Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Mike reviews Arielle Greenberg

Over at the intercapillary (see sidebar of this blog).

Monday, January 29, 2007

Ubu Web

I spend a lot of time looking at and listening to stuff at the Ubu Web and of course I love it, but doesn't it strike anybody as a bit strange that the "historical section" is incredibly international, while the contemporary section is almost exclusively American?

This to me suggests something of the blindness of contemporary American poetry. Even the Ubu-people who have tremendous interest in the historical writings of other countries seem to be pretty much unwilling to engage in contemporary writings from other countries.

The only contemporary Swedish thing I can find there is OEI's forum of American poets writing about American poetry "after language."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Heriberto Yepez

Heriberto Yepez has an interesting blog here. I like his critique of hybridity as a postmodern avoidance of conflict, something to think about.

Tomasz Czepajtis (& Henry Parland)

I just got your comment about Henry Parland. If you email me we can discuss this matter further.

Tao and Kenny G.

Matt and Francois,

You guys raised many good points. I'll get to it later. Mostly I think the notion of an "avant-garde" in the present is not so useful.

Here's something to think about:

Exhibit A:
Kenneth Goldsmith's writing has been called some of the most "exhaustive and beautiful collage work yet produced in poetry" by Publishers Weekly.

Exhibit B:
{That same Publisher Weekly's review of Tao Lin's "you are a little bit happier than i am"]
Chatty, frivolous, impatient, depressed, alienated, lovelorn and prone to outbursts, the poems in 24-year-old Tao Lin's print debut (another collection appears online) will appeal to the reader's inner adolescent... gesture, quite obviously, toward teenage angst. If Lin sometimes manages to fall short of this already low goal ("4:30 a.m." repeats the line "i am fucked existentially" no fewer than 60 times)... he surprises, here and there, with a flash of emotional complexity... The book would have gained much, however, from analyzing its anxieties rather than just acting them out.(Nov)

So it appears that PW is more challenged someone who inflates the "romantic author" person to the bursting point than one who claims to do away with said artifact. Of course Goldsmith might say that this troubling is part of my Romantic notion of art. And I might just agree.

Friday, January 26, 2007


The new issue of Typo.

with poems from:


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hangman and Hoaglund

There is a new hangman out.

It's got some poems by Danielle, Borzutzky, Dan Hoy, Jessica B. and some other writers I know.

It also has an essay about Steve Orlen by Tony Hoaglund which I find very disingenious the way I thought Hoaglund's essay about montage was disingenious (I wrote about that elsewhere on this blog.

Here's a quote:
"Aesthetically, Steve and Jon were part of a larger movement of that era in American poetry, a shift away from the poetry of image and flashy morbid surrealism, towards a meditative narrative voice. (You can read about that movement in an essay by Ira Sadoff, published around that time in American Poetry Review). Jon and Steve had invented a label for their style of poetry; they called themselves Sincerists, and they seemed to mean it. They wrote poems to each other, they met for drinks after workshop, they talked about their feelings without irony. They were the post-James Wright/Robert Bly generation. And Jon, that semester, taught Wright’s book Two Citizens. in his seminar, for its passion, and its artlessness."

So my concerns are:

1. What makes Surrealism "flashy" or "morbid"? Compared to what? Hoaglund tends to posits a natural state of poetry (artless and passionate), compared to which other poetries are flashy or excessive in some other way.

2. The idealization of artlessness in language is the surest sign of provincialism.

3. To suggest that all American poetry was dominated by this "flashy morbid surrealism" also seems historically a bit dubious. Certainly Surrealism was an influence on a lot of poets - Plath, Merwin, Knott - but to suggest that American Poetry as a whole had turned hardline Surrealist would be like saying all of American Poetry is now dominated by language poetry. It is also a bit strange that he posits Wright and Bly as opposites of Surrealism, when in fact they both helped import Surrealism (though one may not agree with the way they did it).

