Shabby-Old-Man Poetry, Etc.

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:

  1. Voice Over (a single track composed of 5000 movie taglines),
  2. a women’s chorale performing the End-User License Agreement on Sony/BMG’s notorious rootkit CD releases,
  3. 22 songs by the Carpenters played simultaneously as part of Greatest Hit,
  4. 10 Banned Albums Burned Then Played (from Stravinsky and Mahler to the Dead Kennedys and 2 Live Crew),
  5. passersby trying to remember the lyrics to the Beatles’ “Yesterday,”
  6. an Original Soundtrack of 20 television sets and DVD players playing the “endlessly looping musical cues” from DVD menus


Wordle: Guilt Like Concrete

That’s the Wordle that was derived from a “poem” I inputted in the site. The poem itself was derived from three different sources, the result of an assignment to do a cut-and-paste poem. The title of “my” piece–“Guilt Like Concrete”–was derived, in turn, from the three most prominent words in the Wordle, although one may also say that those three words only loom large because of my poem, which was derived from pre-written texts from books I own, selections which I’ve chosen and which may be said to derive from my own reading interests…

…and so all these derivations within (alongside, over, under, within, etc.) derivations are perhaps best left entangled, even while it’s possible to at least cite the three pieces of text from which I derived “Guilt Like Concrete”:

  1. the first two paragraphs of Walter Benjamin’s 1921 fragment  “Capitalism as Religion”
  2. the entire section entitled “The Catechism of Goodbye” from the J. G. Ballard short story “The Terminal Beach”
  3. three consecutive paragraphs from “The Last Sex Pistols Concert” by Greil Marcus, a section of Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century

(I started with the paragraph that begins, “Probably no definition of punk can be stretched far enough to enclose Theodor Adorno,” but the first line of “Guilt Like Concrete” is actually taken from the last three words of my selection: “aggression, domination, malignancy.”)


I could have sworn I started this blog by discussing my strange fascination for manifestos and other such statements of (artistic/cultural) intent. The word itself only appears once, in passing and used very loosely, here. The likeliest explanation for my confusion would be Roxy Music, given my first entry and this (hey, it’s a Greil Marcus review!).

In any case, I’ve got one eye on the now decade-old anthology edited by Mary Ann Caws called Manifesto: A Century of Isms and the other on a newer volume, edited by Rupert Loydell and delightfully entitled Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh: Manifestos and Unmanifestos.

Thankfully, I’ve got more than a pair of metaphorical peepers, enough to enjoy Caws’s participation in last year’s MOMA celebration of the centennial of the Futurist Manifesto. She provides an introduction in “Poetry Can Be Any Damn Thing It Wants” to EIGHT “new manifestos,” all of which are available online:

  1. “The Final Manifesto” by Joshua Mehigan
  2. “Manifesto of the Flying Mallet” by Michael Hoffman
  3. “Manifest Aversions, Conceptual Conundrums & Implausibly Deniable Links” by Charles Bernstein
  4. “The Eighties, Glory of” by Ange Mlinko
  5. “Annie Get Your Gun” by D. A. Powell
  6. “The New Perform-A-Form: A Page vs. Stage Alliance” by Thomas Sayers Ellis
  7. “Presto Manifesto” by A. E. Stallings
  8. “Leave the Manifesto Alone: A Manifesto” by Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr as the Hate Socialist Collective

I suspect that what I like best about manifestos is made explicit by those selections: the way they can be (and usually are) so utterly ridiculous, possessing an absurdity second only to those people who strenuously object to them.

I think many of the best aesthetic manifestos are (“must be,” to speak with the forceful imperative traditionally characteristic of the manifesto) indistinguishable from “hoaxes” like the Spectric School or, more recently, the International Necronautical Society, which I would join if I could.

But then again, all this might only be lessons I’ve learned from my Dada, much like those learned by Ian McMillan and Andrei Codrescu.



I love (to) Fuck Theory, in terms of both its content and form. A recent post has led me to start wondering whether my fascination for both the manifesto and the aphorism (or the fragment) can be reconciled.

Looking Outside(r)

Somewhere out there, in the equal parts beauty and terror of the multifarious realm of postcolonial studies, there should be an explanation for my fascination for Bruce Springsteen. I’m thinking (hoping?) for an argument that doesn’t merely dismiss my liking as colonial mentality, especially if any attempt at critical self-interrogation is short-circuited. This is something that seems to me an easy consequence of perspectives that capitalize and essentialize nation and culture into, well, Nation and Culture.

Springsteen strikes me, you see, as performing America(na), something that is either symptomatic of or the root cause of how he performs authenticity. When I think of Springsteen, and this may be a holdover from Greil Marcus, I’m reminded of epic drama:

This guy can’t be real, I tell myself, and it’s that which fascinates me. He’s larger-than-life, mythic even, but I kind of see him reaching out for that state and that both undercuts and emphasizes his, er, grandeur.

(I haven’t read this book, but I’m willing to explore the idea that Springsteen sings the American nation-state.)

I feel I’m writing myself into a corner here though, and all this was really just meant to be mere prologue to how I also like it when a non-Filipino talks about Philippine culture without adulation, with affection that doesn’t shrink from criticism. Your Honor? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury?

Exhibit A: David Byrne and the experiences that helped him with Here Lies Love.

Exhibit B: Author Robin Hemley, whose Dispatches from Manila show him more fully assimilated than Byrne, but–and this is crucial–never completely so.

Wonderful pieces, all of these, and reading them is being on the inside looking from the outside at the inside. Utterly vertiginous, and delightful precisely because of that.