Monday, July 27, 2009

Reading in NYC featuring Abe Smith

Event: LDM NYC, Ep. 16
"Featuring Donald Breckenridge, Luke Dempsey, Abraham Smith, Yuka Igarashi, and more..."
What: Performance
Host: Literary Death Match
Start Time: Thursday, July 30 at 7:00pm
End Time: Thursday, July 30 at 10:00pm
Where: Bowery Poetry Club

[If you live in NYC, please go to this. Abe is an out-of-this-world reader.]

[Also, I'm heading to Sweden in a couple of days to see friends and participate in my cousin's wedding, so I will be even less active in my blog-writing.]

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bloof Books

[Bloof Books has published some super books over the past couple of years, and now they've got some new ones out that I look forward to reading:]

We've been sitting on this happy news far too long. Finally, we can share:

*************JOAN by Anne Boyer (Fall, 2009)*************

Anne Boyer is the author of The Romance of Happy Workers (Coffee House, 2008), Art is War (Mitzvah, 2008), Selected Dreams with a note on phrenology (Dusie, 2007), Anne Boyer's Good Apocalypse(Effing, 2006) and Odalisqued blog. Other projects include Abraham Lincoln Poetry Magazine and An Actual Kansas Reading Series.

An excerpt:


This story recounts how and why my body should often have turned to dust, for beginning when I was six months old, I dropped from the sky. My mother was very busy working in the field, so I came out of her abdomen. The newspapers named me Joan. The doctors said I wouldn’t live past three.

I wheezed and coughed in my sleep, and my parents took me to my pediatrician for advice. He thought it would be good to remove my pins and screws. The doctors operated on my clitoris and realigned my urethra so I could wee from the same place other girls do. On holiday in Portugal when I was six months old one of the locals told Mom what a handsome boy I was. The starter studs went in the day that we arrived. [...] {Read more at our blog: }

****POETRY! POETRY! POETRY! by Peter Davis (Spring 2010)*****

Peter Davis is the author of Hitler's Mustache (Barnwood, 2006), editor of Poet's Bookshelf and Poet's Bookshelf II (Barnwood, 2005 and 2007), and the writer/cartoonist ofthis blog. He teaches at Ball State University in Muncie, IN.

An excerpt:


I mostly feel inferior. Many of you are smart and good looking and, more importantly, obviously very “cool.” Some of you have won something prestigious or went to some super great school or something. I like to think that I am very “cool” but I question myself sometimes when I am around you. Other times, I feel that you are pretentious or too serious or too something or too stupid. Sometimes I feel superior to you. Sometimes I don’t enjoy being with you because all of us can be so self-conscience. This makes for some awkward stuff sometimes. Thank goodness we all drink so much! {Read more at our blog: }

********The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway
by Jennifer L. Knox (Fall 2010)********

Jennifer L. Knox was born in Lancaster, California—once crystal meth capitol of the nation, and home to Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and the Space Shuttle. She received her BA from the University of Iowa, and her MFA in poetry writing from New York University. She has taught poetry writing at Hunter College and New York University. Her books Drunk by Noon and A Gringo Like Me are both available from the Möthershipp that is Bloof Books. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 1997, 2003 and 2006, Best American Erotic Poems, Great American Prose Poems: From Poet to Present, and Free Radicals: American Poets Before Their First Books.

An excerpt:

Burt Reynolds FAQ

Burt Reynolds is the son of six grizzly bear brothers and the Holy Goddess of Cherry Trees. He was born from his mother's nose, which ensures lifelong charisma. Before he could walk, alligators would gather to watch him wrestle other babies. He excelled at all sport--especially football, baseball, gymnastics, rugby, tennis, archery, swimming, sailing and horseback riding. At school, he was not the brightest student in the class, but he was the luckiest: Whenever the teacher called upon him, he would guess the answer correctly. When he was seven, he grew his first mustache, which wealthy older women fought for the privilege of combing through with gold paint. He was made a general in the President's Army, but on the eve he was to leave for battle, robbers clobbered his knees with a tar-covered club. Burt was crushed because his knees were crushed, but he never cried. The president's queen said, "Stay here and read me stories," because he was also the most talented storyteller in the land. He rose to great power, which made the priests and princes jealous. After the night a murderer poured mercury into his ear as he lay sleeping, he became The Lion Who Did Not Want to Be Loved. But the people would not let him not be loved. Neither would Burt be pinned. The match is still going--no one knows who will win. At night Burt returns to his home on the edge of a fire pit with a lush green yard full of tigers waiting for him to read a story, like the old days. Burt does not believe he'll have no need for toupees in heaven. In summer, his mustache still grows unruly with lily of the valley. {Read more at our blog: }

Hot list! We hope you're as excited as we are. Next up: A giveaway next week featuring Sandra Simonds' Warsaw Bikini.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kate Durbin

Kate Durbin leaves lots of interesting comments on this blog.

I recommend going over to her own blog which is full of striking images.

And here's a link to her work in Drunken Boat; it's great; it reminds me of the "automanias" by Sara Tuss Efrik.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jack Smith ("simply too much" #2)

Thisis what I"m writing about this morning. It's *really* "too much" (and hilarious):

{I remember this one being in technicolor:]

Another good blog

Good review of American Hybrid and, further down, some awesome artwork.

Question about B-movie

So I'm writing this essay and I want to talk about a B-movie I really like. It's got this gang of biker girls who are attacked at the beginning of the movie by a gang of biker boys. And then spend the entire rest of the movie trying to exact their revenge. Anybody know what it's called?

Monday, July 20, 2009

"It's simply too much..."

I'm writing an essay that connects the Gurlesque, trash aesthetics, homosexuality and b-movies. Aase Berg, Chelsey Minnis, Dodie Bellamy, B-movies, gay porn, Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, Walter Benjamin, Bataille and Godard's "Le Weekend" star in it. I was surfing around on the Internet and I found this mini review by somebody named "Logan Ryan Smith" of Lara Glenum's "The Hounds of No" on "Goodreads." It's perfect, and I think I will start out my essay by talking about it.

Here's it is:

"Recommends it for: HOT TOPIC SHOPPERS
If Marilyn Manson was a slightly more sophisticated writer, I imagine this book represents what he'd turn out. It's simply too much affectation, and I didn't buy it. It felt forced and faked."

I like this review in large part because we can in this little throwaway piece of policing snobbery see not only the prevailing conservative aesthetics of the American poetry establishment, but also, interestingly, an intuitive grasp of the aesthetics and politics of the sensibility of “the Gurlesque.”

We see, the ideal of poetry as elevated above American consumerism and mass culture; the illusion that poetry offers a refinement that allows poets and readers of poetry a way out of the tasteless machinery of the culture industry. We also find the common rhetorical trope (found most recently in Both Steven Burt's book "Close Calls with Nonsensense" and The American Hybrid - as well as in the lurid coverage of the Michael Jackson death) that "too much" is “affectation” and unnatural ("forced"); and with it the valorization of a moderate poetry that is somehow not fake but natural. This is part of an prevailing idea that true poetry cares for an interiority, protecting it against the onslaught of crass modern mass culture (Marilyn Manson, Hot Topics). And finally we see a very insightful comparison to Marilyn Manson, a gender-bending, gothic, low-culture performer who was the famous scapegoat of the all-American violence of the Columbine Shootings.

The fact of the matter is that Smith gives a pretty good encapsulation of the tendency or sensibility in contemporary poetry that Arielle Greenberg has identified as “gurlesque,” a wide-ranging group of poets who tends to be “veering away from traditional narrative, and each employed a postmodern sense of humor, invoking brand names and cultural ephemera.” In an interview with Danielle Pafunda, Greenberg describes this cultural ephemera as

… the super-saccharine romance iconography of a 70s girlhood; unicorns and rainbows socks and sunsets painted on vans, and then don’t forget the popular culture whispers of sexual “swinging,” or the trickle-down androgyny chic of glam and disco…”

That is to say, a sensibility which in spite of the established “rules” of poetry embraced the “forced and faked” nature of the crass and tasteless (Marilyn Manson for example), engaging with – rather than controlling – the “contamination of affect” that we find in a lot of mass culture, especially film.

