Friday, February 29, 2008

Yearbook (2.5)

What else did I see? One long dry vine, with little opposite curly petioles coming off it and lengthwise greenish and yellowish striations, stretched across the ground under dead leaves and twigs for several yard to an abrupt constricted (chopped off?) end. As I left, the sun hit a side of the roof so that the tufts of moss sporophytes between shingles lit up like a field of luminous greenish-red eyelashes. And so, for many years, in a tale, on a peak, in their spacious separateness, he carried on a life devised in the free spaces of that vinyl siding, “sorbet” bra strap, mentholed awakeness, while she remained richly unconvinced, with one knuckle in her mouth. Snow the last day of February, wish I had a camera. Saw a psocopteran (bark louse), a green and orange spider, a Heliconias I mistook for an Ithomiid, a mealy bug and its shed vesture,big holes connecting two plants where the branches touched—Azteca ants?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sleep Is Critical

The one lucid thought I had last night: Poetry-as-landscape is perhaps always poetry teasing landscape, or being teased by it.


Poetry, then, remains a defined enough activity that we can play with the conceit of its being something else. This is impossible, and thus endlessly fascinating. Take Clark Coolidge's, or anybody's, poetry-as-music. Then take the strangeness of the moments in Nathaniel Mackey's poetry where poetry-as-music becomes poetry-as-description-of poetry-as-music. From "Andoumboulouous Brush":
                 . . ."Mouth that
           moved my mouth,"
     soughed, hummed it,
        made it buzz . . . Hummed,
  hoped glass would break,
walls fall. Sang thru
            cracks a croaking
        to end all song . . .

Or the way a brief passage by Barbara Guest can, in a complex and gorgeous irony, all at once tease and be teased by the terms of (abstract-expressionist) art, art-criticism, and music. From "Musicality":
                                    two trees leaning forward
the thick new-made emptiness


              Hanging apples               half-notes
in the rhythmic        ceiling        red flagged
rag clefs

                     notational margins
Where it is the very "notational margins" that emphasize and bind together "notational margins" and "Naturalism"; where anything is Naturalism if and where you say it is—as though a painter daubed on a patch of naturalism near the middle of the canvas; where the notational spacing of poetry gets wilfully mixed up with the literalness of musical notes which are also apples; where words require, like paintings, the material quality of their material: "the thick new-made emptiness," "red flagged / rag clefs."


Maybe this is all obvious and only seems worth repeating because it came in through half sleep. A little later towards morning I became interested in the phenomenon of the descriptive poem-title, as in: "Poem Described by Its Title." "Poem Anxious to Begin." "Poem with Some Dogshit on It." "Exit, Pursued by Words."

Now I'm awake, it looks like spring, and the last thing I'm going to have is another idea.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Yearbook (2.4)

Dude, guy, boy or man? Conical stipule at shoot tip. I dreamed Herman Melville worked at the Museum of Modern Art. He got rid of, composed, dug up, a history "Of Traffickers". I heard it singing itself through various river mouths. Leathern tomes “murble.” Is she singing “moon fudge fragment”?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


More about Portland's big poetry weekend from Chris Piuma and Rodney Koeneke, here and here.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Yearbook (2.3)

Passioned out. Your style appears to be thawing out. The mud of ancient lakes is like a history book, its pages being the thin layers of mud; and all the historian needs is a drill to collect a column of mud from underwater and the ability to read these muddy pages. The words are there to find their voice, the acrid copious dye that mells blue with snow white through their fringe and fray, the only one at the party they wanted to meet. It’s a world of solids, liquids, gases, gels, pastes, colloids, vapors, baby. The critics were obliged to take a metaphorical detour, produce their own hesitations, play with the picture’s recalcitrance, before they declared it a nude of some kind—comic perhaps, or obscene, or incompletely painted. In Olympia, it’s February now for new osoberry leaves.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Reading Reading

My friend Rich and I are both reading Robin Blaser's book of collected essays, The Fire, and since we live in different cities, we started an internet book club called The Fire on in order to talk about it. Anyone interested in those essays is welcome to join us around the virtual hearth. Email or and we'll "invite" you. 