My Response to Matt H.


You say that Tzara wrote in a particular time and place - but then so have all writers!

Including writers who may be considered "tradition." And yet many people like to pretend like Keats is transcendent etc. (Seen in his own context, Keats becomes much more radical figure with his class-background and his clumpsy poesy.)

I see this rhetoric a lot: everything experimental is just rehashing Dada. All kinds of people writing like Stevens - and yet I never hear, "they're just rehashing Stevens."

That is one difference between what might be loosely called "experimentalism" and what might loosely be called "traditionalism". Experimentalism acknowledges belonging in time (and engages with it), while traditionalism tries to create an illusory idea of transcendence (the "ah" that comes at the end of the pious poem at a poetry reading). As Rimbaud said, you've got to be absolutely modern.

So in some sense it's a bit more than a toolkit. Different poetries do have different goals. A lot of the avant-garde has to do with dissatiscation with the role of art in a bourgeois society, a lot of it is about creating discomfort or revulsion rather than false reconciliation between reader and the world.

This is why Revell dislikes "the excesses of Dada" - it is art that refuses to sublimate conflict. (And yet there are folks who think that Revell is somehow not a conservative poet.)

In some sense, I think Dada still scares the Wrights and Revells of the world because it didn't want to be just another toolkit that could be recuperated for the literary establishment (which can easily change it style-kits but not its ends, its role in society).

In some sense, I do think Tzara forces us to throw out the sonnet, or at least remake it (like Berrigan). And yet American Poetry is full of people who like the pretend they can still write sonnets in a kind of pseudo-Elizabethan style. That may give them a job but it renders their work absolutely irrelevant.

So it's a big paradox. Dada insists on being more than just stylistic innovation and yet it's the one movement (Dada is really an umbrella term) that gets consistently used as an example of an archaic style.



I have a poem called "Retina, Ignite" in the new Octopus.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I have some pilot poems in the new issue of Dusie.

Several people I am acquainted with are in the issue: Jessica Bozek (fortunately I got my own physical copy of the matchbook poem in the mail yesterday), James Grimwis (whom I have never met and only exchanged a few emails with, but whose poems I've enjoyed over many years), and Daniel Borzutzky (whose translation book Action Books is going to publish next fall). An interesting collage piece by Jennifer Scappetone who I just met about a month or two ago when she came down for our big Charles Bernstein Fest at Notre Dame. Apparently Jessica Smith is publishing this book.


"A familiar cliché would have us believe that modern art becomes questionable when it goes too far. But the reverse of that cliché is true: modern art becomes questionable to the extent to which it does not go far enough; namely when, owing to a lack of consistency, it starts to totter."

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sandy Florian, Birddog Magazine

I strongly advise buying the latest issue of birddog magazine.

It features a great piece by Action Books author Sandy Florian called "An Other, To Speak," a sort of writing through of Milton and Shakespeare. I first heard this when Sandy read here at Notre Dame and I was totally blown away by it. Joyelle and I immediately decided we had to publish the manuscript (not finished yet, so it will be a while).

It also features a great piece by Action Books poet Abe Smith, as well as good poems by writers with absolutely no affiliation with me whatsoever.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Who's Afraid of Dada? (Charles Wright, for one)

This is an excerpt from Morgan Schuldt's interview with Charles Wright, which in its entirety can be found here.

Wright: "There is much to admire in Charles Bernstein's and Ron Silliman's work, and in Michael Palmer's especially. But their aims, linguistic and political, don't entice me. At least not now. I think their best hope is to be absorbed, like Surrealism, into the accomplishable fabric of perception and writing. What they don't want is to become like Dada, a dead end, to be brought out like a stuffed goose from time to time by academics, to be looked at and explained. Things have beginnings and ends."

This is yet another ahistorical dismissal of Dada - much like Donald Revell's "the excesses of Dada" (which follows from the New Critical mantra of "the excesses of the 1920s") - from someone who obviously has very little understanding of it.

