Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gingerbread Monument

Here's a new book I translated. It's really a collaboration between the poet Viktor Johansson and the photograph Klara Kallstrom (and me). It's an artbook so it's kind of expensive (40 bucks).

I'm going to try to publish some of the poems from the book and some others by Viktor. He's a young guy, the editor of ett lysande namn (a Swedish journal I've been in) and part of a very promising generation of young, heterogenous Swedish poets. Viktor's poems are in some ways Romantic lyrics, but I like them a lot. In ways perhaps they are reminiscent of some of the non-jokey, more lyrical poetry published in journals like Conduit and Forklift, Ohio etc.

Though today I feel like I am next going to translate Swedish Romantic poet Stagnelius (and with Romantic here I mean 19th century Romantic). He's got this great poem called "Till Forrutelsen" (To Decomposition, but as you may be able to tell, "decomposition" in Swedish is more like "rotting" so I may translate it as "To Rot" or "To Rotting"), in which he pleads for decomposition to basically tuck him into sleep in the ground. Very nice, erotic-macabre, atmospheric, opiumish.

LIterary History

Mark Scroggins is talking about Literary History.

How does one write a history of contemporary american poetry? Does it have one? Is it even desireable?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Disability & Poetry

Here is an entry on Belladodie on a disability & aesthetics discussion. Apparently Joyelle and I are not the only ones thinking along these lines. And this is why it would be nice to live in a city like San Francisco.

Ashwin Madia

Unbelievably my old home very Republican district in Minnesota may elect a Democrat to the House this year - the Indian-American, Iraq-War-veteran Ashwin Madia.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Register to vote

Final day to register in Indiana is October 6th.

It's funny so much is being talked about this or that debate. The most important factor to the outcome of the election is how many people the Democrats manage to register and how many Republicans manage to disempower. This should really be the key discussion in this election. In Michigan the Republicans are engaged in a severe campaign to keep people from voting. In Indiana there are 700 volunteer lawyers to keep people voting.

Gut Cult Flet

There's an insightful review of Joyelle's brilliant novel *Flet* in the new issue of Gut Cult, written by Shane McCrae.

Here's an interestingly tortured excerpt:

"It is possible to read *Flet* as a dystopian politcal novel, and that's sort of what *Flet* is. But more than that, it is a commentary on how dystopian novels are read, and how they ask to be read. That is to say, *Flet* reads as if it itself were reading a dystopian political novel and Flet behaves, at least in the first section of the book, as if she were struggling against reading her world as a dystopian political novel, while at the same time being on some level aware that her world is a dystopian political novel..."

Then he talks about how the second section becomes more difficult to pin down. And that's true, the second section is a totally brilliant Joycean collage of voices and perspectives (cartography, surveillance, paleontology etc). In other words, the kind of writing that usually causes reviewers to call men "geniuses" and women "excessive" or "incomprehensible" or some such. And indeed many reviews have argued that the novel is too difficult/frivolous and also "cliche" (McCrae's 'novel reading a novel' is a more thoughtful response I think).

I should also mention that there are other pieces well worth reading in the issue.

Maximum Gaga

This is the cover to Lara's new book. The artwork was done by Swedish artist Mia Makila.

This book has not yet been published. I just thought I would post the cover because I like it. The book will be published in a month or so.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Key Terms

Here is a list of the words from the titles of my essays and papers:

Welfare State
Variable Art
Mechanical Reproduction

Reading my CV one might thinks I'm a dubious person. I need to start writing happy things.

Exciting News!

We are pleased to announce the publication of our third book . . .

Refrains/Unworkings is Paul Foster Johnson’s first book of poetry. Juxtaposing Romantic ideology against a postmodern disregard for “found” or “authentic” meaning, where “everybody’s ontological investigation/ is guided by anticipated feelings,” these poems explore the social space of sound and rhythm and rhetoric. These are love poems, too, paeans so private and so simultaneously public, they evoke a contemporary return to Hart Crane’s White Buildings. Yet, the speaker here resists the totalities of lyric history and their familiar arguments of selfhood: Romantic Man of Taste, revenant noisemaker of the New York School, vatic observer of the Republic, gay poet. Every new utterance is already old—already within limiting quotation marks. Johnson’s clever answer to the problem is a complex recapitulation and revision of lines, phrases, sounds, and images, where even entire movements of a poem are “refrained” but re-contextualized in later poems. Nowhere is this more evocative than in the bookends of Refains/Unworkings. In the first poem, “Rhythmicon,” there is only the voice “without anchor,” a “birdsong of institutional being,” a voice wherein art is without purpose even while the urban bourgeoisie search for new theories of art. In the last poem, “Art of the Cities,” the same sentences of “Rhythmicon” form new lines within the context of polis and socius— post-9/11 New York City— where new construction ultimately leads to monumentally empty glass buildings and memorials to grief, perseverance, and failure.

Paul Foster Johnson is an editor at Litmus Press. With E. Tracy Grinnell, he is the author of the chapbook Quadriga (gong press, 2006). From 2003 to 2006, he curated the Experiments and Disorders reading series at Dixon Place. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

The book will be available from SPD shortly and Amazon.com shortly after that. In the meantime, you can send a check directly to me: $14.00 + $1.50 (shipping). So, please write a check to Mark Tursi for $15.50 and send to the following address:

Professor Mark Tursi
Department of English
2039 Kennedy Boulevard
New Jersey City University
Jersey City, NJ 07305

Lara Glenum/Don Mee Choi in Poetry/Politic

Lara's poem "How To Discard the Life You Have Now Ruined" is on Wave Books' "Poetry/Politic" website.

