Saturday, June 23, 2007

Community (Susan Schultz)

Here's a quote from Susan Schultz's book A Poetics of Impasse:

The gathering of tribes, coalitions, communities, draws/Much critical attention.../... /... Such communities organize themselves around common/Concerns: these are communities of avant-garde writers, mainly men,/Who discover themselves as audiences for each other, then aim/To create larger (if not large) audiences for their work through/The formation of journals or small presses and in academic/Circles coalescing until recently around figures/Like Charles Bernstein and Susan Howe at Buffalo./Community, following this definition, is at once coherent/And oppositional; poets form allegiences almost as if/They were gated communities (not necessarily plush ones)/To maintain distinct border between their own practices/As poets and those of writers they perceive as unlike/Themselves. What I propose is a different definition of/Community, less defined and probably more fictive/Than those described in the books I've mentioned./Rather than a community of same, I want do describe/A community of difference. In Hawai'i/For example, there are communities of Hawaiian writers,/Local Asian writers, and white writers; these communities are fluid,/Can be redefined as occasion permits, morophing into communities/Of Gen-X writers.../.../What is still missing is a sense of community not as poets/Who thrive on their desire to create the same kinds of work,/But as poets who learn from the practice of poets very/ Different from themselves..."

Soft Targets Reading in LA

Dear Friends + Enemies,

This notification is to announce the west coast release event for SOFT TARGETS v.2.1., a handheld journal of poetry, artwork, theory, and fiction, as well as v.2.2, a 5" record.

Please join us for readings by:
Rachel Kushner
Dan Hoy
Ariana Reines
and Dennis Cooper

cold drinks, and a dj set by Square Peg/Round Hole to follow

Cherry + Martin Gallery, L.A.
12611 Venice Boulevard
Friday, June 29th
7:30 pm, FREE

SOFT TARGETS v.2.1 features contributions from Alain Badiou, John Waters, Yto Barrada, Jean-Jacques Schuhl, James Tate, Alexander Kluge, Christian Marclay, Paris-based political collective TIQQUN, Chris Marker, Ben Lerner, Arno Schmidt, Roberto Bolaño, Lisa Jarnot, and RAQS Media Collective, among others. 256pp, w/ color illustrations throughout; dusty pink cover.

v.2.1 + v.2.2 available at

SOFT TARGETS v.2.2 is a 5" record containing music by the NYC avant-metal band Orthrelm. Side A: "03-7" [0:48]; Side B: "03-8" [0:57]; 33 revolutions per minute.

the Front Office


Rachel Kushner is an editor of SOFT TARGETS. Her art writing appears frequently in Artforum. Her first novel, recently excerpted in Fence and Bomb, will be published by Scribner in June, 2008.

Dan Hoy lives in Brooklyn and is an editor of SOFT TARGETS. His essays and poems have appeared in Jubilat, Octopus, Effing Magazine, Cannibal, and elsewhere. He is the author of the poetry chapbook Outtakes (Lame House Press, 2007).

Ariana Reines was born in Salem, Massachusetts. She is the author of The Cow (Alberta Prize, Fence Books 2006) and the forthcoming Thank You, new life, and The Hand of Thomas. She writes on art for tema celeste and has contributed exhibition essays on Jonas Mekas, Marc Chagall, Ken Jacobs, and Taka Imura for Maya Stendhal Gallery. Ariana graduated from Barnard College in 2003, winning fourteen prizes and scholarships for literature and translation. She has collaborated on sound/vj projects with Ilan Katin for Belgium's MappingFestival and at Brooklyn's Monkeytown. Poems and stories can be found in Skanky Possum, The Open Face Sandwich, WebConjunctions, and Action Yes.

Dennis Cooper's most recent novels are God Jr. (Grove Press) and The Sluts (Carroll & Graf). The Weaklings, a new book of his poetry, will be published by Void Books in December. Since 2004, he has collaborated on a series of theater works with the French director Gisele Vienne and the musicians/composers Peter Rehberg/Pita and Stephen O'Malley/Sunn0))). The newest, Kindertotenlieder, is currently touring Europe and the UK. He's the editor of the book imprint Little House on the Bowery/Akashic Books and a Contributing Editor of Artforum. His central project at the moment is a blog: He currently lives in Paris and Los Angeles.


