Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Puppet Wardrobe

A Wall (The Lyric I)

Whence cometh the urge to gussy it all up? What the American footballers call “piling on.” That too-too dysenterious evacuation opposed to the anemia of “plain speech.” (Medicinal antonym-mischief warning.) Here’s a poem out of Daniel Tiffany’s Puppet Wardrobe, a new book in Jon Thompson’s on-charging Free Verse Editions, print’d by Parlor Press:

Girls wear nightclothes and sometimes sleep
in liquid form, en route. Black baby grand.
Tart, blue-blind, plum-like fruit of the sloe,
she missed her second fitting. Were it not so.

Beuys calls from Hamburg. Evening. Light dying.
Though she may wander from her own kind.
Speculation leaked to rival. Car waiting.
Key where she said it was, as per flame job.

Swiss plates & papers missing—fuckwad—two days
to go, car trapped inside Germany. Prophetic dream
according to the place. Back under Mistress A.

The thief must know me. Descend on Baltic port
for mezzotint. Some trick to it. Try giving
it away on the streets. Must make night ferry.
A kind of fraught “fourteener” of the spy-caper movie set? Interpol and art intrigue? One is rather dubiously reminded of some of Auden’s short narrative-besmirch’d pieces, something like “The Secret Agent” (“Control of the passes was, he saw, the key / To this new district, but who would get it?”) Or, the abrupt staccato rhythms and the rather recherché details (“Baltic port / for mezzotint”) point vaguely in the direction of Hart Crane, say, “Brazen hypnotics glitter here; / Glee shifts from foot to foot, / Magnetic to their tremolo. / This crashing opéra bouffe, / Blest excursion!” (Though, Crane mired such histrionics in the myth-historical, whilst Tiffany’s example here is on the order of the bibelot, the bijou, the toy? An essentially functionless machine made out of words?) Or, old beasts of the burdensome ’seventies like myself ’d claim Mick “Shatter’d” Jagger’s the cantilever hoisting the poem forth (“I can’t give it away on Seventh Avenue.”)

Okay. There’s a sure hand here, emphatic control (“Must take night ferry”), a story (even if mostly irretrievable in its particulars, relying on what Crane calls “the dynamics of inferential mention”) getting told, nods of acknowledgment to the “Old Masters”—why’m I so jumpy around the piece? (Lord knows I am no Beau Geste for the “plain.”) Stumbling through an interview with Charles Wright yesterday, the interviewer mentions how Wright’s written (in Quarter Notes) that “there is no great art without great style,” and that “all major writers are great stylists.” Something I nod agreeably with. (And I would certainly say Tiffany’s a stylist, identifiably—he is pushing the language hard in a recognizably gussy direction. Not a definition of style, though one way of attaining it.) Wright resorts to allegory in answer to a question about the “risk” of such a push. He says:
Zen master Saiso wrote, “Before I began studying Zen, I saw mountains as mountains, rivers as rivers. When I learned some Zen, mountains ceased to be mountains, rivers to be rivers. But now, when I have understood Zen, I am in accord with myself and again I see the mountains as mountains, rivers as rivers.”
And points to the need, finally, for a homely kind of poem: “egoless,” something to “fit in your back pocket,” “iconized and objectified,” “apprehensible.” “Samuel Becket says it definitively—“Fail. Fail again. Fail better.”

I put Wright’s words under such scrutiny largely because I consider him one of the “gussiers up,” align’d with Tiffany in that sense. I read Tiffany with such caution (and difficulty, that spooky difficulty of mirror-writing) because there’s an undeniable kinship in the work to my own (insufferable) ditties, a letting-go to the temptings of the showy, the lingually-besotted, poems that run on grease, spraying grease. Which is to say that Tiffany’s book gets the brunt of my own doubts—unfairly. Here’s another poem:

Powdery timbers
jutting from beds of marl
and trash, columns
blurred to brackish lines
diced in a foot of water.
Greetings, old business,

ham hound crave:
our guide strolled back
barefoot into the haze of the ruined arena.
He drew a map in the dirt.
Heard something, say a woman and a dollar.
Ain’t said a mumbling word.

The drone of a lumber scow
rose from the estuary:
the listless, the lollers
stirred in the shade,
each face a bead in a blackberry’s comb,
glazed, glowing like a wick.
Easier to see here Tiffany’s facility for metaphor and accuracy of seeing. Particularly in that “diced”—how wavelets’ll slice up a reflect’d post. There’re tamer things in Puppet Wardrobe—some terrific list poems, for example. There’re, too, wilder—a series of loopy playlets with characters like “Flower-de-Luce,” “Plank o wude,” “Tragic Mulatto,” and “Lord Byron.” They say things like “How dare she!” And “Ale-Hoof, Candy Tuft, Sauce Alone.” And “Whatsoever bloweth on it / will give the picture / of whatsoever he is / naturally addicted unto.” And “Consult the Bee Maidens.”

I note one book in the “Program” of source-texts in the book’s back matter: the Catherine de Zegher edited Prinzhorn Collection; Traces Upon the Wunderblock (The Drawing Center, 2000). Art brut drawings and writings out of patients at the Psychiatrischen Universitätsklinik in Heidelberg collect’d by German psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn (1886-1933). What the onslaught of language’ll do to one nowadays, nous sommes tous les débiles mentals. As Tiffany’s got it: “The rime fell thick and we was covered / white as a sheet when we got up.”

Work by Josef Forster
(Prinzhorn Collection)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


A Plug

Judder. “We judder’d long and collapsed.”

Snow havocking the air. Reading late, tiring of William James’s interminable mopery. Turning to Dickinson’s letters for a little spunk. “I regret to inform you that at 3. oclock yesterday, my mind came to a stand, and has since then been stationary.” (New paragraph, impeccable comic pause.) “Ere this intelligence reaches you, I shall probably be a snail.” Enjoy’d, too, editor Thomas H. Johnson’s quoting of James Russell Lowell (in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton): “I hold that a letter which is not mainly about the writer of it lacks the prime flavor. The wine must smack a little of the cask.” (Looking to amass a mighty juddering locomotive of quotables arguing for a return of the bad-ass “self” to American poésie.)

William James’s is the era of neurasthenia or nervous exhaustion, identify’d by some as a peculiarly American disease. Effect of “wasting fevers, exhausting wounds, parturition, protracted confinement, dyspepsia, phthisis, morbus Brightii, and so forth.” Led in turn to “dyspepsia, headaches, paralysis, insomnia, anaesthesia, neuralgia, rheumatic gout, spermatorrhea in the male and menstrual irregularities in the female.” Mistook for “anemia.” Symptoms included “cerebrasthenia [exhaustion of the brain], myelasthenia [exhaustion of the spinal cord], sick headache [migraine], physical hysteria, hay fever, cerebral irritation and morbid fear.” Cure: “regular protract’d juddering.”

At the age of ten Charles Sanders Peirce, philosopher and “founder” of semiotics, wrote a story called “The Library.” It begins: “Charles was one day sitting in his room when suddenly he heard a rustling noise and looking up he saw all the books moving from their places and coming toward him.”

And, puttering around looking for a man by the name of Benjamin Paul Blood, misfit genius of the age, I come up with a document titled “The Poetry of the Alphabet.” Detailing “the forces . . . the letters exert to-day, in English, in our latitude, in our stage of culture, &c., &c.” Blood:
I assert . . . that the sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet have a special aptness in suggesting the qualities opposed to them in the following schedule; and that the poetry, the proverbs, the slang, and the common talk of our people approve this assertion:
ā. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Vastness, space, plane.
ă. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Flatness.
b. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Beating, bearing, bringing.
c. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(Soft) as s; (hard) as k.
d. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(Final) solidity, completeness.
d. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(Initial) violence.
e. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Concentration, convergence.
f, h, t. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Ethereality.
g. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Hardness.
i. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Thinness, slimness, fineness.
k. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Fineness of lights and sounds.
l. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Metallic, chill, polish.
m. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Monotony.
n. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Denial, contempt.
o. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Solemnity, nobility, devotion, volume.
p. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Voluptuousness.
r. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Roughness, vibration.
gr. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Grit.
s. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Moisture.
sh. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Confusion.
u. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Crudity, absurdity, humor.
v. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Vehemence.
z. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Haze, dreamy confusion.
Alors, judder, according to Blood, exerts a slender, crude-humorous, solid force converging in rough shaking. “Makes sense to me.”

Regarding the assertions, Blood concludes: “That they are trivial it cannot be denied; that they are fanciful is nothing against them. They would go but little way in the construction of a great poem; they indicate but the A B C of poetry, at the best; and the admission of one half of them might cause the whole of their little science to be discarded hereafter; (although rhyming is a much simpler science and lives vigorously though cheaply notwithstanding.)”

William James, c. 1863

Monday, January 29, 2007

May Day

Red Gate

Here are two contiguous parts of a Robert Kelly poem titled “The Slates of La Borne.” Writings out of Kelly’s newest book, May Day, printed (impeccably, with sturdy matte plum-color’d covers and a fine photograph of Kelly insert’d for the final leaf—the design recalls early Black Sparrow books) by Parsifal Editions in 2006. (Parsifal Editions is the “book wing” of the newish and terrific Modern Review, edited by Pietro Aman and Simone dos Anjos in Richmond Hill, Ontario, in Canada.) Kelly:

How far will numbers take him. He’s always asking with his hands lifting and lifting. What time is it or what’s the temperature tell me in Fahrenheit. So many w-words or as the Romans would say so many q’s. Numbers are never a road. Numbers are never anywhere.

