Monday, June 30, 2003

After an insanely hot weekend the heat has finally broken, making walking outside seem an exercise in narcissism--the flowers bowing and bending as I walk by.

The campus population is doing its summer changeover from kids who look like they're in high school but are actually freshmen to kids who look like they're 12 but are actually in high school.

Conversation outside the union:

Girl 1: Hey, come help me look for my earring!

Girl 2: I'm not walking back that way, so you look for it yourself.

Girl 1: I'm getting my nose pierced.
T.P. Billy Collins!
Jim Behrle: the Nation has called you.
Three cheers (at least) for Steve Evans's blog digest.
Elephant & Castle [18]

The charring
cross-stitch hangs by

bowlight, deep-
water manners ramping

to lowing hounds.
Tottering hams

in the garden, hall-
way culvert put near

the turnpike frog.
Barbs can catch

or island, full well
stocked with mordant tootings.

Rich man ravens
at courtside, kill-burned

vales harrowed
past the puny bridge.
I'm a little surprised.

1. Kucinich, Cong. Dennis, OH - Democrat (97%)
2. Kerry, Senator John, MA - Democrat (84%)
3. Dean, Gov. Howard, VT - Democrat (78%)
4. Edwards, Senator John, NC - Democrat (75%)
5. Gephardt, Cong. Dick, MO - Democrat (74%)
6. Lieberman Senator Joe CT - Democrat (72%)
7. Moseley-Braun, Former Senator Carol IL - Democrat (69%)
8. Sharpton, Reverend Al - Democrat (68%)
9. Graham, Senator Bob, FL - Democrat (62%)
10. Libertarian Candidate (23%)
11. Bush, George W. - US President (5%)
12. Phillips, Howard - Constitution (-3%)
13. LaRouche, Lyndon H. Jr. - Democrat (-7%)
John Lahr on "Hulk" director Ang Lee in the June 30 New Yorker:

At first glance, it's hard to imagine a Hulk inside Ang Lee. He is, by Hollywood standards, sensationally calm and self-effacing.


Western drama is built on the escalation of tension; Chinese life is built around the reduction of it.


The Chinese have no word for "individualism"...Because Lee doesn't exude any of the imperalism of self associated with most directors of his stature, he is sometimes difficult to read.


This make Asian American very angry. You won't like him when he's angry.
DFW said that he couldn't write a novel until he got rid of his TV.

Right. But if he hadn't had one to begin with he wouldn't have had anything to write about.
Stephanie meant what I heard.

And ditto on the weird no-time of the poetry swap. I usually depart for Del's place around 10 a.m. telling Robin, "Oh, I'm sure I'll be back by 2 or 3." By the time I hit the road, many bread products and much cat hair later, it's pitch black along the nowhere to which 280 goes and the radio's putting me to sleep. No sunburn, though.
Chris emails to say her students are actually planning a grassroots campaign to bring down Billy!

Well, if they're really serious, here's as far as I've gotten: The statue authorizing the office of Poet Laureate says that whatever procedure was in place for choosing the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress when the statute was enacted (Dec. 20, 1985) will become the procedure for choosing the Poet Laureate. However, I haven't been able to find any description of the procedure itself. It would be important to do so because presumably, since this is a government office, there ought to be some process for removing its occupant.

Anyway, I can think of two ways to proceed:

1. Dig back through earlier U.S. Code to find if there is a statute creating the office of Consultant in Poetry (this would be in the late 1920s, I think).

2. The Library of Congress may have its own internal regulations, which must be available somewhere. Perhaps these are what governs the laureateship.

And then--down with Billy!

So, um--who would replace him? The Vice Poet Laureate?

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Chris: My mom always wanted me to be a lawyer, so I guess I'm just trying to do her proud.

Friday, June 27, 2003

2 USC Sec. 177 01/22/02


Sec. 177. Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry

(a) Recognition
The Congress recognizes that the Consultant in Poetry to the
Library of Congress has for some time occupied a position of
prominence in the life of the Nation, has spoken effectively for
literary causes, and has occasionally performed duties and
functions sometimes associated with the position of poet laureate
in other nations and societies. Individuals are appointed to the
position of Consultant in Poetry by the Librarian of Congress for
one- or two-year terms solely on the basis of literary merit, and
are compensated from endowment funds administered by the Library of
Congress Trust Fund Board. The Congress further recognizes this
position is equivalent to that of Poet Laureate of the United
(b) Position established
(1) There is established in the Library of Congress the position
of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The Poet Laureate Consultant
in Poetry shall be appointed by the Librarian of Congress pursuant
to the same procedures of appointment as established on December
20, 1985, for the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.
(2) Each department and office of the Federal Government is
encouraged to make use of the services of the Poet Laureate
Consultant in Poetry for ceremonial and other occasions of
celebration under such procedures as the Librarian of Congress
shall approve designed to assure that participation under this
paragraph does not impair the continuation of the work of the
individual chosen to fill the position of Poet Laureate Consultant
in Poetry.
(c) Poetry program
(1) The Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts, with
the advice of the National Council on the Arts, shall annually
sponsor a program at which the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry
will present a major work or the work of other distinguished poets.
(2) There are authorized to be appropriated to the National
Endowment for the Arts $10,000 for the fiscal year 1987 and for
each succeeding fiscal year ending prior to October 1, 1990, for
the purpose of carrying out this subsection.

You know who's responsible for creating the office of Poet Laureate?

Dan Quayle!

I'm not kidding.