Founded in 2005 and curated by several Offices including the Front Office and the Office of Special Plans, SOFT TARGETS is the tightest of rings; a narrowing, and not widening, gyre; neither a stately pleasure dome, nor the expansive hunger of a corporation. SOFT TARGETS is a colony.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

kenning editions

Go here to get Jen Hofer's translation of young Mexican poet Dolores Dorantes and a fine selection of Hannah Weiner's work.

Bruce Andrews

If I'm going to start categorizing schools of poetry (such as Tate) then certainly I should mention the Bruce Andrews influence, which is arguable as strong or stronger. Poetry that tries to get at the web-like, rapid movement of global capitalism by sampling its language in various ways.

A good instance of this is Hung Q. Tu's "Structures of Feeling", which I'm reading right now.

Poems for the Millennium

Apparently Ron Silliman thinks there are not enough New American Poets in Pierre Joris's and Jerome Rothenberg's anthology "Poems for the Millennium." I'm always perplexed when people make such demands of anthologies - the idea that there is an objective literary history that can (or should) be represented.

Perhaps it's true that one can make such demands when the editors chooses a very narrow, historical group (such as Silliman's In the American Tree), but even then there are questions of why some poems/poets were chosen and not others.

Things become incredibly more complicated when an anthology - like Millennium - aims to invoke an international context. Does one view these from a German perspective? A Japanese perspective? What Japanese perspective? Etc.

Clearly Jerry and Pierre made an anthology that aimed to place American poetry of a certain aesthetic in an international context. *An* international context - they clearly are looking for a certain aesthetic, one that favors for example sounds poetry and concrete poetry as well as *New American Poetry* - thus they favor Schwitters and Hugo Ball's sounds poems over Huelsenbeck's fantastic prayers or Ball's Tenderenda, why they give a lot of space to the German Expressionist painters but not much (or anything) to a number of prominent poets (for example the whole unbearable messianic branch of this movement). As with Fluxus, it is not only formal in its consideration but also social - Fluxus was highly international in its connection between various countries and continents.

It is still largely an American anthology - way more American poets than poets from other countries. For Silliman to want more only reveals his lack of engagement with poetry from other countries (as I've said before, such an egagement would break down his simple, narrow little categorizings). Such provincialism is extremely troubling considering the fact that Silliman is an English-language, US poet.

I have certain quibbles with the Millennium anthologies - the very centric focus for example (Where are the Yugoslavian dadaists? Where's Björling?!! Asia and Africa are certainly not well represented etc) - but all in all I think it was a fantastic accomplishment and I think it has had an enormous inflluence on contemporary American poetry.

By just publishing Anatol Stern's "Europe" (basically out of print) alone they made a key contribution to American poetry. I've run into people all over the place who've read Edith Södergran for example because they first read her stuff in the anthology. I give a large amount of credit to these anthologies to the resurgence of interest in international poetry, poetry in translation and various neglected avant-garde traditions. I can really see this effect in any number of poets my age.

I think the second part is particularly interesting, in large part because it seems less canonical (it even has some pieces by Alejandra Pizarnik) - even if there is no Fahlstrom in the Concrete section (a big omission since he's generally credited with the first call for concrete poetry - 1953). But a lot of great stuff that isn't available elsewhere.

As for anthologies, I welcome critique, but not critique that refer solely to some kind of hallucinatory objective literary history. And also, Silliman should stay away from making strange psychological arguments (Jerry wanted to get back at New American Poets!).

I said the same thing about Legitimate Dangers. That anthology is terrible as a representation of all of American poetry, but it's fine representing a certain strain of Bishop-influenced poetry. In fact it makes an interesting argument by including Joyelle and Lisa Jarnot, who a lot of critics claimed were out of place - well, the editors made an argument that they belonged with the rest of the poets.

