Monday, March 31, 2008

Dog and Romp

Thicket and Fringe

Coursing the southeastern Michigan freeways—passing one boxy block of offices after another, the lamely landscaped kind found in “research parks,” nearly all with signage recent and intact—things like “Metaldyne,” “Omnisysmatics,” “Dynosync,” (they could house anything), all post’d “For Sale” or “For Lease,” sign, one suspects, of the trickle-down effect of the automotive industry’s NAFTA-inspired cold shoulder to the region—into one of the tonier suburbs of Detroit Saturday, the incongruously-named Beverly Hills, where’s found one Detroit County Day School. There for a performance by violinist Gil Shaham and pianist Akira Eguchi, playing Mozart’s Mannheim sonatas, K.301-306, under the patronage of the Chamber Music Society of Detroit. Shaham and Eguchi clearly in dynosync, enjoying making music together, Shaham a slender wisp of a man (one thinks clothes must always look too big on him—at one point, during a rather extend’d piece of piano, he seem’d to collapse a little, shrinking down into a Beckettesque character, perplex’d, lost, defeated, huddled in), Eguchi seemingly unbudgeable, a solid unflagging presence at the piano, though probably the shyer of the two. Shaham’s eyes move constantly, traces of smiles and grimaces come and go, occasional tiny violent shudders, caught between anticipatory glee and a shudder against the grandeur confront’d, lead to a fierce bow attack. Terrific to watch music itself stir a man so unremittingly.

And then, Mozart being Mozart, that is, essentially frivolous, essentially an entertainment (that distend’d rot courtliness of powder’d men precisely beauty-mark’d and ringlet’d ladies with pinch’d off waists, art in full-blood’d service to a royal elite is never far off) my brainbox, that tiny stage, began to, well, entertain other notions there in the smallish auditorium of the Detroit County Day School, with its parking attendants in yellow slickers with electronic flares, portably orange, its Lincolns and Buicks, its trotlines and drop-off circle for a matron society. And looking about, one is overwhelm’d by the crowd, its pure whiteness, its age (precariously “hoist’d”), its obvious richesse, its self-safisfy’d readiness for art in its guise of empty spectacle, a canned consumable with no rough edges. The single bouquet at the long Lincoln-mimicking high-sheen reach of the grand piano is impeccable. These are, one supposes, remnants of the executive class that’s long inhabit’d the suburbs of Detroit, not the newer white flight (professional-classes on down), but the old school. (Prefatory remarks by a man with a shock of white hair and the demeanor of a fraternity brother—perpetual boyish smirk at being on stage—representing something call’d Comerica Wealth & Institutional Management, a “sponsor,” being precisely the outfit that recently announced it’d be moving its headquarters to Texas, hauling its financial ass out of the trouble-spot that is Michigan.)

In the Green Room post-concert, gain’d entirely licitly (note to usher to Shaham, usher returning with a thumbs up, long story) after traversing an area that seem’d to lead to a loading dock, one encounters Mr. Boyish Smirk (ignored), lots of champagne (triggering powerful thirst), and two matrons who eye with obvious disapproval one’s jeans and jersey quotidian-invisibility-costume, with smudge-color’d anorak puffy in the surround. Bustily manoeuvring they corner’d me, patiently waiting to greet Shaham, with the inevitable mock-innocence covering threat of low-level violence: “Can we help you?” If only, dear reader, I’d had the wherewithal to ask for “one of those tall flutes of champagne there.” No, I bow’d to my explanatory tale in all earnestness and they had to put up with my malign (unsightly) presence in the room.

Variation on a Line by Emily Dickinson

Remembrance enters through the back
Door, unclarify’d and abrupt. It
Shakes itself off like a
Dog and tracks the linoleum.
Entirely of the moment, it
Cancels all other plans, impertinent
And slobbering in its need.
Out in the front yard
A pliable whippet launches into
A pitiable howl. It drags
Its chain through spring run-
Off mud, clanking against bone-
Ends bury’d all winter. It,
Too, wants inside, to rub
Its concert’d individual self against
The newel posts of an
Ascent, or an assent. Yes,
And doggedly, I admit it:
A whole canine clan’s corner’d
My thinking, there’s no telling
What pack one’ll run up
Against in the stray metaphorical
Night. I’d better mop those
Paw prints off the floor.

Sign, instantly decipher’d, of a weekend fraught with the usual tearings off omnidirectional. A hoot in the making, and a bitch to reconstruct. Or maybe the result of desultory ambivalent readings out of a chaos of books—Mark Kurlansky’s The Basque History of the World’s the one I keep keeping to—though Paul LaFarge’s Haussmann, or The Distinction put in a valiant bid for attention, too. Such choice flailings rarely say anything about the particular volumes in hand, it’s something mischievous, intemperate, willful, perverse: a sudden revulsion to the very words one is reading. Then, last night late, I hoist’d up the Robert Duncan / Denise Levertov letters and, supine, balancing it against my sternum, thought I could probably remain like that through its completion, such was my sudden readiness for Duncan’s particular way of keeping thought liquid, waterlogged, swole up, und so weiter. (One is shy about predicting a forthcoming intensity, one’s found oneself out in midstream stuck in a book whilst the frolics go down in the tributary waters, yes one’s found oneself . . .)

Gil Shaham

Friday, March 28, 2008

Frank and Me

“Nature Morte”

Accuracy’s one of the many things one is liable for, coterie-back’d or not. Out here in the plains, black clouds bungling up the horizon, reddish specks of wild horses in the distant crease of canyon, the cottonwoods shedding stuff everywhere, we ain’t got no bunkhouse, and no tight-blanket’d bunk to bounce a Webster’s off. No collateral mesmerism. No hellbent radical sidewinder snake making inroads for the collectivity. No fucking movies. We shoot any rangy peckerwood what gets gabby. We—pshaw—that’s my broken chair way of talking. In lieu of the rain-color’d cordonings-off of mutually borrowable desires (so I hear), one hunkers in the dust where a peccary’s dump’d. Counts the excreta, and looks for the beetles that’ll deposit it in the endless implausible corridors of desert. Just how kids is. Unflaggingly, one attends to the act of looking itself, wholly uncharm’d by the latest carney-bark’d immediacy, unkempt by any standard. A Chrysler full of jimson weed tears by. A Kurdistan settler sweeps the earth with trailing black robes, imploring the cropdusters to return. A dust devil dervishes by, pokes out one fat finger, and drops in a heap of exhaut’d camaraderie. Thank God we’re not
all stuck in mid-Atlantic up on the bridge
of some big fucking boat, talking about beating
the tar out of one another, or hoisting a sextant
only to lop up against some New Englander
captain’s funny hat, invariably bobbing, and he
there holding a Zippo to a cork, about to
malign a tradition.
                                      All the waves move in one direction
a little slant off the way the boat’s point’d, climbing
up like hair raked up with a comb into a tease,
and unraveling, lacy spittle flecking the green. Gulls
teeter and wheel, and cry out with human voices. Miles
away where the sea capitulates to land, gypsy
men paw bare-handedly at the clattery shingle in fits,
scooping shallow pits for dead daughters who
fled to the disarming cities. A surge of wave is nothing, dangle-rope of sluttish allegory unattached. If you’re thinking my horseplay’s smudged my mascara, oh, maybe so, maybe so. One’s as liable here to fall into plutocratic wheezing about one’s first editions as one is to find a boy who’ll scrounge a whole knobby arm down in the brine to fetch the final pickle out the barrel. Impossibly late it is, the mendicants assemble, the auctioneer’s start’d that hebbedy-ebbedy stuff and the house confederate’s mentally tracking the path one enormous drop of sweat is making, armpit to hip. Consider yourself the house confederate. Consider yourself the mendicant’s ass. Epigone city is where we’re at, or I haven’t dirtied myself. After fifty, if a man still wants a truck . . . (Insert irony’s poky little ellipsis.) I ought to make myself clearer: the social is broken, a mold and a swerve, a distraction. There are those who cannot speak without (howsoever subtly) histrionic flagellant manoeuvres. There are those who cannot speak unless raptly engaging (howsoever deludedly) in the blunt exercise of power. There are those who cotton to whatever washes over the wash that washday. Somewhere Ashbery speaks of how child and pervert
Join hands, in the instant
Of their interest, in the shadow
Of a million boats

at the exact moment when hunger’s become “merely a gesture.” Beauty built of mete sundry inaccuracies about to topple. Mad semaphoric flag-waving. A permanent regatta slip barter’d off by the commissioner of the marina. Wildly formal dining off platters of crudités become a wildly formal dunning. My hunger, confederate, is solitary, inextinguishable, and brute, and sweeps by.