Title VI: Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry - Recognizes that the position of Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (CPLC) is equivalent to that of Poet Laureate of the United States. Establishes in the Library of Congress the position of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry (PLCP). Directs the Librarian of Congress to appoint a PLCP pursuant to the same procedures as established on the date of enactment of this Act for the CPLC. Encourages Federal agencies to make use of the services of the PLCP for ceremonial and other occasions of celebration, under procedures designed to assure that rendering such services does not impair the continuation of that individual's work. Directs the Chairman of the NEA, with the advice of the National Council on the Arts, to annually sponsor a program at which the PLCP will present a major work or the work of other distinguished poets. Authorizes appropriations to the NEA for FY 1987 through 1990 for purposes of such PLCP provisions.
Hey Chris: here's some fodder for the recall effort.

What does a Laureate do?

The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress serves as the nation’s official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans. During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.

The Poet Laureate is appointed annually by the Librarian of Congress and serves from October to May. In making the appointment, the Librarian consults with former appointees, the current Laureate and distinguished poetry critics. The position has existed under two separate titles: from 1937 to 1986 as “Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress” and from 1986 forward as “Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.” The name was changed by an act of Congress in 1985.

The Laureate receives a $35,000 annual stipend funded by a gift from Archer M. Huntington. The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties in order to afford incumbents maximum freedom to work on their own projects while at the Library. The Laureate gives an annual lecture and reading of his or her poetry and usually introduces poets in the Library's annual poetry series, the oldest in the Washington area, and among the oldest in the United States. This annual series of public poetry and fiction readings, lectures, symposia, and occasional dramatic performances began in the 1940s. Collectively the Laureates have brought more than 2,000 poets and authors to the Library to read for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature.
Snuck the dog into the office. She seems to be the kind of dog who will sleep under your desk.
Jim: Do they still have that typewriter in the front window of Tealuxe?
This may take a few minutes, if you have a large blog.
I can't help wondering whether Stephanie is welcoming me home to the Bay Area or to blogland. For some reason I'd like to think the latter.
Catherine on Don DeLillo denying he's ever read a book: I can see why he says that. Part of the edge of his fiction is its awareness of its own obsolescence in an electronic-media world, which is perhaps why it's so hard to sustain engagement with his style over the gargantuan length of Underworld (for me at least). I also imagine he said it because he's tired of the question, being one of the two or three questions (along with "Do you write on a computer?" and "What do you eat when you're writing?") that authors get at readings.

It's funny to say about Cosmopolis, though, precisely because of the flaunting of poetry in the narrative (the protagonist's wife is even said to be a poet, though he thinks her poetry is "shit").

I saw DeLillo read in Boston when Underworld was released--it was actually pretty weird, because the room at the Boston Public Library was full when I got there and I had to watch DeLillo on a video screen from another room. What read on the page as artifice got read as the natural rhythms of speech, though in a kind of heightened, rapid-fire, Mametish way--it was quite compelling.

When he signed my book he lifted the pen off the page with a flourish and said, "Rock and roll!"
Hey--the Supreme Court is 2 for 2.
I was blogless for nine days. In that time:

Jim moved again.

Eileen turned wine into corpses.

Kasey gave me a logo, which I can't really make out.
Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis did turn out to be perfect airplane-reading length--just long enough to last the whole flight and to provide a few more satisfying pages as I settled in.

DeLillo is one of those novelists who makes me want to immediately drop whatever else it is I'm doing and write a novel. (David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest had that effect on me too but I've soured on him a bit--though it was in part his take on White Noise that turned me on to DeLillo.) DeLillo's probably the contemporary novelist who it's easiest (and maybe most dangerous) to imitate or parody; his style's often called stilted, unnatural, perhaps because the narration is often a jarringly baroque contrast to the mannered flatness of the dialogue.

For instance, some of the opening lines of Cosmopolis: "He did not take long walks into the scrolling dawn. There was no friend he loved enough to harrow with a call." Scrolling? Harrow? A million workshop instructors are waiting with pens of all shades: "Overwritten." "Pretentious." "Show don't tell." On the other hand, DeLillo's characters often seem to be saying nothing, their favorite utterance--"What."--not a question but a mere punctuation mark.

The NY Times review I read took Cosmopolis to task for lacking narrative coherence and character development. What century are we living in? DeLillo's characters don't develop; that's the point. They're hardly even characters--more like projections, constellations, complexes. Some critics think this is because DeLillo's read too much lit theory, but it's most likely that most reviewers have read too little; anyway, DeLillo's pontificators are usually set up for parody or an ironic fall.

What's most interesting about this book, though, is that it's about a poem. In fact, one might even say that it's an enactment or expansion of a poem. In an age when it's said that no one reads or cares about poetry, it's striking that one of our best-known novelists would create a protagonist--one on the cutting edge of wealth and technology, no less--who reads it. Here's the book's second paragraph:

He tried to read his way into sleep but only grew more wakeful. He read science and poetry. He liked spare poems sited minutely in white space, ranks of alphabetic strokes burnt into paper. Poems made him conscious of his breathing. A poem bared the moment to things he was not normally prepared to notice. This was the nuance of every poem, at least for him, at night, these long weeks, one breath after another, in the rotating room at the top of the triplex.

DeLillo riffs effortlessly on some of our conceptions of contemporary poetry: the material text, the breath-based line, poetry as meditation. And yet we don't know how seriously to take this, as it seems to appear only as fodder for the protagonist's self-absorption. Later in the book:

He stood in the poetry alcove at the Gotham Book Mart, leafing through chapbooks. He browsed lean books always, half a fingerbreadth or less, choosing poems to read based on length and width. He looked for poems of four, five, six lines. He scrutinzed such poems, thinking into every intimation, and his feelings seemed to float in the white space around the lines. There were marks on the page and there was the page. The white was vital to the soul of the poem.

