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.

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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
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The Spoils: August 2012

  1. The Mooring of Starting Out: The First Five Books of Poetry by John Ashbery
  2. The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination by Wallace Stevens
  3. Romanticism by April Bernard
  4. Savage Night by Jim Thompson
  5. Daydream Nation (33⅓:) by Matthew Stearns
  6. Rid of Me (33⅓:) by Kate Schatz

Peter Gizzi

Peter Gizzi‘s name mentioned in a meeting I had with my thesis adviser (hi, sir!): did it really happen, or did I just imagine it?

Can’t verify with a brain still fried from grading final requirements, but if my adviser did mention Gizzi, asking me if I knew the poet, I’m pretty sure I would have said, “Yes, I’ve read some of Gizzi’s poems here and there, but I mostly know him for having co-edited the collected Jack Spicer.”

Kevin Killian, the other editor of My Vocabulary Did This To Me, seems, to me, a “louder” and more outrageous figure. He’s long had my attention with two collections of poetry, one of which is centered on Kylie Minogue and the other on Dario Argento.

Still, Peter Gizzi seems to have been humming in the background all this time.  Humming like a current of electricity, humming like an undercurrent of song. To whit:

“Poetry At The Threshold: Peter Gizzi Interviewed By Ben Lerner”:

Singing is a perilous business. What does it mean to be next to oneself, seeing and/or singing one’s self in time as a rhetorical figure, disembodied and refigured as an embodied line of verse? To be spoken not just in the act of writing, but to be spoken and present and remain intimately embodied in some posthumous time as well—to accept this haunted occupation of poetry?

Publisher’s copy: “The poems in Threshold Songs tune us to the microtonal music of speaking and being spoken.” [emphasis mine]

Aside from some great comments about punk (” I can hear Dickinson’s spiky, haunted, rebellious, and eerie tunes as punk” and “What’s “punk” in all this is the DIY reality of the homemade, the raw voice, with its asymmetries, its reaching, and its limits,” to cite just two) , the BOMBLOG interview with Gizzi also has him say

I think of poetry always as a territory and imagine sound as a sculptural element, in the sense of being held in an abstract or aural environment, as when one is listening to a piece of music. So it’s the same with the music of the poem, whether it be a kind of inspired talk or a richly coded lyrical run. It’s a sound, after all, and so you can return to your place in the world, or better yet, discover your place in the world, within the music of the poem, and that only happens in the act of listening. It’s dynamic. It clears a path for me to go deeper into my own interiority and to light every corridor and chamber and discover what’s there.

From the older jubilat interview with Gizzi:

  • “I like the word bewilderment because it has both be and wild in it, and I can imagine also wilderness inside it as well.”
  • “Again, I’m not only interested in a history of the lyric but in a more ontologically complex reality of lyric history.”

And still further back to 1998, Burning Deck’s publication of Gizzi’s Artificial Heart is accompanied by the following remarks, which seem to me a good description of what I’m trying to do in my own work:

Formally the collection is a sampling of lyric history from the troubadours to post- industrial punk: it sustains the haunting quality of a song heard from a distance, overlayed with playground noise, lovers’ oaths and cries of loss.

From the Rain Taxi review of Artificial Heart:

One telltale aspect of Gizzi’s heart is his love of music. This shines, surely, in the content of the poems: “New Picnic Time” is named for a Pere Ubu album, and “Fear of Music” after one by Talking Heads; both poems “sample” the lyrics of these band’s songwriters in seamless and engaging ways, turning their punk postmodernism to his more archly crafted ends. But more importantly, Gizzi’s impeccable sense of line and of stanza create a fine and delicate music throughout.

Gizzi’s gorgeous musicality marries his abstractly conjured imagery in a wedding of non-linear bliss, once again demonstrating that the heart of poetry, artificial though it may be, veers away from sense and always toward beauty.

Marjorie Perloff’s review of Artificial Heart has her talking about “a tantalizing new lyric mode” in Gizzi’s post-Language poetics (is she really talking about the Third Way?!) and also has her invoking Hart Crane (who tends to critically “belong” to Harold Bloom) and saying:

…the notion throughout Artificial Heart that the lyric poet is once again writing trobar clus–the allusive, oblique, hermetic lyric of the troubadours–a poetry of secrecy.

