Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Peter Riley’s Greek Passages

A Wall


Homely and local
is the belly-
aching of the
abject, the phony
dicta of its
thin self-adherence
grabs a man’s
hat and means
nothing by it.
A surfeit of
human sass, implicitly
French’d. So that:
the fragility of
self, its routine
machinations of identity-
upheaval get dump’d,
and a mean
perseverance of offal
and toxins is
hoist’d up bell-
wether style, and
a marvelous propinquity
of the helplessly
inane is summon’d.
Yowser. I am
a moron, m’lord.
Up against the
mortal pitch I
sing “with weight
and urgency / unheeded”
my rude and
klaxon-calamitous song,
pocky and oppugning
the inconsequential wrongs
of the maw’d
superfluous sawyers who
stump for the
limit’d wallop of
opportune carnage under
the sign of
the untorn self,
kidding like a
goat, a legend,
a faux-monnayeur.

“That’s either iris or maize said the urban poet to himself on the way to Chicago.” Zukofsky-script’d postcard to Williams, 1930. Retchy impasse of the morning, my dud-vibrancy lighting up. The hell with it. Reading Peter Riley, a swath out of Greek Passages (Shearsman, 2009):

Kefalari. The water bursts out at the foot of the hill / which shall wash away these stories / Churches, and a lollipop kiosk, claim the place. Coachloads arrive wanting to buy something / something redemptive, though it might not last. / / Up in the windy hills the rain / marginalizes us, serving / every cell of the landscape.

The King of Asine has gone / Seferis too has gone. / The citadel, a boss of rock above the sea, the caravan park, and the massed hotels along the coast. / King, poet, a vertical thrust through all that horizontal continuity and steady cash. A clearing, a void, a cry across commerce, remembering honour, a citadel / with about enough grass among its stones to graze a donkey for a week as the sea diamonds shoot overhead / / Come, little donkey, I’ll hire you, for a year and a day / and you shall bear patiently a collection of CDs of rembetiko, demotika and Byzantine chant / in two wooden boxes along the coast road and across the vegetable field 15km / to a semi-ruined stone house in from Iría which when we get there proves to have no electricity / But we know the tunes by heart, and sit in former time like little waves against cyclopean walls. Ten thousand years, drinking of the wine / Old poets, remembering the oceanic tones of a just peace.

Justice that survives in the tales while the actuality lies ten feet down a shaft grave. There was no justice. Tyrins, a fortress of privilege guarding the end of the bay and every advantage structure to be had. / Again the split brain advances, at someone’s cost / The King so frightened he leapt into a large storage jar / / Excavations under the summit palace, left partly open, reveal a Bronze Age circular structure divided into segments, the guide / was maybe drunk, didn’t have much English and kept saying, “It is the marigold, you know, that little flower, it is the marigold.”

Adamant the question (“millipedes curled up on the walls like question marks”): “Money, what have you done?” And: “It is not nature / that needs guarding / it is us.” Achingly humble, tender, honorable work. I’ll leave it at that for now. Off to recharge, finish up “A Year,” read without the glean-reaper’s countenance and bag, dally, walk, and scrimp. À la prochaine.

Peter Riley, c. 2005
(Photograph by Michael Hohensee)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pound / Williams Letters

A Wall


Fatal is my uncanny
engine like that of
any of the slow-
draw super-apes who
form copulatory swarms high
up in the air,
and go at it
with antic haywire irregularity
up to the point
of the new-sprout’d
wings dropping off, sailing
effortlessly down to earth
like the petiole-shrivel’d
leaves of any autumnal
sport. Now it is
winter. The large symmetrical
expansions of the body
diminish and commit. Ground’d
ape-tedium exordiums commence
in the formicary fever-
dens. In a shallow
batch of magnify’d pond
water a smallish copepod
spins like something electro-
magnetic, and a hydra,
salt’d by a boy
biologist, explodes into ass-
galaxy nothingness. The north
star dips low behind
a hill and I
walk straight west out
into the acrobatickal protozoan
soup: a way of
keeping the humanoid monotone
down by shouting like
an animalcule, Leeuwenhoek! Leeuwenhoek!

A sloth-weekend, albeit peripatetic. Which’d “fit” the “requirements” (none, beyond a certain instep-crush’d insect sonic militance and “gush”) of an opening line of one a several “missing” numéros of “A Year.” (Figures that at the point of its rip-snorter of a concluding—“thud shut of a Webster’s”—the boîte-cerveau ought be so butter’d and muttering, loathe to engineer the thing compleat.) In the brave stray beams of cold sunlight un-occluded by capital’s apes struck by tyranny-bouts of shopping (boue de la saison), I sang through some of Pound / Williams: Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams (New Directions, 1996), edit’d by Hugh Witemeyer. Things to love: lines out of the “Prologue”—whence Silliman’s original opening to “The New Sentence” (Williams: “The sole precedent I can find for the broken style of my prologue is Longinus on the Sublime and that one far-fetched.” Silliman: “The sole precedent I can find for the new sentence is Kora in Hell: Improvisations and that one far-fetched.”) to WCW’s Kora in Hell: Improvisations (1920) against the smug knowing (signpost’d) conventionality of the city, here, Pound’s London: “I praise those who have the wit and courage, and the conventionality to go direct toward their vision of perfection in an objective world where the signposts are clearly marked . . . But confine them in hell for their paretic assumption that there is no alternative but their own groove.” Excellent the diagnosis of city-provincial paralysis with usual attendant symptoms of gawker-style fame-calibrating. What’s of use: the private formal push. WCW to “Liebes Ezrachen” (1922): “Just finished Ulysses. I am satisfied to put it away for the moment. Yes, I’ll risk one comment: It encourages me to champion my own particular form of stupidity—or knowledge or intelligence or lackknowledge. It is the first of the return from the desert.” And later, même feuille: “I have always wanted a book of prose things, some place to appear without the necessity of assenting to the editorial nod of some lunar sheet’s boss.” How Williams ’d’ve “took” to the sweet unattend’d attenuations of blogging, ripping out memos unfetter’d between patients!

Need’d reminders of Pound’s limits in calling “winners” in the form of retrospect-duds like “expatriate American poet”—and Pound protégé—“Ralph Cheever Dunning (1878-1930).” Out of Witemeyer’s notes:
Thirteen poems by Dunning appeared in Poetry for April 1925 under the general title “The Four Winds.” EP’s essay on “Mr. Dunning’s Poetry” was published in Poetry for September 1925, and Dunning was awarded Poetry’s Helen Haire Nevinson Prize. In an undated letter to WCW, EP asks, “Wotcher think of the Dunning that you have seen? And are you ready to look thru whole mss. Pussnly I think that inability to find something in a poem like Cheever’s ‘Shadows’ shows distinct limitation. Inability to get past the language and to the meaning.”
In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway calls Dunning “a poet who smoked opium and forgot to eat.” “When he was smoking too much he could only drink milk and he wrote in terza rima which endeared him to Ezra who also found fine qualities in his poetry.” At one point, prior to Pound’s leaving Paris for Rapallo, he provides Hemingway with a “large cold-cream jar” full of raw opium, and tells him “give it to Dunning only when he needs it”—“Ezra had brought from an Indian chief he said, on the avenue de l’Opéra . . .” And Williams’s nail’d down wry reply:
      To me it seems that Dunning has proven, by a route none of the others of us has taken, that it is still impossible to write work of first excellence in a demoded form. We abandoned the form, he used it well. He used it superlatively well and now, by his excellence, proves the failure. He could have proved nothing by sloppy work. After reading him I still find the form he uses so well, intolerable. It accords, however, with his stale content: AN EXCELLENCE.
      Thus the quandary increases, for the thing nobody can decide is, what excellence in most excellent. Should he be most admired who adds most to the means of expression with his art or should he be admired who shows that there is no need for additions.
And, noting rather sardonically how Dunning’s is “the old thrill of excellent craftsmanship,” WCW suggests that “here is an excellent fellow with nothing much to say who by dint of fine perception, hard work and great patience has after long hours hit upon the one dead mode which fits him. Doing this over and over he has come at last to the distinction of making something precious which fits all the rules of fine practice in his art without stretching them or caring to know where they may be departed from or amended.” Which is the sopping excellence, too, of “our” truculently know-nothing era with its mimick modernisms, and its pre-decreed readings Poundesque. (Here’s Williams complaining about Pound’s smudging of everything into whatever the current categorical itch be: “All I ever asked, even of you, is that you SEE me and not through glasses guaranteed and specially fabricated to miscolor and distort everything they come against. I do object to that. Look if you have any eyes at all—and forget for a moment what happens to be itching you at the time. It may for a moment permit you to get a little pleasure without aching to make me something that I ain’t.” Williams, out of that “Prologue”:
The imagination goes from one thing to another. Given many things of nearly totally divergent natures but possessing one-thousandth part of a quality in common, provided that be new, distinguished, these things belong in an imaginative category and not in a gross natural array. To me this is the gist of the whole matter. . . . But the thing that stands eternally in the way of really good writing is always one: the virtual impossibility of lifting to the imagination those things which lie under the direct scrutiny of the senses, close to the nose. . . . The senses witnessing what is immediately before them in detail see a finality which they cling to in despair, not knowing which way to turn. Thus the so-called natural or scientific array becomes fixed, the walking devil of modern life. He who even nicks the solidity of this apparition does a piece of work superior to that of Hercules when he cleaned the Augean stables.
My argument is that that going “from one thing to another” is less sequential than relative. Not the surface array of sentence after sentence, detail after detail, but a series of relations (one thing carry’d over by dint of that “one-thousandth part of a quality in common” to the next).