Did your high school English teacher talk to you about the white space? Mine did.

The role of poetry is much broader than this in the book, though. The book carries an epigraph from Zbigniew Herbert's "Report from the Besieged City": "a rat became the unit of currency." Herbert's poetry has never done that much for me, personally, but I can see why DeLillo picked this poem: it's an apocalyptic collage, spoken by a reluctant chronicler in an unknown place, in a strange combination of the specific and the abstract:

I write as I can in the rhythm of interminable weeks
monday: empty storehouses a rat became the unit of currency
tuesday: the mayor murdered by unknown assailants
wednesday: negotiations for a cease-fire the enemy has imprisoned our messengers
we don't know where they are held that is the place of torture
thursday: after a stormy meeting a majority of voices rejected
the motion of the spice merchants for unconditional surrender
friday: the beginning of the plague saturday: our invincible defender
N.N. committed suicide sunday: no more water we drove back
an attack at the eastern gate called the Gate of the Alliance

all of this is monotonous I know it can't move anyone

Cosmopolis is a kind of prose version of this poem; DeLillo literalizes the allusion by inserting into the narrative a group of guerilla performance artists who roam the city in rat costumes, release rats into exclusive restaurants, and finally mount an attack in Times Square, where they project Herbert's line onto the electronic ticker-tape boards. It's as if DeLillo were bringing to life all of the demands for poetry as political action, injecting it into the heart of media discourse. But it's left an open question as to whether poetry connects or disconnects, whether it foments revolution or simply becomes more discourse, more media pleasure:

It was exhilirating, his head in the fumes, to see the struggle and ruin around him, the gassed men and women in their defiance, waving looted Nasdaq T-shirts, and to realize they'd been reading the same poetry he'd been reading.
We spent the first few days in Chicago staying with my family in the north suburbs. My mother has finally stopped asking me "Do you feel like you never left?" every time I visit home, as she has for the past decade. Perhaps this is merely a form of gloating, now that I'm moving back to the general vicinity of the nest.

Sleeping in my childhood bedroom is a creepily comforting experience, more so now that my mother has repainted the room and taken down all of my embarrassing high-school posters, which tracked my tastes from the pedestrian (the Beatles, U2) to the slightly hipper (R.E.M., Pet Shop Boys) to the pretentious (Andy Warhol) and just plain dumb (a totally inexplicable poster of Eddie Murphy's Coming to America and a totally fabulous poster of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure in which Keanu Reeves looks like Mary Lou Retton in a black wig).

A further geological record is apparent on my bookshelves. For years my primary source of books was the annual Brandeis Book Sale, which pitched its circus tent for a week in the parking lot of a mall near my house each summer. On the last weekend of the sale you could do something like fill a bag for $3; in the waning hours sometimes they'd let you wheel away a whole shopping cart for that price. Frantic shopping-spree grabbing was encouraged.

Looking at the books I collected then, I'm amazed at how haphazard my buying habits were. My behavior was a bit like my behavior in my even younger days in collecting baseball cards. I knew absolutely nothing about baseball (for some reason Carlton Fisk, then winding down his career with the White Sox, was the only player I'd heard of), but the names of certain players seemed to tickle an associational nerve somewhere, and I'd scramble to get as many of those players' cards as I could (I had probably a dozen Garry Templeton cards, probably just because his name sounded like a baseball player's should, and traded away what I now know were much more valuable cards for them).

I obviously engaged in the same behavior with literature, judging from my collections of the complete novels of Robert Penn Warren and Thomas Wolfe, all still unread. I grabbed fat novels by authors with Russian names even though I couldn't remember which ones you were supposed to have read, and took almost any poetry I could find, which meant my haul ranged from George Starbuck to Louis Simpson to Rod McKuen.

There's one tall bookshelf in which the childhood books are at the top, most inaccessible, having been displaced by the advance of more sophisticated fare. At the upper left is my set of C.S. Lewis's Narnia Chronicles, well-read but still intact in its box; at the bottom right is Kathy Acker.
I'm solving this self-consciousness problem by averting my eyes from the preview and hitting "publish" as fast as I can.
The weirdest "improvement" is this "preview your post" button, which is like Regis Philbin saying "Is that your final answer?" after everything you post. It gives me the alarming ability to think twice about what I'm blogging.
Finally back from Chicago. It seems as if empires have risen and fallen since I've been gone.

Of course, first thing that happens when I try to I had a brief moment when it seemed as if the whole blog thing never happened, like it vanished into the cybermists from which it came. But it turns out that no, they just created a new interface to confuse me just as I had the old one figured out. Maybe I'll feel nostalgic for the days of disappearing archives--the blog needing constant maintenance like an old jalopy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Google is telling me it's M.C. Escher's birthday. Nerds.
No, I'm not blogging because I'm still awake, I'm blogging because I just woke up. Grrrr. Darn ATA.
Heading to Chicago tomorrow (sorry, David, just missed you) for a house-hunting trip. If I'm lucky, I'll experience the dubious joys of blogging from my boyhood home.

Airplane/trip reading always a dilemma. I often find I can't read poetry on planes--brain too deadened and wanting to stay that way--so I usually lug a novel. I picked up Don DeLillo's new book--perfect airplane length at 200 generously spaced pp.--and the Penguin edition of Borges's Collected Fictions.

When I go to Chicago all I want to do is eat. Mmmm, pizza.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Robin sees Jim's chapbook on the dining room table and says, "Oh, so that's how you spell Behrle."
Cassie's talking to her blog.
Turned a corner in Moe's and saw the new Robert Lowell Collected Poems staring at me, dust jacket like a box from Tiffany's or a slightly ill chocolate mint. Good. I needed something else to balance Merrill.