Thinking about Robert Frank. The late Mabou-made messes, collaged combos with writing—sick of / goodby’s and hold still—keep going—drip and smudge and tape. Objects invading the pictorial plain / plane. How to scribble in a piece of writing, how to cover up (barely, so drawing attention to) earlier sketches, thumbnails. (Jack Spicer lemons.) How to make contiguous frames enjamb, the butting up plain a plain rebuttal of the desire to include everything. Salman Rushdie says of Frank: “Looking at the Mabou pictures, I remember these lines of Virginia Woolf: A masterpiece is not the result of a sudden inspiration but the product of a lifetime of thought.”

Robert Frank, “Andrea, Mabou, 1977 (with Ship)”

Robert Frank, “Sick of Goodby’s”

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Chris Martin’s American Music

A Wall (Mask and Razor)

I know Chris Martin almost solely through the fine editorship of the whimsically named (and present’d) magazine Puppy Flowers, having never come across any of a handful of chapbooks he’s got out via Bench Press, isabel lettres, and Angry Dog Midget Editions. So I alight on the newly in print American Music (Copper Canyon Press, 2007) with little preconception. A kind of readerly tabula rasa’d “stance” that’s somewhat rare, I’d think, and provides an emphatic boost to one’s eventual judgment, no matter the verdict. Here, happily, uh, “innocent”? Meaning, I think it’s a terrific book.

Martin is up front about finding a way to write, detailing in a piece of back cover copy how “One of the things that opened the world of American Music to me was plagiarism . . . In order to feel comfortable speaking from my own voice, I found it necessary to include the voices of others, I wanted, as Creeley said, to find company.” The kind of statement that, I find, is capable of boding the baddest of bad weathers in the form of moronic “sampling,” all mere technique and knowing nudge. Even in a finely word’d note that ends American Music—“Words lead double lives: anonymously adrift and tethered to authorship”—that precedes a listing of some of the “voices in the chorus,” I suffer ignoble presentiments (though I am buck’d up by the sheer variousness of names, Jean Michel Basquiat, Ed Dorn, Lyn Hejinian, Werner Herzog, Bill Withers, I Feel Tractor, Gaston Bachelard, &c.)

If I expect’d a jittery recording of acontextual voice, proceedings interruptus of hint and miss, what I read is entirely different. Martin’s voice is remarkably present, sardonic, toying, sheepish, mischievous, full of exceeding wonder—indeed, the “chorus” barely impinges at all. The poems are models of velocity and containment—they fly short-linedly down the page, they scoop together a whole range of things, worlds of simultaneity (I am thinking of Lyn Hejinian’s recent work model’d after the three-ring circus). Here’s one titled “Fertility for Dummies”:
Reads the book thankfully
Unread on the shelf, the glass
Gym across the park

Deserted, the tips
Of three of
My fingers have grown

Waxy, taut, things
Welling between the surface
And the bone as a lady

In an eggshell
Shawl pours over her
Copy of Southern

only to lift
Her eyes from the page, lean
Across the table and leer

At me, increasing my ever-present
Paranoia that strangers
Can read the intimate portraits

I make of them and will any
Minute be thrusting
A sharp part of their body

Against mine and now snow
Has begun to flutter
And circle tentatively beyond

The panes like some Felliniesque
Spring wildly jumping
The gun, this Thursday

Languor could use such an Italian
Commotion, the impromptu
Bonfire flush against a sudden and cartoonish

Bosom, it is in
This way that my biology attends
To the shapes my looking

Constructs and I am here
To appreciate the manner in which
A smoking woman

Wades through asphalt, how
One building dwarfs
A larger one merely by the affect

Of its character, the way the boy
Impatiently cultivates
His inviolate sheen, combing

The grates with his eyes, his fists
Hidden but surely
Balled, not often am I

Prepared for violence, though I find it
Natural, in me as in
The world, and it remains

Revolting, the brief
Desire to trample something
loving certain

Registers of collapse, tiny pockets
Bereft of grief, it reminds me how Henry
Miller spent three years

Inside a slide
Trombone and I have
Found myself too

Sane, and sullen, and suddenly
I feel just like Bonnie
Raitt on the cover of Streetlights

Her mouth unself-consciously
Open, a little
Question in her

Eyes as if
To say, “I am so
Full of this . . .

This . . . what is this?”
“What is this?” indeed. One thing it is, is one long sentence—an approach that is remarkably consistent in American Music, no more that atomized puncta of New Sentence-ry, that pointillism array of disparate particulars un-melding. Here, things are streaming, like video, and the operative words are as and while and and and and now. Time, like the sentence, knows no division, howsoever minute, and only the sweep of a gaze is needed to depict its monstrous variety, its untrammell’d fluidity. The short lines, initially cap’d, offer speed and keep one off balance: insistent short-term ambiguities made by line breaks (“a lady / In an eggshell / [half beat of miniature visuals] Shawl [readjusting out of pleasant fairy tale and into fashion lingo, seeing the word “eggshell” switch diction-allegiance, a small exhilarating ride . . . ]”) The poem registers almost indifferently, that is to say, without any strain whatsoever, the constant undercurrents of sexual unrest so formidably display’d in cities, and in language. The other thing that carries the piece is its careening big diction, demotic “Spring . . . jumping / The gun” to the brilliantined up (almost greasy in its preciousness) “the boy / Impatiently cultivates / His inviolate sheen.” I love it.

The aim to conquer by
Purely aesthetic means the ordinary
Range and surly pedigree of
The natural world is one
Common enough to merit little
Fuss beyond the framed up
Shakedown—a repeatable coulee-style
Washout—of its driest capture.
All the nodding relinquishment that
Is beauty, grandeur purloin’d by
Seizure’s fits and snatches, mechanical.
All tracery and bulk, mass
Itself providing impetus to art,
As if, without it, it’d
Sleek down timorous, beastly, pale.
That brassy farmland with creak
Of weathervane, that understudy land
Shoehorn’d in under a flotilla
Of high white nimbus’d clouds
Misses completely the spittlebug’s saliva-
White wad hanging in that
Green fork of timothy, misses
The scree of shale tipping
Down into the creek bed,
Misses the field sparrow with
A bill the color of
A thumbnail pendulum-wobbly atop
A sedge-stalk, and grub-
Traffic below in the tamp’d-
Down dead zone grassy intersticials
Where the ordinary fuss is.

Chris Martin

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Friederike Mayröcker’s brütt, or The Sighing Gardens

A Wall (Smudge and Seam)

In the terrific brütt, or The Sighing Gardens (Northwestern University Press, 2008), translated by Roslyn Theobald, Friederike Mayröcker’s “I” sits writing with both feet (“marled”) in a tub of hot water, and worries that her notes’ll slide off the table into it and be soak’d. Her “I” is “an abashed loser”—she reads Roland Barthes and comes across lines of Robert Musil, and compares her own writing against Musil’s “stylistic means” only to see herself “lagging far behind”:
. . . if I compare the soundness as well as the transparency of Musil’s language with my own, mine seems vague, frail, superficial, and incapable of casting real shadows, one of the prerequisites for good literature : as we are dealing with living objects of art, they have a shadow, but this must be proven in the practice of language, I say, the most difficult thing I say, is the use of verbs. . . . often, I say, not having the appropriate verb at hand, early signs of dementia, mentally underequipped, or there are these tiny PARASITES in my body (head), etc., probably monkey business.
It is recurrent, a sense of wrongedness, of charlatanry, of uselessness and doubt. Mayröcker’s “I” summons up Francis Bacon’s paintings (“I could always trust in him, I mean I could trust in the ugliness and stench”—she mentions in particular “Self Portrait, 1973,” and, surely, the legendary slovenliness of Bacon’s studio is echo’d in Mayröcker’s own note-clutter and -scatter, dross-toss, repeatedly), echoes Beckett (“we end up standing at 1 open grave or another again and again”), mimics Kitaj:
I certify myself a failure, from the earliest years of childhood on, I say to Blum, always shaping everything into inexact forms, awkward, mashed, disjointed, etc., I submerge myself in the painting by R. B. Kitaj “bather (tousled hair)” (1978), that’s the way I would always liked to have written, I say to Blum, write the way this picture was painted . . .
Though the book’s “about”—in a large sense—itself, its own coming into writing, there is a story “casting real shadows,” though splinter’d, disjoint: that of Joseph and Mayröcker’s (“I”) increasing fondness for, attract and repulse movements re: him (“I say to Blum, and my heart is no longer bleeding, when I think about Joseph, he has become a character made of cardboard, cardboard comrade, I say to Blum, maybe again, over and over again, inadequate my feelings, arrangements, judgments, I tramp through the deep snow in the courtyard of City Hall, looking for an the exit . . .”)

