Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Criticism/Poetry News

Lourdes Vazquez just forwarded a really nice review in Tribes of "A Porcelain Doll...," the chapbook she published with us at Wheelhouse.  In fact, it was our 3rd chapbook, coming out last year. Check the review out here (Spanish)



Great to see that former student, now graduate student at CUNY, Laura Sandez, has published an essay she worked a long time on, the work appearing in LLJournal, available here.  For 2 years she developed both an English language and Spanish language version of this long essay on the Argentine comic strip of the 60s and 70s, Mafalda. The essay is really a study of the strip's subversive tactics, and since writing on Ranceire below, I should note that these fall outside what would be considered dissensus, and necessarily so.  Here, out of political necessity, the art's social critique is layered; overt and light satire masks a coded, more revolutionary message underneath.  In my very under-studied opinion, this is an important citation left subversive art in revolutionary Argentina, and one of the (at the time Sandez was finishing it) few recent essays on Mafalda to be published.  

Dear Diary

Image: Motor Organ, constructed by friend/collaborator, Tasha Glen
Ingredients (from right to left): 1 power strip, 1 electric turkey knife, 1 "kitchen dildo" (hand-held blender), 1 electric egg beater, 1 motor from a blender, 1 exposed electric razor, 1 unhoused tape deck, 6 contact mics (homemade), 1 mini mixer.  Contact mic each of the household appliance motors & connect to mixer. Each motor has a different tonality & texture; play the on/off switches as piano keys. Works as percussive or melodic instrument


Strange day of ups and downs, thus ornery and yet interested/excitable.  I spent half of the day in the car going to the "pain doctor," 2 minutes of which was the appointment:

Doctor: how are you--is the pain the same?
Me: yes
Doctor: okay, I'll write your prescriptions--so and so will see you at the front desk

I spent the other half, as now the eternal night of the little Olympian purgatory in which I live has descended from darkness into darkness proper, reading as if I were trying to qualify for some event.  I received several wonderful books in the mail in the past few days.  And in a week my new class begins: "Radical Poetry, Poetics, & Pedagogy."  This is exciting.  The students invigorate and teach me, without fail.  These students will spend the first half of the semester working in groups and via lectures on several texts, beginning (not surprisingly) with some Marx and some Freire.   The second half of the semester, after working in groups a bit more, they will, as groups, design and implement their own poetry classes.  I will then take these classes.  Somewhere in there we'll do some (soma)tic work and a PACE action with CA Conrad.I If anyone has ideas for short supplemental readings relating to radical pedagogy viz. poetry, throw em at me.  

So today has involved some wonderful readings, revisiting some books, and cracking open for the first time others.  Of note:

The new-ish Continuum edition of Ranciere's The Politics of Aesthetics is quite good, the translation quite good--it retains that strange admixture of colloquial and super-dense that Ranciere seems always to voice.  But I ask: is there a recent book of theory that does not have a forward or afterword by Slavoj Zizek?  I'm tiring of his reductionisms; they're masked by a self-conscious undermining of whatever he is reducing, but they're there nonetheless.  Zizek's afterword reads like the blurb on the back of the book, which reproduces the kind of bandying about the term "post-Marxist" in  a way that I find deeply dishonest and self-righteous.  A "post-Marxist rethinking of art and politics..."  One must, if one is to be taken seriously as a leftist intellectual, carry the POST-MARXIST GOLD STAR, now musn't they?  What does this mean?  It means "I'M NEW, LOOK AT ME, I'M CURRENT!!!"  and that's all.  "Post-Marx/Lenin" has meaning.  As I can understand that the old divisions between science and art, for instance, or the mistrust of anything that smacks of spontaneous uprising, these are problematic ideas.  But "post-Marxism"?  As if these divisions or mistrusts have encompassed the whole history of Marxism.  Like "post-avant," it's a term of dismissal, as in: "we're past that."  The quip is not unlike me trying to remember what's in the process of happening. Idiotic.

Got my very own Book of Frank (Chax Press), by CA Conrad.  I can't believe I waited this long for this book. The book is extraordinary, so unsettling, naughty, allegorical, and funny at once. And each poem is so economical, and for reasons other than the workshop motto "your poem should be economical."  The bang Conrad gets from each word astounds me.  Just one example, a poem in its entirety (can't do justice to how it plays on the old inside/outside trope, as you can only imagine this poem among others, but itself surrounded by an ocean of page:

   pig says to Frank
   "this fence keeps you in your world"
   Frank says to pig
   "this fence keeps you in your world
   pig says to Frank
   "this fence keeps you in your world"
   Frank says to pig
   "this fence keeps you in your world"
   pig says to Frank
   "this fence keeps you in your world"

Also got the really gorgeous Neighbor (Ugly Duckling Presse) by Rachel Levitsky.  I remember speaking with Rachel about how she felt she was so slow in the writing of this work, or anyway how long it took her.  Well, part of that must be the attention she's paid to what she calls "the architecture" of the work.  I've barely gotten into it, maybe read the first 20 pages of poetry, and already I'm thinking about how to essay on this piece--"here where neither object nor lust arrives along the entering" was in my head as I hit the pillow last nite and thought about what lonesome is, how crowded it gets.  And also arriving this week was Ana Bozicevic's Stars of the Night Commute (Tarpaulin Sky Press).  I haven't gotten to it yet (I sort of read these in a queue), though I have read several parts of it, having published a cycle in Wheelhouse 7. Though each they are so incredibly different from one another, they feel related to me.  Perhaps because I'm writing on Laura Elrick's work and a poetics of spatial practice, with private vs. public and the political vs. the aesthetic, & how these terms translate into and thru each other, complicate each other when focused on in sustained ways, I feel like each of these books, on one of their levels, is doing this complicating.  