How long has Lowell been dead? Why is this book just coming out now? Why would you die and leave your literary legacy in the hands of Frank Bidart?

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Kasey's reorganized his links again--in reverse alphabetical order. Hurrah! The last shall be first.
Kent Johnson kindly sent me an updated link for Dear Jacques Lacan: An Analysis in Correspondence, "a series of 'psychoanalytic' exchanges between three so-called 'Jacques': the late, famed Jacques Lacan; his almost equally-famous disciple Jacques-Alain Miller; and a clinical patient Jacques Debrot, a fairly obscure and obviously brilliant American poet and doctoral student at Harvard University."
I only knew Jacques Debrot as a grad student and teacher (a good one), so I was surprised at the strong reactions my mention of him produced: delight (I think) from Kasey, horror (I think) from David. I remember towards the end of our tutorial Jacques rather reluctantly admitted that he was a poet and pointed me to some of his comics in Ribot, which at the time I found even more puzzling than I was finding Tender Buttons.

A quick Google turns up Jacques's 2000 book Confusion Comix, a poem in cwhobb?, some stuff from the East Village Poetry Web, and this.
Scourge of Silliman Chris Lott writes:

I've always been a believer in the part of poetry that demands study and thinking. This is one of the aspects of poetry, regardless of school, that I find so appealing. There is a scholarly part to it that must be wedded to the spontaneity that is the bread and butter of a poet. I hate to trot out the old "emotions recollected in tranquility" saw, but isn't that just what is being referred to? If anything, post-avant poetry, like abstract modern art, has seemed like a channel into which even more pretenders flock because there is an appearance that no study or discipline is needed. Just do it and you are an artist. And whatever one makes must be art.

While I understand the aspect that Tim presents a little earlier about the academic game seeming rigged, I'm baffled by the notion that intellectual labor, reading and thinking, are somehow more the province of one school or another. Isn't this simply the province of that percentage in each who are writing the best?

I don't mean to set up an opposition between learned and naive poetries, or to say that one form of poetry doesn't need to be "studied" as much as another. It was more about where different modes of poetry seemed to be positioned vis-a-vis academia at the time I was an undergrad.

Big gasp: I wasn't an English major, not really at least. So I was actually a lot less well read in contemporary poetry than some of my poet peers. My major was Social Studies, a weird social theory/cultural studies major, and I first got interested in Language poetry in part because of its self-proclaimed connections to political theory. The "nerd" factor seemed to arise from the fact that my reading of Marx or Weber seemed as relevant as reading Bishop or Lowell; context seemed as important as text.

So: theory as defense mechanism for a young, insecure writer, maybe.

And just as you say no group has a monopoly on study, I don't think any group has a monopoly on posers, either. The idea of avant-garde poetry as a haven for "pretenders" smacks a bit too much to me of the "My 5-year-old could do that" reaction to abstract art. I don't see it that way. I don't see hordes of poets flocking to elliptical or fragmentary styles just because it's easier to get away with something there.

Finally, "writing the best"--that seems to be the fundamental category avant-garde writing's trying to question. What constitutes "the best"? What institutions and structures do such allegedly universal prinicples conceal? What can we learn from writing or art that by all conventional standards seems to be "bad"?
Oppressed Virgos, unite!

Friday, June 13, 2003

Senator Boxcar.
I love you guys. Empathic beams (with a whiff of sex) from Josh, Kasey with a rousing defense of Shelley. I can actually vividly remember the quaver that began to develop in my voice as I read the poem to that group, which seemed glorious halfway through, something like pure joy in the sound--but then it started to seem so damn long, especially after I looked up and saw the expressions on everyone's faces. It was a bit like the first 100-meter sprint I did when I was on the track team in high school. We'd been running indoors and I was actually pretty good at the 50-yard dash but had never run the 100 before. The gun went off and I felt good, like that flying feeling you're supposed to get, and I didn't see anybody on either side of me. Then about halfway through my legs started feeling very strange, like I was trying to move them through molasses, and then suddenly I was seeing everyone's backs. There's a picture of me in the race at that point and you can see me at the center with everyone else disappearing off the right side of the frame. The coach assigned me to hurdles the next day.
I didn't say it was a bad thing that we all sounded like vulnerable teenagers.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Poetry's social gesture: HELLO I AM HERE.
I think Jim's audblogs all make us sound like vulnerable teenage versions of ourselves.
David: I didn't mean to suggest that the "avant-world" is workshop-free--it's obviously developed its own set of institutions--or free of the mysticisms of "I get it." But in my own college experience, at least, the workshop and the avant-garde were opposed: workshop was all Bishop and Lowell and "Strike to the terrible crystals," and I read Stein and Olson and Bernstein and Hejinian with a grad student in a tutorial. Was that work off-putting, even repellent at first? Sure. I threw Tender Buttons against my dorm room wall more than once. But the grad student I was reading with, Jacques Debrot (also a poet--where are you these days, Jacques?) was remarkably patient with me and convinced me that there was something interesting going on there, something really worth talking and thinking and arguing about.

Reading avant-garde writing made me feel I might have something to say about or even contribute to poetry. I felt I'd hit a glass ceiling in the workshop and Vendler world, one that seemed dominated by power and ambition and whose winners were dictated in advance. Maybe this is just to say that I was lousy at writing workshop lyric; if I look at what I was writing in college it was obviously trying to ape what my classmates were doing. I remember one workshop during my freshman year where at the end of the class we were each supposed to read something we liked. A lot of what I'd read in high school was Romantic poetry, so I picked Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind." The other students all got these funny looks on their faces, as if I'd put on a particularly embarrassing outfit, and even the instructor pronounced it "indulgent." The person who read after me--the son, I later discovered, of a famous English professor--read Frank O'Hara's "Why I Am Not a Painter" and they loved it--it was a perfect riposte to my poor taste. I didn't even know who O'Hara was. Bishop, Plath, and Lowell were all people I had to discover in college. I couldn't talk about myself with that weird combination of ego and modesty that seemed required; I was either too much there or not there at all.

