Friday, May 30, 2003

I'm a little worried that David never came home from the gas station.
Yikes! Scholars who blog!

(With thanks to wood s lot.)
From the Winter 1981-92 issue of Bridge:

Luis Cabalquinto

A poem got on this bus at the last stop
Now it sits across from you

It looks you in the eye, asks about your job
Your spouse, your children, what you’ve done with your life
I was accused this afternoon of not living in the 21st century because I haven't seen The Matrix Reloaded yet. A sympathetic listener pointed out that this only meant that I was living in 1997.
John Erhardt and I have been having an (uh-oh) "interesting" exchange on Ammons, after his posting of an Ammons poem and my "huh?" response. John's put up an informative and longer post on Ammons, apparently previously Bloggobbled.
I'm back inthe Special Collections library. There are two people kissing at the table in front of me.

Books are sexy. Old books I guess are really sexy.
Cassie: Didn't Ron Silliman just give us a sermon to doubt?
Stephanie says some of Kasey's categories were arranged "alphabetically, which seemed properly democratic." Stephanie--I would have thought that as somebody else who has a "Y" last name you'd recognize the alphabet for the repressive apparatus that it is!

I shouldn't pick on her. My links are alphabetical too. But by title.

I hope the cat comes back.
Wow. Jordan reads me on the subway. On his Handspring.

if I didn't download 'em I'd never get any work done.

Clever solution. I just don't get any work done.
And soak the poor.
Get your war back on.
While I am by no means a Robert Pinsky fan, I have to admire his willingness to do ugly things to get his point across.
I guess I am still a little confused over what David means by a "social poet."

Initially I thought he meant a quality of writing: a poetry which creates (as he put it) "a social language that desires all to speak, hear and be heard." You could argue that O'Hara has this quality in the way he lets "everything" into the poem, no matter how ephemeral or casual; but the question is whether "all" means "other people," whether other voice that are not O'Hara's are heard and welcomed in the work or whether we still hear O'Hara behind it all. You could also argue (in doctrinaire langpo style) that Andrews has this quality because he directly engages the reader, forcing attention onto the way the reader (not just the writer) is implicated in the language that makes up the poem, that his "Hey you" style forces you to respond in some way.

But the "social" also seems to overlap with a biographical quality (shades of psychological criticism!): the "social" (networking, scenester, movement) poet vs. the loner, the homeless maverick. I guess neither O'Hara nor Andrews would be "asocial" on these grounds, which is why I imagine Adorno wouldn't have been too fond of either of them.

And then vs. the political (i.e. the critical?)--in David's sense it seems you could be social without being political, inclusive of the social world without necessarily being critical of it and seeking change.

If I'm being cynical I might even say that there is no poet who is truly social in David's terms, even if we endorse a bardic notion in which a poet speaks for a community--for even in this model, the poet is speaking on behalf of others rather than allowing or encouraging others to speak.

Whitman is perhaps the most inclusive of modern poets. But when we read Whitman, do we really hear the voices of all those persons he evokes? Or do we simply hear the ever more expansive and all-absorbing voice and ego of Whitman?
I stacked the deck a little in the O'Hara/Andrews cage match, I think. O'Hara seems inward, concerned with his own "sordid identifications"; while Andrews is (aggressively) outward, portraying "You as the human labor saving device," a product of all the economic and political discourses that plug up the poem's arteries.

But both are a kind of slide show of social roles that "I" or "you" might be pressed into. If O'Hara has a gleeful freedom, there's also the "constant anxiety over looks," the sense of the self as a dissipating mist and as a ($2,000,000) commodity. And if in Andrews "you" are helplessly interpellated (by "money gobble gobble money") there's a chance of finding a crack in the delirious excess, the reframing and jumping from one language to another, knowing that "the situation has a situation." Which optimism? and which grace?
We benighted West Coasters are still waiting for our Poetry Project Newsletters. That Pony Express ain't what it used to be.
"Thinking in poetry," for me, was greatly nourished by "thinking in postcards." If sitting down to write each day--and needing to produce something before a 5 p.m. postmark deadline--was daunting in the abstract, the actually small size of the blank space I had to fill was comforting, a perfect example of constraint producing freedom. Each postcard on its own was "minor," enough if it captured a stray thought or scrap of conversation--Cassie sent me at least one single-line postcard, but I always felt compelled to fill the whole space, a leftover reflex I guess from the grade-school short answer test.

The form also blunted my usual instinct for closure. I'd run out of space before I could come up with some dramatic flourish, which is almost always for the best.

And for some reason I wrote a bunch of things that rhymed.

Hotel in Afternoon Sunshine

Cars nose in rows
to the floodgates: those

varied finishes
permit no blemishes.

Why a hotel should rhyme
is beyond me: a crime

against my usual
distaste for the audible
I'd like to be "contagiously smart & supple & capacious" (& seductive) when discussing poetry.

Too late, Stephanie--you already are.

Stephanie comes about as close to that blogtopia as anybody I can think of--how "our lives & poetry cross each other's boundaries," exactly.

I'll admit that in that region I've been tentative. My poetry seemed to get better when I stopped talking about myself.

And contaigous--it was reading Stephanie's blog that started me down this lonely road. Reading her makes me want to move to the Bay Area. And I already live here.

And yes, cheers to Steve for getting down & dirty in the bloggy muck with the rest of us.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

HiH has returned to the question of a "social" poet and whether Frank O'Hara and/or Bruce Andrews might be one.

David had originally asked:

Who is the more 'social' poet -- Frank O'Hara or Bruce Andrews? It would seem that optimism or something resembling grace would be an axiom of a truly social poetry. As I define it are there then any social language poets?

Perhaps then the role of the poet is not to create a discourse in which only the initiate can participate but a social language that desires all to speak, hear and be heard.

To which I responded:

iI guess I think of O'Hara as less a social than a sociable poet, someone who's always talking to everybody and reporting on talking to everybody, friendly and open in that way--but the question is whether that sociability is just being reported on at a remove or whether the reader is really invited into it, included in it.

You make the call. Two examples, chosen at semi-random.

O'Hara, from "In Memory of My Feelings" (chosen in part because David cited "grace" as one of the qualities of a social poet):

Beards growing, and the constant anxiety
over looks. I'll shave before she wakes up. Sam Goldwyn
spent $2,000,000 on Anna Sten, but Grushenka left America.
One of me is standing in the waves, an ocean bather,
or I am naked with a plate of devils at my hip.
to be born and live as variously as possible. The conception
of the masque barely suggests the sordid identifications.
I am a Hittite in love with a horse. I don't know what blood's
in me I feel like an African prince I am a girl walking downstairs
in a red pleated dress I am a champion taking a fall
I am a jockey with a sprained ass-hole I am the light mist
in which a face appears

Andrews, from "Mistaken Identity":

The situation has a situation
Electro-convulsive opinions eat us
Pig brink dollarization, the marriage of money gobble gobble money
Profit margin american cream dream cultures of vultures
A social predicament, the losers are self-preoccupied
Jellyfish FBI -- are you a vending machine?
Who fights the free? -- at least the exploited ones have a future
Dayglo ethics, corporate global chucksteak
Lose the flag, nightstick imitation value goosing me
Estados Unidos, suck o loaded pistol
Scale model blonde -- zoloft, paxil, luvox, celexa
Need money? -- it's easy, it's simple
Dot-commie foreskin arrevederci
Hot mark-up johnny on the spectacle
You as the human labor saving device
Culture, please -- all very non-missionary
Massive doses of dog tranquilizer -- to stop being reeducated
Hostesss of the ecosystem

Wednesday, May 28, 2003


"Kind of like Don Ameche breakdancing in Cocoon."
"The captain from Star Trek (he was Royal Shakespeare first, I just found out) in X-Men-Two, with a helmet on his head, in that giant brain machine, concentrating hard enough to find every single mutant on earth, who appeared to him as red whisps of light."

"A diary, then, warped by the knowledge that others are reading it."

"A meditation tool, or, less pretentiously, a technique for paying attention."

"The way something I say may or may not be picked up for discussion--and in unpredictable ways."

"It amuses me and some others, it helps me work things through and it sharpens my typing skills. "

"I'm predicting more beating of brains all around."

"I have trouble saying the word 'blog'."

"The existentialist revolution, touring the sand of the inflamed puritans, quit copulating with fountains."

"Any binary with 'party' as one of the terms is an okay binary with me."
We're just a whimsy, a way to move a clock forward.

As usual, Jim said it better.
I may not have the stamina to challenge Nick for the title of late-night blog champ, but I think Cassie may.
Finally getting around to responding to Steve Evans's "widening the frame" around the whole Gustave "I Don't Blog" Flaubert thing.

I think it's fair to say that critique—not pick-a-fight polemic, but fair-minded and well-argued critique—is not the form's strong suit so far.

