Saturday, August 30, 2003

Good morning from Kearney, Nebraska! About to hit the road again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Dog barking at an empty apartment. Have slept three hours the past two days. Chicago, here we come!

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

For the curious, here's our itinerary:

Wednesday: to Reno
Thursday: Reno to Salt Lake City
Friday: Salt Lake to Cheyenne, Wyoming
Saturday: Cheyenne to Omaha, Nebraska
Sunday: Omaha to Chicago

I hear a rumor that Jim and I may cross paths in Nebraska...there he is, an amber wave of grain.
Another sweaty moving day, boxes piled to the ceiling and blocking out the sun. The dog barometer says let's go out all the time and then go out again.

Still one last library book that I can't find, damn it. Need to settle my earthly accounts.

They're coming at 8 am tomorrow to clean us out. Then it's Reno, here we come.
I must admit that I have become a black-binder user at readings as well. I think this may have something to do with choral singing, which I also do. In fact, what I've always coveted is one of those choral-singing folders that actually has a strap on the back to hold it to your hand, which allows you to stand there grandly without benefit of lectern or stand and emote to the open air.

I am also thinking that the binder is a good substitute when, like me, you don't actually have a book to read out of...

Monday, August 25, 2003

Today I too know the pleasures of being a walking tower of sweat.
Silicon Valley
or, An Essay on the "New Brutalism"

That hooligan
crew’s half-
off, strong
calves and
burning down.
She’s a good
student of talent,
like sunshine
states in the
thick of rain.
The brutal curve
of fountain water
can’t hide the soft edge.
Kasey, is it okay if I didn't pay full price for your book? I was reading it (at home, not in the store) and turned it over, and though the cover price said $12 there was a yellow tag on the back that said $10.80. I really didn't see it before I bought the book, honest.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

I look up from packing and find that I am missing Kasey's reading at this very moment. I do wish I could be there. I will have to be satisfied with spelunking in the far reaches of my closets.
Went into Moe's for a valedictory visit and struck gold: my own copy of Deer Head Nation. I am only a few pages in but it is already kicking my ass all over the room with its texture of sex and terror and disembodied Republican heads...Kasey, I shall read your book in Omaha and weep.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Wiped out from packing, surrounded by towers of boxes. The last of the books in this room have been packed; remaining forlornly on one shelf are Robert Creeley's Collected, that darn new Dave Eggers novel which I keep trying to force myself to finish, Borges's Collected Fictions and Charles North's New and Selected Poems, which I just picked up a few days ago and haven't been able to bring myself to hide away yet. There is also a fresh new copy of the Rough Guide to USA sitting in front of me--even for a straight shot down I-80 I can't bring myself to travel without a guidebook. The cover of the book is a neon diner sign that says "Open 24 Hours," which is funny because I hardly think the U.S. is particularly good at being open late.

The poor dog is very confused by the rapidly shrinking floorspace and has mostly taken to lying around in the few open spaces looking sad.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Hey, when's that new Hubert Schma album coming out?
Actually, ever since I found out about the Poetry Espresso list from Cassie I've been a big admirer of it. It's sort of what I imagined the Poetics list might have been like back in the day, before all the grandstanding and core-dumping, though it probably wasn't. Espresso seems to have a scale that's compatible with a real community, but in a supportive and not exclusionary way--heck, I actually see folks posting poems there and asking for suggestions and then actually getting them and then incorporating them into the poem. Plus it's had impressive longevity.
...and those espressoistes are even quoting me.
...the whole first name/last name thing. I ran into this in my post on Combo when I found myself having to refer to--er--K. Silem Mohammad, Katie Degentesh, and Michael Magee all in a single sentence. Now I don't know Katie Degentesh or Michael Magee, so I referred to them with their last names. But I do know, um, Mr. Mohammad, so it would have seemed weird to refer to him as "Mohammad" and not as "Kasey."

Then there's the whole "bloggers are one big family" effect--I notice that any time bloggers have an exchange or link to one another last names are almost immediately dropped, so that, for example, Jordan Davis (who I've never met) links to me (when he does) as "Tim." I like this; it seems warm, fuzzy, caring-heart, even; it punctures the idea that this is just a ramped-up version of impersonal print culture.

But--the point Cassie makes is a good one--someone coming to a blog for the first time is going to get the impression of a whole social world of "Stephanie"s and "Jim"s and "Jordan"s and wonder, maybe, what soap opera they stepped into and who all these people are who seem to know each other and could this new reader ever be on a first-name basis with them, too?

I think the recent discussions of New Brutalism on Poetry Espresso have made me think a bit more about this. First-naming is fine if no one else is listening; but what happens in those weird moments when you become aware that someone is.
...but a new Del poem lifts the gloom...
Want to go to readings...and parties...but must's like being in Chicago already...

