Thursday, July 31, 2008

Simic, Tate, Edson, Knott etc

These guys are all good poets as far as I'm concerned. I don't love either one, but they're good, all at times interesting. Knott wrote great poems about the Vietnam War. Simic had a couple of good collections in the early 90s (the prose poems in particular, though like I said, the silliness gets in the way) and translated Vasko Popa, one of my all-time favorites. Tate seems actually to be writing his best poems right now - strange psychotic blankness.

However, it's strange that they came up on the blog today because it's been ages since I even thought about any poets of that generation.

All the poets I'm looking forward to reading these days are less than 40, often less than 30: Cathy Wagner, Ariana Reines, Jon Leon, Aaron Kunin, Dark Brandon, Danielle Pafunda, Don Mee Choi, Joyelle (who is currently writing a big intermedia project on babies who do "hazings") etc. And the same seems to be true in poetry from Sweden. I've just become totally ageist.

The two exceptions I can think of right now are Alice Notley and Clayton Eshleman, both of whom are writing their most interesting poetry right now. And John Wilkinson if you include the English. And Ann Jäderlund if we include Sweden. The two last one are a bit younger than the two first ones, but still, they're above 40.

When did this happen? When did I start to ignore my elders?

"The True Avant-Garde"

[I found this cfp a minute ago; and in many ways it explains why I don't even bother using the term "avant-garde" anymore. I will explain in more detail in a later post why I find this so repulsive.]

Towards a True Avant-Garde Poetics

While conventional notions of the avant-garde suggest work which is
groundbreaking, confrontational and even impenetrable, this panel seeks to
investigate poetry and poetics which adhere to a narrower sense of the
term—namely, Peter Bürger's conception of the avant-garde as work which
"demand[s] that art becomes practical once again," or returns art to the
praxis of everyday life. Understood this way, Bürger's avant-garde
aesthetic changes the ways in which an audience interacts with art, calling
for personal action, and provides new, democratized inroads to the creative

Work conceived under this model might be thought of as "anti-Romantic," as
it resists traditional stereotypes of the poet-figure as both exceptional
and solitary—a rare individual graced by the muses—and rather, sees poetry
as a common language available to all. The reader/poet is drawn into a
larger poetic community, linked by processes of influence and action.

There's a broad history of 20th Century poetry which follows this
avant-garde ideology, from the stark simplicity of William Carlos Williams'
diction to the high-minded concepts guiding Tristan Tzara's Dadaist
cut-ups, and in particular, work influenced by Donald Allen's epochal 1960
anthology, The New American Poetry: 1945-1960, seems to take this ethos as
a guiding principle. The Poetry Project at Saint Mark's Church in the
Bowery, the mimeograph revolution of the 1960s and 70s, and the Language
poets' lists of experiments are all clear manifestations of Bürger's
avant-garde at work, as are contemporary grassroots poetry workshops,
listservs and blog-based journals.

The Ear

[I got this email from Ben Friedlander concerning the good ear/bad ear. Thought you may be interested in hearing/reading the poem.]

Dear Johannes:

I've been thinking a lot about your remarks (and also yours and Joyelle's) about translation. It's one of those stances put forward so provocatively that agreeing or disagreeing seems beside the point, though it's hard to respond without doing one
or the other. But regarding "ear," maybe it's possible instead to put forward an example of a "good" one that supports your overall thesis. I'm thinking here of Tony Harrison's really incredible poem "Them & [Uz]" (scroll down)

which teaches us to hear (and forces us to think about) pronunciation as a locus of meaning more important, in some cases, than the word pronounced (as with the "aiai, ay, ay!" that opens the poem [that aiai, btw, should be rendered in Greek). I've
long admired the poem, but hearing Harrison read it has made all the difference in the world--turned admiration to love. Sound file just discovered here: (scroll down)

Anyway, I hope you are well--


Reines (#2)

At the Lorraine Graham blog.

This discussion is really insightful. Please read it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ariana Reines

Here are some poems from Ariana Reines's book Mercury, published in the new issue of Coconut:

Klassnik (#2)

Another way of describing the book:

An interesting thing often missed about discussions of Edson/Simic is that their supposedly "soft" surrealism comes from Michaux, who in Europe is considered the Great Surrealist Poet, but whose work is barely known in the US. The same is true of Klassnik.

What makes Simic's poetry less good (though not "soft," I love softness and Ron's dichotomy is sexist etc) than Michaux's is the silliness. I think the silliness in Simic works a little like how Zizek says silliness works in pornos (you have to have some stupid plumber scenario or "The Wizard of Ahhs" etc) - a kind of censorhip. We don't have to be scared, it's silly in the end. Like Simic, Klassnik's poetry is influenced by Michaux, but without Simic's censoring silliness.

Rauan Klassnik (or "Ethics is the new craft")

[Instead of attacking poor Mark Halliday I'm going to start doing some brief reviews of recent books I've liked.]

Here's an excerpt from Mark Wallace's essay on Rimbaud that I quoted on this blog a while back:

"I want to be clear that I don't admire Rimbaud. He's not worthy of it. But what could be more boring than admiring a poet, than admiring poetry? To say one loves A Season in Hell misses the point that the book and its author dont' want to be loved. But at the same time that the book and author can't be admired, it seems to me that the book's excess suggests much about what contemporary American poetry needs, trapped as it is in discourse about the constructive, the useful, the communal, the fair - all the things I believe in."

I'm sick of ethics. As I said earlier on this blog, the attempt to control the perceived immoral excess of art is something the Buffalo-ists and the Quietists have in common.

(It was interesting for me to read Reginald Sheppherd accuse "the avant-garde" of being puritanical - which when applied to some of them, particularly the Minimalists of the 1960s is true - because what could be more puritanical than his own New Critical tradition, which railed against the "excesses" of the 1920s avant-garde.)

