

3. But: Vauxhall is named after the long-gone gardens, and if we don’t want to ascribe too much truthiness to this rambling bramble of words and ideas, to the constant flickering of connections, well, we can enjoy the “very pretty contrived plantation”. It makes for a nice walk. But then again, is it the walk, or what we do when we walk? Golf is a good walk spoiled, after all, but some people seem to like it. Then again, people lie! And consider, from “Hook and Ornament”:

You’re coming to town.
How still we see it lie.
(adore you)

Chris Piuma spent many years in Portland, Oregon, where he helped run Spare Room and its ongoing reading series. He now studies medieval languages in Toronto. His poetics blog, Buggeryville (buggeryville.blogspot.com) still exists. His small and psuedoephemeral chapbooks, Exercises in Penmanship and [On January thirty-first...] were published. He takes requests.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Neoliberal Poetry?


Engrossed, originally uploaded by The Badger Revolution.

Could she be reading a book of poetry? Or possibly the Neoliberal Poetry Broadside? You can find it here. Where I got mine I can't tell you. It slipped out of a pile of chapbooks I've been trying to organize and review the one's I can review so who knows where I got it. I was happy to find it though, if mildly irritated by a line or two. Mostly I was amused. Though it made me wonder whether it's "neoliberal poetry" that has been making me so cranky of late. Wading through a whack of poetry (reviews to come) I became very irritated. So much posturing and so little to say.
Here is the typical language of branding: “Here’s what it takes to be the CEO of Me, Inc. . . . the main chance is becoming a free agent in an economy of free agents, looking to have the best season you can imagine in your field, looking to do your best work & chalk up a remarkable track record, & looking to establish your own micro equivalent of the Nike swoosh.” Under neoliberalism, the contemporary poetry scene–especially the “innovative” scene – has succumbed to branding...
Though no branch of poetry is immune. The "I just write what I feel" school which is "tantamount to the quiver of a jellyfish-like sentimentality..." Yes, and no feeling at all...if a poem is going to feel, let it feel. I can take it. Make it intense. If it's going to be all cerebral go for it. Make it way out there. Make me have to spend a weekend reading... Is it wrong to want a poem to say something? "Which one of your little piggies will you chop off first," the pamphlet asks, "because there are just two positions in the neoliberal order:
Cynicism: the willingness to cut your feet to order
Infantilism: the happy-talk that blinds the other 4 piggies to their predicament
This is a broadside out of Brooklyn. A send up many things, the MFA grad scene, the way in which we talk about poetry, the earnest battle lines, the painful Q&As, the courtly aspects, the characters--Deconstruction Dick etc.

We do take ourselves seriously. More on this when I get to the larger questions lurking in the back of this pamphlet, and my irritation.

There is a pdf, or html version here.

Neoliberal Poetry, Chris Alexander, Kristen Gallagher, Matthias Regan, Brooklyn March, 2007