(The compulsion to continue that draws long and longer what intended to be shortish quotes, seeing how each additional clause torques the previous, as if each sentence were a word in the Basque language Euskera, an agglutinating language of about 200,000 words, whose vocabulary is monstrously extended by nearly 200 standard suffixes, simple enough concepts becoming words of formidable length, and precision—so with the Mayröckeresque sentence tailings ever extendable . . .)

“Joseph” is immoderately link’d to Mayröcker’s story of writing brütt (which is brütt itself), he is goad and rein both (just the way anyone’s writing out of love—or into love—provides marvelous focus, a spur and a guide, writing with enough heft for shadows, even when done in the midst of aleatory jamming, or constructivist duty, see Jackson Mac Low’s “Stanzas for Iris Lezak” for example). He is cause and prevention of the writing:
I say to Joseph, just imagine! suddenly I’ve uncovered : invented the beautiful art of storytelling, against which I’ve struggled so often and so long, weathered that is . . ah, I say to Joseph, what shall I do with my BOX OF WORKING MATERIAL with my paper with my impulsiveness, it will turn out all the same no matter what I do, the fine art of storytelling is a trompe l’oeil, pretense, and there is a spirit rumbling around in me, mad spirit that is always and again and over and over again resisting this contrary SEDUCTIVE notion of a systematic / rational writing process, right, I mean I am spitting into a folded sheet of grayish white writing paper, HAVE YOU COUGHED UP ANY BLOOD?, the doctor asks, I bend over my folded and ragged sackcloth and writing paper and say : strands of blood, I say, there are these life strands in blood, leave me my life strand of blood, leave me my devastation, my wild curses, the temptation to pitch myself out of the window, my viper’s brood, etc.
Against the “rational writing process” there is the expressivist trauma (happily, Traum = dream) of cough’d up blood, writing as life itself, not as a representation (shadow-throwing) of life. And a vigilant wariness of ruts, a fundamental distrust of falsify’d goods:
A few of us become nothing but ardent businessmen, I say to Blum, who are trading on the goods of their souls they created 2 or 3 decades ago, because there is nothing new coming out of their heads, isn’t that right, all they care about is making a profit on the product of their minds which they created 3, 4 or more decades ago, the venerable powers of the soul : fruits of the soul presented to man and to woman as fresh produce right, I say to Blum, but a soul won’t allow itself to be sold without exacting a price it’s not like a cow on the hoof . . .
A brilliant seeping hint of prophet-tenor there, completely viable (meaning, it’s an international malaise that, not just the finagle-ware of a number of norteamericanos).

I keep thinking of the line of Wittgenstein that goes When one does not force himself to express the inexpressible, nothing is lost and the inexpressible is contained inexpressibly in that which is expressed. One of Mayröcker’s stories, recurrent, is how she is rewriting—evidence of the rewriting erupts without notice, and wars with the existing writing. Mayröcker:
And now I am making a cursory flight through my first draft, I am overflying my first draft, it has escaped me, but maybe in this superficial way (of reading?) there are still a few glowing ravages, or something like that, which can be brought into final, into the final, I mean into a usable form, etc.
And elsewhere, complaining of “running amok in the underbrush of my own words”:
. . .that damned coda, I say, you shouldn’t even be struggling for it, there’s something unseemly about it, isn’t that right, I say to Blum, better to have everything end worn out, rotten, ragged, each and every sequence simply disintegrating, without an end point, without remedial icing, etc.
It is that open work (opera aperta) refusal to feint, to weave and bob and ensorcelate with puppetry, with shadow puppets, (that’d throw, surely, a reasonable illustrative patch out for one’s story’d construction and consumption) that keeps Mayröcker’s brütt so completely alive. Or one might think of it as florilegia and pentimenti, an overgrowing of text over text, mold circles, debris layers, a palimpsest.

Francis Bacon, “Self Portrait, 1973”
(“Under, next to, behind the chair on which he is sitting with legs crossed, a soot-colored (steaming) shadow is spreading out across the linoleum floor, most likely necrological abstinence or liquefaction the broad-faced wristwatch on his left wrist reads 10:30, our : his and my : yoke association, etc.”)

Francis Bacon, 1909-1992

Friederike Mayröcker, 1924-
(Photograph by Barbara Klemm)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Drub’d Up

Fork and Bin

The grocer aligns the oranges
In pyramidal rows, navels down,
And pierces one with a
Pin attach’d to a shiny
Placard announcing a price determined
By meteorological patterns and union
Labor stoppages, a tussle of
Indeterminables. It all, the grocer
Decides, comes down to pennies,
And the way the sun
Lights up the perfect regularity
Of the tiny mountain of
Oranges puts the ‘ill commixture’
Of economics to a test
It need not undergo. For
History, diploid twin, is embedd’d
Within that cargo of oranges,
A story of origins, how
A single orchard in Brazil
In 1820 witness’d an abrupt
Saltation, genetic leap and offertory,
Culminating in a large-globed,
Near seedless fruit with heritable
Characteristics. One single cutting transplant’d
To clement California in 1870
Begins a marketing campaign intrinsic
In twinning, mimicking the pyramidal
Arrangement, if only by considering
Its obverse, like any coin.

That’s the kind of thing that emerges in a few minutes of rush with the fire alarums sounding, some unofficial procedure for “testing” that requires a lengthy loud commitment, yow. Likely it suffers a kind of apparent monomania, the danger of getting going with one “thing” too long. Would that, say, Roland Barthes had drubbed into it some semiotic tensility, or Norman Maclean had upped the ante by stumbling by to wolf down a big sandwich made of Monterey jack and mustard. Winter’s lockjaw bite is back, tearing the eyes, clawing the cheeks, wind-whipping bicycle, all icy ruts and blades. I read another big gulp of the Mayröcker, decided, late, I’d only addle my own pate and those of my genial “crew” of readers (that is, me and my diploid twin, that ingrown homunculus there beneath the “big dome” of my skull) by rushing anything “further” about it into print.

Oranges Drying at a Co-op Packing Plant, Redlands, California, 1943

Monday, March 24, 2008

Friederike Mayröcker’s brütt, or The Sighing Gardens

A Wall (Adhesive and Scar)

Reading Friederike Mayröcker’s brütt, or The Sighing Gardens (Northwestern University Press, 2008), translated by Roslyn Theobald. Part of the newish Avant-Garde and Modernism Collection series of that press—Haroldo de Campos’s Novas is, too—under the general editorship of Rainer Rumold and Marjorie Perloff. Mayröcker (b. 1924), long a leading figure of the German post-war avant-garde, and long associated with Ernst Jandl, publish’d the book in 1998: one figures it written by a seventy-plus year old Mayröcker.