Sigh. I guess I've been on about this since day one, when I suggested that Ron Silliman tugged the blog back toward a print-culture model of critique, but that this seemed to represent the far end of a continuum that also incorporated much more casual, diaristic, and ephemeral forms. Steve's posting of a short essay (rather than, say, a daybook entry alone) in response to some of this blog conversation is along the Silliman model, and has some of the same virtues: it gives us all a fixed point against which to respond, focuses a conversation, as opposed to the trying-to-hit-a-moving-target quality of a series of blog exchanges. It also makes it more likely that I'll respond directly to Steve rather than trying to track all the various threads. (Constraints of the medium: it's not incidental that Steve's remarks live at a stable address that isn't going to change, whereas this post will almost immediately be pushed down the page, bloggered permalink and all.)

I'm suspicious, though, about the binary: "fair-minded and well-argued critique" vs. "party," excess and indulgence. Critical rigor can be a fetish of its own, more a style than a value, and one that's constituitive of the medium of print (where I live too). It seems odd to expect a blog to be a book review, or Addison and Steele online. Some of us do write reviews, and essays; I suppose I could write my dissertation in installments on my blog, but I doubt anyone would or could read it in that form. (Perhaps not in any other, either, but that's another story.) Indeed, it's a bit chilling to me that in a group of bloggers and readers ostensibly committed to poetry that any form of prose that does not conform to an expository paradigm risks being labeled as not "serious," not useful to reading and understanding.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to spoil the party. I don't want to claim that blogs have to be regarded as serious or critical or well argued. I simply don't want those terms to be the only markers of value in discourse. They don't capture what seems most interesting to me in blogging. I don't think we have to embrace some vision of blogtopia (and Steve's account of that still has a whiff of the blogger as anti-intellectual that worries me, as if we had to be tricked into thinking), of blogging as a radical alternative to academic discourse, to say that blogging has a use.

Could we have more talk about poetry? Sure--and not just on blogs either. When I posted on Nick Flynn a while back I got more email than I had in a while--that kind of capsule review has a use, gives us a text as a touchstone for discussion and (dis)agreement. I'm glad Ron Silliman is posting that sort of work every day. I'm also glad others aren't.

Finally: Flaubert's collected correspondence comprises four volumes coming to nearly 2000 pages. He still seemed to have enough gas left in the tank for a few novels.
I won one round with Nick but too tired for another round tonight. It's that July surge in the NL Central followed by the August meltdown.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

My template has come home to me. I'm not asking any questions.
At another point I went out and got some postcards with entries from those "Worst-Case Scenario" handbooks on them. They were thick and rigid, like a coaster, with rounded edges and a yellow border. This led to poems with titles like "How to Survive an Avalanche" and "How to Break Down a Door." Instruct & delight.
I wrote my first postcard poem to Cassie on New Year's Day in my parents' living room in Chicago, having returned that afternoon from New York, where I'd sort of been able to see the festivities in Times Square from my hotel room; if I squeezed behind the desk, pressed my nose against the glass, and looked between my building and the next one I could see a lot of cold people standing motionless and shoulder-to-shoulder in what the police had called, not even bothering to euphemize, "holding pens." Avril Lavigne was allegedly playing on a rooftop somewhere, but it mostly sounded like somebody too close to the microphone at a school assembly.

I'd found an old shoebox in a closet full of postcards from places I didn't remember ever having been, including the exterior of a nondescript hotel in Japan, the back of a catamaran, and Disneyland. One of these last had a lot of bizarre machinery on the front and the caption "Welcome to Tomorrowland," which seemed appropriate, and off I went.

The best thing about the project was the ritual of writing every day, and of making a physical object that I would then walk over to the campus post office and put in an actual mailbox to send to an actual person who would actually read it and who would then write something in return. My favorite poems were poems in which Cassie and I responded to each other, riffing off each other's lines, though with a weird time delay because of the inordinate amount of time it takes a piece of mail to get from Palo Alto to Fremont (via Oakland, mind you).
Why sleep when you can blog?
Nick? Are you still awake? Nick?
my ship does not need
a helmsman.
only a woman
who strokes my
and laughs
at the moon
when it is full.

It may be that the political power of this poem is in its pathos—its moving picture of a life lost to history, which might spur a reader into compassion and action. But there can be no question that its emotional effect derives directly from its explict turn away from politics, from the "helmsmen" of the public world, whether they be statesmen or community organizers. If this, for writers like Hongo, is Asian American poetry coming into its maturity, it does so by separating the public and private and severing poetry’s explicit links to politics.

The Jetty: hyperlinks now departing for all distant ports.
Settling in for an evening of

Chin here articulates his now-famous argument that Chinese American culture and sensibility is entirely distinct, utterly different from either Chinese or white American culture, and grounded in the historical experience of Chinese in America. But his rage is as much aesthetic as ideological: his major complaint is simply that Bridge is full of bad writing.

and suchlike thoughts.

Monday, May 26, 2003

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Joseph Duemer has posted an interesting link to an article about how blog discussions develop, complete with diagrams.

I'm sympathetic to Duemer's desire to have some kind of blog-hand that would pull together and sort all the threads of a discussion--being a big sorter and sum-upper myself--but admit that I sort of like the decentralized model of blogging, in part because I like the pace it sets to a discussion--you have to go out and seek out others' responses and then compose your own without them all landing in your inbox. If the model of "progress" in discussion is, say, the Poetics list--ugh.
I edged Nick by about 20 minutes in the late-night posting game on Saturday night, if you don't factor in the time difference, but he gave me a real pasting last night: my last post was at 7:01 pm, his at 3:48 am. But I've got that presentation tomorrow, so I may give him a run for his money tonight.

I know I'm just staving off the inevitable defeat. But hey, I'm a Cubs fan.
Josh says he is going to an "Ammons-themed" dinner tomorrow night! I love it. Everyone will have to wear buttons that say "I Am Ezra" and the garbage can will be wrapped in a big loop of adding-machine tape. Not to mention the masks.
John Erhardt wrote me with his defense of Ammons, which Jonathan Mayhew's interested in as well:

I can only provide you with a subjective defense of why I like Ammons:

1. His enjambed lines aren't simply governed by a pause
2. He introduced (or helped to introduce) the vocabulary of science to poetry
3. He was never part of a community, a complete outsider
4. He wrote really short poems and really long poems -- some sense of range
5. His adding machine tape poems are no more or less arbitrary than the Bernadette Mayer experiments
6. While I'm not a member of the Pacific Northwest Fly-Fishing Aesthetic, I do like being outdoors, and am still moved by poets who aren't afraid to write about what William Matthews described as "I went to the woods today and it made me feel, you know, sort of religious."
7. He had little to no formal training in poetry, and so discoveries were his own
8. He wasn't really dragging a century of poetic baggage along with him

As for whether he's dull or not (or a great poet, for that matter), well, I don't know. There are plenty of poets who I think are dullards that nobody else does. I think a lot of the arguments that indict Ammons for being dull have to be used to indict other poets as well, such as Levertov or some Schuyler. Blackburn, too, or Dorn or Oppenheimer.

I'm curious, though, what you mean by "metrical," if you mean it in the traditional sense of the word. Ammons ISN'T metrical in the "poetic foot" sense -- so you're right. His lines are breath-based, more like how Creeley or Olson weren't basing their metrics on the foot, but something else. As for self-deflating metaphysics, you might be right though, again, I don't think that's enough to dismiss him outright, or even to knock him back a couple of pegs -- even Jorie Graham's "dream" of a unified field theory is self-deflating, in a way, since it's not really real. Yet.

I guess what I meant by "metrical" included the breath-based line, something more like what Williams called a "feel for the measure." This has always been a problem for me: how do you judge a poet's skill in using a breath-based line? You can't know how long or precise that person's breath is, right? A breath line only seems convincing to me (and it's not as if I don't love Olson, Creeley, Ginsberg, Levertov et al) if it develops its own integrity, its own self-sustaining rhythm, but ultimately that's something that has to happen in the ear of the listener, and so is much more subjective, I suppose. Bottom line is I feel it in Creeley, but not so much in Ammons. But I frequently don't feel it in Levertov either.

It's quite possible I'm speaking from ignorance, not being familiar with the bulk of Ammons's work. I guess I just keep going into bookstores and picking up "Garbage" and reading a page or two and then putting it back down. What strikes me as strange is, as you've pointed out, Ammons has a lot of things in common with poets I do like, and even looks and sounds like some of them. Maybe this goes back to the metaphysics thing: the abstractions, the reaching for a quasi-religious high seriousness--it often seems to me as if it might be better served by a long discursive line rather than a short compressed one, which strikes me as working better with the radically reduced and concrete vocabulary you might find in Williams, Creeley, Levertov. The mode of thinking in a short line seems different than the mode of thinking in a long one.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

The New York Times has blog fever--there's an article today on photo blogs, which is not quite as dumb as the one last week--the author seems to have actually spent a little time looking at a few.
Question for The Skeptic (and anyone else who would care to chime in): What is the deal with Ammons? I've never really been able to figure out why he's been awarded the status of great poet; his work's always struck me as kind of dull--short lines but without a real metrical charge, a kind of self-deflating metaphysics. But I'd be interested to hear a strong defense of him.
Looking for some academic discourse to spice up your Tuesday evening?

