Friday, May 23, 2008


A Wall (Corrugate and Slash)

Aimlessness redux. Pinpointable. Off next week up north (Michigan lingo), and caught up in anticipatory restlessness. (Here I picture a tow-head’d kid screwing fists into squinty eyes, and dropping fists like plumb bobs, irritably readying himself.) The pawing through and weighing of the books one considers transporting oneself with: how I love that! “I have discovered that most of / the beauties of travel are due to / the strange books we acquire for going: / / Horkheimer sweating it out in Hollywood, / Henry Holmes Goodpasture cupped in the Bucksaw Mountains-trap’d sun.” Meaning, in explication de texte à la vitesse de la lumière: I am thinking of lugging along both Ehrhard Bahr’s Weimar on the Pacific: German Exile Culture in Los Angeles and the Crisis of Modernism and Oakley Hall’s Warlock. Why? The first in an attempt—latest in a series—to fumigate my Adorno phobia with a little contextual frippery. Adorno’s either—prior outings—unduly clot’d (Aesthetic Theory) or evanescent and negligible (Minima Moralia). The writing inert (hinting at my unwillingness to quarry anybody’s stolid forbidding prose for ideas, ideas toutes seules m’emmerdent.) A plus—just idling through the pages: tidbits of the uncompromising Bertolt Brecht:
With pleasure I read
How Horace traced the Saturnian art of verse
Back to the peasant burlesques
Which did not spare great families, till
The police forbade lampoons, compelling
Those with a grudge to develop
An art more noble and air it
In lines more subtle. At least that is how
I construe the passage.
Hiding the royal badmouthing behind the perennially cupped fist of verse! The more repressive the regime (there are all sorts of regimes, some academic, some the well-launder’d shirts of tired old movements poetiques), the fiercer the poetry. . .) The second book is a 1958 western Thomas Pynchon laud’d early. Why not? Oakley Hall, heading over-arm’d pedants off at the pass, prefaces the book:
Devotees of Western legend may . . . complain that I have used familiar elements to construct a fanciful design, and that I have rearranged or ignored the accepted facts. So I will reiterate that this work is a novel. The pursuit of truth, not of facts, in the business of fiction.
(Echo’d in the post-Against the Day letter of Pynchon’s defending the raiding of history?) It is a mystery how sudden readerly needs erupt. Truth is, one’ll return flummox’d by the oddity of one’s choices, three pages read in one, the other left prop’d up against a logjam somewhere in the Sturgeon whilst one dash’d off upriver after a blue-wing’d warbler or a runaway horse, “bared teeth and nozzle high in the air!”

Vladimir Mayakovsky (out of the 1926 How Are Verses Made?):
I walk along waving my arms and mumbling almost wordlessly, now shortening my steps so as not to interrupt my mumbling, not mumbling more rapidly in time with my steps.

So the rhythm is trimmed and takes shape—and rhythm is the basis for any poetic work, resounding through the whole thing. Gradually, individual words begin to ease themselves free of this dull roar.

Several words just jump away and never come back, others hold on, wriggle and squirm a dozen times over, until you can’t imagine how any word will ever stay in its place (this sensation, developing with experience, is called talent) . . .

Rhythm is the fundamental force, the fundamental energy of verse. You can’t explain it, you can only talk about it as you do about magnetism and electricity. The rhythm can be the same in a lot of poems, even in the whole oeuvre of the poet, and still not make the work monotonous, because a rhythm can be so complex, so intricately shaped, that even several long poems won’t exhaust its possibilities. . . .

In order to write about the tenderness of love, take Bus No. 7 from Lubyansky Square to Nogin Square. The appalling jolting will serve to throw into relief for you, better than anything else, the charm of a life transformed. A shake-up is essential, for the purposes of transformation.
Reminding me (I am routinely remind’d of it) of the Friedrich Nietzsche lines out of On the Genealogy of Morals (routinely, I am remind’d of it and cannot find it and seek it exorbitantly): “From what you would know and measure, you must take leave, at least for a time. Only after having left town, you see how high its towers rise above the houses.” I found it next to a Ted Berrigan line: “The true test of a man is a bunt.” Morning dog walk uncover’d a blue-gray gnatcatcher, tzeeing in air and pilfering a maple tree, a little acrobat in constant motion. Furry Lewis’s left hand, “a little acrobat in constant motion.” Ciao.

Walter “Furry” Lewis, “When I Lay My Burden Down,” c. 1973

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pour un patois mondial

“With a Pickup Out Back”

Theo Scratcher writes: “I was on a train and sitting next to me—initially unbeknownst to me, so that the slow kindling of recognition burst abruptly into a conflagration (our clamor filled the corridor)—a French woman I’d known in college, gone missing for forty years. Had skedaddled pronto to the Bay Area, and stayed. We ended up talking about the Language poets. Very wonderful she said and very interesting but—and she looked at me earnestly with the undaunted bravado of a sportsman who’s lost a prime hunting dog to a stag—now you must admit that not one of them could feel with Alfred de Musset that le seul bien qui me rest au monde c’est d’avoir quelque fois pleuré. You must admit that.”

And, later, returning to the Language poets and the munificently grand ’seventies, all that “seriality” scrawl’d in notebooks, bang’d out by typewriters, new, naked, total: “The Language poets did not invent but made a great fuss about series production, series production really began in the nineteenth century, that is natural enough, machines are bound to make series production. The Language poets and they were nineteenth century had as their aspiration and their ideal one poem a day, really two poems a day, the morning bus poem and the afternoon bus poem actually it might have been the late morning and the early afternoon and the late afternoon, the evening bus poem. But after all there is a limit to the human hand scrawling and banging so actually even at their most excited moment they rarely did more than two more frequently one, and very often not one a day, most generally not one a day serial poem. They had the dream of a series production but as Darentiere said about printing after all they had not all the faults or the qualities of machines.” So Theo Scratcher.

I cannot seem to relinquish my investigatory savoring of Joan Retallack’s heteronyms. How S. M. Quant (in Manual for Desperate Times) writes: “In a culture of strategic simple-mindedness relishing complexity is a political act.” (And K. Callater, lightly chucking the chin of Carolyn Forché, saying, “It’s not the angel of history, it’s the angle of attention.”) Reading Retallack’s notes regarding Stein’s effort to “devise a new grammar” for the (American) twentieth century (“She was happy to concede nineteenth-century literary predominance to the British, with their method (cum virtue) of ‘muddling through,’ but for her, like Whitman, whose poetry she considered the first instance of twentieth-century writing taking on motion, the freshness, the whole-hog optimism of American culture was about that new sense of time driving language to catch up with what was now possible, what new sensations could now be enjoyed”), one thinks, “Uh oh, it’s the twenty-first century now, and that American hog’s laughter in the dark’s a bacon rind away of its slaughter in the sun” (with a nod to early internationalist Nabokov)—that is to say, what’s next? Is it time for time’s time out, space entering breathlessly through the wings? Twenty-first century writing exhibiting a world-space the size of the Pulaski Highway, the size of a corner grocery, the size of a monitor? Truth is, a writing-sized condensary of world-space means patois and overlay, all lingo contemporaneous (mad gallimaufry of “period” noises and vocabs in the quotidian soup), coterminous and conspiratorial (literally, “breathing together,” using the same air), a refusal of the narrow national, a refusal of originality and its abysmal revery of purity, writing haul’d in its circles by engines of pidgin speech, intractable scientific niggles and specifics, nonce words, alphabets for no tongue, ideograms, a worldly lingua franca, everything borrow’d and stir’d. Not “muddling through” (there’s nowhere to go), just “muddling” tout court together in the world-mire. Meaning, certes, the limit’d vocabulary register-roistering of Stein’ll come to look damnably primitive just terrible quick. So twentieth century, comme on dit. Retallack (in “The Scarlet Aitch: Twenty-Six Notes on the Experimental Feminine”):
. . . with all the noisy deconstruction going on, the ironic critiques, the chronic and tic-like irreverences, the continual exposures of presullied classical thought, history’s not ending, civilizations’s not ending, art’s not ending, nature’s not ending. Things are just becoming more complicated, less intelligible. (One can define any moment in history as the further complication of what preceded it.) This is exactly as it should be. In the sciences, intelligibility is a sign that the current paradigm is still functioning. . . . In the arts and humanities untroubled intelligibility is a sign of denial.
(That definition of history in there is a problem: how account for paradigm shifts—like Stein’s—along such a single-minded trajectory of “further complication”?)

