- A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line (excerpts here and here, introductions here)
- Novel Pictorial Noise by Noah Eli Gordon (reviews here and here and here and here)
- Elegy by Mary Jo Bang (reviews here and here and here and here and here)
- Skirmish by Dobby Gibson (review and Book Notes track list)
- Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, trans. John Felstiner (excerpt here and here, review here and here and here and here and here, essay here and here and here)
I’m pretty sure I’ve read a blog entry from Cahiers de Corey before, but I can’t remember which. I promised myself I’d regularly catch up with the Arcadia Project Web site set up to supplement the 600-page anthology of “North American Postmodern Pastoral” Corey edited with G. C. Waldrep, but I haven’t done so. And I’ve definitely read Corey’s essay on Richard Hugo before (I’m re-reading it now), because of the sentences from it that stick:
- “More nakedly than any American poet I know of, Hugo writes about the task and function of poetry from a position of sheer abjection.”
- “…Hugo also implicates the reader in his vision of the poet as awkward failure.”
- “…any poet, even the most successful, is likely to feel herself an outsider in a culture where most literate people are cheerfully oblivious to poetry…”
- “That need, that state of abjection, is Hugo’s given, and if you take it as your own, he can teach you how to write a poetry that transcends your inadequate self.”
- “Read at the right angle, The Triggering Town can help bridge the gap that now yawns so wide between a poetry of subjectivity and a poetry that foregrounds the operations of language, that seeks to demonstrate the fragile constructedness of our selves and the world.”
But I’ve never actually read Corey’s poems before this morning. Big mistake.
I like how News of the Blazing World” opens with “This is the church of Aspartame,/ caffeine, nicotine, and winter through// that window, stripping branches bare,” and ends with “He imagines a world/ as a king might, scientifically// from kingdom to phylum to species,/ from general death to the life of the concrete.”
Here’s another great opening, from “A Fine Romance”:
I can explain: the sea is not ice. It is a salinity that resists
slippage, that cannot thaw or be resolved,
that will not stalk its own surface,
that can’t extratheistically transform its peculiar substance
without alluding to buggery, misconduct, pandered memory
Here’s another great ending, from “Cognitive Deficit Market”:
The skin is a glove that wrinkles as it tightens.
The cerebellum’s the same. A game
of chess between walking sticks—I mean the insects
made up to resemble wood. I say we dissemble
from photos and repetition
our stakes in these weightless names.
Press star seven seven for additional privacy.
Press star pound star to disappear utterly.
And reappear at a pinched cry from an alley—
The map unfolds in traffic.
Context requires wrinkles,
even digital context. Context
is one of the slower-deploying
I think I’d like to pick up Severance Songs (be sure to download the PDF of the “study guide” linked on that page), his collection of quasi-sonnets. Samples can be read from that link, and there’s another here (“Yours the face aglow in the cold,/ precarious thriver in the song-stung dark./ With glance and lip you collected me.”) and here (“Put on your hat and gloves, it’s poignant out./ Carry your own chill separate from the air’s.”).
The one I like best is the one from this review, a poem alluding to Icarus, William Carlos Williams, Led Zeppelin, Walter Benjamin’s angel of history, Yucca Mountain, etc. BRILLIANT.
- A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (I’ve never really read this straight through, but this was cheap, and I liked the idea of having an old battered copy–it’s the eighteenth printing: I wonder how old this actual copy is)
- The Annotated Milton: Complete English Poems (my thesis adviser is big on Milton, and I’ve been meaning to get into Milton as well, given how important a figure he is; I just hope there aren’t too many other errors in this one, especially one as big as “When I consider how my life is spent…” OH MAN)
- The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers (not just the first novel I bought in ages but also the first one I read and finished in around that time: my self-justification, apart from how it’s a cracking good story, was that I was doing research for my thesis since Keats, Byron and the Shelleys are in it)
- Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Major Works (yes, at last I’ve bought this! I’ve mentioned Hopkins several times here, so I just want to link to commentaries on “The Windhover”: Mlinko’s study guide, pieces by Kwame Dawes and Carol Rumens, and this attempt at memorizing it)
- Shoulder Season by Ange Mlinko (reviews of the collection, poems by Mlinko, a critical essay on language acquisition, a conversation between her and Michael Robbins)
In some ways, especially with the first two, I feel like my October purchases have to do with poets I should have studied in school but didn’t.