Thursday, August 21, 2003

James Meetze tells Australia what this New Brutalism business is all about. (Believe it or not, they want to know.)
I'm glad to see that Arnold opposes the toilet-flushing tax.
What cheered me up last night was Stephanie's copy of Combo 12, which Stephanie pulled out of her bag and let me read at dinner and then just let me keep--I tried to give it back but she insisted, the logic being, I think, that the Bay Area had plenty of Combos and maybe I needed to spread the gospel to Chicago.

Well, it was just what I needed. Even though I was really tired and a little gloomy I decided to leaf through it when I got home and shortly I was laughing out loud (which I'm sure sleeping Robin really appreciated) and would have rolled on the floor if there were room amongst the boxes. It's been a while since I've read a collection of poetry that was so energetic and gleeful and surprising from page to page.

But what was so totally stunning was: I'm sitting there at David's with my potato pancakes waiting and flipping through the mag and something's coming together, there is really honestly an aesthetic here, and I look up and I say something stupid like, "Whoa, now I know what flarf is!"

Now obviously Gary and Kasey and others have offered up their (anti-)definitions before and I've tried to follow their lead and not reify the label into some kind of Mode. But looking at this Combo I did feel something distinctive going on, something that other kinds of writing--even writing that shares some of the same tools, like the "Google poem"--hasn't been able to accomplish. So I'm just going to risk sounding like an ass and try to explain what I mean.

I remember at some point a while back Kasey declared that he wasn't going to write Google poems anymore. Stephanie speculated last night that after a while of writing using Google you start to feel, well, guilty about the whole endeavor, because sometimes it just seems too easy. When I tried it myself at first I thought that too, but I realized that it wasn't so, that my own efforts at the form just weren't coming out right. Looking at what I'm seeing in Combo I realize what I was doing wrong: I was trying too hard to filter, shape, make it pretty--worst of all, to try for some kind of lyric closure, which was just disastrous. I don't think I previously understood what it really meant that flarf meant to embrace the "bad" or "tasteless"--this turns out, in what you see Kasey or Michael Magee doing, to be a very particular kind of tastelessness, that which seeks out and embraces what is degraded and offensive but energetically so, like the kind of pleasure you get from quoting a tagline from a bad movie--no, that isn't quite right, but "Awwww yeah" seems like the perfect slogan for flarf, its reveling in the nasty.

I guess to my mind the work in Combo by Kasey, Katie Degentesh, and Michael Magee best captures what I'm talking about, best hangs together into a distinctive aesthetic (not to say anything against the other fine work in there). It's no accident that the placeholder objects in Degentesh's poems are sausages and popsicles, two of the most grossly overprocessed consumer foods known to man--and yet so tasty. Stephanie pointed out to me the brilliant way in which the ground keeps shifting, so that you're thinking at one point "oh, well, obviously 'sausage' is 'dog'" but then a few lines later it's definitely a tumor, and so on, just hanging together enough to keep you going but off balance the whole time. And the poems don't wrap themselves up neatly; it's like they could just keep going but that they simply stop at some point.

What I like most in Magee's poems, as well as Kasey's [oy--this first name/last name thing requires another post on another night] is how they preserve the texture of the language you find online--typos, all caps, nonstandard spellings, rhythms ("similarity between Little / Miss Muffet and Sadam Hussein?!")--unfiltered, but brilliantly concentrated. The repetition of "ass," "fuck," and "dumbshit" in Kasey's poems are like a kid's pleasure in saying swear words to himself for the first time or two his friends on the playground--and the energy of playground insult--but somehow use that to portray totally wild mood swings: in "Abstract Poetics," from aggressive hostility ("ur nothing but a stupid dumbshit goddam motherfucker") to self-flagellating exhibitionism ("now that my ass has reached a new audience / with my MA in dumbshit studies"). Most important is that there is no effort to "redeem" this material or take a position above or outside it: the poem just gets down in there and stays there.

And yet: there's obviously some desire to make an (ahem) serious point: you don't call poems like this "Abstract Poetics" and "Mainstream Poetry" if you don't want to whip somebody's head around. Magee: "Poems are, like, total bullshit unless they are / squid or popsicles or deer piled / on elk in the trunk of David Hasselhoff's / Cutlass Sierra." Flarf's hardly the first poetry to revel in the pop-culture reference--actually, hardly anybody doesn't--but I think the key is (am I wrong here, folks?) that there no irony in that reference, in fact a pointed refusal of irony, a refusal to make the poem superior to its material (unlike the wounded and guilty attachment a lot of young, intelligent writers have to pop culture). Squid? Popsicles? Deer? Eat up.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Book now stripped of tape flags. Nobody in here but us microbes.
If you do want to hear something decent on Ginsberg, though, you should get yourself to San Diego between Christmas and New Year's and look for some spiky-haired Asian kid in a suit talking about "Auto Poesy: Allen Ginsberg’s Poetics of Transcription":