Check out Delirous Hem for a bunch of people's thoughts about "Numbers Trouble" and sexism in poetryland.


It was an exciting weekend for poetry in Portland. On Friday, Lyn Hejinian, Joan Retallack, Marjorie Perloff, and Hank Lazer gave readings and a talk at PSU. I missed that, but went Saturday to Lewis and Clark for "What's the Use of Poetry?: a Symposium," featuring the former three. 

I came in late and caught the last half of a long talk by the famous critic, whose argument, under the rubric of "Unoriginal Genius," seemed to go something like: "Kenneth Goldsmith and Walter Benjamin have a lot in common, because they're both very fond of quotation." 

Then Retallack gave a reading that opened with a short talk on "Procedural Elegy," which turned halfway through into a practical example of same, a long poem of mesmerizing recurrences which seemed to be based on some alphabetical procedure. I don't know Retallack's work at all, and I suspect it's the sort of thing that takes some patient investigation and getting used to on the page in order to really "hear" it. As it was, I didn't respond much to it—but then, I'm not the brightest bulb on the marquee when it comes to registering a text's complexities in a live listening, and this is certainly complexly patterned, tough work. One poem, "Existence Is an Attribute," proceeded (she explained) from Kant's claim, in refuting Anselm's ontological proof of the existence of God, that "existence is not an attribute." It consisted of several versions of a narrated conversation, each broken up (usually midsentence if not midphrase) into smaller numbered sections, so that a slowed-down counting was continually interrupting a slowed-down account of one person's insistence to another, on a muddy road in the country, that "I am proving you do not exist." 

Then Hejinian came up and gave an utterly astonishing, delightful, funny, exhilarating  reading. There were two 14 line elegiac poems, and a number of poems from her ongoing series of "night works" The Book of a Thousand Eyes, an "homage to Scheherezade" — fairytales, "insomniac lyrics," lullabies, tractates in dream logic, and of course dreams. Favorite sentences:

She'll never believe she's too old to play in a band or make quick, vertical moves in the playing field to really quiet music.

Activity never sleeps, and no tale of crumbling cliffs can be a short one.

"Sport," says the lecturer, "is dependent on the occasional appearance of wild animals."

Perhaps this "Taskinlife" was a poor soldier with holes in his boots, a bad back, and warped arrows.
I'd looked into My Life and knew she was the real deal, but I didn't expect anything so full of immediate surprise, sharp perception, dead-on tonal shifts and parodies of traditional modes, and critical laughter. Now I'll go read everything of hers I can find. (Eventually. I'm slow.)

There was a Q&A afterwards. Hejinian: "It's actually very difficult to write only non-sequiturs." Retallack: "You must be trying to write good ones."


And on Sunday I got my chance to see Lazer read with Laura Feldman at the NAAU (a Spare Room joint). He interspersed readings from several books of poems with short passages from his new book of critical prose, Lyric and Spirit. I've never seen such a straightforward demonstration of the interaction and even interdependence of the two modes in a life's practice. Both poems and prose thought about and did music—with Coltrane, Monk and Cage as friendly presences—and responded by quotation and specific praise to the work of other poets—Creeley, Zukofsky, Ronald Johnson, Olson. At they same time they engaged with Jewish mysticism and numerology, southern cooking, videogames, and an attempt to reclaim the word spirit from our floppy cultural habits, our hazy enthusiasm or easy squeamishness. 

