Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Back from New York

Got back a few days ago from New York, still jet-lagged, so this is an IOU write a more thoughtful, less exhausted post about the new releases I got my hands on as part of the Belladonna Series new books release party. Had a wonderful time, tho, and yet the stay was too short.

Got in town just in time to read alongside Eleni Stecopolous, Brenda Iijima, and Dottie Lasky. The Belladonna Series graciously hosted this book release party, and Thom Donovan co-curated the event with Rachel Levitsky and Emily Skillings. Was great to hear the work of three of my favorite poets.  The new work is stunning: you can find excerpts from the new books--listed in the post below--online, but I suggest treating yrself and buying the books.  Good investment!  Antiques Roadshow material!  

The readings worked extremely well together, with Brenda reading her uniquely jagged and animated poems first, a bit from both books; Eleni reading just before me (this work, Armies of Compassion, I'm most familiar with in relation to the others, and am in love with its tough, catastrophic and compassionate lyric); and Dottie closing us out--reading from among other poems in Black Life, "Tornado," which is so multilayered despite the simple, often declarative (and deeply funny) lines.  As I said to Dottie that night, I think I now understand better, or anyway in a more interested way, Plath's work, thus Dottie's interest in Plath. Though the two are miles apart in both form and content (as far as I hear it), there is that directed affinity that models for me ways to read in Plath anxiety on top of an unapologetic feminism that is also, often covertly, funny. Dottie's work often inverts the covert and overt, the work overtly playful and yet covertly eviscerating. In Plath, I feel, now in light of Dottie's reading, that I'd keep missing the humor and also the critique (the politics, so to speak), focusing too much as is often the case on the mode of confession (or apparent mode of confession).

Anyway, I loved the readings. Felt great to be back too.

Had a great time seeing old friends and meeting new people. Good to see Rodrigo Toscano and Laura Elrick, Kristin Prevallet, activist friends from when I was a union organizer, including (now prof. at NYU) Hannah Gurman, who, it turns out, is writing these days on contemporary poetry's use of / working with leaked official military and law enforcement documents, which is what, for 2 of the 4 sections, Occultations is doing. The packed house was really treated to some amazing work, even with me reading way too fast from poetical experiments that might or might not be completely forgettable (how would I know?).  

Many thanks to Thom, Rachel, and Emily--to the Belladonna Series for all their hard work on this event.  And thanks to Dixon Place and their sound/tech crew, who were nice enough to allow me to work with them last-minute on the multimedia portions of my reading.  Nice digs, seriously cool experimental theater, which, by the way, can use all the support you can give it.


  1. I'd like to know which Plath poems you & Lasky are reading? I suppose in part this's because whenever I tell a non-poet that I'm a poet, "do you like Plath?" seems to be on the shortlist of responses & so I feel like I ought to come up with something more socially useful response than "that's not the kind of thing I tend to read"

    Last I saw her written about was in WR Johnson's 'the idea of lyric', which poses her & delmore schwartz (&, to a lesser extent, ts eliot) as lyric poets acting out the death of the addressee or public which the lyric poet sings to: the confessional poem being invented in order to remake a public by making the lyric 'self' a feedback loop (the self sings to the self), which both provides a kind of sanctuary from capitalism's persistent "hey you!" while enforcing the myth of the all important atomized self. (awhile back I was talking to mr joel felix & he was espousing a theory that the langpo group could be described as a excited generation of new feedback loops outside of the atomized self: failures of language as opposed to failures of self?)

    WR says that (& I'm not entirely convinced here) Plath follows this path, but isn't easy enough on herself to sit comfortably in the position of an artist who has to survive off of eating your own shit before an audience that may not exist, & he focuses on some line in which the eye is an arrow that melts in the I or something like that... ie, that I am what I am, but 'I' has failed & begins to become aware of new seas of failure that might exist outside of sensible experience?

    I feel like a choirboy, I clearly don't know what I'm talking about at this point.

    Glad to hear your trip went well.


  2. Hey W,

    Yes, that's how I've read Plath, in some sense, tho not as much alongside Eliot. More in a bit--prepping to teach here, and this demands a longer response--but for now, in reading Lasky's (poetic) reading of Plath, the emphasis/anxiety is not only on the level of having to recursively sing, but that in that singing the self-as-atomized becomes either mythologized or fractured, does so as its amplification exposes its "it-ness" or lack thereof. "Its" uncertainty. Mr. Joel Felix's take as you put it, who I give my hello & well-wishes to, is interesting. Taking that line further, one can say that in Armantrout, and in lyric poets after Armantrout (and of course, thru and after Oppen's critique) one is left with failure of language (or language's limits) AND self as-reframed, as what CJ Martin recently referred to as a "cosmetic" (as opposed to a cast, the cosmetic crumbles upon attempting to touch and analyze it - I myself think of that now deeply mediated lyric I as scaffold, but cosmetic upon reflection is much richer/feels to me more accurate). In Plath that anxiety plays out thru amplification, not contradiction or over multiplicity. But there are those darkly funny conversational truisms that are easily missed, missed b/c of such emphasis on the function or situation of the confession, what here confession means - to whom and for what in whether in false consciousness, etc. Interested in hearing further what you and Joel were talking about in this regard, as the shift from failure of the self to the failure of language, now so bound up together in contemp. radical lyric, is much to do with langpo experiments with different ways to exteriorize and archeologize language's use--yet, "outside" of the atomized self, I'd take most associated with langpo would suggest as impossible, or in any case, that if the atomized self's myth is now exposed, there is no inner or outer, and poetry better in good faith deal with that...

    I'll respond again when I have time to pull out some quotes from Dottie that I found helpful. As I, too, only have read Plath (in these last few years) to research confessional poetry so-called, in order to write a book of "confessional" poems that are, as taking up the form of a letter (direct address), songs to ME ALL ME!!! (who? you say). Yeah. So, I'm now re-thinking Plath, tho not necessarily wholesale oft-cited critiques of confessional poetry--can anyway Plath be called a confessional poet? Just because she has been?

    Hope yr well.