This paper examines the original recordings of Allen Ginsberg’s "auto poesy," poems dictated into a portable tape recorder as Ginsberg criss-crossed the country by car in the late 1960s. These tapes, now housed in the Ginsberg archives at Stanford University, provided the materials for most of the work in Ginsberg’s collections Planet News and The Fall of America, including some of Ginsberg’s most forceful poems against the Vietnam War. Ginsberg’s political poetry of this period is an effort to oppose the "black magic" language of politicians and the mass media with the truth of his own poetic language. To Ginsberg, the tape recorder seemed to be the perfect tool with which to combat the "official" reality of war: it allowed a spontaneous "transcript of consciousness," free of the self-censorship that signaled society’s control of the individual. At the same time, it promised an accurate and objective recording of reality, a counterweight to the false data provided by the media. This conjunction of the subjective and the objective was best captured in Ginsberg’s term for this writing: "auto poesy." "Auto" suggests "automatic writing," the surrealist technique in which one attempted to shut down the conscious mind in order to channel the unconscious. But it also stands for "automobile," suggesting the way the poem is mediated by technology, perhaps becoming a kind of machine itself.

While the published versions of these poems are ostensibly direct transcriptions of Ginsberg’s recordings, listening to the tapes themselves reveals a much more complex sonic collage, as much a media and commercial landscape as a physical one; in particular, Ginsberg’s microphone often picks up music and talk from the radio alongside Ginsberg’s voice. Indeed, in a poem like "Wichita Vortex Sutra," Ginsberg’s struggle to assert his own words and presence in this media landscape becomes the poem’s primary political drama. But Ginsberg’s emphasis on his own "conscious will power" as the key factor shows the strain in this project; for it is precisely this will to order that Ginsberg has given up in turning to auto poesy. This contradiction is evident in the gap between tape and transcription: for while the tape reveals a transcript of a consciousness that is uncertain, stuttering, self-conscious and self-revising, breaking up the language of war, Ginsberg’s printed version re-orders this material, unwilling to give up the authority offered by the existing language of power.
And On the Poetry of AG was published in 1984.
The information center desk is now closed.
On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg really is still the only major collection of essays, and probably the only good critical book that isn't a biography, available on Ginsberg, which is a total embarrassment. What the heck are all us academics doing with our time? Oh, right. Blogging.
"Little microbes" is pretty redundant, isn't it.
This also means I have to take all the tape flags out of my books. I am currently working my way through On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg, which is a veritable forest of flags--one of my classmates declared that it was the "worst abuse of tape flags" she had ever seen. Now I feel guilty about it because one of the library staff, who the students have affectionately dubbed "Santa Claus" for reasons that would be obvious if you ever saw him, told me that you shouldn't use tape flags because the glue stays behind on the pages and little microbes grow in it and will eat the book in 20 to 30 years. Oops.
The Skeptic has a notice of Elizabeth Willis's Turneresque, which I read back in June and enjoyed and have been meaning to talk about but ashamedly haven't. Hope to rectify that soon.
Ugh--another unpleasant task: returning all my library books. What this means, of course, is going through and bidding goodbye to each one, some from three or four dissertation topics ago, some with those articles in them that I know I should have read but never got around to, some (even worse) that might have something useful in them but I've never had time to check, some with entire new systems of thought that some collleague suggested would totally revolutionize my worldview and probably would but oh well, plus the collected works of Ron Silliman. Oops, there's another shelf I missed.
Robin filed her dissertation this morning! Let the "doctor in the house" jokes begin.
Last night's going-away poetry swap, special edition: 7 pm at David's Deli; bread products exchanged for potato products and tuna salad and then an adjournment to Del's place which we've never seen in the dark, only in Sunday-brunch sunshine, Del pulling the shades and Stephanie expressing astonishment that Del actually sleeps in the same place we eat bread and talk poetry.

Arrived at Union Square early and thought about sitting there and writing a mournful San Francisco poem but thought better of it and went shopping instead. There's a new Benneton store (so new it was unmarked--they should keep it that way--I went in like a retail explorer) and upstairs they even have men's clothing. The cute Asian sales guy upstairs predicted that I was the kind of guy who would like the cut of their shirts. It must have been the new haircut.

I finally gave Jennifer the copy of William Carlos Williams's Imaginations that I picked up for her at Moe's months ago. It's been a regular feature of the swaps that at some point someone says "Oh, you should really read Kora in Hell" and Jennifer says "I keep looking for it but can never find it!" probably because I bought the only copy. Situation rectified. Then Del showed up and handed Jennifer a spare copy of the Creeley-edited Best American Poetry 2002. Like Christmas in August.

