Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reviews, poetics

(image from book alter(ed), part 2)

Just found out about a nice review of my chapbook, book alter (ed) that the journal GHOTI published some time ago.  Feel like an ass for not having acknowledged, or seen it, it until now. Thanks - belatedly.  

Poet & editor Kathrin Schaeppi also gave the book a lovely write-up, which I reproduce here. Again, thanks--belatedly.

“book alter(ed)” is available as a .pdf download from ungovernable press. The cover image “Ash” by Wolach is a palimpsest: a text on drought overlays the image “The Firebombing of Tokyo.” This layering sets the tone for a poetics that “shift(s) from things to shifts that are shifted.” 

“Part one” is called riverfire. Each phrase dives through linguistic depths touching the real, touching paradox. 

“Water Burns. Often a finger is a vessel punctured as it moves through guarded waters.” 
[ :] 
“As if driving into, there were not guards for the rails. The bone cries, then marrow. As if our shapes exhausted shape.” 

This writing arouses a mixed emotion somewhere between a sensual elusiveness and solid ache. Lyrics clash against the “thingness” of shit and vomit. The drive and power of juxtaposition and the slippage between and across, fire the pituitary gland. 

Each page in “part two” is supported by a visual image and contains three collage-like stanzas. Here the frottage continues where for example, “—you settled in the slightest tension” rubs against “—I was not paid.” 

Without a doubt this is a sensitive and superbly crafted (chap)book. 

  ---Kathrin Schaeppi, author of Cancer Mon Amour

Oh, and meanwhile, while I'm on the subject of me, here's part of the intro to Hospitalogy (chapbook forthcoming from Scantily Clad Press, autumn 2009), which in an older post I said I was too sick and too tired to muster as conversation into the valences of confession viz. the doctor-patient discourse.   This draft is older--an expanded, shall I say, more developed, version will come out as part of the book.


All poems in Hospitalogy were written in hospitals or hotels.  Sickness (sometimes) necessitates hospitals, and sometimes (for the insured), hospital stays.  And hospital stays often necessitate (for the insured) a temporary hotel/motel life.    My partner and I have, over the past couple years, alternated, at times for long stretches, between the hotel/motel room and the hospital bed.

Both complexes, on the whole, are places of liquidation.  Numbers and letters take on the double and triple coding of what is meant to be the simple sign for a referent – a one to one match, as it were.  Alphanumeric strings serve as the identities of this body, the body-book, its component parts as well as the shape of its quasi-gestalt.  There are patient codes, bar-coded keys, test order numbers, guest logs, room numbers, telephones that require one to press extra digits in order to “dial out.”  And names.  Modified by clinical ascriptions, often in shorthand.  The reduction of the multiple subject to the person, then the person into a number is born of the need for precise and quick reference, certainly, but also of overcapacity--in both landscapes, volume is high and (in most cases) compensation for the workers whose care you are in is very low. 

The logic of necessity, however, needs be mined.  In no other service micro-economy than the hospital does the becoming subject yield so immediately and so thoroughly to normative discourses: data, but also, paradoxically (and explored here as a way to rethink it, to reimagine its use value for contemporary poetries), confession.  For the conversation between doctor and patient is not dialogic, nor from the viewpoint of the patient, is it diagnostic; rather, the patient responding to clinical questions is a kind of confession, its poetry a kind of erotics.  I explore the erotics of clinical discourse most directly in the book’s last section, “Guests,” where the roles, personae, and systems of power of the doctor and patient, or nurse and patient, intertwine, mingle, in a sense fuck their way out of their own use-values into a sphere of confessed exchange.

For every poetics of disablement, there is a disablement of poetry.  A muting by constriction using the logic of the pharmacy (in its older, literal sense).   Where writing begins, poetry often ends, and here the written is explored as assumed catastrophe captured (and thus also occulted) via knowledge-forms (clinical and other language games).  What does the murmur and the silence that underlines clinical confession and confinement sound like?  I come back to this question throughout the book, but most directly in part one (“Visitors”) and part two (“Depreciable Assets”), where in part two, the politics of the body as well as the politics of the hospital industrial complex are more directly approached, the scope (or in any case the lens) widened. In this latter part, television catastrophe—specifically the unfolding of the racially motivated destruction of lives as response to Hurricane Katrina, alongside the occupation of Iraq—come in and out of focus, for while writing this part of the book, these catastrophes were coming in and out of focus for me in real time, coming through in muted and alternately raw ways via the television’s (often barely vibrating) window pane.  