Here are some thoughts:

- Wright blames "academics" for bringing back Dada once in a while. This sounds more than a little suspect coming from such a thoroughly academic poet as Wright, a poet who's probably taught more frequently in colleges and universities than all the Dada poets together.

- I keep reading/hearing people refer to Dada as if it was somehow synonymous with "meaningless." This critique is completely ahistorical. Dada's critique of the empiricist/enlightenment culture of the West seems very meaningful to me, and continues to be meaningful. Even Tzara's cut-up manifesto (which is probably, unfortunately the best known text of Dada) is a critique of the Romantic concept of the individual (and if we are to believe Tom Sandquist - who wrote the book "Dada East" - has ties to traditional Jewish thought), and thus not meaningless at all. Many of the Dadaists were even highly religious. In Germany, Dadaists like Heartfield and Grosz fought hard against the rise of Nazism.

To say that Dada is some kind of nihilist tantrum could not be futher from the truth. In its break with the idea of the autonomous art work, its attempt to situate art in social praxis, Dada strove to make art more, not less, meaningful. However, it criticized the conventional idea of "meaning" as impotently participating in a culture that was (is) destroying the world.

- Further, only a thoroughly insular academic American poet would be under the delusion that Dada being a "dead end." Dada had and continues to have an immense effect on poetry and art around the world. In the 1920s Dada spread like a virus,permutating through cultures in Europe and elsewhere (Finland, Slovenia, Japan etc), giving rise to exciting new art movements all over the place. Not the least being Surrealism, which became the major stream of Modernism in much of Europe, and had an immense influence on American art (including poetry of course). And of course you see Dada reappear in Concretism, Happenings etc in the 1960s and since then. Dada engaged in some of the first important experiments with film (the Swede Viking Eggeling and his pal Richter creating radically abstract films). Etc etc. Wright again could not be more historically inaccurate.

- The point I feel most strongly about is however not Wright's historical inaccuracies but his statement that language poets should hope to be "absorbed, like Surrealism, into the accomplishable fabric of perception and writing." This absorption of Surrealism has thoroughly blunted the strength of that poetics, rendering it into something jokey and half-hearted [Though I think it's important to point out that there is a lot of great Surrealist writing still being written which has not suffered this fate.]. This process of "absorption" is what continually maintains an idea of center of language and poetry, a force of homogeneity, not invention. Elsewhere Wright complains that MFA schools churn out too many "competent" but unexciting poets - well Wright's the problem, not the answer, because the central problem of MFA schools is not that they exist or have many students, but that their guiding movement is to pull back all things exciting into their mediocre "accomplishable fabric."

- In the title to this entry I asked who is afraid of Dada, now nearly 90 years after some exiles and war-deserters gathered in Zurich. The fact that Dada can still scare Wright and Don Revell is a sign of its strength. And one reason it scares these guys is that it carries the possibility of doing away with the kind of hierarchies that Wright and Revell are in charge of. It is in other words its meaningfulness, not its meaninglessness, that is threatening.

- This doesn't mean that I think we should all do cut-ups or sound poems. One of the strengths of Dada was its heterogeneity. There is no orthodox Dadaism. As a result it kept going through interesting permutations as it moved through the world.

- A final note: I like interviews, but I think interviewers should come up with slightly more insightful questions than: "So the rhetorical dazzle of Language poetry doesn't impress you?" [By the way, a total mischaracterization of a group of poets who oppose "rhetorical dazzle"!!]. Those kinds of questions lead to the kind of unhelpful, sweepings generalizations that I have discussed above. I'm sure Wright has interesting things to say - but ask him about things he knows about.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Rain Taxi

It goes without saying that Rain Taxi is a wonderful publication. They're having an auction to help finance it:

Dear Literary Friends--

Rain Taxi is having a fundraising auction this week on eBay; please
visit www.raintaxi.com to check it out! There are lots of great books,
broadsides, artworks, etc.... selling these items helps our nonprofit
organization stay afloat, so we hope you'll a) take a peek yourself, and
b) help spread the word by notifying your own friends, colleagues, email
lists, etc. or by mentioning it on blogs and such. The auction ends on
Sunday, January 21.