The Asian Americas Workshop at the Stanford Humanities Center cordially invites you to the following presentation and discussion:

"Asian American Poetry in the 1970s"

Timothy Yu

Ph.D. Candidate
Department of English

Tuesday, May 27, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Terrace Room, Margaret Jacks Hall (bldg 460)

Poetry played a surprisingly central role in Asian American activism in the 1970s, appearing widely in early Asian American publications and anthologies. But in contrast to the Asian American poetry now represented in mainstream collections and surveys, the work of the 1970s is a politically urgent writing that employs a wide range of styles, from Beat to haiku to spoken word. This talk draws on early Asian American magazines and anthologies from Stanford's Emory Lee Collection to show how Asian American poets negotiated politics and poetic form in this post-New Left period, including writers such as Lawson Fusao Inada, Janice Mirikitani, and Frank Chin.

I'll tell you more about what I'm talking about as soon as I know, which we all hope is sooner rather than later.
My neighbor's been blaring Sinatra out his window all night.
I'm finally on a crush list! It's not Jim's. But I'll take it.

Let's see if I can be up blogging later than Nick tonight. He has that East Coast time zone advantage though.
Cassie has seen The Matrix! Waiting to see if poetry as we know it has been changed forever.

Slavoj Zizek:

"When I saw The Matrix at a local theatre in Slovenia, I had the unique opportunity of sitting close to the ideal spectator of the film--namely, to an idiot. A man in his late twenties at my right was so immersed in the film that he all the time disturbed other spectators with loud exclamations, like 'My God, wow, so there is no reality!'"

Saturday, May 24, 2003

Steve Evans has posted a longer excerpt of the Flaubertian proto-blog critique, as well as a thoughtful response to Kasey's calling him out.
Poetry Espresso, discussion group and poetry publisher extraordinaire, has a new website up, complete with a Cassie Lewis home page, which will, for better or worse, prevent this picture from being Cassie's main presence in cyberspace.

Friday, May 23, 2003

I guess I was being too sensitive. But I think I will now refer to it as "TBFKAJMB." Or just: "The Blog."
My friend Alex von Krogh (hi Alex) is probably one of the few non-poetry folks who even knows of the existence of this blog. I think we started talking about it when we were having lunch one day and Alex said he was starting to write restaurant reviews for Citysearch, which prompted me to reveal my own web presence.

He likes my font.

Alex has recent reviews up of Jackson Fillmore and Victor's Pizzeria: "try the rigatoni Bolognese or the steaming lasagna, oozing with cheese."
Ick. This sounds a bit like flarf that's taking itself way too seriously.
The quote:

"Gustave Flaubert, proleptic critic of blog culture: "In fact, there is nothing more pernicious than being able to say everything and having a convenient outlet. You become very indulgent with yourself; and your friends are the same with you, in order that you may be so with them" (Letter to Louise Colet, 31 March 1853)."

Ouch. But of course there's irony too: it is a letter to a friend, after all.

I suppose this would only be a problem if you saw your blog as a place where you really did "say everything." I don't see that in most of the blogs I read; some are more diaristic than others, but for the most part they seem to be one aspect of a mind, one face (of many) turned towards the world, one mode of writing among others. My blog doesn't "say everything" any more than a given poem or paper I might write would.

The William Gibson quote I cited yesterday makes explicit what I think the Flaubert quote suggests: doing too much "informal" writing makes you lazy, slack, saps energy from the real task of serious writing. What seems wrong with this is that it assumes a closed economy of writing: you have a certain amount of writing energy to expend, and if you spend it blogging you will have none left for poetry, novels, whatever. I think the economy of writing is open: that writing breeds more writing.

Perhaps it's different for Gibson, a novelist who actually sells books, than for a poet, whose network of circulation is necessarily much smaller, more informal, more local. Maybe the sci-fi "fanzine" scene itself is a better analogy: a small but impassioned group with shared texts and interests, producing material that's constantly in dialogue.

And what's "safe," really, about an informal relationship with your readers? I think such relationships are much more risky than, say, simply writing a poem and sending it off to some magazine whose editor you don't know and whose readership you'll never meet. When you know your audience, there's that risk that they'll talk back, get angry, call you on something stupid that you said: what you say matters.
Let me be the, um, second to welcome to blogland the pride of Melbourne and Fremont, Cassie Lewis.
Stephanie with some good remarks on Steve Evans's Flaubertian critique of blogging: too tired to respond in full now, but it puts me somewhat in mind of something I came across on William Gibson's blog from a few weeks back on blogging. Still not sure how I feel about this one, but:

"One of the reasons, I'm convinced, that I've been able to produce even the few novels I have is that, almost from the start, I largely swore off less formal avenues of literary expression. The culture of SF, particularly, seemed to me to be studded with truly scary examples of talented writers who had chosen to sublimate their energies in SF's native (and relatively ancient) fanzine scene, the geniuses of which (and there arguably were a few) eventually (and perhaps inevitably?) evolved their own equivalents of blogging.
It's the "conversational" aspect, I think, that keeps this kind of writing from really getting off the ground. You see the initial lift into heightened language, into intent, but when the wings begin to wobble (as they invariably will) there's always the option of safe and instantaneous descent back into a fundamentally informal relationship with the reader. There's no risk involved. Unless, if you're accustomed to playing for higher stakes, it's the risk of some edge being taken off your game."

Thursday, May 22, 2003

How do I get into the school of louditude? They've probably got affirmative action for us quiet Asians.
Aargh! I have been called "too obvious" by a man who named his blog after himself! It's like the pot calling the kettle Ron Silliman.
Cassie! Kasey! Cassie! Kasey!

You are invited to
Friday Night Readings
at David & Diane's apartment

695 35th Ave. #204
San Francisco

enjoy your favorite poets in a cozy environment with refreshments and friends... bring some beer, wine, or a snack

coming up:
Friday, May 30, 7.30pm ˆ Owen Hill and Alex Blasdel
Owen Hill is the author of six books of poetry and the „poet detective‰ mystery novel The Chandler Apartments, chosen by the Chicago Tribune as one of the best mysteries of 2002; Alex Blasdel attended Deep Springs and will leave this fall to study ancient Greek at Oxford.

Friday, June 13, 7.30pm ˆ K. Silem Mohammad and Cassie Lewis
K. Silem Mohammad is the author of Deer Head Nation (Tougher Disguises, 2003) and hovercraft (Kenning, 2000). Kasey has poems, essays, and reviews in recent or forthcoming issues of 88, Antennae, Aufgabe, Combo, The Hat, Kiosk, New American Writing, Poetry Project Newsletter, The San Jose Manual of Style, Syllogism, and VeRT. He lives and teaches in Santa Cruz. His blog can be found at Cassie Lewis is originally from Melbourne, Australia, and has lived in the Bay Area since 2000. Her most recent chapbook is Winter District (Potes & Poets). She runs an e-mail discussion group, Poetry Espresso, and publishes the Postcard Poem series.

Public trans: From downtown San Francisco, take the 38 Geary or the 31 Balboa, and get off at 35th Ave. Driving: drive to 35th and Balboa, park; my building is the big one on the northwest corner of the street. Ring the buzzer for apartment 204. NOTE: the phone will be turned off after 8pm, so don‚t be late!!!
Happy birthday, SHAMPOO!

The THIRD ANNIVERSARY ISSUE of SHAMPOO -- Issue 17 -- is now available for your follicular pleasure at:

where you'll find lovely new poems by Kirby Wright, Maw Shein Win, Dylan Willoughby, Nick Whittock, Eileen Tabios and David Hess, Alex Stolis, Juliana Spahr, Philippe Soupault (translated by Tom Hibbard), Shafer and Melissa, Phoebe Sayornis, Suzy Saul, Barbara Jane Reyes, Sarah E. Rehmer, Mark Peters, Chad Parenteau, Chris Murray, Sheila E. Murphy, Murray Moulding, Joseph Victor Milford, Seth McMillan, Bryan Martin and Louis T. Gordy, Cassie Lewis, Susan Landers, Mark Lamoureux, Julie Kizershot, Kevin Killian, W.B. Keckler, Jill Jones, Susan Gevirtz, Kira Frederick, Michael Farrell, Nava Fader, Denise Duhamel, Laurie Duggan, William Corbett, Megan Burns, Anselm Berrigan, Bill Berkson, and Carl Annarummo.

As if that weren't enough, there are also awesome postcard poems by Tim Yu, Stephanie Young, Matthew Wascovich, Nick Piombino, Cassie Lewis, Peter Davis, Jennifer Dannenberg, and Jim Behrle, PLUS a nice play by Gary Sullivan, a nice essay by Michael Farrell, and peachy SHAMPOOart by Erin Kim.