Also, honestly, the nerdy quality of avant-garde writing had its appeal; it seemed that it might have something to do with studying and thinking, which I felt comfortable with, and not just be based purely on my own taste or genius, which I had severe doubts about. It's probably why I ended up in grad school.

I'm realizing increasingly that it was very different for a lot of people, that some people were being assigned Stein and Language poetry in their workshops, and that for them this has become the Establishment itself, more needful of resistance than the old Official Verse Culture (e.g. Jordan's remark a while back that in his world Helen Vendler is not a critic).

David points out that he said "artwork," not "network." I wonder how much difference there is. We don't read poetry in a vacuum; we learn about it in classrooms and anthologies, in talking with friends, going to readings, browsing in bookstores of libraries. I guess I don't believe there is some way in which an artwork, all by itself, can restrict--or expand--social and political possibilities; ultimately, somebody's got to do something with it. Where I've ended up means that I find avant-garde works more able to allow me to do something more, to go on.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Here's something to marinate on: By attemping to model artistic production on social struggle, the avant-garde ends up producing artworks that restrict possiblities of social exploration and connection.

Oops! A fine pickle.

(Pickles, waffles, donuts, muffins: I guess I'm hungry.)

I imagine you could make a perfectly plausible argument, in the abstract, for what David's saying. But my own experience has been just the opposite. I remember dutifully taking workshops in college, laboring to create perfectly honed metaphors and conceits, then scratching my head when my teacher would pick up someone else's poem and simply say: "I get it." In that world poetry was a mystical gift, given to some and not others. It's like believing in fate: even if it's true, it doesn't give you much help with living.

Discovering avant-garde writing was a liberation from this narrow idea of poetry. Did the avant-garde have its own hierarchies, its own pretensions? Sure. But the sense that poetic practice could be something open to discussion and debate gave me a way back into poetry, one that wasn't simply based on the work of individual and isolated souls, but that recognized the role of groups and communities in making a context for reading and writing.

Stir & stew.
Catherine: I think Hugo's a waffle too.
Shopping Alone

The copy’s good enough to eat, a private
Swoon behind no-look glass.
We’re acting out a commercial in which
Refills line up like iron, the detox
Boundary between value and use.
The colored glass nob. The pulverized
Rock-face journal. The shampoo
Bent back over its own lather.
If those salespeople are in the way
When the fizzy bath bomb goes off, we can’t
Be held accountable for our own desires,
Blooming in the dark-stained pan.

The label works in its absence
Of generosity, ultra-smooth-clean
Donuts and muffins filling the empty space.
What it doesn’t give you is a walk to somewhere
That’s all afternoon long, the pavement flushed
From embarrassment or exertion.
Better to be left alone. I wanted
To get on the wrong train, carefully
Picking past the sad-dog eyes
Lined up along the platform like
So many shoes emptied of their wares.
My audblog's now up at (okay, I'm just going to say it) The JISM. I decided not to edit out my stumbling over the word "saddle." You try saying "saddle-stapled" ten times fast.
The declaration of in my pants.
Plus I never meet other Virgos. I think we're an oppressed minority.
I'm a Virgo, which I found unbelievably humiliating in high school.
Chris Murray and I have officially kicked off the "Recall Billy Collins" campaign. Watch for attack ads portraying revolving-door prize committees and Billy's controversial positions in support of boredom.

We're also taking nominations for replacements. My money's on Arnold Schwarzenegger. At least it'll keep him out of the governor's mansion.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Would you advertise for a roommate on the Poetics list?
When it rains it snows

I wonder why
Impeach Billy Collins!
Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing, cuccu!
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springth the wude nu.
Sing, cuccu!
Catherine jumps into the "social poet" debate by quoting Richard Hugo's distinction between poets who are "Krebs" ("In Hemingway's story, the protagonist, Krebs, by birth and circumstance is an insider. As a result of his experiences in a war and his own sensitivity, he feels alienated and outside") and "Snopes" ("In Faulkner's story, the protagonist, Snopes, a little boy, by birth and circumstance is an outsider who wants desperately to be in"). Here's Hugo's list:

Krebs: William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Richard Wilbur, e.e. cummings, Wallace Stevens, Allen Ginsberg.
Snopes: T.S. Eliot, Theodore Roethke, Robert Lowell, William Stafford, Louise Bogan, James Wright, Galway Kinnell, A.R. Ammons.

Does this strike anyone else as precisely backward? Even if we accept Hugo's claim that he's judging "Not from birth and circumstance, but by virtue of how they feel about themselves and their relation with the world, as revealed in their poems," it's hard for me not to see Lowell, for example, as perfectly exemplifying the insider-turned-outsider dynamic as precisely in his poetic as he does in his life. It's just as hard for me to see even the early poetry of Williams or Pound as "insider" or as taking alienation from some "inside" as a primary theme.

I realize that part of my negative reaction is an effect Hugo carefully calculates, by neatly inverting the usual understanding of avant-garde and mainstream poetry. His Krebses are poets who would usually be called modernist or avant-garde, yet they are depicted as (alienated) "insiders"; while his Snopeses are what we might now think of as more "mainstream" writers, but with a maverick or independent sensibility that marks them, for Hugo, as fundamentally (despairing) "oustiders."