This is just a way to introduce a wonderful new book by Rauan Klassnik called "Holy Land" (Black Ocean, 2008). It's a series of "lazy" and "unethical" prose poems. I love the feeling of poems being written in prose out of laziness, not out of some kind of formal consideration.

I am reminded of American Surrealist Franklin Rosemount's statement in "Morning of a Machine Gun" (1969): "The poems and drawings in this book could be said to constitute a veritable triumph of hte most arrogant laziness and irresponsibility... They are an insult to the dignity of honest toil... But understand that this laziness, this irresponsibility comprises a magical sense of violence and a violent sense of magic which promises to leave no stone unturned - or unhurled if necessary - in a desperate quest to restore man to a liveable destiny."

That last part about destiny does kind of ruin Rosemont's quote with Breton's ethics. as I frequently say, the most interesting Surrealists worked outside Breton's club - the Documents group, Bataille, Artaud, Leiris. And it's in this group that Klassnik's lazy Surrealism has its roots.

Here's a good quote by Susan Sontag on Leiris: "Leiris is not trying to understand himself. Neither has he written Manhood to be forgiven, or to be loved. Leiris writes to appall..."

OK, here's an actual poem from Holy Land:

It doesn't matter how much you want to stay inside, make love and float in a bath all day long the world knows what you want, and it knows what you need. It brings you bodies. And it brings you a gun.

As always, buy the book at SPD. It will do your body good.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Question about Halliday article

I'm not going to make my ultimate statement on Mark Halliday until I've read Josh Clover's book so that I can have a better sense of everything.

Anyway, here is a quick question: What is Joyelle supposed to represent in the essay? The kitchen sink?

Strange if so because clearly Clover has a very definite set of names in his index, not at all kitchen sink.

Japanese horror movies

are so beautiful.

Too bad I'm too scared to watch them.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mark Halliday (3)

As I think I noted somehwere here, I haven't actually read Halliday's review. I'm going to try to get a hold of it and read it before I say anything else. Because I found another excerpt where it seems he's actually criticizing the notion of "teams". Seems I reacted too quickly (as I do frequently). It's interesting that Jordan mentions Ashbery because I'm positively allergic to the continual use of Ashbery as a kind of limit.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mark Halliday (2)

I'm really shocked at the response this review has received. This man has made a total moron out of himself and everyone seems to be OK with that.

Here are some responses to Max, Francois, Mark and all the people over at the Ploughshares blog:

1. Max, it may be that the academic system lends itself to "team"-thinking, that doesn't mean that's a good thing! It is perhaps favorable to the Quietist practice of treating hiring as being based on "merit." When it fact they are hiring based on team-think.

2 By setting up the "team" scenario, Halliday evades the fact that his "team" is largely in charge of the academic hiring processes. Acting like Fox News, he can claim merely to be "fair and balanced." But in fact there is no other team! It's merely a way of rhetorically justifying an oppressive and indefensible conservatism.

3. A more correct thing for Halliday would be to say: My team tries to keep poetry as unified as possible - we keep out people from other backgrounds and traditions, people who offer other perspectives on poetry.

4. As for your concept of teams taking over etc in due time, Max, I think that's a load of naivete. That simply does not happen. And it's terrible for poetry because it keeps poetry insular and inbred.

5. Now some may argue that I am very naive because hiring will always include aesthetics. But I think we can be a little less cynical and look for people from different backgrounds and aesthetics and artistic interests; we can think of Creative Writing as something more dynamic. Behind the Team paradigm there seems to be a real hysterical about alternative views.

Electronic Literature

I got a review copy of Katherine Hayles's book "Electronic Literature" and skimmed through it. What immediately struck me was how out-of-touch and insular it is. The people she sees as pioneers of electronic literature are from inside a little tower where she builds her scholarly books.

It struck me: all the innovations tend to be cliche modernist innovations - ie program words to move around or you have hypertext. This is so incredibly profoundly out of touch with so much that is going on in electronic literature.

I would have included a discussion of how Tao Lin manipulates the Internet and the blog-interface. But Tao's "innovation" is not an "innovation" - that old modernist paradigm. Further the Modernist paradigm means that Hayles only sees innovation in programming skills - in form. Tao's totally unconcerned with that. And much more interesting. But I don't think Hayles would even recognize the extent to which Tao's work is conceptual electronic literature.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Matthew Richardson

That's the person who made the artwork for my cover (seen below).

My brother knew of him from his job as layout person at the weekly newspaper Advertising Age.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mark Halliday

I found this disgusting quote from Mark Halliday on Bob Archambeau's blog:

"Will Clover or his admirers respond to my review? Probably not, though they blog constantly. Why should they respond? I'm on the other team (the lyrical and/or narrative mainstreamy team). We grant tenure to our players, they grant tenure to theirs; mostly we avoid shootouts."

This is from the same Mark Halliday that pushed Catherine Taylor out of the editorship of New Ohio Review (and ultimately out of his department) because her aesthetics challenged his old conventions.

I don't know what is more disgusting - the fact that he unabashedly says this, or the fact that a lot of people are already working under this assumption without openly admitting it. He is right that a lot of hiring is ruled by team-loyalty, a practive I find aggravating (in large part because I'm not party of any teams!).

However, he is disengenous in several ways. To begin with, he makes it seem like a fair enough truce, but the fact is that his team controls a vast majority of creative writing programs! A more accurate statement would be to say that we try to keep people who challenge our conventions out of creative writing teaching positions.

Another weird element to the quote: He desperately wants Team Clover to respond to him , but he also ridicules "blogging."


So I'm translating this Swedish book that collages quotes from Andreas Baader. Does anybody know the common English translation of this quote (I've translated it from Swedish):

"Give me the machine. Give me the money. But most importantly give me the political power."