William Carlos Williams, 1883-1963

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Table Talk

Two Chains


That gamut’s kaput. So
out I go rummaging
blurb-verbiage like an
involuntary canary singing mark-
edly off-key, nakedly.
Say I got stucco
up in my cornrows,
say I tiptoe my
mighty ass nightly up
the jam-ambassador’s stairs
to sack out with
Jack the cuspidor-keeper,
or sleep it off
in incongruous clothes, tree-
green. Here’s my port-
a-john now. He’s
tuck’d himself up with
a picnic basket red-
and-white checker’d thing
like a nance-chancellor
of the exchequer. Très
rococo. C’est rigolo,
cocorico’d mot juste-rooster
noise. He annoys the
ditzy citizenry with nitpicky
riffs that mock the
clamor for glamorous standards.
The pud’s a dud.

Coleridge (out of the Table Talk for June 9, 1832):
Much as the Romans owed to Greece in the beginning, whilst their mind was, as it were, tuning itself to an after-effort of its own music, it suffered more in proportion by the influence of Greek literature subsequently, when it was already mature and ought to have worked for itself. It then became a superfetation upon and not an ingredient in, the national character. With the exception of the stern pragmatic historian and the moral satirist, it left nothing original to the Latin Muse.
So one might identify—“a superfetation upon and not an ingredient in”—the late effects of any style (and all “style” is “late”—that is the meaning of style.) Fœtor of the post-confessionalist infallibly popping—between thumb- and fingernails—every lousy louse pick’d off the human monkey, long’s it’s a louse, with no sense of selecting or inventing; fœtor of the post-language boy or girl aimlessly “sampling” and “torque-ing,” gussying up with indifferently screwball swerves (what FO’H didn’t say—“Just go on with your swerves”), a compleat failure of ear and relation, ideational or objective; fœtor of the “rage to fragment” crowd; fœtor of the stand-up horse-laughers (of the Dean Collins “right” and of the Flarfster “left”); fœtor of the serialists (numerical and alphabetical) who think such sectional pinpricks’ll sew anything up sufficiently tight; fœtor of the monkey-brain’d conceptualists dully putting pegs in holes. All the odor-eater replacement “scents” to cover up the foul-smelling stew of the self left bubbling in its own juices. (Now we’re cookin’.)

Coleridge’s is an odd national fret, and historical, and highly Romantic: arguing against any dependence off (or on) the world’s—the other’s—unavoidable Überstench, that influenza, a hectoring for the “ingredient in.” Ah, sweet self. Or is it simply the unabash’d and unabidable constant perspicacity of the opportunist Coleridge damns, all “tuning itself to an after-effort” and no “own music”? Ah sweet self, forgive us each and every one; come back. (Cf. talk lately of “an anti-aesthetic that is suddenly all over the place”—neo-confessionalist and its aping “identification”—in a memoir age, is we, yes, launch’d back along that silvery railroad line with its illusory bounty out there in the moonlight where the two tracks—mine and yours—meet? Whatever, brave citizenry, hap’d with “fragmentation, quotation, disruption, disjunction, agrammatical syntax, and so on”? I do recall some reportage somewhere along the lines of “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” (1957) circa early ’eighties that went “Will Having Kids End Language Writing?” Call it the Ecclesiastes Effect (“turn, turn, turn”) in the Dynamics of Literary Change.)

That same night—the menu lists spring lamb with fresh garden peas, a fennel’d céleri rémoulade, parsnips up out of the cellar, mint jelly—Coleridge says:
A nation, to be great, ought to be compressed in its increment by nations more civilized than itself—as Greece by Persia; and Rome by Etruria, the Italian states, and Carthage. I remember Commodore Decatur saying to me at Malta, that he deplored the occupation of Louisiana by the United States, and wished that province had been possessed by England. He thought that if the United State got hold of Canada by conquest or cession, the last chance of his country becoming a great compact nation would be lost.
Lack of constraints = “The pure products of America / go crazy . . . It is only in isolate flecks that / something / is given off . . .” Apply that like a mustard pack to the face you crane forth with each day.

I love the moment that inevitably arrives when I no longer know’st whither I goeth—as Holofernes says, in Love’s Labour’s Lost, in pedant-mockery, with a “turgid and destitute” slap-down add’d in—“He draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the staple of his argument”—: “It insinuateth me of insanie.” I like the “frisson” (Ina gadda da vida sun-harumphing in el estómago) of seeking a way out of my “increment.” Here’s one. Something I “gave off” nigh some thirty-five years ago, out of a sense inchoate (larval) of the effect of the seeming boundlessness of American “space,” how it educed violence, the only measurable thing. (Is that what I meant? I don’t know. I vacillate between virulent bad-mouthing and jokery, contumacious nay-saying and heartbreak—fact is, I’d insist I had supreme affection for you all.) Here’s the piece, “Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”:
American History

A scythe of sectile

An axhead
Hones the stump of truth like
Nerve ends spuriously

A horse—

Anything so volatile—
Over and over
Imagination’s brink.

We relish the infinite
And pin it like a butterfly
To a stretch board

Of mnemonics
Balsa wood works well or
White pine.
For cooking outdoors—
Use oak.

This is where science
Metes out credence
Heat not languor
Razes valence:
Violence we can measure.

Better to boil bad water and
Learn to cow ourselves
Into abilty.

Huge white Conestogas
Drift in and out
Of our conjunctival vision

So we work for a living
Stay drunk with
The fruit of
Two hundred years of national pride:

Lost destiny—
A continent slowly leaking into the swell . . .

Off domani. Ci vediamo lunedi.

William Carlos Williams, 1883-1963

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

La tribu

Some Reeds (Bruis’d by Light)


A muff’d and X’d out
pencil sketch in the libro
di desegni
of two magnificently
slender angels with the camp
naughty-in-the-privy looks
of critics, what Voltaire call’d
“insects of a single day.”
Who needs two critics? I
like the stupor of desire,
how plausibly the deferential skirting
of its spiel tallies with
the cattiness of its point’d
vulgarity, the way pleats tuck
excess up under style or
an X delineates a hub
and a quadrant. One begins—
hookah and chaise longue made
of wickerwork—to see nothing
beyond seeing, Leonardo da Vinci
painting through the unappeasable stench
of green lizards and crickets
in several states of decay.
Thorough and monumental writing’s disdain
for the parcel’d-out dead,
the pre-pucker’d astringency of
angels, that renegade stock brood.
Le superflu, chose si nécessaire
is what Voltaire calls it,
that fierce need to lap
up runoff, make light sustain
its exorbitant accrual of light.

Limber-leg’d and yawning, synaptical dragons snapping up and down the spine, up too early, too cold the bicycling in the unpitch’d light. Unladle the books out of the sack. Mephisto to Faust: “Yes, gracious lord, it is a pleasure.” And, Faust exit’d, continuing: “A fool in lub doan gibbons puff / And, yest to dive into ze darlink’s muff / He’d make ze sonne und moone und stars go woof.” Mallarmé, in “Music and Literature,” according to Daniel Tiffany—out of Infidel Poetics: Riddles, Nightlife, Substance (University of Chicago Press, 2009)—a book I find (glancing) rather turgid and destitute (foot now wedged severely in mouth, I’d better read it)—: “the disinterested poet, eschewing all virtuosity and bravado, must project his vision of the world and use the language of the school, home and market place, which seems most fitting to that purpose. The poetry will be lifted to some frightening, wavering, ecstatic pitch. . . . Wherever you find it, you must deny the ineffable; for somehow it will speak.” (Which zings me back into the arms of Wittgenstein’s lovely: “When one does not force himself to express the inexpressible, nothing is lost and the inexpressible is contained inexpressibly in that which is expressed”—wherein I’d likely do well to remain . . .)

Tiffany, though, ’s primping up Mallarmé against himself, in order (I think) to dizzify and rout rec’d interpretations (preeminently Eliot: accus’d of “advancing a poetics of verbal sublimation, or rarefaction, which yields a substance of lyric purity—a substance in contrast to the unrefined ‘words of the tribe.’” See, as Tiffany notes, “Little Gidding”: “Since our concern was speech and speech impelled us / To purify the dialect of the tribe.” Clearly Eliot didn’t get what “NO compromise with the public” Pound’d meant when he’d blue-pencil’d the slack and “pure” line “When Lil’s husband was coming back out of the Transport Corps” in the ur-Waste Land and replaced it with “When Lil’s husband got demobbed”) of Mallarmé’s famous insistence that the poet is “l’ange / Donner un sense plus pur aux mots de la tribu” (Tiffany: “the angel / Giving a purer sense to the words of tribe”). He offers Mallarmé’s call for demotic / domestic language (above) against both the “purifying” angel-figure and the indifferent, removed, “uncommon” mass-snubbing figure: “Whenever the masses are being herded indiscriminately toward self-interest, amusement, or convenience, it is essential that a very few disinterested persons should adopt an attitude of respectful indifference toward those common motivations.” Snub they masses, thieve they lingo, as Philip Levine might’ve put it, they-feed-they-lionishly. Sounds rather Flarfish, experts.