This morning I woke up badly wanting to listen to Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman“–most likely triggered by its being the first of many wonderful tracks in the mind’s-ear-blowing playlist at the bottom of this fascinating piece on the “alternative scene” in 1990 Durban, South Africa.
Instead, I listened to “The Building” by the Mekons (and then the rest of the Lipstick Traces CD that accompanied one of my favorite books of all time, the same book Michael Robbins calls “the best book ever written about pop music”)–most likely because of how the experience in sound “O Superman” is seems to me to fit with the “sound poetry” that comprises the Lipstick Traces CD.
And then I remember discussions I’ve had with the friends I’ve made in the Creative Writing program I’m attending. Specifically, I remember talking about how my poems tend to contrast with those of my friend Shane, whose poems I feel are often intimate and quietly erotic whispering (although the two QLRS poems don’t quite demonstrate this as well as some others I’ve read).
My poems, however, I describe as the ravings of a madman on a street corner. Specifically, I’m thinking of what Greil Marcus calls in Lipstick Traces the “shabby old man with a tin whistle, standing in the rain trying to make himself heard (94)” a figure embodied in the desperation that seems about to destroy itself at the same time is is preserved in “The Building.”
Reading what Greil Marcus says about the song makes me feel both inspired and exhausted, reaching toward an ideal I can’t ever fulfill.
I’ve just discovered Brian Joseph Davis, whose most recent project is visual: The Composites, which are images of literary characters using “police sketch software.” I find that very exciting but not as much as his earlier sound-driven work, which includes a response to Marcus’s discussion of Theodor Adorno.
In Lipstick Traces, despite characterizing Adorno as “no doubt [understanding] the Sex Pistols as a return to Kristallnacht if he hadn’t been lucky enough to die in 1969 (72),” Marcus nevertheless asserts that “you can find punk between every other line of Minima Moralia (ibid.),” and that
After 1977, a spoken rant lp could have been made into an album called Big Ted Says No and it would have made perfect pop sense, and for that matter it did: listen to Metal Box by PiL, Johnny Rotten’s post-Sex Pistols band, read Minima Moralia as you listen, and see if you can tell where one leaves off and the other begins. (72-73)
Davis, in his words, “take[s] this pop wish and make[s] it come true” with four songs that use Adorno’s aphorisms as lyrics howled along to the backing of music from such songs as, say, Minor Threat’s self-titled song. Davis’s Minima Moralia is mentioned here, albeit all too briefly.
Davis’s other recordings include:
- Voice Over (a single track composed of 5000 movie taglines),
- a women’s chorale performing the End-User License Agreement on Sony/BMG’s notorious rootkit CD releases,
- 22 songs by the Carpenters played simultaneously as part of Greatest Hit,
- 10 Banned Albums Burned Then Played (from Stravinsky and Mahler to the Dead Kennedys and 2 Live Crew),
- passersby trying to remember the lyrics to the Beatles’ “Yesterday,”
- an Original Soundtrack of 20 television sets and DVD players playing the “endlessly looping musical cues” from DVD menus
Though his discussions of J.V. Cunningham’s “Epigram #1” from Doctor Drink and Frank Bidart’s “Golden State” in the essay aren’t bad, I find Robert Pinsky’s “Two Examples of Poetic Discursiveness” rather unconvincing on a conceptual level. I’m not sure I can do better and perhaps the problem’s with me when I fail to understand how he proceeds
- from identifying the contradictory senses of “discursive” in how it “describes speech of writing which is wandering and disorganized” but “can also mean ‘explanatory’–pointed, organized around a setting-forth of material (133)”
- to reconciling those opposites by referring to the figure of “motion over terrain…going through or going over one’s subject” (to which he adds, “Such a method tends to be inclusive; it tends to be the opposite of intuitive,” which confuses me partly because I’m not too clear about the relationship he makes between “inclusive” and “intuitive”)
And I can’t quite articulate why I’m so bugged when the preceding discussion finally leads him to describe “poetic discursiveness” as:
It is speech, organized by its meaning, avoiding the distances and complications of irony on one side and the ecstatic fusion of speaker, meaning and subject on the other. The idea is to have all the virtues of prose, in addition to those qualities and degrees of precision which can be called poetic (ibid).
When I think about it, perhaps this is rooted in differences between Pinsky’s poetic and mine. The promise I see when he asserts, “Much of the work of the so-called ‘New York poets’ could be described as mock-discursive (134)” is defused when he follows that with: “Moreover, much of the memorable writing by these poets seems to emerge when there is the least amount of ‘mock’ statement, the largest element of open discourse (ibid.).”