Lara has a new book coming out before the end of the year called Maximum Gaga. It's spectacular. Minds will be blown. Barely any poems from that collection have been published before.

Also, a few days ago an excerpt from Don Mee Choi's "The Morning News is Exciting" was on the website.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Strange: Antonin's Artaud "Spurt of Blood" is being performed at Notre Dame by students. Unfortunately it's all sold out.

Rauan Klassnik

Here's a nice little review of Rauan Klassnik's Holy Land (which I reviewed a while back). It's from a blog called Vernacular.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ito Hiromi to read in Kalamazoo

October 3rd, 4-5:30 pm

Japanese poet and performer Ito Hiromi will read in Kalamazoo.

This will certainly be the greatest show to hit the midwest in a long time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

NY Times on McCain Racism

Here's a good editorial on the racism of John McCain's campaign rhetoric. It gives the historical background to the McCain campaign charging that Obama is being disrespectful to (white woman) Sara Palin.

Any media outlet that does not criticize this form of racism (or that of showing Obama montaged next to Britney Spears etc) is complicit in the racism. As are all those TV shows where they'll debate the issue from a "fair and balanced" point of view (one extremist right-winger against someone who points out this obvious racism) - thus giving the impression that this may not be racism but legitimate politics.

The editorial goes with George Will's editorial quoted below in that they both point to John McCain's absolute lack of leadership: he's willing to sell any position (immigration reform, tax cuts for the wealthy, drilling) in order to appease the "base", he's willing to go to racism to get elected president, he's temperamental like a tantrum-prone child. Most talk about "leadership" and "is he presidential" have generally struck me as a way to avoid the issues, but it is highly relevant here. McCain is a guy we do not want to have leading the country for the next 4 years. The idea chills me.

George Will on John McCain

[Ultra-conservative columnist George Will skewers John McCain in today's Washington Post]

"Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama."


For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are "corrupt" or "betray the public's trust," two categories that seem to be exhaustive -- there are no other people. McCain's Manichaean worldview drove him to his signature legislative achievement, the McCain-Feingold law's restrictions on campaigning. Today, his campaign is creatively finding interstices in laws intended to restrict campaign giving and spending. (For details, see The Post of Sept. 17, Page A4; and the New York Times of Sept. 20, Page One.)


It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency....

Monday, September 22, 2008


1 book, 2 spines, 3 authors.

Ash Smith's WATER SHED

Also featuring a selection of images from TX artist/writer Roberto Ontiveros.

Limited edition copies are available here: http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=15222580

Standard edition copies are available here: http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=15438331

Sasha Steensen
is an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University. She holds a B.A. in History and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, as well as a PhD in Poetics from SUNY Buffalo. Steensen teaches poetry workshops, literature courses, letterpress printing, and bookmaking. She is the author of The Method(Fence Books, 2008), A Magic Book, which won the Alberta duPont Bonsal Prize (Fence Books, 2004), The Future of an Illusion (Dos Press, 2008), and correspondence (with Gordon Hadfield, Handwritten Press, 2004). Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals, includingDenver Quarterly, Aufgabe, Goodfoot, Free Verse, Slope, Shearsman, Shiny, and La Petit Zine. Her essays and reviews have appeared in journals such as Boston Review, Chain, P-queueand Interim. She is currently working on a hybrid project, which is part poetry, part memoir, part history of the Back-to-the-Land movement of the 1970's. Steensen is also co-editor of Bonfire Press (http://bonfirepress.colostate.edu), and she serves as one of the poetry editors for Colorado Review.
Steensen's work online:

Rosa Alcalá received her MFA from Brown University and her Ph.D. in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo. In 2003, Some Maritime Disasters This Centurywas published as a limited edition by Belladonna/Boog Books (New York).Undocumentaries, a selection of poems, is forthcoming from Dos Press. Her poems have also appeared in The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry, edited by Francisco Aragón (U of AZ Press, 2007), and Cinturones de óxido: de Buffalo con amor / Rust Belt Encounters: From Buffalo with Love, translated by Ernesto Livón-Grosman and Omar Pérez (Torre de Letras, La Habana, Cuba, 2005). Alcalá has translated Cecilia Vicuña's El Templo (Situations Press, 2001 ) and Cloud-net (Art in General, 1999). Her translation of Vicuña's essay-poem, "Ubixic del Decir, 'Its Being Said': A Reading of a Reading of the Popol Vuh," was published in With Their Hands and Their Eyes: Maya Textiles, Mirrors of a Worldview, Etnografish Museum (Belgium, 2003). Alcalá's translation of Bestiary: The Selected Poems of Lourdes Vázquez was published by Bilingual Press in 2004. Forthcoming is a co-translation (with Mónica de la Torre) of Lila Zemborain's Malvas Orquídeas del Mar/ Mauve Sea Orchids (Belladonna). She has also translated poems for the forthcomingOxford Book of Latin American Poetry. Her poems, translations, and reviews have been published widely in a variety of literary journals, including the Barrow Street, Brooklyn Rail, tripwire, Kenyon Review, and Mandorla. She has held artist residencies and has given talks and readings in the U.S., Spain, Cuba, and Scotland.