Joris and Rothenberg makes an interesting argument in placing some strains of American poetry in an international context. We can argue about what they leave our or take in, but not by appealing to Literary History (and certainly not some American-centric imperial literary history) or by taking pot-shots at Rothenberg.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


In response to the discussion about Tate, here's one of my favorite poems by Vasko Popa (translated by Charles Simic):


One is the nail another is pliers
The rest are carpenters

The pliers grab the nail by the head
With their teeth and arms they grab it
And keep pulling and pulling
Pulling it out of the floor
Usually they just wring its head off
It's hard pulling a nail out of the floor

The carpenters then say
These pliers are lousy
They crush its jaws break its arms
And throw them out of the window

Then someone else is a floornail
Another is pliers
The rest are carpenters


The main reason why I like the term "competence" is because it situates poetry evaluation in a social context. Groups/presses/journals develop their competency standards. It's not a bad term. It has the risk of being normalizing, but it also has the potential of being evocative.

There are certainly formal aspects to competence - often as simple as having learned the right vocabulary, using the right kind of sentence structures, diction etc.

There are also more obviously social aspects to competence as well. For example, a poet who has published a book of quietist lyrics is more likely to have a more daring book of poems published than someone who doesn't have that to back them up. If you've had poems published in one journal, that gives you competence with some other journals (and incompetence with others).

Anecdote Time in the Blog World:
I learned a lot about the way the academic poetry world works from going to the U of Iowa - the classism, the hierachy think, the competition-based model of literary "fame" etc. I remember once in a workshop with Jorie Graham - who played a large part in the latter canonization of Tate - she told me: "You can't throw everything but the kitchen sink into the poem. James Tate can do that because he wrote "The Lost Pilot" - he has proven he can write a traditional poem, but you haven't proven that."

from Joe Wenderoth

This sounds like it would be interesting to attend:

> Gibby Haynes (butthole surfers dude) and I will be doing a collaborative
> performance in the issue project room series in Brooklyn on july 3rd at
> 8pm. If you know any folks who might be interested and in that area,
> please let them know. The address of the reading is the Old American Can
> Factory at 232 3rd St (at 3rd Ave) in Brooklyn.
> website is at:

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


There's a good new issue of the journal Lit. Matt Henriksen has a brilliant visionary collage-poem in there. But do we really need any more essays about Ashbery?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Tate, Zach, Hawkey, Tall Tales ec

Because of her tendency to write the best reviews around, Joyelle gets copies of just about every book published in this country, from small small presses to Graywolf and Copper Canyon etc. I actually tend to at least glance through most of them - read the backcover (notoriously), read a few poems, look at the design etc.

From this superficial practice, I've learned quite a bit - for example trends in blurbs, or how obviously publishing is about what Kasey and Anne termed "competence" a while back on Kasey’s Lime Tree blogsite.

And, that the most interesting poetry is that which wreaks havoc on our expectance of competence in some way. One of the best examples from literary history is the way Sylvia Plath wreaked havoc on the (still) dominant strain of Stevens-esque use of nonsense - in Stevens silly figures of otherness say kooky little things (Muslims, Swedes, Aztec types), in Plath, the speaker speaks from the point of view of the silly figures, speaking horrifically in her nonsense. Totally tasteless. And more recently, I've skipped through a whole bunch of books that turn Plath into a kind of competence (Cate Marvin, Erin Belieu), and also quite a few that - more interestingly - wreak havoc on that competence (Arian Reines's bored and belligerent Plath, Danielle Pafunda's Donna-Haraway-Plath). No doubt, people who establish competence are much more likely to be hired to teach in CW programs because hiring committees look for competence, not originality.

Anyway, this is a long way of getting to what I was really going to write about: the influence of James Tate on contemporary poetry. His poetics crop up with quite a bit of frequency, and I am thinking about him this morning. In part this is because a couple of days ago, while putting up books from boxes, I came across "Distance from Loved Ones" and sat down and read it. I hadn't read it before, and I was struck by how much of it seemed familiar from reading works by my contemporaries. And this coinciding with me thinking about a couple of books recently received that are very much part of this tradition: Zach Schomburg's "The Man Suit" and Christian Hawkey's "Citizen Of." These books had recently led me to reread my favorite book in this tradition - Cort Day's "The Chime" (which was published a few years ago).