Laura Feldman gave a very surprising slideshow and reading about her two years in the Peace Corps in Uganda, a subversion of the conventionally informational "Peace Corps presentation" she was expected to give on her return. Excerpts from notebooks alternated with quotations from a bilingual phrasebook and from a book of poems, Labyrinths, by the Nigerian poet Christopher Okigbo

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Yearbook (2.2)

He was a keen mountaineer and invented a detachable and reversible sole with studs or cleats to put on his boots: the short studs in front and the long ones behind for going uphill, the other way round for coming down. Of course he had loves and dislikes and perhaps hates, but these he did not indulge because he had not chosen them: the main tissue, vascular and structural, of his life was of likes. Like “a single crowing consists of four component notes, i.e., of four major energy peaks, sometimes rendered onomatopoeically as cock-a-doodle-doo”; like “Quantity Noodle and Cheese Loaf”; or the fortune-cookie fortune once:
          It is kind of fun
          to do the impossible.
Between the printed lines his eyes pined for and found—or penned—others. “To modify the library with a tiny incision”: the only serious reader is the pleasure reader. Threads, needles, eyelets like words, binding with care or roughly any body in here. The light went deep, the sea was clear, but he was lost.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Thoughts for thoughts?

I tend to balk upon first encountering grand pronouncements made by eminent poets and physicists, but after a few hours the dust clears or I stop blushing, and the zaniest abstract zingers prove not only interesting but strangely bottomless. I notice: the last page of Robert Kelly's In Time (1971) reads:
The last page of Robin Blaser's The Holy Forest (2006) reads: 
language is love
And the syllogism completes itself with Albert Einstein's (apocryphal?) assertion (which really blew my mind when I was 12): 
Space is love.
Whaddya make a that? Language, space, love are major elements, verbal abstractions we feel as natural, concrete, fresh and palpable, and the recombining and rearranging of such elements is an essential human activity, though I may be inclined reflexively to dodge the pomp or pump an ironic fist, having grown up reticent and silly and too inarticulately skeptical. Desperate to renew always any sense we may have of space, love, language we reshuffle the deck. 

And lay the language out in space, as space, by way of the constant fourth term, the copula is. Is is doing the same thing in these three instances? Spacing, loving, languageing in the gap?

The copula is one way of reinventing a relation. There are causal hierarchies–Thales' "everything is water," Herakleitos' "everything is fire" etc.–and temporal, melodic juxtapositions–reading Mark Scroggins' new biography of Louis Zukofsky, I think of how certain "elemental" nouns recur in LZ's poems, especially as final words of poems or sections: air, sun, light, song, leaves, loves. As though the mind followed a tune that was an equation to be "solved" (unexpectedly, I imagine) by arriving at the resonant word that made it stop.

Then (to introduce an even more uncomfortable alias of language, love and space) I think of the way the beginning of the gospel of John sets forth its ambiguous relations: 
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 
And Jack Spicer's complicating clarification in "A Textbook of Poetry": 
'Personify,' you say. 'It is less abstract to make a person out of a sound.' But the word was the word not because he was personified but because he was a personification. As if he were human.
But this is getting out of hand. I meet with a phrase of two emphatic abstract profundity or pseudo-profundity and my first instinct is to mock it or skip it, my next to sit and stare at it-not really knowing, in most cases, how to think with such tools. I guess the moral tonight is that the major elements are capable of endless permutations which are likely to be fascinating without requiring any posturing as to their "depth" or quibbling as to their truth.


Yesterday was a lovey, spacey, but not very verbal day, spent mostly walking all around this oversized town putting up fliers for the Spare Room reading by Hank Lazer and Laura Feldman next Sunday. I got hailed on a little. The streetcar proved no help at all–faster to walk.


I checked out George Stanley's 2003 selected poems, A Tall, Serious Girl, from the library. He has a poem called "Pompeii" which opens with a marvelous rhetorical turn, almost koan-like in its redundancy:
When I read this poem I think of Pompeii.
I haven't read much beyond that (written in North Beach, c. 1957), but I'm excited to. 


In the Zukofsky biography, The Poem of a Life, I love William Carlos Williams' praise in a note on first reading "Poem Beginning 'The'": "actual word stuff, not thoughts for thoughts," which brilliantly captures the quality of all LZ's best things. (See John Latta's extensive and intricate blog notes on the book scattered throughout here.)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Yearbook (2.1)

A stapled ad glitters. Never having to say you’re sorry keeps the rubble delicious.