Monday, January 05, 2009

Faits Divers

Dumpster (Hommage à Giorgio de Chirico)

Various notes and seizures accumulated of late (in the intervening sloth of the year’s end, or its Ouroborosian beginning), discard’d here in chronological order.


The rain north of Chicago is washing
The dirty cotton color’d heaps of snow
Into the gutters, braids and hanks and strands
Of no color is what the snow becomes.
Raining south of Chicago, and near south
And in Hyde Park where the monk parrots make
Large houses with many entrances and
An equal number of exits, because
A hole is a hole and serves one twice, first
In arriving, second in departing:
Who knows how the monk parrots end’d up
Up in the trees in Hyde Park, a northern
Outpost for the feral Brazilian
Birds a.k.a. Quaker parrots, why’s that?

Thinking about a new writing “assignment” to begin in January—and vaguely considering an open-end’d series of sonnets—I attempt’d one “loose” one and determined vite that the syllabic unit is a dud for me, too picayune and slippery, I like lines, and I like words, I like sentences only that own up to being completely and degradingly arbitrary, a malleable unit and device, I like rhyme if it’s either smarmy and outré or shirking and despondent, I like rhythm, period. Henceforth the teeming colony of three hundred or so daily and brilliantine-up’d sonnets of 2009 is a no-go. The idea of being in that box for any ominous lingering period of days: heebie-jeebie city. I pore myself into the fourteen-liners of Oxota: A Short Russian Novel and squirm: the predominant means of constructing each is the sentence. The sentence inveterately standing in for the line. Which disallows any of the tension that occurs when the sentence is distributed over several lines. Which allows for a kind of monochromatic expressive density to emerge: a “Soviet” monochrome if one is born in, say, 1941, and grew up with the West’s stories of Russia’s desaturating under the rule of the “Reds.” Hejinian says: “it was Osip Brik who insisted that prosody for Russians is based not on meters but on lines.” The upshot of the sentence replacing the line is a redeployment of means and a reassessment of scale: hence the “novel.” Scarcity of paper (for, say, the project’d “San Francisco-St. Petersburg anthology”) becomes a motif, one of several. (There are characters, too, and all the lingo of the “flirtatious” that character “entails.”) I am getting no nearer to defining my “assignment.”


Meaning usurped by its removal, its lack of context, or its re-setting, as if meaning were a jewel
The way the temperature fell sharply under the high pressure clout, bringing the sun with it
I had a momentary eagerness to read the book about astronomy the community selected for its Ypsilanti Reads campaign and checked a copy out of the library, dragged it home
Mary (Cherokee Street) called about New Year’s, undecided
The dog’s collapse into endless sleep after three days of what I suspect is a kind of sublime doggy nervousness surrounded by “fetching canines” at the kennel for three days
Stopped just off Scio Church Road to photograph a barn
How to make a picture of a thing (a barn) that isn’t a timid discursive avoidance (that rich red) of the thing, how impossible
The rough-looking boys who pulled up in a Toyota to ask if I needed help
A tendency to bloviate into clarity (and back out of it)
What we used to call a “beater”
Brimming with simplification
A word divided preternaturally between Ashbery and Pynchon, though Ashbery used it first by disowning it, claiming Warren G. Harding’d “invented” it
The tragedy of any truth apprehended is how stable it makes one appear against the usual slog of indifference and metempsychosis
That lurch steadiness of a needle marking a vehicle’s acceleration

One of my prefer’d lines out of Oxota: “A person’s hypersensitivity is no longer witty.” Which’s got the “sense” of a backstabbing—the kind of (weak, annoying) thing one notices traveling with friends. Too: “As emotional as the thumb, and beyond it the sun / Rose snow fell / The sun was only at thumb height.” Which sequence puts the kibosh to my ascertaining that the line in Oxota is “only” a sentence: is it Heraclitus who says the sun is equal to the width of a human foot?