Also: Perloff’s introduction to Young American Poets, also from 1998, has her talking about Gizzi and several other poets, including Cole Swensen, in the context of “an exciting moment for lyric poetry.”

David Shapiro

I brought a few poetry collections to work today. Three of them (Spicer, Stevens, Palmer) are omnibus volumes, “meta-collections” gathering collections that were previously published as separate books. The Lauterbach is a selection culled across several volumes, none of which are represented in its entirety, with a possible exception being the 1997-2000 poems in the section entitled The Call, which were gathered here in If In Time for the first time, as far as I know.

Foreground: four books from the personal canon. Background: lots of other significant stuff.

While I already have my hands/head/heart full with these writers (hands…literally!), there’s another book I meant to bring today but forgot to grab before I left. It’s a single collection, the only one I have by David Shapiro, and it’s ironic to think and write about this absent book when its title is After A Lost Original.

I first found out about Shapiro when a Google search for either “Ezra Pound” or “John Berryman” led me to this piece about difficult poetry collections, with The Sonnets of Ted Berrigan (onetwothreefour!) now joining The Cantos and The Dream Songs. The comments were even more helpful by pointing to poets I was already familiarizing myself with (Hart Crane, Louis Zukofsky, Basil Bunting) and Shapiro, who I only found out about through a comment that “nominated” A Burning Interior.  Another Google search, for Shapiro and his “difficult” collection this time, led me to a fantastic set of articles and interviews on Jacket.

I’m fond of quoting lines from After A Lost Original, such as the last two lines/sentences that end, um, “Sentences,” which I’ve always found heart-tugging in its evocation of a link between author and reader, one based on an experience not founded on understanding and knowledge:

The reader loses his way richly, but it is not certain that the reader loses.
Nevertheless, you found your way about, though I do not know you. (31)

I also like Shapiro’s “Prayer For My Son,” a response to (parody of, rewrite of) Yeats that offers advice like:

Be concealed
Like a conceptual tree
And when you need to be explicit, be (18)

and (cited here)

Forget what you have earned
Learn to know what you have not yet learned
Until you confuse the good
With the beautiful
Don’t seek out the wise, be wise
Never abandon the beloved
Just close your eyes
To the world and open your eyes. (ibid.)

In fact, and this is why I’m a bit irritated about not having my copy of After A Lost Original at hand, I like the lines Michael Leddy cites in his review, such as this one from “You Are The You” (the 8th poem in the Broken Objects, Discarded Landscape section):

To look up into your face
Is like looking into the devastated stars (33)

and, from the third stanza of “Dido To Aeneas” (4th in the same sequence):

I am a city and a statue and a wall and a revenge
It is a recent cut like an accident in a forest. (29)

and, from “The Mistranslation,” the third poem in the sequence entitled Voice:

The mountain hears bright shadows shine.
A mountain brightens; shadows shine.
I hear the mountains; bright shadows shine. (57)

I’m moved by how seemingly ordinary language in lines becme dramatized by a line break that turns a verb into an imperative (again, from “You Are The You”)

To whom does the you in your poem
Refer (33)

I wish I could say something more coherent about Shapiro’s collection, but I’ll just leave it to William Keckler who blogs about Shapiro’s After A Lost Original here and also includes “You Are The You,” the source of the last lines I’ve just quoted. And over here, Keckler has Shapiro’s “A Night Of Criticism,” another one I often plunder for lines to cite.

Here’s a PDF of Thomas Fink’s critical essay on Shapiro’s New And Selected Poems, which I’d go ahead and order if I wasn’t so fixated on buying each of Shapiro’s other collections, so as to get as much of his poems in my hands/head/heart.

I’ve linked to Joanna Fuhrman‘s interview with Shapiro before, but here it is again. I just enjoy reading it now and again. From its evocative title (“pluralist music” sounds like something that calls to me as an ideal to aspire for in my own writing) to so many gems and insights, it’s well worth reading again and again. If I had a hard copy of it, I’d be highlighting most of the text.

Finally, here are some aphorisms from Shapiro that dance around how he “makes it new — with stickers.” I’m not as skilled in that kind of papercraft, but here’s something to look at and think about:

Heavy meta mayhem!