In the form of dated entries, Mayröcker’s “I” considers a rather empty quotidian of sharp reveries and sporadic naps, books pick’d up and put down, letters written and received. The writing itself—syntactically skippy, with cherish’d oddments of emphases, or sudden OUTPOURINGS OF THE MAJESCULAR—is fleet and sidewinding (slurry) simultaneously, lashing out here and there to include whatever swings up out of the daily rhythm, the gone, the current, the wayward. It is punctuated by (drawn up into a temporal frame by) several stock epithets unchanging: “I tell Blum” or “I write to Joseph” or “X (or William or Ferdinand) writes to me” or “Elisabeth von Samsonow writes.” So the universe of the book becomes one of stories exchanged, or sentences exchanged, a language parade (and growing old, and writing). Though I mark’d innumerable terrific air-sucking lines (Mayröcker’s particularly good at implanting sudden fiercely piercing images, seemingly out of nowhere, completely odd), it’s likely that it’s the cumulative effect, the gentle assault that’s typique. Mayröcker:
I say to Blum: language history, I say, everything is language history, we just don’t want to admit it. Where options are left open to us, I say, where options are left open to us in a work of art, we start searching in vain for some kind of rules to follow, I misread the address of the sender, instead of Schillerplatz : Achillesplatz, I wonder if there is any kind of connection here?, I couldn’t tell, was that car in the dark coming toward me or headed away, instead of writing the address “München” most of the time “Mündchen,” it occurred to me early this morning that I’m trying for a kind of NOVELNESS in my most recent work, I am striving for NOVELNESS, whatever that means, I say to Blum, what do you think about the transitions in your work, a journalist wants to know, but I don’t know what to think, I tell him : this constant, I believe impassioned attitude of fantasy (and so not actual fantasy) is still an overarching influence, and saw tears on the amputated tree, glittering gold-colored tears of resin, I say, saw roses on tall stems, wilting robinias along the boulevards, the shrimp on my plate, that is the entire secret, or as Botho Strauß says : SUDDENLY THE END RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DRESSING ROOM . . but sometimes, I tell Blum, when I take stock of everything, in these miserable, barren hours, it happens that I find myself having to say : I have done everything wrong, I have lost everything, wasted, missed, I headed off in the wrong direction, maybe the AESTHETICS OF LANGUAGE, which has been at the heart of my work since the beginning, was simply the wrong goal in the earthshakingly monstrous times, oh, the composites did it to me, the composers, the strolling, as Elisabeth von Samsonow writes, in her mind she sees me the way I was strolling in her ocher-colored handwriting, an ocher-colored woman’s hand with red border around the wrist, offering me a small bouquet of spring flowers, now in the middle of autumn, I tell Blum, stars in bright colors, plump green stems cut in uneven lengths, bundled together with a double cord, long-legged out of water (climbing) . . .
Elsewhere I scribbled the comment that Mayröcker’s poems “remind me of Bernadette Meyer,” and add’d, “some remind me (sparsely) of Joseph Ceravolo, both, undoubtedly, false etymologies, skew’d impossible lineages. ‘Of the international graphomaniac tradition.’” I think of neither in the case of brütt, Ceravolo lacking the heft and pull, Mayer the dada piquancies—things like Mayröcker’s “scribbled down on small folded mauve-colored napkins, my little finger gliding like a ribbon of syrup across the empty page” or “my transit body is exhausted, I lie down on a sleeping mat, a lark is shooting salvos around inside my skull.” Though I do keeping thinking something like cette écriture féminine qui n’en est pas une, this writing that exceeds writing, all overlap and splash, uncontainable and there, all-encompassing in the same moment. Mayröcker’s approving quote of Bataille: “The wind outside is writing this book.” Or Mayröcker’s writing, in a kind of damning comparison?
I never write anything down, says Blum in a rather distant tone of voice, before I have thought it through completely and understand it, Blum says, language is a tumult, I say, like the senses, like ecstasy, clearly our libidos are controlled by our brains, isn’t that so, I say, last night’s housefly has gone back into action, a page full of scribbles . . .
Reminding me somewhat of Luce Irigaray’s argument for a “language in which ‘she’ goes off in all directions and in which ‘he’ is unable to discern the coherence of any meaning”: “Woman has sex organs just about everywhere. She experiences pleasure almost everywhere . . . The geography of her pleasure is much more diversified, more multiple in its differences, more complex, more subtle, than is imagined—in an imaginary [system] centered a bit too much on one and the same.”

And, because I found a copy of Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser (because one “character” in it is “Glenn Gould”) and’d been plowing around rather aimlessly in it, I found a passage by Bernhard that rather echo’d some of Mayröcker. He writes about how, after spending “six weeks in uninterrupted writing” about Glenn Gould, writing the book in hand:
In the end . . . I had only sketches for this work in my pocket and I destroyed these sketches because they suddenly became an obstacle to my work rather than a help, I had made too many sketches, this tendency has already ruined many of my works; we have to make sketches for a work, but if we make too many sketches we ruin everything . . .
Versus (and is the difference one of degrees, Bernhard struggling, in fact, to throw over the pre-knowing?) Mayröcker’s insistence that:
I MUST FORGET EVERYTHING in order to finish this work, you have to get yourself in harness, no enmeshed, once you get involved in a writing project a writing diktat, there is no going back, or everything will be ruined, isn’t that right, maybe it’s getting your claw hooked into the robe of language, you attach yourself, you get snared, you get snagged in language in the MATERIAL in the TEXTURE, etc., and in the same way language seems to get hooked, attached, it hooks its claws into us the moment we acquiesce, so, we lead we guide each other, in equal measure . . .
Vatic voice as claw in the lingual firmament, I do love it so.

Friederike Mayröcker
(Photograph by Doris Poklekowski)

Friday, March 21, 2008

“Words Coming Through”

“Robot Oil”

Thursday’s late afternoon fatigue and two bottles of Labatt’s production:

Days go by wherein the nub of flattery lies just
Perpendicular to the long damp crease of the random
Fit that flung that one leg out so to begin with—

So that: coquelicots blush savagely out across fields denuded of
Anything lush, or green, pockmark’d industrial flats
Where rust-gnaw’d tankers square off.

What I mean is, I doubt if intent’s got much to do
With style, though one’s fitfully pleased if the kids
Knotting up in bunches near the Tilt-a-Whirl—

Wholly against the crowd’s impeccably general
Erring—forgo a moment the mischief of
Dispersal, clandestine and relax’d. Stunning is

The one with bobbed hair, pert in a tomboy way,
With eyes darting, sliding off up into sky
Where the journeywork of the stars proceeds continuously,

Though invisibly now in the sprung trap of daylight.
Such is the way of style, the words eschewing
Mean particularity as they come down off the ladder

That goes up to the heavens. There isn’t a one
One wouldn’t trade against a bigger glee, cranial
Beast that one is. They are windows. They are rockets.

They orchestrate and blunt. They are not “as if.”
So the kids disentangle and disperse, each
Meticulous with indifference, wired for sound.

That field is no field. Derisory trees propped up in ironwork.
Somebody’s broken Leica discard’d by the curb. The Soviet terrier
By the name of Laika that went, strapped down, up into space.

A late morning dawdle, bicycle tire unrepair’d. Snow, one predicts, coming in the afternoon, two to five inches, back to boots. In Nazi Literature in the Americas, one of Robert Bolaño’s entries is concern’d with one Max Mirebalais, plagiarist (“he decided to spare himself the difficult years of apprenticeship”) and inventor of heteronyms. What “Max Mirebalais, alias Max Kasimir, Max von Hauptman, Max le Gueule, Jacques Artibonito,” born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1941, sees, is that literature, “a surreptitious form of violence, a passport to respectability, . . . can, in certain young and sensitive nations, disguise the social climber’s origins.” So the Maxes (Artibonito, “composer and singer,” arrives late in Mirebalais’s career) proceed, thieving the works of obscure poets of various nationalities, each Max with a story (“All poets invent their past”), with their poetic labors:
The poets gained in depth; the differences between them became more clearly marked (von Hauptman the bard of the Aryan race, a fanatical mulatto Nazi; Le Gueule the model of the practical man, hard-headed and militaristic; Mirebalais the lyrical poet, the patriot calling forth the shade of Toussaint L’Ouverture, Dessalines and Christophe, while Kasimir celebrated négritude, the landscapes of the fatherland and mother Africa, and the rhythm of the tam-tams). The similarities emerged more clearly too: they were all passionately devoted to Haiti, order and the family. In religious matters there was some disagreement: while Mirebalais and Le Gueule were Catholic and reasonably tolerant, Kasimir practised voodoo rites, and the vaguely Protestant von Hauptman was definitely intolerant. Clashes among the heteronyms were organized (especially between von Hauptman and Le Gueule, who were always spoiling for a fight), followed by reconciliations. The interviewed one another. The Monitor published some of the interviews. It is not absurd to suppose that one night, in a moment of inspiration and ambition, Mirebalais dreamed of constituting the whole of contemporary Haitian poetry on his own.
Reading a recent Marcela Valdes piece that Peter Culley point’d out, one joins the clamour that Bolaño’s book of essays Entre paréntesis (Anagrama, 2004) be translated into English. One is wholly struck, in reading Nazi Literature in the Americas, by the extent of reference, the width of Bolaño’s angle of view, what must’ve been the voracious (omnivorous) quality of ’s reading, as the Valdes article confirms. Max von Hauptman copies “Fernand Rolland, Pierre Vasseur-Decroix and Julien Dunilac.” Max Le Gueule concocts poems out of works by, among others, “the Malien poet Siriman Cissoko and the Guinean Keita Fodeba, to whose works . . . [he] initially reacted with howls and later with trembling.” One entry refers to a writer one of whose works is “a text in which quotations from MacLeish and Conrad Aiken are combined with the menus of the Orange County jail.” For one writer, he constructs a wholly imaginary (and enormous) opus based on Arnold J. Toynbee’s Hitler’s Europe. Into a book chock’d full of invent’d writers and artists, Bolaño’s fierce intelligence plugs an audacious number of real, and often somewhat obscure, references. (One admits to be rather appall’d by the seeming near-contempt some of one’s contemporaries and “elder spokespersons” exhibit for reading. Or wide reading. That it might, one supposes, “get in the way” of the writing. Judging by some lists, even prose fiction (in all its migratory genres) falls out into some ambient purview of the negligible, the unnecessary—to say nothing of history, or natural history, or art, or travel literature, &c.)