So: shrinking world-space resulting in literatures of world-patois (“incomprehensible, vulgar gibberish”). Where it begins is likely not with a rue de Fleurus’s rentier expat out of the world’s richest state. Any big boy whipped-up “movement” of it—the new literary paradigm—’d look like a literature of imperialism (it is no longer the American hog’s moment—and Stein herself notes “Intention is not history”—nor is intention literature.). (Retallack, talking about speech noises in Melanctha: “. . . there will always be a problem with mimicking the language of any people whose lives are affected by a culturally inscribed power deficit.”) It’ll begin in high density heterogeneity, in the diverse populations that rush into (or out of) the vacuums made by conflagration, Bosnia, Lebanon, Vietnam. Retallack quoting Stein (out of “Portraits and Repetition”): “nothing changes from generation to generation except the composition in which we live and the composition in which we live makes the art which we see and hear.” The American hog’s role in the welter and wash of the proceedings? Unfailing attention and keeping out of the way.

American Hog

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

C. D. Wright’s Rising, Falling, Hovering

A Wall (Hinge and Brick)

C. D. Wright’s Rising, Falling, Hovering (Copper Canyon, 2008) announces its tenor immediately in a short opening piece, “Re: Happiness, in pursuit thereof”: a polis norteamericano in crisis, a citizen unmoor’d, a calling out (in two senses—for aid, to accuse). It begins:
                  It is 2005, just before landfall.
Here I am, a labyrinth, and I am a mess.
I am located at the corner of Waterway
and Bluff. I need your help. You will find me
to the left of the graveyard, where the trees
grow especially talkative at night
where fog and alcohol rub off the edge.
And it ends a mere dozen or so lines later with the sure fired-by-anger commands, “Be nails. Be teeth. / Be lightning.” In the intervening lines: “Aztec time,” “mercurochrome,” “chamomile,” “spandex,” “breath”—an extraordinary gamut representing a kind of emotional scale. The topsy-turvy (the term is too comfortable, too kid’s book innocent for the taut strings of wound-up rage and sudden giddy-loosed propulsions) ’thousands of the U.S. imperium’s asinine wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Landfall”: oddly pre-Columbian, as if one’d like to begin again with the “discovery” and try not —here in the Aztec “fifth and final cycle”—to fuck up so totally.

The center of the book is largely split between the terrific title poem and its “Cont.,” its continuation. Essentially a fractured (and gut-wrenching, and maddening) narrative of the immoral and illegal preemptive “excursion” into Iraq, it is itself punctuated by “to be cont.,” by contradictory reversals (“Not so; instead”), by doubts as to the efficacy of writing, period (“Nary a death arrested nor a hair of a harm averted / by any scrawny farrago of letters” and “This is no time for poetry”). The “story” is that of living in (against) an amnesia of war, the “new media-borne war” (like a contagion, like something one switches on / off, a simulacrum of war to the doped citizenry). One vacillates between pure rage against one’s improvidence (voices “dematerialize,” writing is “illegible”) and “all American forgettery” and “the national feelinglessness” (“We must not get used to this”). One registers responses—civic and personal—with the sense it all ends in the “memory hole.” One grim running refrain reports the mounting numbers of dead: “according to the Associated Press         2,066 / of our members         will remain Forever Young.” Another recurrence seemingly points to a history of imperial belligerence (and internal repression):
Who has been silenced cannot be unsilenced.

The number of their dead to remain unknown.

Him with the scar         do not think him healed
One is traveling in Mexico through some of the piece, so that one’s attention is always split, rage at one’s own government, shame at one’s complicity, one’s attending to the world done through a mess of scrims:
Hunting one legitimate spot to watch the world         crawl or limp along
                                                                                or cloud her air with no muffler
. . .
Wanting to be unsentimental about the mutt tethered to a leafless trunk without enough
                                                                                        paid out to turn around
. . .
The bus barreling down service roads to the hotels

Ashamed of her solace in being here         to be ashamed is to be American

                        The boy leaving his merchandise in his seat

Two scorpions doing the merengue         the boy using his choplogic on her

Her hail of words directed against his tympana         fixes the attention of an anole
                                                                                                on the ornamental iron
Against the details of Mexico is put the blunter rage of “home,” the secure (barely containable) domestic “front”:
I have been to Pilates         I found my old coat

I took my will to the notary         I found my good glasses

I have filled my tank         I am going to the market

then I think I’ll cut my hair off with a broken bottle
The movement between “Rising, Falling, Hovering” and “Rising, Falling, Hovering, / cont.” is one of refusing surcease, increased concern, anger unabated and rising. (Indeed, one fully expects the poem to continue forever with purer and purer distill’d rage, dogging the “endless war” scenario of the criminal U.S. policy-makers.) If the “cont.” story worries about a son traveling unaccompany’d in Mexico and about tending to a friend’s “bad diagnosis” and apparent cancer treatment in Mexico City (juxtaposed against—on the flight down: “The monitor from the overhead / begins its infotainment         Not shown: white phosphorous         falling / on the city of minarets”), thus seeming to focus in, off the high civic stakes of its beginnings—too, it ends by braying out a magnificent curse (immediately succeeding a blackly humor’d “As of Wednesday morning 2,845 of our members completed the Circle of Life / Epidemiologists from here and there estimate 600,000 civilian dead” and the dry conclusion / admission “Rage could be my issue”:
                                        And so I have come to want them—
them being, those people, the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania,
I can’t even bear to say their [expletive] monosyllabic surnames
for dread of it calling up their bland [expletive] faces; yet I have come
to want them, almost obsessively come to want them, to exist in this dread:
for the nondescript car to pull up and disgorge the uniformed men
with their generic words tapped out of their well-drilled heads;
for the blunted bodies of this couple to be riveted to this dread,
for their blunted minds to stick on this expectation as if driven into
their bones of the natural order upended—that their twins are dead. No,
that their twins are blessed to give of themselves so selflessly in this struggle
for our way of life as it is so correctly, so vulgarly called; though I do not want
them to actually receive this news to actually have the twins be dead,
nor for their eyes to be blacked out, nor their earthly functions
be stopped, nor their blood to quit flowing to their temporal lobes,
but I sincerely do want this couple this very couple, the current occupants,
to exist solely, wholly in this dread. Because we do.
An [expletive] lovely and fastidious apery of the lingual buncombe of war and its masters, the “current occupants.” Wright assuming the debased lingo of el otro lado (“the other side,” another recurring phrase) in an attempt to “get through”—though recognizing, too, that any addressee’ll see in “current occupants” a sign of junk mail, and likely toss it.

No doubt “Rising, Falling, Hovering” is the most ambitious U.S. anti-war poem of the blooming idiotic twenty-first century. It warns forcefully against what’s become a national policy / trait of denial (“The true number of Iraqi dead to remain officially unknown / at the policy level no such estimates exist // The mind braying at the mind // A prescription for revulsion life in a taxi”), skeptical inquiry and righteous excoriation of the criminal replaced by vagary, imprecison, euphemism, the empty categorical (“The momentum of lives shifts into the absence of thought / The first task is to recover the true words for being”). The indomitable Chicago Review first publish’d the poem: the first part is available here. The other poems in Rising, Falling, Hovering never move far off the pressing concerns of the title poem (one begins with a telling epigraph by Duo Duo: “We have degenerated into people.”) In one, “Like the Ghost of a Carrier Pigeon” (some lovely long titles beginning with “Like”—a sort of series—“Like Hearing Your Name Called in a Language You Don’t Understand,” “Like Things That Might Go On in Infinite Dimensions,” “Like Something Flying Backwards”), one reads: “So much has been spent constructing a plausible life / she did not hear the engines of dissent run down.” One’d maintain that here, in these poems, Wright revs the engines precisely against that possibility.

Addendum to my note yesterday regarding a possible Joan Retallack heteronym in “Dita Fröller.” Turns out a tiny slew of individuals got books lined up at Pre-Post-Eros Editions, according to the bibliographical listings in The Poethical Wager. (One, there, too, is “frothcoming.”) So, one reads of the anagram-obsess’d “K. Callater,” author of Reports from Teerts Egdir: The Other Book, of S. M. Quant’s Manuel for Desperate Times, and (my fave, and very likely a friend of Jonas Berry, that renown’d translator of Noel Vexin’s 1960 Murder in Montmartre) Genre Tallique, author of GLANCES: An Unwritten Book. Each quoted, some lengthily, by Retallack. (Club’d with a slew of imprevaricable heteronyms one reels in imponderable delight only momentarily before the inevitable bee-buzz begins in the brainbox: Am I the last upright man to note it? Am I an ass of the obvious?)

C. D. Wright

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Who Is Dita Fröller?