Form subjugates every experience
            —Lyn Hejinian

If meaning changes with scale, a collapsible
                a minor upthrust against the stark
Daily leveling concomitance must
Reside in serial breakage, its rut, its rout.
So goes our most
                                tawdry affliction, the bout
Quotidian to savage the quotidian itself
Like a parka cellophaned with Polaroids,
Momentary shelter against the brunt
Dull explicable of winter.
                                               Or something
Big and supposedly messy (Bernadette
Mayer) begins with the word Stately
And betrays its literary underpinning, its
Corm or sheath.
                               A way of cottoning to
The dilemma of the daily capture right off:
How untenable is its costume,
Stately implying a temporary condition,
A standing,
A status unnuanced by ravening
Crowd or solitary worm.
                                              It is never that.

Which, it being late glum afternoon of the first of January, a sleepy day with the dog curl’d about my feet, provides a measure and commitment, a mark that delineates something about the page, despoiling its prior realm of complete possibility. So it goes. If Enrique Vila-Matas hints that “the essence of any text consists precisely in evading any essential classification, any assertion that establishes or claims it,” then any initial gesture—even the most careless or unrestrain’d or anarchic spoilage—asserts an essence, and makes of the thing something classifiable: the literary. So that: the new is found in what is “never here any more,” that suspend’d and withheld predisposition to write. That should make the “writing” of A Year simple: bound up in a refusal to write. (The obvious counter-strain: Baudelaire’s comment (according to Vila-Matas) that “the real hero is he who keeps himself amused.” For howsoever heroic it may be not to write, it cannot be amusing.)

Out of Enrique Vila-Matas’s Bartleby & Co. (New Directions, 2004), translated by Jonathan Dunne, a dialogue between No and Yes out of a book assigned to one Marcel Maniere titled Perfumed Hell (“a poisonous tract,” declares Vila-Matas, “in which Maniere deceives everyone from the very beginning”):
      NO: Everything that was important and simple to say has been said in the thousands of years men have been thinking and exerting themselves. Everything that was profound with regard to broadening the point of view, making it more extensive, has been said. Nowadays we have no option but to repeat. We have only a few, insignificant details waiting to be explored. The modern man has only the most thankless and least brilliant task left to him, that of filling the gaps with a hodgepodge of details.
      YES: Yes? We know, we feel, that everything has been said, that there is nothing to say. But what we feel less is that this evidence gives language a strange, one might even say unsettling, statute which redeems it. Words have been saved in the end, because they have ceased to live.
What reading Bartleby & Co. suggests, is that the exegetes and adherents of the “slow poetry movement” may need re-examine its tenets in light of the burgeoning calls (“I would prefer not to”) and dyspeptic purity of the “no poetry movement.”

Watch’d Milk and fail’d to detect the presence of any of the Grand Pianists in the footage, ’seventies-era or reshot. Or in the credits. Consider’d the possibility of writing an essay tracing the parallel complaints of the Language boys and Dan White, how aggressive each becomes out of some perceived lack of an “issue” in that era of high identitarian politics and poetics. Conceivably White’s whining to Milk about it—that hurt stance that pivots against an underpinning (and under-pining) fury—model’d another (later) meeting: Barrett Watten’s petulance up against a thoroughly unconvinced Amiri Baraka.

Roberto Bolaño (2666): “The people he loved or remembered fondly weren’t famous, they just satisfied certain needs. . . . but not fame, which was rooted in delusion and lies, if not ambition. Also, fame was reductive, everything that ended in fame and everything that issued from fame was inevitably diminished. Fame’s message was unadorned. Fame and literature were irreconcilable enemies.”