Really this seems to be less an analysis of style or biography than an instinct about personality: Krebses are confident and relatively secure in their position of dissent, whereas Snopeses are self-doubting and insecure in their positions, unable to identify with any particular group--which, paradoxically, makes them perfectly suited for canonization.
Of course, I'm being unfair to Josh. A Stanford workshop would make anyone frustrated with the clumsiness and inadequacy of words.
I do wonder exactly what a poet is supposed to do with his or her inevitable frustration with the clumsiness and inadequacy of words.

Words are all we got. The only question is what you're going to do with them.

My problem is that words are overadequate. They say more than I could want or need them to. Poetry's better than thought.

Charles Bernstein says somewhere that while both Derrida and Wittgenstein see language as the limit of our world, you can either despair (Derrida) or delight (Wittgenstein) in this fact. Not fair to either D or W, but a neat statement of the dilemma.
My dog snores.

The look of sadness is merely an artifact of the way the floor pushes her face up when she puts her head on it.

I can't explain the arched eyebrows.
I wonder if one of David's homework assignments was not to read Silliman's Blog.
Graduate schools turn out far more “product” than the market can bear.

That's good. My stylist said: "You have to put some product in your hair to give it direction."
In Lush yesterday with Stephanie and Cassie: I wanted to eat everything. The soaps were almond cookies with a little nut in the exact center. The lotions were arranged in small dishes like gelato, or possibly tuna salad. No time to bother with forming a fetish. Just swallow whole.

I am finding myself in the position of telling you something about myself that Stephanie has already told you. This is not unlike the experience of reading Stephanie's poetry.
There's a face at the window

a smiling yellow face

Monday, June 09, 2003

Also now in possession of much less hair.
I'm now in possession of a picture of myself wearing an octopus hat, a pink lei, and a hula hoop.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Just back from a fabulous poetry swap at Del's place. Blog heaven: Stephanie, Cassie, and Catherine all there, along with Jennifer and Del. (We'll get them all blogging someday.)

We were all on time today (a departure from the usual range of half-hour early to two hours late), which was perhaps a sign that everybody had their A-games: some great poems, everyone trying to do something new. (Though I've noticed the habit of tenatively handing around our poems saying, "This is kind of different then what I usually do," then having the poem sound pretty much the same as our others.) Stephanie brought "Mercury Retrograde," her ode to miscommuncation, Del offered a brilliant/disturbing riff on eyes and twitches and fathers and soft pillows, Jennifer a set of images that juxtaposed schools and churches and hot henhouses, Catherine an allusive and self-conscious poem on the dangers of self-conscious allusiveness. I tried to provide a touch of clarity.

Bread of all kinds.
Perhaps the social is something that is impossible not to include, but it can be acknowledged (or not) with varying degrees of consciousness.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the social...
It's a relative category, but we have not been taught that. Hence my reason for raising the question in the first place. I considered it a "social" gesture on my part.

It certainly was, David--especially since you managed to pack up, move across the country, and still pick up the thread. Thanks.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Because, you see, this particular squirrel puppet was a

Long Nosed Pinocchio Squirrel Bitch!
Henry Gould's thrown his hat into the ring on the social poet thing. (Whew. I thought no one was listening.)

I agree that there's much more to the 20th c. (and to modernism) than anti-mass culture jeremiads. But I also think that "synthesizing" elite and mass culture is not the same thing as erasing the boundaries between them, or writing as if for an undifferentiated audience.

Again, I think that "social" is a confusing term here, perhaps not the right one to talk about the kind of poetic traits we're talking about. How does it overlap with two other terms: "political"--and just plain "good"?

My understanding of what someone like Andrews is trying to do, I would call "political" rather than "social." "Political" in poetry implies to me a critique, an opposition, a definite position against or outside some discourse that's seen as repressive (or inside one that's seen as liberating).

I'm sympathetic to David's skepticism about sweeping claims for the liberating power of Language poetry; but I don't think (unless David is referring to writings of Andrews's that I don't know, which is quite possible) that Andrews and other Language writers would go so far as to say that the text is completely collaborative or renders writer and reader "democratically" equal. Writing like Andrews's might be seen as empowering the reader by allowing her or him to play a more active role in constructing a text's meaning; but particularly in the case of Andrews's often aggressive rhetoric (yes, the voices are really mean), this is less an invitation than a compulsion. The reader is forced, due to the poem's resistant/"offensive" surface, to recognize his or her role in making meaning, one which is always present but rarely acknowledged. As Ron Silliman puts it somewhere (I can't recall where at the moment), the reader is given certain freedoms but he, as the writer, still gets to "determine, unilaterally" what the terms of that freedom will be. Language writing shows us how chained we are as much as (if not more than) it shows us how we're free.

David says, rightly, that Andrews's writing "becomes 'social' by its language"--as does any writing. Andrews simply seeks to call our attention to this tautology. I agree that readings arguing Language writing is without content (advanced sometimes by the poets themselves) are misguided, but I would not equate "content" in some narrow sense with the social.

I wouldn't agree that a project like Andrews's requires one to be "totally pessimistic" about communication. Against transparency, in a narrow sense, perhaps. But also utterly optimistic in its attempt to find new ways, outside of what it understands as a given system ("electro-convulsive opinions") to make poetic connections. (The "optimism" of Bernstein's "strategy of tactics.")

So maybe everybody's a social poet? This would seem to be one implication of Henry's argument ("poetry-making is inherently social") and even of David's (if language is what's social then any writer is a social writer). Which makes the category less than useful.