Never anywhere to begin with so where could they go? Numbers have no somewhere else. That is why people weigh things, to learn the numbers of the hereness of each thing.

Numbers are never somewhere else, numbers have no else.

Numbers are more like a mustache. A mustache itself is like a dog on the lawn. And a lawn is always a kind of remembering, isn’t it. Answer me. Let the stupid barbell fall.


A beeline from the terrace of “Les Mouflons” past the steeple of the little church in La Moussière leads to the left or eastern corner of La Frasse, elevation 1220 meters, simple as a chess pawn in shape, that lifts south of us and hides the hamlet of Essert-Romand where many years ago a girl in a red dress leaped over a stone fence on her way to bring us all our portions of la tartiflette, the cherished casserole of the region.
Is it the “slates” (ardoises in French, ) or the fine veeringness of the prose poems that recalls Pierre Reverdy, author of Les Ardoises du Toit (Roof Slates)? (“La Borne” likely refers to an ancient village of potters and ceramicists in the Cher.) There’s a kind of bliss-bitten abandonment to “l’imaginaire” here that I associate with the French (and with some francophilia’d-up U.S. writers—“Lines” could, for example, conceivably be a poem by Ron Padgett, had it only a few semi-ironic over-excitable exclamation points there at the end.) “Scales,” with its tiny velocities and repetitions ’s surely got a little of Gertrude Stein buttressing it, too.

Robert Kelly’s assuredly a prolific writer, and one with rather incredibly various results. I am not sure I’d be capable of pulling the Kelly poem by the scruff of its neck out of a police line-up of contemporary pieces—a “problem” in an age that equates identifying with comprehending (just eavesdrop in the museums a little: “I knew it! An Odilon Redon!) Meaning, discerning reader, categorying without reading ain’t “optable.” Kelly’s is an unrejecting and restless intelligence, working in all directions, one that admits its variability: one untitled poem in May Day begins “The day I stopped sounding like myself / and became a rough draft of somebody else.” He writes, in a prose poem titled “Lovecraft”: “He tries by over-writing to induce nausea in the reader—more especially the readerly reader, the sage friend he yearned for all his life. His overwriting is meant to produce the same sort of vertiginous unease, disorentation, nausea, horror that his characters are experiencing. Death by prose.” Two senses of over-writing, hyphen’d and not—one, “graphemes . . . consonant combinations not found in English . . . scary, Etruscan, from the crepuscular phase of language”; the other, sheer volume.

Kelly, of course, with Paris Leary, rather famously edited A Controversy of Poets in 1965, daring to put the divisive post-anthology wars citizenry of the poetic republic into one volume. Now, forty years later, it is noteworthy that—whilst there are those loudmouths who’d insist on maintaining (or resurrecting—I’d wager the animosities relent’d noticeably in the late ’sixties—then, just as now, bigger storms amass’d, troop’d up all the way to the horizon, making meagre the ego-spawn’d mud-pie spats of us writers) that confrontational two-camp mentality, Kelly’s poems slip rather effortlessly around such a critical dead-end. One’d ask, is a lovely poem like “The Flies of October,” with its barely skirting sentiment and brash metaphor, of one damn’d camp or another (bless’d)?
The flies of October
have awkward wings,
what happens to them,
they change like the jaws

of salmon leaping
up the last time,
the body changes
on us, October,

the buzz they make
changes too, the angle
of their wings
controls the pitch

the lazy bebop
of dying time
makes them frantic
against the glass

they collide, fall
dodder on the windowsill,
come back full force
to find anything

over on the tabletop
lull juddering
on the edge of a book
the flies of October

cannot read,
even our hearts
are closed to them
just as ours are

to one another,
why do we hate them
so much, a dozen
of us lovers around

the table who don’t
know each other’s names
watch the flies of October
bother us

with all their dying,
other people’s lives
are such a pain
to be part of,

when they intrude
on the hollow place
inside us from which
every feeling

we thought we’d banished.
As Kelly writes in “History Lesson”—“signs struggle against signs.” Terrific moments here of late loud flies as “dodder,” or quieting to a “lull juddering / on the edge of a book”—that kind of violent stasis that is a prolong’d death throe. Something of Williams here, in the nonchalant shapeliness of it. Something, too, of Roethke, in the natural metaphor, in the tiny hard glint of misanthropy.

Robert Kelly

Friday, January 26, 2007

Pynchon Notes

A Wall (Le Voyage dans la lune, 1902)

Integration effects. If a poem’s liable to be construct’d of pieces, jalopy style, that “everything put in the bag ends up belonging,” why not a novel? Narrative, too, in pieces. An arrangement of stories against time, its devouring. Endlessness of story. Still pestering Against the Day. There’s a possibility that I nod too giddy, idiot-style, for anything that reeks of the self-referential, anything that acts up metaphorickal-like, pointing to how to read itself. Okay, consider. Late in the novel, Chum of Chance Chick Counterfly, out somewhere mid-curve of Santa Monica Bay, visits “a complex of galvanized sheds and laboratories . . . a research facility run by two elderly eccentrics, Roswell Bounce and Merle Rideout.” (What the two’re doing there—and what some Hollywood thugs’re out to stop, or steal—is bringing still photographs “back into action . . . even back to life.” In Bounce’s deploy:
. . . every photographic subject moves . . . even if it’s standing still. It breathes, light bounces off, something. Snapping a photograph is like what the math professors call ‘differentiating’ an equation of motion—freezing that movement into the very small piece of time it takes the shutter to open and close. So we figured—if shooting a photo is like taking a first derivative, then maybe we could find some way to do the reverse of that, start with the still photo and integrate it, recover its complete primitive and release it back into action.
Und so weiter.)

What I stump’d my bare reading toe over, cobbler’s tools in bib-pocket, leather lasts in ten gallon hat: the shed Counterfly enters. Here’s a kind of book-review Pynchonesque inventory, soup’d up Popular Mechanics-style, the tabloid lusts of boy-inventor Tom, tinges of self-mockery included!
It was the lab of every boy’s dreams! Why, the place even smelled scientific—that long-familiar blend of ozone, gutta-percha, solvent chemicals, heated insulation. The shelves and benchtops were crowded with volt-ammeters, rheostats, transformers, arc lamps whole and in pieces, half-used carbons, calcium burners, Oxone tablets, high tension magnetos, alternators store-bought and home-made, vibrator coils, cut-outs and interruptors, worm drives, Nicol prisms, generating valves, glassblowing torches, Navy surplus Thalofide cells, band-new Aeolight tubes freshly fallen from the delivery truck, British Blattnerphone components and tons of other stuff Chick had never recalled seeing before.
Or, according to the browbeat culturist hubbub, a sort of “everything needed to assemble a Pynchon novel.” (That “half-used carbons” knocks a memory down, thinking, inexplicably, of carbon paper—where is it that somebody recalls a telephone conversation with the conversationally-excitable Pynchon wherein, referring to the enormous manuscript of Gravity’s Rainbow, he proudly offers up, “You know, I typed it myself.”)

And, too, a sense of how a novel and a poem’re found along something one ’d label the “discourse spectrum,” and if some “method” ’ll “work” for one, why not for the other? Building blocks remain building blocks, only “scale” changes—word, image, factoid, sentence, paragraph, anecdote, story—all “blocks” to pile into an untoppleable structure, why not? So the Bounce: “Any case, electricity and light being pretty much the same thing, just slightly different stretches of the spectrum really, we figured if we could work this integration effect with electricity, then we should also be able to do it using light, should we not?” Pynchon:
. . . with Roswell there was his strikingly advanced case of paranoia querelans [sic elsewhere “querulans” a.k.a. litigious paranoia] to be taken into account. You could see his ears twitching, always a sure sign in him of mental activity, but his mind was not, it had occurred already to Merle, working in anything like a straightforward manner. Fragments of former patent applications, modulated by defectively remembered court appearances, bloomed and streamed kaleidoscopically in and out of his attention. Faces of lawyers he had grown less than fond of, indeed entertained phantasies about murdering, even from years before, swam now distortedly through his thoughts. Not to mention inspiration to be drawn, not always explicably, from the pieces of hardware that kept finding their ways, more or less legally, into the shop. One of the pair of mad inventors would ask, “What the hell we ever gonna do with that,” the other would shrug and say, “You never know,” and up it would go onto some shelf or into some cabinet, and sure enough, one day they’d need something that would turn infrared light to electricity, or double-refract it at a particular angle of polarization, and there, invisible under a pile of stuff accumulated since, would be the very item.
Misguided the demand for a lessening of narrative strands, a simplifying. Misguided, too, the call for more “robust” characters—as if the point of fictioneering were to offer up a few new people in one’s live to weep with, or for. Plenty enough to weep about as it is . . .