Here are some lines”

I was standing in the lobby,
some irritant in my eye,
thinking back on a soloist
I once heard in Venezuela,
and then, for some reason,
on a crate of oranges recently
arrived from a friend in Florida…

(James Tate, “Bewitched”)

We exchanged looks – all three of us –
& mine was totally better: it had rose-colored sequins
glued along the hemline & the word sneezeweed
in one pocket…”

(Christian Hawkey)

On the Monster Hour, there was this monster that used to come out and try to kill everybody in the audience. No one expected it, not even the producers.


A large part of this poetics is a slackening of effect, an undoing of the conventional poetic need to “put pressure on language.” So you have these vague kinds of colloquial markers: “some irritant,” “for some reason,” “this monster,” “totally better” etc.

But I think it also has to do with another big influence, and that it the tradition of the American tall tale- Have you heard the one about the guy who was so tall he had use a ladder to shave in the morning? Or the one about the guy who was so poor he had to take the place of the bait in the mousetrap?

Constance Rourke discusses this strain of American culture in his seminal book “American Humor.” And of course DH Lawrence writes about “weird old America.” And Greil Marcus writes about both of these books in his book about Bob Dylan’s “Basement Tapes.”

[If there’s a soundtrack to these poems, it’s definitely the casual, throwaway songs of the Basement Tapes. The most relevant example is probably “Quinn the Eskimo” and its blend of casual tone and weird imagery. But “The Clothesline Saga” seems to foretell Tate’s more recent poetry in its total deferral of everything. And Dylan has repeatedly claimed (in one of his myriad of autobiographical revisionisms) that his surrealistic imagery comes solely out of the American folk idiom (not a chance, but that’s another entry).]

The tall-tale influence also accounts for some aspects on what is often termed “surreal” in these kinds of poems. Seems to me it has just as much to do with tall-tales as European Surrealism Proper. In one of his memoirs, Simic writes that he spent a lot of time reading tall tales and books of American folklore. That’s interesting because of his ties to European Surrealism.

Another thing they get from tall tales is the persona, what Rourke calls “the mask” – the very American narrator who says funny/horrible things without showing any emotion.

[Part of what makes Cort’s book great is because he doesn’t get this right – his speaker often falters into a kind of confusion mask – “I only get ten minutes in this mask” – a brilliant lapse in competence.]

Another element of the tradition is its relationship to 19th century photography. These days we tend to think of photography as a figure of objectivity, but with its invention in the 19th century the whole idea of objectivity in perception is in a state of flux (See Jonathan Crary’s books for example, or Michael North’s recent “Camera Works”). For one thing, people looked very odd and artificial in their poses. Secondly photographs take in an enormous amount of detail, which made them very “noisy” to people back then (or even in the early 20th century) who were not quite literate in looking at photographs. But most importantly, photography (and early film) is immediately tied to tricks of various kinds – not to mention spiritualism and ghost photographs.

The best part of “The Man Suit” is the long poem called “Abraham Lincoln Death Scene” (though it could have been called AL’s Death Suite, or AL’s Man Suite) – because it’s less Tate-ish and more like trick photography. The piece consists of a series of variations of Lincoln’s death scene. The photographic feeling coming form the lack of verbs: “The sexy right leg of one of Booth’s accomplices in fishnet stockings… A blood-splattered St. Bernard.”

At its best, this feels a little like Cindy Sherman’s costume-playing photography. Or Muybridge’s galloping horse. Or like the photographs are bullets. Of course I can’t help but think of Suzan Lori Parks’ “America Play” with the guy who works as Abe Lincoln at an amusement park – people paying to be Booth. This also makes me think about the role of race in photography/visual culture (North discusses this as it related to the dubious racial politics of Bob Brown’s readies)

Somewhere in the Tate Tradition there must be a poem about the Civil War photographer who sold the glass plates of his photographs to some guy who used them in his greenhouse.