And breezed through Bolaño’s Amulet, the one most thoroughly concern’d with the monstrous elastic vicissitudes of time, and complete with prophecies: “Ezra Pound shall disappear from certain libraries in the year 2089. Vachel Lindsay shall appeal to the masses in the year 2101.” The ungovernable way Bolaño strews the demotic (the cliché’d) with the ecstatic (the comic-ecstatic, what some’d call the sophomoric, the sharp cosmic giggling of a man about to die):
      And that is when time stands still again, a worn-out image if ever there was one, because either time never stands still or it has always been standing still; so let’s say instead that a tremor disturbs the continuum of time, or that time plants its big feet wide apart, bends down, puts its head between its legs looking at me upside down, one eye winking crazily just a few inches below its ass . . . . . .and once again I don’t know if I’m in 1968 or 1974 or 1980, or gliding, finally, like the shadow of a sunken ship, toward the blessed year 2000, which I shall not live to see.
      Be that as it may, something is happening as time passes. I know that time and not, for example, space, is making something happen. Something that has happened before, although in a sense every time is the first time so experience counts for nothing, which is better in the end, because experience is generally a hoax.


Adjacency cocks up a bobbin,
Runs in a new thread.
By simple dint of being
Next to a thing, one
Is unutterably changed, swooning like
A milksop, a blighter, a
Pike. I sew a new
Shirt of scraps and blood-
Varnishes, iridescent tamale, raffish escutcheon,
A semi-showy thing that
Fits crazy completely nothing doing.
Put it out next to
Some fiduciary shoes, some pumps
And semi-darned hosiery, a
Stack of bank certificates unredeemed
By decedent, zombie noises off.
Senselessness is one circumstance, a
Prudish lip-pursed thwart commonness
Another: go fetch one up.
Out in the immediate world:
The way the blistering wind
Packs snow into a crevice
Only the veering pink sun
Lights up. The way complacency
Replaces shock and a woman
Pokes among corpses in Gaza
City looking for a body
To fit the busted up
Head slung in a string
Bag, carried like a cabbage.

Thinking I’d fling the opening parts of A Year (I keep thinking I ought to call it A Year Somewhere Toward the End) out “there”—just so one need not enter it entirely in medias res (though I doubt it’d matter). Rhythm of napping and reading and walking and piddling about the house and jotting notes (here). Leisure gums up my works (I do better with a job to run off to). Finish’d Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Senselessness (New Directions, 2008), translated by Katherine Silver, a piece of what is likely not mere ventriloquism (considering that Castellanos Moya is “now living in exile as part of the City of Asylum project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania”) about a writer hired by the Catholic Church in an unnamed Latin American country (read: El Salvador) to copy-edit the “one thousand one hundred page almost single-space printed” report of a project that “consisted of recovering the memories of the hundreds of survivors of and witnesses to the massacres perpetrated in the throes of the so-called armed conflict between the army and the guerrillas.” Or, as Castellanos Moya puts it, too, to “make sure that the Catholic hands about to touch the balls of the military tiger were clean and had even gotten a manicure because that was what my work was all about, cleaning up and giving a manicure to the Catholic hands that were piously getting ready to squeeze the tiger’s balls.” One part of the novel: how the writer sees a kind of poetry in the language of the oral testimonies of the Indians, or how he desires to write a novel “to turn the tragedy on its head”—falling prey to that (possibly) brutal response of art to suffering, to make of it mere material, and how avoid it? So Castellanos Moya writes of the hired writer’s wanting to show another writer “the richness of the language of his so-called aboriginal compatriots, nothing more, assuming that he as a poet might have been interested in their intense figurative language and their curious syntactic constructions that reminded me of poets like the Peruvian César Vallejo.” (The novel is punctuated with lines out of a little notebook the writer keeps: “Wounded, yes, is hard to be left, but dead is ever peaceful” and “I am not complete in the mind” and “The more they killed, the higher they rose up.”) Or the writer thinks of “a novel that would begin at the precise instant the lieutenant, with one stroke of the machete, split open the head of the civil registrar as if it had been a coconut from which he would remove the delicious white pulpy flesh, not the bloody palpitating brains, which may also seem appetizing to some palates, I must admit without any bias, the instant that blow fell the restless soul of the civil registrar would start to tell his story, always with the fingerless palms of his hands pressing together the two halves of his head to keep his brains in place, for I am not a total stranger to magical realism.” Which is, brilliantly, its own indictment.