Reading about William James, whose father “so despised ‘the subjective element in us, the personal element,’ that he thought we needed to ‘defecate ourselves of private or subjective ambitions’ because ‘the subjective element (the me) is a purely phenomenal or waste element in consciousness.’” (Too, “God is the only being in the universe.”) James, naturally, reject’d all that, and turn’d to peppering ’s letters and conversation with words like “conversash” (conversation), “suspish” (suspicion), “condish” (condition). Too, he call’d an acquaintance “the very Poetry of general imbecility.” And wrote that “Spring is whanging through the fertile country of Bohemia in fine style.”

A Blattnerphone, c. 1933

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Pynchon Notes

A Wall (Complacency)

Still trying to mop up Against the Day leavings. What adumbrates the neural coagulate, still sending its runners off, fetchingly, here and there. Funny to go agog in wonderment and distress at a series of mal-escrit’d page numbers on a tiny slip of paper. My left hand—that “signifying monstrance,” lysergically so-named circa 1978 (another story, and isn’t it terrific to see that nana Saginavienne talking about the MC5, to remember the sweet summer of being fifteen and vamoosing out to Gallup Park to testify and seeing, too, The Up, four of the lankiest amphetamine’d-up soldiers in the long-hair’d youth army, house rockers for John Sinclair’s White Panthers doing “Just Like an Aborigine,” ah, punk born in Detroit . . .)—my left hand, je répète, scribbled out illegibles, its post-stroke wont to go haywire in its only redoubtable activity, so’s to leave me with a page number, an inscrutable series of “letters,” and a page . . .

One question: ten pages or so before the end Pynchon tells us “Reef, Stray, and Ljubica returned to the U.S. pretending to be Italian immigrants.” (Additionally, “At Ellis Island, Reef, thinking both his English and Italian could get him in trouble whichever he spoke, remained indecisively mute long enough to have a large letter I, for Idiot , chalked on his back.” And thinks, following the sponging off of the I, thus preventing possible deportation, by one identify’d as “The Obliterator”—“some crypto-Anarchist who’d drifted into government work”: “Not that Idiocy couldn’t have been a useful cover, or was even that far wrong.” Grace notes of a Slow Learner.)

A paragraph or so later: “They headed west.” (Meaning Reef, Stray, and Ljubica.) With Pynchon (in Reef-voice) announcing the long-standard American “faith in the westward vector, in finding someplace, some deep penultimate town the capitalist / Christer gridwork hadn’t got to quite . . .” Then: “In a train depot up in Montana during a snowstorm one day, who’d they happen to run into but Frank, Stray, and Jesse, who had the same thing in mind.” Wha? Stray runs into Stray? I am not a reader who attends to character too fraughtly—I mean, I’ll identify with anybody. Howsoever, even in a novel of doubles, they’s a limit. I think Yashmeen is meant in the initial instance (a few paragraphs later, it is noted that she “is beginning to lose the edges of her all-purpose European accent”). E-e-et puis: just about where one’s scratching one’s ass—it’s a long sit-through, the book—and troubling whether Pynchon made a mistake or not, on the next to last page he’s got Darby Suckling and the Chums of Chance soaring off so effortlessly “it is no longer a matter of gravity—it is an acceptance of sky.” Pynchon:
The contracts which the crew have been signing lately, under Darby’s grim obsessiveness, grow longer and longer, eventually overflowing the edges of the main table in the mess decks, and occasionally they find themselves engaged to journey very far afield indeed. They return to Earth—unless it is to Counter-Earth—with a form of mnemonic frostbite, retaining only awed impressions of a ship exceeding the usual three dimensions, docking, each time precariously, at a series of remote stations high in unmeasured outer space, which together form a road to a destination . . .
Isn’t that all rather pointedly metaphorickal or something for the novel itself, a joke to admit the slip-up? (“I’ll keep writing to the point I lose track of my characters,” a sort of version of, say, Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds back-talking, skittish, go-our-own-way-you-can’t-stop-us characters.)

One final note. Toward the end, when Lew Basnight is in Los Angeles doing private eye work (and Pynchon is styling some hard-boil’d detective fictioneering à la Chandler), there’s another counter-cultural gathering:
It was a gathering impossible at first to read, even for an old L.A. hand like Lew—society ladies in flapper-rejected outfits from Hamburger’s basement, real flappers in extras’ costumes—Hebrew headdresses, belly-dancing outfits, bare feet and sandals—in from shooting some biblical extravaganza, sugar daddies tattered and unshaven as street beggars, freeloaders in bespoke suits and sunglasses though the sun had set, Negroes and Filipinos, Mexicans and hillbillies, faces Lew recognized from mug shots, faces that might also have recognized him from tickets long cold he didn’t want to be reminded of, and here they were eating enchiladas and hot dogs, drinking orange juice and tequila, smoking cork-tip cigarettes, screaming in each others’ faces, displaying scars and tattoos, recalling aloud felonies imagined or planned but seldom committed, cursing Republicans, cursing police federal state and local, cursing the larger corporate trusts, and Lew slowly began to get a handle, for weren’t these just he folks that once long ago he’d spent his life chasing, them and their cousins city and country? through brush and up creekbeds and down frozen slaughterhouse alleyways caked with the fat and blood of generations of cattle, worn out his shoes pair after pair until finally seeing the great point, and recognizing in the same instant the ongoing crime that had been his own life—and for achieving this self-clarity, at that time and place a mortal sin, got himself just as unambiguously dynamited.
        He gradually understood that what everybody here had in common was having survived some cataclysm none of them spoke about directly—a bombing, a massacre perhaps at the behest of the U. S. government. . . . “No it wasn’t Haymarket.”
        “It wasn’t Ludlow. It wasn’t the Palmer raids.”
        “It was and it wasn’t.” General merriment.
And in the gathering one “ancient wise-man personage” named Virgil says, “Sometimes . . . I like to lose myself in reveries of when the land was free, before it got hijacked by capitalist Christer Republicans for their long-term evil purposes. . . .”

Yesterday, in the Michigan Daily announcement of a lecture by “A group of scholars who argue that the World Trade Center towers were destroyed by a controlled demolition—not by passenger jets piloted by terrorists. . .” And: “Ann Arbor 9/11 Truth, a recently formed group of Ann Arbor residents who dispute the government's version of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, hope to persuade people that the government is lying.” And:
Ann Arbor 9/11 Truth has joined forces with Scholars for 9/11 Truth, a society of more than 300 scholars and students dedicated to using scientific and pragmatic means to determine what “actually happened” on Sept. 11.
        The groups describe the attacks as an “inside job,” perpetrated by the government.

Mary Brogger, Haymarket Memorial, 2004

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Some Grasses

W. W. Norton, in continuing commitment to the work of A. R. Ammons, recently re-released Ammons’s first book, Ommateum, with Doxology. Wherein is quoted—in the “Preface” by Roger Gilbert, Ammons’s biographer—a snippet of a 1989 interview where Ammons, apparently examining the prevalence of wind imagery (“So I said I am Ezra / and the wind whipped my throat / gaming for the sounds of my voice”), recalls:
It was when my little brother, who was two and half years younger than I, died at eighteen months. My mother some days later found his footprint in the yard and tried to build something over it to keep the wind from blowing it away. That’s the most powerful image I’ve ever known.
Gilbert makes the point that Ommateum, printed in 1955 for Ammons by the Philadelphia vanity press Dorrance & Company, “may well be the most important self-published book of American poetry since Walt Whitman brought out the first edition of Leaves of Grass exactly one hundred years earlier.”

One measure of the difference between the milieu of American poetry fifty years ago and now: though Gilbert notes that “Ommateum came and went with barely a ripple”—of the one hundred copies that got bound, apparently most ended up being presented as gifts to various “customers and business associates in South America” by Ammons’s father-in-law—nevertheless, Poetry did a short review of the book, pointing out that Ammons’s poetry “dos not exactly seem to want to be listened to,” and singling out “With Ropes of Hemp” as somewhat successfully rivaling “the treacherous model of Whitman’s style.” In the 1989 interview, Ammons agreed:
The Ommateum poems are sometimes very rigid and ritualistic, formal and off putting, but very strong. The review I got said, these poems don’t care whether they are listened to or not. Which is exactly true. I had no idea there was such a thing as an audience; didn’t care if there was. I was involved in the poem that was taking place in my head and on the page and that was all I cared about. . . . an audience meant nothing to me. Someone else said that I was a poet who had not yet renounced his early poems. I never intend to renounce those poems.
Which seems exactly right, and the temporary potentate’s “authority” of the “social” be damned.

Here’s the untitled number’d section (13) of Ommateum the review points out:
With ropes of hemp
I lashed my body to the great oak
saying odes for the fiber of the oakbark
and the oakwood saying supplications
to the root mesh
deep and reticular in the full earth
through the night saying these
and early into the wild unusual dawn
chanting hysterical though quiet
watching the ropes ravel
and the body go raw
      while eternity
greater than the ravelings of a rope
waited with me patient in my experiment
Oh I said listening to the raucous
words of the nightclouds
how shadowy is the soul
how fleet with the wildness of wings

Under the grip of my bonds
I say Oh and melt beyond the ruthless coil
but return again saying odes in the night
where I stand splintered to the oak
gathering the dissentient ghosts of my spirit
into the oakheart
I in the night standing saying oaksongs
entertaining my soul to me
Beyond Whitman’s live oak (“its look, rude, unbending, lusty. . .” ), I think of traditional folk (“I leaned my back against an oak, / Knowing it was a trusty tree . . .”). There’s something rather recklessly untutor’d here though—“wild unusual dawn,” “dissentient ghosts,” “standing saying oaksongs”—verbal encroachments that point to no precise precedent, proceeding nevertheless with near-wanton surety. Frankly, hitting something like the following tiny stanza in “Doxology,” I am agog, in awe:
An unconstrained fluidity prevails, abides;
whole notes are rocks
and men thirty-second’s,
all in descending scales,
unvigiled bastardies of noise:
the motion of permanence.
“Unvigiled bastardies of noise” reminds me of Joyce’s terrific “irregular musketry of applause” in “The Dead,” implausibly enough (rhythm triggers memory). I never heard Ammons speak “oncet” of the hypochondriac Irishman.

