In Smiley’s World

As preparation for my most-anticipated film for 2011, based on one of my favorite novels of all time, I’m currently listening to the recent Radio 4 adaptation. (Later, I plan to re-watch the television adaptation and to re-read the book, of course.)

I’ve just finished listening to the second of its three parts this morning, which means I’m as fully immersed as work and the rest of my life allows, which led to several misadventures this morning (and no, this is by no means an attempt at a Le Carre pastiche; I doubt I’ll ever have that man’s facility with language).

I arrived at the office and immediately opened the briefcase handcuffed to my wrist my bag, which contained a highly-sensitive dossier recommendation letter I wrote for an agent a student who was picking it up that morning from my local runner the Department secretary. The student requested for this letter by dropping me a note in a dead-letter drop my pigeonhole last week. He arrived as I was encoding preparing the document for his pick-up this morning. I was momentarily startled, as if he broke cover, but I simply handed him the letter and wished him luck in his mission application.

The next bit is a little funnier since I virtually sound like I’m in the intelligence business here, with minimal moments of sous rature:

One of my research assistants handed me the highly-confidential (it really was, as indicated by the stamp on the sealed envelope I was given) mission briefing project appointment from HR. (Come to think of it, it IS a mission briefing, since it details a special and somewhat secret project I’ve been tasked to do.) It was a vital document that needed to go to my contact in Personnel, who had been calling me about it for the past two weeks, so I immediately went out and headed over there to pass it on.

Since I’ve been quite absent-minded these days, it took me a while to notice the envelope had my name on it as a receiver: I was so overwhelmed by the importance of the document, which up until this morning I didn’t even know existed, that I thought it was something for Personnel’s eyes only. Realizing my mistake, I opened it, clumsily tearing the envelope in my haste, certainly looking as if I was about to read something I wasn’t supposed to. I signed the document, but realized at the last minute that I needed to take note of details (like my salary) I needed to tell Control my wife.

So I took photographs of the document with the camera on my mobile phone.

I also picked up my paycheck today, and of course, I had to show my papers faculty ID first before signing a release form that had me leaving Accounting with a smile on my face and Smiley on my head heart head heart END TRANSMISSION.


178. The four classes of play—if I can recall, I no longer own the book: competition, make-believe, chance and vertigo.

What a coincidence! I was just discussing these ideas with the students in my Information Society class. I wish I could remind Kearney that these ideas are from Roger Caillois, who uses the Greek terms: respectively, agon, mimesis, alea, and ilinx.

(And that link has a great set of explanations of the terms, including its relationship to improvisatory paidia and structured ludus.)

POET : Douglas Kearney : Harriet the Blog : The Poetry Foundation

Curtis Faville on Robert Grenier’s Capital Disruptions of Syntax

Syntax is a kind of inertia, which, once allowed to gain momentum, creates a music of continuity. Objectifying that inertia, cutting it up into its constituent parts, and then arranging them in unlikely orders or positions, allows their discrete character(s) to be exposed, played and replayed.

via The Compass Rose: CAPITALIZATION in Grenier’s Series: Poems 1967-1971

Three Reasons to Love Dangerous Minds

Their feature on loudQUIETloud (the Pixies documentary) is mostly taken from the Onion A.V. Club, but here are three examples of original content from Dangerous Minds writers that I found equally interesting for different reasons:
  1. Mind Your Own Business: Socialist Post-Punk Funksters Delta 5
  2. Blood of a Poet (Jean Cocteau, 1930)
  3. High Noon at Friedrichstrasse: The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall

From Bishop To Deane

“The Nit Pickers” is Ward Sutton’s new Drawn To Read (a book review in comic form) about the “centenary editions” of Elizabeth Bishop’s poems, prose, and correspondence with The New Yorker.

(I’m trying not to get excited over the title of Bishop’s “In The Village” for reasons that have little to do with her, although I was thrilled to have discovered a poet named Nichola Deane while looking for links about Bishop.)

Aside from an abiding interest in Romantic poetry (an area I’m currently pondering), Deane has nine blog entries about Nick Cave (she also has PJ Harvey‘s official site on her blogroll), once interviewed Clive James on F. Scott Fitzgerald, has a poem-cycle about Lee Miller in Jean Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet, and counts Bishop, Patti Smith, and Maya Deren among her triptych of influences. They’re certainly on mine, too.