Buy Dear Ra

Poetics of Overdeterminacy

[Some of these ideas about "indeterminacy" I may have taken from a conversation I had with Patrick Durgin a few months ago.]

On the back of Dear Ra, it says that it is an "indeterminate text." By this Ted Pelton, the editor, probably meant that it is hard to say if it's a novel or a poem etc. And that definitely makes sense.

But really, overall my writing is incredibly overdeterminate.

As is Ariana Reines's and Chelsey Minnis's books for that matter. Perhaps it's another characteristic of grotesque writing. (I think "didactic" - as in the previous thread - is not exactly the same thing.)

In "Quarantine" inter-titles (inspired by Godard's Weekend) and pa-announcements interrupt the poems to beat the reader over the head. It couldn't be more overdetermined!

I think the concept of "indeterminacy" has been very bad for poetry; in many ways a kind of recuperation of avant-garde energies as updated versions of Empson's new critical "ambiguity".

Seems like the concept of "indeterminacy" plays into Max's caricature of the avant-garde as writing that willfully merely "breaks the rules" without offering anything of its own. If this was true we wouldn't still be all be obsessed with ideas and techniques from the 1910s and 20s.

The problem is that "breaking" is defined too reductively in this scenario.

When I was in Iowa, a lot of people would congratulate each other on not using the word "I" in a poem, or not having any "images" etc.

It was a kind of rule-based take on poetry that in many ways felt exactly like the Quietist graduate workshop I was in as an undergraduate at the U of Minnesota - "you haven't earned this image," "this poem is self-obsessed," "there are too many images in this poem," etc.

In fact it was a simplistic idea of "breaking" that merely produced a negative (as in photography) of the very thing people so hated (James Wright was everyone's strawman in Iowa, in Minnesota he was everyone's favorite, my U of M teacher had graduated from Iowa in the 70s).

Another thing about Iowa: There was a lot of talk about "complexity." Poetry that was complex was seen as more "true" because the human psychology is so complex. It was mimesis all over again.

There was a real cult of the complex psychology. I think that must have come from Jorie Graham. You can see how this cult of refinement is a direct inheritor of New Critical ideas of refinement: "We live in a fallen world of vulgar mass culture, where poetry saves us through its complexity." To put it crudely.

Perhaps the biggest problem with indeterminacy is that it lends itself to the old "negative capability," the glorification of dreaminess and doubt. Exactly the kind of contemplative space that the historical avant-garde sought to do away with (as Benjamin so astutely pointed out over and over).

I suddenly realize I have written an entire post under a title that refers to Marjorie Perloff's "Poetics of Indeterminacy" without mentioning that book. That's because I'm not sure how it fits in, other than that it was probably an ushering in of the concept of "indeterminacy." Of course the hero of that book is Ashbery, and it was precisely Ashbery - "the Romantic Ashbery" as Mark Levine emphasized in his introduction to Ashbery's reading - that was the key figure, by far the most worshipped poet when I was in Iowa. He was seen as very complex.

I suppose the thing to avoid is exactly what I do with the ironic title of this post - create a poetics of overdeterminacy...

How I write my books these days

Dear Ra

arrived yesterday.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

TV idea

I was watching TV last night and there was an add for "Gossip Girl" and I thought wouldn't it be great if "Gossip Girl" (which sadly I have never watched) was a remake of "L'aventura"? If you work in TV, you may steal this idea.

Translation (2)

Speaking of translation, I am just finishing up my work translating Aase Berg's entire first book, With Deer. A fine, small US press appears to want to publish it. I will keep you updated. I had forgotten just how disgusting this book is. The method I used when I picked poems for Remainland appears to have been to pick the least disgusting. But they're also pretty damned hilarious.

Aase is in some ways part of a Romantic-Grotesque tradition in Swedish literature. One of the most famous poems of Swedish Romanticism is "Till Förruttelse" ("To Decomposition" or "To Rotting"), in which the speaker expresses his desire to, yes, rot into the ground. No nightingales there.

(But Aase got a lot of her education as a member of the Surrealist Group of Stockholm, which meant a lot of Leiris, Bataille and Sade etc.)

A kind of neo-grotesque (or perhaps neo-gothic?) now seems to be one of the important modes of contemporary Swedish poetry. I'm reading a great book by someone named Lisa Schmidt right now. Though her poetry is perhaps equally influenced by Ann Jäderlund, who also was a big influence on Aase.

As i think I wrote in a post a while back, "The Ann Jäderlund Debates" was perhaps the most important post-1960s event in Swedish poetry. The Marxist-"Populist" cultural establishment accused Ann of hermeticism. Her defenders accused the establishment of patronizing sexism. And in the wake, there were several brilliant grotesque women poets (such as Aase) who made their mark starting in the 1990s.

I'm also working on a Jäderlund book and I have plans for a few others from this group of writers. Hopefully I can convince some American publishers to be interested in them as well.

Another group that is interesting in Sweden these days is the conceptual/mediumicity group centered around OEI (Nypoesi in Norway). They are partially influenced by the New Simplicity and the journal Rondo from the 1960s, Swedish Concretism from the 1960s (particularly the journal Gorilla, two issues in 1967), and American language poetry (some of them, such as Jesper Olsson and Fred Hertzberg studied with Charles in Buffalo).

But I think the most interesting writer in this group is Johan Jönsson, who definitely did not study anywhere fancy (he's very working class, from the north, and he is very aware of it.)

Daniel Borzutzky is starting a new press and they're publishing my translation of Johan's "Collobert Orbital" sometime this winter.

Johan's book is based on his *translation* of Norma Cole's translation of Danielle Colbert's journals (published by Litmus Press from New York). Johan translates the translated Collobert not just into Swedish, but into an incredibly "impoverished" Swedish, with a kind of highly limited vocabulary dealing with the despairs of being alive in global capitalism.