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Roberto Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas

Hemostat and Vial

I read a goodly chunk of Roberto Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas (New Directions, 2008), another Bolaño translated by Chris Andrews. Blackly funny, and quickly limn’d. One of the marvels of Bolaño’s prose is the uncanny ability to catch character itself in the tiniest of summaries, without “resorting” to dialogue. Here’s a paragraph about Ernesto Pérez Masón (“Matanzas, 1908–New York, 1980” under the entry, the book’s structure is that of a reference work, with short biographies of the “major” figures follow’d by end matter—“Epilogue for Monsters”—that lists “Secondary Figures,” “Publishing Houses, Magazines, Places . . .” and “Books”—its mockery is somehow of the scholarly apparatus itself, the critical insistence on category, and the blind belligerences of the social “network,” the self-appoint’d groupuscular doctrinaire toute à la fois):
A rather atypical member of the group that formed around the magazine Orígenes, he maintained a legendary feud with Lezama Lima. On three occasions, he challenged the author of Paradiso to a duel. The first time, in 1945, the affair was to be decided, so he declared, on the little field he owned outside Pinar del Río, which had inspired him to write numerous pages about the deep joy of land ownership, a condition he had come to see as the ontological equivalent of destiny. Naturally Lezama spurned his challenge.
Perfect dry understatement. I love the echo of Erle Stanley Gardner / Raymond Burr in the name. One of the Cuban Pérez Masón’s novels is discover’d by the censors to spell out, by means of acrostics embedded in each chapter’s paragraphs, things like “LONG LIVE HITLER” and “USA WHERE ARE YOU” and “KISS MY CUBAN ASS.”

Elsewhere, Bolaño’s reference work engages in cover description and critique. Regarding a “little book . . . entitled Twelve, by one Pedro González Carrera (“all concur in affirming . . . that his work was as brilliant as his life was dull”), Bolaño says,
the cover, which was the author’s own work, is noteworthy in its own right, as it was the first of many drawings he produced to accompany his poems (the others came to light only after his death). The letters of the word Twelve on the cover, equipped with eagle talons, grip a swastika in flames, beneath which there seems to be a sea with waves, drawn in a childlike style. And under the sea, between the waves, a child can in fact be glimpsed, crying, “Mom, I’m scared!” The speech bubble is blurred. Under the child and the sea are lines and blotches, which might be volcanoes or printing defects.
(Which, for all its malign cartoonery, might’ve been submit’d under the smarm-meter of flarf, no? Or would that be inappropriately “inappropriate.” Something about its obviousness, its boosterism of the poorly-made, the childlike, the obvious . . .)

Too, there’s Bolaño’s report of the critical response to a book by one “Andrés Cepeda Cepeda known as The Page,” who, himself, through a daily column whose “articles, ranging widely, like those of Dr. Johnson, provoked hostility and lasting resentment.” Predictably, “because of The Page’s notoriety,” the critics go after the book like a pack of dogs, “each trying to outdo the savagery” of the other:
Among the expressions employed were the following: prehistoric Nazi, moron, champion of the bourgeoisie, puppet of capitalism, CIA agent, poetaster intent on debasing public taste, plagiarist (he was accused of copying Eguren, Salazar Bondy, and Saint-John Perse, in the last case by a very young poet from San Marcos, whose accusation sparked another polemic opposing academic followers and detractors of Saint-John Perse), gutter thug, cut-rate prophet, rapist of the Spanish Language, satanically inspired versifier, product of a provincial education, upstart, delirious half-blood, etc., etc.
Etc. Precisely. That endless stream of epithets, publish’d, publishable, or not, divots kick’d up by the number of horses coursing the “field.”

Or there’s Willy Schürholz, born in 1956 in Colonia Renacer, Chile (“literally ‘Rebirth Colony’), a completely self-sufficient community wherein “the ethnic origin of its inhabitants” is “without exception, German.” Schürholz, sent off to Santiago to study agriculture, discovers poetry. Bolaño’s brilliant assessment and conclusion:
He had what it takes to fail spectacularly: even his earliest works have a discernible style of their own, an aesthetic direction that he would follow with hardly a deviation until the day he died. Schürholz was an experimental poet.
And, too, the resultant initial mad enchantment of the groupuscule that embraces Schürholz’s “experimental” doings:
His first poems combined disconnected sentences and topographic maps of Colonia Renacer. They were untitled. They were unintelligible. Their aim was not to be understood, and certainly not to secure the reader’s complicity. One critic has suggested that they indicate where to dig for the buried treasure of a lost childhood. Another maliciously surmised that they show the locations of secret graves. Schürholz’s friends from the avant-garde poetry scene, who were generally opposed to the military regime gave him the affectionate nickname The Treasure Map, until they discovered that he espoused ideas diametrically opposed to their own. The discovery took some time.
Schürholz ends up, perfectly, a “guide for German tourists” in Africa.

Roberto Bolaño, 1953-2003

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Now Is Not Hereafter

Five Years

Cold rain ongoing, with just enough wind to slant it up into the down-dragging physiognomy. Denuded, the streets. All the winter’s collect of debris exposed. Flat tire on the bike, a regular spring riddle. Cold enough the crows gather to spatter the walks in the Law Quad, its little stone replica of some pedigree’d arrangement in England, Oxford or Cambridge, who remembers? Night yesterday took me off to viddy Bruno Monsaingeon’s 2005 film Glenn Gould: Hereafter, and listen to Monsaingeon’s stories of Gould. Prodigious feats of memory. Marathon sessions of talk. Too, Gould’s “For me, the presence of people is a distraction” and the rejection of the company of “artists,” comparing such to the “apes of Gibraltar,” each one endlessly attempting to climb up higher on the rock than any of the others. Gould’s large black and white English setter named “Arnold S.” after Schönberg. Gould’s excellently lopsided head, ears drawn out of two different job lots, pointing in separate directions, teeth in tilt and lean, crooked. (The comforting ’fifties, last era before orthodonty made every smile the same.) Everywhere that fierce hermitry: “To be incarcerated would be a perfect test of internal mobility.”

And, out of “Glenn Gould Interviews Glenn Gould about Glenn Gould” (1974), Gould insists he’d “plump for a zero-to-one relationship between audience and artist”:
I simply feel that the artist should be granted, both for his sake and for that of his public—and let me get on record right now the fact that I’m not at all happy with words like “public” and “artist”; I’m not happy with the hierarchical implications of that kind of terminology—that he should be granted anonymity. He should be permitted to operate in secret, as it were, unconcerned with—or, better still, unaware of—the presumed demands of the marketplace—which demands, given sufficient indifference on the part of a sufficient number of artists, will simply disappear. And given their disappearance, the artist will then abandon his false sense of “public” responsibility, and his “public” will relinquish its role of servile dependency.