Last, just got Frank Sherlock's Daybook of Perversities & Main Events (Cy Gist Press).  I've liked Frank's poetry ever since I read it in journals here and there, what, maybe three or four years ago.  But this is my first sustained interaction.  I've been reading quickly, as I often do, to try to, dunno, hear the degraded aura of it all before getting down to brass tacks.  What surprises me (it shouldn't) is not that these poems wound in overtly political ways, but that the lyric is so strong--and by strong I guess I mean "subtle" here.  A subtle lyric that does weirdly wound, sort of a kaleidoscopic fun house mirror lyric wrapped in the fun house time of capitalism. One of the turns I've come back to thus far:

          Absent versions

lapse into apocryphal war stories warehousing

          perishables & morning loss

Then, I was informed that an author wrote up a blurb ("A triumph!") and stuck my name on. The title of this book is The Ass Goblins of Auschwitz.  This, as one might imagine, did not please me.  Now I ask myself: As Jew who had family perish in the camps, am I apt to call a book with said title a "triumph"?  As in "of the will?"  C'mon.  My sense, too, is this: if yr going to make up a blurb and stick somebody's name on it, why not go for the gold and pick, say, John Ashbery?  Eck.

I did, however, find out about eight years too late (from a friend who worked with us) that friend and former professor of mine in graduate school, the lovely and deeply funny Achille Varzi, gave me a shout out in one of his last books.  Topic?  A bit different from the above: mathematical logics, contextual logics, and topological mapping in the service of talking about the philosophy of events, temporality.  Hot topic, I know.  If you can read Italian, read below.  And then maybe at least visit his website, which is filled with not just mathematical and metaphysical work, but his prose, drawings, jazz.  Any way, a thanks to Achille, with whom I haven't spoken in years, unfortunately.
Parole, oggetti, eventi e altri argomenti di metafisica

L'anfora e la creta di cui è costituita sono una cosa sola? Potrebbe questa stessa anfora essere fatta di un altro materiale, o avere un'altra forma? E che cosa differenzia un oggetto materiale come un'anfora da entità di tipo diverso, come i gesti del vasaio, il profumo della creta fresca, il vuoto che la riempie? A partire da domande come queste, il libro offre al lettore un'introduzione critica ai principali temi di metafisica intorno ai quali si è articolata la riflessione filosofica degli anni recenti: la natura delle cose e degli eventi, le loro condizioni di identità e persistenza nel tempo, le loro relazioni di dipendenza, in generale le precondizioni del nostro parlare del mondo.

Achille Varzi insegna al Dipartimento di Filosofia della Columbia University di New York.

Achille Varzi
Parole, oggetti, eventi e altri argomenti di metafisica

Well, now, on to see if Renee Gladman's The Activist can be excerpted for this course I'm teaching.  Hmmm. Wait, different mouth sound: yummmm.

Monday, December 21, 2009

CUNEIFORM Press Specials

Another beautiful press, edited/curated by Kyle Schlesinger, is offering some specials for the hole i days.  Kyle's one of the leading book artists among poet-editors, does beautiful work, and work that's for sale includes the below, as well as titles from Joanna Drucker, Ron Silliman, etc. You get the point.  Click on the left-linked blog roll spot for CUNEIFORM, and wash yourself of that dirty holiday feeling with a book or two...


Looking for a special holiday gift? A number of titles from Cuneiform Press are available from Small Press Distribution, including:




As forwarded to me by the editors at Agni:

A message from Anthony Appiah, President, PEN American Center ...



We're sure you've been following the news about our PEN colleague in China , Liu Xiaobo, who has been detained for over a year in Beijing and is facing subversion charges for his writings. On Friday, Liu was indicted, and we have learned that he may be tried as early as Monday, December 21. If he is convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.


Even if you have already signed our petition, or sent a letter, we are asking you now to flood the Chinese government's e-mail boxes with appeals calling for Liu Xiaobo's immediate release. You can do so by using PEN's new, user-friendly software at just fill in the few required fields, amend the letter if you wish, and hit send.


Please also pass this on to your friends, family, and colleagues, and urge them to take action.


For more information on the latest developments in Liu's case, and to read PEN's press release about the indictment, please


Your voice matters to the Chinese government.  Please help us free Liu Xiaobo now.


Thank you.




Anthony Appiah

President, PEN American Center

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Not another Tooth Brush Head Replacement, but...YPolita Press F-You Commercial Press Special!

Carrie Hunter, poet, editor of YPolita Press, and member of Black Radish Books, a collective press, is giving YOU the chance TODAY to give that last-minute, romantic, and together-forever GIFT of POETRY.  Chapbooks by Smith, Stamatakis, Barbara Jane Reyes...Oh, consumerism, my muse, I smite thee with thy verse... Get new titles here, and for about the price of an electric tooth brush head replacement. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Another Fuck the Holidays Special

How could we not include the always wonderful Tinfish in our list of small presses?  Especially when, available for pre-order, are new titles from Kaia Sand and Elizabeth Soto.  Soto's work is always good, so I imagine this book is a must.  And I'd read some of Sand's Remember to Wave, with Wheelhouse publishing a selection of the work for our PRESS Anthology--the work is awesome, daring, politically radicalizing and beautiful.

SCROLL DOWN for ordering details.


Tinfish Pre-Publication Sale (Please help us to cover print costs!)

We have two exciting books going to the printer this week:

Kaia Sand, REMEMBER TO WAVE, $16

Elizabeth Soto, EULOGIES, $14

Details here:

Pre-publication prices are $14 for Sand's book, $10 for Soto's, or $22 for both.