Once we got to David's and were safely entrenched in the Celebrity Corner (home, I guess, of David's "well-known" hamburger) there was more: I passed around little wrapped boxes that contained Chinese snuff bottles, hand-painted and each with a different design. My dad brought a bunch back from China and Robin assigned one to each of the swappers by some arcane method that I didn't dare to question but that seemed to work. Del got grasshoppers, which he pointed out are good luck.

I was trying hard not to think about how this was the last swap before I left--but I actually managed to keep it out of my head most of the time. If anything, it made the whole occasion both more energetic and more focused, like dancing at the edge of the stage. Once we got back to Del's we managed to stay on task and get through everybody's poems--which were a revelation, so different and interesting. Everyone seemed to be going in new directions, and I realized how much I've been responding to what I've been hearing in the group--not so much "fix this line" or "change that word" as a general direction, a sense of what moves people in my work and what doesn't.

I don't think I was really sad until we'd finally left Del's around 11:30 and Stephanie, Cassie, and Jennifer were rushing to get to BART and I was walking with them and then suddenly at the corner of Geary I realized I had to turn left to get to my car. I said something awful like "okay, I guess this is it" and then somebody (Stephanie?) said "this is IT?" and then there were some watery-eyed hugs and then I was alone in my car. Fountains of Wayne helped me make it home.
Good morning, Australia!

Monday, August 18, 2003

Catherine and I made the same bad "lime tree transplanted" joke within 15 minutes of each other. Heh. Well, she did it first.
That naked Bjork tells me I can see Alli again, sort of. The sidebar's still wide but what matters is there.
Blogging out in the open: since I'm now officeless I'm spending my last week here working in the English department's TA offices, which is basically a big open room with semi-cubicle areas, all decorated in beige and brown fabrics. It's like a furniture time warp in here, circa 1978.

Like most new buildings at Stanford the room has motion-sensor lights, so that if I'm sitting still here for more than a few minutes the lights turn off. Waving my hands and throwing things has no effect, but if I slap the desk really hard the lights come back on.
Looks like I'm gonna miss the Jim Behrle World Tour--I don't leave for Chicago until the 27th. Have to take a rain check on that Sox game. Bummer. However, if Jim just heads north from Kansas City instead of going back to PA, maybe we can rendezvous in Lincoln, NE.
My goodness--lime tree has been transplanted. Is this the wave of the future?
Although I'm on the verge of moving, every time I go into a bookstore these days I buy an unconscionable number of books, as if hoping that their sheer weight will keep me here.
Trying to write a dissertation abstract, which is a bit like pulling one nail off each hand and then another off each foot and then trying to make another limb with them. Or something.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Here's the poem I wrote in the little notebook. Poetry swappers, avert your eyes.

Miss Teen Your Name Here

She’s walking backward through the plate-glass door
Like an unmarked bill or a press-on tongue.
That blank sash sounds familiar, taut
In wind and calm. Some blonding perp’s
Quick-witted halo can’t compete with her
Desire for cash and carry, sand-polished for
A row of empty chairs.

Inside the store there’s no discount rack
Hanging where deciding ought to be.
It’s not like Tennessee or Ocean
City when the scrim’s a savior, cold
And peek-a-boo lovely in the feral light.
Call off the trainer and the prep-school-strut-
Talking carnies: she’s on the verge of something
Real here, like a way to talk about
Herself in the third-person plural.

Mom’s waiting out in the car with Brad
And the black lab puppy. Tell us how to sort
The finalists from the forward, spilt
Like butter over the upturned eye.
I'm writing in this pocket-sized notebook I picked up at Kepler's yesterday. It's convenient but it's doing weird things to my lines--it's not wide enough for lines of more than a few words so all of my lines have to drop down to a second line, which is really throwing off my rhythm. But I'm thinking maybe this is a good thing--the poem I just wrote in it has a much punchier and faster clip to it than it would have if I'd written it somewhere else.
I'm sitting in front of my computer writing in my notebook. When I finished the piece I was writing I reached up for the keyboard and realized I was trying to save my work.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Yes, Kasey said everything I was trying to say and more, so all I have to say is right on.
Kepler's has a lousy poetry section but a devastatingly good magazine section--I picked up jubilat, Fence and 580 Split before tearing myself away.

Looks like Neal Stephenson is going to be reading there in September, which means I won't get the chance to show up and throw rocks at him. I mean, Snow Crash was all well and good but I still haven't forgiven him for the first couple pages of Cryptonomicon.
I think maybe my blog was better in April. Sigh.
Sleepless but electrified Jordan says: "Function of 'reminiscing': to keep at bay sadness over what's lost."