In the new volume of The Complete Works of W. H. Auden, a monumental (or “big”) thing call’d Prose, Volume III: 1949-1955, edited by Edward Mendelson (Princeton University Press, 2008), one finds the “Forword to Some Trees by John Ashbery,” written by Auden in July of 1955 and publish’d in March 1956. Some vague recall of seeing some lines out of the piece quoted, though few. I know the copy of Some Trees I own—print’d by Corinth Books (1970) with a Joe Brainard limn’d suburban landscape looking as if it’s going green against the pinkish cover—omits it, wisely. Frankly, the thing reads for the most part as if Auden’d not a shed vestige of what Ashbery’s up to—he circles around endlessly wielding a pedant’s club, rehashing some watery version of the days of poetry’s alignment with ritual, with the sacred. All, one supposes, to differentiate between the “golden age” heighten’d reality of “myth” and the debased “now” of the “particular, the individual, the secular”:
Only concrete particulars seem real, and all concrete particulars seem equally real. Some may be brute fact without meaning beyond their occurrence, some may have a meaning known to God but imperceptible by us, in some we may perceive their true meaning, to others we may attribute a false meaning, but none of all this has anything to do with their reality. Human experience of time is an experience of a succession of unique moments, each of which is novel and will never recur. We may find one such moment uninteresting, we may forget it, but we cannot deny its importance, or if it had not existed we should not now exist.
Which seems rather a little like verbiage running out of its own accord. Auden next summons Rimbaud, who (apparently) discover’d that “the imaginative life of the human individual stubbornly continues to live by the old magical notions,” in “a numinous landscape inhabited by demons and strange beasts.” Which allows Auden to treat the “Mexican town” of Ashbery’s piece “The Instruction Manual” as one of Ashbery’s “holy places” (“Every imagination has its holy places but they are its private property.”) He quotes some lines and, while recognizing the “historically real but profane situation” of “doing hackwork for his living” that trigger’d Ashbery’s lushly present’d gaze at (“experience of”) Guadalajara, insists the memories be “sacred,” and the imaginative act one that “celebrates the inner mythological life.” Which seems to miss something like Ashbery’s “tone” (gently mocking) completely. (Is that precisely what all members of the “old guard” miss in reading the “new guard”?) A curious (and rather funny) Auden paragraph:
Reading this, I who have never been to Mexico nor wish to go there translate this into images of the happy life drawn from quite different cities. In this case, it is perfectly easy to do so, but even in the simplest case communication between poet and reader is indirect, demanding an active re-creation by the latter which ancient poetry with its public references does not.
Reveries of a lost seamlessness. The textual notes to the piece do recount the story of Auden’s not finding a manuscript worthy of the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize that year “for the second year in succession,” and prints a letter to Eugene Davidson “at the Press”: “What bothers me particularly is that a young poet (John Ashbury [sic]) whom I know personally told me he was submitting a manuscript this year. I have reservations about such of his poems as I have seen, but they are certainly better than any of the manuscripts which have reached me. I don’t know how or by whom the preliminary sieving is done at the Press, but I cannot help wondering whether I am receiving the best.” Apparently it was Chester Kallman who “championed Ashbery’s work” and, in fact, got a copy of Ashbery’s manuscript to Auden in Italy. No mention here of Frank O’Hara. One notes that Auden suggest’d that Ashbery “adopt a less general title than just Poems” and “suggested as an alternative Some Trees.”

Glenn Gould, 1932-1982

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Jonathan Williams, 1929-2008

Some Clouds

Jonathan Williams: “I write poems that are laconic as pebbles, so when it comes time to write prose I like to pull out all the stops and do a lot of throat-clearing and ground-pawing, like Anton Bruckner, another rusticated, mountainous person.” That in a preface to a book of essays and reminiscences of Edward Dahlberg he put together. Strong sense of foible and pose.

In a letter to Guy Davenport in April of 1965, writ in “Carmel, Caliph”:
      I have Mr Getz and Mrs Gilberto on the stereo playing the “Desafinado” and other pleasures. The night is young, etc. The bourbon is full, etc.
      Well, anyway to get you off a brief epistle before I answer a rancorous letter or two from the likes of several literary fatheads: Mr Dahlberg, Mr Patchen, Miss Levertov. God, what a shit-eating task it is, trying to publish poets. In the Next Life I’m going to be a pro-tennis player and get miles of California ass.
A brief period of raucous correspondence in the late ’sixties, Davenport’s address’d to “Mon cher Cast Iron Lawn Deer Owner of America,” or “Basho San” or “O Catulle de la Caroline du nord,” Williams in the habit of beginning “Cuz,” “Cud’n,” or “Cousin Blue-Grass.” After Davenport writes deploring a state of crowdedness (“Attribute all my remissness to the fact that I cannot get a moment to myself: moments in which one might draw, or answer letters, or even work. I long to be a hermit . . . Robinson Crusoe is pure myth; no one has ever been so fortunate”), Williams replies (“Dear Cousin Cruise-So,”):
Hermitude, like bliss, is pleasant to imagine since, surely, neither exists for more than fifteen minutes. Which, just as surely, makes them both so attractive.

Jonathan Williams on writing and reception, after a stew and gallimaufry of names of predecessors and contemporaries (“my ears don’t fall off and my stomach doesn’t curdle when I hear names like . . .”), pointing to the poems collect’d (“down from 1,450”) in Jubilant Thicket (Copper Canyon, 2005):
I would like to venture to say they are “monastic” and “tramontane.” They have been written in the Pennine Dales and the Appalachian Mountains, and their principal cohorts have been a few good and bad Brits and Yanks, Shortia, Dog Hobble, Bluets, timber rattlers, pileated woodpeckers, rowan trees, the Greater Bell Flower, Bear Garlic, and peewits. Most of American life is quite beyond me. It’s just too scary, except for the pitching of Greg Maddux. Let me quote Basil Bunting . . . : “Readers are not what one writes for after one’s got rid of the cruder ambitions.”

In a self-penned note about the author (Jubilant Thicket), after noting the life at “Skywinding Farm near Highlands, North Carolina and Corn Close, a seventeenth-century stone cottage in Dentdale, Cumbria, England” shared with Thomas Meyer and a cat “whose slaves they have become”: “Not a bad thing. They lead an aesthetic, monastic life in the tall weeds—not a bad thing, either. The Literary Life is far away. That’s good, too.” Duty to stray animals, scorn for the capitals.

Richard Owens of Damn the Caesars ’d mention’d several months back how he intend’d to put together an issue about Jonathan Williams and I bark’d out how I admired the essays and much of the poetry and how he, Williams, got bagged in the clothes of a publisher too often, and Owens encouraged me to put down something about the essays and I did nothing, or did little (is there the scratch of a note here?) and slunk off guilty-tail’d never wanting (“able”) to do the devoirs assign’d (“too hemmed in”).

Jonathan Williams to Basil Bunting with Thomas Bewick insert’d abruptus, a fine constellation indeed:

Building a poem: the first requirement is to have good quoins.
A line and a rule would guide a fool, a saying runs.
Set off right or you can’t finish a roof—or a poem or a life.
In order to addle a living, set off in the dark for the far fells,
Loaf and some onions for food, built two roods a day.

Bewick was one; you, another—able to wall the gap in the tradition,
Unerring in the words to use for walling poems—
Not difficult for a man with good hands and a straight eye.
The wisdom of keeping a headstone in the parlour to carve in winter
Is obvious, like swallowing lots of tea when there is any.
Note: “The work should be simple,” say the Poem-Masons of Swaledale.
Good poems, like good walls, stand 60 to 100 years and never budge.

On the cover of Williams’s Descant on Rawthey’s Madrigal: Conversations with Basil Bunting (Gnomon, 1968) is a square-ass’d kine, a Bewick bull. Did I see that it’d been pull’d direct off an original Bewick boxwood cut? I think so. Therein Williams and Bunting talk about poetry readings, Williams looking to find a means of getting a little money for Bunting:
BB: . . . I don’t really have anything to say to anybody. I don’t think there is anything to say about poetry. If they’d be content to listen to me reading my poetry, I’d be very pleased.