Please support our efforts to publish experimental poetry from the Pacific by pre-ordering these titles.

47-728 Hui Kelu Street #9
Kane`ohe, HI 96744

or via the "purchase" button on our website:

aloha, Susan M. Schultz
Editor & money-bags

Friday, December 18, 2009


             image of limited edition artist book, PRESSING, by Wheelhouse Chapbook Designer, Kate Robinson, available thru Wheelhouse Press

From now until the end of the year I, on behalf of Wheelhouse Magazine & Press, will be listing small presses in need of YOUR help.  Of course all presses all the time are in need of your help, including the most successful presses, i.e., those small hubs that continually make books that we love and about which you're liable to say: how do they do it?  Well, almost always by the seat of their pants.  That's how.  

Since Wheelhouse is predominantly an online venture--with our first letterpressed chapbooks about to be published this upcoming summer--we don't have anything physical to offer as a holiday special, or gift for the holidays, etc.  Not that you shouldn't give yourself the gift of our current, past, and upcoming issues and online chapbooks.  So, we figured we'd alert you to holiday offers that other small presses we love are offering.  These books are usually inexpensive, and now they are really inexpensive.  So, see below.  Take advantage of the b-shit holiday season, tell it to fuck off by getting something from each of the below presses.  We did, and we're f-ing poor--and seasonally depressed.   

I'll add a few more presses in separate posts, including (since they did not fit in the taglines below), Taup. Sky, Cuneiform Press, BlazeVox, and the new artist book poetry collective BLACK RADISH BOOKS, which, among the first titles will be yours truly's Occultations, and books by Susana Gardner, Nicole Mauro, Jill Stengel, Cara Benson, and several others.  For now:


If you live in or around Seattle, do think about donating to the Wheelhouse PRESS fund. PRESS is a literary series of events, performances, conferences, devoted to the intersection of socially engaged text arts and radical politics.  We regularly have guests read, perform, and collaborate, and of course this costs money.  

If interested in donating--come to one of our events!  They are all announced here and thru Facebook.  Next up is CA Conrad, beginning March 4th, ending March 7th, at The Evergreen State College.  You can also contact me by email for token donations.



Belladonna Book announces BIG HOLIDAY SALE

Buy 4 chaplets, get 1 free!

FREE SHIPPING for orders of $100.00 or more.

Hurry... there are only 6 complete Elders Series left!

Chapbooks are extremely limited (editions of 125) and sell out quickly, never to be seen again in this form.

Also, please consider donating to Belladonna Series and toward the beautiful publication of brilliant avant-garde and multidimensional feminist writing.


Amazing titles, including the recently published Disaster Suites by Rob Halpern, Landscapes of Dissent by Kaia Sand and Jules Boykoff, The Shunt by David Buuck, and the forthcoming Armies of Compassion by Eleni Steccoplous.  Get them here.


Essay Press is offering the following end-of-year specials for our Facebook friends: 1) Buy 2 (two) titles on-line via PayPal & we will chose a third book from our catalogue for you at no extra charge. -OR- 2) Mail order only: '6 for 56.' Receive all SIX Essay Press titles for $56.00 (includes all shipping & handling).  Website:; Mail orders (check or money order):  Essay Press 208 utica Street Ithaca, NY 14850


From Charles: 

"Thanks to all who have supported Chax Press. Facebook Friends helped us get through to this point, and I hope you will help us now! All contributions welcome and tax deductible. Visit;, or send to 411 N 7th Ave Ste 103, Tucson AZ 85705.". Event: Chax Press Annual Fund: HELP! What: Fundraiser Start Time: Today, December 16 at 10:00pm End Time: Monday, February 1 at 12:00am Where: 411 N 7th Ave Ste 103, Tucson, AZ 85705 To see more details and RSVP, follow the link below:

)((eco (lang)(uage(reader)) 
Edited by Brenda Iijima

Published by Portable Press at Yo Yo Labs (

Forthcoming August 2009

How can poetic language engage a global ecosystem under duress? How do poetic forms, structures, syntaxes and grammars contend or comply with the forces of environmental disaster? Can language innovation proactively forward the cause of living sustainably in a world of radical interconnectedness? How do issues of geography, race, gender and class intersect with the development of individual or collective ecopoetic projects?

In this collection of essays, poets offer responses to these and other questions concerning poetry and ecological ethics.

Contributors include: Tyrone Williams, Leslie Scalapino, Laura Elrick, Julie Patton, Jonathan Skinner, Peter Larkin, Marcella Durand, Tracie Morris, Karen Anderson, Jill Magi, Tina Darragh, Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands, Jed Rasula, James Sherry, Jack Collom, Evelyn Reilly and Brenda Iijima.



kari edwards

2009 • 132 pp. • $15.00
ISBN: 978-0-9819310-0-5

Original cover art by Frances Blau

Transdada Blog

CAConrad reflects on kari edward's Bharat jiva on PhillySound.
Mortified before kari's Bharat jivaNovember 27, 2009

Tim Peterson reports on the book launch for Bharat jiva and 
 on Mappemunde Blog; October 14, 2009

Bharat jiva is named an SPD Best-Seller for 
September/October 2009.



AWESOME New Books Here:


Holiday sale on many titles here.


Many incredible chapbooks here


Get them while you can here.