(Talk about turgid and destitute.) I’d rather be watery, limpid, and disconsolate. Reading, in my drifty manner, some of the remembrances of David Schubert in Works and Days, I see Theodore Weiss’s:
Once, most brotherly, and bitterly too, he said to me: “Ted, I beg of you, stay out of poetry. But if you have to write, find one way of looking and saying, one gimmick, and stick with that, hammer it in again and again. That way you’ll get yourself known.”
As poor dead Archie Ammons ’s prone to say, counseling, too, against poetry (in the manner it’s “pursu’d” in these States): “What a fuckin’ racket.” Ah, the blithe savagery of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses careerism: “The age has demanded or seemed to demand in the past fifteen years the concept book: poems with a plot, or at least books with some discussable and therefore promotable ‘hook,’ concept, or master form. The poetry collection as such has become antiquated, territory ceded to Quietism.” Sounds—and it’s rampant, if not allus so unguard’dly prop’d—rather like prepping for some fuckin’ excursus militaire.

Édouard Manet, “Stéphane Mallarmé,” 1876
(Musee d'Orsay)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Charles Bernstein’s “Hearing Voices”

A Wall


The job is to cull
contumely out of the hinterland’s
skittishness, dull down its ‘cloacal
obstynances’ and fix’d risible urges
to a mean stoic acquittal,
a sloughing off of desire’s
inspecificity. Modern electronica is a
big help: techno or trance.
That recidivist hammering roar’s like
an ‘oceanic cypher’—it noteth
a place, and no thing
—a way to bump
up a figure or make
a hieroglyph of a clerk.
Behind the smelting works, scrap-
iron and toss’d off dross.
Black crows sail up against
the yellow sky’s sulfurous stench,
humdrum concomitance of the post-
roost fly-by and dispersal.
Slag under the weeping willow.
Every area’s a staging area.

Struck, reading Charles Bernstein’s “Hearing Voices,” in the Marjorie Perloff and Craig Dworkin-edit’d The Sound of Poetry / The Poetry of Sound (University of Chicago Press, 2009), just how completely the New Criticism fissures that’ve long run (mostly undetect’d) through the writings of some of the Language writing crowd, surface there. “Close listening” straight out of “close reading.” Think of, say, the way I. A. Richards’s Practical Criticism (1929) descends less out of any coherent theoretical concern than a practical (read pedagogical) one, or of R. P. Blackmur’s insistence on the critic’s “job of work,” and compare it to Bernstein’s answer to the self-posed questions: “why this focus on the poet’s performance?” and “Isn’t this just another way of fetishizing the author and the author’s voice?” He writes:
The facts on the ground [note the inappropriate pedagogue as soldier metaphor] are these: the archive of recordings, as well as the live performance, of contemporary poems is almost exclusively composed of poets giving voice to their own work; in the first instance, the claim for the significance of performance is less theoretical than an acknowledgment of actually existing poetic practice.
There follows some usual Bernstein shtick, how he’d welcome “William Shatner reciting Leslie Scalapino’s Considering how exaggerated music is, how in “Kenneth Goldsmith’s “highly rhythmical and markedly accented recitations of signature moments of Western aesthetic thought” he “sounds a bit like Danny Kaye,” &c. Borscht Belt routines for the easily amused. A similar crowd cherishes Sebastian Cabot, the gentleman’s gentleman, doing Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” (1967), or the late gravelly-voiced Republican Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois’s version of “Wild Thing” (1967).

Think of New Criticism’s making the poem a self-sufficient verbal artifact, and a privileged site for transmitting and disseminating whatever specific aesthetic thing makes a poem a poem. Bernstein writes:
      I do fetishize the acoustic inscription of the poet’s voice, or at least I take it as aesthetically significant—partly because doing so returns voice from sometimes idealized projections of self in the style of a poem to its social materiality, to voicing and voices. In that sense, though, any performance of a poem is an exemplary interpretation, that is, one that imagines itself as rehearsal rather than as a finalization.
      The alphabet, with its thirty or so marks, offers a remarkably agile technology for noting speech sounds, which, in our digital environment, makes it remarkably easy to cut, paste, and transmit. [Hunh? Is that the “Flarf—it’s the result of the alphabet” defense? Some drop’d logickal connctif, theah . . .] In contrast to alphabetic writing, the grammaphonic inscription offers an immensely thicker description of the voice, making explicit many vocal features that need to be interpolated when a poem is read from an alphabetic script.
“Immensely thicker . . . vocal features”: John Crowe Ramsom, too, insist’d that poetic language make evident its “local texture.”

Think of the imply’d scientism of Bernstein’s earnest list of “vocal gestures” perceptible in recordings (kin to Richards’s aim to a comprehensive system in Principles of Literary Criticism (1924) with its scorn of the “chaos” of “random aperçues” and “brilliant guesses” that’d defined literary study previously, a revival of the recurrent academic reverie of bringing “literary study to a condition rivaling that of science”):
There are four features, or vocal gestures, that are available on tape but not page that are of special significance for poetry: the cluster of rhythm and tempo (including word duration), the cluster of pitch and intonation (including amplitude), timbre, and accent. The first two of these features can be visually plotted with waveforms; the gestalt of these features contributes to tone.
My slide-rule hangs off my belt, my French curve clutch’d au poing. Bernstein enlists Reuven Tsur, author of “Kubla Khan”—Poetic Structure, Hypnotic Quality, and Cognitive Style (2006), to supply the terms. In doing so, he borrows, too, “two cognitive modes of literary criticism”—and it is here that the recycling of New Critical tenets rallies. Tsur apparently contrasts “Negative Capability” and “Quest for Certainty” and Bernstein’s parsing of it leans hard up against the prime New Critical concept of “ambiguity”:
For Tsur, critics who tend toward a Quest for Certainty display an intolerance of ambiguity, uncertainty, and multiple interpretative possibilities; a resistance to symbolism in favor of allegory; a perceptual dependence on the concrete and an inability to process multiple abstractions; a tendency to reduce a poem’s meaning to a single level (a form of what I call frame lock); a propensity for “extreme” and “polarized evaluations, namely, good-bad, right-wrong, black-white” [“Quietist”-“post-avant”?]; “a greater insensitivity to subtle and minimal cues and hence a greater susceptibility to false but obtrusive clues.” Ambiguity intolerance is also associated with a desensitization to the nonthematized emotional dynamics of a poem, the very kinds of dynamics that are intensified in performance. Tsur notes that his categories are related to psychological studies of dogmatism and the authoritative personality. I would add that they resonate with Wittgenstein’s analysis of “aspect blindness” and George Lakoff’s distinction between the cognitive framework of the “strict father” and that of the “nurturing parent.”
Which “turn to psychology” is a way of returning to one of New Criticism’s founding loci: I. A. Richards’d originally borrow’d Freud’s term “overdetermined” to refer to the presence of a multiplicity of simultaneous meanings in language.

At the end of “Hearing Voices” Bernstein focuses on “accent” in a move to upend the currently construct’d lineage of high modernism. Here he claims
. . . accent is a technical feature that can be used to perform and deform social distinctions and variations. For the modernist poetics of the Americas, the artifice of accent is the New Wilderness of poetry performance, that which marks our poetries with the inflection of our particular trajectories within our spoken languages.
      While script permits the poet to elide, if not to say disguise, accent, performance is an open wound of accentual difference from which no poet escapes. This is not the accent of stress but accents of distressed language, words scarred by their social origins and aspirations.
One suspects Bernstein’s jeu de mot propensity flummox’d him here. Is accent a mark of authenticity (“no poet escapes”) or an “artifice,” a “technical feature”? If accent is associated with “distressed language, words scarred,” &c., is there a normative unstress’d and unscarred language? And whose is that? Bernstein makes a case for Zukofsky’s piece “A foin lass bodders,” a “translation of Guido Cavalcanti’s thirteenth-century poem ‘Donna mi prega’ into Brooklynese (itself a foil for Yiddish dialect)” being a kind of trumping of Pound’s 1928 “traduction” of the poem: “The burden of modernist composition was to articulate the range of sounds in complex patterns, not purify the language.” Bernstein quotes the Pound (“Because a lady asks me, I would tell / Of an affect that comes often and is fell / And is so overweening: Love by name . . .”) and argues that “While Pound’s traduction makes Cavalcanti come alive in quasi-idiomatic English rhythms that play to, while transforming, historically mediated standards of high lyric sonorousness [note the disparaging terms: quasi-, English, play to, mediated, there’s something half-ass’d about Pound], ‘A foin lass bodders’ is obtrusively anti-assimilationist, not to say dissident, anti-absorptive both cultural and poetically . . .”:
A foin lass bodders me I gotta tell her
Of a fact surely, so unrurly, often’
’r’t comes ’tcan’t soften its proud neck’s called love mm . . .
Even me brudders dead drunk in dare cellar
Feel it dough poorly ’n yrs. trurly rough ’n
His way ain’t so tough ’n he can’t speak from above mm . . .
’n’wid proper rational understandin’ . . .
Mmm. Bernstein calls it “noisy, disruptive, brilliant, and unacceptable all rolled into one.” Peut-être. Though what’d be the verdict if it’d been writ by, say, Boston Brahmin Isabella Gardner? Or by Ezra Pound himself? Or by Joel “De ole bee make de honey-comb” Chandler Harris? Is Pound’s “Hep Cat Chung, don’t jump my wall”—or “Ole Brer Rabbit watchin’ his feet, / Rabbit net ’s got the pheasant beat”—out of the Confucian Shih-ching—a sign of authentic “dissident, anti-absorptive” practice or a species of vaudeville minstrelsy, appropriating, blackface? And isn’t Zukofsky’s “A foin lass bodders” mostly a feat of carnivalesque orthographickal impertinence (something I’d soitainly endorse, stooge and butt of that circus I be)? Where’s the “waveforms” in that? I recall high modernist Mark Twain’s “Explanatory” note insert’d at the beginning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), its gentle mockery of the art of transcribing dialect in order to feign authenticity. Twain:
      In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary “Pike County” dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.
      I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.