[In this impoverishment it is distantly similar to Aaron Kunin's brilliantly restrained "translation" "The Sore Throat."]

At this point I have to note that while the Swedish conceptual crowd has been very good at bringing American poets and scholars over to Sweden (I ready with Kenny Goldsmith in Oslo last year, I know Charles was just over in Stockholm) and at translating American stuff, I have witness very little willingness of American "Conceptual" types to get Swedes into print. This despite the fact that Marjorie Perlofff is always going on about how international "conceptual poetry" is.

Final note:
Having written this reductive taxonomy, I think: really this is a very 90s look at things. Seems a new generation - perhaps best represented by ett lysande name (see my links) - are now beginning to show another, less clear-cut, more cross-bred poetry.


Those of you who have read this blog know that I complain a lot about the unwillingness of American poets and academics to engage with foreign poetry. Well, I'm at it again, giving Josh Corey a hard time over his class in Modern Poetry. Here's a thing I wrote just now:

Why would it be more about broadening students horizons than giving them tools for their own writing? And are those two really separate? If so how?

I think a huge part of the reason for the provincialism of American poetry/the academy is this fear of not "mastering" the material - it seems a lot of profs are scared of teaching a work in translation because they won't have that ultimate "mastery" of the "original."

The international view would bring students a more complex idea of both poetry *and language*, as well as a more correct (hard to think of American modernists without their European influences).

Further, I think losing that illusion of mastery is very good pedagogically speaking.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some clarification

Here I will briefly try to explain some of my views in very broad strokes:

- There is no true, natural or normal language, but many languages.

- This is why I keep referencing Bakhtin's "monoglossia" on this blog. His idea of poetry as something that asserts the illusion that there is one central, correct language, represented in the lyric, rather than a multitude of dialects and languages. If we learn the "rules" good enough we will be able to speak language perfectly.

- And this is why I keep criticizing Ron's views of poetry because they are totally based on the idea of perfecting language - of having a "good ear" as he keeps writing in reviews. Well that "good ear" is the "native ear."

- Just as there is not set "normal" literature, there is no inherently "normal body." That's a concept with even more coercive,political purposes. As people like Foucault and Lennard Davis have shown, the obsession with "the normal body" (or standardized body) is a 19th century invention, having much to do with nation building and capitalism. Foucault notes that it used to be the "ideal body" and then the rest of us flawed. The results of the normal body can be pretty horrific - eugenics, holocausts, various injustices suffered to deaf people, hate crimes against gay people etc. Also: the over-medicalization of subjects.

- The grotesque precedes "the normal body" but I think it takes on a new and slightly different meaning in this modern capitalist world. Perhaps this resulted in the popularity of "the Gothic," but I don't know enough about that to say anything relevant.

- When I talk of the grotesque (or translation in "the disabled text") as "non-normative", I certainly don't mean that it portrays figures that don't fit in with the norm for the sake of gawking at abnormal people (though that is the danger -"the gothic gaze"), but that it moves away from the idea of normalcy itself. The effect of a lot of this work is not to re-assert normalcy vs abnormality, but to show that nobody is in the end "normal." And I think that is part of the problem of Ian Curtis in the film; his non-normal body threatens a "realism" built on a kind of normalcy. This is of course a complex issue.

- The big illusion here is based on: normal = natural (in both body and language). In the grotesque, everything becomes not only abberant but largely artificial, un-natural - there is no "natural." That was the original critique against the grotesque: that it was not normal, natural or moral.

- OK, let me come back to the historical avant-garde. It makes sense that they consisted largely of translated texts and sounds, imigrants and expatriates and exiles.

- And perhaps it makes sense that the body came into play in a new way in the "events" of the avant-garde, in the sound poetry (based in part on the babbling of shellshocked soldiers).

P.S. I can't go anywhere in smalltown American without getting attacked for being gay. This is another intersection of language and body.

PS #2 This doesn't begin to explain why I'm interested in the grotesque.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"the avant-garde" vs "the grotesque"

Here are some fairly random thoughts I just had (Feel free to chip in):

As I noted in the post below, the grotesque played an important in the historical avant-garde; it is the feature of the avant-garde that most seems to have inflamed Hitler's anti-modernist rhetoric.

The reason for this is of course that the grotesque is degenerate, it does not seek to exterminate the non-normative body, the sick body, but rather revels in non-normative bodies and uses them to undermine the very concept of normal.

One of the reasons I always refer to "the historical avant-garde" is that I don't feel entirely happy with the term "avant-garde," because it suggests not just militarism but progress. And I think this is in part where the grotesque gets in trouble with the avant-garde: the grotesque does not lead to progress; the sickness does not get healed/exterminated/eugenisized away.

This is also why I feel a bit at odds with "experimentalism" and all of its attendant metaphors (poetic "research" etc) - it smells of "Progress."

One thing about Dada is that it comes after "The Futurism Moment" - it is not about progress. It's also very grotesque - not just Grosz's satires of fat capitalists and hookers, but perhaps more interestingly the grotesque shell-shock-inspired poetry of Ball.

For me, it appears that the grotesque is a space of gender fluidity, epilepsy and strange songs. The place where strange, non-normative bodies and strange, non-normative words intersect.

I am here reminded of Deleuze and Guattari's Kafka, where the bug-body and the bug-like voice come together in Gregor Samsa; Or Pär Bäckström's notion of "language grotesque", writing about how Henri Michaux's language is deformed much like his bodies; or Aase Berg's poems in which the Swedish language becomes as fluid and strange as the blubbery bodies.