“The Palm’s Green Adducer”

If one is ever alert for flaws in the fabric, intentional coyote nudges, joke apparati, if that determines one’s zeitgeist, one’s big picture—one finds what one looks for nigh-constantly in the daily spectral soup. So that: reading Joan Retallack’s excellent introduction to Gertrude Stein: Selections (University of California Press, 2008)—part of the increasingly important and juste Poets for the Millennium series—one flags the initial epigraph as suspect. In itself, innocuous enough:
Gertrude Stein. She came and there she was and here she is still. But what was she and what is this vast and contradictory, wonderful and maddening body of work? It means so much to us, has made so much possible, is so full of pleasure and still constant surprise. Yet there are long stretches that tax one’s attention, putting the reader in a difficult position. The work asks us to invent new ways of reading.
And it is sign’d, plausibly enough: Dita Fröller, New Old World Marvels. And one goes to the notes, liking the title, an indefatigable bibliographic hound, and finds: “The epigraphs are from Dita Fröller, “Stein Stein Stein Stein Stein,” in New Old World Marvels.” (Phantom echo of the Daniel Hoffman book Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe (1971), though finally, like the blackjack dealer likes to say, “No help.”) One goes to the bibliography proper and finds (under “Other Sources Cited”—a tiny mix’d bag of Barthes, Adorno, Peter Gay, André Breton):
Fröller, Dita. “Stein Stein Stein Stein Stein.” In New Old World Marvels. Washington, DC and Paris: Pre-Post-Eros Editions, frothcoming.
Sic. Is it the “frothcoming”—typo in guise of a wink—or the name of the press that throws the giddy currents of suspicion into play? Or is it the odd echo in “Dita Fröller” of legendary Stein reader Ulla E. Dydo? I don’t know. Retallack talks (with relish?) about Stein’s late fondness for reading detective novels (Dashiell Hammett one fave, another Edgar Wallace, author of Terrible People, Big Foot, The Twister, and The Avenger amongst others, writer—though he died without completing it—for the movie King Kong) and how after the success of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas she’d attempt’d one in Blood on the Dining Room Floor. There is, too, another “Dita Fröller” epigraph within Retallack’s prefatory remarks, again, mostly innocuous, though (in high alert) the “many puzzles” sizzles out. Attributed to the “Stein Stein Stein Stein Stein” essay:
In the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein wrote “to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life.” Gertrude Stein set out to imagine a language for the new experience of time brought on by what she thought of as the American invention of the twentieth century. How she managed to do this in her radically novel word compositions is the most interesting of the many puzzles she presents.
Okay and et puis. One’s revving to ramble off elsewhere, morning is broken, the dog’s water’d. One fires up the machine and looks around the topographical plain that is cyberspace, desperately seeking Dita. And finds:
Acknowledging the gap between reality and representation makes it hard to limn differences among realities and representations. Such difficulties can lead to epistemological despair. This is where poetry comes in.
                    Dita Fröller, New Old World Marvels
And finds:
In the dream a small plane falls out of the sky. The writer is lucky. She crawls out and walks away with bad memories and a crooked smile.
                    Dita Fröller, “Autobio: A Littered Aria,” from New Old World Marvels
The first epigraphing the provocatively titled (in the circumstances) “T H E R E I N V E N T I O N O F T R U T H” (it begins: “counter factuals / the world is full and doesn’t ask for more”), the second topping the introductory essay, “Essay as Wager,” in Retallack’s 2003 The Poethical Wager. Terrible frissons of delight, that of a hound’s nose snuffling a scent. (Stein, quoted by Retallack: “What is the use of a violent kind of delightfulness if there is no pleasure in not getting tired of it . . .”) I prove, certainly, nothing. The pleasure resides in the skink’d out bowls of desire’s clear nectar put forth, exhibits. Quotes “not needing to point to transcendent menaing.” Retallack on performance and eros (“pre” eliding “post”):
Is performance always in some sense erotic? What does an eros of language mean? In part, it’s about pleasure in the words as fondled objects of poesis, radiant in their everyday connotations, not needing to point to transcendent meaning. But the performance of language is also a performance of a particular kind of desire—a desire to touch others, to know and be known through words. When I read Tender Buttons, I’m reminded of Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse: “Language is a skin. I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers. Or fingers at the tip of my words.”
And: in an “era” of sampling, a sample (quotable adduced out of a work that exists only by dint of its references) itself suffices.

Joan Retallack

Monday, May 19, 2008

Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project

Two Windows


Combined in indestructible harmony—
Sommelier, turnip, Coventry, bust.
Language is like that:
Extending out the one
Good arm to cup
Up a dipper out
Of the continuum of
Song, musicking up a
Green and compound spathe.
Or, under the blue
Lid of the welkin,
Beclapped in a deciduous
Zoo of local trees,
A discrepancy of thrushes—
In the binocular’d soft
Circle a hermit, rufous
Tail’d and quilping—a
Veery’s slurry wabble of
Amp’d electronica dousing one’s
Ear. Skew percept. Mute
Dissolve. Truth of it
Is—it hardly matters
A jot what rathe
Adjacency is made, or
What odd lot is
Pull’d up out of
The contemporaneous implacable muck
And dinge of streaming—
A sanderling goes by
And a stroller, a
Palatable sausage, a Quonset
Hut and a string—
And bang’d up into
A sideshow, a tacit
Peremptory Mirabeau of sound.
The human way is
To adjust, to quell
Difference, skimming particulars off
The bumpy saturate, or
Providing the stray twig
Or vernal fern clump
To the skimpy arrangement.
Baling twine, spirochete, Clytemnestra,
— the spoke-
Work of the radial
Engine spins by its
Honorific, its toss and
Tow, and makes of
Constancy a wobbling song.

Either push’d too hard (accidentals unveiling the way) or not push’d hard enough. A piece in a liminal state. Michael Haslam (author of Continual Song and The Music Laid Her Songs in Language). Purveyor of robust florilegia of song.

A weekend of cursing the mower, yanking my arm off trying to get it aroaring. New spark plug, new oil, new premium gas. Pampering it like a sentimentalist, hauling off and booting it. Nothing doing. That and reading Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project whilst the cold breezes slotted in (something like 33° F. around six a.m.), rife freshets. Toads in the neighboring pond keening. Hemon punctuated with jokes about Mujo (apparently a Bosnian Everyman, hapless witness to absurdity):
Mujo is a refugee in Germany, has no job, but has a lot of time, so he goes to a Turkish bath. The bath is full of German businessmen with towels around their waists, huffing and puffing, but every once in a while a cell phone rings and they pull their phone out from under a towel and say, Bitte? Mujo seems to be the only one without a cell phone, so he goes to the bathroom and stuffs toilet paper up his butt. He walks back out, a long trail of toilet paper behind him. So a German says, You have some paper, Herr, sticking out behind you. Oh, Mujo says, it looks like I have received a fax.
Against the Mujo shenanigans: two stories. One of the (historical, and seemingly unjustify’d) murder in 1908 by Chicago police chief George Shippy of a Jewish immigrant by the name of Lazarus Averbuch amidst a kind of post-Haymarket Square anti-immigrant, anti-anarchist hysteria. One of a Bosnian (living in Chicago) writer’s researching the life of Lazarus Averbuch (by returning to the Ukraine and other places eastern European places) for signs of the young man’s fatal trajectory. Implicit (and explicit) in the narrative of fear of the Other, immigrant as whipping boy for the reckless desire for ever-increasing power of the State (and as martyr for those who oppose it) is a slurry of post-9/11 parallels. Here’s “hobo doctor” Ben Reitman (1879-1942), lover of Emma Goldman, talking about Averbuch:
“For years . . . they have been maintaining the illusion that no social question exists in this country, that our republic has no place for the struggle of poor and rich. The voices of the deep, the cries of human misery and distress are silenced by the formula saying ‘we are all free and equal in this country.’ The empty cant of political liberty has been made to serve those in ruthless power. Those who dare to object to the farce of political freedom, those who resist the social and economic slavery are branded criminals.”
. . .
“Our brother Averbuch has fallen victim to the secret kings of the republic, . . . to the gendarmes and sheriffs of the possessing class. . . . They have left nothing undone to make him appear a low, vile creature, since it is necessary to lull this nation into the belief that only the basest of men could be guilty of discontent.”
. . .
“And how many martyrs do we need before we understand we must respond armed with our righteous wrath? The kings of the republic are summoning their baneful forces, writing new laws that would turn masses of people, millions of human beings, into criminals. We know that laws ought to be obeyed only if they come out of people’s sense of justice, not because the state needs them to preserve its power. . . .”
One irony, of course: how the whipped up animosity against “Jewish anarchists” of a mere one hundred years back is now so neatly turn’d against “Arab terrorists.”

