Thursday, September 29, 2011

Po-po Foundation?

Is the Poetry Foundation still pressing charges against poet and activist Stephanie Dunn for “disturbing the peace”?

Kent Johnson says: “Anyone who works for the Poetry Foundation, or is associated in some official capacity with the institution, should resign in shame.” D’accord.

It’d certainly behoove the Foundation to directly (immediately and publicly) clarify its doings and intent in the matter.

“Ceci n’est pas une critique . . .”

By fits returning. Prying up fittings interlocking. Seeking the relational core of things. The “Martiniquais writer and polemicist Edouard Glissant”—quoted in Caroline Bergvall’s Meddle English (Nightboat, 2011): “We no longer reveal totality within ourselves by lightning flashes. We approach it through the accumulation of sediments.” Bergvall’s desire—to “cut transversally” through the structures of language—akin to Gordon Matta-Clark’s sawing through architectural leavings, what’s condemned and abandoned, akin to Robert Smithson’s “heap of language.” Bergvall:
What gets revealed is history and ground. Or rather, ground history, compost, history as compost. Temporariness and excavation. Volatility, weathering and renewal.

Principally, one discovers surprising varietals of soil, ancient yet compilable language bones, pressed word-fossils, collapsed layers, mineral toil, friable clays, dried pigments, decomposed fabric stretches, discontinuous tracings, and much unrecoverable matter. The top layers reveal a far larger extent of familiar elements, traceable glossary, well-defined graphemes, syllabic conduits, what looks like mud-encased capitalizations, gold-dust, systems of numerical sticks, animal feathers, and various types of tools. These trace up letter elements historically, and through the altogether confusing and inventive arche-logics of etymology. Language is its own midden ground.

Letters, sounds, words are discarded from a language during accidental breaks. Or dispensed with, like outmoded cooking utensils. Or pulled out, like teeth. Entire jawlines of these. Like the widely documented Runic and Old English voiceless fricative / Þ / thorn which after 1000 successful years as its own separate glyph disappears in the 14th century . . .
Midden: dump. A tumulus of discards, detritus relating to day-to-day human life. Laid down lingual plonk retrievable. Out of Bergvall’s “Shorter Chaucer Tales” (“The Host Tale,” beginning “The fruyt of every tale is for to seye”):
For dronkenesse is
            And dronkenesse is eek a foul record
A lecherous thyng is wyn
A likerous mouth moste han a likerous tayl.
            Hath wyn bireved me myn eyen sight?
Ye shul have digestyves
Of wormes, er y take youre laxatyves,
Of lawriol, centaure, and fumetere
Of herbe yve, growing in oure yeerd, ther mery is
Pekke hem up right as they grow, and ete heme yn!
            Til we ny the day bigan to sprynge.

One of Charles “Packy” Axton’s Memphis bands “The Martini’s” (c. 1965-1967): “Hung Over”

Bergvall (“Cat in the Throat”):
A lingual event is taking place, not in the voice but in the clearing of the throat.

Spitting out the most intimate and most irretrievable, the most naturalised source language, so-called mother tongue, is a dare, it is dangerous. It starts a whole process of re-embodying one’s language’s spaces.

The spittle can be resistant, unpleasant, potentially as well-aimed as a thrown shoe. Beckett’s traffic from English to French is an expectoration of the English language’s occupation on the colonised Irish body. His leitmotifs of speech loss, language stutter, assisted memory, gestural language all point to his fighting off one language with another language, transforming in the process both the spat-out source language and the adoptive language.

In French, to clear one’s throat is to have a cat in the throat, avoir un chat dans la gorge. One needs to spit out a cat to clear one’s throat. Literally, ‘un crachat’ is a spittle. One could also clear one’s throat and realise that one has spat out French slang, une chatte, a pussy. This adds and maintains a crucial libidinal and erotic bond . . .

Huddie William Ledbetter, a.k.a. Lead Belly (1888-1949): “Moanin’”