Timothy Donnelly

I once posted an excerpt from a great interview with poet Timothy Donnelly, but I’ve yet to write about how captivated I am by his poems and poetics. His recent collection The Cloud Corporation has gotten rave reviews, and he’s been compared to Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane (and Jay-Z).

What I’d like to do here for now is link to the text of “The Cloud Corporation” and his reading of it, as well as a review that discusses the difficulty and duplicity of his work, especially with regard to selfhood (and which also compares him to Jay-Z). All of those are themes I’m seeking to explore in my thesis. Well, not Jay-Z, but you know.

Free Beer

(No, not this one.)

I’d like to read The Waste Land And Other Poems. The new one, that is, written by John Beer, another Chicago poet. The title poem takes a very different tack from Wendy Cope’s “Waste Land Limericks” and Ann Lauterbach‘s “Alice In The Waste Land” from Or To Begin Again, but is just as (more?) impressive.

He also has a pantoum called “Total Information Awareness” and several “Sonnets to Morpheus” here and here (that’s Morpheus the character from The Matrix), but it’s “J. Beer 1969-1969” from that last link that really gets to me. It is, appropriately, a haunting piece of work.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

(No, not this one.)

Although I ordered The Prisoner on Blu-Ray late last year, I was finally able to re-watch the first episode (“Arrival”) only last night. That the last time I saw it was a little more than two decades ago compounds the strangeness of an already-strange television program.

Even stranger is how, after having spent so much time lately reading Heidegger, my mind kept picking up on various bits and pieces here and there: Number Six has been thrown in the Village! The Village imposes Schuld from outside, so Number Six must remain resolute! All this is admittedly half-baked, though I’m willing to think it through sometime.

Another idea that kept clamoring for my attention as I watched the episode was the postmodern serial poem that Joseph Conte differentiates from the more “traditional” epic form:

The serial form in contemporary poetry, however, represents a radical alternative to the epic model. The series describes the complicated and often desultory manner in which one thing follows another. Its modular form–in which individual elements are both discontinuous and capable of recombination–distinguishes it from the thematic development or narrative progression that characterize other types of the long poem. The series resists a systematic or determinate ordering of its materials, preferring constant change and even accident, a protean shape and an aleatory method. The epic is capable of creating a world through the gravitational attraction that melds diverse materials into a unified whole. But the series describes an expanding and heterodox universe whose centrifugal force encourages dispersal. The epic goal has always been encompassment, summation; but the series is an ongoing process of accumulation. In contrast to the epic demand for completion, the series remains essentially and deliberately incomplete.

Obviously, The Prisoner can’t really accommodate all the features cited above (it’s closer to Conte’s “finite serial form” than the seemingly more infinite form described in the preceding quote), but given what one fan has called “The Ordering Controversy,” it’s all too easy for me to see connections with Conte (though this idea requires more polish).

Some constraints:

  1. Always start with “Arrival” and end with “Once Upon A Time” and “Fall Out.”
  2. Show “The General” before “A, B, and C.”
  3. Ensure that “Free For All,” “Dance Of The Dead,” “Checkmate,” and “Chimes of Big Ben” are the next four episodes after “Arrival,” with or without the McGoohan-recommended order of those episodes.


Even with the above in place, can one really do a non-sequential free-for-all with all the other episodes the way a serial poem can? Too much to focus on for the moment, so I’m concentrating on the viewing issues for now.

I really like this review of the Blu-Ray set, but I’m a little confused about why it refers to it being a “ten-disc set” with what has been referred to as “the fan order” or “the fan sequence.” I’m absolutely certain I only have five discs with all 17 episodes arranged in what seems to me a different order.

For some time, I’ve been looking at this “viewing order for beginners” from the Gigacorp site. It’s different from the fan sequence, which nevertheless merits approval, as long as the order of “The General” and “A, B, and C” are reversed. (Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog also makes this recommendation for his list.) If I’m only following the fan sequence with that recommended switch, I have two choices so far: either the Tim Lucas list or the Gigacorp list.