Aleksandar Hemon

Friday, May 16, 2008

Johnson’s Bosnia

The Y in Ann Arbor (The Sinks)


I love that nutty
Persiflage and veering God-
Taunt’d verbiage that comes
Out of collaborating with
A French woman, bald-
Head’d, or a Russian
Name of Ninotchka or
Veruschka, some model W
For whoops just because
A man’s a clean-
Press’d uniform with snap
In its creases. Taunt’d
or taint’d—what is
That mess all down
The trousers? Or what
Is it makes me
Sally forth with red
Epaulettes squared, a fat
Blunt come dangerously close
To burning the quarter-
Sized patch of hair
That adorns my pendulous
Lip? I am Mr.
Gravity himself (“Garbo Laughs!”)
And I am yearning
Only to muscle quizzically
In on the feats
Of some other’s reckless
Yes in a rude
Trawling through sort of
Way, one way of
Making the minimal salience
Of a boundary my
Own, transfigured by longing.
I had better hurry—
Although nothing lasts longer
Whilst something never does.

Title cobbed off Coleridge, that nut. What a mess. Go away for a few days and see something of a world and it all wants to sidle up with the eyelashes doing a split-second rapidity thing, flirt city. Yesterday I perused (in Jacket) the mighty Kennan Ivanović’s “The Fountain Where One’s Name Is Changed: Notes from the Sarajevo Poetry Days Conference,” a terrific thing interspersed with excerpts out of Semezdin Mehmedinović’s Sarajevo Blues. Later—chance the dog that howls mournfully in the black’d ruins of my soul—I start’d Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project. A cacophonous merger occur’d, a round of Bosnia scraps and scissorings. Stories recount’d between two puffs of a cigarette. Here’s Semezdin Mehmedinović (during the siege of Sarajevo):

First a bulldozer came to dig trenches in the ground, then the truck hauling cement blocks to shore them up. Tanks are dug in with just the barrels peering out. And rocket launchers. Beyond the range of our rifles. Maybe you could even spend the winter in trenches like that. It’s August now: tobacco comes in from Nis and plum brandy from Prokuplje. I don’t know where the women come from, but I saw them too, through my binoculars. One of them put an air mattress down by the trench to sun herself in a bathing suit. She lies like that for hours. Then she gets up, goes to the rocket launcher, pulls the catch and lets a shell fly at random toward the city. She listens for a second, looking towards the source of the explosion: she stretches on the tips of her toes, innocently. Then she goes back, rubbing her body in suntan oil to fully give in to her own state of well-being.
Here’s Aleksandar Hemon:
There was a crazy guy in Sarajevo . . . who jogged all over the city under siege whenever the shooting slowed down. In an undershirt and red shorts he ran and ran, and people tried to catch him and save him, because the Chetniks never really stopped shooting, but nobody could catch him, he was pretty fast. He would stuff a plastic lemon in his mouth and when he didn’t have a lemon he would scream like the sheitan. If you asked him, he would say he was training for the Olympics. Then one day . . . he ran with a bunch of people across the airport tarmac as the UNPROFOR and the Chetniks shot at them. But they shot at the crowd, he was far ahead of them, the plastic lemon in his mouth, so he made it across. Then he ran all the way to Kiseljak. And now he is in Saint Louis . . .
“Chetniks”: slur-term for Serbian paramilitary gangs. “UNPROFOR”: the United Nation Protection Force. “Sheitan”: “Cara Bey! oof! he is a Sheitan, he is Satan, he is a black Yezidi, a worshipper of the devil!” Or here’s the redoubtable Kennan Ivanović (a.k.a. Kent Johnson) writing about meeting ’s translator, Elvis Mujanović, a “shy, melancholic young man”:
Now, drinking coffee in the hotel, overlooking the city, getting to know a bit about each other, he tells me of his family in the western town of Cazin, how during the war it was taken over by a break-away faction of the Bosnian forces and became the site of terrible intra-Muslim fighting. Imagine the desperation and shame we felt, and always the fear he says, that we would die for nothing. He tells me how his mother, a fan (it goes without saying) of Elvis Presley and a heavy smoker, would hoard all her cigarettes as currency to purchase basic provisions for the family, eating, of the little she could get, almost nothing herself. But he and his two sisters would steal one or two cigs from each pack and store them away to give to their mom to smoke when her depression would grow especially strong. The house gets hit by a shell one day, when they are, for some reason, not there. Relatives and friends die, as soldiers or bystanders. A rotting horse swells to the size of a hippo and bursts all over the road. Medieval buildings collapse into rubble. An old man, driven mad by grief, calmly walks a cat on a leash, as the firefight proceeds around him. Famished dogs snarl over the entrails of the maggot-covered horse. We are quiet for a while. Traffic sounds and school-kid laughter, shouts of daily commerce. And then he lights a cigarette, asks me about my own family, do my parents still live, am I married, do I have children, etc.
I love the size (and fleet bravado) of the stories. It is the mode of Hemingway in the untitled squibs that separate the stories of In Our Time, a mode mostly unpursued in American letters, or pursued mostly for comic effect. (I think of Diane Williams and Lydia Davis . . .) Here’s Hemingway:
They shot the six cabinet ministers at half-past six in the morning against the wall of a hospital. There were pools of water in the courtyard. There were wet dead leaves on the paving of the courtyard. It rained hard. All the shutters of the hospital were nailed shut. One of the ministers was sick with typhoid. Two soldiers carried him downstairs and out into the rain. They tried to hold him up against the wall but he sat down in a puddle of water. The other five stood very quietly against the wall. Finally the officer told the soldiers it was no good trying to make him stand up. When they fired at the first volley he was sitting down in the water with his head on his knees.
What I think of now as “Bosnian prose.”

Kent Johnson

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Le signe assassiné

Bleeding Hearts

Signs talking to signs. Charles Peirce thought that “even plants make their living . . . by uttering signs” and sketch’d labyrinths of minuscule wavy lines shuddering with significance. So that: a morning of sleepy-eyed obfuscatory excrescences comes around with no fish in the sack and a vague tickle in the brainpan (or itch, it is constant, and unscratchable) regarding Ron Silliman’s latest exhibit of the guffawesque, that is, the “idea” that he is dealing out—out of the soil’d deck of cards (he’s missing some and never notices)—“ideas”:
I’ve been able to insert several relatively new ideas on my blog—post-avant, school of quietude, new western / Zen cowboy—some of which have taken on a life of their own, but I’ve done it by discussing the idea, not necessarily pinning it on a single book.
I’ve always suspect’d that Silliman’s “mind” ’s got render’d athwart by politics (which is, after all, mostly a game of dodgy manoeuvres to control the predominant signage). Never, though, did I think a man capable of rattling off without any irony (what one must now believe to be only a chestnut, a quackish nostrum)—“Poetry is the only art form that can make use of all the possible dimensions of language and one of its historic functions has been to make us aware of these domains of meaning, especially those that fall outside of the narrow band of denotation”—could, too, claim such lazy (and obvious) naming as falling into the realm of the “idea.” (Perhaps, to Silliman, an idea is something immanently graspable and fiat’d, something ever-repeatable, a club one might use nigh-endlessly, something precisely with that “narrow band of denotation” (so narrow it seemingly disappears, empty sign) poetry combats, something like the name one assigns to a dog: Here, School of Quietude, c’mon boy, here, School of Quietude.) (One oughtn’t repeat oneself, but: control the names, control the percepts—that’s an old Alexander Haig ambuscade, replacing the appellation “Contras”—leftover brigand-goons of Somoza—with “freedom fighters.” The controlling military junta’s unilateral decision to call Burma “Myanmar”—that’s another “idea” As is the “War on Terrorism.”) I like how Peirce categories three “universes” of signs:
. . . the first comprises all mere Ideas, those airy nothings to which the mind of the poet, pure mathematician, or another might give local habitation and a name within that mind. Their very airy-nothingness, the fact that their Being consists in mere capability of getting thought, not in anybody’s Actually thinking them, saves their Reality.
A familiar item in Silliman’s precincts. Peirce continues:
The second Universe is that of the Brute Actuality of things and facts. I am confident that their Being consists in reactions against Brute forces, notwithstanding objections redoubtable until they are closely and fairly examined. The third Universe—
All these Universes may work havoc (“and let slip the Dogges of Warre”) with Silliman’s late project (though the existence of innumerable alphabets—Amharic, Burmese, Khmer, Sinhala, Cyrillic—apparently put no skid into the dogged slow bulldozing accumulation of The Alphabet).
—comprises everything whose being consist[s] in active power to establish connections between different objects, especially between objects in different Universes. Such is everything which is essentially a Sign—not the mere body of the Sign, which is not essentially such, but so to speak, the Sign’s Soul, which has its Being in its power of serving as intermediary between its Object and a Mind. Such, too, is a living consciousness, and such the life, the power of growth, of a plant. Such is a living constitution—a daily newspaper, a great fortune, a social “movement.”
I am a sign. My consciousness is a sign. (Elsewhere Peirce talks of “the notion that consciousness, i.e., percepts, is not the real thing but only the sign of the thing.” But: “these signs are the very thing. Reals are signs. To try to peel off signs & get down to the real thing is like trying to peel an onion and get down to [the] onion itself . . . If not consciousness then sciousness, is the very being of things; and consciousness is their co-being . . .”) Which skedaddles off into realms, again, of aery futility and vapours “where” “I” “do” “not” “go.” But: beware the persistent namer in the midst. Beware the poet’s abuse of words.