Another interesting take on the Pate tradition is Ben Lerner’s Benjamin-inflected “Angle of Yaw.” As that collection makes very clear, there’s also a connection to Stevens and his use of nonsense (see above).

Well, those are just some random ideas.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Alejandra Pizarnik

Is there really no book of translations of Alejandra Pizarnik's work? That's crazy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ivan Blatny

For Czech-English émigré Ivan Blatny's poetry, terms like exile
literature, subversion, appropriation, collage, pun, homophony, and
even hybridity seem too limited, too stable. In an age where many –
rightly – are suspicious of official verse cultures, here is the voice
from a true underground – not the official alternative poetry of the
day, but that minorizing, fluctuating underground that undoes
hierarchical notions of language and culture. Blatny's heteroglossic
poems are wonderfully strange, prosaic, sparse and distracted at the
same time. They are as beautiful and singular as Vallejo's Trilce.

That's my promotional blurb for Ivan Blatny's brilliant book "The Drug of Art", forthcoming from Ugly Duckling in the near future (and we have a selection in the current Action,Yes). This really is a brilliant book. Required reading for sure.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Nypoesi and Soft Targets

There's a new issue of Nypoesi up:

I have an essay, some selections from Pilot and some translations of Aase in the issue.

It also includes a whole slew of interesting folks, such as Craig Dworkin, Charles Bernstein, Ann Jäderlund, Leevi Lehto, Angela Rawlings, Fredrik Hertzberg (the translator of the Action Books Björling volume) and Heriberto Yepés (whose views are always very interesting to me). Not all of it is in English, but much of it is.

This is really one of the two or three most interesting journals on the Internet. It is also, as you may be able to gleen from the roster above, a truly international journal. By "truly international", I don't the same as all those American journals who claim they are international because they once published a translation, but a journal that is engaged with writers from all over the place.

I'll write more about this later.

I also received my contributor's copy of the new issue of Soft Targets, which is as usual amazing. I can now proudly tell my parents that I've been in the same journal as Chris Marker. It also includes interesting writers like Ariana Reines, Lara Glenum and Lisa Jarnot.

More about this later as well.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Lungfull reading

In a perfect world Brendan Lorber* and Stacy Szymaszek**
would never have to read together. Nor for that matter
would they be compelled to write poems at all.
& certainly they would NEVER collaborate
on a piece of great spiritual & somewhat
smutty importance to be laid at your feet.

But this world is far FAR from perfect.

So Lorber & Szymaszek have been summoned to Zinc-TRS
where they shall do the bidding of all
humanity & also will read some new work.

Zinc-TRS Sunday June 10
7:00pm New Poems
90 West Houston NYC
(btw Laguardia & Thompson)

Stacy is about to become the director of the St. Marks Poetry Project
so now's the time for transparent, obsequious gestures like
coming to readings & telling her how smart she is.

Brendan's computer's hard drive just failed so he's compiling
his list of People To Admire all over again -- this is your chance
to get in on the ground floor of his new happy memories.

Jim Berhle, thunderbolt in hand, is your host. has more details, in a manner of speaking.

*pronounced low-bore
**pronounced sizzle-magic

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Here's a great piece by Caroline Bergwall called "Ambient Fish":

Does anybody know how I can take these files and put them into my itunes?

OEI at Penn Sound

Here's a bunch of sound files put Jesper Olsson put together for OEI. It includes a long piece by Johan Jönsson, whose work I've translated. He's an amazing performer. Calls his poetry "repetition idiocy."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


There is a good issue of Gutcult up with some poems by Phillip Jenks, Ish Klein and others. Jim T has a review of a book by Jen Tynes, which looks really interesting.

Apocryphal Text

Here's an online journal I've got poems in. My poem is "The Pig Circus" which I wrote when I first moved to Athens back in 2003. It's bursting at the seams with various ideas I was having at that time. It also features Athens prominently, such as the now defunct cafe on mainstreet where I sat oogling some girl while writing the poem. It's in my upcoming book "A New Quarantine Will Take My Place," which is being published by Apostrophe Books in the near future.

The journal also has good stuff by people like Danielle Pafunda, Tony Tost and others.