Alcalá's work online:

Ash Smith has lived mostly in Central Texas and the Rio Grande Valley where she has worked with environmental and educational programs. She is currently finishing a full length manuscript at Texas State University. Water Shed, from Dos Press, is her first chapbook.

Smith's work online:


325 Mill Rd.
Maxwell, TX 78656

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mushrooms or How I Ended Up Here

Mushrooms play a big role in my family. My mother's family at least. It goes back to Elias Fries, the great taxonomist. He also had several famous descendants, including my grandmother's grandfather, a doctor who gave his name to a big square in Göteborg.

Unfortunately, my grandmother's father did not quite measure up to his father. He was a pharmacist who became addicted to his own medicine, a "morphinist" as my grandmother called it, and ended up killing himself at a young age after ruining his family's finances.

My grandmother met my grandfather at a highly dubious political rally in the early 1930s. Soon thereafter she got pregnant and they had to marry. Then they had 5 children. My grampa spent his entire life in the army and then died when he was about 50 (before I was born). My grandma had a stroke a couple of years ago (she was about 95) and lives in a home. The woman next to her keeps shouting "Hello! Hello! Can you hear me?" My grandma says the woman thinks she's a little girl lost in the woods. An iconic figure in Swedish culture (See Daniel Sjölin's introduction to my Aase Berg book).

My dad's biological parents were a Scotts-Irish businessman and a Swedish woman of "ill repute" (very ill according to the adoption papers). He was adopted by an accountant who had married his maid. Unfortunately she died when my dad was about 10 and I don't think my grampa spoke a full sentence after that. He lived to be 99 based on a daily regiment of cognac and cigars. He had the best taste of any person I've ever met - the coolest suits, coolest home. When he died I stole a suit and a bunch of Strindberg books published in 1908 that had never been opened.

When I was growing up my dad was a journalist in Eastern Europe, which meant he spent a lot of time in jail. He got a little too involved and ended up smuggling people and secrets out of Eastern Europe, as well as hosting a meeting with the Croatian underground in our little rowhouse in suburban Sweden (resulting in bomb threats galore). By the time I was 6 or 7 I had hung out with Lech Walesa and numerous other legendary figures.

When my dad was home we spent a lot of time talking about the news. My favorite character - to my dad's consternation - was Ayatollah Khomeni. My dad had two coffee-table books that he told me stories from when trying to get me to sleep (I never slept, I always suspected people were trying to kill us): Stalin's reign of terror and Hitler's Third Reich (I'm not kidding).

Sometime in the early 80s, Swedish intelligence figured out that the KGB was trying to kill my dad. My dad has a framed copy of a newspaper frontpage of when this was leaked to the press (the headline is "The KGB's death list" and features an unflattering photo of my dad). So Swedish Television pulled him off the job and put him in charge of the Children's Newshour (which believe it or not was the most popular children's show on TV, that's Sweden for you). In this capacity he made a report that was heavily critical of the US (racism, poverty etc). In difference to the Soviet Union, the US did not try to kill my dad but invited him for a year long all-expenses-paid trip to the US. All across the country my dad met with Chambers of Commerce and got many job offers, in the end picking an ad agency in Minneapolis. He was totally brainwashed and to this day thinks Ronald Reagan was a great man.

My dad had really wanted to be a film director and to make up for his failure he planned to make me into one. When he was home we always watched movies and during the entire time he would meta-narrate the movie for me (notice the cut, now he's going to pan pan pan cut! etc). By the time I was 4 or 5 I had seen all of Hitchcock and most of John Ford. I still can't watch movies without hearing an inner voice saying "this shot is too long, we need a cut" (my dad's aesthetic is very ADD). This should explain many of my shortcomings.

I'm still scared of taking showers, of the snake beneath my pillow, of birds.

My mom worked at a plant nursery when I was growing up. But when she and my dad had met she was a very 1960s. When I was in 7-8th grade I began to read serious literature and it was her library I began to read: På Drift by Jack Kerouac, Muren by Jean Paul Sartre, Camus, Ginsberg etc. One day I decided to listen to her records. I turned on Highway 61 and I've been rewriting the lyrics from that damned record ever since.

I also have a brother. He tortured me every day of my life but he's grown into a good citizen who does layout for Advertising Age and occasionally for Action Books. He is a soccer lunatic. Goes to English soccer bars in NYC and starts brawls with Manchester U fans (since early childhood we've both been loyal Liverpool fans). He's married to a first generation Palestinian-American woman named Vicki, who works for Big Pharma (but nevertheless gets stopped in airports because her last name is Barghout). At their wedding I learned that the world's greatest pop music is Arabic.

Obama youtube


Palin probe has parallels to 2000 recount fight
AP Special Correspondent

This time, there are no hanging chads.

Yet the Republicans' drive to derail an abuse of power investigation against Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP vice presidential candidate, reflects the same determination and many of the same methods employed in shutting down the 2000 presidential recount in Florida.

Now, as then, the playbook includes lawsuits, the exercise of power by sympathetic state officials, and appeals to the court of public opinion - all in an operation directed by out-of-state Republicans.