This recycling of the tasteless has taken place before, most notably perhaps, in the Surrealism of France in the 1920s and 30s. As Walter Benjamin writes in his essay on Surrealism:

"[Breton] was the first to perceive the revolutionary energies that appear in the “outmoded,” in the first iron constructions, the first factory buildings, the earliest photos, the objects that have begun to be extinct, grand pianos, the dresses of five years ago, fashionable restaurants when the vogue has begun to ebb from them… No one before these visionaries and augurs perceived how destitution – not only social but architectonic, the poverty of interiors, enslaved and enslaving objects – can be suddenly transformed into revolutionary nihilism… The bring the immense forces of “atmosphere” concealed in these things to the point of explosion."

As Benjamin recognized early on (and theorists like Andreas Huyssen has expanded on since then) was the way the historical avant-garde opposed the disinterested art of introspection of the bourgeoisie by engaging with the burgeoning mass culture. What made Surrealism particularly interesting here is their use of the crassly out of style and lowbrow.

I think it's interesting that the wildness of the Internet tends to be seen as a way for anarchic forces to be brought into poetry, but mostly it has given platforms for conservative voices to police police police.

By the way: "Hot Topics" connotes un-stylish, slightly out of date right? There's a store in our mall.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In Praise of Virgins

For those who have asked me recently, there are 4 copies left of my chapbook "In Praise of Virgins" from Powell's, I was just informed.

Elias Fries

Although Ron Silliman and I have very little in common when it comes to aesthetics, I am strangely pleased that he today discusses a sentence that refers to my great great (etc) grandfather Elias Fries, mushroom taxonomist.

Members of my mom's family still occasionally go to the Fries Family reunion, though - as readers of this blog may recall from a few months ago - our connection to the family is dubious, as my grandmother's father was something of a black sheep of the family due to his morphine addiction, squandering of the family finances, and subsequent suicide. As a result my grandmother had to work as a maid of sort, taking care of the kids of a cousin.

And there were only more scandals from there on out (fascism, out of wedlock pregnancies etc).

Starcherone sale

[I'm going to do this deal. You should too! And get my "Dear Ra" while you're at it:]

In March, Starcherone introduced its new annual subscription, The Jack Kerouac Just Sent Mom Out for Another Bottle of Tokay Annual Subscription, offering 4 books from our 2009-10 season, delivered, for $75.

In June, we discounted this to $60.

Now, we've gone down to our final markdown price of $49.95!! (A $96 value, nearly half-price!)

Order here:

Our 2009-10 season looks to be our most complete and exciting yet.

Fall 09: Donald Breckenridge - You Are Here: a novel, and Janet Mitchell - The Creepy Girl and other stories

Spring '10: Raymond Federman - Shhh: the Story of a Childhood, and Leslie Scalapino - Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows

Breckenridge is the Fiction Editor for The Brooklyn Rail, and this novel was excerpted in BOMB. Mitchell is the winner of our 5th manuscript contest, and her first collection is "a work of outrageous, much-needed literary ambition" (Ben Marcus). Federman's Shhh is the first English-language publication of a novel that was a "book of the year" in France in 2008. And Scalapino, long associated as a poet with the L:A:N:G:U:A:G:E School, has written a startling novel of rare intensity in Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows.

(You can also substitute titles by making a note on your order.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bruno K Öijer

I'm kind of writing an essay someone asked me to write about the gurlesque. Well it's about the relationship of the gurlesque to Plath and B-movies and Jack Smith, and it talks about Lara, Dodie Bellamy, Aase Berg and Chelsea Minnis.