I can't help but feel (although David's denied this) that calling someone a social poet is a marker of value, that really this is a way of grappling with whether we feel Andrews is a successful, effective, good poet or not. To answer this I think we'd need to ask not whether Andrews is social but how, and whether his way of engaging with "the social" seems more or less effective, responsible, compelling than John Ashbery's, Jack Spicer's, June Jordan's, or anybody else's.

Friday, June 06, 2003

Until this week, David and I lived in contiguous states. As of August, we will again live in contiguous states.

These states, of course, are those of inspiration & madness.
If I'm not mistaken, Jim, David is now observing Central Daylight Time.

Unless you meant something else by "in my time zone," in which case you'd better take it up with him.
POPULAR MECHANICS: the perfect Father's Day gift.

I'm in there next to Stephanie, which is dreamy. If we had gone to elementary school together I probably would have sat right behind her and dunked her pigtails into the inkwell.
The cult of Long Nose Pinocchio Bitch is growing. Join while you still can.
Somebody finally noticed that I update my archives! Use those permalinks.

Thanks, Laurable--stay awhile.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Welcome, Visitor #1000!

Well, since I started counting, at least.
I guess the HiH honeymoon's over.

If a social poet is "One who makes an art that transcends or destroys the division between populism and elitism," then I'm even more convinced that there is no such thing as a social poet, at least in the 20th century. (Spicer: "No one listens to poetry.") Poetry at least since modernism seems predicated on a struggle with its own marginalization in the culture; in modernism, this emerges as a critique of mass culture and an attempt to reorder that culture through poetic forms, while in postmodernism poetry's "elitism" has really been superseded by its irrelevance, so that it's perhaps better thought of as a coterie or subcultural practice.

Even Yeats--the only 20th-c poet I can think of who might fit David's definition of social--relies not so much on abolishing populism vs. elitism but on tacking between the two of them, employing them both as modes, but with each always maintaing an awareness of the other.

Maybe I'm just grouchy. I'm still glad David's back.
One wonders – especially if one c’est moi
And hooray! David Hess is back.

Although I don't think social poets are supposed to eat each other.
Don't check your email! It might be the New York Times looking for disgruntled bloggers.
Whatever You Want Is What You Want:
21 Responses for Jim Behrle

1. Critic & Poet = Lisa & Bart.
2. The Matrix is the matrix.
3. Rip every page out of every book you read and deface it beyond recognition.
4. John Ashbery and a stripper walk into a bar. The stripper says, "Isn’t it delightful that we’re not shaped by the past?" John Ashbery doesn’t answer, having been knocked unconscious by the sound of the past coming thunderously.
5. "Make it new" is something some old guy wrote on a bathtub, As
6. Opposed to washing himself in it.
7. You’re disappointing yourself.
8. I was trying to talk to my mom but she was too busy telling me how I needed a parachute to escape from my apartment and that they were on sale at Wal-Mart for $12.99.
9. I’m a firefighter disguised as an arsonist. You
10. Are the fire.
11. I think much better in the avant than in the post.
12. Spiral binding is oppressive. Saddle-stapling is oppressive. Glossy paper is oppressive. Post-It Notes are oppressive.
13. Maybe both.
14. If I met you in a dark alley I’d be the one with empty pockets.
15. Whatever you want is what you want and you are to want it.
16. Your story is a silent treatment.
17. Selling lies is a full-time job. Poets only work part time.
18. The 20th century sucked. The 21st is avant-suck.
19. I was teaching one day and one of my students raised his hand and asked, "Did you polish your shoes?"
20. Everyone who now has power will lose it to other people who will then have power.
21. Books are the matrix.
Slow blog day--I think Long Nose P.B. took a lot out of Stephanie & Kasey.

Humanities Center end-of-year picnic. I got an award for "Coolest Shoes."

Then spent two hours at the emergency room with a friend who pulled/tore something in her calf playing frisbee at the picnic. She kept telling the nurses that she was injured trying to catch a frisbee "from a Macedonian," insisting that this was crucial medical information.

Emergency rooms are weird places, although not weird in the way they are on TV. It was mostly huddled family groups, each a little knot of anxiety but surrounded by a matrix of bureaucratic calm, eveything in slow motion. There was a boy crawling around on the floor with a dump truck and wearing a shirt that seemed to have big bloodstains on the shoulders, though he looked unhurt.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Referral of the day:

tympan blog nourished

All blogs are one.
Long Nose Pinocchio Bitch

No long-john sense of humor
is gonna long for this room.
Are water balloons good or evil? That’s what
Italian tai chi is asking you, boy,

in your sleeping bag with your Pulitzer Prize
attached at the grunt and push, stepped-
up nose like the biggest icicle you never
saw in the mirror, no matter how hard you rubbed.

The bitch rooster’s on TV until
the pink gorilla sprouts headfirst from
his pink rabbit jacket painted pricks and
the man’s face in its pirate mask

sees Pinocchio with his broken cucumber.
"Whoa," he says, but the earplugs keep
the lies pulled through and gagging.
That eyebrow’s definitely made of pine.

Freckles are sprayed all over and swept away.
That sad throat, that long perk
is a deep black e-mail nursing her
in Pinocchio’s actress hands.

Ringlets: extremely shallow.
A stale patriotism spirals up
long-distance to the conscious nose,
clawing like it missed what she’s made of.

Sally’s stomach was long and tall,
like a sharp soldier made of e-mail
or a blogging silver spear.
Close up [close-up]: a national valentine.

The thing about a hairstyle is it can catch on fire,
say Inspector Gepetto and General Melanie,
working hard at the zoo
for an iced coffee and Shelley’s alias.

That long-haired inseam’s my Barney dog,
reading horny lollypops with its nose like Winnie,
a starchild prostitute, a Scorpius pumpkin pie:
my arch-enemy Jimmy, my Pinocchio face.