And, for the agreeableness of noting it, Ammons’s own lines in a letter dated 22 August 1954 to Josephine Miles, to whom he dedicated the book, about the title:
I have finally found I believe the perfect title for it: Ommateum, the complex eye of the insect with its manifold facets, each perceiving a single ray of light but in toto calling up the outlines of the object. Each poem is of course a facet of the great moving image of truth. As the image of the ocean’s floor gradually appears from stippled soundings.
Post Navy talk, that last.

Walter Benjamin: “Silence as aura.”



A. R. Ammons

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Pynchon Notes

A Pole

Probably the obvious thing to do, after reading Against the Day, is read it again. With all the little unaware-I’d-even-grown-them antennae out for things miss’d in the grand trajectory, the arc of storylines. Them antennae tend to vestigiate quicker ’n appendices. Become little grunt-feelers, of no utility whatsoever. Eeennyyynnhh, as Darby Suckling likes to “say,” a way of scolding all of mankind’s idjit-foibles. The only book I think I ever “re-read” was V. to some disappointment, in 1) the book, and 2) myself. Because 1) the book wasn’t what I’d remember’d, and 2) myself didn’t remember the book. (The obvious fallacy here—the fallacy of Book-Constancy—being, a) books read “early” trade sentences, paragraphs, etc. with books read “later” and become different books, and b) myself “early” rids itself of “early” book-offal—or howsoever one wants to name that “post-reading-remainder”—inveigling into itself—grandly, surreptitiously—“later” b.-o. in consummate replacement amounts. Oy. As the Specials vocalist used to say.

What one comes away with: an out-and-out fondness (bordering on heart-in-the-mouth blubbery love at times) for some other republic, one of coots and misfits, one of the ones with attitudes, the happily invisible, the anarchists, the bad-mouthers, the Bad Mothers, the exiles, the bravely cantankerous—whether descendants of the ’sixties come down like a fire in scrub-grass into scrub-towns with flame intact, or not. An honest-to-oneself nigh-invisible counter-culture, defiantly model’d on hors de commerce notions unlikely to be scoop’d up by ravening Capital with its sell a pig its stink “philosophy.” A republic of anybody unwilling to compromise, to turn “marketeer,” put the Mickey Mouse ears of Capital on ’s head. Affection for a fail’d republic of Mother Jones and dog-tornadoes. Pynchon, with Frank Traverse, gunning for ur-Capitalist Boss and killer Scarsdale Vibe, whose “double,” sidekick, and bodyguard Foley Walker’s “a born-again Christer, so he can act as bad as he wants because Jesus is coming and nothin a human can do so bad Jesus won’t forgive it” (cf. Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit, cf. the present half-wit peckerwood of a “Commander-in-Chief”):
Out reconnoitering, they thought once they’d caught a quick glimpse of Mother Jones herself, being hustled on board a train out of town, a comical exercise at the time because she would then turn around and come right back, having friends among the railroad workers all up and down the line, who’d put her aboard or leave her off wherever she liked. What Frank noticed about this white-haired lady was her hell-with-it attitude, a love of mischief she must have kept safe and protected from the years, from the plutes and what their hired apologists called “life,” as if they ever knew what that was . . .
       A small pack of dogs came whirling down Main Street, as if carried by a miniature tornado. Lately there had been more dogs in town than anybody could remember.
Question: is a majority of “our” poetry—of whatever ostensible or abstemious “stripe” you’d like—part and parcel of what the not-so-phantom U.S. plutocracy’s apologists call ‘life’?—and why or why not?

The sense of pluperfectly rectify’d endings and love’s stray arrows finding apt targets—that Shakespearean urge, and, like S—’s, rather “storybookish”—that (whose early ignition-spits and coughs I noted) gets full throttle in the arrival of five girl-flyers of the Sodality of Ætheronauts—names of Heartsease, Primula, Glee, Blaze, and Viridian—“each had found her way to this Ætherist sorority through the mysteries of inconvenience—a train arriving late, a love-letter mistimed, a hallucinating police witness, and so forth. And now here were these five boy balloonists, whose immediate point of fascination was with the girls mode of flight.” (Yuh-hunh, perfectly: “how do these things work?” A-a-a-and, isn’t the “boy-flyers” skyship call’d Inconvenience?)
There were great waves passing through the Æther, Viridian explained, which a person could catch and be carried along by, as the sea-wind carries the erne, or as Pacific waves are said to carry the surfers of Hawaii. The girls’ wings were Æther-ærials which sensed in the medium, all but microscopically, a list of variables including weighted light-saturation index, spectral reluctance, and Æther-normalized Reynolds Number: “These are in turn fed back into a calculating device,” said Viridian, “which controls our wing parameters, adjusting them ‘feather’ by ‘feather’ to maximize Ætheric lift. . . .”
       “It would have had to be an Ætherist,” Chick whispered to himself.
       “Fumes are not the future,” declared Viridian. “Burning dead dinosaurs and whatever they ate ain’t the answer, Crankshaft Boy.”
So commenceth, in resigned grutch and sally-back comeuppance, one of the five “pairings.” Affable banter, of coevals, marks Pynchon’s couples, outside the robust turgids and moisters of sexual activities. (There is less sexual rutting in Against the Day than any number of high-minded “critics”—family newspaper or not—’ve noted.)

On that Reynolds Number—a term in fluid mechanics, the ratio of inertial forces to viscous forces, used to identify different “flow regimes.” The kind of language that, in a different version of cultural-splitting (cf. Charles Percy Snow) gets mostly ignored by fictioneers.

“Beauclerk, Backhouse, Brickbat, Bedrid, Bedbug, Bankrupt, Buckwheat, Blackguard, and Beaukard”—being the string of names William James noted in a journal, reporting the speech of father Henry James, Sr., a stutterer and banterer, trying to come up with the name “Birckbear.” That Henry James, Sr. who, in 1824, bought, for the sum of thirty thousand dollars, the village of Syracuse, New York, a place “so desolate as ‘to make an owl weep to fly over it.’” (What if most of those we identify as cultural standard-bearers, the various James being one glaring example, ’re redoubtable plutes to begin with? What does that do to one’s culture?)

Clayton Frye, “Spirit of Light,” 1932
(Façade Detail of Lawrence Bley and Duane Lyman’s Niagara Mohawk Power Building, Syracuse, New York)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Dodge (Out of)

A Wall

Read the final pages of Against the Day in a choppy series of interrupts. Circumstances continue mad to rob me of Time shelter’d enough to squib with any clarity. Walks out into the snow in dimming light, or light uncladding itself of night. “I am so hurried . . . I run all Day with my tongue abroad, like a Summer Dog” is how Emily Dickinson puts it, knowing the difference a comma makes. I potter about with her letters, dipping. Or Emerson’s journal-entries, dipping. “H. D. T. said he knew but one secret, which was to do one thing at a time, and though he has his evenings for study, if he was in the day inventing machines for sawing his plumbago, he invents wheels all the evening & night also; and if this week he has some good reading and thought before him, his brain runs on that all day, whilst pencils pass through his hands. I find in me an opposite facility or perversity, that I never seem well to do a particular work, until another is due. I cannot write the poem though you give me a week, but if I promise to read a lecture day after tomorrow, at once the poem comes into my head & now the rhymes will flow. And let the proofs of the Dial be crowding on me from the printer, and I am full of faculty how to make the Lecture.” And, earlier, mentioning how H. D. T. “only hears the word Art in a sinister sense.” It is the expect’d, the owed, I rebel against. Manacles, irritants, what makes one dodge and renew.

Henry David Thoreau

Friday, January 19, 2007

A Sop

Palm and Blade

How many days of drat-negligible striding about my “chambres” is allow’d? In a fit of antagonism towards “the writing life”? How many pull’d down impenetrables’ll I offer up—maps of Balkan suasions, curtailings, and griefs? (The music in the next room, Louis Armstrong, “I think to myself, what a wonder—” unh-unh, drag your red bean and ricely self up out of here . . .) A prepositional emphasis. A pile-up. Here’s the affliction—the books corralling me, thumping and sighing rubberly like dogs about my feet.