Thank you so much for using SHAMPOO!

Apply twice (or so). Rinse well,

Del Ray Cross, Editor
clean hair / good poetry
Did anybody catch the article in the Sunday Times on blogging? I just came across it. It's pretty fluffy--mostly about the perils of talking about your relationships on your blog and having your family and friends reading it.

But the kicker: there is a sidebar proclaiming the emergence of, I kid you not, "the New York School of blogging," a veritable "literary clique" led by "Gawker," coiner of such terms as "zeta-jonesing" and "zellweggering." Gag me.
This just in. I imagine that half of you will laugh heartily at the other half of you that will now scramble to put together an abstract.

Call for Papers
Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs

Ed. by the University of Minnesota Blog Collective
Smiljana Antonijevic, Laura Gurak, Laurie Johnson, Jim Oliver, Clancy Ratliff, Jessica Reyman, Sathya Yesuraja

The editors invite submissions for a new online edited collection exploring discursive, visual, and other communicative features of weblogs. We are interested in submissions that analyze and critique situated cases and examples drawn from weblogs and the weblog community. Although we are open to a wide range of scholarly approaches, our primary interest is in essays that comment upon specific features of the weblog and that treat the weblog as always a part of a larger community network.

Categories around which essays may cohere include:
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--Pedagogical Implications
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--Intercultural Communication
Because blogs, like the Internet, have a global reach, we encourage an international scope as well.

Along with this being the first scholarly collection of its type focused on weblog as rhetorical artifact, we are also taking an innovative approach to publishing and intellectual property. Weblogs represent the power of regular people to use the Internet for publishing. The ethos of blogging is collaborative and values the sharing of ideas; bloggers are not dependent on publishers to get their words out. In the same manner, the editors of this collection will publish the collection online. We will use a peer-review process to ensure scholarly quality. But like a weblog, the collection will be available to all, although authors will retain their own copyrights. We intend to obtain a version of a Creative Commons license.

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Abstracts of approximately 250 words should clearly identify the disciplinary focus as well as the specific case or artifact to be studied. Send abstracts via email by midnight, June 30, 2003. Our editorial collective will review the abstracts and make an initial selection. We will respond by early August. Full submissions of approximately 3,000 words will be due in November; these essays will be peer-reviewed.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

and it is not pursuing
and it is not developing
it is not building
it is not manufacturing
and it's not deploying
and it is not using
The kinds of things sleep-deprived grad students talk about: Last night I was asking a friend whether the title of the TV show "Judging Amy" was a pun or not. Our instinct was to say no. But we decided, like good grad students, to consult ye old OED:

"The use of a word in such a way as to suggest two or more meanings or different associations, or the use of two or more words of the same or nearly the same sound with different meanings, so as to produce a humorous effect..."

which proved our point, we thought: "judge" is simply being used as part of two different parts of speech here, not to have different meanings. But the definition finishes:

"a play on words"

which I guess could be anything, so oh well. What would you call something like that then?

Also totally puzzled by the explosion of similar TV/movie titles, like "Crossing Jordan," "Serving Sara," etc. (I can't decide if "Being John Malkovich" counts.) Robin suggested that it was a kind of academic trickle-down effect, since academic books have been having that construction for at least a decade now. (On my bookcase right now, I can see "Mapping the Ethical Turn," "Opposing Poetries," and "Breaking Silence.") In that case, we can probably blame Woody Allen.
Kasey thinks Jonathan Mayhew's Blog needs a non-eponymous name.

How about: "Mayhem!"

I guess that's sort of a compromise.
Now blogging from an undisclosed location.
Orange alert! Orange alert!

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Clarity's shatterproof, haywire-thin,
Sop-strapped in a phony spring. Her
Blacksheep sigh's behind dark glass
For now, a hard edge moving through
My words like an eyeless root.
The benevolent secretaries of the space-age whim
Transcribe by committee, reluctant and free.

In the next installment she's the novice, held
Together by papier-mache. We descend
By degrees into the real, a lens through which
To return the favor of the sunlight's glint
Off the waveless lake. I know this taste
Is caught in a closing iris, a shorthaired
Element in the snowglobe view: but how
To tell beam from breaking, skin pulling clean
From the web of nerves beneath?

Along the geosexual axis
She's moving to a proven beat, a renal
Projection in real time,
No flounce or figure in the wishing.
Music swells in its sac, through which
Light can be distinguished from darkness and
Shapes make themselves heard as they ripen out.
How can you not vote for a guy who has a blog?
The air today is like a sheet of foil; every other surface seems paved, all the green glared out.
For the first time this year it was actually hot here. The air had returned to its air-conditioned smell but was just the slightest bit visible, like smoke from a distant barbeque. The number of bicycles on campus seems to have instantly tripled, so that you have to dodge them even when you're standing still.

Monday, May 19, 2003

I'm currently working on an ode to Clarity. Of course, it is totally incomprehensible.
Sorry, Jim--I'm guessing that if you want to get into category BA you'll probably have to move. Don't worry, though--you can have my spot when I leave town.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

I hate Sven Birkerts.

He's got a review in the NY Times today of Margaret Atwood's new book that represents everything that makes me ill in mainstream/academic reviewing. He writes:

"Science fiction will never be Literature with a capital 'L,' and this is because it inevitably proceeds from premise rather than character...Some will ask, of course, whether there still is such a thing as 'Literature with a capital "L."' I proceed on the faith that there is. Are there exceptions to my categorical pronouncement? Probably, but I don't think enough of them to overturn it."

Never mind that Birkerts' claim is entirely tautological: SF can't be Literature because Literature is precisely that which is unmarked and pure, lacking genre, which masks the fact that Birkerts simply assumes that Literature is restricted to that which descends from the 19th-century realist novel. What gets me is what I'd call the elegiac smugness of it all, the sense that

1. the critic is totally confident that he is the last guardian of "Literature," and

2. the critic is equally confident that we live in a fallen era where "Literature" is no longer possible.

Birkerts is kind of a younger, hipper Harold Bloom, a literary doomsday prophet whose primary interest in the contemporary scene is to tell us how much better it was in the good old days. He presents his reactionary stance as somehow edgy at the same time that he's utterly dismissive of anyone who would challenge his authority as a literary arbiter.

What's so saddening about criticism like this is that it can only be entirely dead to anything new; it can never see contemporary writing as a place of excitement and discovery, but only as a realm of shortcoming and failure. Perhaps Birkerts' kind of criticism is comforting to crotchety old men who want to bemoan how the world has fallen since their day. It can only be poisonous to anyone who is still alive.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

More on the Buddhism and poetry symposium...

Buddhism and American poetry--especially experimental poetry--obviously have a long and distinguished association, at least from the Beats onward; and there's no question that American writers' encounters with Buddhism have produced some of the most interesting writing of the past 50 years. But discussions of these connections always make me slightly uneasy, for many of the same reasons I mentioned being weirded out by my experience at Naropa. Uncritical discussions of Buddhism and American poetry can run the risk of slipping into a kind of orientalism, whereby a simplified notion of the "Asian" serves as mere material to enrich American writing.

Michael McClure unwittingly stepped into this trap on Thursday through what was otherwise an admirable attempt to actually address the topic of the symposium--how Buddhism has actually influenced American poetry, historically and in the present, which the other speakers declined to take a direct position on. He talked at length about the Pound/Fenollosa concept of the Chinese ideogram, not knowing that there was a graduate student in the audience who was writing a dissertation on the topic and who promptly jumped on him for accepting Pound's simplified characterization and ignoring the greater complexity of Chinese language. He also suggested that Asian languages "dropped the frame" around expression, in contrast to discursive Western constructions ("I saw this, I felt that"); at which point another grad student (rightly, I thought) argued that there was no such thing as "frameless" expression, that even the haiku, supposedly a model of directness, was a highly formalized and ritualized form.

The point was, though, that "Buddhism" had become a synecdoche for "Asia"--its language, culture, and literature--and McClure had, in fact, demonstrated how closely Pound's orientalist notions of China were linked to the Beats' attraction to Buddhism.

Buddhism's usefulness for American poets, in fact, may be precisely in its becoming a relatively free-floating signifier. Carl Bielefeldt, a Stanford professor who directs the Center for Buddhist Studies, noted that while American Buddhists don't think that meditation is a ritual--it's just a practice that can be done without reference to Buddhist doctrine--Asian Buddhists do think it's a ritual, performed only by priests and not by laypeople.

The morning was taken up with readings, the afternoon with discussion. The poets' reading styles were as divergent as their aesthetics. Fischer was low-key and earnest; Scalapino nervous and intense, having a great deal of trouble with the microphone, often running her commentary right into the poem; McClure was the consummate performer, getting right up in the mike, growling and purring, sometimes starting a poem over again several times to get the inflections just right.