JW: Most of the poets that tour are just there to read poems and engage people a bit. That’s about all, except to suffer the slings of idiot Pope professors, flat tires, terrible food, and sullen poetry-lovers.
And hearing—maybe wrongly—a telltale note of affection for the idiocies of the Pope professors (“slings”—saying, life’s too short and we is but monkeys, as in “’tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” or as one “Butler Jenkins, Caretaker,” puts it in “Three Sayings from Highlands, North Carolina”:
you live until you die—
if the limbs don’t fall

Basil Bunting Photograph’d by Jonathan Williams

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bewick et l’écriture en plein air

Some Clouds

Romp’d through more of the Thomas Bewick biography, fitfully, between errands, between snoozes. Total collapse weekend. Or out to rummage in the used book “emporiums.” Late Michael Lally, early Marilynne Robinson. The Bewick exacts the perfectly doable ardours of eighteenth century natural history, that period when one arm’d merely with a faculty and desire to intently observe and clearly recount (or draw) ’d find a niche, advance the knowledge. Detail a new species. Whilst Bewick’s putting together a History of Quadrupeds, unbeknownst and in another part of England, Gilbert White’s indexing ’s Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (and sheepishly admitting that that work’s “an occupation full as entertaining as that of darning stockings, though by no means so advantageous to society.”) The other pull of Bewick: the printing presses, the making of “cuts,” moving the type-high block of boxwood (saw’d off against the grain for maximum hardness), angled against a leather pouch, a bag to hold it, cutting with a tool call’d a spitsticker. All the unchanged letterpress ways of getting a clean image. And Bewick’s capacity to tramp, long high Pennine walks. Woodcut making and walking both: ways into blessèd corporeal unconcern, high trance state, only the brainbox ticking (like straw) doing its ticking. Like writing. A wild traceable excitement to read of how Bewick, examining a woodpecker the “Revd Brocklebank of Corbridge” ’d provided, found its “Gizzard . . . full of Ants” or the hoopoe that, under the dissecting knife, show’d a “stomach full of the claws and indigestible parts of ‘insects of the beetle tribe.’” Reminders, no doubt, of requisite stomach-content incisions and spills after every fishing trip, that gleaming plug of anneal’d larval bits of dragonflies, or mayflies exposed, consider’d.

Thomas Bewick’s Swallow

Awake, 2 a.m., to think about two contrasting fables of representation. Bewick in a period of general turning back to the natural world—Uglow talks of a “thirst for fresh images of the countryside.” John Constable, after some few years of art school “painting paintings,” writes that
however one’s mind may be elevated, and kept us to what is excellent, by the works of the Great Masters—still Nature is the fountain’s head, the source from whence all originally must spring—and should an artist continue his practice without referring to nature he must soon form a manner, & be reduced to the same deplorable situation as the French painter mentioned by Sir J. Reynolds, who told him that he had long ceased to look at nature for she only put him out.
Bewick himself echoes the need for direct contact with the thing:
Had I been a painter, I never would have copied the Works of “Old Masters” or others, however highly they may be esteemed—I would have gone to nature for all my patterns, for she exhibits an endless variety—not possible to be surpassed & scarcely ever to be equalled.
So, drowsing, plagued by a concept of source-writing—call it écriture en plein air—a rejection of the kind of story’d pieties of an ecology of reuse—thinking of Jed Rasula’s This Compost, how writerly detritus is combined and recombined (collage, &c.) in a justified-by-ecological- imperatives-way. What of taint’d materials? What if the writ bits be carriers of contagion, coded with the Enlightenment ideologies of man’s separateness, disaster-implants in the lingo, the phraseologies? Maybe more dangerous than eventual mannerist indistinguishability (there is that, it is “legion”), there is—in the perpetual rehash of Old Masterly sketch and note, the threat of never gaining any other but our current relentless and suicidal purview of the our terrestrial place. And slept eventually, flying above rolling hills with my long arms oaring the air . . .

Thomas Bewick’s Woodcock

John Constable, “Cloud Study,” 1822

Friday, March 14, 2008

Omaggio and Snip

Pole, Dusk

Day and Night in 2008

Be not wary of the pushy, that supposed excellence is a hat easily knocked off in a crowd of burghers, a polite word for the bourgeoisie. Heed not the encumbered soldiery of the damnably sly and minute meritorious advancing—they hoist up high fat bags above spindly legs and spot the landscape like question marks. Martyrs to a socius like a flying wedge formation, the heated breaths of concomitant goals, the muddy shins, the tight cheeks, and jerseys. The goals, the gaols. Reading our Saturdays away didn’t make us sissies, or think much about lying—Art dropped by with its wild arguments about Life, and Diane too, who’d lift up her blouse for a cigarette, menthol preferred. There were positives and negatives about the proximity of the horses, and the horse barn, and the stackable bales in the horse barn, all so fort da. What I think is, we lack regular injections of “myth” into the shallow molds our sad trajectories become, some quotidian mischief syringed in with a little more indebtedness than what’s offered by the speaker’s bureau, that “club.” The moon hanging up there like a crumpled horn, completely cowed by the vicious immortality of the rocketry thrown at it. I stumble out into the taiga to holler and shoo off the bombarding flies, pull mightily at udders flopping like trouser legs down out of a cloud. A barn tom minces in the stream. The cow stands square-haunched and unbetrayed. I’m not talking about Poulenc in Newark. What I recall is James Brown in Sloatsburg one whole Sunday afternoon in a whiskey-watering “tap room” where the locals burned to light into us like hornets, pure fury in a lopped-off grin. Pool cues chalked blue, scratch marks on the table, the “merry din” of the pinball machine’s mounting numericals. Now the sky is completely black, unutterably so. Curving down off into the deckle-edge of trees, mesh and means
                    of continuing, tolerably so
                    against the panoramic fusk of sleep so
                    that a teeming heterodoxy may, by so
                    channeling its wild disclosures, chart so
                    heroic an abeyance as mum, so
                    that devilish propinquity’d nod off so
                    affably against what is so
                    matte and defiant with indifference that so
                    clamorous a rake as a man so
                    struck by particularity as to kite one word so
                    generally against its own resounding thrall so
                    as to forswear any ordinary comeuppance to so
                    regular a ruse whilst night’s clench, so
                    aseptic and conniving lets go so
                    suddenly one’d think it’d lit up a cheroot, so
                    like day’s solitary rumpus and sluice, tenably so.
(That tailpiece may be, like a lizard’s, detachable.)

Flew through some pages of Tom Raworth’s shortish and breezy A Serial Biography (Turtle Island, 1977), a book I have no recall whatsoever of acquiring, and one, I think, I confuse with Aram Saroyan’s The Street: An Autobiographical Novel for no particularly indentifiable reason, similar size, vague same “era.” Raworth show’d up at Michigan in the Donald Hall days (circa 1968 or so) and proceeded to visit Andrew Carrigan’s room, where some few of us were getting wholly “took” by a succession of wild writers, asides and chortles and excitements amongst adults indicating something big “up.” Somewhere is a copy of Moving acquired shortly thereafter. What I recall is a fierce fluidity and a poem about a roiling domestic scene with the lines “taking the scissors / began to trim off the baby’s fingers.” That and the obvious (though to me revelatory) play of a title like “The Relation Ship,” words within words, words talking out the sides of they moufs. In A Serial Biography it’s the glimpses of the bombing of London, and the post-war shortages that impress: how different that is, how easy one forgets that difference. A snippet, random:
It was a bad picture, but suddenly the word ‘frontier’ made him cry. There was a foreign name that made him cry also. He wore sun glasses and did not take them off during the interval. He began to cry again during the main film, although the girl reminded him of no-one he knew; she had dark hair and was young. Outside, the cars were parked on both sides of the road. Engines started and lights came on. People were eating expensive cakes in the coffee bar. He did not know why he had cried, though ‘frontier’ seemed a reasonable thing to cry at. At night the searchlights flickered along each strand.
Tiny echo of Joyce’s “Araby” somewhere there, detect’d in the typing up.

Tom Raworth, c. 1998

Thursday, March 13, 2008

“Controlling Interests”

Sky, Wires

Unsolicit’d down the pike comes a memo to Barrett Watten and Ron Silliman, rough-stamp’d with the fierce imprimatur of Kent Johnson, one of the few “strugglers in the desert” in an era of diffident uncritical hob-nobbers and shill inutile elixir-suckers, both “gangs” perfectly willing to let the “record” be writ (or erased) top-down by self-satisfy’d “members” of the New Academy. And here we thought Controlling Interests a tongue-in-cheek title—turns out it indicated a plan of action, same old same old junta-talk. Recall Marjorie Perloff’s claim it present’d a world wherein “the articulation of an individual language is all but prevented by the official discourses”? Twenty-five years later and there’s a new set of “heads of the town up to the aether” and new “official discourses” and same old same old screws sunk deep into the lid of individual dissenting articulation? Here’s the letter, wholly unacknowledged by its recipients. Official silence packs its own punch:
Date: Tue, 11 Mar 2008 16:09:04 -0500
Subject: prepared Piano?

Barrett & Ron,

I just noticed that you don’t provide a link of any kind to John Latta’s extensive meditations on The Grand Piano, certainly the most sustained, idiosyncratic, entertaining, and textually attentive commentary on your project extant. I realize that he is sharply critical in parts, and sometimes biting, even satirical, in his evaluations. He also proffers praise, and quite often, when he feels it’s due.