The Idea of Ron Silliman

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Birding, &c.


Yesterday the annual jaunt to Point Pelee (whose point withdraws perceptibly every year—result, apparently, of breakwaters construct’d in front of Lake Erie condominiums interrupting the wave action that used to shift sand to the point). A good day of some sixty or so species. Black-bellied plovers and a ruddy turnstone in the black muck of the onion fields. A rusty blackbird turning leaves in the swampy woods. (A raccoon there, too, unconcernedly grubbing out one hole after another.) Warblers: Nashville, Blackburnian, bay-breasted, chestnut-sided, yellow, magnolia, Cape May, black-throated green, palm, black-and-white, redstart. One attends to (accounts for) what’s “coming through” (think of a migratory poetics). One remarks differences (compared to other years): higher numbers of orchard orioles, of Nashville warblers. Miss’d the Black-throated blue. Miss’d the scarlet tanager, the rose-breasted grosbeak. Slight sunburn. Back, a longish wait at U.S. Custons. Two thuggish-looking “homeland” grunts (shaved heads, sunglasses, knee pads, arsenals of unspecify’d black weaponry strapped to belts) walk’d with the insouciant grace of the bully up and down the rows of vehicles waiting to go through: devotees, obviously, of random intimidation. (They’d suddenly choose a vehicle to interrogate and search, fling open doors and trunks, resume implacable pacing.) One traverses the Ambassador Bridge into a monstrous sandy pit of construction. A dozen or so cranes, innumerable bulldozed two-track service roads, flung about concrete barriers, insufficient (moronic) signage.

Return’d, read nearly to the end of The Disinherited. A (jobless, “I hear they’re hirin’ about one out of every fifty thousand that asts fer a job”) character’s quoting of a couple lines of Vachel Lindsay made me look it up:

Let not young souls be smothered out before
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
It is the world’s one crime its babes grow dull,
Its poor are ox-like, limp and leaden-eyed.

Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly;
Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap;
Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve;
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.
I love that. That, and the story the immigrant (and Marx-reading) Hans tells about wasp-hollow’d pears:
When I was a boy in Germany . . . there was a nobleman’s estate close to our cottage. He had a splendid orchard, and we boys were always hungering for the fruit we never had at home. We used to steal over the high stone wall when the gardeners were busy elsewhere to eat our fill of the fruit and even fill our blouses to take home with us. We liked the pears best. They were huge and sweet as sugar. Sometimes we’d start to grasp one in a hurry and it would crumble between our fingers. Wasps had entered it through a tiny hole near the stem, a hole not evident to a casual eye, and eaten all away but the rind and seeds. Things that seem as solid as a rock may be fragile enough to collapse at a pinch. But you’ve got to pinch first.
Thinking that the detail of the pear tree is intend’d to remind one of Saint Augustine’s different (Christianly-complicated and apologist—“Even a rich thief will not tolerate a poor thief who is driven to theft by want”) story of thieving pears in Book II of The Confessions:
I had a desire to commit robbery, and did so, compelled to it by neither hunger nor poverty, but through a contempt for well-doing and a strong impulse to iniquity. For I pilfered something which I already had in sufficient measure, and of much better quality. I did not desire to enjoy what I stole, but only the theft and the sin itself.

There was a pear tree close to our own vineyard, heavily laden with fruit, which was not tempting either for its color or for its flavor. Late one night—having prolonged our games in the streets until then, as our bad habit was—a group of young scoundrels, and I among them, went to shake and rob this tree. We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden. . . . It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error—not that for which I erred but the error itself.
I do recall reading all that and thinking What a dweeb (though in Latin of course). All the self-lacerating hardly worthy the inconsiderable erring (and the “cauldron of lust” that ’s Carthage hardly register’d—seem’d second-hand braggart hogwash boys tell one another to prop themselves “up”).

To redeem Geoffrey Hill (for myself), the final (and perfectly uncivil) piece in A Treatise of Civil Power:

Somehow, with a near-helpless cry, I sháll
wrench out of this. I don’t much have
the patience, now, of the artificer
that so enthralls itself, impels
mass, energy, deep, the stubborn line,
the line that is that quickens to delay.

                             —Urge to unmake
all wrought finalities, become a babbler
in the crowd’s face—
A cantankerous unviable naysayer after all! Reveller in the idiot bave and mess! Against the fine sterling industrious makers!

Blackburnian Warbler

Monday, May 12, 2008

Thy True Heritage

The Y in Ann Arbor (“Rathe to destroy”)


If I punch quick,
And short, and cadge
A big smoke off
What a man is
Reft of by insobriety,
Any discussing’ll be nil.
That wont to pump
Up one’s honor with
Stories of feral disobedience
In the big sticks
Bouncing off the bed
Of a truck, spread-
Eagled out against a
Green bruise of forty
Or so pot plants
Hanging out the tail-
Gate, just ripped out
Of a clearing dogged
By a full moon’s
Persistent industry poking out
Of insufficient cloud-cover,
Plant stems thick’s a
Skinny boy’s wrist. The
Mean one act’d like
A Romeo, the clownish
One the usual Boner
City goofiness, rather get
Fuck’d up than fuck’d,
Sweating out schnappes shooters
In the pizza joint,
Ending up plow’d in
The waterbed with two
Girls. Arranged for a
Confederate to pry out
A window and carry
Off a considerable collection
Of guns and ammo,
The insurance company paid
A couple of thousand,
Enough capital to run
A sizeable shipment up
Out of the city.

The title comes out of a Geoffrey Hill poem, “To the Lord Protector Cromwell,” in A Treatise of Civil Power. A skimpy thing I nosed into whilst my boy rummaged through the stock of a used-music emporium. Curious about a writer I am always curious about, always perturb’d by, laboring myself into disgruntlement. Here, baffled by Hill’s piece “After Reading Children of Albion (1969).” Sign of the difficulty of comprehending the “poetry wars” of another place. Children of Albion one of the anthologies (British version) arriving behind the locomotive of Allen’s New American Poetry, though Ginsberg’s 1965 Royal Albert Hall reading and world youth cacophony probably contributed just as much. Geoffrey Hill not included in its pages. And some of them that were: now forgot, grimping into the escaliers of the hardly noteworthy. Which makes the poem seem a little vicious:
Time-expired accusation, a tendresse
of news-hounds, a cave of judges, a judgment
confounded, a covenant of fuddled sleep.
Children of Albion now old men and women
compromised by the deeds they signed in Eden
forsaking dearth.

Kemp’s Jig was hard labour—London to Norwich.
I saw a man enact it for an hour
his stage about the space of a kitchenette.
Theatrical darkness, sound only, a hish,
a hisp, tissue of little bells. Then—bingo!—
lights! and a gold Albion uprearing
electric with a static declamation,
a stance-prancer to his motionless fingers’ ends.

The dancers, faces oblivious & grave,—
testing testing
the dancers face oblivion and the grave.
A note alerts one that the italics point to a line by John James. Any reading I manage here is probably not help’d by the fact that I first read “a covenant of fuddled sheep”—and the sense of contempt for the “Children” (then and now) resulting. Or is the piece meant to represent the tough old turd affectionately cuffing the clumsiness of youth? “Compromised” by juvenilia? (A mighty sad measure of esteem, I’d say.) The “Kemp’s Jig” stanza: meant to recall the paucity of means and meretriciousness of ends (in those days)? (In 1580 Will Kemp danced the eighty or so miles from London to Norwich in nine days, winning a bet he’d do it in under ten.) Though: the current means (“Then—bingo!— / lights!”) seem incredibly amateurish, just as clumsy. (As does the overly theatrical “testing testing” segue in the final part.) “We decide we do not like Geoffrey Hill.”