Iain Sinclair, Landor’s Tower or The Imaginary Conversations (Granta, 2001)

Andrew Epstein, Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006)

Jenny Boully, The Body: An Essay (Slope, 2002)

Samuel Beckett, Collected Poems 1930-1978 (John Calder, 1984)

Blaise Cendrars, Moravagine, trans. Alan Brown (Peter Owen, 1968)

Calvert Watkins, How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics (Oxford University Press, 1995)

Wyndham Lewis, Wyndham Lewis on Art: Collected Writings 1913-1956 (Funk & Wagnalls, 1969)

Lytle Shaw, Frank O’Hara: The Poetics of Coterie (University of Iowa Press, 2006)

Antonio Tabucchi, It’s Getting Later All the Time: A Novel in the Form of Letters, trans. Alastair McEwen (New Directions, 2006)

Amanda Nadelberg, Isa the Truck Named Isadore (Slope, 2006)

Robert Steiner, The Catastrophe (Sun & Moon, 1996)

Samuel Beckett, Murphy (Grove, 1970)

Ezra Pound, Guide to Kulchur (Peter Owen, 1952)

Kevin Davies, Comp. (Edge, 2000)

Wyndham Lewis, Blasting and Bombardiering (Calder and Boyars, 1967)

Enid Starkie, Baudelaire (Faber and Faber, 1957)

Robin Blaser, The Fire: Collected Essays (University of California Press, 2006)

Jean Day, Enthusiasm: Odes & Otium (Adventures in Poetry, 2006)

Robert Steiner, Towards a Grammar of Abstraction: Modernity, Wittgenstein, and the Paintings of Jackson Pollock (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992)

Carrie Noland, Poetry at Stake: Lyric Aesthetics and the Challenge of Technology (Princeton University Press, 1999)

Thomas Gardner, A Door Ajar: Contemporary Writers and Emily Dickinson (Oxford University Press, 2006)

Andrew Duncan, Centre and Periphery in Modern British Poetry (Liverpool University Press, 2005)

Morton Feldman, Morton Feldman Says: Selected Interviews and Lectures 1964-1987, ed. Chris Villars (Hyphen, 2006)

Robert D. Richardson, William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

Javier Marías, Voyage Along the Horizon, trans. Kristina Cordero (Believer / McSweeney’s, n.d.)

Julian Symons, Makers of the New: The Revolution in Literature, 1912-1939 (Andre Deutsch, 1987)

Béatrice Mousli, Max Jacob (Flammarion, 2005)

Pierre Joris, A Nomad Poetics: Essays (Wesleyan University Press, 2003)

Henry D. Thoreau, Journal, Vol. 8, 1854, ed. Sandra Harbert Petrulionis (Princeton University Press, 2002)

James and Elizabeth Knowlson, eds., Beckett Remembering Remembering Beckett: Uncollected Interviews with Samuel Beckett and Memories of Those Who Knew Him (Bloomsbury, 2006)

Max Jacob, Hesitant Fire: Selected Prose, trans. and ed. Moishe Black and Maria Green (University of Nebraska Press, 1991)

Roberto Calasso, The Forty-nine Steps, trans. John Shepley (University of Minnesota Press, 2001)

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emerson in His Journals, select. and ed. Joel Porte (Harvard University Press, 1982)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, Vol. 1, ed. J. Shawcross (Oxford University Press, 1967)

Max Jacob, Le Cornet à dés (NRF / Gallimard, 2003)

Max Jacob, The Dice Cup: Selected Prose Poems, ed. Michael Brownstein, trans. John Ashbery, David Ball, Michael Brownstein, Ron Padgett, Zack Rogow, and Bill Zavatsky (Sun, 1979)

Emily Dickinson, The Letters of Emily Dickinson, Vol. I-II, ed. Thomas H. Johnson (Harvard University Press, 1958)

John Clarke, From Feathers to Iron: A Concourse of World Poetics (Tombouctou / Convivio, 1987)

All books I am reading, re-reading, intending to read, pawing at in lieu of reading, unable to read for Time’s shill exorbitance . . . There is another bunch on a shelf, books I think to write something about. The book that I am persistently reading (with few pages left) is Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day. It is not the case that reading that (long) book “allow’d” the unsightly, moronic, cantankerous, prelapsarian, and sense-dispelling accumulation detail’d here to occur: the pile is more or less stable—“add a book here, remove a book there.” The oldest book in the first pile is Guide to Kulchur. The newest book in the first pile is Mousli’s biography of Max Jacob.

Another rocketeer’s (three-finger’d) handful purchased today (the others’re temporary guests in my home, grâce à la bibliothèque, though the day’ll come, petulant and stormy with impatience, I’ll turn those out into the dull beastly roaring night to perish . . . though—often enough—’ll relapse and draw some back through the portal, re-readable, comforting, my antic burdens.)

Samuel Beckett, Dream of Fair to Middling Women (Arcade, 2006)

James Schuyler, The Letters of James Schuyler to Frank O’Hara, ed. William Corbett (Turtle Point, 2006)

Roberto Bolaño, Amulet, trans. Chris Andrews (New Directions, 2006)

There’re some books, too, at work, a small raft, a dinghy, a boatload, enough to tie up the canal at Panama, a man, a plan . . .

Morning with its flakes and drifts, stiffish the wind what makes the ice-gloves flex and mutter in the treetops. The whuttering of tires against the spank of snow. Emily Dickinson says, “That a pansy is transitive, is its only pang.” (Hence, I am certain, “spank.”) Dickinson, too, re: the unveiling of the “Minuteman” monument: “I have only a buttercup to offer for the centennial, as an ‘embattled farmer’ has but little time.” Nous sommes tous les “embattled farmers.” (“We are all embête’d phoques.”) Clubbed by sheer, shirtless Time. And, expiatory of my list and rile, Dickinson’s note to Higginson: “things that are—are ephemeral, but those to come—long—and besides,
The Flake the Wind exasperate
More eloquently lie
Than if escorted to it’s Down
By Arm of Chivalry.
I would love to know you ‘Ferns and Grasses” and touch your ‘Books and Pictures’—but it is of Realms unratified that Magic is made . . .” Eeyynhh.

Emily Dickinson and Louis Armstrong

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Fleesome Cowl

A Wall

Am I adrift or awash? Aimless or pedigreed? One caroms off oneself in one “station”, off nothingness (or plethora, its one veritable mimic) in the other. Champagne Delbeck (Reims) or La station Rennes est fermée au publique. “Style is mostly a form of conflict.” (Jean-Michel Espitallier) “Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength.” (Igor Stravinsky) A woman in orange with fiery hair. (Une affiche publicitaire.)

Hazarding a trial, tossing down the nickels. “The true genius of poetry is lyric and imagistic. It lies in concision and allusion, something withheld but partially glimpsed.” (Charles Wright) How make visible a memory? If not through a conceptual plug, pull’d out of landscape. That Norway spruce with the crow teetering up in the breeze. That melodic toodaloo—toute à l’heure! Music is time’s way of being bidirectional.

Jamming, or working with a fakebook? Susan Howe’s detail about Jonathan Edwards on horseback making the pastoral rounds, parish to parish, how when “ideas came to him he would write them down on little slips of paper and pin them to his clothes. I imagine him arriving home after several days’ absence covered in bits of paper.” And Wright again: “Most everything is representation . . . after it goes through the little grinder and hits the paper.”

Morton Feldman talks about the inevitable effect of one’s instrument. “Chopin’s piano sounded just like Chopin—that he never really played loud. The piano cannot play loud. That he made a mezzoforte sound big. And because of the level of the piano, that what he wrote on that piano was the best that sounded on that piano.” Determinant incapability: so the earnest tigers who fang chunks of lyric, big heads tossing all bloodsprayingly. Incapability as neurosis.

Wyndham Lewis noting how much “adventitious sentiment” makes up our appreciation of anything. A taint accidental, unholsomely sung. That one’d admire a piece of writing as writing: that’d be unbearable, a wholly caustic adventure, and inhuman. Carlyle: “When a man first strips himself of adventitious wrappages; and sees indeed that he is naked.” And if one’d so strip a poem—it’d depreciate to nothing, a garble, unspiced refuse.

Idiot ships cleave the waters. Gumpism, “suddaine dumbs,” toadying (and its schoolmarm smarm) afflict the local denizens, who wallop themselves up into mighty lathers of senselessness, “experimenting.” Bouts of dull-Willy irony, beyond cluckable. Asinine regal sass. Bobble-headedly going along with the dominant flux and phlegm of things, sheepish in cony-duds. High audible hums whilst the earth burns. Feigned flibbertigibbeting in lieu of “Quick, Henry, the Flit!”

Theodore Seuss Geisel, “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” 1927
(Mandeville Special Collections Library, University of California, San Diego)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Max Jacob

A Wall

Max Jacob (b. 11 July 1976 at Quimper, in Brittany, rounded up by the Gestapo on the morning of 24 February, 1944 at the monastery of St.-Benoît-sur-Loire), pal of Picasso (who, according to some stories, might’ve interceded, and didn’t), recipient of a vision of Christ (“There was someone on the red wallpaper! . . . He is wearing a robe of yellow silk with blue cuffs.”) wrote the prose poems of Le Cornet à dés (The Dice Cup) (first publish’ed in 1917) in the “Cubist” years between 1903 and 1910. Applying Cubism’s new-mint’d notions of simultaneity, fracture, and onslaught to the prose poem, daubing up structures sentence by sentence, or block by block (See, in particular “The Cock and the Pearl” (translated by Bill Zavatsky):
I thought he was bankrupt, but he still has slaves and stacks of coins in his house. On the rocks, the sopranos were half-naked in their swimsuits. In the evening we climbed into coaches and the little trains glided beneath the pines. I thought he was bankrupt! . . . he’s even found me a publisher! the publisher has givin me a turtle whose shell is pink and varnished: the smallest ducatoon would do me more good.