[I used to think Palin was just a sideshow. But that was the only reason I heard for Republican support today in Indiana. "I like Palin." We got that. We also got tons of angry dogs barking at us while their owners preferred not to get out of their proverbial couches. There is no public space like a rabid animal.]

Friday, September 19, 2008

Reading this Sunday in Chicago

Poetry reading at Myopic Books

Sunday, September 21, 7pm – Mark Yakich & Johannes Göransson

Johannes GORANSSON is the author of three books of poetry and prose and the translator of Remainland: Selected Poems of Aase Berg, Ideals Clearance by Henry Parland, Collobert Orbital by Johan Jönsson, and With Deer by Aase Berg (the last two forthcoming later this year). He is also the co-editor of the press Action Books and the online journal Action, Yes.

Mark YAKICH is the author of Unrelated Individuals Forming a Group Waiting to Cross (National Poetry Series, Penguin 2004), The Making of Collateral Beauty (Snowbound Chapbook Award, Tupelo 2006), and The Importance of Peeling Potatoes in Ukraine (Penguin 2008). He is an associate professor of English at Loyola University New Orleans. Mark divides his time between the bedroom and the kitchen.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Selzer for Indanapolis Star/WTHR. 9/14-16.

McCain 44
Obama 47

Seriously, if anybody lives in Indiana or another state close-by, please come with me and Joyelle and Sinead to knock on doors on Saturday. If Obama wins Indiana, he'll win the election. (Assuming he keeps Michigan)

However, McCain is just pouring money into Minnesota, and he's closed the gap there.

Of course Minnesota has pretty much never gone Republican. It voted for both Mondale and Dukakis.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I'm quite fired up. I was just down at the Obama South Bend offices and the latest Indiana poll has Obama down by a mere 2 percent in Indiana. Joyelle and I are taking Sinead door-to-door talking on Saturday. Anybody who lives in Indiana is invited to join us!

Emily Hunt

I was just reading Emily Hunt re-Hummamenting of Tom Phillips's "Hummament" on Action, Yes. It's really fantastic.

Here's the beginning:

Um Um the following book
is a um um
my my
attempt to poke poke fiction.

I also wanted to call attention to Bruno K Oijer's poems from 1976 and the essay that explains some of his controversialness. Oijer is a hugely important figure in Swedish culture - not so much high culture as popular culture - a kind of Surrealist pop culture icon. His books are bestsellers and his reading tours are like pop music tours. The essay suggests an interesting moment in avant-garde studies: BKO assumed an avant-garde stance and was attacked by another kind of avant-gardists (who at that time was in control of high culture in Sweden): BKO's surreal/Mayakovsky/Beat - influenced poetry vs a collectivist/Marxist/"Sipmlicity". His poetry is deeply visceral and metaphor-proliferating; theirs boring and "factual", distrustful of poetic techniques. He was accused of irresponsibility and Americanism. Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem to him that I'll post if I find it.

Also, Bruno made these translations himself, before going to Nepal (he's become kind of mystical in the latter stages of his career).

Great ad from Obama

Ron on Joe Wenderoth

[I wrote the following comment on Ron's blog in response to a shocking misreading of Joe Wenderoth's new book, proving once again my theories about the monoglossic nature of much "experimental" poetry. Also it shows a strange misunderstanding of "quietude." Now I have often defended Ron's notion of quietude, but could it be that I totally misunderstood him? Or is it that Ron has no idea about quietude, other than it's what he doesn't like?]


Your misreading of "Twentieth Century Pleasures" is shocking. How on earth could this be "quietude"?? Your statements that the piece is "overwritten" "cliche" and a "clunker" are so normative and workshoppy. The proof is in the pudding: this clunkiness is the very anathema of quietude. Your reaction suggests you have much more in common with quietude than you would care to admit.

Look at the title. Could it be that we are in the realm of the intentionally tasteless? The narrative is of course over-the-top! Down syndrome, abuse, deafness. I read the end as a tasteless joke.

All of your language betrays an incredible amount of elitist aestheticism - it's tasteless, it's for a beginning audience. It's no *artful* enough. I am surprised that you have no self-awareness about making such claims.

But this is at the core of a poem like this (in difference to the other examples which seem far more lyrical, far more acceptable by quietist standards).

Perhaps you are right, this would make sense to an audience of non-specialists, who do not know that art is supposed to be smooth, lyrical, perfect, well-wrought; who are not officers to protect the purity of expression. Clearly it does not make sense to this specialist (you) who wants his poetry to be elegant.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

SPD Bestseller list (July/Aug)

July/August 2008

1. You Are a Little Bit Happier Than I Am by Tao Lin (Action Books)
2. Lyric Postmoderisms: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetries edited by Reginald Shepherd (Counterpath Press)
3. Complete Minimal Poems by Aram Saroyan (Ugly Duckling Presse)
4. The Balloonists by Eula Biss (Hanging Loose Presse)
5. The Transformation by Juliana Spahr (Atelos)
6. Whim Man Mammom by Abraham Smith (Action Books)
7. I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning Time by Kristin Prevallet (Essay Press)
8. Ballad of Jamie Allan by Tom Pickard (Flood Editions)
9. Night Scenes by Lisa Jarnot (Flood Editions)
10. Ajax by Sophocles, translated by John Tipton (Flood Editions)
11. The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You by Frank Stanford (Lost Roads Publishers)
12. The Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg (Black Ocean)
13. Dementia Blog by Susan M. Schultz (Singing Horse Press)
14. Vaudeville by Allyssa Wolf (Otis Books/Seismicity Editions)
15. Crystallography by Christian Bök (Coach House Books)
16. Newcomer Can't Swim by Renee Gladman (Kelsey Street Press)
17. Telescope by Sandy Florian (Action Books)
18. Dear Ra (A Story in Flinches) by Johannes Göransson (Starcherone Books)
19. Jubilee by Roxane Beth Johnson (Anhinga Press)
20. The Evolution of a Sigh by R. Zamora Linmark (Hanging Loose Press)