Beautiful artist books by wonderful poets here

Featured at 13 Myrna Birds this month

Rarely is a last name so fitting.  Juliet Cook, editor of Blood Pudding Press, has conjured up this veritable tapas at her online journal, 13 Myrna Birds.  I am, she tells me, the bread of an apocalyptic sandwich.  First time my poetry and "apocalyptic" have been mentioned in the same breath--yum!  Thanks much Juliet, for featuring my work.  I love the fallen angel cake. From Juliet's blog:

Thirteen Myna Birds is wrapping up 2009 with a bloody, frosting-y razzle dazzle bang, with the APOCALYPTIC HOLIDAY SPAWN ISSUE. This hideously delicious mutant entity features poetry by David Wolach as the sodden bread for an oozilcious Apocalypse Cakes sandwich!

Poetry, blood, fallen angels, tainted feathers, and perversely festive fruitcake are among the bounty of grotesque offerings at this holiday banquet. Oh, my stomach!

If you like the Apcocalypse Cakes you ravenous slut, you can actually buy the recipe cards and bake them yourselves; just click on the links below each image to be rerouted to the Apocalypse Cakes etsy shop.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Take Two

Woke this morning to two additions to our bi-weekly Wheelhouse contributor notes.  Very cool to see that, among some other juicy books I would like to have, Charles Bernstein has included Rob Halpern's Disaster Suites on his holiday wish list.  Looks like he was reading my No Tell Motel Best Of list (ha).  

Also, Thom Donovan's interview on "seeing" in his Wheelhouse chapbook Make Believe (and in his work generally) has just been published over at ReadWritePoem.  I recommend reading the interview, which really is an archeology of whether Donovan here posits a poetics of vision, as (not unusually) Thom with clarity posits a whole bunch of things that anyone interested in intertextual & visionary poetics should like to read.  If for the simple reason that it's a sort of mini-primer on a well developed poetics, developed enough to get an inside look on how one might, for example, relate seemingly disparate strands, texts, phenomena, weave them together in the poetry-making process.  

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wheelhouse Contributor Notes: New PennSound Audio from Emergency Poetry Series: Thom Donovan/Julian Brolaski, etc etc!

Look out for an interview about Wheelhouse Magazine & Press in the next issue of Prick of the Spindle.  Poetry Editor Eric Weinstein and the editorial team were very kind in reviewing Wheelhouse's PRESS Anthology, which, as part of that, entailed interviewing me about the history of the journal and press.  

Just got an amazing short agit-prop from Tina Darragh, which will be featured in our upcoming issue of Wheelhouse. We're happy with how this issue is coming into relief, with contributions from Darragh, Rachel Zolf, Julian Brolaski, Barbara Jane Reyes, Ben Friedlander, Brenda Iijima, and several others--including some wonderful work from poets new to publishing their work.  The agit-prop by Darragh is close to my (enlarged) heart--it's a complex, nuanced but hard-hitting critique of our failing health(care) system, the work taking place and to take place (so to speak) in an E.R. ward.  The work has that sideways, dark humor that I love, and that I think is under-appreciated in Darragh's incredibly varied but always pretty awesome work.


We've received more submissions--several hundred--in this last round than we ever have, so this is slowing us down a bit, tho we plan on releasing this issue basically on time.  Again, if you haven't heard from us, and you submitted work in the last 3 months, give or take a week or so, we're still trying to decide on it and will get back to you soon.

As we do a last round of readings of work, keep in mind that if you're sending us anything now, it'll be considered for issues 10 and 11.  Submissions are, however, open as always.


Phillip Metres has a nice review of the important and inspiring Landscapes of Dissent: Guerilla Poetry & Public Space by Kaia Sand & Jules Boykoff in Jacket.  Along with Laura Elrick's Stalk (see short review below), the book and this fairly comprehensive review, offer us here a good starting place for wider investigations of guerilla poetry and the new (plural) poetics of dissensus.  


Wheelhouse friend Dorothea Lasky has a really good article on spatial/physical practices and museums as proproceptive learning in the latest issue of Urban Ed.  Check it out here.  


From Thom Donovan's Blog (Wild Horses of Fire):

Here is audio from a reading I gave a couple weeks back with Julian Brolaski at Penn's Kelly Writers House. The reading is followed by aconversation in which Julian and I discuss our work in relation to community discourse, "New Brutalism," "composition by breath," biopolitics, and intertextuality.

The conversation is really worth checking out in addition to the awfully f-ing good poetry of Brolaski & Donovan.  

Friday, December 11, 2009

David Buuck: Exercises In Seeing

"Audio guide for one night only exhibition 'Exercises in Seeing' at Queen's Nails Projects in San Francisco, held entirely in the dark. The guide to the works in the show was written by poet/artist David Buuck, without having seen any of the artworks. The exhibition was curated by Post Brothers..."

Both audios are worth checking out (Buuck's text is read both by himself, and by Cassandra Smith).  Differing emphases makes for an interesting juxtaposition of "seeing what is invisible," an embodied metaphor for the artwork itself--Buuck's tour sort of matter of fact yet wondrous, still retaining a wisp of dystopianism even at the nonsite of what might be or could be the sublime, Smith's bringing out a sort of lyric terror as one is the voice bumped in the night by an array of interesting works.  

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Ideal Glass: On Laura Elrick's Stalk

I just watched/listened to Laura Elrick's Stalk for the second time and again was deeply unsettled. This is a deeply unsettling piece, yet one that we can, like the glass window of a city, pass by.  Or, like the body of another, manipulate just this much: turn on, turn off, rewind, fast forward, skip & let go.  Interrogate.  As poem, the digital artifact becomes fleshy and vulnerable.

This time in viewing the work I was interested in looking, in seeing or sensing on the micro level, those moments, planned and unplanned, that occurred just at the edge of the frame.  