How odd that, having summon’d up the self-proclaim’d revolutionary poet and Grand Pianist (who’d ever forget the “ox-blood red shirt” or the claim that it was “a tremendous risk to be a poet” in Oakland in May 1975—yes, I, too, recall talking excitedly of the “poets of Oakland” and how perfectly they’d scoop’d up the flag of the disappear’d and murder’d poets of Chile) Barrett Watten, one’d find the misteriosamentes of the Collectif Fénéon alerting me to a late Watten “discharge,” complete with Fénéonesque reply:
Dear M. Watten,

Thank you for your communication. But we must say: Of all the responses we have received, this really is the funniest one.

Truly, that you would object in this manner to our perfectly fantastical entry concerning the Grand Piano and your “accident” (a trope, if you will, for what we deem your—and your colleagues’—rather impaired efforts at self-canonization in those books) suggests to us a lack of acquaintance with the satirical tradition, which in many august examples steps “over a line” of propriety our modest efforts haven’t yet approached.

In any case, thank you for reading. We are pleased that so many are doing so, as we make our way towards 250 faits divers.

—The Fénéon Collective
On Friday, January 2, 2009, Barrett Watten wrote:

I don’t mind satire or critique, but this is over the line:
100 degrees in the shade in late October: M. Watten was seen, at Wayne State U., walking in a tank top, the stump covered in gauze, where his right arm had once been. Three months ago, it had been found, deposited (but by whom?) inside a Steinway.
It encourages violent fantasies, and that is regrettable. Please remove me from your list.

Regrettable violent fantasies, eh? Consider the charged Fénéonesque extravagance of this:
Escorted from a meeting of the Communication Workers of America. Security guards twisted her arms about her head and behind her as her torso resisted, turning in the opposite direction, legs bent, at angles to each other. What poetry could learn from such a site!
Straight out of the The Grand Piano fascicle numéro deux, une nouvelle en trois lignes signed by one Barrett Watten! Methinks, chief, we are coming close to identifying one of the Fénéon culprits. (Protesting, no doubt, one’s own “representation” just to throw the hounds off the scent!)


Sunlight applied to snow
With a palette knife,
White of a junco’s
Inverted V of tail
Feathers arrowing off with
Its gang, insignia flying.
I walk a walk
Lit by trouble, with
Dog for accompaniment, ginger-
Colored, on a leash.
Or shrug it off,
Bend into my chores,
Undeceived by death’s misfit
Drills, its yellowed Vacancy.


Limited the world encountered, piece-
the look obtained, truncated
The usual life of writing,
Fragmentary the notes delivered, fogbound
The individual perception, graceless the
Recording accoutrements, stingy the republic’s
Acclaim, faulty the style, repellant
The attributed crimes, oh Sunshine,
Why do you bother scripting
Such useless and tatterdemalion rhymes?