New issue of Action, Yes

ACTION,YES - Issue 8 is now available!
Our new issue features English translations of the work of Swedish poet Bruno K. Öijer, and an essay by Per Bäckström's about Öijer's magazine Guru Papers. We also feature multimedia contributions from Joe Wenderoth, Gibby Haynes, and Noah Eli Gordon.

Issue 8 also includes the work of:

Robert Archambeau
María Baranda and Joshua Edwards
Blake Butler
Amina Cain
Vernon Frazer
Emily Hunt
John Leon
Josh Maday
Doug Robinson
Kate Schapira
Mike Schorsch
Mark Tursi


Monday, September 15, 2008

Lorraine Graham visual poems


Also in her interview that accompanies these pieces she becomes the first American poet to mention Öyvind Fahlström.

Lifting Belly

Joyelle just came back from Lifting Belly Conference where she presented a paper on Hannah Weiner (which is forthcoming in Boundary 2).

I looked through the conference schedule and I found a lot of talk about innovation and challenging poetry but I couldn't find a single paper on a non-English-language poet. Lots of stuff about Lyn Hejinian and Jorie Graham, but nothing about anybody from elsewhere.

If you want to know what's challenging to academic critics, that's one place to look.

(Though I do know that Cathy Park Hong talked about Danish poet Inger Christensen.)

However, I would really really love to read this paper. I must try to contact the presenter:



Sharon Mesmer

Here's an interesting article by Sharon Mesmer.

She argues that poetry and poetic innovation has been bogged down by critical writing debating the debates of poetry.

My take on this is that Critical Writing about contemporary poetry seems largely uninterested in what is taking place in poetry except for such works that fits neatly into the current (old) critical paradigms held by criticism. Critics are very eager to embrace challenging poetry; but it's "challenging" poetry which doesn't challenge them at all! They are very capable of pointing out how challenging it is.

Part of the problem is no doubt the idea of "innovation" which now has become so stable and repetitive.

Even the idea that computer programs will be the new innovation seems like ancient sci-fi. Of course this also leads me back to my critique of Katherine Hayles's book on digital poetry, which seems so tired because it doesn't recognize for example Tao Lin's use of Internet persona, it can only recognize programs that go through the most expected movements (movements raised in large part on scholarly writing about innovation).

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Danielle asked me what I thought about the Gothic a while back. Well I just found this neat quote from Judith Halberstam's "Skin Shows," where the argument is that the Gothic is a kind of transvestite genre that undermines notions of normalcy and "natural" with its costumey excess.

The quote: “Gothic novels try to condemn the perverted/monstrous, but seem inextricably obsessed with the monstrous - & in the few moments that they are allowed to part – they show the constructedness of monstrosity, undermining the separation all together…”

This seems to fit David Lynch's films pretty perfectly. I just wrote an essay about Lynch for an anthology where I argue that all his films are warnings about the dangers of art.

Course Description

In case anyone is interested, here is the course description for my class, "Poetry Writing for Majors", for next spring:

This class assumes that poetry can be an exploration, not just a craft with rules to follow. In our wide-ranging reading and writing, we will explore the lyric poem, the prose poem, poetry as performance, video poetry, Internet poetry, poetry that works for social change, poetry that denounces all social relevance, public poetry, private poetry, poetry for the masses, poetry not meant to be read by anyone. To help us in this investigation will use contemporary books of poetry by young poets, such as Cathy Park Hong’s “Dance Dance Revolution” and “Eric Bauss’s “The To Sound.” But as those two titles suggest we will also explore how poetry can be influenced by or react to artforms and other material traditionally seen as outside of poetry. Most importantly, this class will explore the interests and obsessions of the members of the class. Weekly poems and three major projects will be required.

Cathy Park Hong

So I'm putting together my poetry writing class for next semester and I was looking up Cathy Park Hong's book Dance Dance Revolution and I found this hilarious review on Amazon.com:

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
1.0 out of 5 stars NOT DDR , September 11, 2008
By Chris Barnett "xopher" (little rock, ar USA) - See all my reviews


But the greatest part is that he still gave it one star!

Parland and translation

So I forgot to say: My argument about Parland was that it's already translation, but that it's all about embracing a kind of poverty of language. Usually when people talk about translation they fall into two basic categories: The Frost "Poetry is what is lost in translation" and the German Romantic "Translation widens our language." Parland famous said that he didn't want to translate Mayakovsky into Swedish because the Swedish language was too "poor" for Mayakovsky's fireworks. The important point is that Parland chose to write in Swedish, this impoverished language (though he spoke German and Russian much better). And this to me ties into his whole idea of "the ideals clearance." A poetics of inflation. And that's why Parland's idea of translation (and poetry) is more like Frost's idea, but he embraces that poverty.