But I can't work anymore tonight because I'm tired and because I started to read the big collected poems of Bruno K. Öijer (b. 1951), by far the most popular poet in Sweden over the past 50 years. A kind of gothic-surrealist Ginsberg (Ginsberg actually gave him a blurb of sorts back in 1975) with his own punk band and a "touring schedule". Incredibly influential on not just poetry but also culture at large. (For example, my favorite band in the 1980s, Imperiet, not only covered one of his poems, but were clearly influenced in their imagistic/metaphoric decadent style).

Here are some of his poems he translated for Action, Yes.

He published his first book when he was 21 ("Song for Anarchism", 1973). And then the next year he published "Photographs of the Apocalypse's Smile", which includes the poem "Sweden" (which prompted me to write this entry); here's a rough translation of the ending:


It is YOU who is alive
the others don't even dare to look up
we pat down the bodies all over
you push in the ears
& hear
how poorly they sing
the buses start up, everyone shouts
"come in"
you continue down the steps
with the animal skeletons
further down
toward the newborn children
who have been bricked into the air

[the lines got messed up - they are supposed to be spread out]

Per Bäckström has a piece in the same issue of AY about Öijer's reception.

It's a very interesting reception and it pertains to a lot of discussions we've had on this blog recently. At that time, Swedish cultural life (and especially poetry) was largely run by Marxists who had real trouble with him, constantly accusing his poetry of being "bourgeois" because of the excess of images/metaphors. (An interesting aside: they were largely middle-class cultural bureaucrats with university training, Öijer was the child of a working class single mother.).

Anyway, I love his poems, especially his early stuff. It's got heavy doses of Surrealism, Mayakovsky, the Beats, and Dylan in it. So basically all the good stuff.

Here's a youtube clip (I love the drama, and he's one of those types who has memorized every single poem he's every written; I can't even remember my own name):

Sunday, July 12, 2009


"The persecuted surrealists will be found in cafe-chantants taking advantage of the confusion to peddle formulas for infecting images." (Louis Aragon, Paris Peasant)


I just wanted to clarify that I'm not writing about Breton &Co, not writing about the Surrealist movement, or artists who necessarily have anything to do with Surrealism.

I'm interested in the way "Surrealism" has come to be used as a criticism of abjectness and excess.

So that for example, in the new apr, Tony Hoagland criticizes a bunch of young writers for being too surrealist when their writing has not a crumble of surrealism about them.

Of course, this use of "surrealism" is not entirely arbitrary. Breton's inspiration came largely from ducking in and out of movies with Jacques Vache, creating their own montage of sorts. So, that may be a connection between the iconophilia of MJ I discussed below and the imager-saturatiaon associated with Surrealism. Surrealism was always very inte the slightly archaic and the grotesque. For exmaple they would write all this stuff about sensationalistic murders. They loved ugly old, tasteless buildings etc.

Also, I now realize I was wrong about Edson and I will check out some of texts Steve mentioned in the comment field. But again, it's not really Edson I'm interested in as much as the treatment of him.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Johan Jönson

Here's an excerpt from a piece about Johan Jönson on the Swedish blog Brytburken (which seems to be mainly about music):

"Some works continue, refreshingly undisguised, into Johan Jönson’s books of “poetry”; some jargon from Heiner Müller, some drug-and-sex-metaphysics from Burroughs, and some concepts from Deleuze, Virilio, and others. However, it is also possible to absorb him as death metal, grindcore, Skinny Puppy, Meshuggah, Autechre, Merzbow. That is probably the interpretation that will get you the closest to these books."

Exessive/Surreal Jackson (some more thoughts)

Let me explain a little better my feelings about Michael Jackson.

The various articles I've read in Newsweek, People etc replicate the model I noticed in the initial article in NY Times, in which the writer wanted to divide MJ into the talented, musical, spontaneous and *natural* performer of the early work and the unnatural, decadent, grotesque, excessive (it's all about how much he spent, how much he cared about his face, how excessively sheltered his children were etc) and most of all - Pathological.