Rhythms Of Richard Cureton, Shapes Of Keats

I met with my thesis adviser today, and in one of the moments during consultation when we were talking about music, meter, and rhythm, he told me to look up Richard Cureton. His wasn’t a name I heard before, unlike some others mentioned (Philip Hobsbaum and Derek Attridge, for instance), so I looked up Cureton online and found this:

“Cureton’s may be the most convincing and comprehensive treatment we have of rhythm in English verse.”

a set of abstracts of books he may have already written:

and his paper “Rhythm and Linguistic Form: Toward a Temporal Theory of Poetic Language.” It’s got charts and tables (I like those a lot), so I hope it makes sense to me, and also to my thesis.
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On an unrelated note: although “To Autumn” isn’t my personal favorite of Keats’s 1819 odes, it’s hard to deny its mastery. The PoemShape blog I recently discovered and am really enjoying has entries on the poem’s form and imagery. (There’s also a discussion of “Bright Star” that makes me wish there were more of Keats’s sonnets there.)
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EDIT: Oh-ho! The Spring 1996 issue of Poetics Today (“Metrics Today II”) hosts a discussion between Cureton and Attridge. I took a quick look and failed to understand a thing. Still, a slower and more careful reading should be more helpful, I hope.

Finally: Jorie Graham

After years of reading whatever I can find online by and about Jorie Graham and making do with what few poems by her I have in this or that anthology, I finally bought a copy of her now-15-year-old collection The Errancy yesterday. I’m surprised it’s taken me this far, given how I echo her twin interests in philosophy and film studies.

Although I’m not sure how The Errancy ranks with her other books, I was won over by reviews that mention Lacan and Deleuze, that listen to Graham’s “heady, improvisational music” and “accretionary syntax,” and that cite bits from her “mutated love poems.” It also helped that I’m preoccupied with errors, secrets, and lies–all those different ways one swerves away from capital-T Truth–and the very title of The Errancy certainly points to that.

(I should also mention that Emily Galvin, Graham’s daughter with James Galvin, has published her own collection with a strong basis in mathematics, also an interest of mine, poetically speaking. I think I should read James Galvin’s work sometime, just to complete this little family circle.)

I’ve posted a link to this interview before, pointing out Graham’s remarks about Michael Palmer, but this time, I think I’d like to paste the relevant excerpt here, as a reminder to myself about the work I’m (supposed to be) doing (all emphases mine):

keeping the song alive is keeping alive a world in which song is possible. You have to keep hope alive. Any kind of truth you might arrive at that hasn’t contended with hope is going to be very partial. [pause] Michael Palmer is very interesting in that regard. He has extraordinary music. I think he’s learned better than anyone the Stevens trick of making the poem disintegrate on the surface but stay totally alive musically. To me he’s very important in that regard. The way he uses repetition. The particular way he will bring certain images back without that turning into structure. Pure desire kept alive in the act of writing by the way fragments recur.

I also like how Graham talking about silence (“Making the silence come awake in the poem is important to my process. The silence – or anything else that resists the impulse to imagine, own, transform.”) leads her to a really brilliant disquisition on her use of the poetic line, one where I’m hard-put to emphasize any idea as more important than another:

…lines of breath-length, say, lines that contain up to five stresses, sometimes feel to me like measures that make that silence feel safe. A silence that will stay at bay for as long as it takes to get the thing said. Writing in lines that are longer than that, because they are really unsayable or ungraspable in one breath unit for the most part (and since our desire is to grasp them in one breath unit) causes us to read the line very quickly. And the minute you have that kind of a rush in the line (emphasized perhaps by the absence of commas and other interpretive elements) what you have is a very different relationship with the silence: one that makes it aggressive – or at least oceanic – something that won’t stay at bay. You have fear in the rush that can perhaps cause you to hear the fearful in what is rushed against.

What you feel – this is Romantic of course – is the pressure of a silence that might not wait until the end of the line to override you. And so you have to rush those words into it. In this new book, I’m writing mostly in traditional lines again, with less counterpoint from such prose-length units. But the calm assurance of the standard English line has always interested and troubled me. In Erosion, the line-length tended to be much smaller than the norm. The voice in that book was, in fact, so aware of the overriding presence of the white space that it just tried to mash words into that space. With great pressure. To create the sensation of that gravitational weight. Sternness. Solemnity. As if to build cell by cell a fabric that could take the weight of eternity into it – like human tissue.

And here’s a bit from a poem that isn’t in The Errancy but in a later collection called Never. It moved me this morning when I read it, out of the context of the entire poem:

from the 2002 collection Never

from "The Taken-Down God" by Jorie Graham