Charles Bernstein and “the nonthematized emotional dynamics of a poem”
(Photograph by Henry Hills)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Some Crow About Upstarts

Chair and Door


The insolence of
gadgetry, the beverage
depot’s hoisting something
inflatable, a cork-
screw or beer-
bottle. It’s gusting
out, the guy
lines keep busting
loose and why
anybody’d bother is
entirely sub rosa
like the smoke-
and nicotine-color’d
snail that’s maneuvering
up the stem
of the American
Beauty that’s plant’d
near the car-
dealership’s fence. Beauty’s
something of a
nuisance and a
fix, categorical putty
used to fill
any hole. That
upstart Crow Shakespeare’s
got Polonius saying
“a vile phrase:
‘beautify’d’ / Is a
vile phrase” at
Hamlet’s pinning it
to celestial Ophelia—
who ends up
in a flower-
strewn watery ditch—
in a love-
letter. What is
beauty? A hammer
to tack down
(or pin up)
the corporeal thralls
of desire or
a silk air-
hose to pump
up the shiny
slack sheath of
disgorged truth? A
way of making
fly a fat
warning that’ll advert
the usual quotidian
dopey insolence at
the day’s end?

I recall a short period of sporting a button that read “I’m An Upstart,” some merchandizing-foible (or bauble) of a punk-era band call’d the Angelic Upstarts. I don’t recall how I arrived at that button, or why, precisely, I wore it, hardly being one to “accessorize.” Or even to advertise my allegiances, of which, mark of an upstart, I had none (I hardly knew the band). I liked the term “upstart,” I liked the idea of the “angelic upstart”—presumably one who knock’d down a complacency of used-up angels by dint of sheer undaunt’d counter-angelicks. So, a pleasure to read—out of Jonathan Bate’s Soul of the Age: The Life, Mind and World of William Shakespeare (Penguin, 2009)—how the “earliest clear record of Shakespeare in the London theatre world”—in the autumn of 1592—“sees a rival playwright, Cambridge-educated Robert Greene, insulting him” thus:
There is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a country.
Insecurity of the “made” gentleman Greene twitting the newly-arrived “maker” Shakespeare. Bate:
There can be no doubt that this refers to Shakespeare, the player turned “maker” who is here accused of borrowing the stylistic plumage of university-educated playwrights such as Greene himself. Shakespeare made his theatrical name with the barnstorming Henry VI plays, in one of which Queen Margaret places a paper crown on the head of Richard, duke of York, and is rewarded with a diatribe describing her as an “Amazonian trull” with a “tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide.” The quotation, with woman altered to player is unmistakable. A Johannes fac totum, was a jack-of-all-trades—English culture has a long history of men from the professions, armed with degrees from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, looking down their noses at hardworking men, form a trade background who lack a degree (which in the Elizabethan age allowed you to call yourself a gentleman). Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit goes on to call Shake-scene a “rude groom” and a “peasant.” This is the snobbery of the town sophisticate toward the country bumpkin as well as the professional toward the trader.
The “upstart” means and maneuvers: rife in the history of letters, unsuccumb’d even today. Milton points somewhere to the “the improper mixture of Scholastick and pusillanimous upstarts.” Richardson, in Clarissa: “None but the prosperous upstart Mushroom’d into rank.” Is it possible to fill the role of both upstart and “gentleman”? Is it possible to make a career of upstartism? One sees somebody like Ron Silliman—upstart gone to whining is how one might delineate the humdrum maledictory betidings interminably spout’d against the “quietists,” surely, they must all be gentlemen, no? Though it is current policy chez Silliman to brook no noise-making argument—a gentlemanly position, certainly—that is, to maintain a clotted veil of ignorance (and silence) regarding whatever “upstart” noises abound. By so routinely heaping up such a massive (unreadable, and, I’d wager, mostly unread, even by the heaper himself) accumulation of pointers to various stories in the “field,” Silliman is not unlike a big box store, an Amazon: the suggestion is: here’s all the news about poetry that one needs. That other—the rude upstart, the bumpkin (note Silliman’s rampant city-centrism, East or West)—is negligible, ignorable, ignorant. Oi.

Angelic Upstarts

Angelic Upstarts at a Miners’ Benefit Dance at the Barbary Coast Club, Sunderland, Wearside, 1984
(Photograph by Chris Killip)

Friday, December 11, 2009

“And, / Like buttercups, like invitations: I”



The sentence is one of
several necessary and heterogeneous vehicles
of a peculiar means of
thinking oneself into regions heretofore
abscond’d by wit, look’d at
asquint by syntax, or declined by
the plotz’d evidential roisterers of
the physical world. Its periodic
momentum abjures rhythm and regularity
and bolsters, clausal or adjectival,
plump’d up under its skinny
length get add’d at whim,
or subtract’d in a misconstrued
fit of convenience and regimen,
some word needing a propping
up somewhere down the line.
The dog’s barking is likely
a sign of an unspecify’d
desire, though it sounds like
“owph, owph, owph” carrying through
the Plexiglas storm door. It
is the helve and blade
of the unrearranged order of
things that the sentence attempts
both to eruct and accommodate
like a prairie warbler up
in a scrubby early-growth
pine plugging the variously pitch’d
holes it’s made by singing
with the unslung pierce-cheeriness
of its dub-modicum song.

Paw’d through a copy of James Wright’s Collected Prose and found a piece he’d written about the “inadvertently neglected” David Schubert—apparently (he writes to Theodore Weiss) the piece “served as the introduction to [Wright’s] reading of a number of” Schubert poems. Wright quotes the full (and heartbreaking) statement Schubert wrote to introduce the 1941 collection The Simple Scale (included in a New Directions volume call’d Five Young American Poets with poets Paul Goodman, Jeanne McGahey, Clark Mills, and Karl Shapiro). Schubert:
A poet who observes his own poetry ends up, in spite of it, by finding nothing to observe, just as a man who pays too much attention to the way he walks, finds his legs walking off from under him. Nevertheless, poets must sometimes look at themselves in order to remember what they are risking. What I see as poetry is a sample of the human scene, its incurable acute melancholia redeemed only by affection. This sample of endurance is innocent and gay: the music of the vowel and consonant is the happy-go-lucky echo of time itself. Without this music there is simply no poem. It borrows further gayety by contrast with the burden it carries—for this exquisite lilt, this dance of sound, must be married to a responsible intelligence before there can occur the poem. Naturally, they are one: meanings and music, metaphor and thought. In the course of poetry’s career, perhaps new awarenesses are discovered, really new awarenesses and not verbal combinations brought together in any old way. This rather unimportant novelty is sometimes a play of possibility and sometimes a genuinely new insight: like Tristram Shandy, they add something to this Fragment of Life.
“A sample of the human scene, its incurable acute melancholia redeemed only by affection”—how rare that impulse today! (I love that “sample of the human,” seemingly a rebuttal avant la lettre of the know-nothing crass futility of today’s sampling.) Wright wrote the piece about Schubert in 1978. At that moment, only Five Young American Poets and Schubert’s book call’d Initial A (Macmillan, 1961—publish’d in a series edit’d by M. L. Rosenthal, he who term’d Lowell “confessional”) exist’d. Theodore and Renée Weiss, unsung heroes of the eclectic Quarterly Review of Literature print’d Schubert’s Works and Days, a kind of chrestomathy of Schubertiana, with poems and translations (Baudelaire), snippets of letters and recollectings interspliced into what’s label’d a “multi-auto-biography,” and critical pieces, in 1983. (Schubert, born in 1913, died in 1946 of tuberculosis.)