You’re going out? you want your sickness to be noticed: lanterns on casters watch you and the zebra on rockers ends up making you dizzy.


I hereby declare myself world-wide, oviparous, giraffe, haggard, sinophobic, and hemispherical. I quench my thirst in the wellsprings of the atmosphere that laughs concentrically and farts with my uncertainty.
Not all the entries reel so kaleidoscopically—here’s one: “Her white arms became my whole horizon.” And, as if explicating its own procedure:
When one paints a picture, it changes completely with each touch, it turns like a cylinder and is almost endless. When it stops turning, that’s because it’s finished. My last one showed a tower of Babel in lighted candles.
Announcing the gregariousness of the work, its deft all-embracingness. “Bag into which anything placed ends up belonging.”

Out of Jacob’s “Preface of 1916,” dismissing the precursors (common strategy of the manifesto-ing) after a nod to Rimbaud:
. . . the authors of prose poems can’t use him for their model because the prose poem, to exist, must submit to the laws of all art which are style or will and situation or emotion, and Rimbaud only leads to disorder and exasperation. The prose poem must also avoid Baudelairean and Mallarméan parables if it wants to distinguish itself from the fable. It’s understood that I don’t consider as prose poems the notebooks of more or less curious impressions which my excessive colleagues publish from time to time. A page of prose isn’t a prose poem, even when it frames two or three lucky finds. I would consider as the said “lucky finds’ those present with the necessary spiritual margin.
Though, too, Jacob points (with quibbles) to Jules Renard, Aloysius Bertrand and “the author of Le Livre de Monelle, Marcel Schwob” as lineage-materiel. (The latter the uncle of Claude Cahun, née Lucy Schwob, photographer, writer, collaborator with Marcel Moore, “gender activist.”)

Jacob (in a letter to Marcel Béalu—younger poet—and hatter!—from Montargis—written in 1938):
The mark of literature is that it bears no resemblance to Literature: we write a masterpiece only with that part of us which is distinct from Literature, creating by that very distinctiveness a new literature. Think a page; set it down in writing when you’ve examined it fore and aft. Many are called but there are few chosen to be found in Paradise. That sentence from Scripture means that you have to be exceptional to earn your way into Paradise. Literature bears ample witness to this truth. Only the monsters get into Paradise. So make your brain an abscess: when the abscess is ready, you’ll be operated on. But if you don’t put yourself through this process of cerebral congestion at your age, when will you?
Here’s a Poundian titled prose poem out of Jacob’s The Dice Cup: Selected Prose Poems, edited by Michael Brownstein (Sun, 1979):

In a country where the public sale of pictures takes place in a courtyard, the frames were laid out on the ground, and the surrounding three hundred windows, rented out by their owners, were filled with butchers. It was as if they were there for the guillotine! They were there to see the death of art and happiness. Several of the butchers at the windows had binoculars.
Translated by Ron Padgett. (And somewhat fabulistic, counter to Jacob’s own intents and dicta.) The book that ought be reprinted, and made complete. The other translators: John Ashbery, David Ball, Brownstein himself, Zack Rogow, and Zavatsky.

Cold, electricity return’d. Disorient’d toujours.

Max Jacob

Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, Don’t Kiss Me I’m in Training, 1927

Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, Cahun and Mirror, 1928

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Out & Back




Up to a brown-out here, unable to operate anything requiring more candlepower than a gnat’d hum up. Dress’d in the sepia’d cone thrown by a single ampoule.

Sock’d out of routine so, one’s a candidate for Beckett’s “big blooming buzzing confusion.” In search of a face to bestill it.

Beastly circumstance. Dement’d particulars unforthcoming.

Reading a little, yes, Beckett. Murphy.

Figurentheater Gingganz’s Vladimir (“Wir warten auf Godot . . . Ach ja.”)

Friday, January 12, 2007


A Temporary Wall

Dr. Johnson defines “tid”—“Tender; soft; nice” and “to tiddle, to tidder”—“To use tenderly; to fondle.” “Tidbit” only gains notice in the fourth edition: “A dainty.”

The OED deems “tidbit” divisible: a) “A small and delicate or appetizing piece of food; a toothsome morsel, delicacy, bonne bouche”—“A tyd bit, i.e. a speciall morsell reserved to eat at last” (c. 1640) and, b) “a brief and isolated interesting item of news.” Rabelais, translated by the indispensible Sir Thomas Urquhart (1694): “He promis’d double Pay . . . to any one that should bring him such a Tit-bit piping-hot.”

Out of yesterday’s mail—House Organ, edited by Kenneth Warren (1250 Belle Ave., Lakewood, Ohio 44107)—a poem by Stephen Ellis:

The Romantic task we ply
whether to do good or to feel good
runs out of gambits after a while
and you’re left with the visionary experience of
simply being yourself, a pouring forth
that becomes myth without explanation
alert to the moment, bleeding slowly into life
whose figure is god of both war and knowledge
in which there is a pattern of contradistinction,
what can be known in the present as equally
what there is left to know, both of which
point to a center and an edge as completely
attached by their arc and its circumference
which together describe the word we do to earn it
And a snip out of John Olson’s essay, “The Fabric of Fabrication”:
Society’s arrogant certainties infect us, distort our perception. The paramount task of the artist is to rip these assumptions apart so that reality may be more immediately grasped. So that we see what is truly out there. An orchid in the Congo, bottles of balm loaded on a pallet in Guam, chunks of shark meat tossed on a scale in Madagascar. . . .

Art is the hacksaw by which we work at removing our bars. The prison of our assumptions.
The fifty-seventh number of House Organ. Meaning probably about fifteen years of commitment to it by Warren, assuming four per year. A terrific model of cheap print work: six xerox’d sheets of typing paper, fold’d in half long-ways, one staple to bind, another to keep the pages shut for mailing, back cover address’d and affix’d with a 39¢ stamp. Work, too, by Bill Berkson, Clayton Eshleman, Russell Atkins, Albert Glover, Harrison Fisher, among others.

Aidan Higgins, author of a three-part autobiography titled A Bestiary (Dalkey Archive, 2004), recalling Beckett:
We were living in Greystones, County Wicklow in the 1940s, and Samuel Beckett’s uncle Gerald and his wife, Peggy, were next-door neighbours. I met their son, John, and he lent me four books, among them Beckett’s Murphy. The others made no impression on me, but Murphy raised the hair on my head. Murphy was the business. . . .

I wrote Sam a fan letter about Murphy and John Beckett said it’s no use writing to Sam, he never replies. But he did reply, though it was no use to me because I couldn’t make out the handwriting. The calligraphy was a beast: the hasty hand of a hard-worked doctor firing off prescriptions. Eventually Peggy Beckett, the mother of John, deciphered it as: ‘Despair young and never look back.’
I remember having tea with the [Joseph] Hones one day and they said what a difficult guest Beckett was. He had come round one evening and Mrs. Hone said, ‘Sam, the dogs have pupped.’ And Sam said, ‘I’m not interested in dogs.’ ‘The cat has . . .’ ‘I’m not interested in cats.’ No matter what subject came up he wasn’t interested in it and he relapsed back into a heavy silence which they were doing their damnedest to break up, and it wasn’t having any effect whatsoever. Anyway, at the door he gave a limp hand to Mrs. Hone and said, ‘Friede, Friede,’ and she said of course, ‘My name isn’t Freda,’ but [Arland] Ussher happened to be there and said, “It’s the German for peace.’
That a half dozen or so years before Waiting for Godot. Out of Beckett Remembering Remembering Beckett: Uncollected Interviews with Samuel Beckett and Memories of Those Who Knew Him, edited by James and Elizabeth Knowlson (Bloomsbury, 2006). I noted yesterday, too, that Pascale Casanova’s 1997 book, Beckett l’abstracteur: Anatomie d’une révolution littéraire is coming out translated into English. Casanova’s The World Republic of Letters (Harvard, 2005), actually written after the Beckett study, is excellent, if Parigi-centric—how writers and texts become world-canonical.

For curios of Beckettiana, belly-laughable and high-brio’d, the criminal-mischief-prone Mr. Georgia “Sam” Puthwuth, “operating” under some kind of covering-protectif (or -prophylactique), is “the business.” Here, here. Here, here.

A wet morning. Snit-particular raccoons chirruping high in the oaks. New World beasts, what the French call’d ratons laveurs, “washing-rats.” “Here’s a poem titled ‘Les raton laveurs de Boca Raton.’ One of a pair, the other—‘The Washing-Rats of Rat’s Mouth’—is in my new chapbook call’d Eat Tonight (Il lave la nourriture avant de la manger & Cie, 2007). . .”