But can you not see (really, I’m somewhat stunned that you have airbrushed him from your links) that managing, or trying to manage, the reception of your work in such transparent way will come back to hit you on the backside? It truly looks petty, timid, and dumb. I am being blunt, but it’s the truth, and you demean any true sense of “collective history” in such exclusion.

What will you say when Latta’s reactions appear in gathered form, probably in both print and online, and people start noting that this is the “text on your text” you tried to keep out of sight?

Ron, I’m emailing you too on this, since it now occurs to me that you have never (with possible exception of one time—am I right?) linked to Latta’s GP comments, despite their obvious presence within the radius of your interests. In fact, I note you still don’t even have a link to Latta’s current blog.

Really now . . . You guys can do better.


Thomas Bewick’s Barn Owl

Reading Jenny Uglow’s terrific biography of the eighteenth-century Newcastle wood-engraver and naturalist Thomas Bewick, Nature’s Engraver. Funny to see some of Basil Bunting’s haunts and villages a couple centuries earlier. Therein is mention’d one John Collier, part of a group (including Bewick) that “looked back to ‘old British rights,’ to Alfred and the Saxons and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, as well as the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688. They saw that old customs, as well as land, were under threat and felt that at some deep level even their language was being stolen and their voices silenced.” Collier publish’d what Uglow calls “his own surreal Alphabet, ‘By a Supposed Lunatic.’ A few lines out of the preface to the thing, pointing to the origins of language:
I should suppose the human species for ages bordering nearly upon dull sluggish beasts—with few wants and very few sounds to convey those wants into the minds of each other.—These sounds would then be very simple but very expressive, (i. e.) there would be the sounds of things themselves, formed according to their place of being, tone of substance, and atmosphere.—In this point our Saxon language stands foremost: For instance—take up a stone or an axe and knock it against a tree, and I cannot help fancying but with the breath of the striker it says Wood! as plain as letters can form or we can pronounce it.—Listen to the Ass, and mock the note through your nose, and you cannot help thinking it says: Ah—o! from whence the Assino, Asne, or Awne of foreigners: But our British and Saxon ancestors, when the grave and learned Latinist was introduced into their country in preference of their spirited lively Keffyls and Gallopaways, wondering at the drollness of his make, and struck with the strangeness of his note before they could sound the whole of his tone, burst into laughter and closed it with an S— which named him an ASS.

A Note

      a chord
a metaphor wherein
metaphors meet

                    —Roy Fisher

Compell’d or compiled,
A slant of
Oil-color’d light,
Or a ligature
Of two competing
Vowels in æther
Join’d or one
Pure diphthongally split
By a voice.
The point is
A mete allot’d
Boundary stretch’d, a
Chorus of particulars
Distend’d out of
Hierarchy’s rank ranks,
Level’d by song
To mere contiguity,
A flat sea,
A choral flood.
Out beyond pines
The light trills
Through needles, splays
Out in blunt
Shafts, the shilling
Sun’s westerly pocket
Edging north, edging
North. A dog
Yaps inconsequent off
Where a barn
Leans, slab-red
Disgorge of song.

Thomas Bewick’s Oak Tree

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Grand Piano Notes

Cabinet and Latch

Carla Harryman’s entry in The Grand Piano 5 begins rather oddly (“To the Editor: feel free to alter or ignore constraints inconvenient to the layout”) particularly if one’s still thinking of Kit Robinson’s immediately prior note on the “group editing process”:
Our process reminds me of my job, where documents pass through group edit all the time, with the difference being that in our collective edit of this manuscript there is no hierarchy—the organization is flat, everything is negotiable.
Animal Farm déjà vu, or endless scrutinizing (“open and free”) votes? One does wonder. And comparing a thing to one’s “job”—that’s indicative of “ambivalence” at best in my “book.” What Harryman announces is how “it is convenient for me to write less.” (Me, too.) And proceeds to unveil her “tactic” in a high resounding numerological gibberish of constraint including (not limit’d to) “no more than sixteen” something-or-others. (So, I decided, goad’d in part by Harryman’s footnoted “keywords” to each section: no more than sixteen words per section shall I write.) The section titles belong to Harryman, pointers to a range of splay.

One: Interruptions in Sixteen Pages

“Open-ended trajectory” of the sentence. How’s Duncan put it? “Beginning with ‘the’ shuts off possibilities

Two: Mall Theory

Mall envy. If one says “Kroger market” in Michigan, one’s not listening to the locals: Kroger’s.

Three: Gardener of Stars Book Report by the Author

Accommodatingly useless. Some examples of excess: idiosyncrasy, unpredictability, social chaos, Eros up for grabs at every turn

Four: El Teatro Campesino

Qua “El teatro campesino performances inspired in me a new sense of community spirit and art.”

Five: Zukofsky

Zukofsky. Zukofsky. Zukofsky. Zukofsky. Zukofsky. Zukofsky. Zukofsky. Zukofsky. Zukofsky. Zukofsky. Zukofsky. Zukofsky. There. Is that enough?

Six: History; or I, Blasphemy

“It was a revelatory day as well as an intervention into history’s tendency to bury the

Seven: Queer Space Exposition

“Did you know that ‘I’ was publicly harangued in Detroit for being heteronormative?” “No,” “I” “didn’t.”

Eight: New Narrative

“I was going to speak about the contentiousness between . . . , but instead I refer the reader to

Coda: Keywords

Connivances, semi-public, tit-ridden, Nancy, vanity, hard-to-swallow, Ford, The Waves

Lyn Hejinian:
What I want to write here is not principally recollections of my encounters with remarkable books nor a history of my interest in the annals of exploration, an interest that began when I was around ten years old and was asked by my mother to read “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” to her as she made the beds and did the ironing. The credibility of Coleridge’s poem is contingent on the coexistence of domestic and dramatic (even drastic) realities. In retrospect, I can see that accepting—and very much enjoying—the experience of incompatible, coexisting affective fields and a certain degree of emotional cacophony . . . no, not cacophony (though the “merry din” of the wedding, just as much as my mother’s movements around the house, provided the foil for the Mariner’s horrific tale) . . . Let me try again: I felt that experience, played out in a context of contradictory emotions and thoughts, to be enjoyable, important, and quintessentially aesthetic (and surely a child’s declaiming a poem to her mother is an aesthetic experience).
Irrepressible urge to continue merely quoting. The (Henry) Jamesian heft and intricacy (doily-like, crochet’d?) of the sentences is a pleasure. Hejinian’s early seizure of “annals of exploration”—fits precisely. (She begins with a rework’d sentence out of Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta, and, in a lovely phrase, refers to a voice “hailing” her out of “the convoluted pathways of my generally populous mind.” I keep trying to read that as “generously populated.”)

What Hejinian argues for is perplexity. Which is, one supposes, nothing less than constant interrogation, stir, paradox (against the “settling out” Doxa that makes for dogma)—one’d relate it to something like Fenollosa’s “No nouns in nature,” the moving assembly of mind. Hejinian connects perplexity with community: “Out of debate comes perplexity—a crucial element in the game of ideas, which takes a lot of time to play and more than one player.” And: “Interactions with others are essential for those who thrive on perplexity.” Though, too, she points to a seemingly more solitary habit of thinking through (in and out of) perplexity, noting recurrences of “insights”—“had before and forgotten” in a journal, “as if they were elements of a restive dream.” (An early “talk” had carry’d the title “Chronic Ideas.”) She writes: “The aporetic mode of thinking (the mode than comes to no conclusion and must repeat itself) may be my fate.” If community (debate, talks, one must needs include the community of the dead—the “ever-social Socrates is a case in point”) triggers perplexity—it allays it, too, and with no contradictory sting. To that end—that is, against “heroic” blind, singlemindedness—Hejinian tells a story of two chapters deleted (amidst WWII patriotic gusto) out of Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiographical Dust Tracks on the Road. One of the chapters—“dedicated to friendship,” in Hurston’s words—apparently “mitigated against the heroic figure that Lippincott [the publisher] thought Hurston, as a representative Black American woman, should play.” Strife wants no perplexity, hunkers down, bunkers in. Hurston, lamenting the loss of the chapter, writes to a friend, “Now I look like a hog under an acorn tree guzzling without ever looking up to see where the acorns come from.” Lineage tumbling right out of the American tree.

For compleatists, all The Grand Piano notes: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37.

A Monument to Perplexity (Sinking)