Elrick and her collaborators here--Kythe Heller, Kristin Prevallet, several others--as well as Kaia Sand, who gave a talk on Stalk for Nonsite Collective several months ago called Poem/Nonpoem, are interested in projects of dissensus, events where aesthetic and political practices collide, as Sand puts it, works that "allow the two to be translated into and through each other."  Elrick's piece is certainly working at this level--not unlike David Buuck's BARGE or Sand's own Remembering to Wave (out now thru Tinfish Press).  There has been a resurgence in contiguity between poetics and political intervention in the past decade, a re up and rethinking of Ranciere's "redistribution of the sensible."  Though still unusual in today's contemporary poetic landscape, a re-imagining of a sort of poetic terrorism, of a politicized recalibration of the happening, has become a tactical concern for increasing numbers of artists, and this interest is every bit as conditioned by our eternal present's situation of deepening crisis as it is a response to a long (in art time) period of underwhelming aesthetic production--both in poetry and in experimental music and visual art. 

The landscape of crisis is what Elrick's Stalk unearths, is what the film's tagline calls, not wrongly, "part dystopian urban cartography."  Here crisis embodied is the fragile and self-same subject, the ignored, and transparent, where a question of whether it (not I) is breakable and/or visible, is tested.  Is the crowd that which washes it ashore, or away?  Are we that crowd?  Am I both or neither?  "Is that a person?" begins the poem, the screen dark for nearly a minute of forefronting language that Elrick and others overheard, recorded, individuals who voiced from within that crowed some response to the lone, hooded figure in orange jumpsuit, shackled.  "I feel like asking: do you want me to call somebody?" Where "to call somebody" is to suggest that the figure is either crazy or the act frivolous, in need of professional cleanup.  Sand beautifully discusses the multivalent signification:

Elrick’s trudge through New York streets juxtaposed prisoner and public crowd while drawing a contour line—as geographer Cindy Katz terms it—to the prisoner that is not juxtaposed, the out-of-sight prisoner, caged at Guantánamo, for whom we are the same public crowd.

On one level of reading this work, there is the obvious interventionist centrality of the hooded figure wearing the iconic Guantanamo orange, the walk (or stalk) as both overt political protest and as dissensus--as reminder to anyone who sees and is confronted by the work (either the event or its archive in the form of video poem) that there are hundreds of detainees being tortured at this moment, right now.  But, as Sand points out through Herbert Marcuse (and this is the question that's central to my work, at least the question I grapple with consistently), what alternatives are there to work that is simply "consciousness raising"..."puppets and protest"? That is, the artform that collides politics and art without leaving both, or either, normatively fixed, intact?  How to transform both "politics" and "art" in and through this collision?  Elrick gives us one kind of tactical move in Stalk. 

I'm reminded in posing this question of Buuck's review of Fernando Botero's Abu Ghraib Series for Artweek, wherein the controversial paintings of tortured men, beautifully wrought, erotic, stylized gained a lot of negative and positive excitement, praise for the "empathic" and "humanizing" images.  For Buuck, these paintings are, however interesting, lacking in dissensus, perhaps (in my estimation) because under all the juxtaposing of the erotic with sadism, pain with our pleasure in watching it (Sontag echoes here throughout), the work recapitulates old divisions, normative vocabularies, becomes itself a mode of "consciousness raising" on the one hand, and painterly skill on the other, the two only joined by the singularity of the painting, and not much more:

Ultimately, it will take artists, critics, and everyday image-consumers to construct new idioms of visual criticism by which to engage such images in a manner that attends to the complexities of such travesties while at the same time risking the same kinds of confused and contradictory responses in our own politics and protests, that might move beyond the necessary exclamations of disgust and/or empathy, towards active dismantling of the image-worlds and militaristic policies that give birth to these new forms of torture and image-making. 

Then what is the vocabulary of atrocity?  What would a new aesthetic language that confronts our contradictory impulses to these particular atrocities--these images and reports of torture--look or sound like?  As if in direct response to Botero and his work's positive reviewers, Elrick's voice, with a strange, detached sadness, reminds us to shine a light on our eyes as they watch, to see in them the contradiction:

     Empathy intoxicates the premise of this place... We... We that is temporary and abundant, 
     something that waits...

Stalk takes us out of the gallery, away from the normative in many respects.  Gone are the usual conventions of the poetry reading, gone is the page with its lineations, allowing us to see where the report begins and the lyric ends, where they blur. And gone too is the straightforward didacticism of "message," as the central character in this narrative is not the hooded figure (the hooded figure is only the trigger), it's the crowd, and at times, individuals within that crowd, and the city which is us insofar as we construct it (to paraphrase Kristin Prevallet from her A Catalog of Lost Glimpses).  

During a proceeding viewing, I took notes, scene by scene, pausing, of the crowd's reactions. Sand rightly takes note of the predictability of it all:

In June, her walk through the city was planned with precision, but submitted to the unpredictability of the city. Yet much was predictable about the reactions of crowds of people.

Homeless woman under a blanket. Fervent believer shouting scripture. Orange jumpsuited prisoner shackled and shuffling. We among the crowds don’t respond, part urbane (nothing surprises us); part safe-sure (less contact, less mugging); part co-habitationally respectful (we can all do our “thing,” living in close contact while retaining partial autonomy). 

True, much of the film shows Elrick going seemingly unnoticed, or noticed but not noticed. In all, by my count, there were only two occasions in which (interesting in itself) a person took a photo (camera, phone camera) of Elrick, and only once did a person (man, striped shirt, midtown) try to talk to Elrick (since I have yet to talk to Laura about Stalk, I don't know what was said, and so will be one of the things I will ask).  For the first ten or so minutes of the work, I saw very few (hardly any) double takes, or obvious stares--yet for the second half (mostly filmed in midtown Manhattan) there were several (whether this was a purposeful edit, or whether part of midtown's psychogeography entailed this "naturally," I don't know).