What about sadness over what's about to be lost?

My senior year in college I remember experiencing what I can only call pre-emptive nostalgia: walking through the campus (this would mostly happen at night) I would imagine what it would be like to be making the same walk a decade or two hence, or, better yet, to be somewhere else remembering making that walk. Dizzying circle of projection: imagining myself as some future self that was imagining itself as the self I was at that time.

Experiencing that yesterday at Stanford, probably because I'd stayed on campus so late it was actually getting dark, which is about the only thing that can make the Stanford campus look romantic as opposed to the brash, vulgar, vastly scaled (though in a pretty way) place it is. Shadows were falling through the arcades and it was quiet enough that I could hear the palm trees creaking in the wind (in a non-romantic mood that would be pretty scary). The strangeness of making a conscious effort to store up a memory, which almost always has the exact opposite effect, but at the moment it creates heightened sensation and a sense of every detail's importance.
I can only see Alli's blog on Internet Explorer; when I pull it up in Netscape it seems stalled on Aug. 7. What gives?

Thursday, August 14, 2003

A National Asian American Poetry Festival! Pinch me, Madame Corpse.
Or Catherine's recommendation: "weekly adjustments."
The point being, though, that Language writing seems to a lot of younger writers like something you can't just go around, but something you have to go through to get wherever you're going, the narrow and constricting tunnel to freedom. I keep running into this sense but have trouble understanding it. Maybe the issue is partially generational (to people who are in slightly less advanced into their late twenties than I am?) but maybe more local and institutional: that the work of Silliman, Bernstein, Hejinian, Howe et al is something that a lot of younger writers report being taught in class, as the kind of "way poetry is," is still weird to me, since that was patently not the case when I was in school. Being at Stanford has turned the tables a bit on that, but I have the ever-present Stegner program here to remind me.

But I realize I do feel a bit the same way about the example Language writing set--that there really is no "going back" from it, that once you've accepted some of the fundamental questions these very different writers raise about narrative, subjectivity, ideology, and the transparency of lyric you can't just say "well, I'm going to write unproblematic first-person narratives of personal experience anyway." You acknowledge that the field has changed and you see what you can do from there. But I guess I see Language writing as having opened the linguistic field up in ways I couldn't have imagined before, rather than being a fall from innocence that showed us how suspect our feelings really were.

If there's a nostalgia for the texture of feeling then I think Kasey had the right idea:

what, for instance, is the dividing line between emotion, on the one hand, and sentimentality, which he dismisses at one point? I read a lot of New Brutalist writing as being very sentimental, but in a way I find fascinating and exciting.

Sentimentality--as an aesthetic that knows it is tawdry and ought to be rejected by any cool-headed skeptic and revels in it--strikes me as a more honest response to the moment than a demand for a return to earnest or neo-romantic emotionality. Jennifer Moxley is somebody I think of who seems to negotiate between these poles. And isn't that what was so winning about the idea of "flarf"--a gleeful embrace of the "bad," the tasteless, the guilty pleasure.
Maybe when I get to Chicago I should join Poetry magazine as a mole. I'll gradually rise to power on the mediocrity of my inoffensive verse and the excellent coffee that I make and then in 30 years when I get appointed editor (thanks Laurable) I'll use what's left of the $100 million to fund a really expensive blog.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

The persistent feeling, evident in James's remarks, that Language poetry is this hulking, frustrating obstacle that we all have to go through if we want to get to poetry today. That it's schoolmarm, take-your-medicine orthodoxy.

Question: if Language writing is such a barrier to expression, if it just gets in the way, why not just ignore it or write as if it didn't happen? Plenty of poets do it.
Kasey does raise some good points, though. That there's a concern with how "to answer the inevitable charges of escapism, mystification, naive romanticism, etc." is evident from that "You Are James Meetze" result, which declares "You strongly desire to bring emotion back into 'innovative' poetry, yet you disdain pure confessionalism." Shades of the "third way"? Well, not exactly. It seems a bit more like what I see among a lot of younger poets: an impulse that is essentially romantic and expressivist (though not confessional in the narrow sense) but that is filtered through a skepticism and irony about self-expression that many associate, correctly or not, with Language poetry.

Maybe, then, this is the key statement in what James was saying:

The problem is that this model of langpo resides over the heads of my generation as both the ruler wielding, stern school-marm and springboard from which to forge onward. The problem is that langpo was a significant achievement in its time, about the same time I was learning to ride a bike, however, its time is over.
The "New Aroused Panters"?
Here's to a "poetry of instinctive animal sounds, mournful keening and elated whoops, grumpy mumbles and aroused panting."