It especially interests me that the word "surreal" is repeatedly used to define this second MJ. The word Surreal has gained incredibly currency as a negative in our culture! In our ridiculously hygienic society, "surreal" seems to mean a lot more than Breton &Co, it seems to mean almost exclusively the excessive and pathological.

(I remember when the World Trade Center happened, everybody said it was "surreal.")

This same pathologization of the word "surreal" is rampant in poetry. In the latest APR, Tony Hoagland extols the virtues of Dean Young but warns that his young followers are too prone to surrealist excesses. Young's inheritance has to be policed! "Surreal" was the word Stephen Burt used to describe "elliptical" poets that went too far, that became excessively elliptical, in his "New Thing" article. Jon Woodward is quoted in that article criticizing "candy surrealism" (surrealism is useless candy,not nutritious vegetables of "new thing" poetry).

After a while one starts to wonder what the deal is. Why is everybody warning against surreal things. It seems to mean nothing much more than excess itself.

Here's an excerpt from an interview with poet Eric Baus from jacket: "I was reacting against my own tendency toward bombastic image-based Surrealism that had come into the first book. I wanted to strip things down, to have more silence and space around the images and ideas in the poems."

This is one of the craziest quotes I've read in a long time. Eric has to be nuts to think his first book is "bombastic"! Nobody who's read that book would ever mistake it for "bombastic," but in the current culture, surrealistic equals excessive.

And it is not accidental that this quote is led up to with the story about going the graduate school (and becoming more refined). There seems to be little thought about why one should be refined or why the image is unrefined.

Eric's quote also ties in with the anxiety about "the image" - that uncontrollable thing that almost inherently seems to lead to excess. Deleuze talks about the "contamination of affect" in one of his cinema books. I think that's related to the pathology of imagery and Surrealism. An anxiety about the powerful ways that the image communicates.

The interesting thing about the image is that Perloff &Co accused the Quietists of being image-based, and I think that has something to do with our sense that the image is unrefined these days. I remember at Iowa people kept praising poets for not using imagery - with little or no understanding why that should be so good.

It does seem unrefined. Not high culture. Afterall, the movies are all imagery all the time (insert your favorite Godard quote here as a counter view). And as I have repeatedly pointed out on this blog, the need for poetry to provide a shelter, a refined alternative to mass culture is one of the main pieces of American poetry rhetoric - from the New Critics to Cole Swensen's intro to The American Hybrid.

(Obviously there is a critique of imagery and spectacle, but my point here is that the actual critique doesn't seem to enter into most discussions. It is merely referred to as crass and tasteless, "bombastic".)

Interestingly the typical Quietist poetry has very little imagery; or I should say, very little imagery of interest. From my experience with workshops, the image has to be "earned," that is it has to be controlled, made productive, keep it from excess. Usually it is allowed to be put in at the very end, in the epiphany, where the poem has earned it. The protestant/bourgeois notion of purchasing is important (as opposed to the pathological of Bataille's notion of the unproductive expenditures).

In the mfa workshop, "silence" is much more valued than crassly "bombastic" images.

This all comes together in the somewhat contradictory urge in both Michael Jackson and his critics to be at the same time iconophobic and iconopilic; both face and mask; the constant looking that accompanies Jackson (through death).

And perhaps most importantly: the scopophilic nature of the late Jackson. The NY Times critic was opposed to the moonwalk because it did no seem raw and natural - it seemed unnatural. Unnatural like a movie is unnatural: that is it is so much like life and yet it is not real. It's the uncanny of the puppet.

(An interesting sidenote I think is the way fear of puppets erupted in the early 20the century I believe that has something to do with the anxiety about the cinematic image/mechanical reproduction - both real and not real. In several plays/movies etc, the puppet stand in for the threatening other, though usually proletariat; in this case it seems to have to do with androgeny and race. Perhaps Michael should have called himself pinochio rather than peter pan.)