It is through similar (mediating) vehicles that Nonsite Collective (with which I have become engaged), and Rob Halpern’s thick, “cosmetic” lyric (to use C.J. Martin’s term from his “An Open Letter,” ON, No. 2) tries to approach Katrina and other occulted disasters, and so here again this work, as time went on, situated itself as conversation with Nonsite and Halpern’s Disaster Suites.  How we see, or rather how we negotiate what we do not—at times are not allowed to—see, differs substantially from new lyricism, I think partly because the contexts out of which the poetry emerges differ substantially.  And yet, the poetics overlaps substantially.  Why?  Halpern’s work, the lyric of both now and “impossibly” a de-militarized future, stand as the de-coded messages set to self-destruct (“noise” and “racket” as two terms employed by Schoenberg’s critics to counter the composer’s claim that his suites counted as “music” come to mind when thinking about the lyrics of both Disaster Suites and the Medical Industrial Complex). Hospitology treats confession with not so dissimilar questions, yet employs poetic forms related (lyric and confession share what, if not Voice ordinarily understood?), but only so.  Subject multiple, voice the sublation by which a fractured, indeed “liquidated” individual “scrounges” (to use K. Lorraine Grahm’s term) or eavesdrops for the occulted sounds and silences of that very liquidation (call it counter-intelligence), how, if at all, can we matter?  In what sense can the confessional poem of the “submerged being” (Baldwin) do the work of performing sociopolitical surgery, not curative, but exploratory, as an accompaniment to established forms of protest?  This is, in part, a question of the reader’s re-entry post-poetic trauma slash anesthetic.  Which is to ask a seemingly obvious (or nonsensical, depending on one’s preferred epistemological framework) question of where the poem (body) is located.  Surely it isn’t located here, on the page.  Then, where?  Place and confession, once deeply complicated, become interesting zero-points of departure for discussions about why poetry (embodied) might have anything whatsoever to do with matters of social and economic justice – where here the background assumption is that they do.

Hospitalogy hopes to work through these questions, pinpointing its critique from the self-dissolving standpoint of reimagining confession within the hospital complex.   Here quasi-lyric as letter (a letter form that has yet to be recognized as such) is how I begin.

So, Hospitalogy is a book of place, but also non-place, or place of imagining, hence activity.  It is time-specific and in conversation, at points critical, of a poetics of patiency, specifically Rob Halpern’s, and so deeply indebted to his poetry and poetics. Hospitalogy is as close to atopic, therefore, as I think any of my poems have come, often in “infinite conversation” (Blanchot) with Halpern’s reimagining lyric cum social relationships, which involves a sustained conversation with Oppen and his work, which is often very much a critique of Whitman’s employment of lyric (e.g., in Drum Taps), and so is therefore in conversation with Whitman’s work itself.  My essaying of Halpern’s deeply important poetry and poetics here takes on a somewhat elegiac mode, as opposed to critiquing/questioning counterfactually and from within any value poetry, including lyric, might have for matters of social and economic justice, as I do with a “companion” book of poems, Occultations (forth. 2010). 

Despite certain conversational specificities (locales, poetic tropes, etc), there is necessarily detour that goes with the movement from one psychogeography to the other, from one cycle of poems to another, as these are (ironically) ambulatory poems indebted to the modes and methods employed by poets such as Jules Boykoff, Kaia Sand, Kristin Prevallet, and Catherine Taylor.  I tried to be captured by these grid lines in the shifting and, as it would turn out during the handwriting of these poems (initially as letters to friends and my partner), the ambiguous use of pronouns and modifiers, tones, metrics, and quasi-lyrics.  The line (and its accordant breaks) used me to sharpen and/or flatten this ambiguity, both aurally and visually, I think. 

Perhaps the anonymity one enjoys anywhere, but hotels in particular, is the implicit self-sameness of moving through space with having some destination in mind.  It fucks up the temporal order, objectifies time, and so we often think much will impress itself on us, imbue our masks with more detail.  The paradox of the hospital stay – the sort of derive one can take the time to go on while yet forced into this particular ecosystem (and here Halpern’s poetics of patiency, specifically here the subject giving oneself over to another within the context of the medical industrial complex, is a problematic that sets itself up over and again in these poems), it brings out strangeness and also the overvaluation of perceived solipsism, and/or agency  -  what Blanchot refers to as the idea of a “unitary being.” 

A few of the poems are co-written in an overt sense, i.e., were worked out by myself and another via correspondence, then me shaping that correspondence into a poem.  These are indicated as author credits.  However, other poems paraphrase, riff, and sometimes quote books that I brought with me during my times away.  I’ve included these titles at the end of this book. 

DW, 3/25/09, Olympia 


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