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Today's best referrals:

"molly ringwald" barefoot

working at walgreens is hard
Yikes! I look away for a three-day weekend and a minor intergenerational skirmish has broken out.

I guess Ron Silliman was a bit miffed by the Which New Brutalist Are You? quiz's description of Language poetry as "more concerned with theory than emotion." Ron responds:

langpo has just as much emotion as any other poetry...All tendencies of poetry have exactly the same quotient of emotion – it’s present at all points in how the poet feels about his/her work as he/she works & as we read...Where there’s ink, there are feelings.

To which James "Jim" Meetze says:

what emotion exists in modernism is obscured by references and theory and the emotion in romantic poetry bares its chest to the reader. Nowhere did I state that language writing is “without” emotion, simply that its tendencies favor showing a knowledge of theory over showing emotion...some poetry bares its chest, while other poetry clothes itself in didactics.

Kasey is surely right, in part, to say that we've been through this before, and that the argument is more about a "clash of sensibilities" than anything else.

But the thing that I want to object to is not so much the characterization of Language poetry or any other poetry as the idea that one can describe poetry by opposing "emotion" and "theory." I certainly understand the point James is trying to make in opposing a chest-baring (hmm, that metaphor is weirding me out as I write it--the thing that occurs most vividly to me is the phony chest hair that Mike Myers tends to sport in the Austin Powers movies--as a gesture of male virility) romanticism with a modernism that obscures and layers over that nakedness. But I just don't agree with it as a description of either romanticism or modernism. A writer like Pound wanted to strip away the layers of what he saw as Victorian sentimentality--not in favor of some gem of pure intellect, but to find the core of what was necessary--"only emotion endures." And in the Wordsworthian formula of "emotion recollected in tranquillity" it would be hard to say, at least after reading Wordsworth's poetry, that only the first word in that formula mattered.

I think the mistake is to see "emotion" as some thing that exists out there and that the poem simply expresses more or less transparently, and that we can characterize some writing as "more emotional" (as James seems to) based on this transparency. Lanugage poetry--and modernism more generally, in James's formulation--is then a mode of writing that puts too many layers of "theory" and "reference" over its emotions. As a rank formalist I have to side with Ron over James on this one--if we're going to talk about "emotion" in a poem we do have to talk about it as a structural effect, something that the poem does to a reader. To talk about it as a "diversion" is not to say that an emotional response to a poem is not real, but rather that it operates by triggering certain things in us that are not exactly "there in the poem" but that are resonant structures of experience, feeling, culture that we have that allow us to "understand" a poem. It also reminds us, as any poet knows, that creating a poem that has an emotional effect on a reader may have nothing to do with the intensity of your own emotions or even how honestly you engage with those emotions, but more to do with what you choose to do on the page--which is, of course, itself an emotionally charged experience.

But Ron did step into the trap a bit by referring to a "quotient of emotion"--a phrase that, even though I think Ron intended to use it to defend Language poetry against the charge of theoretical aridity, reinforces the idea that one can measure quite precisely the amount of emotion that a given poem contains. And in this sense I think James caught Ron in a bit of sleight-of-hand--Ron says "All tendencies of poetry have exactly the same quotient of emotion – it’s present at all points in how the poet feels about his/her work as he/she works & as we read," but as James points out this is deflecting the question of emotion to sites of production and reception, leaving aside the question of what kind of formal structure in a poem generates emotional response. I think Ron is caught a bit between the desire to defend Language writing by saying "well, it is emotional" and the desire to point out the flaw in the question.

Two points of agreement, though:

1. As James points out, Ron did read at the 21 Grand reading series. So he is, in fact, a New Brutalist. Hooray!

2. Everybody loves Spicer.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Cleaning out my inbox and realizing I had not done this since before I started blogging. Was there really such a time? I found my first out-of-the-blue welcoming email from John Erhardt (thanks, John--I'm eternally grateful) and tons of encouragement/questions/affectionate mother-henning from Stephanie, and even Ron confirming that he had not, in fact, written all of his blog posts in 1987.
Blogging one last time from my now bare-walled office. A couple of nails and some crumbs in a drawer are the only sign I was ever here. I will now go and remove my nameplate so I remember who I am.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Last week on NBC Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon defended the security "fence" being constructed around Palestinian areas by remarking that "a good fence will bring I believe good friendship":

The remark led “Today” co-host Katie Couric to cite Robert Frost’s line that “good fences make good neighbors.” "Yes, I quoted it ... when I met with the president,” Sharon responded with a chuckle.

The Sunday New York Times called this allusion "Robert Frost's reassuring notion," but ran a sidebar by poet Phillis Levin that muses, not particularly helpfully, on Frost as "juggler of ambiguities":

"Mending Wall" is about two neighbors working together to repair a stone wall, about what they say and do not say to each other, about a large gap between them. Frost is also talking about boundaries and barriers, about mending, about making amends.