Fred Hertzberg gave a talk on the American reception of my book and he analyzed my translations and David McDuff's translations. His basic view of these translations were perhaps that McDuff is very domesticating and mine are not especially domesticating. However, then he went on to this Venuti argument about how translation should estrange and offered his own translation which totally broke English syntactic rules and created strange neologisms etc.

I really think this points out a big weakness in Venuti's argument. I think he's great when he criticizes American anti-translation tendencies, but his idea of a translation that estranges so easily goes awry. In this case, Hertzberg actually ended up domesticating Parland several times over by trying to create an estranging translation.

To begin with he used an American translation theorist's ideas about estrangement (already domesticating). But also, his idea of estrangement involved making changes/disruptions in syntax and involving the materiality of the signifier etc - he was in essence using American late 20th century ideas of experimentation/estrangement.

The result was that Parland's poem in many ways was much less strange. Parland's strangeness has nothing to do with disrupting syntax (though that has a lot to do with Björling's poetry) and a lot to do with the uncomplicated, "poor" language - the language of exchange, not uniqueness.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Just had a funny thought. All these Marxist poets everywhere: I'm legally not allowed to be a Marxist. I've signed an oath. I'm also not allowed to be gay or have AIDS or be a terrorist.

Amy Goodman Arrested in Mpls

My hometown:

Though the best thing I've seen so far was Mark Novak's smiling daughter eating a lollipop in front of the riot squad.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Josh Corey

Responds to my statements about McCloud and him here.

I wrote a response to that response in the comment section.

It is funny that when I wrote that I did have thee thought: Why do I keep criticizing Josh Corey? And the answer I came up with was that he is close enough to my thinking that I think there's a purpose to responding to him (as opposed to numerous people I just can't respond to). Often Josh is a very perceptive critic who - from my point of view - just takes the wrong turn at the end of the street.

The Parland Archives

I learned a whole lot from the Parland archives. I'll include some random stuff here.

The archives are full of letters from Björling. Countless letters. And most of them plead and plead with Henry to be more kind to him and, repeatedly, "honest." Reading these letters it's hard not to conclude that they were more than friends, but for some reason Scandinavian scholars do not seem to want to talk about that.

Here's how one letter from Björling (1929) begins: "I had so wanted to talk to you and that you wanted to talk to me. It devastates me that you do not find reason to see me. You are so frequently dishonest to me and to yourself. And when others are around you feel the need to be fake, deceitful, lying, untrue. - Why not speak simply and honestly? Our smiles do not lie..."

But it was not all sex on my mind when I was reading through the letters and such. I also found out such gems as:

Joan Crawford is a "great actress".

John Mays movie "Asphalt" is one of the greatest Hollywood movies.

Sven Grönvall and Parland seemed to use the word "dada" to mean not just literature but also "everything is OK": as in "everything is dada". Which I think is brilliant.

Björling couldn't understand why Parland liked rhymed poetry.

Parland thought the seminal Dada journal Der Querschnitt was "boring."

Parland's dad thought Björling was a "parasite" and that his son had "sold" himself to Björling, who had "infected" his son with "spiritual degeneracy."

Parland's letters are full of "poems" the way Dickinson is full of poems:

Hawaii tonight at 8 (?).
Come to the People's House.
I'll take care of the tickets.


I still fight my finances. They seem to be independent of political borders, just as damned and undefeatable everywhere.


Hello, here are some random notes from the Henry Parland conference I participated in at the start of the week. All in all I had a good time - met a lot of interesting folks (including my old pals Julia and Sami, as well as the German translator of Aase Berg's poetry), and took a day to read through the Parland archives (more about that juicy bit later).

Stella Parland, Henry's brother's granddaughter, gave the opening talk, which was one of the most interesting of the conference. She's a young writer and artist and she talked about how Henry led her to a more cosmopolitan outlook and inspired her to get into Dada and such. We hung out later and she told me she was doing puppet theaters. I liked her a lot.

Per Stam, who is the most detailed well-researched Parland scholar of all time (the first person to really delve into the archives) presented an interesting paper going through Parland's drafts for his poems and showing how Parland cut cut cut everything back. many poems in Idealrealisation originally had several more stanzas.

Another interesting idea from Stam: he has concluded - based on the type and kind of paper - that Parland wrote his poems on Björling's typewriter.

This guy Leif Friberg gave an interesting talk about Die Neue Sachlichkeit and Fredric Jameson and Simmel's and Benjamin's ideas about the city causing various effects on the nervous system (he should have read Lennard Davis's new book about obsession).

(In Björling's letters he keeps telling Parland that Parland has "nerve sickness")

Johan Sundholm gave a good talk on film and Parland, using some Stanley Clavell book from 1971 that I haven't read, as well as Benjamin (I've written several papers on this, using Benjamin as well).

The Aase Berg translation I mentioned above (sadly I can't remember her name right now) also talked about film, pinpointing exact films Parland refers to in his work and in his letters.

A lot of people seemed interested in my translation of Idealrealisation. It was referred to several times and several people asked me outside of the events about Ugly Duckling and everybody wanted to buy copies of the book (unfortunately I had only 2 copies to bring). Fred Hertzberg's paper was basically one big analysis of my translations and of the reaction to the Parland and his Björling translation - showing why various writers like Bernstein and Silliman have placed them in American contexts and why that does and does not make sense.