As everyone knows, I'm a big David Lynch fan. So here's an example of "language grotesque" from Twin Peaks:

It is notable to me that the grotesque is largely absent from contemporary "avant-gardism" or "experimentalism" - and when it does appear on Ron's blog it is relegated to "bad girls." Likewise, when Ron refers to "soft surrealism" vs "hard surrealism" - what he partly wants is to privilege the useful, politically progressive Surrealism, not Bataille, Michaux and the grotesque Surrealism of the Documents group (interestingly seem to be the main influence on Edson).

When Barret Watten writes about "The Constructivist Moment," I feel in a sense that what he wants to do is define a progressive avant-garde, an avant-garde without the grotesque, the excessiveness.

Also, here I wanted to say something about the epileptic body in "Control" (see below), the Gurlesque, R.Crumb and his sexism/racism, and my Disabled Text manifesto from a while back.

Bernstein's review of Filreis Here Charles Bernstein reviews Alan Filreis's book *Counter Revolution of the Word.* I haven't read the book yet but it sounds like I have to do so asap.

This book is about the conflation of Modernist experimentalism and communism by the political and cultural right in the 1950s America. As such it appears to be companion piece to Jed Rasula's "American Poetry Wax Museum," in which Jed shows the reactionary politics of New Criticism. And also Cary Nelsons' "Repression and Recovery", which shows the extent to which New Criticism worked to expunge radical (both politically and formally) poetry from American Poetry.

From the review: "Such a conflation might seem counterintuitive, since the left is often associated with populist styles that reject modernist difficulty, while radical modernism is often associated with an aesthetic at odds with explicit left political content."

But an important point here is that the historical avant-garde - dada, Surrealism etc - was deeply political and their reception was mostly seen in political terms. This is even true in my favorite area of study, the Finland Swedish Modernists, who were accused of being foreign/German instigators and Bolsheviks (even though Björling fought on the side of the anti-communist Whites during the Finnish Civil War).

Here's another key point:

"Filreis’s book is filled with telling examples of how the aesthetic and political right denounced non-conventional poetry as if it were a part of the Communist menace. Such poetry was smeared as unnatural and corrupting, as an affront to moral values as expressed in proper grammar, and, moreover, as foreign and therefore un-American."

The unnatural part is important. The foreign = the unnatural (see my "Disabled Text"
essay from back in June). Proper grammar = realism, the natural, American, morality.

Here too it's important to distinguish between Modernism and the historical avant-garde. For Yeats, Jarry's Ubu Roi represented "the savage god" that would come. For Eliot, Stein was "of the barbarians" because of her ungrammatical use of language.

Here is a quote from the book followed by Bernstein's analysis:

""Another curious, disconcerting and, in fact, frightening part of the new attack has been the tendency of the attackers to refer to modern art in practically the same terms used by Hitler and the Communist hierarchy. It is called ‘degenerate art,’ and there are thinly veiled accompanying demands for its suppression and for censorship.""

"Filreis is not alone in relating these images of the alien and nonhuman to the imagery of Don Siegel’s 1956 movie, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In the charged postwar environment, the lyric became a symbol for anti-modernist resistance, clearly “identified with the postideological moment,” a bulwark against what Colonel Cullen Jones, in a 1951 article, “Abnormal Poets and Abnormal Poetry,” derided as modernist effeminacy and its “sexual abnormalities.”"

I like this point because it shows the connection between the grotesque and the historical avant-garde. I also like the quote because it shows some of the irrationally fearful attitudes of opponents of the historical avant-garde.

Feelings which persist (see fore example Reginald Shepherd's recent entries on the Harriet blog)!

Bernstein makes a similar point toward the end of the review:

"The demonization of the aesthetic left in poetry is still with us... Critiques are dismissed as unjustifiable agonism (ideology of the avant-garde), part of a struggle that is now said to be outmoded. The post-partisan creed is that the avant-garde has won its battles and now it is time to return to kinder, gentler forms—poetry with a human face. It is the end of ideology all over again. The only way not to be divisive is to accept the dominant poetic values as inevitable and natural, as craft rather than ideology, sincerity rather than artifice."


I think there is an interesting tension in the movie concerning the non-normative body, the epileptic body. The filmmaker seems intrigued by it, but also scared that showing too much of it will ruin the "realism" ("gritty" black-and-white images of working class England) of the piece. So he shows the first fit and he shows a little bit of Ian Curtis's epileptic-ish dancing and he shows his "double," an epileptic woman, have her "fits." But mostly he seems to want to "control" the "fits." He doesn't show - only alludes to - Curtis's subsequent fits. I (mis-)interpret the movie-title "Control" (rather than "She's Lost Control") as an attempt to control the epileptic with a kind of "realism." Ultimately the result is yet another reductive bio-pic.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


I've been writing several entries reviewing the film "Control" about Joy Division but I can't seem to get it right. For now I'll just say it's a mistake to think that a movie will be good because it's based on the story of a great band.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Despite the fact that I have a million things to do and a little demon wanting to be taken to the swimming pool and/or the downtrodden South Bend playground, I have been writing yet another play. Or rather a pageant. And it strikes me that whenever I write a play-ish text I'm utterly trying to recreate the brilliant performance of Jean Genet's "The Screens" I saw at the Guthrie in Minneapolis with my brother back in the late 1980s. The colonialist French soldiers wore these huge boots and cartoonish outfits. The main character - played brilliantly by one of the main actors from that show "Fame" from the early 80s (possibly the greatest acting job I've ever seen, though I rarely notice acting)- walks around in a state of constant epileptic fit. Philip Glass collaborating with North African musicians for the brilliant soundtrack.