Um, thanks.
Don't be like me and miss Stephanie's reading tonight. Sigh.
Whereas my postcard exchange with Del happened during the dog-day month of July. Del's postcards were going to my house, so I didn't get them until the evenings, but I was usually writing my postcards to him during the day on campus; my trip to Chicago, while allowing the postcards to travel a more respectable distance, meant I didn't read any of his postcards for about a week.

So the effect was that I felt more like we were writing in isolation, each pursuing our own projects and giving each other daily glimpses of it. In fact, both of us seemed to take the opportunity to try new things. Del sent me a number of what he called "novel remixes," collages drawing on materials from an experimental novel he's working on. My obsession became something I asked in a poem mid-month--

I'm starting to wonder why I can't ever tell you
Anything about myself

--followed by various exercises in self-revelation, some ironic, some not.

But in reading together we seemed to be in sync, egging each other on. Humor has always been the best quality, to me, of Del's poetry; I'm always amazed at how consistently funny he is, even in his saddest poems, and his reading style emphasizes this, blithe and cheerful even through the sharpest enjambments. I realized that I had been responding to that element in his writing all month and trying to be funny myself, and then I tried to pick the funniest pieces of all for reading; so the feeling I got was of two comics in a laugh-off, each trying to top the other, but all in good fun. The lights had miraculously come up midway through the second set so I could actually see the audience, too, and the emergency bar flashlight helped me see what I was doing.
"Tim goes Down Under": coming to an adult video store near you.
Let the bad headlines begin:

"Arnold Totally Into Recall."

"Arnie Becomes the Running Man for Governor."

"Schwarzenegger Muscles In."

And if you want them all in one:

"Total Recall: 'Gover-nator' Arnie gives up movies for California politics."

Plus he's not even the only Arnold in the race.

Coleman, 35, will run as an independent with a platform that defies partisan pigeonholing. According to Wednesday's Express, he favors gay rights, marijuana decriminalization, a flat income tax, walling off America's borders and drilling for oil in every national park. He opposes labor unions, government-subsidized drug treatment and urban sprawl.

Suddenly I don't feel so bad about moving.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Negative memorialization: as people move out of their offices here the nameplates outside their doors disappear.
Reading in pairs with two different people (Cassie and Del) was like being two different people, as was writing postcards with them. Or maybe it was like being four different people, since the experience of reading with Cassie and Del was in some ways the opposite of my experience of writing to them.

In writing to Cassie I was diligent and focused, probably because the postcards were coming to my office every day and I was sitting there in the office every mid-January day like a good grad student, staring alternately at my screen and at the unread books on my shelves. I had a routine down: I'd pick up Cassie's postcards from my mailbox in mid-afternoon and then leave the office to go to the Stanford bookstore, where I'd fight for a table in the second-floor cafe, order my lukewarm chai, and read with one eye (I think I spent a lot of this month reading Ron Silliman's Ketjak) while keeping the other eye on what was going on down on the bookstore floor and then writing my no-look poem to Cassie and running it over to the post office next door by 5:15.

I was also being a good egg by taking the form super-seriously and dialoguing with Cassie, trying to respond to some of her poems and incorporating some of her lines into my own poems. It was engaged, intense.

I tried really hard to have the same focus when reading with Cassie on Sunday, but it didn't quite seem to happen. I tend to try to get myself all hyped up for reading, probably to fend off nervousness--and the "Around the World" I was sipping beforehand was making me lightheaded--but Cassie's reading style is much cooler and sort of deadpan, not in an ironic or arch way but in an unpretentious and intelligent way, so that the brilliance of her phrasing can be enjoyed unadorned and without nudging. (It's the same blink-and-you-miss-it quality I see in many of her poems, which at first glance seem so matter-of-fact but on a second reading drop off into depths like a cartoon character who's run off a cliff.) So I throttled back but was having a hard time gauging audience response--having a hard time even seeing where I was, given the light--so felt like what I'd done was imprecisely calibrated, a bit floaty.
Alan Sondheim's work is much more readable when posted (and cogently discussed) by Chris than in the Poetics list digest, where I tend to scroll past it impatiently.
Plus Stephanie's applying her photo-editor-enhanced crazy ass eye to the photos from the reading. I think the pen & ink version makes us look like Cheers.
Thanks for the Chicago produce tips, Stephanie. I suspect I'll be doing most of my shopping at the 55th St. Co-op, which is just around the corner from our new place. Not to mention the 24-hr Walgreens for those late-night floss runs.
At dinner before the reading we were waiting for the food when someone suggested that we should actually talk about what poems we were going to read. A flurry of activity: Cassie's newly minted books flying everywhere, eyes frantically scanning pages, looking for the right poem, people finding their partners and saying "Do you think this one goes with this one?" And since at least two pairings (me & Del, Nick & Stephanie) hadn't had time to be published yet we had to haul out the raw materials themselves--I pulled a month's worth of Del postcards out of my bag (which, along with Cassie's suitcase, made me think of Ginsberg's "Mugging" and his "shoulder bag with 10, 000 dollars full of poetry left on the broken floor") and handed them over, Del doing the same, so we could hunt through and find the right ones. When the food did finally come no one even looked at it.
My reading report seems to be seeping out, bit by bit. Postcard-like. Can't break the habit.
This link (tympan) is a blog post that demonstrates community built by blogging. There are a number of poetry bloggers who all read and refer to each other's blogs (if not poetry). This particular post is one of many about Ron Silliman's recent reading in Oakland. If you read iit you will learn that these poet bloggers all know each other, but have never met. You'll also be able to immediately tap into there discourse community through in-post links and blogrolls.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Instant Gratification: Photos from Sunday's Postcard Poems Reading!