Reading Jack Conroy’s The Disinherited, thinking of Jean Genet. The way improbably breath-upsucking images emerge out of a damnable quotidian rich with degradation and poverty. The Monkey Nest mine wherein Larry Donovan, fictional replica of Conroy himself, lost father and several brothers, is mined out and abandon’d:
      Then the tipple fell in a whirlwind, and the stiff legs stuck ludicrously in the air like those of an overturned wooden horse. Time has had its way with the Monkey Nest. In its quiet grottos crumbling rails and phosphorescent ties are sinking in pallid slime, while flabby fungi cling to the rotting timbers. Bats scream and fight. A venturesome boy climbed down the shaft, but fled in terror when he was covered from head to foot with pulsing, furry bodies before he could travel twenty feet into the main entry. It was lucky for him at that, because the black damp knocks you out without warning. A lamp flame will not live in it.
      To keep cows from falling in the open shaft, it was decided to fill it. The assorted urchins of a superannuated miner volunteered to perform this incredible feat, more stupendous than any storied Herculean labor. In casting about for a comparative peg on which to hang their undertaking, I must mention the persistent Mr. Beers of the poem, who, amidst this neighbor’s jeers, has been resolutely digging in his garden, with China as a goal, for forty-seven years. Think also of that prodigious rock in Svithjod land, a hundred miles high and a hundred miles wide. To it every thousand years comes a canary bird to whet its dainty beak. When that Gargantuan boulder shall have been worn to the level of the plain, preachers are fond of saying, it will be only breakfast time in Hell.
The boys manage the job with a “coaster wagon” wheel’d up and down full of “soapstone and slag”: “It took them a year to complete the job, but they were paid twenty-five dollars in cash, not in trade out of a company store.” That latter detail probably most astonishing of all. Where’d I read lately how Nadine Gordimer, confront’d with a trailer “park” whilst visiting these unequal States, ask’d who wrote the stories of its inhabitants. Maybe Russell Banks, married to an heiress. The way Conroy is able to plunge (zoom lens) in and out of focus—political against personal, huge economic forces against kids gleaning stray coal chunks—caught here in a lovely paragraph:
      Such a transaction as buying a ton of coal would have seemed incredible to us. We bagged it in gunny sacks from the tipple, shifting the load continually in a endeavor to ease our smarting backs with a flat-surfaced chunk. We sank puffing to the sward half way home, and the surrounding terrain detached itself from the general landscape as though under a microscope. Maybe a busy tumble-bug patiently trundling his malodorous pellet, or a tribe of ants bearing a dead grasshopper. One had only to smash down with a stick or stone to feel like God loosing an earthquake or a tidal wave. We halted by a decayed log and placed our mouths against the ground, chanting: “Doodle, up! Doodle, up! Doodle, up!” If we waited long enough a small black bug would squirm energetically out of the loam, and we were always sure that the doodlebug came in obedience to our command, though tardy.
The doodlebug, found by disturbing the sand of the tiny crater it lies in wait at the bottom of, is the larva of the ant lion. Unsuspecting ants (or one’s breath) moves a few grains of sand and the doodlebug emerges to pull the ant under. (Apparently doodlebugs dig bigger craters when the moon is full.) Worthy of Pound’s Pisan jig “The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world. . . . Learn of the green world what can be thy place / In scaled invention or true artistry.”

Ant Lion Larva (Doodlebug)

Doodlebug and Ants

Friday, May 09, 2008

My Compleyntes Defruct’d

Horn and Emblem

Some kind of thunderous monody of the bereft? Is that in the offing? My daily unpreparedness, the scandal of the tapped out barrel, the defruct’d bare tree. I did find words of Charles Sanders Peirce (“Nature’s too few startling indices” again leaps to the brainbox’s proscenium): “A rap on the door is an index. Anything which focuses the attention is an index. Anything which startles us is an index, in so far as it marks the junction between two portions of experience. Thus a tremendous thunderbolt indicates that something considerable happened, though we may not know precisely what the event was. But it may be expected to connect itself with some other experience.” (Out of “Logic as Semiotic” though I found it anchoring Jonathan Morse’s piece call’d “The Startle Reflex: Some Episodes from the Lives of Ezra Pound’s Language” in Jacket.) Isn’t a metaphor a kind of index? (Boom and rattling panes of recognition.) Any hinge between items makes a correspondence, beginnings of a structure the mind (motile night creature like a lemur) is able to grimp along, ceaselessly extending. (See how I find myself in Madagascar with lemurs in lieu of with Peirce at Arisbe, the lovely house in Milford, Pa. near the Delaware Water Gap, its round stone foundations and woodwork’d eaves, stumbled into one autumn day driving to Stroudsburg. Gifford Pinchot, early forestry expert, had a place just down the way . . .) (Grimp and extend.) Or I did snap up a line of John Aubrey perfectly serviceable for a title, here, why not try it out?

Dang it all, you
Whiners, class is about
The group—the individual
Animalcule making vague complaint
About a dirty diaper
Or a lost fishing
Lure isn’t a class
Question, no matter how
Perfidious the state, how
Defeatist the economic news.
Class is a blood-
Line, trumps the mawkish
Quotidian mump. Dig it.
(Out of my soonest-mended book—I got to “fix the endings” of some of the pieces—call’d Ending with ‘Dig It’ (Compleat). Fine vacillating here between the morose and the giddy. I did, after various mad-scramble excursions around town (rehearsals and performances glut the soup-printanier we swim in) put myself to reading a little of Jack Conroy’s The Disinherited (1933), looking to—out of Dos Passos—find something out about “proletarian literature”:
Expert miners thump the roof inquiringly with a pick handle before they venture into their “rooms” of a morning. They learn the meaning of a whole octave of sounds indicating the solidity or lack of solidity in the ceiling, but pot rocks slip out as though they were well greased. They give no warning rattle. And bell rocks spring like panthers, leaving a smooth cup-like cavity. Always the rocks hang overhead like the fabled Damoclean sword, except that the sword was not too wide to allow some chance of jumping from beneath it.
And cannot decide whether the clarity of the lines is pleasing, or the heft of knowledge so obviously practically-gain’d is it. One’d say “To the factories, comrades,” except for the fact that the factories die they NAFTA-stung death. “To the service occupations, comrades!” Where be the novels of the medical transcriptionists of today? The “personal appearance workers,” “the gaming surveillance officers,” the “pharmacy aides”?

Juliette and Charles S. Peirce at Arisbe (1907)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Running Cold



Sinuous impetuosity is needling the breach:
Trying to pull back what slid
                off so brusque.

A boy croons an air by
Puccini, some virtuosic encore out of
                Gianni Schicchi, a

Standard heart-wrencher. The rain that
Descended late’s knock’d down the catkins,
                streak’d grainy debris

The color of Mountain Dew all
Across the shiny black hood of
                the car. Mallarmé

Says “Each soul is a melody”—
A complete idiocy. The Mallarmé who,
                busy pulling slippers

Out of a homburg, or flowers
Out of a trilby, with menacing
                peremptory glee maintains

“The marvel of transposing a fact
Of nature into its almost complete
                and vibratory disappearance”

Is achieved through “the play of
The word,” piling up the negatives,
                like a hat

One rashly puts one’s head into
In lieu of wearing. Perfect is
                the piece of

Writing that unveils a flower (with
Fit seizure of lack) nobody perceives
                missing: “the one

Absent every bouquet.” The boy is
Running up and down the A
                major scale, cascades

A long-bow’d gamut and slurry,
Marks off finicky triplets and quadruplets
                in staccato detachment.

A way of gainsaying emptiness, pouring
Out its claims against the contumacious
Abrupt, and the hole into it
                any word is.

Cold morning, cold night. Comforting the air that slides in under the raised window—I keep reading Dos Passos’s U.S.A., drifting off only to stir up late to lights blazing and a book akilter, dropped, smothering. Continuing lack of the prestidigitatory scuttle, no sense of finesse and jump. Smouldering doggedness, thy name is legion. Stray perturbs: what if Walter Benjamin’d got out of the mud of Port Bou and join’d Adorno &c. in Los Angeles? In Los Angeles?

Paul Gauguin, “Portrait de Stéphane Mallarmé,” 1891

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Oily (Coleridge)



The May light makes
All things common, so
All beauty, resonance, integrity
Exist by a dumbfounded
Implacable levelling, a lingual
Mussing of high creep-
Speak with low paramecia’d
Saliences, pee-pockets of
Slangy impenetrables surrounded by
The rapt viscous peninsulas
Of straining motile desire,
A single cell becoming
Wholly mouth. Like language :
Unable to shut its
Trap, its gadabout patois
Enclosure-defiance, its impecunious
Free bunk. Dig it.