What “took” me in reading the Wright piece—I recall’d that John Ashbery, he, too, ’d touted Schubert. (The final chapter in Other Traditions is titled “David Schubert ‘This Is the Book That No One Knows’” and I sought to recall some earlier, shorter statement.) Here, too, evidence of a commingling of traditions, of a détente in what some (repeatedly) perceive as endless lineage-warring—if only over the poor deceased body of David Schubert. Turns out the Ashbery statement (located in the Selected Prose) is writ in 1983 for the Works and Days collection. Ashbery notes how he “first encountered David Schubert’s work in the early 1940s, when I was in high school and trying to find out as much as I could about contemporary poetry. This included reading the annual Oscar Williams anthologies and as many little magazines as I could lay my hands on in rural upstate New York.” Of Initial A (odd, that echo of Zukofsky, though apparently Weiss, not Schubert, supply’d the title), Ashbery, recounting how he “picked up a paperback copy . . . marked down to 75 cents from its original price of $1.50” in the ’sixties, says:
For me it’s one of those books that poets keep for themselves, to remind them of what poetry can be when the writing isn’t going well and one feels out of touch with the possibilities of poetry. To sit down for a little while and reread some of Schubert’s rare and poignant verse is like opening a window in a room that had become stuffy without one’s realizing it.
(In Other Traditions Ashbery reports how he subsequently “writing about Schubert, almost by chance . . . came across a letter from William Carlos Williams to Theodore Weiss which was not included in the Schubert memorial volume [Works and Days]. Williams wrote,
Many thanks for the Schubert poems, they are first rate—more than that, far more. They are among the few poems I read that belong in the new anthology—where neither Eliot nor, I am afraid, Pound belong. I wish I could get up that anthology where the rails are polished silver they are so clear in the sunlight I should provide. There is, you know, a physically new poetry which almost no one as yet has sensed. Schubert is a nova in that sky. I hope I am not using hyperbole to excess. You know how it is when someone opens a window on a stuffy room.
Amazing. Later—a lovely thing—Ashbery’s tender fret about the fugitive and tenuous (“It shores up my feeling that the poets . . . who become known and are remembered and put in anthologies are there as much from happenstance as intrinsic merit”) nature of a poet’s work:
. . . poetry is a somewhat neglected art to begin with; it has trouble making its way in the best of circumstances, and there are not too many judges monitoring the situation to make sure each one gets what he or she deserves. Poems get lost more easily than paintings do; even their authors tend to forget them in drawers or sometimes destroy them in a fit of rage, as Schubert in fact did with a large body of his work, including a novel whose first sentence alone survives: “Outside it was Tuesday.”
(Rather like the Guatamalan Augusto Monterroso’s notoriously short story call’d “El Dinosaurio.” It reads in its entirety: Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí. “When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.”) Here’s a Schubert:
The Happy Traveller

Farewell, O zinnias, tall as teetotalers,
And thou, proud petunias, pastel windows of joy,
Also to you, noble tree trunks, by name
Elm, with your dark bark in the dark rain, couchant
Like comfortable elephants. And you
Mailbox colored robin’s egg blue on the poor
House, shy, set back (a poor gentleman but
Irreproachable), with your shutters robin’s egg
Green. You, street, striated with rain like a new penny,
And houses planted by arbor-vitae trees,
By miniature pines that lean against you for
Support—Hail and farewell!

                                And I, outside in the rain, look inside
These elms whose branches tip and touch
The slant roof, slain by the four fireplaces
Where life, slowly, life is conventional
In a sheer seersucker dress, with blue eyes,
A red ribbon in her pale hair, eats a sundae,
Glances at the young man.

                                                O city whose lives
Gather their accumulation of days
Carefully as well-kept lawns.

                                                    Past the proud apartment
Houses, fat as a fat money bag. I wish that I
Might stay in this pleasant, conventional
City, as I study a sturdy clover
Bent back by a dewdrop of rain. But then
From the corner of a mood like Les Sylphides,
Impossible, romantic as certain moons
In certain atmospheres, then you called me
From the corner of the street. And,
Like buttercups, like invitations: I
(Thinking—is it merely the “period” and milieu?—of Alvin Levin’s Love Is Like Park Avenue here.) And Frank O’Hara’s poem call’d “For David Schubert” (dated March 29, 1962):
“Best of all—an aviator on a fire net.”
I am Gabriel (dressed in corduroy) am
not listed in the Manhattan phone directory
but am in Edwin Denby’s New York cycle
of poems
                    we live here in the falling
plaster and get this way that way
going to Gorky shows and looking at
“ink and chalk forms” all the time it is
simpler to be by the sea or in a boat
then you can jump
                                                I miss you
but I never knew you anyway so there
you are or do I know you better than I
would have at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue

well you go up we follow you but you
go up we follow you but you go up we are
following you but you are gone last
Saturday I saw The Knights of the Round Table
All a messy (and highly incompleat) way of saying (particularly to the purveyors of simplify’d and simple-mind’d) “history” made of categorical toots, it ain’t so simple. (O’Hara’s “round” in the final stanza one a better, complicatedly apt, sunning out of how lineage “goes,” and knightly.)

John Ashbery, c. 1962

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brick in the Wall

A Wall


Creditably tedious is
one way of
putting it, repeat’d
mephitic ordnance of
a pedant, A
and B and
C. A scalpel-
thin forensic battery
of inconsequentiality with
bravo-Daddy marketing
standing tall behind
it akimbo, its
cheroot-chomping, motor-
mouth’d huckster running
the numericals, anti-
perspirant kaput. A
negligible and puny
puree slather’d out
across a doughy
fundament, any skimpy
impetus narrativo inevitably
rubbed out into
this undifferentiated sauce
through the sieve
of its making.
Will these suffice?
I ask dogs
of my acquaintance,
snorers and voluptuaries
smirking behind tallboys.
Will anything suffice?
Against the necessary
provender, the herring-
knifed sea, woods
tumultuous with furry
Sciuridae, air agitated
by ungainly black
crows, rivers scouring
out the plain
wherewithal to continue
sliding, I think
the answer’s no.

Single-digit temps and blowing. A way to put to rout subjectivity’s excess: the core is cold. I seem to be in a flop of desuetude, undeviating and unnullify’d. An unseemly restlessness that pitches off one book and slams up against another (the library is a mosh pit), careens and ricochets: ferai un vers de dreyt nien, “forge a turn out of straight denial, I am not a dray horse.” The Marjorie Perloff and Craig Dworkin-edited The Sound of Poetry / The Poetry of Sound (University of Chicago Press, 2009)—whence the Guillaume de Poitou line (“I make a line about nothing at all”) I cut capers with there in my tizzy—that book looks undeniably “of use,” though I remain skeptical of the way “sound” (not unlike “performance”) tends to its own burgeoning discourse removed, parsed out by the academy. See things like Charles Bernstein’s Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word and Adelaide Morris’s Sound States: Innovative Poetics and Acoustical Technologies. Perloff quotes Roman Jakobson (out of “Linguistics and Poetics”)—“Poetry is not the only area where sound symbolism makes itself felt, but it is a province where the internal nexus between sound and meaning changes from latent into patent and manifests itself most palpably and intensely”—and notes that “however central the sound dimension is to any and all poetry, no other poetic feature is currently as neglected.” (The extent of how perfectly Perloff’s sense of “neglect” perches in the academy is evident in the next sentence: “Indeed, the discourse on poetry today, largely fixated as it is on what a given poem or set of poems ostensibly ‘says,’ regards the sound structure in question—whether the slow and stately terza rima of Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’ or the phonemic / morphemic patterning of monosyllabic words like ‘cat,’ ‘top,’ ‘pit,’ ‘pot,’ and ‘foot’ in the ‘free verse’ of William Carlos Williams’s ‘As the cat . . .’—as little more than a peripheral issue, a kind of sideline.” Academickal chestnut city.) One wonders what odd combo of forces is driving the “spate” of sound studies. Discarding / diminishment of some of the historical sound-drivers in poetry (rhyme the biggest); push of new technologies (the accessibility of sound archives, poetry audio collections, PennSound, &c.)—eventually the “canon” ’ll be largely determined by voice-recordings, not by page-texts; the way the academy—like capital—needs continually to find new disciplines and discourses, markets for the unmarketable. The book itself (the contents) a somewhat predictable bunch of Perloff’s “winners”—Craig Dworkin, Yunte Huang, Nancy Perloff, Steve McCaffery, Christian Bök, Charles Bernstein, Johanna Drucker, Kenneth Goldsmith—intermingling with Susan Stewart, Rosmarie Waldrop, Richard Sieburth, Susan Howe, and Rubén Gallo. Guillaume de Poitou again (out of Rosmarie Waldrop’s essay “Translating the Sound in Poetry: Six Propositions”):
Ferai un vers de dreyt nien
Non er de mi ni d’autre gen,
Non er d’amor ni de joven
Ni de ren au
Qu’en fo trobatz en durmen
Sobre chevau
With the Paul Blackburn translation:
I shall make a vers about
downright nothing, not
about myself or youth or love
or anyone.
I wrote it horseback dead asleep
While riding in the sun.
Forged me some right straight nothings / Not for me, not for Mr. Green Jeans / Not for love, not for the kids / Not for nothing / Made it crowbar-durable / Like a sober horse. Bah.

Paul Blackburn, 1926-1971

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

“The music is written as the plucking occurs . . .”

A Wall


Frottements et coïncidences,
abrupt ornery dins
and noisy dervish-
works, what’s capital
is the fence
I threw up
around the bung’d
sonorousness estructuralisti of
the impermeable metropolis,
si, si, señor.
Just a momentiño
of peel’d quince
with sassafras’ll put
the world’s indubitable
fracas to rout,
according to Sut
Lovingood, who finds
everything flustratin’. Ah,
that monstrous paw’d
importunity to hammer
somebody or get
hammer’d, intractable as
a leit motif
in a hoopskirt,
or a rind
of fatback bacon
in a box.
Glorious gore and
cherubs, putty’d up
evangelical-hard spinsters
and suet-color’d
juicers out along
the bare spine
of the mountain,
caterwaul of catamounts,
fuck the city.

Poe: “Events not to be controlled have prevented me from making, at any time, any serious effort in what, under happier circumstances, would have been the field of my choice. With me poetry has been not a purpose, but a passion; and the passions should be held in reverence; they must not—they cannot at will be excited with an eye to the paltry compensations, or the more paltry commendations, of mankind.”

Ashbery: “There are poets whose work I read because I enjoy reading it, I find it beautiful, and then there are others whose poetry seems much more stimulating. I think writers tend to read things that will stimulate their writing. I am always rather envious of the general reader who can read without taking that into consideration.”

To my knowledge, Ashbery’s never mention’d Poe in any interview. Disinclined to yak.