The lonliness of the hooded figure, and the crowd's dynamic as crowd (it's easier to ignore the othered, the marked, among a sea of strangers) is a deeply haunting feature of the work, with Elrick's lyric interspersed with lines by Baudelaire, Silliman, others, especially at the beginning, where most of the crowd seemed not to notice or care to notice the hooded figure, this lyric dissolving into detainee reports, which, having worked with these myself for a forth. book, are both horrifying and emblematic of the way we treat each other whenever threat (unknown, othered) approaches. 

     The ideal glass, big public... again detainee was shown 9/11 video. Detainee did watch,
     but this time without exhibiting any emotion... averted his eyes... Great place for people

And this ghostliness, this haunted glass sea of individuals, speaks to that dystopianism in the tagline, and occasions Sand to ask if we are too urbane:

Are we always among a crowd, the prisoner—shackled on the street, the prisoner shacked on an island—while we are urbane, safesure, cohabitationally respectful?

It's hard to conjecture on a whole scene of multitudes, what the mind-sets are here, and whether there is some uniformity of intention, so to speak, as there is of behaviors.  But to elaborate on what I take Sand to be getting at in suggesting the individual might "always be among a crowd, the prisoner":  what I noticed, beyond what Sand really nicely points out above, especially in the second half of the work, or what I felt I noticed, was an interest in the hooded figure, but a hurried one.  Like the man who approaches Elrick briefly, everything is brief, everything is hurried, everyone is on their way, in a hurry, always on their way.  Where are they going? We may be urbane, especially in New York, given the term's association with this diverse city of high end purchase, but we're also alienated.  We're going to work and in a hurry, and if not in a hurry to get somewhere because that is what we're told we must do, we're often thinking about being in a hurry--soon, which is also being in a hurry.  Propelled like buckshot from a gun we hurry, or we stand and ponder as marionettes on crank, and the hooded iconic figure of the detainee is a flicker in the corner of our eye, and if you only had the time to stop and ask yourself... "is that a person?"  That is, is the detainee (terrorist) a person?  Were you a tourist in one of those shots, your reasons for looking the other way, or beyond, or briefly, might not be dissimilar: you have no time for troubling matters--maybe you're liable to be dismissive even ("stupid radicals!"), because your boss gave you exactly 5 days to see EVERYTHING NEW YORK HAS TO OFFER, which includes the statue of liberty, the museums, the Empire State Building, and Ground Zero.  You'll ponder art in relation to politics, you'll have to ponder the U.S. policy on detainees and torture, later, because how are you going to fit ALL THIS IN IN 5 F-ING DAYS? I would call someone, but I have to be downtown in ten minutes, someone else surely will...  

In Aesthetic Theory, Adorno gives us a rich sense of how, in part, successful art operates.  Where "success" is to have use value, and to have use value as transfiguring and transgressing sensuous material that points in its negative articulation to a world that could be, to a future that isn't necessarily a worsening of present conditions, the liquidation of the subject, the person:

“Only by immersing its autonomy in society’s imagerie can art surmount the heteronomous market.  Art is modern through mimesis of the hardened and alienated; only thereby, and not by the refusal of a mute reality, does art become eloquent.”  (AT, 31) 

Stalk retains the contradictions of the crowd, which is to retain and amplify the contradictions of its own behaviors and effects, the conditions of its own production.  The stark reality of our alienation bubbles up to the surface in Elrick's Stalk (and does so in different ways if you--sorry Laura--turn off the sound, which, of course, also makes it a different poem).  The great love affair between capitalism and militarism is worn not just on our faces and in our gestures, but in the temporality of our behaviors.  We are walking the streets of New York; we are individuals given over to the picnolepsy of another's performance, and in turn, our own performances: of the rushed and pushed, and of the "something that waits" for an alternative social existence.  Our eyes project back the effect of our information gathering and dispersal, the beautiful delete button talk talk talk of cable news living.  Like they say, you are what you are (made to) watch. 


There are Two Kinds of People: People Who Think There Are Kinds of People, and Those Who Know Better

In one of the earlier posts below I entered into that very strange (for me, semi-hermit living at the northwest edge of the continental U.S.) set of arguments, restricted it seems to me almost entirely to the blogosphere, that make up the ongoing flarf/anti-flarf virtual smackdown.  This isn't so much a tisk tisk at those engaged in this set of debates (e.g. me last week), but rather an acknowledgment on my part that I'm unsure what the stakes are.  If flarf, as I mentioned briefly last post, is not particularly new in terms of strategy, procedures that (in part) generate the poem, etc., then there is no real categorical disagreement to be had.  The question is, then: what is the poem doing?  How is it working, and in what ways does it speak to, or speak under, the larger context? Perhaps I'm too much embedded in my own habituated reading framework, but I'm always inclined to ask, regarding the statement "flarf is [insert epithet]" - Which poem(s)??? .  Same goes for the quote end quote flarfist who makes a categorical claim on one movement or another, or one supposed movement or another.  And that, to clarify, was partly what I was getting at in pointing to Nada Gordon's post on what she dubs (mainly west coast) "docu-po."  Not to deny that there are different poetics, and with a poetics, comes a set of formal and otherwise commitments, but "kinds" of poetry sounds like so much set theory, and to again reference LW: I challenge you to define for me what a "game" is.  