Another performance that struck me incredibly deeply was a time I watched the pell-mell art/noise ensemble "Blackie" play in the basement of the Steamboat Gallery in Minneapolis in 1992. I know this date specifically because I went with my friend Tyler, with whom I shared an apartment at the time. We had gone to high school together and then we got a place together when we graduated. I was a student at the U of Minnesota and he was working for an environmental organization. "Blackie" was a group of people who got together once a year or so and played without rehearsals (the term in fact is absurd in the context of their music). Most of them probably didn't know how to play instruments. The leader of the crew was a very flamboyant guy with a baseball hat and fashionable suit. He yelled out all kinds of free-form poetry-ish stuff while filming himself with a little video camera. At one point he was writhing on the ground yelling "We're in Spokane! We're in Spokane!" After the show Tyler and I went to get something to eat at the Rainbow grocery store and I said, "I feel dirty." And Tyler laughed then gave me a strange look and said "You know, so do I!" Something about the noise and the amazing self-indulgence had this amazingly strong effect on us. I still think about that show - I even remember the worn out old couch we sat on - and ponder how powerful that show was.

It also fits in with an interesting topic of thought - the event.


[From the Canadian press Bookthug]

Subject: New Home for the Nation: PLUS you get a discount

It was a long surgery and we weren't sure they would both make it through okay, but Apollinaire's Bookshoppe and BookThug are finally digitally autonomous.

BookThug Nation needed some topography of its own, and while we're not much on boarders, the space is pretty snazzy.

Here you will find all things BookThug right at your fingertips. Poetry, visual literature, conceptual literature, translation, the lyric, fiction: all are available in publications that come in a variety of shapes and sizes and origins, but each one is distinctly BookThug. So come on in. Browse through our titles. Join a discussion in our Forum. Buy a book or purchase a seasonal subscription package and become a card-carrying member of BookThug Nation.

In celebration of our new site, we're extending an offer to the Nation. Between now and July 31st, all books are 10% off when you purchase them online. Also, free shipping on orders over $40.

We at BookThug are fully aware that our books are not for just anybody. So why not become somebody today?

Editio Durus Natio Semper!


Note: BookThug’s sister entity Apollinaire’s Bookshoppe can now be found at:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nathalie Djurberg

I like the part where she says that she wants to have big screens to show her animation to invite the viewer into the picture and to suggest that the picture moves beyond the screen.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dear Ra

You can now order Dear Ra from Starcherone here. But it won't be officially released until October.

Dear Ra is a strange book for me. I wrote it a long time ago - mostly during the first Bush campaign in 2000, and in the wake of numerous botched relationships in Iowa. It's so paranoid and furious and pell-mell, I hardly recognize myself. I thought the world was coming to an end (and I was sort of right).

Here is the text from the page (if you are too lazy to click):

In Dear Ra, and indeterminate text comprised of letters, resembling both fiction and poetry but not wholly comfortable in either category, if the task is to wake up the language, each sentence answers the challenge, stabbing at one like a beautiful murderer.

"In DEAR RA, we are told, among many other things, that 'narrative equals death.' If that is so, then Johannes Göransson's 21st-century epistolary novel is very much alive, as it bobs and weaves through the mundane details and arcane allusions of our culture, filled with feints and jabs in all directions, warding off the threat of premature closure. DEAR RA is sharp, funny, morbid, and deliriously (re)readable."
- Steven Shaviro, author of The Cinematic Body and Connected

"Love letters. Love poetry. Like this: 'You know how I love it when you don't make sense. But most of all I love the way you whimper when your pants are down. So much for Petrarch,' the Italian poet praising his Laura in sonnets. Johannes Göransson's letters to an ex-lover Ra -- as well as the letters in this book to the radiator, history, Susan Sontag, America, poetry itself--come from a poet whose 'heart [and poetics] belongs to a drive-by shooting.' Reading them is to be invited into the theater of utterly mixed metaphors where nothing follows; which is to say, a theater of memory where everything can follow: an amazing high-wire act of body and soul, language and thought where 'even the circus gets eaten alive.'"
- Steve Tomasula, author of Vas and The Book of Portraiture

"Solarity's always about empire, sort of. Johannes Göransson's delerious letters to the Egyptian sun God are definitely in America, somewhere between Frank O'Hara's Mayakovsky and Georges Bataille's Vincent Van Gogh. 'I can't jack off without history peering in,' he writes. Me neither."
- Ariana Reines, author of The Cow

Contact: Ted Pelton, Editor, Starcherone Books, P.O. Box 303, Buffalo, NY 14201
Phone: 716-885-2726. Fax: 716-884-0291. E-mail:
PUBLICATIONDATE: October 1, 2008
PRICE: $16.00; 96 pp
ISBN-13: 978-0-9788811-2-2; ISBN-10: 0-9788811-2-5

Monday, July 14, 2008


Ray Bianchi has a rant against the AWP over at his irascible blog.

Another thing: I see they have given out &50,000 for their "unknown poet" award to Tony Hoaglund... This is idiotic beyond reason. Give it to someone who needs it.

If we want to play the old cold-war team-game, we can compare that to Bernstein encouraging his students to start chapbook series at SUNY Buffalo.

The influence of the historical avant-garde

Another interesting intersection of the historical avant-garde and American mid-century poetry is Artaud. In his wonderful book *Noise, Water, Meat* Douglas Kahn depicts Artaud's influence on the Beats, in particular Michael McClure.

Sylvia Plath

I was thinking about Ron's review of Chelsey Minnis and his desire for her to be about the rawness, no "coyness." The shock should be the shock of the real coming through the repressing patriarchal cultural mores.

This reminds me of the entire discussion that has been surrounding Sylvia Plath since the very beginning. In Robert Lowell's introduction, he begins with:

"In these poems, written in the last months of her live and often rusehd out at the rate of two or three a day, Sylvia Plath becomes herself, becomes something imaginary, newly, wildly and subtly created - hardly a person at all, or a woman, certainly not another "poetess," but one of those super-real, hypnotic, great classical heroines."