Edgar Allan Poe and John Ashbery

Of Note

Out of Erín Moure’s My Beloved Wager: Essays from a Writing Practice (NeWest, 2009):
      My Beloved Wager stems from a propulsion to speak out, albeit restlessly. In this collection of essays, “essay” is not pronouncement by the fraught terrain of a practice, an essai or try articulated from inside the work of poetry . . .
      . . . it is not a recommendation or map for another’s writing or reading practice, for the path of any one practice is always necessarily fraught or frayed by small decisions, tumults, absence, absent-mindedness—processes that open the mind’s weave, the movements of small animals (feline) in domestic space. The trajectories of thought are as strings of a harp: all present, but only some plucked at any given moment, while the music is written as the plucking occurs. Startlingly, we can pluck some strings only by breaking them and, eventually, we must cast down the harp, for thought is not a stringed instrument at all but an organic passage within and through forces of nervousness, of dilemma, of
reason’s gloss

hieratic echo

hostis hospes “wherein host / guest’s configural.”
This record of a practice might indicate what a writing and reading practice can be, show the kinetic and lapidary nature (rature) of it. The insistinence. All assembled here in the hope (one hope) that some may find nourishment in the world
more curiously,

having read it.

Erín Moure

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Pound au fond



My sulky gaps
and verges, my
pshaw-talker’s routine,
speed and its
unclarify’d demands. How
imbecilic to write
to a tempo
of days, weathering
it out. Exemplary
gradient for sub-
intelligibility domain hacks
into the heorte,
my minna, my
burthen, simply shclichtweg
I find it.
Durst I recall
green fiery days
trembling and big
with the mute
shouldering earth, its
impatient ordinary hurl
of death-fecund
love and omen?
A barn swallow
cut inscrutable lines
in the air
behind the mower
and my upturn’d
mouth pour’d out
my amass’d love-
scraps and borrow’d
curses, fodder for
the noise of
a small gas
engine. I cannot
make it cohere
the way days
select’d knock-kneed
and awkward out
of that era
cohere, with my
lines out of
books making what
I said bookish,
mistook for ambivalent.
I loved you
like a Brahmin,
like a patsy,
like a cloak.

Certes. The odd noise outs. Remy de Gourmont writes: “Le fond engendre la forme comme la tortue ou l’huître l’écaille et la nacre de sa carapace ou de sa coquille.” I find that in Alice Steiner Amdur’s 1936 book, The Poetry of Ezra Pound. She’s saying T. E. Hulme, who “knew Gourmont thoroughly,” likely (early, pre-1912, when Pound “started to read the modern French writers . . . with strictly practical intentions”) provided Pound with the fond of the thing, so that he mimicks it in the Cavalcanti (“the rhythm of any poetic line corresponds to emotion. It is the poet’s business that this correspondence be exact, i.e. that it be the emotion which surrounds the thought expressed”—like the shell of a turtle, supposedly.) A little farfetch’d: to make the burst wienie (to ditch the zoological metaphor) of thinking be cosset’d by the bun of feeling—that “system”—derive out of what is an argument for form’s being engender’d by what I’d call “content” (le fond: ground, fundament, stock, &c.) (There is, too, a French jeu de mot—“le fond et la forme”—that makes style itself substance.) (I drill myself noticeably deeper.) What perk’d me up in reading the de Gourmont: how it is (avant la lettre) Creeley’s “Form is never more than an extension of content” that Olson made such hoopla about. Rife the idea pre-Creeley, isn’t it? Why the hoopla?

Alice Steiner Amdur’s book preceded Hugh Kenner’s The Poetry of Ezra Pound by fifteen years. Print’d by Harvard University Press (edition of three hundred), part of a series of “Radcliffe Honors Theses in English.” (In the parallel “Harvard Honors Theses in English” one notes Meyer H. Abrams’s The Milk of Paradise.) Amdur writes that Pound “first appealed to me as a challenge”: “I could not reconcile the apparent confusion and meaninglessness of the Cantos [only A Draft of XXX Cantos and Eleven New Cantos, XXXI-XLI had appear’d] with the fact that it is impossible to keep Pound’s name out of any discussion of modern poetry.” (Chalk one up for boisterous beyond-poetical rabble-rousing and self-advertisement.) Amdur, in a somewhat uncanny (unintend’d) prognosticatory maneuvre, writes: “Surprised at first by the disparity between his exquisite early lyrics and the turbulent cantos, I now feel that they do cohere.” Too, she foresees a counter-strain in Pound criticism, marking the Pound’s “story” as that of “a man with an extraordinary flair for language and music who, after achieving mastery in a certain type of lyric and translation, deserted the field of pure art to campaign for a variety of other causes, and . . . buried his poetry beneath an ever growing mass of propaganda.”

Pound apparently read the book, enough to write a scathing reply to William Carlos Williams (who’d sent him a copy):
                                                                                        24 Jan. 1937

Deer Bull

      Thanks for Amdur’s (or Ham dure’s) thesis volumet, which ought to be entitled
      “Old Ez carried into Jerusalem on the Foal of an ass.”
      “The custom now is” said Dr Johnson “to use colt for a young horse and foal
for a young mare.”
      Booklet illustrates
      American time lag /
      conceit and snobism of Am/ Universities.
      fixed ideas instilled into jejune stewddents, snobish omission of all
ref / to W. C. Williams
      AND bloody distortion and misrepresentation of London LIFE 1908 to 1914.
      Hell, Yeats for symbolism; Hueffer for CLARITY / half dozen drawing rooms
wherein no whisper of one cenacle arrived.
      The main injustice is to Ford / 2nd is to you.
      But if they must blither about Flint / Tancred and Stroer it is is unjust to
OMIT Ernest Rhys, Newbolt, Hewlett, Robt. Bridges
      who at any rate WROTE something now and again, and however much one
disagreed with ’em, one was at least disagreeing with something.
      Nuissance to know whether one ought to publish rectification.
      Using steam roller on monkey nut?
      job MIGHT be done by reviewers or by some other PH D of Amdur’s own size.
      Usual time lag / ANYTHING new is wrong / anything the professoriate hasn’t.
yet learned is considered foolish.
      There is ONE bit of real criticism / wonder if it is author’s own or a current bit
of collegiate class room opinion / also two useful quotes from I forget whom.
      Than Q fer sending it.
      fillet of filly, ces jeunes filles or as Natalie sez: feminine of ecrivain: ecrivisse.


Frightening how quick the paranoid’s ”they” enters in (“if they must blither”). Oddly enough, Pound did do a “rectification” of sorts in the form of a six-page letter to Amdur herself. It is dated one day before the letter to Williams, and print’d in Paideuma (21: 1 & 2). A sprinkling: “Flint is and was an ASS.” “As to Flint / do realize that WHEN people understand NOTHING that is said to them one does NOT contribute to their mental growth. Besides he is a soreheaded pup who didn’t make the grade.” “Hulme’s scattered notes were PRINTED post mortem. He was not an ass, but neither did he predominate etc / etc / there were other [rooms] and in particular ONE other room where men even then spoke of WRITING. Unless you and yr / unspeakable beanery are interested in FACT, I will leave you to find out WHERE.” (Hints, here too, amidst all the turf-claiming, of the “power-silence,” a way to fortify one against any perceived as being beyond the ken.) Amdur seems to’ve work’d as an editor for MIT Press for a number of years, and died in the late ’eighties.

Wyndham Lewis, “Ezra Pound,” 1939

Monday, December 07, 2009

Tempus Fugit



My unyielding receipt
of the pith-
privy notebook, its
prim savagery, its
unnaturally haughty story
of diminishment, filth
and pall. A
black cap of
weather’d basalt plunges
down through aspen-
yellow’d hay meadows
skirt’d with mature
deciduous patches lit
by dogwoods
and redbuds, understory
froth- and color-
workers. Down with
the clayey creeks,
out where fields
sluice nutrients into
ranges and relent,
the placid tail-
twitching Herefords moony,
red and sculptural.
Down to where
the Venus fly-
trap and honeydew
bogs—tympanums of
earth—bounce muffled
and hummock’d, out
across mudflats to
anchor in ten
fathoms of brackish
water, the whole
descent mimicking a
viscous interior magma
retort to all
fervency, its earnest
dogma of ascent.
Oh, my paint-
fleck’d coevals, don’t
the thunderously august
transports of unreckon’d-
for human hatreds
place their bedung’d
hooves against your
shoulders too, like
giant cows, unresilient
and wayward with
the sudden terrible
knowledge of their
incipient and fungible
turn to lunchmeat?

Gassing off into the pshaw-talker’s idiocy—on effect of speed, its clarify’d demand. How imbecile (one thinks) to write to a tempo—its non-stop weathering. Sensing now that my next writing ought somehow inhabit space—a pre-declared ooze-acre to fill with no daily quota. A thing made coup de foudre’dly evident by my perusal of Paul Metcalf’s Apalache (Turtle Island Foundation, 1976), uncover’d in my weekend “hunt,” in a piece call’d “The Feare in Ye Buttocks”:
Many have trauayled to ſearch
the coaſt of the lande of Labrador,

      aſwell to th intente to knowe
      how farre or whyther it reachethe,

            as alſo whether there bee any paſſage by ſea
            through the ſame
A highly victual’d book—meaning one’s supped hearty and lengthily “on” a feast of texts in its weaning (for that single piece Metcalf lists thirty or so, mostly voyage and discovery narratives, Hakluyt, Purchas, Parkman, &c.) To make a thing durably, a thing requiring “not speaking words as they changeably fall from the mouth, but peyzing each sillable of each word by just proportion according to the dignity of the subject” (Sidney), which is to say a slowing against rabbitty-clabber’d things of the clock.