Also to clarify, because Gary Sullivan wrote an extremely thoughtful response to my previous post, my aim wasn't or isn't to rag on Nada, or to hold her up as one of the main culprits in poetical type-token "fuck [insert abstraction as definition of, here]."  Not at all, despite the looseness of my writing--"idiotic" in reference to the blog post I wrote about below (I was thinking, tho vaguely, about how to turn around Nada's once speaking of her work as a poetics of idiocy, which I found terribly interesting).  Rather, I linked to this post, and made it one of the focal points of my discussion because it was so uncharacteristic, in my estimation, anyway, of Nada's work--which, both the poetry & the criticism, I often love.  It IS characteristic of a lot of online discussions, tho.    

In going back and reading some of Nada's newer work (eg, the wonderful snippets of Folly up at Shampoo), and the work of others with radically differing poetics (during this couple hours of working on my partner's lecture re performative poetries), and due also to some of the questions Gary poses below--as both he and Nada are constantly, and admirably, looking for, very simply, new, exciting ways to collaborate in text arts--I'm inclined to think about how amazing it is that any of us can continue to produce interesting works, consistently, in an environment where poetry's (art's) use value is nearly completely occulted by the market from which our work emerges, the dominant pressures of capitalism.  (Note: I'm aware that this is no deep interrogation here, but rather, a moment of baby-drooling awe).  So how is it that our online discussions are often so categorical?  Perhaps this is a feature of blogging, one of its built-in grammatical understructures?  A sort of tunnel-vision-space to play, to be loose, to playfully snipe and all that, as a sort of essaying towards more succinct discourses elsewhere? That a clubbiness is so pervasive in the arts, especially in poetry, that this clubbiness spills out beyond the materials of java script & xhtml, tho, means that there are broader, socio-economic elements to this phenomenon (duh).  (And by clubbiness I don't mean the existence of differing poetry communities or movements, ones that end up demarcating because of a shared, sharply defined set of aesthetic questions & commitments; I mean the sort of mob-ish, knee-jerk protest or support of categories, types, whatever non-existent set-term you want to invite here).  In a country where art is so minimized, so unsupported institutionally (thinking here about the constant fight teachers have to put up to maintain some art education in schools), the divide and conquer strategy manifests in myriad ways, including our recapitulating those divisions once accomplished.  And the internet, specifically blogging, allows us to become closer while maintaining an unnecessary distance--the common areas are places where we meet but don't meet...

Next post I'm going to throw around some of the stuff I discovered the other day--make sure to point you (me?) to specific pieces of art that have been sent my way or that I've bumped into, that I think need our attention.  For now, I'll end with the below, as I realized--also thru Gary's response--that I'd been categorical too, crafted my earlier post in such a way as to seem that I, too, am categorically anti-flarf/conceptual poetry, etc.  Tho I do hold to the thesis that there is nothing particularly new in the scrounging of flarf (cf. poetic terrorism al Hakim Bey), but that some moves to democratize and de-construct capital P Poetry (an impulse of a lot of Nada's work, which I love) threatens to fall into recapitulating the virtual Alexandrian fire without radical intervention (and yet this, too, for most pieces, such as Nada's Haromonity, from Folly, can be challenged--the lifting of the work and shining a light on it, so to speak, might be considered a radical re-narration in itself).  As Gary points out, the three of us, in this particular discussion, "aren't all that far off."  And I agree--tho my poetics differs pretty substantially, we're all interested in reconfiguring lyric, deeply committed to rigor thereof, and my work, too, involves a great deal of appropriation: tho I do not work much with the web, my poems tend to be overheard and found, or sought, as an intertextual/polyvocal poetics.  The similarities need be noted just as much as the differences, and in the service of understanding how particular works work, where their use value lies.  

In the spirit of blurring demarcations--but also to undo what I think may have sounded like a lame pitch to buy my forth. book of poems/essay--below is a few small parts of the essay from Prefab Eulogies to which I referred in that last post.  I think it fleshes out a bit where my interests are--in the use value of particular radical poetic strategies and their citations, not so much in "kinds" of poetry per se.

From "Example of an Essay: Power Point Poetics," Prefab Eulogies (forth. 2010, BlazeVox):