Bergvall again (“Croup,” out of “Cropper”):
This is how it happened—

She appeard to me frankly. Lifted me up from childhoods lipsings, showd me the field the dawn aurora thru the bursting green of the French valléy, all around the arbouring trees blind us w shards of verre in the light mounting silver birds slivering past. Voila she led me to the river, eau eau pressd me down lifted my long brass towards the seal of the summer sky, up-chemised my shirt peléd layers of cloth and peeling skin, couchd me safely profondly on this earth. Then placed a lump of saliva on my tongue and gave me language. Opnd to the port to the door, the bush of the mouth bled me made me bleed, blood is the first song, traveld across me trawld me w fever. Fired me up w language. A splendid exact luminescence to be sudnly awake in ones own language.
And in “Fried Tale (London Zoo)”—another of the “Shorter Chaucer Tales” (“In the words of Saint Simon, a tiny minority was enriched by the total ruin of all the rest of the people. // Are u utrly totly lunatyke? / Wot kynde horse brayne spoile our cheery meal . . .?”):
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1
A page later:
It means the desire to have more, to have more than one’s share, to have it all. It speaks of a kind of mental instability, a terrible sickness that overtakes a person. Or a system.
Here endeth this grim detail.
“Like fistfuls of hair puld out of social fabrik . . .” (“The Greeks called this pleonexia . . .” Pleonexia, out of the Greek πλεονεξια: greediness, grasping selfishness, arrogant covetousness, “the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others.” Un peu partout ces jours-ci . . . Gagged by numéro uno-ism.)

“I don’t want no sugar in my coffee
It makes me mean, Lord, Lord, it makes me mean.”
Chain gang recorded by Alan Lomax

William Carlos Williams to Denise Levertov (30 August 1954): “I understand your whole indifference to the poem as it may at times appear to you. At times there’s nothing to do but finger exercises. Maybe that’s the end. You do it merely to keep supple. For what dreadful encounter? Nothing may happen, I hope it never does—but if it does, your only chance of doing some arresting writing, something that the world is really waiting for with open arms, is to be ready.”

Caroline Bergvall

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

“By claiming nothing . . .”

Roland Barthes, out of The Preparation of the Novel (Columbia University Press, 2011), talking of the epiphanic haiku-like “Incident,” an “instantly meaningful event (cf. Nietzsche, Will to Power: “There are no ‘facts-in-themselves,’ for a sense must always be projected into them before there can be ‘facts’”)” with
. . . no pretention to a general, systematic, doctrinal meaning → which is probably why there’s a refusal of discourse, a retreat into the “fold” (incident), the discontinuous fragment—cf. what Ellmann, Joyce’s biographer, says about Epiphanies and their homogeneity with the modern Novel: a technique that’s “arrogant yet humble, it claims importance by claiming nothing.”
Barthes points to “the constraint of no-commentary; apropos of Joyce: the (epiphanic) technique “seeks a presentation so penetrating that any comment from the author would be an intrusion”:
→ Extreme difficulty (or bravery): not to provide the meaning, a meaning; deprived of all commentary, the inconsequentiality of the Incident is laid bare, and to stand by inconsequentiality is almost heroic.
Once again: in the West, we are overwhelmingly conditioned to furnish every reported fact with the alibi of an interpretation: culture of Priests; we interpret, we’re incapable of tolerating short forms of language (in the sense of ending abruptly, of “it’s a bit on the short side, young man”).
Subsequent talk of Joyce’s “failure and the transformation of this failure”—how he’d needed “to pour the Epiphanies into the Novel, to drown what we find intolerable about what’s brief, short in narrative: calming, reassuring mediation, elaboration of a grand meaning (Destiny).”

Two pieces out of Joyce’s Epiphanies (“written on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria? Someone was to read them there after a few thousand years, a mahamanvantara. Pico della Mirandola like. Ay, very like a whale. When one reads these strange pages of one long gone one feels that one is at one with one who once . . .” –Ulysses). Ellmann writes: “In the years between 1901-02 and 1904 Joyce recorded crucial fragments of overheard dialogue or personal mediation. He carefully hoarded these fragments, and later—when he had determined their ‘spiritual’ significance—incorporated many of them into his fictions”—as if the bigger intent indubitably inhered in the quiddity of each incident . . . Joyce:
Two mourners push on through the crowd. The girl, one hand catching the woman’s skirt, runs in advance. The girl’s face is the face of a fish, discoloured and oblique-eyed; the woman’s face is small and square, the face of a bargainer. The girl, her mouth distorted, looks up at the woman to see if it is time to cry; the woman, settling a flat bonnet, hurries on towards the mortuary chapel.
[Dublin: in the National Library]

Skeffington—I was sorry to hear of the death of your brother . . . sorry we didn’t know in time . . . to have been at the funeral . . .

Joyce—O, he was very young . . . a boy . . .

Skeffington—Still . . . it hurts . . .

James Joyce, c. 1915

Monday, September 19, 2011


“Wait a minute, babe, where did I go?
I was sitting around here whoop a minute ago . . .”

The Siegel-Schwall Band, “Angel Food Cake,” c. 1970