But then again, there’s the work of a Prisoner fan named Theresa Donia. The Donia List, however, is so well-argued, because it’s derived from three (!) preliminary lists she came up with before she made her conclusion. You can see those three side-by-side at the bottom of this page, but it’s well worth reading every part of her essay to see how she came up with the logical sequence, the chronological sequence, and the psychological sequence BEFORE she decided on the final sequence. It’s a tour-de-force of fan geekery that literally takes my breath away.

It gives me four more choices, however, and that’s quite confusing (even without counting the Wikipedia listing and the many Facebook discussions), unless I consider my own inclinations and preferences when it comes to serial storytelling, as well as those of my wife…which means I might opt for the rather strange “two-serial” approach here.

(Since it’s Valentine’s Day, my wife and I are going to celebrate in that manner made popular by married couples with children everywhere: stay home and watch TV. But this isn’t just TV, after all, it’s The effin’ Prisoner!)

So, what to do? There’s more at stake for my wife. I’m simply looking for an interesting approach to a show that already interests me. My wife needs to be interested in the show herself, beyond her curiosity about my interest in it. Her entry into the show must also be interesting to her, and I have a feeling the approach we choose will play a big part in that.

MADRID Impresses Me

A poem entitled “I Have Passed Too Many Years Among Cool Designing Beings” certainly gets me curious, and so I clicked and read my first Anthony Madrid poem. Then I went on Google and found several others:

  1. two poems (“Let’s Watch This Lily-Colored Devil” and “No More Epigrams Against Sluts”)
  2. four poems (“Between Myself And A Lover Of Spencer,” “In The Stones Of A Bull,” “The Tempter Will Go Us One Better,” “That She Is In Love With A Wretch Like That”)
  3. “Crows, Too, Have A Means of Purring” (hilarious reader comment near the bottom of the page)
  4. “Beneath Your Parents’ Mistress”

All of the above feature what seem to be certain trademark quirks of a lot of his poems: long lines arranged in couplets, quirky titles and a warped imagination, ending with a usually-capitalized admonition to himself (“MADRID, do you not see your poetry gives comfort to the wicked?”).

EDIT: I stand corrected. Madrid writes in the ghazal form. I’m embarrassed to not have identified it as such. I’ve yet to seriously study the form, so I didn’t know much more than the repeated elements like rhyme (qafia) and refrain (radif). I certainly didn’t know about the final couplet (makhta) containing the poet’s pseudonym (takhallus).

Not all his work proceeds this way though, “Rhymes” is composed of short lines arranged in quatrains (yes, they rhyme). Of the five poems here, despite their long lines and couplets, only one (“The Having A Rich Stock Of Wine”) features that address to himself in the penultimate line.

Based on this feature story, I know where to go next. First, Michael Robbins. Then, Anthony Madrid. See you soon, Stephanie Anderson. (Sooner than I think, this slightly variant version of the previously-linked article contains poems by all three.)

A few years ago, I wanted to get into the University of Chicago for its cinema studies faculty; now I want to go for the poetry.


On a morning when I wake up with a crisis of faith, a crushing fear of failure, here comes Douglas Kearney:

Struggle presents the risk of failure. Loss can be a kind of failure. Contrast can intensify loss. If failure compels me—both in process and subject—to write a poem, establishing stakes is vital. There must be a cost. At some level, the rigor I aim for when composing a poem is a way of raising the stakes; the poem’s potential failure becomes a source of sweat I’ve sweat over. But that’s a matter of process. In subject, failure needs a thing to rupture, then deflate.

This is why public history is so important to my work. It comes with its own setup.


And with regard to my Heidegger project:

Still: what is the cost? What do I risk? I think the risk in the poems as poems is the chance that I could be grossly misunderstood. That my poems might be seen as merely making light of a tragedy. That I might have failed in my reckoning of cost and that in the end, I might have only heard what I wanted to hear.

The poems are ironic in intention, sure. But if they read/sound ironic, they fail. Which leads me back to cost as it relates to process.

The cost in the process—the aspect of poetic endeavor we can most control—was that in order to manage the voices of the animals, I had to occupy subject positions I disliked. I had to engage in a kind of cruelty that forced me to acknowledge my own capacity for it. My ability to disregard others’ suffering for my benefit.

I had to know something of myself and then ourselves. The bits that are the monster sometimes beat out the bits that are the hero. At terrible cost.


via Craft Work : COST : Douglas Kearney : Harriet the Blog : The Poetry Foundation.