I think Lowell should be given credit that he picks up on the complex contradiction in her work - it feels very "real" (rushed out, becomes herself etc) and visceral ("super-real"), and yet distanced ("hardly a person at all, or a woman"). Is that unrealness "coyness"?

Something that interests me about Plath is her treatment of what may loosely be called the cinematic experience. Countless theories about the movie-going experience focus precisely on the contradiction of alienation and viscerality, mediation and immediacy. The movies both seem too real and fake, to put it bluntly.

And I read a lot of Plath's poems as informed by the movies. If you read Plath's letters and journals you get the sense that all she did was watch movies. As critics have noted, there are remakes of Hitchcock. The voice-over and cuts of "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" seems to reoccur in more and less obvious forms throughout Ariel. Cinematic montage seems to be a major influence. But perhaps most of all, this "coyness" - alienated viscerality.

The critical reception of Plath continues to interest me. All these people inspired by Plath to confess in their poetry - viscerally affected by Plath, but the result are a kind of dull "realness" that is never in Plath's poetry. On the other hand the attempt to recusitate her as a "serious poetess" in the 1980s by stressing her "craft," her traditional poetry-writing skills. And of course all the people who dismiss her as a popular poet (which she is), somehow simplistic.

In all of these responses, there seems to be an anxiety, an attempt to control this visceral charge of her poetry (similar to what Dodie Bellamny perceptively calls attention to in her response to Ron's post). And in some ways perhaps this anxiety is the same anxiety as people have about movies - its visceral effects are too much, we are not rational at the movies, it's lowbrow (as I wrote about the gurlesque, that's a feature that runs throughout the reception history of the grotesque) etc.

Interestingly many members of the historical avant-garde were drawn to this quality of film. For example Blaise Cendrars ("The ABC of Cinema") and Gunnar Bjorling ("the entertainment whirl" - "everything should be immediately interesting all the time").

Also, a while back I read an interesting article awhile back where a scholar went into her archives and found she had made Hannah-Hoch-like photomontages and in that article too I believe he talks about her affinity for Paul Klee.

Friday, July 11, 2008

K.Lorraine Graham

Probably everyone has seen this already, but KLG have some posts about the gurlesque up on her blog, Spooks By Me.

Here's a good excerpt:

KLG: “…I’m usually torn between wanting to celebrate my interesting, culturally enforced otherness and wanting to reject/question it. So, while I read about Martha Graham and her versions of Greek heroines, I’m attracted to Merce Cunningham’s rigid and ‘unnatural’ movements and the cultural critiques they imply. Perhaps, like you, I want to explore what is, as you say, ‘embellished, decorated, made beautiful.’ But I admit to still being focused on the perverse and grotesque.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lara Glenum on Gurlesque

[I asked Lara to add something to the discussion]

To me, the gurlesque is very much about performing the female grotesque. In "The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde," Sianne Ngai rolls out an astute theory about how violence implicitly lurks in the aesthetic of the "cute." Ngai notes, "The formal attributes associated with cuteness – smallness, compactness, softness, simplicity, and pliancy – call forth specific affects: helplessness, pitifulness, and even despondency." And further, "In its exaggerated passivity and vulnerability, the cute object is often intended to excite a consumer's sadistic desires for mastery and control as much as his or her desire to cuddle."

There are currently a number of women poets who locate "cuteness" in the realm of the female grotesque and, in extended poetic sequences, actively perform the dialectic between "cuteness," violence and female monstrosity (think Aase Berg's guinea pigs, Ariana Reines's cows, Anne Boyer's "Dark Deer," Danielle Pafunda's peek-a-boo violence). These poets redefine female "cuteness" as a trope of self-willed (or culturally-willed) deformity. By appropriating and violently animating stereotypes attached to desirable female behavior, these poets are attempting to make an register of derogatory signification to collapse. (There are certainly male counterparts to this project of gender-bending violence: Johannes, Tao Lin, Joe Wenderoth and Jon Leon, for example).

Cuteness, though, is prototypically the realm of pre-pubescent girls and their small, furry companions, which is the territory of Aase Berg's guinea pig poems. Berg's work radically upends the notion that women, young girls in particular, are free from sadistic compulsion and cruelty (Chelsea Minnis and Cathy Wagner's poems often do this, too). The term "cute" also surfaces when teenage girls (and even grown women) talk about men they're aroused by. To call a sexual object "cute" thus expresses a linguistic deformation – girls and women have traditionally been forbidden to speak about (or even experience) the stirrings of sexual desire. The demotion a sexually arousing man to the status of a puppy or a cupcake represents a phenomena of stunted female sexuality (which is only achieved through a kind of cultural pruning and binding through which women are divorced form their own sexual response). Cuteness, then, reveals a state of deformity or monstrosity.

All this is something that gurlesque poetry plays with and attempts to reverse, though not through Sharon Olds-style confession. Gurlesque poets, on the whole, don't believe in a stable, unified self, which is why their work is performance and not confession or persona (persona implies a person/self behind the mask). The gurlesque acknowledges its own artifice as well as the radical artifice of gender.

To close, I wouldn't say the gurlesque is strictly limited to the cuteness and violence thing, but its certainly a place that Arielle's original theory and my interest in the female grotesque overlap. (Hence, the birth of the Gurlesque anthology, which is due out from Saturnalia in 2009.)

Thanks for giving me the mic, Johannes.

Marina Abramovic

Here is some interesting stuff about/by Abramovic (whom Ariana mentions in "Sucking"):

Here's the wiki-bio.

Here are some youtube excerpts:


I briefly wanted to remind people of Ariana Reines's wonderful poetics statement "Sucking" in Action, Yes awhile back.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"To make a book capable of humiliating itself, capable of arousing itself inside its own violence and difficulty, like a Marina Abramovic performance."