Aidan Higgins and Samuel Beckett

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Pynchon Notes

Stalk and Gap

The damnable paradox of the ever increasing, ever more esprit-sapping loss of leisure is: there’re no leisure minutes left during which one might address the issue, say nothing about redress. So, in Against the Day, intimates Thomas Pynchon, with ’s unparalleled way of pushing the present directly up out of the historically fictive past, making it a necessary impertinence to the story. Somewhat before the outbreak of the “Great War,” Reef Traverse and Yashmeen Halfcourt find themselves in Sofia, Bulgaria (on its grand Boulevard Knyaginya Mariya Luiza, result of a Haussmannization of “winding alleyways, mosques, and hovels” following the forced removal of the Turks, “full of stray dogs and serious drinkers in different stages of alcohol poisoning” and “kind of like Omaha”). They are (presumably) aiding one Professor Sleepcoat, who’s recording Balkan folk songs:
For a few stotinki, one could also find a child eager to turn the crank that ran the recording device by way of reduction gears and a flywheel that smoothed out variations in pitch. “Like pumping the bellows of a church organ back in the last century,” it seemed to Professor Sleepcoat. “Without all those anonymous urchins we wouldn’t have had Bach.” Which got him a look from Yashmeen, who in other circs might’ve inquired sweetly how much of Western culture throughout history did he think might actually have depended on that sort of shamefully underpaid labor. But it was not a discussion anybody had the leisure to get into any longer.
Think about a concerted international demand for, say, a shorter work week, or wages commensurate with living requirements. (Think about how even thirty years back one—single—’d get by working twenty hours a week, “gainfully employ . . . with a humanitaria payin me twenty dollar a week” as John Kennedy O’Toole put it, and be consider’d “a member of the community,” that is, be able to do other things. Ithaca House operated under such circs for any number of years.)

Danilo Ashkil, “descended from Sephardic Jews who had fled the Spanish Inquisition three and a half centuries earlier, eventually settling in Salonica,” grows up “by the waterfront hanging around with ‘dervishes,’ gamblers, and hasheesh smokers, getting into the usual trouble,” gets sent to “a Bosniak branch of the family” in Sarajevo with its “confusion of tongues” and enters Pynchon’s novel with a mastery of “Italian, Turkish, Bulgarian, Greek, Armenian, Arabic, Serbo-Croatian, and Romany as well as the peculiar Jewish Spanish known as Judezmo.” (Against the Day likely outdoes Pound’s Cantos for variety of (“szum kind ov a furriner”) lingual tidbits.) Danilo A. delivers a discourse on “history—Time’s pathology” to Englishman Cyprian Latewood, in whom he notes “a defective sense of history, common among field operatives, given their need to be immersed in the moment”:
“I know it is difficult for an Englishman, but try for a moment to imagine that, except in the most limited and trivial ways, history does not take place north of the forty-fifth parallel. What North Europe thinks of as its history is actually quite provincial and of limited interest. Different sorts of Christian killing each other, and that’s about it. The Northern powers are more like administrators, who manipulate other people’s history but produce none of their own. They are the stock-jobbers of history, lives are their units of exchange. Lives as they are lived, deaths as they are died, all that is made of flesh, blood, semen, bone, fire, pain, shit, madness, intoxication, visions, everything that has been passing down here forever, is real history.

“Now imagine a history referred not to London, Paris, Berlin, or St. Petersburg but to Constantinople. The war between Turkey and Russia becomes the crucial war of the nineteenth century. It produces the Treaty of Berlin, which leads to the present crisis and who knows what deeper tragedies awaiting us . . .”
Treaty of Berlin, 1878: one of a flurry of treaties (London, 1832, 1863, 1864, Constantinople, 1881) whereby the Ottoman Empire gets disassembled and Turkey partition’d and (Paris 1856, London,1871, 1885) the “title deeds” of the Balkan states (Montenegro, Serbia, Rumania, Bulgaria) get settled and the navigation of the Danube policed. The work of “Europe” and its manifest contempt for the East.

(I am nigh certain that Pynchon’s talk of the forty-fifth parallel is what propels me into the lines. Growing up, pre-scuffling years, in Gaylord, Michigan, exactly astraddle that point, halfway between the equator and the north pole. One learn’d early to trace its trajectory east—Halifax, Nova Scotia; Lyon, France; Belgrade, Yugoslavia—across the Black Sea and into the mountainous Caucasus. Nearly all of Japan lies south of 45º N.)

Sneaking suspicion that it is Anarchy (loosely defined or not) that is the target in any “general war among nations”—certainly plausible when considering worldwide movements prior to WWI and WWII. As Reginald “Ratty” McHugh (shortly after a round of Anarchists’ Golf—“in which there was no fixed sequence—in fact, no fixed number—of holes, with distances flexible as well, some holes being only putter-distance apart, others uncounted hundreds of yards and requiring a map and compass to locate”) explains to Yashmeen:
“Anarchists would be the biggest losers . . . Industrial corporations, armies, navies, governments, all would go on as before, if not more powerful. But in a general war among nations, every small victory Anarchism has struggled to win so far would simply turn to dust. Today even the dimmest of capitalist can see that the centralized nation-state, so promising an idea a generation ago, has lost all credibility with the population. Anarchism now is the idea that has seized hearts everywhere, some form of it will come to envelop every centrally governed society . . . If a nation wants to preserve itself, what other steps can it take, but mobilize and go to war? Central governments were never designed for peace. Their structure is line and staff, the same as an army. The national idea depends on war. A general European war, with ever striking worker a traitor, flags threatened, the sacred soils of homelands defiled, would be just the ticket to wipe Anarchism off the political map. The national idea would be reborn. One trembles at the pestilent forms that would rise up afterward, from the swamp of the ruined Europe.”
That relentless fist squeezing the reckless fraught past to make the dire present spout out the interstices . . .

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Sienese Shredder

Tragedy and Comedy

After reading Bill Berkson’s opening salvo, a reprint’d commencement address call’d “History and Truth,” in the initial issue of The Sienese Shredder (edited by Brice Brown and Trevor Winkfield), I hesitate to strait-jacket the magazine with anything so fussily adroit as a “capsule summary” or a “quick-limned lineage”—tempting though that be. (Reading “works”—that is, “makes meaning,” by slotting things into arrays partially made by other readings: par exemple, my reading of Ron Silliman’s remarks about the Shredder and its lack of a “manifesto” ’s is dogging me like a hound hungry for a soup-bone.) Truth is, I read Berkson’s piece as manifesto, or, more to the point, anti-manifesto. And that throws down the gauntlet, challenging one to read precisely against the ruthless grip of one’s own pious knowledge as it is inevitably distill’d into preconception, tag, and etiquette. Berkson, after noting Stein’s 1923 conclusion, “Let me recite what history teaches. History teaches” and Robert Smithson’s warning that “All clear ideas tend to be wrong” and admitting to being “nearly crazy about facts,” writes:
What is so appealing about a fact is often its inconsequentiality. . . . Some facts, I believe, exhibit their true colors best by remaining beautifully, resolutely pointless. Authoritative history, however, has no appetite for pointless stories; thus, each fact is liable to be confronted with a preemptive glare or squint, the Muse of History’s vast, groaning, imperious “So What?” Without that “what” there’s nothing teachable.
Ah, the rankling of predigest’d pedagogical authority, that’s why that hound keeps barking . . . Berkson is clear about the proper uses (and damnable misuses) of that authority:
Art historical logic, museological practice or the arguments of art critics are good so long as they direct us back to the works under discussion with their facts illuminated—and they are bad when they direct us away from the work in favor of an overarching—and sense-stultifying—idea. . . . there is that type of museological thing where art functions to flesh out only our “museum” idea of things—down the enfilades, as it were, phase by phase.
So—avoiding the phase, the preconceit, the overarch (though ever-willing to muster up whatever relational tics begin jerking—“say, that Shirley Jaffe’s jazz-swatching recalls poor Stuart Davis, though occasionally a little of the Lichtenstein-quoting-art-history pieces, no?”), one proceeds, hunting and peckingly into the gorgeously printed work.

John Ashbery: the boyhood home in Sodus fill’d with J.A. paintings, works of the child artist stuck amongst grownups in downtown (Rochester) art lessons, and other works, Ashbery a painter first. Isn’t that it? What’s striking about Ashbery’s postcard collages (there are fourteen included in The Sienese Shredder, all in color, according to the note “executed in the early 1970s”) is how demur and considered they seem. Quiet (sauf one oddball, with Jerry Lewis leaping, tongue slap-lappingly out, above the foam of a waterfall named “White Head,” that goes demonstrably for camp snort and chortle—though, even there, a rose cathedral window is seen practicing “restraint” in the background). The “interventions” (gluey additions) minimal. On a hand-tinted photograph of a small reservoir (with ordinary fountain) in Rochester’s Highland Park, the head (emerging out of the water) of a kitten large-eyes a spool of thread. A pompadour’d man in a suit and tie, mouth with cigarette and pout-frown, eyes fetching nothing fetchable, is shown halfway down (or halfway up and out) a stone well—“Wishing Well, Ramona’s Marriage Place, San Diego , Cal.” In the sky above the sweep of bathing beach at Biarritz, a disc-shaped street-grating of some sort hangs like a UFO whilst below a sepia ark appears to run aground—in the foreground, two women turn away, the younger one with an ace of clubs tuck’d into her skirt-front. A girl-child—vaguely familiar, perhaps a newspaper comics heroine, almost Dargeresque, though wholly innocent—stands intently in a birch grove, looking.