And it has a picture of a mafia bear.

And Tim Early was the guest editor.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Soccer: 'Incredibly stupid' Danish fan sorry for attacking referee

The Danish fan who tried to attack the referee during a European Championship qualifier between Denmark and Sweden has apologized.

The 29-year-old Dane, who was not identified, ran onto the field and threw a punch at a German referee, Herbert Fandel, in the final moments of the Group F match Saturday.

"It was incredibly stupid of me," the man said in the Monday edition of a Swedish tabloid, Aftonbladet. "I want to apologize to Denmark, Sweden and the referee for my inhuman behavior."

The fan was infuriated by Fandel's decision to award Sweden a penalty in the 89th-minute and the sending off a Danish midfielder, Christian Poulsen, with the score tied at 3-3 after Denmark had rallied from a 3-0 deficit.

"People in Denmark hate me, but I have no feeling yet what the reaction in Sweden is, other than they of course believe I am an idiot," he was quoted in a Danish tabloid, Ekstra Bladet.

The Danish newspaper identified him by the initial "R," while Aftonbladet decided not to publish his name citing "the serious threat" against him.

Danish police confirmed that numerous text messages have been sent with his name and address.

The Dane, who lives in Sweden, told a court hearing Sunday that he had consumed 15 to 20 beers before storming the field. He said he could not remember the attack, only when a Danish defender, Michael Gravgaard, pushed him away from Fandel.

"I am incredibly happy that he stopped me before something worse could have happened," the assailant said, according another Danish tabloid, B.T.

The supporter was released after the court hearing and described himself as "a bad loser."

Investigators are now preparing formal charges against the man.

Danish officials initially said Sweden had been awarded a 3-0 forfeit victory. But UEFA officials said they need to see written reports from Fandel and his team of officials and will make a ruling before the next European qualifying matches Wednesday.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Conspiracy in Poetry

It's interseting to see a debate being played out on the op-ed pages of the major Swedish papers that is similar to a lot of discussions in the US in places like Foetry. A couple of writers wrote articles accusing poets like Aase Berg, Johan Jönsson, Helena Eriksson, the literary journal OEI, the Norwegian journal Nypoesi (which has Joyelle in its latest issue) and the Neo-Concretists (basically all the young Swedish poets whose work I like) of having conspired to take over Swedish poetry and make everything incomprehensively experimental.

One example of this was how one frequent contributor to OEI wrote a positive review of Johan's latest book (which I'm translating), which was published by OEI Editor. I have absolutely no problem with that. If she thinks it's a great book (and she's a fine poet in her own right) and wants to write about it, I think that's great. It's an amazing book, the more people writing about it the better.

Anyway, the hysterical response reminds me a bit of Foetry-type of discussion that goes on in the US. Or how I stupidly tried to convince the Foetry crowd that not all language poetry was the same and that, no, Charles Bernstein had not brainwashed me into thinking this.

Actually language poetry plays a part of the Swedish debate as well because OEI publishes quite a bit of American language poetry and many of the editors and contributing editors got their PhDs in Buffalo. Actually I am in a special anthology of poems about bats in the most recent issue of OEI, so I guess I'm part of the conspiracy as well.

I think this conspiracy theory view of OEI (or in America, language poetry etc) is interesting because that conspiracy is so visible, while the mainstream conspiracy is so pervasive that it's more difficult to detect. The minute you have an opinion and want to alter the status quo you're conspiratorial, but if you want things to stay the same you are not.

Something good that foetry did was to expose a tiny part of the "conspiracy" of contests etc, but they didn't seem to want to pursue the matter to the point of how literary establishments are made, instead falling back on attacks on Fence, language poetry, Jorie and a host of other targets. But basically they just wanted "fair" contests.

Just the other day some person accused me of being "too negative." That seemed strange to me because I have no free time and I work hard to put out other people's books and to put out an online journal to call attention to other work I like. I don't know if it's because I disagree with Donald Revell that makes me "negative" (because I don't think Pound was a Thoreau-ian saint?), or in general that I'm not perfectly content.