If one admits that one’s goofing off, pawing the backs of finely wrought (impenetrable) books of poetry, no chance of a “public coming to terms” with any of it—nabbing stray language-parries with impunity, on a kind of bender of oughts and noughts, snatching things recklessly:
Ten syllable Lines.—1. swift.     2. flaw.     3. drift.     4. law.     5. chime.     6. draw.     7. time.     8 clime.     8th. Alexandrine.
Thus Coleridge in October of 1804. Instructing himself. No evidence of the carrying out.
A flying cigar is the chimney swift:
A mash’d stump of Havana with the flaw
Of two jerky twittering wings: its drift
And glide’s against aerodynamic law.
That a common smoking implement’d chime
With a smoke-hole dwelling bird ought to draw
One to conclude that naming fits a time-
Scar’d kind of correspondence: man resembling ’s clime.
(Dogged hours of fitting the marquetry.) (Constraint become confinement.) (One supposes it possible to re-route the lingual neurons into a plush-geometry of tenners—that ’s the first heave.) (Continual mucking with the whole settlement of one’s musicking?) (What means “first heave compensating drawworks”?) (With oil topping $120 per barrel crude, is it high-scar’d time to learn its lingo?) (“Mud pump,” “hook load,” “rotary table,” “spiral-bevel ratio.”) (One skitters north through Michigan and sees lone pumps pocking the swampy center of the state: endlessly rocking.) (Large hens, pecking.) (Machinery’s inimical call—its leverage on the heartworks it mimicks.) (“The initial drilling is called ‘spudding in.’”) (“The oil cache.”) (“Oil spike,” “rig count,” “pipeline bombings.”)

Oil Pump

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

An Ypocrite


Sure enough, unprepared, sty or eyelash making the ducts bleed a teary scratch anthem, morning through the watery blur just another blank whim of the day. Veblen talks about “the regulating norm of consumption” and how it feeds “conspicuous waste”—the consumer par excellence wanting only “to conform to established usage, to avoid unfavourable notice and comment, to live up to the accepted canons of decency in the kind, amount, and grade of goods consumed, as well as in the decorous employment of his time and effort.” Sounds like Blogland with its certifiably herd ruminancies, cud-chewers in the common wilderness of no (unnail’d down) extraneous desires, no? Veblen says a sense of “prescriptive usage is present in the motives of the consumer and exerts a direct constraining force.” If you refuse to own a proper change of jeans . . . if you talk about extraneous books, veering off the scuttlebutt of the decorous (or the shill indecorous with they self-serving (self-servicing) pomp and romp). Dos Passos wonders: “Where was the forgotten man in all these meetings, the citizen of Hooverville, the down and out guy you find wherever you look for a second under the thinning veneer of comfort and the American standard?” Concessions everywhere is how I see it: conceding to become mere concessionaires (with the cock-eyed rough-nail’d hot dog stands in the mud of the beach, the oily smother of the boardwalk). It’s funny to see how the clever mock-Marx academics in the crowd, done with wringing the scrawny neck of the semester (le travail qui n’ose pas dire son nom?), get a chance just about now to foist off a few self-satisfy’d bon mots. Just yesterday I caught a squadron of crows taking turns dive-bombing a solitary raccoon who’d had the temerity to emerge mid-day for a look about. ¡No pasarán! ¡No pasarán! the crows squawk’d in thin little Mickey Mouse voices, the morally-corrupt’d voices of the “winners.” Yah, “An ypocrite is this, / A man which feigneth conscience.” Gower, John Gower. He’d probably know.
This world, which evere is in balance:
It stant noght in my sufficance
So grete thinges to compasse,
Bot I mot lete it overpasse
And treten upon othre thinges.
Forthi the Stile of my writinges
Fro this day forth I thenke change . . .
That finical scrupulous restlessness to move beyond the finenesses of one’s own quarter. Insufficiencies drubbed by teary-eyed insufficiences: the war, the war, the war. And my bombast against the bombast. Off to the lavatory: something’s got to paw that thing out of my eye.

John Gower, c. 1330-1408
(“I throw my darts and shoot my arrows at the world. But where there is a righteous man, no arrow strikes.”)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Dos Passos Notes, &c.


Thinking that that recent rhyme and metric werke (howsoever sloppy and picayune it is) ’s jism’d up (um, defiled) my ear: some entirety of audients commandeer’d to a signal untoward end. Cannot ascertain the usual voices (with they glib basso profundo uproar), source and solace of my “art.” Or, maybe, skeptical of the mired (enforced) regularity of my chatter, they gone off sulking. Oddly, I note how Isola di Rifiuti is approaching Hotel Point’s longevity, its point and moment of collapse. Is there a threshold the brainmeat, rough and perishable, refuses? I doubt it. Every threshold’s deck’d out in its own foul particulars, its flounces and lies. One seeks only a vehicle with a vehicle’s paltry seriatim charms palpable: one hunky catcher with one big “mitt” ’ld suffice (think of Jack Spicer). That is to say: a misfit audience is necessary, a misfit is sufficient; I’d exchange the daily bleating at the forum for the quotidian sneak carte postale to some aficionado of my mess any day (“oh you would not!”) Everybody wants an immoderate breeze (gusty, hortatory, illimit’d) malleable in the hands that receive it, no? That is to say: muss’d hair recombable (if not the eggy top of the cranial dome knock’d off—“Yellow, yellow yellow, yellow!”—I know it is poetry if it’s like a yoke-color’d sun hot in a vat.) (Wherein I seemingly lost the “thread” of my seizure: telephone lines down all throughout Big Muddy, the ditch I call my own.) (Thinking of Emily Dickinson, I bloom’d and swerved into William Carlos Williams.) (Or Sergio Leone.)

Hot in a hat, out
Hoeing the bean row, aerating
The clayey particulate cake of
It, a summer of no

Rain, no rain in Tokyo.
Nothing to rinse the linen
In, no tub or barrel
Of rainwater off a downspout,

Dry it is in Riyadh.
We keep a lookout for
Signs of clouds, dashing out
With buckets if one skirts

By, quick clouds of Dunkirk.
A cloud in the sky’s
A sty in the eye

Is what the locals say,

Proverbial-tongued locals of Mumbai.
That’s a crowd’d place, how
Local’s local in a place
With a populace of fourteen

Million people? It makes Karachi
Look small. Is that hat
Helping any? That’s a lot
Of beans need’d, and rain.

Who reads Thorstein Veblen these days? Dos Passos’s portrait of him (“a hulking lad with a reputation for laziness and wit . . . Reading he was happy . . . he had a stinging tongue and was famous for the funny names he called people . . . he had a constitutional inability to say yes”) demands—against all the “plump flunkies” and yesmen (and they are everywhere, they flourish particularly in the scoff-coffers of the arts where one’s assumed allegiance to the nays camouflages a terrible thriving industry of village pleasers)--one investigate the author of The Theory of the Leisure Class. Dos Passos, in a beaut of a sentence, begins the acquaintance:
      a greyfaced shambling man lolling resentful at his desk with his cheek on his hand, in a low sarcastic mumble of intricate phrases subtly paying out the logical inescapable rope of matteroffact for a society to hang itself by,
      dissecting out the century with a scalpel so keen, so comical, so exact that the professors and students ninetenths of the time didn’t know it was there, and the magnates and the respected windbags and the applauded loudspeakers never knew it was there.
“He was a man without small talk.” He translated the Laxdaelasaga. Carpenter’d tables and chairs, wrote “slowly at night in violet ink with a pen of his own designing.” “When he lectured he put his cheek on his hand and mumbled out his long spiral sentences, reiterative like the eddas. His language was a mixture of mechanics’ terms, scientific latinity, slang and Roget’s Thesaurus.” Vandyke beard and yellow teeth, women were always falling for him.