We'd been asked to write up some questions for the speakers; scraping the bottom of the intellectual barrel the night before, here's what I'd been able to come up with:

Norman Fischer

1. I was interested to see poems from Precisely the Point Being Made dedicated to Ron Silliman and Charles Bernstein. I wondered if you could say a bit about how you see the aesthetics of these poets in relation both to your own poetic practice and to Buddhist practice. I've seen Silliman describe himself in an interview as a "Buddha-atheist," but I wondered if you could be more specific about what connections you see, e.g. does Silliman's new sentence represent a Buddhist aesthetic? Were your poems to Silliman and Bernstein conscious imitations of those poets' styles, and if so, in what ways did you feel yourself departing from your own usual style?

2. In "Do You Want to Make Something Out of It?" you quote Dogen: "To study Buddhism is to study the self." One might argue, based on this, that a Buddhist poetry would be what we've come to call "confessional," grounded in self-examination and self-expression. Some of your work does have elements that might be called confessional--say, in your reportage of your daily activities--but overall I wouldn't say that your work has a confessional aesthetic. How would you relate your own writing to this confessional impulse in contemporary poetry?

Michael McClure

1. In several of the selections from your work that we've read for this symposium, I've noticed the phrase "Even Dada failed." I assume you're referring to the early 20th-century avant-garde movement here (though I suppose I could give it a more Freudian reading--"Even Father failed"), and I can certainly see how your writing might have certain affinities with Dada, particularly in an attempt to get at what might be called an elemental or pre-linguistic speech, through the use of "nonsense" words or the spreading of material across the page. What do you mean, then, by saying that Dada "failed"? Did it simply not go far enough in its probing of the unconscious? Was its conception simply too limited--did it need to go even beyond the realm of human consciousness (as your remarks on animal speech suggest)?

2. At the openings of many of your books you provide a brief note on how to read your poems, suggesting that they should be seen like calligraphy on a scroll. For me there's an interesting tension here between seeing them and reading aloud. In the note for Touching the Edge you write that the poems are "as much for the eye as for the voice," yet you also suggest that if the poems looks strange, "read them aloud and the ordinariness will appear." In the note for Plum Stones you insist that "Capitalized lines are not intended to be read louder"--which was surprising, since this had been exactly what I was doing in reading them. Does the oral or the visual have priority in these poems? Do you imagine the poem as a kind of scoring for the voice? If so, how much control do you wish to exert over oral reading practice?

Leslie Scalapino

1. What is the role of assertion in a writing that is, as you put it in R-hu, "continually undercutting the writing's own basis"? For all its indeterminacy, your writing is frequently filled with forceful and seemingly authoritative claims: "the mind is action literally," "Objects are not similarity," "Nomadic space is socially based on courtesy." Are these to be read as provisional statements that are then undercut and complicated? How are we to understand their truth value, if at all?

2. Your writing is quite literally self-referential, often commenting upon itself and even quoting from other texts of yours. I wondered if you would relate this practice to what you call in R-hu "a use of the self a continual allusion." How does one keep such a practice of allusion and self-reference from becoming hermetic and private? In what way can self-allusion open the work to a wider world?

The only one of these questions that actually came up in the discussion was my second question for Fischer, which was answered pretty much as I expected: Fischer pointed out that Dogen went on to say, "To study the self is to forget the self." Fischer suggested that a Buddhist poetry was not confessional because it didn't privilege the author's own feelings or experiences, but simply tried to "investigate" what was going on at a particular moment without preconceptions.

The symposium also gave me a chance to try to come to terms with Scalapino's work, which critics seem to talk about more and more but which I've never quite been able to get a handle on. Looking back at my questions for Scalapino, I realized that they were much more pointed than my questions for the other two poets, in part because the ambitions of her work are so grand and so explicit. Scalapino's work seems most appealing in the way it creates a field of consciousness with different levels, so that you have the sense of a mind constantly watching itself at work. I wonder, though, if this is a self-consciousness that makes a bit too much of itself at times, that spends so much time telling you precisely what it's doing and what it's going to do that the execution of that doing seems almost beside the point. It's a problem I also see in the work of an entirely different poet, Frank Bidart, who often seems to me so insistent on the agonies of Cartesian thought ("This I is anterior / to name; gender; action; / fashion; / MATTER ITSELF") that the product of that thought comes to seem narrow and dissatisfying. But perhaps I still haven't grasped what Scalapino is trying to do.
Norman Fischer, Michael McClure, and Leslie Scalapino were down at Stanford yesterday for a day-long symposium on Buddhism and poetry, sponsored by the Workshop on Contemporary Poetry and Poetics.

[Is Stanford really "down"? I guess I always think of Stanford as "down" and San Francisco as "up." Does that make the East Bay "up and over"? Not very glamorous. Maybe we should take a page from the French here and start referring to the Peninsula as the Left Bank.]

McClure kind of blew the cover off the thing early by declaring that there was no such thing as Buddhist poetry. It would certainly be hard to imagine three poets with more divergent styles. Fischer's poems are loose and easygoing, with a kind of daily-meditation feel to them, often explicitly referencing Buddhist practice:

To find the mind that lacks something
Is to locate something that cannot be found
Anywhere, you can have it in your hand
But it will swell out of proportion
Just write a few lines after dinner
Or when you wake up in the morning

McClure's poetry, centered on the page with a vertical, scroll-like flow, has an urgent and elemental quality that seems to be striving for a pre-linguistic or even animal consciousness:


Scalapino's is a discursive poetry of extreme self-consciousness, with overlapping narratives interspersed with metacommentary:

In crowd -- being stung as insult, one without motive, by a cattle prod; when one is not cattle. That other fawns on someone else then. The one stung had been cattle before, simply -- but not now. The person coming up and stinging with the electric prod to hurt on the one who's hideless -- which is as if blind flesh (not being at flesh where there are eyes is the flesh with the prod) -- in excruciating pain there

(Distinguish physical pain from the mind. Cannot occur.)

All three poets do have affinities with Buddhism; all engage in Buddhist practice, particularly meditation, to some degree (though Scalapino suggested that writing was meditation for her); but it was hard to say what each felt was "Buddhist" about his or her poetry.

More to come...

Friday, May 16, 2003

Somebody has finally nailed why it's weird posting poems in your otherwise prose blog. My gloss: it's like hearing your own voice on an answering machine.
The air in Palo Alto today has an actual smell. I can say this because usually (at least to my Midwestern nose) the air here has an aggressive no-smell, as if it had been forced against its will through an ionizer, rendering it odorless and colorless. But today the air is palpable, faintly damp, as if the ocean were much closer than it actually is--a kind of late-summer-fading-into-fall smell, with the sky overcast and a chilly breeze blowing and all the students standing around barefoot in the grass as if they'd run out of things to do.
Is a tympan somewhere between an elsewhere and a ululation? Or is it just a blade in the tall grasses of theory?
"Duckie"? "Andie"? "Blane"? Ugh.
I blame Jim's whole "Jordan=Mulder, Stephanie=Scully" thing for starting me on this morbid train of thought.
At some point during high school I was watching Pretty in Pink with a friend of mine--someone I'd had a crush on, actually. At the very end, Duckie (Jon Cryer) and Andie (Molly Ringwald) show up at the prom together, where they run into Blane (Andrew McCarthy), the rich boy who Andie's had a crush on but who dumped her once he found out she was from the wrong side of the tracks. Blane comes up to her and apologizes, kisses her on the cheek, and walks away. Duckie--although he's in love with her--encourages Andie to go after him. She does, and there's this long shot of Duckie standing in a doorway alone watching her go.

At just this moment in the movie, my friend grabs me, points at Duckie and starts shouting, "That's you! That's you!"

According to the synopses I've found online, the movie allegedly ends with Duckie walking off with some other girl. Somehow I don't seem to remember that part.
If blogland were a teen movie, who would everyone be?

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Of course, gossipy criticism, like gossipy poetry, can be oppressive in ways similar to biographical criticism--in this case, by drawing lines between insiders and outsiders, positioning the reader as a voyeur of a social world that remains totally inaccessible. I experience this any time I pick up books on the Beats, which often seem to both compellingly romanticize their exploits and inspire pangs of jealousy or resentment in the reader. What looks like a coherent "group" in hindsight was always much messier in practice. If it seems that anyone who attended Columbia at a certain moment in the '50s got to be a Beat, it's only because of the need to justify the myth we've built up around somebody like Ginsberg, to explain why his work was special and deserved to survive while so many other writers withered in obscurity.

I think this is why "Howl" has always had such appeal--it strikes a perfect balance between voyeuristically peering into the lives of a band of romantic rebels (from which the reader is excluded) and suggesting that the reader might possibly be included in that group through reading the poem itself--somewhere between documenting a community that's already passing into history and extending that community through the poem.