[Stephanie's] [Kasey's]
I started over & over. Not this.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

I couldn't resist this one, either:

In Midwinter, an Odd Thing Can Happen Halfway Through a McDonald Sandwich
Luis Cabalquinto

I am eating a sandwich at McDonald’s.
It is in a large empty patio, white space.
It is midwinter, and cold.
A sparrow flies in suddenly—
Hops about under the tables.
I throw a crumb which lands at his feet.
He sees the piece of bread, takes it.
He looks at me, blinks, and flies away.
The rest of my sandwich tastes like birdshit.
More from the Winter 1983 issue of Bridge:

The Pulse
Arthur Sze

A woman in a psychiatric ward
is hysterical; she has to get a letter
to God by tomorrow or

the world will end. Which root
of a chamisa grows and grows?
Which dies? An analysis of

the visual cortex of the brain
cofines your world-view even as you
try to enlarge it? I walk

down an arroyo lined with old tires
and broken glass, feel a pulse,
a rhythm in silence, a slow

blooming of leaves. I know
it is unlikely, but feel I could
find the bones of a whale

as easily as a tire iron.
I shut my eyes, green water flowing
in the acequia never returns.
The creepiest thing in this week's New Yorker isn't the article on Gertrude Stein that has Michael Magee all in a huff. It's the moment in the article on movie remake maven Roy Lee in which he's described has having been "self-conscious about his appearance" as a child ("another boy, in high school, would tug down the folds of his eyes and chant, 'I dropped a bomb on you!'")--as if being Asian American were like having an embarrassing elementary-school haircut.

Monday, June 02, 2003

California Tim now also comes with a dog.

Her name is Terra and we just picked her up from the Peninsula Humane Society. She's a 3-year-old yellow Lab. She was just spayed this morning so she's mostly been lying down between bouts of wandering around listlessly.

I've never had a pet in my house. My family did have a Rottweiler puppy during the year we lived in Taiwan but it was pretty much an outdoor dog and when it was inside we were terrified of it, probably because the dog we had in our house back home was a porcelain Dalmatian (think Wheel of Fortune). It's strange having an animal--another living thing--inside the house all the time, being semi-alone but never quite.

She's doing everything she can to allay my fears, though, by being about the sweetest creature imaginable (albeit with one of the saddest faces I've ever seen).

She is phenomenal at catching tennis balls.
Cynic Tim comes with googly eyes that swirl around but always revert to a rolled-up position, as well as a clipboard, a sharp pencil tucked behind his ear, and a copy of the New York Times he is stuffing into a trash can.
From the Winter 1983 literary issue of Bridge:

Two Voices for Li Shang-yin
John Yau

First Voice
Tonight, I would rather stay up than dream,
For I can no longer bear to meet you
In the only room we share.
And yet, I do not want to share
Myself with anyone but you,
Who left me imprisoned in a dream.

Second Voice
Your perfume still floats through the house.
If only you had been a ghost and kept your name.
If only you had been like the leaves
And drifted quickly past my house.
To the children I am an old and foolish man,
I talk to the shadows gliding through my house.
Josh, I say stick with the title. It's mathy with a cryptic air. Descriptive. Whirls and nectarines are so 1913.
Gasp! Ron Silliman has exposed me for the heartless cynic that I am!
Stanzas Beginning with Some Lines of Rumsfeld

People study things all the time that don't lead to things

and it is not pursuing
us down the back-
alley procedure—an
state of why

and it is not developing
horns, tumors, or other
old-growth failings
in the results drawn
from a scoured trailer

it is not building
white cities in the
civilized silt, ran-
sacked and hard
against blistered skin

it is not manufacturing
the closed-up case
of sugar water, its
fizzy lust
for the tongue

and it’s not deploying
freedom across a
flooding plain, one
stop-dike finger,
one scrabbling hand

and it is not using
what it knows of us
for pleasure—only
caring what
can be made of it
Hello, Colet foot fetish.
Jim, you are an interesting newcomer. (#21.)

It also appears that Kasey and I deserve some of the credit.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

I'm getting away from myself.

Walking by a bookstore this morning I see a book in the window: Tim in Danger.

Then driving around campus seeing paper plates with "TIM [heart] MOLLY" scrawled on them in crayon, with arrows pointing the way.
And don't forget to look in a store near you for Darth Kasey.

I am your flarfer.
Suburban Chicagoland Tim would have aviator-frame glasses and carry a copy of the Penguin edition of the complete poems of John Keats, with the impressionistic cover showing a lounging shepherd facing outward at all times.

Look for Urban Chicagoland Tim coming in Fall 2003.
I'd have to come in several models. Boston Tim would have to have the Tealuxe thermos (cream Earl Grey) strapped to his belt because he'd have a Pinocchio's spinach slice in one hand and Tommy's garlic bread in the other.

California Tim would have a cell phone and rollerblades and a backpack shaped like a beetle.

Both come standard with nondescript composition book filled with nonsensical verse.
Another problem. We were recently actually looking for an action figure that might vaguely resemble me (long story) and it turns out there's really only one.
I was hoping my action figure would have something a little more glamorous, like a lightsaber. Like those old Luke Skywalker ones where the lightsaber was actually implanted in Luke's arm and you moved a little tab up this groove on the underside of his arm and the piece of orange plastic would gradually emerge from his outstreched hand.


Actually if I had an accessory it would probably be a sad duck.
Everyone in motion--Stephanie from one Oakland to another, David leaving (sorry) Las Vegas, me (soon) to be departing these shores for what we natives like to call "the Chicagoland area." Only blogs endure.