Thorstein Veblen, 1857-1929

Friday, May 02, 2008

Walter Benjamin’s Archive


Walter Benjamin: “The card index marks the conquest of three-dimensional writing, and so presents an astonishing counterpoint to the three-dimensionality of script in its original form as rune or knot notation. (And today the book is already, as the present mode of scholarly production demonstrates, an outdated mediation between two different filing systems. For everything that matters is to be found in the card box of the researcher who wrote it, and the scholar studying it assimilates it into his own card index.)” Who says something somewhere about “Nature’s too few startling indices”? A world subsumed by a lexicon’ll fit in a box, one supposes, though one aches to say it. How apt that Benjamin, collector of cartes postales, sees an economy of the “scholarly” residing in boxes. It’s Nabokov who so implacably fills the index cards, the long boxes. Benjamin is mostly notebooks, scraps, lists, pages impeccably script’d and with margins left blank (a place for the inevitable late-beleaguer’d intrusions of futurity, or for the “de-forming agent” call’d imagination), in a minuscule hand micrographic, neatly single-lining out the errors. A new book call’d Walter Benjamin’s Archive: Images, Texts, Signs (Verso, 2007). Translated by Esther Leslie. Edited by Ursula Marx, Gudrun Schwarz, Michael Schwarz, and Erdmut Wizisla. Book of an exhibit (in 2006 in the Academy of Arts, Berlin), replete with notebook pages; clippings; postcards of toys (the Thingworld), of sybils out of the cathedral at Siena, of travels (San Gimignano, Volterra, Mallorca); logs of words and phrases (distorted, a “childish lexicon”) out of the mouth of Benjamin’s son Stefan; photographs (arcades, clutter); graphic constellations (lists spatially sort’d and align’d); riddles and puzzles, letters and quotables. Wholly, meanderingly, thumbable.

Toujours in Benjamin the processual tug of constant flux and ephemerality opposed to the impulse to stay that through collecting. “Thus the life of a collector manifests a dialectical tension between the poles of disorder and order.” The sour inevitability is: disorder surmounts order—in a line out of the preface: “the briefcase that Walter Benjamin carried over the Pyrenees in September 1940 is lost.” Presumably disappear’d into the maw of the state.

License in Benjamin to snatch and hoard with a magpie’s bright indifference: “not to retain the new but to renew the old. And to renew the old—in such a way that I myself, the newcomer, would make what was old my own, as the task of the collections that filled my drawer.” Assimilating the perdurable, or, make the perdurable out of what’s select’d to assimilate. Or is the collectable, like memory, endless? “He who has once begun to open the fan of memory never comes to the end of its segments. No image satisfies him, for he has seen that it can be unfolded, and only in its folds does the truth reside—that image, that taste, that touch for whose sake all this has been unfurled and dissected; and now remembrance progresses from small to smallest details, from the smallest to the infinitesimal, while that which it encounters in these microcosms grows ever mightier.”

Odd combo of fatigue and restlessness proceeding. Flowering plants in successive waves, forsythia, magnolia, redbud, pears, the dogwoods beginning (greenly white), the catalpa one of the latest, just now with a little greenery amongst the clinging brown pods. The bird regulars getting interrupt’d by notes here and there of migrants. I am dizzy with intents one moment, sour and adamant in sloth the next. Kind of thing that makes for a dullard’s mayhem:
A Caliper to measure Fleas—
A compass, minuscule—
Can hardly reach to span the breach
Between two women gathering fuel

In vacant lots where winter is
A fit of emptiness
Against what—absent—presently
Hocks its copiousness.
“Hocks” as in spits, “hocks” as in dumps on the unsuspecting, pawns off. (Do I feel that thing—here in my relentlessness—that Benjamin says? “The scruples, sometimes disturbing even to me, with which I view the plan of some sort of “Collected Works” correspond to the archival precision with which I preserve and catalog everything of mine that has appeared in print. Furthermore, disregarding the economic side of being a writer, I can say that for me the few journals and small newspapers in which my work appears represent for me the anarchic structure of a private publishing house. The main objective of my promotional strategy, therefore, is to get everything I write—except for some diary entries—into print at all costs . . .” Maybe. Though I thrill to defiant insouciance too: “Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than people who are most content. / I don’t have any regrets, they can talk about me plenty when I’m gone” sorts of things. Wouldn’t Benjamin, if he’d survived, be today an morosely riotous (downloading fever’d) assemblagist of pixels? No scrap unturn’d, no caustic mot forgot.

A Page of Benjamin’s Paris Address Book of the 1930s

Walter Benjamin, 1892-1940

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Walt Whitman, Printer



Particularity’s a Shed
Without Shingles, a rain-
Swept Shack of Nothing to do:
It mocks an empty Plain

Like a House unguarded without,
No Rookery, no Tree, no Flue.
Nothing bigger anneals to it—
It borrows its Sun and Dew.

No General stops to water
A horse, or curry it
With a blandishing Brush or Comb.
Lonesome is its riot.

Walt Whitman looking back on “the whole modus of that initiation” into the mysteries and pleasures of type-setting and printing (he learn’d under an apprenticeship beginning at age twelve): “the half eager, half bashful beginning—the awkward holding of the stick—the type-box, or perhaps two or three old cases, put under his feet for the novice to stand on, to raise him high enough—the thumb in the stick—the compositor’s rule—the upper case almost out of reach—the lower case spread out handier before him—learning the boxes—the pleasing mystery of the different letters, and their divisions—the great ‘e’ box—the box for spaces right by the boy’s breast—the ‘a’ box, ‘i’ box, ‘o’ box, and all the rest—the box for quads away off in the right hand comer—the slow and laborious formation, type by type, of the first line—its unlucky busting by the too nervous pressure of the thumb—the first experience in ‘pi,’ and the distributing thereof—all this, I say, what jour [journeyman] typo cannot go back in his own experience and easily realize.” That out of a little book by Ed Folsom titled Whitman Making Books, Books Making Whitman, catalog and commentary to a 2005 sesquicentennial exhibition of the 1855 (and subsequent) editions of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Folsom considers how Whitman’s direct participation in the design and printing of Leaves of Grass (to the point where it should be consider’d part of Whitman’s compositional strategy) result’d in not only numerous editions, but “multiple issues, often with different bindings, different paper size, different cover designs, and different configurations of contents.” Evidence is present’d of Whitman making changes mid-press-run. Whitman: “I sometimes find myself more interested in book making than in book writing . . . the way books are made—that always excite my curiosity: the way books are written—that only attracts me once in a great while.” And: “Having been a printer myself . . . I have what may be called an anticipatory eye—know pretty well as I write how a thing will turn up in the type—appear—take form.” I recall a proposal made not entirely jokingly by, I think, James McConkey at Cornell back in the early ’eighties with the first signs of dangerously saturate-levels of MFA were being observed (nobody getting jobs)—that the candidates be required to gain, too, some expertise in the printing trades, fine letterpress or commercial. A proposal scoff’d at, though I, having done both (though not then doing an MFA), rather liked it. So: pleased to read of Whitman’s suggesting to the young: “Whack away at everything pertaining to literary life—mechanical part as well as the rest. Learn to set type, learn to work at the ‘case,’ learn to be a practical printer, and whatever you do learn condensation.” (I jump’d to a brainmeat-strike of thinking maybe Pound’d got that “condensare” out of Whitman, forgetting how he owes it to Bunting (ABC of Reading): “I begin with poetry because it is the most concentrated form of verbal expression. Basil Bunting, fumbling about with a German-Italian dictionary, found that this idea of poetry as concentration is as old almost as the German language. ‘Dichten’ is the German verb corresponding to the noun ‘Dichtung’ meaning poetry, and the lexicographer has rendered it by the Italian verb meaning ‘to condense.’ . . . Dichten = Condensare.”)

Some lovely details in Folsom’s book. How the use of a line out of Emerson’s famous letter to Whitman (“I great you at the beginning of a great career.”—R. W. Emerson) on the (fat) spine of the second (1856) edition of Leaves of Grass invent’d the dastardly cover blurb. (That edition design’d purposefully by Whitman to “go into any reasonable pocket.”) Or how, after images of leaves and rootlets emerging out of the title’s words on the cover and title page in the early editions, Whitman turns to “spermatic imagery” for the third (1860) edition (which first includes both the “Calamus” and “Enfans d’Adam” poems (“Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice . . .”) The squiggles decorating the word “GRASS” on the title page mimic the “distinctive tails that had become familiar in medical textbooks of the time . . . and the period after the title is a perfect representation of a sperm cell.” Or how Whitman long’d to make “a Bible for American democracy that would reconfigure morality on radically democratic terms.” In a “working copy” of the 1860 edition, Whitman “carefully noted the number of words in the Bible (895,752), the number of words in the New Testament (212,000), and the number of words in the ‘Boston ed. Leaves of Grass’ (150,500). To this total, he added the words in his new book of Civil War poems, Drum-Taps (33,000), giving him a total of 183,500, an impressive amount of verbiage, but still quite a ways from overtaking his ancient rival.”

The Walt Whitman Archive, something mount’d simultaneously with the exhibition and its catalog is here. Something nearly identical to the text of the catalog is here. Somewhere in its early pages is mention of two versions of the Whitman “rough” engraving: “bulging-crotch” and “flat-crotch.” A later edition crops the offending half of the body altogether (shades of Elvis film’d for the Ed Sullivan show waist up.)

Walt Whitman, 1819-1892

Whitman’s Crotch (Flat and Bulged)