His very personal presence seemed to be always already filmed,thus always already art (thus the Beuys-like relics). Thus he seemed to embody all kinds of fears about the cinematic image. He had no interior, he was all affect, movement etc. Even his sexuality seemed like it was choreographed. He was the constant purveyor of what cinema critics have called "visual fascination".

[I realize this is a very incomplete post. It seems that the commentators on this blog understand the Jackson phenomena better than me, so feel free to comment. I'll try to take some time over the next couple of days to explain myself better.]

[Also, I should note that I quite like both of Bauss's books. It's not his poetry I have a quarrel with, but with the sensibility he conveyed in the interview.]

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Johan Jönson in translation

Swedish poet Johan Jönson's Collobert Orbital (translated by Johannes Göransson) is now available from Displaced Press and at SPD Books.

Here are the (great) blurbs:

If Vicente Huidobro met Georges Bataille on a Waste Management(R)truck, the result might be something akin to Johan Jönsson's Collobert Orbital, the new manifesto of "the waste-disposal-working-class." At times soaring across "aerospatiality," at others existentially grounded in "an overheated world factory" of "all work, all healthcare, all logistics," Jönsson's linguistic propulsions and dynamic formal innovations challenge "a victorious bourgeois poetry order" to, once again, rearticulate verse experimentation to the politics and poetics of working a day job.

- Mark Novak


DNA bonanza contaminant reverie, target overhead. Flock to revelator gridded up to have no stake in history. See that their grave is kept clean. Fatalize wrong, upend amphetamachinic tort. Zero immunity. Cology — hyperplex mini flair, underalphabetic biodebt. Ssay. I couldn't remember the advanced memory formula. Dunno ergo soma. Autoquadrilateral & exogeneric, the transparencies regroup. Law intuition anything uncocked reason craters. Eco rad mono dead with note attached, incalculably inorganic property of the object continuity you just heard — the world, overtime. Mooniac, tricked-up torso love before discharges false dichotomies start stuttering. Ahysterical — swiftest closeup transplant nude spatiality. "To speak an ecstatic technology." The flattest are the busiest arterial munchies. Sextras: bend them over. Faster buckle conjure against choice as surrogate overheating extinction as obliteratable chew. Speed mash mouth lexicon amphetamaneuver. The goo goo amok, self torture broad-minded guts — interzonad gaffered all over you. Put tools in your face. Overdifferent anti-creamery daub up name. Existential logistics: a porous will, a rectal will suckling finality. Mutate epithet or no ending belowgistics. Buzzerless blisscharge, cuties with fists pry open your syllables. Cunnilanguage, cunnilanguish — hope, a surgical implant. Wishful stun: harmony is a warning where anything can breathe. Poppy, missile! Safe, natural, bombing run — victory post-mortem lab blubber. Difference gets you dead. Prey unwriting rumba complicity radio spook you white on white disgust. Whiteous coke on scalpel socialized ice cream. The larval class: vote yes. Cattle reward you, interzonked Fanonical swearing in cattle corporation. Dark retro, subtlety reverses it up the ass. Wage labor, context meltdowns. War — short term memory loss. You think about a lot of things when you're insoluble. Reptility: turn gold into cash. PEWS (Political Economy [of the] World System) refusal mash-up. Organize the slaves to vaporize hegemon. Any accident would be one ending.

- Bruce Andrews

Michael Jackson

I've been reading all the Michael Jackson coverage and it's fascinating, particularly in the apparent need to police his artistry - to locate a true innocent Jackson that is the great artist who then descends into a superstardom of grotesquerie and criminality.

It is interesting to me how the condemnations are so similar to condemnations used in the poetry world: shallow, grotesque, surreal, childish and most of all, excessive.

Also: I saw this spread with his clothes and stuff and it was so reminiscent of the displays of Joseph Beuys pieces that you can see at the Walker, or their room devoted to Matthew Barney relics. Life as performance.