Read the first hundred or so pages of William Gaddis’s second novel, the 1975 J R, twenty years in the making. One notable thing: the way Gaddis handles changes of setting, of scene. The novel begins in dialogue (and announces its main “subject”):
      —Money . . . ? in a voice that rustled.
      —Paper, yes.
      —And we’d never seen it. Paper money.
      —We never saw paper money till we came east.
      —It looked so strange the first time we saw it. Lifeless.
      —You couldn’t believe it was worth a thing.
Two sisters, the Bast, soon join’d by Mister Cohen, spell’d “Coen, without the h,” a lawyer, and a round of daft (accurate, funny) misprisions standing in for conversation (regarding a death intestate, &c.):
      —I don’t know, Anne. Nellie was flighty.
      —I remember James using that word, now that you say it. It was when Rachmaninoff was visiting, I remember because he’d just had his fingers insured. Hand me those scissors please, Mister Cohen?
      —However, yes, thank you, here . . . now, however, in the absence of any record of legally contracted marriage between the said Nellie and James . . .
      —My dear Mister Cohen . . .
      —Or indeed any evidence of legal and binding divorce between the aforesaid Nellie and the decedent . . .
      —It scarcely seems necessary . . .
A perfect ear for speech, foibles and fumbles of the tongue Americana, lawyerly talk (“The defense of infancy is not available to the adult . . . none of them has available the defense of the infant, which is that of infancy”) and inept ad-booster’d sloganeering (a teacher, cramming lunch into a meeting gets off the cowbell’s dong: “PRwise it’s can’t hurt us educationwise”) and usual boardroom feints and incursions (“Seem to me one thing he don’t want to be’s too familiar with the damn details, no question on their status is there?”) Versus the kind of cold-cock’d clock-cleaning syntactical wallop of the writerly that Gaddis allows to erupt, mostly in order to move the talk somewhere other. To escape the Bast sisters (with the lawyer, in the lawyer’s car, though it—and he with it—disappears into the verbal sleight-of-hand:
      To the squeal of brakes, the car burst out into the world trailing a festoon of privet, swerved at the immediate prospect of open acres flowered in funereal abundance to regain the pavement and lose it again in a brief threat to the candy wrappers and beer cans nestled along the hedge line up the highway, that quickly out of sight to the windows’ half-shaded stare from the roof pitches frowning over the hedge to where it ended, and a yellow barn took up, and was gone in a swerving miss for the pepperidge tree towering ahead, past shadeless windows in a naked farmhouse sprawl at the corner where the road trimmed neatly into the suburban labyrinth and things came scaled down to wieldy size, dogwood, then barberry, becomingly streaked blood-red for fall.
      Past the firehouse, where once black crêpe had been laboriously strung in such commemoration as that advertised today on the sign OUR DEAR DEPARTED MEMBER easy to hang and store as a soft drink poster, past the crumbling eyesore dedicated within recent memory as the Marine Memorial, past the graveled vacancy of a parking lot where a house, ravined by gingerbread, had held out till scarcely a week before, and through the center of town where all allusion to permanence had disappeared or was being slain within earshot by shrieking electric saws, and the glint of chrome that streaked the glass bank front across the resident image of bank furniture itself apparently designed to pick up and flee at a moment’s notice doors or no doors, opened, as they were now, to dispense the soft music hovering aimlessly about a man pasteled to match the furniture, crowding the high-bosomed brunette at the curb with —something, Mrs Joubert, something I’d meant to ask you but, oh wait a moment, there’s Mister Best, or Bast, is it? Mister Bast . . . ? He’s music appreciation, you know.
And Mrs Joubert replies, with notably faulty grammar: “—He?” The whole is cinematic in its sweep and fluidity and its disregard for usual syntactical cues and clarities, and speech returns as a relief. It’s as if Gaddis were acting out the constant see-saw of literature itself, between a pertinent ventriloquism tongue’d and an impertinent writ grammatologically scrawl’d.


A broken red bicycle
In a river, tossed
Off a high bridge.
I work myself up
Into an intangible pitch
Of melancholia, pungent shrill
In the nostrils, smell
Of putsch and nuzzle.
Nudge and puzzle, drench
And huddle, what’s gone
Sorts itself out along
Capillary and breakage, reddening
The extremities, pooling up
In regiments of denial.
Or the maw, big
Chronos delimiter, its kraken-
Sized gape of constant loss,
Ache of no particular
Up under the ribs
Where Jonah in one
Comic book Bible story
Built a fire, got
Spewed out, like some
Furious disjecta membra the
Size of a man
Who says fuck it.

One tiny prayer for the new year: that Ron Silliman not, again, announce the resolve to blog less, blog better. “Why, Sunshine, he’d have to quit completely were that the case! He couldn’t do less!”

Giorgio de Chirico, “Delights of the Poet,” 1913