And I guess I also had some problems of expectation. I thought Pinsky would look at something that would illuminate, say, Zukofsky having been “moved by the fact” of how Stevens’s “music thruout has not been impaired by having philosophized (97).” I also thought Pinsky might address the common problem of poems that seem more like “lineated prose,” but that doesn’t happen either.
Now if I could do it, that is, if I could go through the subject matter of poetic discursivity, to, as it were, discourse on discursivity, I’d like to look into:
- John Ashbery’s “Definition of Blue”
- portions of Frank Bidart’s “Advice to the Players” and the whole of “Young Marx” (both found near the bottom of this page)
- Matthea Harvey’s “I Would Have Stayed,” which lineates the sentence from Giorgio Vasari that begins with “The vinedresser of the Belvedere having found a very strange lizard…”
- “Butterflies, Lineated,” where Jeffrey Robinson lineates a phrase from one of Keats’s letters, with other examples of such “found poems” here
I’m one of those willing to quote “without irony” from the Ashbery poem, so I think I’m missing something when I read it, as I do, with a straight face. The same goes for the prose portions of Bidart’s “Advice to the Players. “Young Marx,” however, apart from “attribution of source” at the end, does gain something from the lineation, as does Harvey’s poem and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Robinson’s lineation of Keats.
So, once again, lineation, and what it does to syntax, especially the syntax of prose. It’s also a matter of diction as well, I suppose. The result is some kind of “discursive transformation,” I guess, but what kind? And more importantly for people who write poems, how?
Last Wednesday: I tweeted the following to get it out of my head and see how it grows:
Last weekend: I picked up my copy of Deleuze’s Wake: Tributes and Tributaries, this time to read the essay “Minor Writing and Minor Literature.” I’ve gone through bits of it before, enough to recall a remark near the beginning of the piece about how Deleuze’s “concept of minor literature has been of some use to students of postcolonial, ethnic, minority, and marginal literatures (63).”
I’m still reading it to see exactly what Bogue proposes as “some [of those] use[s]” in the hopes it can help me articulate my thoughts in response to some remarks made here. For now, I’m struck by Bogue’s description of how Deleuze writes his histories of philosophy almost like an extension of the spirit of Nietzchean Unzeitgemässe:
Rather than offering a narrative of the development of ideas, arguments, positions, and so on, he describes the functioning of specific problems and sets them in resonance with one another through the unfolding of the problems proper to his own thought. In this manner, Deleuze creates his own precursors…and brings them into a kind of untimely, interactive coexistence within the problems he articulates. To the extent that Deleuze himself is successful in formulating genuine problems, his thought should disrupt conventional narratives of the history of philosophy, and his accounts of others’ thought should bring into existence an idiosyncratic, untimely network of precursors that constitutes an “antihistory” of his own thought.” (67-68, emphasis mine)
Because I haven’t read much by or even about Deleuze*, I can’t quite assess whether or not this is more Deleuzian than Bogueian, though I trust that it is and can be both. What’s more important for me right now is how, in many ways, this “antihistory” of “my own thought” is the approach I want/need to use for the critical essay of my thesis. As what should ultimately be a statement of poetics, I have fundamental difficulties getting there from my preoccupations with what can be called “discourses of newness.” Now, it seems clearer, if no less contentious or difficult:
What I need to do is an antihistory of my writing, at least those poems I’m including in my thesis.
* The only Deleuze I’ve read is “Literature and Life,” the essay Bogue cites as where “the larger theoretical assumptions that feed into the notion of minor literature…are neatly summarized” through its description of “the function of literature in terms of stuttering, becoming, fabulation, and visions/auditions (70).”
Also, though I’d like to say Ronald Bogue’s essays are engaging, I’m a little hesitant because this isn’t a book I’ve read straight from cover to cover. I leaf through it, going through its essay on death metal (!) or bumping into/against Bogue’s claim that “[a]ccording to Deleuze, the basic linguistic act is not the phoneme but the statement (énoncé), or speech act (110).”
Another time, I read “Deleuze, Foucault, and the Playful Fold of the Self” to give myself a chance to understand more than two pages of Deleuze’s book on Foucault, which I’ve owned for more than a decade already (excerpt here). I really want to understand the dynamic between Deleuze and Foucault. Maybe I can get another book, but I’m scared I might end up leaving that unread as well.
For now: thesis!