"I wanted to write poems that an educated person would feel embarrassed to read, poems that sound like Goth girls with feelings, except for sometimes they are “smarter” than Goth girls with feelings are supposed to be."

"Every time people say something is raw and simple and tells it like it is and gives you the unvarnished truth and everything, people are playing themselves. People want to have an experience of the raw truth, and some things are more intense and greater than others, but nothing is wholly raw, nothing is the plain and pure truth. Style in literature can make itself sound like it is the plain and pure truth and this is because the author wants to clobber you with the authority of the plain and pure truth he or she is emitting. Urgency and sincerity are real. But when people start talking bullshit about “a style stripped of artifice” they are talking bullshit. Style is by definition artificial. Much more importantly, writing’s artificial. Eating and talking and crapping and fucking and dying are natural."

Monday, July 07, 2008

"Valley Girl"

In Ron's review of Minnis, he calls her language "valley girl". Josh Corey said a similar thing about another Fence author Tina Celona a while back. I've heard this said here and there to implicitly criticize women poets. In almost all cases, very intelligent, odd women poets. I told Josh at that time that I found it strange his use of the term since to me it seems like an archaic phrase from the 1980s. But it's used with such frequency I wonder where it comes into poetry discussions? I'm mystified.

Gurlesque (a brief note)

There seems to be a lot of misunderstandings of "gurlesque" (and it appears I've only added to the confusion).

Gurlesque is not a movement (like Surrealism etc), it's a frame Arielle Greenberg thought up to read some of the most interesting contemporary poets in America (as possibly elsewhere).

I think the concept has promise, though it hasn't yet been made much more than a category. And if it includes both Mattea Harvey/Brenda Shaughnessy and Lara Glenum and Chelsey Minnis then it's too broad.

It seems the grotesque is a main element of this. And as in much recent history of the grotesque, an abuse of mass culture seems an essential part of it. The use of pop culture does not seem to be a simple parody (as often is the case) or nostalgia (perhaps even more frequent) but something more akin to Deleuze and Guattari's notion of Kafka's "minor literature" - Kafka doesn't attack Prague German but finds features that he exagerates in it. Thus the use of girly things (which I don't, as I stated below, know much about).

The grotesque and the gothic has throughout its history been associated with the tasteless, the un-natural and - since the 19th century - pop culture (which has been constructed as feminine and associated with prostitution) - there is something un-serious, low about the mode. And that makes a lot of people anxious - American Poetry still largely clings to the New Critical idea of poetry as "complex" and "elegant," the center of language and culture; somehow above the dirtiness of mass culture and capitalism.

I think "gurlesque" provides a possibly much more complex notion than Ron's "bad girl" concept. Ron seems to see no value in "shock" beyond the initial shock (just like Reginald Sheppherd sees not value in "avant-gardism" beyond some mythical first shock). A large part of that shock is a breaking of the formalist notion of the autonomy of the artwork. You can see that in how Minnis's book seems to have pushed Ron beyond his normally high modernist formalism toward a consideration of the social. And Arielle tries to work with this in her historical reading of these texts.

The shock is very important to Minnis, Reines and Glenum - but it's not Ron's idea of a first shock, the shock of bringing up a repressed reality. Rather it seems to me a self-consciously played-out shock, what happens to shock after the shock, almost a kind of boredom. So when Ron is disappoined that Minnis's shock is not frank but "coy" I would say he's right but that she's already a step ahead of him: she's playing with the notion of a played-out shock, a highly aestheticized (not "raw", not "true") shock. Sylvia Plath does something similar in the "striptease" that is "Lady Lazarus" - with its violence, pornography and tasteless genocide reference.

But I'd like to repeat that this is not a fully worked-out theory; it needs to do more yet. That's a strength.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Gurlesque (a few more notes)

A few more ideas (to add to my response to Angela's comment below), following a more thorough reading of the interview:

- I read the word "gurlesque" mainly as "grotesque" - as such my ideas what it represent goes through my canon of grotesque writers (Bakthin, Deleuze & Guattari, Bataille and the Documents group of Surrealists, Artaud, Aase Berg etc) and artists (Bellmer, Artaud, Hannah Hoch, Grosz etc).

- Kara Walker is key to my understanding of this idea. I love her.

- I made a link to Aase's and Matthias' manifesto from 1996 becauase it's a great example of a post-heroic (or post avant-garde) idea of subversion - they're not going to take over the welfare state, they don't speak from a grandiose outside position (as imaged by many contemporary American poets); rather they are going to find the grotesque inside the idyll, use the bodily metaphors of the welfare state to create zones of "lemur"-attacks.

- The trinketry of the grotesque - which I agree has to do with performativeness and gender - is not restricted to women poets. The last issue of Soft Targets was great for this - a class of mine made up a similar concept of "gurlesque" based on excerpts from the journal (Jon Leon, Ariana Reines, Lara Glenum, Nathalie Djurberg and some others).

- The trinketry also for me brings in Andreas Huysen's idea of After the Great Divide - how the historical avant-garde sought to change the relationship between "high" and "low" culture as part of its attack on the autonomous artwork - and Bakthin's notion of poetry as monoglossic (isolated, autonomous, perpetuating the illusion of a centrality to culture/language, "The American Poetry Wax Museum"). But yeah, I didnt have that childhood so I don't know anything about unicorns or Charley's Angels or the Patridge Family.

- The grotesque and (perhaps more so) the gothic have always been viewed as dubious because they have engaged with popular culture - they've been seen as lowly, feminine. Judith Halberstam's book on the Gothic, Skin Shows, talks about this dynamic pretty well.


Danielle Pafunda interviews Arielle Greenberg about "gurlesque." I'm in a not very computerized place but upon quickly scanning it I found out that I am a male hysteriac.