[I take full responsibility for any images that make the poets look any less than their glamorous selves.]

1. Exterior: the Oxygen Bar by night.
2. Taylor, Stephanie, Clive and Del in cushy luxury before the reading.
3. Our public awaits. Sorry, Kevin, that flash must have hurt.
4. Stephanie in her fabulous dress reading with Del. When we started some of the staff were enjoying oxygen in the "dentist's chairs" in the background.
5. Del reading from his delicious yellow book with Stephanie.
6. Nick heroically deciphering his water-stained postcards in the inadequate light.
7. Me sorting postcards at halftime with oxygen tubes at the ready.
8. Catherine reading, holding the "bar flashlight," with Stephanie.
9. Extreme closeup: Jennifer reading with Cassie, ambushed in profile. Fluorescent post-its courtesy of Stephanie.
10. Del closing things out.
The goodness of Cassie's idea to have us read alternately, back-and-forth (one poem by one, then one poem by the other)--it captured the exchange and dialogue of the form.
It was a great pleasure to finally meet Nick, who was warm and engaging and gamely accompanied us to an early Ethiopian dinner even though he didn't eat much. Hearing Nick read was illuminating--I tended to play for laughs, but Nick was serious and intense, reading intently from his postcards (well, we were all kind of hunched over our texts since it was nearly pitch black at our end of the room), but then occasionally pausing and looking up, as if what we were hearing was not words on a page but a thought or meditation in the process of emerging--which perhaps epitomizes the mode of the postcard poem.
So we met up around 4 on Sunday at the Oxygen Bar, everybody lined up in cushy chairs along the wall like contestants in some corporate game show. We waited a bit for poor Cassie, who finally appeared dragging an enormous black suitcase absolutely stuffed with books of postcard poems, many created just that weekend.

Stephanie had a fantasy of complete sets of vacuum-sealed postcard poems, arranged horizontally and rigid as a good piece of smoked salmon. Cassie made her dream come true, more or less, having invested in a vacuum-sealing machine (who knew?) that sucked all the air out and made sealed packs of pure poetry, complete with labels that said "safe for boiling, freezing, and microwaving." We tried dropping them on the ground and they made a nice solid whack.

Monday, August 04, 2003

So wired after last night's postcard poems reading that I don't think I blinked all the way home on 280 and then couldn't get to sleep until after midnight--then so wiped out today I didn't even leave the house.

Problem: Where does one turn for an objective, audience-POV account of a reading that involved no fewer than five bloggers? I was hoping Kasey would come through, but he defers to Stephanie's eloquent participant-observer version. (Now that I think about it, Kasey's probably compromised because he was taking money for us at the book table. Keep the change, Kasey.)

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Friday, August 01, 2003

I can read a postcard poem in forty seconds flat.
My whole afternoon's been thrown off by not having to write a postcard to Del. I thought about writing him a "bonus" postcard but then maybe he'd think I was stalking him. Or just that I was pathetic.
I might as well link the work of Aloysius Bertrand, Robert Duncan, Ron Johnson & Dan Davidson into a Poetics of the Dead.

I think Ron just endorsed corpse poetics.
Stephanie found us a mic and amp for Sunday's reading. Damn. I'd been hoping to hide my poems' faults with an eloquent mumble. Now I'll have to rely on feedback.
Okay, Henry, but I want a cut of the royalties.
Ron finally explains what an "ordinary poem" is. Bummer--I liked my and Stephanie's idea better.

Why did we catch it when the New Yorkers didn't? We just listen better. Take that, East Coast!
Ron tells me I write like a tall thin person. Hmm. Any other opinions? Chime in, especially if you haven't met me.