Also: Perhaps the saddest part of the whole thing was when his parents got to his kids and finally unmasked them. Michael seems to have spent his life turning his own face into a mask and then to constantly cover up the faces of his children, but as soon as he died there go mom and pop and uncover the faces.

Clearly there's something really interesting going on with faces, fame and the grotesque. I just don't know enough about this subject matter to make an interesting observation.

I never liked Michael Jackson as a music composer or singer. During the "thriller" era of the early 1980s my Swedish friends an I were listening to Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Kraftwerk and such. (We were pretty uncool in retrospect. Though we thought we were very cool.)

However, I watched a documentary made a few years ago by a British guy who followed Michael around Never Land and it was really fascinating. I especially liked when the guy got Michael to bust out and do some dance moves and the moves just blew me away.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


I have trouble getting at all interested in Poetry Magazine's latest manufactured "controversy" about Conceptual Writing, but let me add a couple of cents.

In about 1972 or so, the very conservative journal Triquarterly had a special issue devoted to conceptualism - featuring Beuys, Smithson and others. It's pretty much awesome. And I have a couple of points to make about that.

To begin with, conceptualism to Triquarterly did not mean to import or adapt ideas of the visual arts to poetry. Kenny Goldsmith has been calling for poetry to imitate art from the 1960s; but it seems to me a much more radical and interesting to follow Triquarterly's suit and see conceptual art as already poetry (not needed to be adapted to poetry). (I'm really interested in this art, but I'm also intersted in art since then.)

This issue has however a touch of retrospective about it. A better comparison might be the Swedish journal Gorilla (1966-67), a journal that is involved in conceptual art, counter culture (LSD etc), media criticism, poetry, happenings, McLuhan, arhictecture, the Internet. Featuring Burroughs, Fahlstrom, Hodell (who wrote an entire "novel" that was merely the instruction manual of a sewing machine) and political critique. It's just about my favorite publication of all time.


My post below did bring up some pretty basic points.

For one that the change in literary taste (as Kent suggested in his post) is not just a change in writing styles but a change in reading approaches, and that literary criticism and academic writing is now more important to poetry than it was just a few years ago.

Either Language Poetry's entrance into the academy led to a more theoretical or academic approach; or Langpo's institutionalization was merely a sign of that change.

There is not only little criticism on Edson, I get the impression that there was little criticism on any contemporary poetry for some time. (This is a totally unscientific observation, ironically). This may have something to do with the now crumbling regime of quietist workshopism- poems were not to be discussed academically but in a workshop setting which was supposed to be about getting rid of the rough edges.

[If there's anything surprising about Edson it's that he was ever allowed - however peripherally - to become known in this quietist system. Though, as I noted below, the way he was brought into the discussion was as a loopy writer of the unconscious, and he was not ever made a model but a funny aberration. Not a serious writer!]

When practicing poets are involved in the writing of the academic studies of contemporary poetry, it makes sense that you get something like "conceptual writing" which seems to be made to be subjected to academic study.

See Kenny Goldsmith's little one-paragraph cliffnotes whose aim is clearly to convince/explain to academics and undergrads that one can teach/write papers about these works - look! It's easy! Here's how you teach this material! How you write a paper about it!

Edson is certainly not poetry that lends itself to that model of criticism (something subverts gender, something points out this or that about the urban geography etc). It takes another form of criticism.

However, as I noted, Deleuze and Guattari and many scholars have written about Michaux (and Par Backstrom has a two-part essay about Michaux and the grotesque in the new Action, Yes, continuing into the next issue); another kind of criticism could do interesting things with Edson, but it wouldn't fit in with the model of criticism you see in Goldsmith's little cliffnotes or those cliche essays you get 90 percent of the time at academic conferences that are based on writers subverting gender roles etc.

I tend to appreciate the move away from quietist workshop methods of reading to a more critically aware framework, but I also think there doesn't seem to be much awareness about the implications of this change and the possible influences of the academic setting (I remember a friend of mine telling me that he was not an academic poet merely a poet who happened to work in the academy, but things are not as simple as that).