McCain Sleaze Video

[From Paul Hoover and Leslie Scalapino]

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Real McCain

[Another insightful article from the New York Times. This is how I felt about McCain's schizophrenic speech: a speech that wanted to be everything, including both bipartisan and bitterly partisan.]

The Real John McCain

By the time John McCain took the stage on Thursday night, we wondered if there would be any sign of the senator we long respected — the conservative who fought fair and sometimes bucked party orthodoxy.

Certainly, the convention that nominated him bore no resemblance to that John McCain. Rather than remaking George W. Bush’s Republican Party in his own image, Mr. McCain allowed the practitioners of the politics of fear and division to run the show.

Thursday night, Americans mainly saw the old John McCain. He spoke in a moving way about the horrors he endured in Vietnam. He talked with quiet civility about fighting corruption. He said the Republicans “had lost the trust” of the American people and promised to regain it. He decried “the constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving” problems.

But there were also chilling glimpses of the new John McCain, who questioned the patriotism of his opponents as the “me first, country second” crowd and threw out a list of false claims about Barack Obama’s record, saying, for example, that Mr. Obama opposed nuclear power. There was no mention of immigration reform or global warming, Mr. McCain’s signature issues before he decided to veer right to win the nomination.

In the end, we couldn’t explain the huge difference between the John McCain of Thursday night and the one who ran such an angry and derisive campaign and convention — other than to conclude that he has decided he can have it both ways. He can talk loftily of bipartisanship and allow his team to savage his opponent.

What makes that so vexing — and so cynical — is that this is precisely how Mr. Bush destroyed Mr. McCain’s candidacy in the 2000 primaries, with the help of the Karl Rovian team that now runs Mr. McCain’s campaign.

Krugman's article on GOP (NY Times)

[This rings very true for me, especially it brings to mind those Young Republicans who attend college in the South - incredibly privileged and yet so angry at professors.]

The Resentment Strategy
Published: September 4, 2008

Can the super-rich former governor of Massachusetts — the son of a Fortune 500 C.E.O. who made a vast fortune in the leveraged-buyout business — really keep a straight face while denouncing “Eastern elites”?

Can the former mayor of New York City, a man who, as USA Today put it, “marched in gay pride parades, dressed up in drag and lived temporarily with a gay couple and their Shih Tzu” — that was between his second and third marriages — really get away with saying that Barack Obama doesn’t think small towns are sufficiently “cosmopolitan”?

Can the vice-presidential candidate of a party that has controlled the White House, Congress or both for 26 of the past 28 years, a party that, Borg-like, assimilated much of the D.C. lobbying industry into itself — until Congress changed hands, high-paying lobbying jobs were reserved for loyal Republicans — really portray herself as running against the “Washington elite”?

Yes, they can.

On Tuesday, He Who Must Not Be Named — Mitt Romney mentioned him just once, Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin not at all — gave a video address to the Republican National Convention. John McCain, promised President Bush, would stand up to the “angry left.” That’s no doubt true. But don’t be fooled either by Mr. McCain’s long-ago reputation as a maverick or by Ms. Palin’s appealing persona: the Republican Party, now more than ever, is firmly in the hands of the angry right, which has always been much bigger, much more influential and much angrier than its counterpart on the other side.

What’s the source of all that anger?

Some of it, of course, is driven by cultural and religious conflict: fundamentalist Christians are sincerely dismayed by Roe v. Wade and evolution in the curriculum. What struck me as I watched the convention speeches, however, is how much of the anger on the right is based not on the claim that Democrats have done bad things, but on the perception — generally based on no evidence whatsoever — that Democrats look down their noses at regular people.

Thus Mr. Giuliani asserted that Wasilla, Alaska, isn’t “flashy enough” for Mr. Obama, who never said any such thing. And Ms. Palin asserted that Democrats “look down” on small-town mayors — again, without any evidence.

What the G.O.P. is selling, in other words, is the pure politics of resentment; you’re supposed to vote Republican to stick it to an elite that thinks it’s better than you. Or to put it another way, the G.O.P. is still the party of Nixon.

One of the key insights in “Nixonland,” the new book by the historian Rick Perlstein, is that Nixon’s political strategy throughout his career was inspired by his college experience, in which he got himself elected student body president by exploiting his classmates’ resentment against the Franklins, the school’s elite social club. There’s a direct line from that student election to Spiro Agnew’s attacks on the “nattering nabobs of negativism” as “an effete corps of impudent snobs,” and from there to the peculiar cult of personality that not long ago surrounded George W. Bush — a cult that celebrated his anti-intellectualism and made much of the supposed fact that the “misunderestimated” C-average student had proved himself smarter than all the fancy-pants experts.

And when Mr. Bush turned out not to be that smart after all, and his presidency crashed and burned, the angry right — the raging rajas of resentment? — became, if anything, even angrier. Humiliation will do that.

Can Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin really ride Nixonian resentment into an upset election victory in what should be an overwhelmingly Democratic year? The answer is a definite maybe.