This may connect to David's question yesterday about "social poets." I guess I think of O'Hara as less a social than a sociable poet, someone who's always talking to everybody and reporting on talking to everybody, friendly and open in that way--but the question is whether that sociability is just being reported on at a remove or whether the reader is really invited into it, included in it. Again, the gossipy reportage itself is appealing, and may make us feel like we can participate in O'Hara's social world to some limited degree. But the only way to really be a part of that--I guess this is just how I've always felt in reading O'Hara, even though I love him--would have been to *really* be there, to have been in New York at that particular moment and to have known him. Perhaps the intimacy of his work makes this possible; but I feel there's always that sliver of a divide that prevents it from being what David wants to call "social."

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Right on, Jim.
I still don't know about psychological criticism. But gossipy criticism--bring it on!
I'm transcribing something and just typed the name "Clarita" as "Clarity," who I think should be cast as Trinity's twin sister in the next Matrix movie.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Jordan remarks of my post yesterday that it "posits a Bernstein vs Vendler critical environment," which sounds like a retro-80s, poetry-wars-official-verse-culture-langpo-rebellion kind of thing. I guess I'll have to plead guilty on that one, though it wasn't my intent. I wonder, though, if we've come so far that the pendulum really needs to swing back in the other direction. I actually admire Jordan for being able to live in a poetry world where Helen Vendler is not a poetry critic, but I guess it's not quite so easy for me to simply dismiss that mode of reviewing as irrelevant. If I'm reading Jordan's non-post right, Charles Bernstein isn't a critic in this world either--and the idea that we should just read Bernstein's criticism as "deliberately speaking and writing to obscure the point," rather than speaking and writing differently, is really troubling to me. (I hope that this isn't Jordan's definition of poetry either...) I didn't mean to suggest that Bernstein's review was a study in object relations in Coolidge, but rather that Bernstein's review reminds us that there's a mediating psychology between us and the poem (and its author).

I've always found reviews that dwell on the poet's biography or psychology faintly oppressive, perhaps because they too easily lead to a concept of privileged genius; what such criticism seems most interested in is the idea of "the poet" (a person born, not made) and the uniqueness of her/his soul, rather than in poetry. I think it's what allows critics like Vendler to focus on a very few contemporary poets as *the* poets, universal in some way, rather than the vast and confusing field of work out there. I suppose I've always hoped--for my own sake, I guess, as someone hardly secure in his credentials as a poetic soul--that poetry was a bit more of a meritocracy than that.

I remember once when I was in college being at a literary magazine meeting. We were discussing submissions--ostensibly anonymous--and I was arguing against a poem that I felt was mediocre. Another member of the board was opposing my position with increasing indignation. Finally she said: "This poem is by X" (naming the author). "And X is a GENIUS." End of discussion.

That said, Stephen Burt's review of Rae Armantrout, which Jordan cites as a possible example of a return to the psychological, seems pretty unimpeachable to me. The review starts off with what we might think of as a sketch of family drama:

"You're in the family kitchen. Mom and Dad have been arguing—no, fighting—for over an hour, louder than TV. As you overhear them (you can't avoid it) you realize that anything either parent tells the other can be reinterpreted, misinterpreted, and turned against its speaker. In the meantime, TV commercials invite you to reinterpret their endless pitches."

But Burt makes very clear that this is "not a history but a fable, designed to help new readers comprehend—and enjoy—Rae Armantrout's strange, original, and corrosively self-critical poems." It's a psychological hypothesis rather than biographical determinism. Burt's done his homework, and sketches in useful details about Armantrout's life and influences; but the psychological drama continues to be in what's happening among the words on the page.

I guess I just want to expand the idea of the psychological beyond the reductively biographical. Nada's question today is right on, I think: "Does psychology come out of structure or does structure come out of psychology?" At the risk of sounding like a rank New Critic, when we read a poem the structure is all we've got, and psychological criticism would seem to me to be some kind of careful correlation of that structure with both the (presumed) psychology of the author and the (present) psychology of the reader.
Nada and Jordan ask "when will psychologically-inflected readings make a comeback." I guess I feel they've never left. I mean, if you take a look at the (few) poetry reviews that (occasionally) appear in the big-name literary reviews, or at back-cover blurbs for big-ticket releases, they're still by folks like Helen Vendler, Harold Bloom, James Fenton, and the like, who continue to depict the poem as the result of Freudian struggle or biographical surrogate.

Here's Vendler on Jorie Graham in the LRB:

"Even the most intellectual poets begin as children enthralled by the senses through which the world is made known to them. The subsequent obsessive adult drive towards representation, entangling sense and mind in a Gordian knot, poses the problem underlying poetic composition: how to make a third thing, a linguistic one, in which the senses represent mind, and mind re-creates the senses."

Or Fenton on Auden in the NYRoB:

"To be in love and wish your lover dead, to be in love and know that you have to conceal it, to be in the grip of a sexual obsession with someone you discover you dislike—all these humiliating experiences turn up in Auden's work, and it is worth noting that the humiliation did not begin with [Chester] Kallman. From the earliest of Auden's published lyrics we are invited to see love as transitory..."

These certainly sound "psychological" to me, although Nada and Jordan may have something else in mind. My point is simply that such readings, arguably, seem continually dominant rather than embattled. My problem with such readings isn't when they're psychological, but when they become reductively so, as when Vendler grounds her evaluation in a simplified, and universalized, image of the psychology of "the poet."

I understand what Jordan's saying about reviews that focus on language or form to the exclusion of, well, content. I suppose it may seem in some circles as if such gestures are seen as more beneficial to a poet's reputation than a biographical sketch. But I don't agree that this is a "general tendency" whose intent is to "grow the audience" by appealing to difficulty and snobbery. If it is the case, it certainly isn't working. I still think that these kinds of reviewing practices, whatever their risks, are a necessary counterpoint to narrowly psychological or biographical readings that romanticize the author but treat the work as if it weren't there at all--which can have a really devastating effect on work that doesn't quite so obviously offer up confessional pleasures.

A colleague of mine was recently doing a presentation on Mina Loy and lamenting the fact that the only major book available on Loy is a biography. Even for somebody like Allen Ginsberg, there are probably at least a dozen biographies available--but exactly one book of critical essays.

Perhaps this is the kind of non-psychological review Jordan's working against:

"Language, then, not mere naming, and, specifically, not naming things. In these poems, objects nor actions described as objects are not the primary substance. Or perhaps: everything is objective.

So events, in the world, this, themselves.

Coolidge's "Oflengths": The preposition as significant as verb or noun, presenting a world of relation--of it, on it, in it, between or among--here landscapes of particular situations, precisely centered on how we are situated."

But is this really any less psychological than an exposition of Coolidge's biography? The way it reads to me is, well, just differently psychological. Perhaps it's not a question of "psychological" and "formal" reviews, but rather a question of emphasis: sure, the author has a psychology, but so does the reader. And a review might be as much about charting the effects of a work on the reading psyche as much as about the writing psyche that produced it.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Egads--something useful on the Poetics list!

It's an article from the Chicago Tribune: Chicago poetry types sound off about how they'd spend Poetry Magazine's $100 million windfall.
Back working in the Emory Lee papers--racing the clock till library closing time. But here's today's selection, from Lawson Fusao Inada's "On These Terms," in the August 1973 issue of Bridge magazine:

No. We will continue
on these terms, in the passes,
among the usual ruins, anonymous
and in agreement as always,
causing you to call home

to delirious people who might be
dancing and chanting in a vocabulary
you cannot call your own.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

Have to get up at an ungodly hour tomorrow to head up to the AAAS conference in San Francisco. I'll be the bleary-eyed guy wandering the streets in a blazer and name tag.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

I was about to put my money where my mouth is and actually send in my post on "Blind Huber" to Amazon as a review. But just before I hit the "Save" button I saw this warning at the bottom of the page:

"Submissions become the property of"

Somehow I found that so creepy that I couldn't do it. I realize that all this stuff I'm posting here is up for grabs to anybody, but the idea of someone else officially "owning" even the piddling 300-odd words I wrote on Flynn...eeech. I mean, what is it worth to them?
Holy cow. Mr. Wily Filipino posts an Amazon review by Rob Wilson of Pamela Lu: "...should be required reading for high school prodigies, Wheeler Hall savants, and shopping mall saints."
I must say, Kasey puts forward a very good argument for not being a pirate.
I realized after an email from Eileen that my "academic" identity has remained "Timothy" even though my "poet" identity seems to have become "Tim." There's a very particular reason for this. For years, when I'd be introduced to people as a poet, a certain number of people would lavishly praise my work, even though at that point I'd probably published like two poems. I was flattered but confused for a while, until I realized what was really going on: they thought I was Timothy Liu. (Actually, now that I look, there is a very slight resemblance. Well, all we Asians look the same anyway.)

So I decided becoming "Tim Yu" might prove a little less confusing. I think it's working. No one ever praises my work anymore.
Taylor Brady emailed me with some great comments on my post on Nick Flynn:

"Enjoyed the reading of this book on your blog, especially your attention to the allegorical possibilities of its "relentless aboutness." What hit me, especially, were these two sentences:

"I'm particularly struck by the way the division of labor in the hive maps onto the division of human functions we see in Huber..."