(OK. I"ve got to go take care of my daughter, but I'll try to get somewhere in the future.)

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Russel Edson

I've spent a couple of days proofreading Laura Wright's translation of Henri Michaux's classic "La vie dans les plis," which Action Books is putting out this fall/winter. Amazing book. Just kills me.

A somewhat lesser (less spectacular, less perverse) American version of early Michaux is Russel Edson. With a view of the way "Conceptual Writing" seems to have been manufactured as topic of academic study, and fit so neatly into current academic study, it's interesting I think that Edson has been such a profoundly influential and popular poet over the past 50 years (and just recently received a handsome collected in Swedish translation), and yet he never seems to be discussed at academic conferences or in academic journals. (in difference to Michaux, whose work is discussed in book after book, and who gets mentioned by Deleuze and Guattari with some frequency)

What makes that even strange is that two of the most famous contemporary American poets - Simic and Tate - are hugely influenced by him. In fact the now somewhat dreadful genre of "the prose poem" seems almost entirely to be written in the astrological sign of Edson. In the 80s and 90s there was a poetry journal called The Prose Poem that was pretty much a monument to Edson's influence.

[Come to think of it: when was the last time I saw an article or went to a paper that treated either of those two, Tate and Simic, very famous and influential poets?]

It was kind of gross, the monotony of that journal. And maybe that's partly the answer to my question. Neither Edson nor his hordes of followers seem to develop - they're in a state of arrested development. Edson has been writing the same poem for decades. Prevalent notions of poetry seems to demand development, evolution etc. Usually I'm opposed to that arch-obsessed view of art (related as it is to Hollywood movies having characters who change, or are changed by some important event). But in this case there may be a point; so much of the followers are just so incredibly repetitive.

But I also think his view is fundamentally incompatible with academic appreciation in various ways: the violence is problematic. He can't be turned into a feel-good idea of progress or social critique. Etc.

I don't know much about Tate (as I have confessed before on this blog), but he does seem to be someone who was able to develop his own take from Edson. I still think Edson is a better poet, but Tate's most recent book - in which his vacuous narrator finds himself as a torturer at Abu Ghraib - seems truly original and frightening (I haven't read teh whole thing yet).

Among my generation, I could mention Ron Klassnik and Black Ocean, Mark Tursi's book "The impossible picnic", and Tursi's journal Double Room, and perhaps his co-editor Peter Connors's anthology pp/ff (which I'm in, I admit it Max!) as some places where Edson's influence and "The Prose Poem" might be moving in some place more interesting.

Well, this entry came out all wrong and I don't really have the peace of mind to correct it. I don't mean to suggest that academic study is the ultimate value of a poet (though it is starting to seem that way at times); I suppose I go back to a very childish, Harold-Bloom-like issue: Why isn't he considered a great you know "important" American poet? Sorry about the jumbled thoughts.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Patti Smith/Bob Dylan

I recently bought the new albums of these two great geniuses of rock n' roll. Patti Smith's album is a cover album while Bob Dylan's feels like a very uninspired cover album (though it isn't).

I listened to the Dylan album once and for the life of me can't bring myself to another listen, it was that boring.

The Patti Smith album is in many ways just another cheesy covers albums, full of pretty expected covers of great songs like "Gimme Shelter" (as well as some odd ones like Tears for Fears, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World"), but in difference to the Dylan album I can't stop listening to this one.

It begins with a ludicrously awesome, Blakean, stark version of "Are You Experienced." It also features a fine version of Dylan's "Changing of the Guards" (from one of my favorite Dylan albums, the hysterically underrated Street Legal - in my view a much better album than Blood on the Tracks from a couple of years before), and an absolutely breathtaking version of "Smells like Teen Spirit" which does a much better job of evoking "old weird American" than anything Dylan has done since the 60s, promping one passenger of my car to exclaim "I'm so glad I was a teenager when the death wish was so fully ratified."