By selecting Barack Obama as their nominee, the Democrats may have given Republicans an opening: the very qualities that inspire many fervent Obama supporters — the candidate’s high-flown eloquence, his coolness factor — have also laid him open to a Nixonian backlash. Unlike many observers, I wasn’t surprised at the effectiveness of the McCain “celebrity” ad. It didn’t make much sense intellectually, but it skillfully exploited the resentment some voters feel toward Mr. Obama’s star quality.

That said, the experience of the years since 2000 — the memory of what happened to working Americans when faux-populist Republicans controlled the government — is still fairly fresh in voters’ minds. Furthermore, while Democrats’ supposed contempt for ordinary people is mainly a figment of Republican imagination, the G.O.P. really is the Gramm Old Party — it really does believe that the economy is just fine, and the fact that most Americans disagree just shows that we’re a nation of whiners.

But the Democrats can’t afford to be complacent. Resentment, no matter how contrived, is a powerful force, and it’s one that Republicans are very, very good at exploiting.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

One more post this morning!

[I got this in my email and I think it sums up my feelings about that mean-spirited, deceptive, utterly repulsive Republican convention. It was amazing to me that they seemed not to have a single idea, not a single policy matter, not a single thing of near-substance. All they could do was ridicule Obama for having been a "community organizer". Rudy laughed about it at the podium. I couldn't believe it; what repulsive behavior. Though another thing I should say is that the Republican mantra of "left-wing media" seems to be working. After that totally inept speech by Palin, which didn't include a single thing except mean, low-down attack on Obama, Wolf Blitzer called it a "grand-slam." Time for media to develop some spine and some critical faculties. We already have one Fox News, don't need any more of them.]

[Ok, here's the letter I got from the Obama camp]

Johannes --

I wasn't planning on sending you something tonight. But if you saw what I saw from the Republican convention, you know that it demands a response.

I saw John McCain's attack squad of negative, cynical politicians. They lied about Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and they attacked you for being a part of this campaign.

But worst of all -- and this deserves to be noted -- they insulted the very idea that ordinary people have a role to play in our political process.

You know that despite what John McCain and his attack squad say, everyday people have the power to build something extraordinary when we come together. Make a donation of $5 or more right now to remind them.

Both Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin specifically mocked Barack's experience as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago more than two decades ago, where he worked with people who had lost jobs and been left behind when the local steel plants closed.

Let's clarify something for them right now.

Community organizing is how ordinary people respond to out-of-touch politicians and their failed policies.

And it's no surprise that, after eight years of George Bush, millions of people have found that by coming together in their local communities they can change the course of history. That promise is what our campaign has been about from the beginning.

Throughout our history, ordinary people have made good on America's promise by organizing for change from the bottom up. Community organizing is the foundation of the civil rights movement, the women's suffrage movement, labor rights, and the 40-hour workweek. And it's happening today in church basements and community centers and living rooms across America.

Meanwhile, we still haven't gotten a single idea during the entire Republican convention about the economy and how to lift a middle class so harmed by the Bush-McCain policies.

It's now clear that John McCain's campaign has decided that desperate lies and personal attacks -- on Barack Obama and on you -- are the only way they can earn a third term for the Bush policies that McCain has supported more than 90 percent of the time.

But you can send a crystal clear message.

Enough is enough. Make your voice heard loud and clear by making a $5 donation right now:


Thank you for joining more than 2 million ordinary Americans who refuse to be silenced.


David Plouffe
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


I'm trying to finish my dissertation and on Saturday I go to Helsinki to talk about Henry Parland to the Finland Swedes, so I basically won't be posting any blog messages for a couple of weeks. But then I hope to come up with some new posts.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Tribes (2)

I will explain a little bit my aversion to McCloud's grid of classicist, animist, formalist and iconoclast.

I think it lends itself too easily to these kinds of mischaracterizations:

"My own natural orientation tends toward Formalist/Classicist, the two "headiest" tribes, but I often look with longing at the greener grass of the Animists and Iconoclasts, grubbing and hooting and blazing with passion and hurling their own feces at the looky-loos." (from Josh Corey's blog)

That is that if you're interested in seeing art as interacting with society (revolution or no revolution) you are somehow not artistic (you're just hurling feces) and not concerned with beauty, and I find that incredibly wrong. It also suggests that to see your work politically means you're kind of dumb ("hooting" vs "headiest").

This is - contrary to some - what my main objection to Corey's characterization of "The Cow" as "nakedly angry" was all about.

I mean: In order to think like this, you have to disregard the whole notion that artistic practices have political implications (Eisenstien's montage for example).

Now, I haven't read the McCloud book (I read "Understanding Comics" and I found it pretty underwhelming, though Joyelle is teaching it this semester in her visual/text class, but then she's teaching the Helvetica movie too.) and if Francois can be trusted, he says McCloud has some kind of new-age-ish deal about how we all must have these four inside ourselves, so perhaps I'm misrepresenting him. But whether or not we have all these insides ourselves, I think this kind of deal lends itself to cliche transcendent notions about art.

And as I said in the comment field below, I actually think Silliman's "quietude", however reductive it may be, is better because it attempts to take into account history and social dynamics of post-war American society and institutions. "Artistic tribes" don't exist in vacuum.

Monday, September 01, 2008


Can I just go on record to say that Scott McCloud's division of art into Formalist/classicist/animist/iconoclast is just about the most ridiculous thing I've ever read.