"The hive metaphor's extended outward to religion and to war, but most viscerally to work and love, which seem to be the bees' two poles of existence."

These had me wondering whether you're familiar with the historical dimension of this particular strain of allegory. Admittedly, the beehive-as-society trope probably extends back past the Greeks, but there's a particularly emphatic modern strain that begins with Bernard Mandeville's "Fable of the Bees" (various editions betwen 1714 and 1732). Mandeville uses the hive to argue a kind of "invisible hand" model, in which it's precisely the fortuitous coordination of the amoral self-interest of the hive-dwellers that creates the virtuous harmony of the hive.

No surprise, then, that Mandeville pops up in Adam Smith -- the "invisible hand of the market" is basically the fable of the bees writ large. Even less surprise, then, that when Marx is laying the foundations for his critique of Smithian political economy in volume one of Capital, the bees make another allegorical appearance in the famous "What distinguishes even the worst of architects from the best of bees" passage. Your discussion of the "prosthetic" relation between Huber and Burnens is interesting here, as this seems to align with something at the core of Marx's detourned reading of Mandeville -- the distinction between the architects and the bees, of course, is that even the worst architect has the capacity to plan his or her projects in advance, and thus, while never building under "conditions of his or her own choosing," is always at least potentially capable of changing those conditions by means of what he or she builds. The gist of Marx's argument is that classical political economy, by proposing the hive as model of social relations, in effect makes of work and the worker an object of history -- whether "dative" (the appendage through which society acts), or "objective" (the _thing_ on which it acts), and forces an abdication of historical subjectivity. Thus, while the Smithian/Mandevillean model is usually couched in terms like "rational self-interest," it's precisely the efficacy of human reason that it short-circuits.

Of course, since Marx the bees keep coming up. Both Keynes and Thatcher, for example, have attempted to recuperate them to bourgeois political economy -- Keynes by putting a somewhat friendlier face on the hive, Thatcher by the numbskull dogged reassertion of Smith's reading (minus Smith's considerable erudition). And more recently, Marxist geographer David Harvey has been in the habit of returning to Mandeville's bees at least once per book, by my count.

I guess my point in all this (to the extent that I have one, which is debatable -- more the case that I'm at work, bored and lonely) is the question: At what point does this allegory have to admit another allegorical dimension, that of its own history as allegory? Is there such a thing as an historically reflexive allegory? (Not having read the Flynn book, I'd be hard-pressed to answer this in close reading fashion, but I'd be interested to hear your take on it).

This is, of course, leaving out vast swathes of bee-allegory -- Otto Plath, H.D., Bernadette Mayer's "augury by beesting" of the pregnancy in _The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters_, etc, etc."

My response:

"Thanks very much for your email--had a big "duh" moment when you mentioned Mandeville, which of course should have occurred to me as a referent (not that I've read it, but it's here in the house somewhere). Of course, now that you've provided such a brilliant precis I don't need to read it...

Good question about the idea of historically reflexive allegory. I can't say that in reading Flynn's book I detected that level of self-consciousness. Obviously the connection is there, simply because of the aligning of the historical moment (Mandeville and Huber both being men of the 18th c.), but Flynn seems pretty intent on driving the allegory inward, focusing on its psychological and erotic charge, its interiority, rather than its sociopolitical aspect. I suppose it depends on how we read Huber himself--does he function as a grounding protagonist who individualizes the story, or does he operate as a kind of historical position or function, that of the architect that you mention? I'm inclined to think the former, though the latter is an attractive reading--it's hard for me not to think of the prosthetic Burnens now, after your comments, as a kind of Smithian invisible hand--though one that's very consciously, almost too consciously, being manipulated."
Jim says he used to be a Jimmy. It probably won't surprise you to learn that this Tim used to be a Timmy. I can't remember when this changed from my name to the most humiliating thing that I could imagine. I did go through a brief period in college where friends of mine resurrected it and used it liberally.

I've never been a Timothy, though, not even to my parents. Exactly two people that I can think of have ever insisted on calling me Timothy: Lucie Brock-Broido and Eileen. Go figure.
Amazon reviews: the people speak.

Eileen says they are the "Wild West" of reviewing, to be loved and feared.

Jonathan admits to having written a few in his time.

And Taylor Brady notes that Patrick Durgin has an Amazon review of Lyn Hejinian's Happily. To wit:

Ruminative and glad, April 9, 2000
Reviewer: Patrick F. Durgin from the midwest
Happily is a long / short poem (about 40 pages) in which Hejinian's "language of inquiry" tackles one of the more prevelant inquiries a person is bound to undertake: happiness. Happiness does not equal banality or "prettiness." In fact, in "Happily," Hejinian has distilled the sensuality of reason, the phenomenology of history / chronology, and the last century (from Stein to Mac Low) of poetic experiment and cleared space for a new conception of beauty. One which is pointed, poignant, and pleasantly difficult -- the poem posits happiness as a choice implicating a context: "history with a future" -- the book is necessary. And that's more than I can say for many other books on the subject.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Noticing in my last post that I was taking Amazon reviews seriously. Does anyone else do this? Does anyone else write Amazon reviews? I don't think I've ever done one.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

After seeing a good notice in Boston Review, I picked up a copy of Nick Flynn's Blind Huber over the weekend. (There's also a review in Rain Taxi.) Remarkably enough, I read it all in one sitting, which is pretty unusual for me (my apartment's usually littered with half-read books), which is a testament not only to its length (80 pp.) but to its coherence. It's certainly not uncommon for a poetry book to have a (often gimmicky) theme or ostensible subject, but what this usually means is that there's a scattering of poems here or there that, say, allude to some classical figure, providing a vague scaffolding for the poet to hang whatever poems she or he's written over the past five years on.

But Flynn stays on message. The cover shows the business end of a bee, and famed 18th-century beekeeper Francois Huber is our (blind) guide. Huber gets no fewer than 14 poems to himself, and many of the other poems catalog various roles taken on by bees in the hive, from "Workers (guards)" to "Queen (failed)." It almost wouldn't be a bad textbook for a kid wanting to learn about bees--it has that kind of matter-of-fact clarity and vividness--although the creepy eroticism of the depictions of the queen(s) might give one pause.

This was my first encounter with Flynn's work, and at times the spareness of his lines and his limited verbal palette (and the insistent use of "&") put me in mind of Creeley--the reduction isn't quite as relentless, but there's often the same sense of becoming syntatically disoriented in a very simple sentence through repetition and pressure:

our bodies

powder, our bodies

the vessel & the vessel

I'm particularly struck by the way the division of labor in the hive maps onto the division of human functions we see in Huber; there's an extremely self-conscious and even stilted quality to the way Huber is aware of and articulates each element of an action, from thought to speech to execution:

I sit in a body & think of a body, I picture

Burnens' hands, my words

make them move. I say, *plunge them into the hive,*

& his hands go in. If I said

*put your head inside,*

he would wear it.

At first I thought "Burnens" was a kind of alter ego (a la Berryman) but it turns out he's Huber's assistant (and gets at least two poems of his own); but there's a strange continuity between the two here, as if Burnens were merely an extension of Huber, a prosthesis whose movement requires an intense act of will, of speaking.

Of course, the fact that the book's so relentlessly "about" bees suggests that it's really "about" something else; allegory's always raising its head. The hive metaphor's extended outward to religion and to war, but most viscerally to work and love, which seem to be the bees' two poles of existence. It's interesting, in this respect, that the customer reviewers on Amazon were generally unhappy with this book in comparsion to Flynn's apparently more autobiographical first book (which I haven't read), with its (in one reader's words) "honest personal emotion." This book, they say, is too focused on "language" and on impersonal trivia. My feeling, though, is that allegorical distance--having to ask the question of how the often grotesque details of bee life correspond to a poet we think of as "personal" or "autobiographical"--gives a bigger frisson than anything else could:

Even a daisy,

wretched housefly food, reeking
of rotting flesh--

I would wrap myself in it.
Today's selection from the Emory Lee papers comes from the journal Echoes from Gold Mountain, produced 1978-mid-1980s at Cal State-Long Beach. It's from the poem "Pachinko Wizard" by J.K. Yamamoto. Sing along, everybody:

Ever since I was a shoonen
I played the silver booru
From Kyoto down to Nara
I must’ve played maiyoru
Each time I hit that lever
I make sambyaku doru
That tsunbo, oshi, mekura kid
Sure plays pachinko joozu
Darn that Kasey! Now he's got 247,855 squirrels in his attic.

Monday, May 05, 2003

I guess I might as well complete the undermining of my post on Saturday by noting that I've finally updated the "writing" page at my homepage. It now includes a couple of my recent postcard poems from SHAMPOO and another poem from VeRT's "Oilwar/Empire" issue.

Long live Machiavellian self-promotion.
So on Saturday I said, among other things:

1. "Silliman...rarely, if ever, refers to a post on someone else's blog or links to it; nor does he, like nearly every other blogger I read, have any links to others' blogs."