Javier Marías, out of the Margaret Jull Costa-translated Your Face Tomorrow: Poison, Shadow and Farewell (New Directions, 2009):
The tranquil and patient or reluctant and languid murmur . . . of words that slip by gently or indolently, without the obstacle of the alert reader, or of vehemence, and which are then absorbed passively, as if they were a gift, and which resemble something easy and incalculable that bring no advantage. Like the words carried along or left behind by rivers in the middle of a feverish night, when the fever has abated; and that is one of the times when anything can be believed, even the craziest, most unlikely things, even a nonexistent drop of blood, just as one believes in the books that speak to you then, to your weariness and your somnambulism, to your fever, to your dreams, even if you are or believe yourself to be wide awake, and books can persuade us of anything then, even that they’re a connecting thread between the living and the dead, that they are in us and we are in them, and that they understand us.
The unavoidable somnifacient that reading mostly is? Interruptible by what, the precisely cut word? (Metcalf quoting the Magnalia Christi Americana, regarding Roger Williams: “the fierceness of his talking in publick and the starchtness of his living in private.”) And the original comparing Williams to a windmill:
In the year 1654, a certain Windmill in the Low Countries, whirling round with extraordinary violence, by reason of a violent storm then blowing; the stone at length by its rapid motion became so intensly hot, as to fire the mill, from whence the flames, being dispersed by the high winds, did set a whole town on fire. . . . about twenty years before this, there was a whole country in America like to be set on fire by the rapid motion of a windmill, in the head on one particular man.
Why, now (I am speeding, evidently, out along a spur track, my slowing faltering) do I think of J. H. Prynne’s assessment of F. R. Leavis’s analysis of metaphor (most particularly Shelly’s “tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,” in “Ode to the West Wind”):
. . . in the sequence of overt or implied metaphor or simile the initial ground for comparison from which the figure rises often has less primacy in the direction of later development than the new areas of reference introduced by the figure: and that this induces confusion and exemplifies a damaging, central weakness of mind.
And isn’t that sheer breakaway uncontrollable flightiness (“the figure rises”) precisely the beauty of metaphor, that it clambers up as replacement? (Clearly I am having a rather unconvincing conversation with myself. What’d be less painstaking and durably-made than a series of divergent “flights” harum-scarum off the space of this world?) Weekends do that—stretch’d by tenterhooks across three states, diving into too various a chorus of books. Or plunging out into the physical word, a burgeoning junk heap along the Huron, examining defunct industrial crud for its formal properties. What if language only diminishes the world—“tree” delimiting that magnificent red oak there, skinny’d down to its sparse clay-color’d leafage—, isn’t that reason enough to eschew it? This, out of David Batchelor’s Chromophobia, keeps palpably nudging. He’s talking about Aldous Huxley’s “peyote-induced hallucination” of “‘fragments of stained glass’ and ‘huge precious stones’, both of which ‘seemed to possess an interior light’”—along with a raft of similar visions (see Ezekiel) as recount’d in Huxley’s Heaven and Hell:
For Huxley, it was not in itself the rarity of these stones that explained their place in the literature of paradise; it was, again, their colour. For this colour—intense, heightened, pure, unqualified—offered a glimpse of the ‘Other World’, a world beyond Nature and the Law, a world undimmed by language, concepts, meanings and uses. In a way, Huxley’s other world may be as much an Oz as it is an Eden—at least there is very little he says about this realm that doesn’t sound a bit like Dorothy’s ‘somewhere’-that-is-no-longer-Kansas. In Huxley’s writing, mescaline or LSD take you to the ‘antipodes of the mind’, a largely unexplored continent populated by exceedingly improbable’ metaphorical mammal and marsupials—about as improbable as the inhabitant of Dorothy’s vision. One the near side of the rainbow, in the land of the laws and orders of consciousness, there are also similarities between Huxley’s and Dorothy’s pictures. Dorothy’s Kansas, as we know, is grey; Huxley’s Kansas is language, as language greys the world around us. ‘Colour turns out to be a kind of touchstone of reality. That which is given is coloured’, he says, but the intellect, the conceptual structures and the symbol systems we impose on the world are in themselves abstract and colourless. And they in turn drain our perceptions of the colour that is around us.
“Language greys the world around us.” Is it for that that one fires the cotton of language itself, gussying it up, making it rip like a muhfuh?

Paul Metcalf, 1917-1999
(Photograph by Jonathan Williams)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Kent Johnson’s “The Question of Attention Span

A Wall

[If I occasionally grouse mightily how mere (and readily evident) sycophancy (and its devil dog, study’d and rigorous “power-silence”) drives what’s “discuss’d” in the “community”—Kent Johnson (a useful and necessarily pesky fly to have at anybody’s sit-down self-celebratory “brunch”)’s got here a more finely-comb’d and consider’d study of it—resolutely focussing on Steve Evans’s annual round-up of titles at Attention Span. Questions. Why doesn’t Steve Evans duck the Oz-rôle of impresario, step out of the curtain’d corner and, he, too, entre en jeu, toss in a bet in the form of a list? Why doesn’t the “Marooned on a planet of slackers” roger-dodger and self-styled caller of winners Ron Silliman offer up a list? Mute-complacency of the hits-collector? Why doesn’t Jennifer Moxley, or Ange Mlinko? Why doesn’t Jordan Davis? Why doesn’t everybody? Why the tendency—exacerbated by Evans’s culling of top “vote-getters”—to treat the annual assembly as a “best of” delivery system and not as an exploratory bibliographical tool, a “suggest’d readings,” an opening of the field as opposed to what’s become, effectively, an instrument of its narrowing? Replies, and replies to replies welcome. Or, consider commenting here. My own list is here. —JL]

The Question of Attention Span (At Bourdieuian Angle)

Steve Evans is justly regarded as a talented critic, and his Third Factory blog is a long-standing, ongoing record of the seriousness of his own reading in innovative poetry. That record of Evans’s reading reflects a decided aesthetic bias, to be sure. I’ve no doubt he would readily admit to the selectiveness of his concerns.

On Monday, November 16, Ron Silliman devoted his post to a quick recap of the 2009 Attention Span book rankings, an influential “post-avant” survey Evans has been overseeing, on an annual basis, for seven years. For the latest Attention Span episode, sixty readers had listed their ten (sometimes more, sometimes fewer) favorite books of poetry (or criticism) for the year. It is possible to prepare what is really a balance delicately hung on a thread of quartz, and to see that when a ray of light plays on one side of it, at once the balance turns.

The complete results (from 633 total items) were, as always, tallied up by Evans and precise numerical breakdowns made, i.e., which single title was mentioned by ten readers, which two titles were mentioned by seven readers, and so on, all the way down to the forty-two titles that were mentioned by two readers. [Nota interesante: Keith Waldrop’s Transcendental Studies, which has just been named winner of the National Book Award, is in this trailing group.] The rest—those titles mentioned only once (almost 90%)—are not listed in the final wrap-up, and one has to read all sixty individual submissions to know what and by whom they are. In any case, the quantitative logic and drive of the total project is a dream made in heaven for the famously number-crunching Silliman. It is strange to know that the early experiments for ballooning were actually made with soap-bubbles. “Impeccable” is what Silliman deemed the sixty-person line-up of selectors presented by Evans—nearly all of them good-pedigreed and well-connected names on the “post-avant” scene—about two months before the final results were offered.

Like other such statistical rankings, the project’s results exude an undeniably axiological air. In fact, it’s possible to say Attention Span has become something like a crude Nielsen Ratings of “post-avant” poetry, a sort of index of who is read and who is not, who is up and who is down, who counts and who does not. The name of the project, even, vaguely suggests the measurement systems and outcomes of Nielsen research: When all the attentions for all the shows are added up, which shows most often fall within the preference span of the sampled group? And, like the Nielsen ratings, the Attention Span rankings have a built-in, self-reinforcing dynamic: The top-ranked programs (poets) will stand a better chance of continued viewing and advertising (reading and critical regard), at least for some measure of time. If we went up in a balloon above the clouds, we should find ourselves in brilliant sunshine, even when it was almost as dark as night to the people on the earth below. People’s attention spans are to some extent driven by the previous rankings; buzz is created and inertial capital is accumulated by the winners.

But I think that’s as far as the analogy goes. Because the Nielsen project, after all, is assiduously impartial and demographically far-reaching in its sampling criteria and practices. And the participants from whom the results are drawn are quite uninfluenced by personal connections and cultural debts that might lead them to lend more attention to this or that show, or to withhold it from this or that other one. Indeed, the Nielsen’s reputation and relevance is premised on the statistical breadth, disinterestedness, and objectivity of its methods and results. If, for example, houses seem crooked above a street fire, it is because light is bent by the various things through which it passes.