Many thanks and all best,

Your friends at Rain Taxi

Rain Taxi Review of Books
PO Box 3840
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Saturday, January 13, 2007

John Wilkinson

I am surprised that I have seen so little (anything?) written in the blog world about John Wilkinson's last book Lake Shore Drive. It's one of my favorite books I've read in a long time. At a time when so many people are returning to anti-aesthetic simplicity (Juliana Spahr, Anna M etc), Wilkinson engages in this wonderfully poetic language (maybe Keatsian), even as he collages in New Order and various culture industry debris, in powerfully political poems. Buy it at Salt.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Patti Smith

Here's a pretty awesome reading by Patti Smith.

New Action,Yes

We hope your new year is off to a good start, and we hope you'll go and have a look at our new issue at www.actionyes.org.

There's a lot of stuff we're excited about in this issue - poetry, prose, collage work. You'll find a special section featuring Daniel Borzutzky's translations of three Chilean poets (and Daniel's own poetry as well). And we're proud to offer a deeply hypertextual work - "Tulsita" a text/sound collaboration by the WaKOW! Collective from Tulsa, OK.

You will also find new translations of work by OULIPO founder Raymond Queneau, German poet Veronika Reichl, and Italian poet Amelia Rosselli - as well as new work from Kristy Caldwell & Ronald Donn, Bruce Covey, Bob Heman, Alta Ifland, Sean Kilpatrick, and Deborah Woodward.

We're looking to feature more comics in upcoming issues. Comics that subvert expectations. So if you have any work or know anyone else that has comics they'd like to share, please send them our way (john@actionyes.org).

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Matt Hart - Sincerity Inc

Here's an intersting rant from Matt Hart.

He's got an argument about how experimentation has gone too far and that it now needs to be recuperated. I left a comment.

I still don't understand how "sincerity" is used in the blog world. It seems when Tony Robinson uses it it more or less means cut the crap. But here it seems to mean something else. Mostly I think both issues come down to people who are interested in an experimental approach to poetry, but for whom "experimentation" has come to mean something too narrow - a style.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Bob Heman

I first read Bob Heman's prose poems in the journal Caliban in the early 1990s (a great journal that isn't a round anymore). He's in the new issue of Action,Yes. He's also got a new e-book out here: Quale Press. I recommend it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


So I recently wrote a review of the new New Directions book of Tomas Tranströmer's collected poems. I'm not sure they'll publish it because I had way too much to say and it ended up being 8 pages. Anyway, as part of the review I translated a part of a poem Tranströmer wrote in high school (in the journal Medan Lagrarna Gro, 1949) that was not included in the New Directions book. And since Mike likes Tranströmer and may not have read this poem, I thought I would post a translation here:

a fog trembles with its fingers over
the churchyard
the carriage wheels stop in front of a
overgrown grave

the man crouches down and listens: he has
a sailor’s face
and the flowers that are laid on the ground are as

Monday, January 01, 2007

Finland Swede vs Finland-Swede

Here is an interesting discussion of the correct usage of the term "Finland-Swede." I've always used the hyphen (Finland-Swede) because that's the way I've always seen it spelled, but the one person makes a good case for ditching the hyphen (using "Finland Swede" instead) - basically the argument is that it is a separate ethnic group, not a cross between Finns and Swedes.

I am always annoyed when people talk about "the native" as some kind of ultimate authority (In the article, I'm dismissed as a "non-native translator" while Charles Bernstein is portrayed as a native academic who's been led astray by dubious non-native academics such as myself), but I think this guy may be right in this particular case.