2. "I read the blogs I read because I like the blog itself, rather than some presumed "real" work that hovers behind it...the blog itself's become a kind of art form, too, one that exists in parallel to whatever other work we do. Linking, referring, and obsessing are what it's all about."

Over the next two days:

1. Ron Silliman both refers to another post (Kasey's) and posts a list of links.

2. Kasey starts a poetry blog.

I don't know whether to be embarrassed or to take the credit.
Back working in the Emory Lee papers today, looking at issues of the Asian American Review, a mid-1970s publication from Asian American Studies at Berkeley. The journal's a mix of academic essays, interviews, journalism, short stories, and poems. A sample, from Luis Syquia's "Bayanihan Kearney Street":

And the old men die slow
on Kearney street/Manilatown
Eating their kalding,dinuguan,patis
adobo,isda and kanin
Open to the sun’s warm shrine
Old fighters,wise elders of the
still making their daily rounds
through vanishing Manilatown
in the rain
The old men die slow
on Kearney Street
Ancient warriors
still tapping their feet
to the primal feet
of a distant drum
An email, ostensibly from Barbara Boxer:

"Dear Mr. Yu:

Thank you for contacting me regarding
Senator Rick Santorum's recent remarks regarding
homosexuality. I appreciate hearing from you.

We are all God's children. I find Senator
Santorum's remarks offensive and hurtful and he
should retract them. Who the political parties
choose to lead them sends a message to America.
And we are far better off when we are united
rather than divided.

Again, thank you for contacting me. Please
do not hesitate to do so in the future."
Intrepid poet and SHAMPOO editor Del Ray Cross exposed my binary thinking on the soda/pop question:


i'm neither a soda person nor a pop person.

i'm a coke person.

we're coke people in arkansas."

Saturday, May 03, 2003

Okay, I used it as the opportunity for a lame joke. But now that David and Kasey have weighed in on Ron Silliman's remarks today on us "50 or so poetry bloggers," I think there may be less to Silliman's comments than it might first appear, though I might also object on different grounds.

The entry is actually about Halvard Johnson and explaining, in that context, what it might mean for a poet to be an "complete independent." In this context, poetry bloggers are a rhetorical foil, an example of a poetic community in the process of forming. But I think it would be a mistake to assume that Silliman is saying independent=good (and hence community=bad). Independence here is an admirable but difficult position, not one that every poet would, or should choose. Silliman himself, after all, has been a relentless builder of networks and communities, an editor of anthologies and journals, an indefatigable essayist, correspondent--and blogger. I can't imagine Silliman himself being without a well-defined "aesthetic position or point of view," as he characterizes Johnson; but somehow, Silliman finds, Johnson seems to have produced great poetry without one.

So I'm guessing--though I could be totally off base--that Silliman identifies more with the bloggers in this opposition than with the "independent" Johnson.

Here's the offending passage:

"Independence for a poet, as well as for a scholar, is not necessarily the easiest stance to take. Literary communities & networks form more or less naturally before anyone even plans them & create possible, sometimes probable, audiences for whatever. Just look at how rapidly the 50 or so active poetry bloggers have fallen into the process of referring obsessively back & forth to each other’s daily posts."

I agree entirely with Kasey and David that Silliman's language is loaded here. But I don't think it should be taken to mean that the formation of a literary community, and of an audience for "whatever" work that community might produce, is a negative thing.

I do think it shows, though, how distant Silliman's own practice is from that of the band of bloggers he describes. Silliman will address emails sent to him and even the Poetics list, but rarely, if ever, refers to a post on someone else's blog or links to it; nor does he, like nearly every other blogger I read, have any links to others' blogs. What he sees as an obsessive tic, though, seems like blogging bedrock to me, at least for those of us who started blogging with absolutely no confidence that anyone would read anything we wrote. Linking is conversation; linking is courtesy; linking is acknowledging that you have readers, most of whom are lonely bloggers themselves. And linking is multidirectional; it's usually several different people talking in different directions at once, which may be disorienting but is also exhilirating and keeps things moving. It's what keeps the blog from being a monologue or a book review.

I think Silliman's footnote contains another misunderstanding, at least from my experience:

"Trying to yoke an aesthetic tendency around Jim Behrle, K. Silem Mohammad, Sandra Simonds, Gabe Gudding, Laura Willey,  Heriberto Yepez, Nick Piombino, Nada Gordon & Jim Duemer may seem like an improbable undertaking, but each can now count at least 50 other bloggers who are probably intrigued at whatever else they might be writing."

It took me a while to realize what Silliman was really saying here: that part of the function of blogging is to create a market for our poetry! Maybe that's just the Machiavellian truth as Silliman sees it. But I certainly don't experience it that way. I think the mistake is to think that what's drawing poetry bloggers together is some "aesthetic tendency" in their poetry; it's an odd but true fact that a lot of bloggers don't put their own poems in their blogs (Silliman never does either). To be honest, most of the time I don't know that much about the poetry of most bloggers I read. What I know is their blogs. And I've come to realize increasingly that I read the blogs I read because I like the blog itself, rather than some presumed "real" work that hovers behind it.

I don't mean to say that poetry's fallen out of the picture. What brings the bloggers I read and link to together is their interest in poetry. And blogging can absolutely be productive for poetry, hooking up poets who might otherwise never have interacted, and giving poets stranded out in Pennsylvania or Ithaca or Palo Alto a way to talk, and people to talk to. What I am saying is that the blog itself's become a kind of art form, too, one that exists in parallel to whatever other work we do. Linking, referring, and obsessing are what it's all about.

Jim Behrle, K. Silem Mohammad, Sandra Simonds, Gabe Gudding, Laura WilleyHeriberto Yepez, Nick Piombino, Nada Gordon & Jim [sic] Duemer!

You've been yoked!
President Bush is in town. I'm looking now at a photo in the SJ Mercury News of a man carrying a sign that reads:



Perhaps the only thing more embarrassing than recognizing an allusion to "Kindergarten Cop" is being the one who made it in the first place.

Friday, May 02, 2003


"Eventually all blogs will just fuse together into one big throbbing self-referential digital tumor."

Perhaps. But maybe, in the words of California's next governor:

"It's not a tumor."
Are you a "soda" person or a "pop" person?

I used to be a "pop" person, but I've sold out.
Do you think Jim moved his blog just so we would all have to put "jism" in our links bar?
Spent some time working this afternoon in the Emory Lee papers, a great collection of Asian American materials from the past 30 years donated to the Stanford library by an alum. Lee seems to have collected copies of every ephemeral journal, report, flyer, and newsletter published by Asian Americans since 1970. The materials haven't been fully cataloged and so are lying around in huge boxes relatively unsorted, so going through them is a bit of a treasure hunt.

I'm basically opening up journals and newspapers from the 1970s and scouring them for poems, trying to get a better sense of what Asian American poetry looked like in the earliest days of the Asian American movement. While that category may have ossified somewhat today, things were a lot more fluid in the 1970s; very few of the Asian American poets we read today were writing then, and the poets who were writing are pretty much unknown today (Janice Mirikitani and Lawson Fusao Inada are among the few exceptions).

It's a lot of drudgery, but the occasional gems make it worth it. I found a remarkable, anonymous poem in a 1978 anthology from a Chinatown youth program, which seems to have drawn heavily on interviews with older Chinese Americans. Here's an excerpt:

my mother told me dragon
is Chinese spirits and dragon is
gold and every New Year they have
a big long gold dragon
dancing on the streets of Chinatown
and the dragon is running around at
the street and I like to watch
when the dragon is dancing on the
street and they have a lot of
people under the dragon
to make the dragon dancing so
the dragon don’t stop on the
street and they have some stick under
the dragon and make the dragon
dancing and only Chinese New Year
they have dragon dancing so the
dragon belong to the Chinese and every
New Year Chinese have a new spirits
to every Chinese people because
the dragon is belong to our Chinese
people dragon is like Chinese they
have spirits to the people

It's hard to say why this really gets to me; if it weren't a poem, it might well be a relatively undistinguished snippet of oral history. But broken up the way it is, it's close enough to reported speech to have the vitality of a genuine voice, while just far enough from speech to be estranging and weird. It's a great approach to one problem of writing about Asian Americans, which is how to portray the distinctive speech patterns of, say, a Chinese immigrant without parody or condescension. The speech seems to be given pretty much straight--and without comic exaggeration, as even Asian American writers are wont to do--and the grammatical structures are consistent throughout. And the limited, repeated material isn't really repeated at all--there's subtle shifting going on, as from "the dragon belong to the Chinese" to "the dragon belong to *our* Chinese," which is a tremendously simple but powerful localizing of identity.

But the line breaks may be the best--they are so unnatural, so counter to the rhythms of speech, that they force our attention to the language, how crafted and brilliant it is in its divergence from "correct" English grammar; what might have seemed naive becomes utterly lived and knowing.