Caught now thinking how one’d see the collages if the name Ashbery weren’t attached. (One thinks one’s patience for collage is nigh exhausted—who does Berkson quote as saying “What we need now is less Duchamp and more Cézanne”? Vija Celmins, with Berkson framing it a contretemps between blithe skepticism and earth-pulled sincerity. Or one recalls one’s recent disappointment at learning the Joseph Cornell boxes at the Art Institute in Chicago were off limits or AWOL or something . . .) Is it that too much of collage is “merely zany,” worth no more than a grimace-chuckle? Cheap irony? Is it that it’s needled its way into ad-baskets and the weeklies?) The Ashbery collages, look’d at all together, manage a lilt and melody somewhere between jokiness and, oh, feeling, the tilt, I wager, toward the latter.

Here’s a poem by Chris Edgar, one of four in the issue:

In the margins of the fairway
A second-story man seeks the dark fantastic
That lurks within the contemplative life,
Rebounding with the strength of twelve men
To cajole the five iron to new highs.
Once the procession of the equinoxes
Comes back down to earth, jarring
The insane root that holds sway
In the minds of many, the autumn foliage
Sees you in the rough,
At sixes and sevens in the bright
If cloud-studded New England day.
This is no two-man show
Whose rich dualism cannot be missed—
An entire fleet of people are counting
On you to deliver the emotional Velcro,
A human thunderclap to shake the trees.
A vertigo in which the buzz is all around,
Reaching the dogleg, one must field
Many tough questions, the paranormal romance
Only ends to begin again, as it is the rotation
Of the ball that matters, the lip meeting the hook,
Hitting the ground to jog past the bean counters
Before fading to the left, relax the hips and shoulders,
Stop and breathe a moment,
This buzzard is a turkey shoot,
No thoughts of negative capability here
Or you may shank everything.
Instead, learn to be instrumental in the process,
Read the waters one at a time,
The bird is in your hand, think wood.
What one wonders, bumping amusedly along here through veers and dictions (“To cajole the five iron to new highs”? “emotional Velcro”?), is whether Chris Edgar is a golfer, and one begins to doubt it, though, knowing that the only occasion where one oneself ever want’d to play golf was one rain-roof’d Michigan day in the midst of reading Toby Olson’s Seaview, one can only contemplate without knowing. (I learn’d the word divot, a fave, in Seaview.) There’s a sense here of Edgar trying out a (foreign?) lingo for fun, another sense of trying to ballast up the piece with numbers (for fun), another (jokily, a “sleeper,” though occasionally “protruding”) of golf as sexual gymnastics (“think wood”), another of golf as poetickal gymnastics (though here, with “No thoughts of negative capability here,” is where the piece may go momentarily coy). Sounds—I long to say “abound”—they do not, Edgar isn’t proceeding so much “by ear” as by assembled choice bits of golfer’s demotic—but the terrific “paranormal romance” indicates just how possible the former approach ’d be.

Trevor Winkfield, Self Portrait, 2001

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


A Wall

Cold enough the bicycle brakes freeze up—I slip through interstices of traffic. Post-work dribbles of energy yesterday sopped up by what—a moist towelette of reading? Against the Day nearly done—something of Shakespearean comedy in the odd couplings, the sortings out, all’s well enough that ends well enough. Wry acceptance in the anarchistickal households. End of the T. E. Hulme-ish-ness: “That fringe of cinders which bounds any ecstasy.” (Or, “Smoothness. I hate it.”)

William James: “Whosoever feels his experience to be something substitutional even while he has it, may be said to have an experience that reaches beyond itself. From inside of its own entity it says ‘more,’ and postulates reality existing elsewhere. For the transcendentalist, who holds knowing to consist in a salto mortale across an ‘epistemological chasm,’ such an idea presents no difficulty . . .” And Pynchon vociferating a notion of sleep’s ‘little death,’ the topsy-turvy side being death’s ‘big sleep,’—sleep nevertheless. “Back soon, and refreshed.” Question of scale. Longish nap and return. Writing—a writing life—encourages that “substitutional” thinking. The mortal leap of metaphor. ‘Knowing’ meaningless without ‘relation’—that grappling hook heaving its taut line behind, straddling the chasm.

What’s Ron Silliman going off about—I mean, beyond the usual laughably inapt hyperbole that offers no critical toehold beyond a kind of preen of hyperventilating, with that—“If, in fact, this is the only work that Fagin has published in over a decade, it should be in The New Yorker, damnit.” Hunh? I thought The New Yorker ’s part of the cootie-crowd, insupportable. Is it that Silliman actually aims, desires, yearns to “place” a poem therein—something for the ideologically intestate masses of Westport, Connecticut and environs? Or is it a backhanded slap at the new prose poems of Larry Fagin and the terrific new magazine The Sienese Shredder? Nah. Just more incoherent wild gesticulating by Silliman, uneasy with anything “New York,” and unable to critically react without a template in place.

Larry Fagin and Bill Berkson, 2006

Monday, January 08, 2007



Sunday slipping astern in the spyboat, me diddling the knurls of the focal knobs, in a grump. A weekend of quotidian soot and errand, cumulus of blacking one’s hands in the rube-rowdy agora. I toss up books and archives, all of it seeming in manner’d ascendancy towards hardly more than chump vers de société, ready only for the plump knowing chortles and snorts of the off-site set. Community depends on yea-sayers and henchmen for its merest gargle and pee, and, Sunday slipping astern, I’m nay-saying through and through.

Community is a canard, a way of ducking debate, the way the emergent academic majority (I mean, the blog-local rep of the Lang po’boys) ’s most routinely and imperially duck’d debate. Big silent potato. The sycophants slip in they hoo’s and ha’s, the eagerly-seen-agreeables, a monstrous race, consistency of cotton-candy. The swindlers lard the obsequious, the obsequious smarm the toadies, and the toadies hubba and youtube. Kallimachos (translated by Dudley Fitts):
I despise yr interminable novels-in-verse
Yr well traveled highways please me not
I abominate yr ubiquitous back-slappers
I will not drink from the common spring
I abhor anything popular.
Mmmfph, I reply, in the short version. Or, that particular verdigris’d metal off my tuberculoidal chest, I find solace in The Letters of James Schuyler to Frank O’Hara, edited by William Corbett (Turtle Point Press, 2006):
What props’t, thou ask’st, in these sad times my heart? The shelf of the vanity table on which I keep it stoppered; though it’s not a very well fitting stopper, since it hasn’t prevented most of the scent from evaporating. It left a gluey residuum in the bottom of the phial, which rather makes a comment on the label: “Joy, the World’s Costliest Perfume.” My heart is also like: last October’s apple; a flowering branch on which the tent caterpillars are at dinner; an empty Three Bromides tube; a Hardoy chair with a shoe in it; a punctured tennis ball; a pocket with 12 cents in it outside the furthest subway stop; Baby Katherine’s diapers; the overture to Lallah Roohk; a kitchen match without a tip; half a pair of scissors; eight women with one Between the Acts Cigar; a movie review in Cue; the unwritten pages from Death’s Jest Book; a garbage disposal unit logged with cellophane; a self-threading needle . . .
Scrumptious, that. And isn’t phial an excellent word? And dasn’t “we” (monstrously big with community now, having resuscitated another dead man for a chum, or two, even—and when’ll we see the O’Hara letters? the days of caring “if anybody gets it, or gets what it means, or if it improves them”—vanish’d. “There’s nothing metaphysical about it.”) Note, too, that ambivalent Schuylerism “the only way to see Manhattan’s foot is as it grows small and fades and turns into the tiniest idea.”

One last niggardly maxim to reiterate (in the present wave of community-mongering): a “scene” is not a “community.” Scene is a momentary toy reification of the gathering members’s entangled hierarchickal imaginaries. Collective disarray and battiness. Everybody stacking the chairs differently in they heads. Or “on” they heads. Unh hunh, it is. That is why one guy’ll go on interminably, bigheadedly, convinced of the rightness of ’s hen-pecking malodorous version, and another’ll read one, say, quarter of ’s minute allotment, thinking he’s big enough to’ve corner’d the market on beneficence. ’S got no more to do with community ’n a tomato worm’s got to do with Heinz’s 57 varieties. What community consists of: the way the word-strain is stain’d, mark’d incontrovertibly with trace meanings of those who’ve used it—how ineluctably I say “word-strain” because O’Hara (in “My Heart”) writes (writes!): “I’m not going to cry all the time / nor shall I laugh all the time, / I don’t prefer one ‘strain’ to another.” And Ron Silliman’s jingoistic “poetry is a community”? what’ll we make of that? (First, we’ll make fun of it—how dramatically inert and grammatically questionable it is, and Silliman a marketeer!) Next, we’ll point out how farcical and inapt it is in the mouth of one who tactically militates (“post-avant” or no) for the exclusion of an enormous slice of that communal pie, and tacitly, regally, ignores any disagreement, murmurous or shrill. Pettiness always wears the guise of bonhomie.

Monday morning comes in scot-free with a little wet blizzard. Sturm und drang skiddiness à la bicyclette. We, perishable, go through the language, and it through us. It wears us out, or down to a nub. We wear it out, “on our sleeves.”

Frank O’Hara, and O’Hara with James Schuyler