  • ·       "Things arrive in the forms they’re given" -- Rae Armantrout
  • ·       Prefab Eulogies also seeks to critique via submission capitalism, militarism, and neo-liberalism, the prefabricated power structures from which the poems brought under the projector in Volume 1 have emerged. In this way, Prefab Eulogies is also a critique of pure celebration (on the one hand) and pure lament (on the other) of our contemporary poetic lives--the gift economy that is our defaulted situation. Infected by the structures into which these poems are born, the gifts that make up the poetic gift economy are very often attempts to overcome tropes of "fitness" (Robert Kocik, Overcoming Fitness) that confront them (via chancing, new lyric, and other decentering poetic modes).  Insofar as this is true, the poems that Volume 1 is in conversation with (as well as these poems here), as inversely analogous to the prefabricated news loops on our televisions, are therefore, also, evidence. ...
  • ·       Some years back I wrote an essay called “Marxist Poets Dining With The Deans” as part of a symposium at Columbia University on “art” and “social change.”  Poets speaking to poets about poetry.  Visual artists speaking to poets about visual art. It was an exploration of the observation that some of us (myself included) use Adorno’s ideas about the division of intellectual labors to sleep well at night (where the graven is the terminal node of a project of dissensus) & where, in institutional settings, the obvious divisions between “artistic-writerly” and “activist-political” practices are often spoken of as problematic, yet in the speaking the divisions are reinforced, e.g., in the way this sentence is reinforcing such divisions. Someplace in the essay I wrote
  • ·       “We need to learn how to organize others to interact with our work without sterilizing the work itself.  It won’t, I’m afraid, happen spontaneously.  Nor will it happen via overtly simple sloganeering—the crude protest poem, as it were.  Nor will it happen via abstracting away, attempting to dive into the illusion that the poem can detach itself from its conditions of production. This is to say we need not change our poetic practices but change the way we invite others to take part in them.” ...
  • ·       I’m still after the question. Why should one engage with “poetry” in the first place? And how to invite, where access to a very specific set of discourses is increasingly difficult?
  • ·       Where “one” is “person x engaged in organizing for social & economic justice but who might not have any familiarity with contemporary poetic practices.”
  • ·       Where, here, poetry is assumed to have use value beyond itself.
  • ·       Where there’s a gulf between the arts, especially many contemporary poetries, and left political engagement—that very assumption.
  • ·       At some point I began to think of poetic practice as connected to, but only contiguous with “poetry” often construed.  I began thinking of poetry as a power point presentation.  In two, contrasting senses (warning: false binary below).
  • ·       Of, on the one hand, derivative structures left wanting, forms empty
  • ·       Of faith in their impetus, dissensus.  And on the other
  • ·       Of often occulted social-poetic practices, larger poetical environments, those which fuel the scribbles in this book – work that activates in myriad ways, from ambulatory guerilla projects such as Frank Sherlock & CA Conrad’s PACE or David Buuck’s BARGE, to critical-creative interventions such as Laura Elrick’s Stalk, to workshops, and discussions a la Nonsite Collective, ON Journal, Tangent, Essay Press, the Belladonna Series, or Palm Press – just to name a few.
  • ·       Of militant sound & site investigations.  Or, to put it in Buuck’s own terms, maps for further exploration in the service of complicating dominant modes of discourse, seeing, sensing.
  •     kari edwards’ work comes immediately to mind here as a crucial example of a political-poetic avant-garde which has, for many years, influenced a growing number of poets interested in text arts as radical re-narration, and done so (unsurprisingly) with little acknowledgment among both the workshop crowd and those inclined to take only a cursory glance at the contemporary poetic landscape and proclaim it “post-avant.”  
  • ·       The Power Point presentation 1) implies but does not ultimately signify (it admits of, and revels in, its emptiness, or hopes to passively con us into a system of belief) and/or 2) is the evidence of extra-typographical activity.
  • ·       Regards (1), there has occurred more than enough sterile, vacuous, albeit “enjoyable” poetry over the past decade that has mimicked Language Poetry so-called (or other “difficult” and now semi-canonical forms) such that one taking that cursory glance could think that is all that’s out there—poem after poem that revels in its open lines and hard returns, each anchored in nothing but publication desires and reification strategies-as-ad pitches.  
  • ·       David Baptiste-Chirot, though writing on work (Jenny Holzer’s) that, to me, does not necessarily succumb to a kind of corporatization, nonetheless captures this phenomenon as part of a discussion on how some “conceptual poetry” (if such a thing exists) might operate (capitulate), thus allowing us to imagine that the conceptual poem is not to be read but “presented,” perhaps via Power Point:
  • ·       “The Concept of Conceptual Poetry…is one that resembles a form of training for the embrace of working in bureaucratic and corporate settings as an "impersonal" manipulator and mover of masses of material in the form of words…a "discipline" for the production of "well adjusted functionaries" carrying out the "boring" tasks of filing, copying, sorting and arranging word-data. The "unoriginality," "impersonality" and boredom raised to the level of "Conceptual Poetry" is perhaps a way to aestheticize the dystopian existences of millions of "lower level" workers in globalized corporations and bureaucratic State apparati.”
  • ·       Kenneth Goldsmith’s “definition” of conceptual poetry echoes Chirot’s: “Language as…something to be shoveled into a machine and spread across pages, only to be discarded and recycled once again. Language as junk, language as detritus.”
  • ·       As part of an anti-capitalist poetics I’m sympathetic to this set of gestures of submission – the act or ritual of dictation brackets and highlights the tyranny of wage laboring, then plays with its joints in the very act of composting.  But there is nothing in Sports, for instance (the end product as opposed to the ritual) that reveals or activates other than the one-off acknowledgment of its existence as reminder of dead labor and its waste, its product as more junk, its lateness. What Goldsmith’s Sports (as opposed to, in my opinion, his work with the 9/11 tapes) gives us, it seems, is a poetics without the poetry.  A poetics that I find politically appealing for projects of radical re-narration.  Without the radical re-narration (or the transcription ritual as book, in favor of something more cleaving post-ritual) this power point presentation threatens to recapitulate the norm and not much more.  Goldsmith’s is partly a critique of any possibility to escape the spectacle, as it were, but a potentially coercive one in its veiled circularity.
  • ·       It is the extra-typographical activity of (2) above that I’m interested in emphasizing now as a way to avoid (1), but unlike Goldsmith, I am deeply committed to the possibility for the results of this activity—the “type,” the page, the poem often construed—to be itself a crucial site of activation.
  • ·       Or: it’s that which goes into or results from the poem often construed, this part of the poem, which makes the poem an environment, an ecosystem, a site of activation and social practice, rather than a terminal node of typography or “solitary” graven activity, some product of the illusion of reification. However, that typographical node is a crucial area of triangulation, often the motor which runs conceptual projects, or the results of those projects, results which activate yet other projects. 
  • ·       The extra-typographical activity of (2) may or may not involve using large-scale materials, and may or may not be a largely expropriative project.  The project may indeed be page-less.  What matters is whether and how to matter.    ....
  •       Quote-end-quote conceptual work that is grounded in counter-narrative (David Buuck’s BARGE, “Buried Treasure Island” is, I think, an excellent example), that has use value beyond itself, offers the worker-writer(s) multiple triggers of engagement, hence further development of a radical politics, allows for a sharing of radical social experimentation to occur, including fully participatory critique of the project’s consequences, its framing, what it reveals and what its revealing hides. ...