None of that, it should be clear, is the case for Attention Span. As Evans himself has noted, the core of his sample pool, shaped in the late 1990s, when the venture was in its formative phase, is purposely drawn from a closely connected group: poets he has been actively in touch with, who know each other, who praise each other, and who share a general but discernible poetic predisposition. The sea was first made by the water that was in the air falling into all the deep places on the earth. And truth is, I’ve been wondering (with a stress on the “wondering,” for I offer what follows in a hypothetical spirit) if Evans’s “popularity spreadsheet,” in all its earnestly positivist packaging, is possibly about something quite other than an innocent, helpful, “accurate measurement” of aggregate esteem—assuming, that is, the sense of “accurate measurement” is taken as a set of results flowing from methods meant to control for favor-seeking advances, compensatory transactions, or retributive exclusions. Though I realize Evans might well say such “position-taking” effects are of secondary concern to his project . . . In point of fact, in a comment under the aforementioned post by Silliman, he does suggest as much.

And not that those orders of behavior can in any way be fully evaded, for they deeply inform the habitus that is shared, at base, by actors in the literary field. They are, as Pierre Bourdieu has pointed out (I’ve already been using some of his key terms), both immanent in and constitutive of the agonism that is the life force of cultural production, and all who enter the literary field’s operations are subject to them—as addresser or addressee—in fluctuating degrees. The world is full of mysteries and of wonders, and there is no need for us to puzzle ourselves by making any that do not really exist. The adversarial animus that informs the behaviors is not a matter, in the end, of bad faith or “moral” failing on the part of these or those individuals. It is the ontological matter, rather, of the system proper. As Bourdieu stresses, “[I]t [the result or sum of these operations] has nothing in common with that emanation of some human nature which is ordinarily assigned to the notion of interest.”

Bourdieu doesn’t mean by this that cultural actors are without agency, as if they were something like ciphers of difference with no positive terms. Anything that is stretched is apt to be thrown into vibration, or made to tremble, by the force of the air blowing against it. Actions of individual and communal “interest” do inflect the conditions of the larger field. But the configuration of those “interests” and the range of choices for their expression are, as in a game of Go, primarily given, circumscribed by structural pressures at work in first instance, beneath the tangle of moves that is the daily, habitually euphemized stuff of cultural commerce.

Assuming there may be something to that general Bourdieuian idea, therefore, and because the novelty of the Attention Span project seven years on has arguably begun to dull into seasonal rite, I think it may be relevant and useful to ask: What is the meaning and purpose, really, of a “self-selecting survey pool”* pointing up its more favored denizens—while pointing up through dearth and absence its less favored ones—fall after fall, in such obsessively quantifying ways? Might the measuring act in fact represent a kind of structural excrescence of those above-named interactions the community claims, in moments of propriety, to “morally” abhor: a collectively unconscious means (however modest the device) for their rationalization and extension—a kind of instrumentalist prosthesis, as it were, to enable the more efficient unfolding of the essential competitive energies and tensions of a subfield? Two Frenchmen, brothers, made balloons of silk and linen and filled them with hot air and smoke, and after making balloons which carried animals, they persuaded some men to be carried in this way.

Very possibly so, I think. Bourdieu, again, is suggestive in this regard. I’ll offer, a bit in allegorical spirit, some extended quotation here from his classic Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field:
[The] struggle about the boundaries of the group and conditions of membership is by no means abstract . . . It follows that any enquiry aiming, for example, to establish the properties of writers and artists at a given moment predetermines its result in the inaugural decision delimiting the populations to be subjected to statistical analysis. . . . The struggles over definition (or classification) have boundaries at stake . . . and, therefore, hierarchies. To define boundaries, defend them and control entries is to defend the established order in the field. In effect, the growth in the volume of the population of producers is one of the principal mediations through which external changes affect the relations of force at the heart of the field. The great upheavals arise from the eruption of newcomers who, by the sole effect of their number and their social quality, import innovation regarding products or techniques of production, and try or claim to impose on the field of production, which is itself its own market, a new mode of evaluation of products.
It would be thought-provoking, I think, to consider Attention Span in that light of “boundary defining” and “entry control.” What if the project, in light of the “self-selecting” make-up of its membership (participants and ideal audience alike), were grasped as a kind of collective-reflex attempt to maintain order and rank against the productive overplus inherent in the set—a symbolic excess and redundancy which constantly threatens to overwhelm, even, the value of its aspiring cultural capital and the very rationale for its management? After all, as Bourdieu points out elsewhere, relatively “marginal” literary groups require, for the successful promotion of their members within the ever-recycled struggle for position in the larger field, an assimilated sense, however abstract and unresolved it might be, of internal order, rank, and worth. Many brave men in fine ships went into the gloom and silence of the frozen regions in the hope of discovering the Poles. Techniques for the rationing of entrance assist such control.

A couple pages later, if on a slightly different tack, Bourdieu extends his discussion of literary groups and their internal competitive drives, presenting one of his key conceptual tools, “illusio”:
The struggles for the monopoly of the definition of the mode of legitimate cultural production contribute to the continual reproduction of belief in the game, interest in the game and its stakes, the illusio—of which the struggles are also the product. [my emphasis] Each field produces its specific form of the illusio, in the sense of an investment in the game which pulls agents out of their indifference and inclines and predisposes them to put into operation the distinctions which are pertinent from the viewpoint of the logic of the field, to distinguish what is important (‘what matters to me’, is of interest, in contrast to ‘what is all the same to me’, or in-different). But it is just as true that a certain form of adherence to the game, of belief in the game and the value of its stakes, which makes the game worth the trouble of playing, is the basis of the functioning of the game, and that the collusion of agents in the illusio is the root of the competition which pits them against each other and which makes the game itself. In short, the illusio is the condition for the functioning of a game of which it is also, at least partially, the product . . .
A bit later, Bourdieu discusses “acts of credit,” and though his examples here pertain to the visual arts, it is easy enough to take them as analogous to common practices in poetic politics:
The collective belief in the game (illusio) and in the sacred value of its stakes is simultaneously the precondition and the product of the very functioning of the game; it is fundamental to the power of consecration, permitting consecrated artists to constitute certain products, by the miracle of their signature (or brand name), as sacred objects. To give an idea of the collective labour which goes to produce this belief, it would be necessary to reconstitute the circulation of the innumerable acts of credit which are exchanged among all the agents engaged in the artistic field: among artists, obviously, with group exhibitions or prefaces by which consecrated authors consecrate the younger ones, who consecrate them in return as masters or heads of schools; between artists and patrons or collectors; between artists and critics, and in particular avant-garde critics, who consecrate themselves by obtaining the consecration of the artists they champion . . .
And consecration accumulated, in the latter case of “avant-garde critics,” perhaps, by the creation and supervision of competitive ranking “games” (these assume various forms, and Evans’s project would be but one, albeit industrious, example), through which a subcultural community engages in the labor of mutual credit-exchange as a function of proto-canonical production—an activity Bourdieu analyzes as a hallmark feature of “avant-garde” group-identity formation and joint position-taking. The boys and girls who lived long ago, in Athens or Rome, were just as fond of stories as the children of today.

Some of this is getting a tad wordy, I suppose. But the chief, more specific point, as anyone reading this far has probably intuited, would be this: Regularly gathering poetic lists, scoring their results, and archiving them in rigorous, statistical array will tend to seem natural, practical, and innocuous enough. A kind of public service, some might say. And on one level, indeed, it will be all those things. No one, again, is up for any fault. But it is those things (if someone like Bourdieu has anything to offer on the topic) because it is always and already something else, too: a clustering of effects, like proverbial filings taking form above a magnet, out of a deeper field of ideological force. This was found out last century by John Tyndall, and you would never guess the reason. That such arrangements are taken as “natural” is, of course, precisely to the point, purpose, and meaning of the ideological. The consciousness may be false, but it helps people make sense of their world.

Be that as it may, more detailed evaluations of the Attention Span project in light of sociological and psychological dynamics informing such hierarchical lists might be pursued by others better trained in such topics than I. Indeed, we are finding out a great deal about early times by the opening up of many tombs underground, especially in Egypt.

In the meantime, onward and upward, one could say, with our “post-avant” chariot races . . . Some of the most remarkable events in history have been due to mistakes of this kind. There is no stopping them, as Bourdieu suggests. But so long as we’re here, fans and players as we simultaneously are, more reflection on the Rules of the Game can’t hurt the finer understanding, or even the pleasure, of the spectacle. For if you take a card with a gate drawn on one side, and a person upon a horse on the other side, and spin it, you will see the horse jumping the gate.

—Kent Johnson

* The term is used in a comment by Jordan Davis, under the post by Silliman cited above. Passages by Pierre Bourdieu in the post are taken from the chapter “The Author’s Point of View: Some General Properties of Fields of Cultural Production,” in The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, trans. Susan Emanuel, Stanford, 1992.

Steve Evans


My ascendancy camber’d
to dip down
like a pole
bent by a
sturgeon the size
of a skateboard,
or a meal-
worm sized frown,
oh my immutable
Omaha, my Aeschylus, my
grillwork! The highly
cumber’d back flat
where the stage-
hands work feverishly
to crank up
the deucèdly god-
like machina of
my proscenium-arch’d
fuck with a
gigantic white swan
“hat” obscuring my
entirety, orange-enamel’d
prick-antics included.
So randomly down-
I go, plotting murderous
little nothings, Birnam
Wood dress’d in
its company outfit,
Samarkand a scrim-
lower’d desert off.
Dour and diffident,
a rabbit corner’d
by the snarling
rapacious dogs of
the uncollapsible physical
world. Occasional hay
fever Claritin-controll’d
and a desire
to bring down
the fourteen-point
buck of my
brain-pang, that
tinny-sounding “receptacle.”