Meanwhile, we'll be here.
He wrote the whole novel in his head, Sentence by sentence. It took him all day. Then he took out a wide-ruled yellow legal pad . . .
This is the opening of today's "Poem of the Day" at the Academy of American Poets. Continue reading here.
(Ed note: This post originally appeared on March 11, 2008. Read Part I here. Mark Doty is guest editor of the Best American Poetry 2012. You can catch him at the BAP launch reading on September 20. Find out more about Mark Doty here.)
Thinking about what's difficult in poetry makes me want to talk about a book I've been reading with great pleasure, Susan Howe's SOULS OF THE LABADIE TRACT, which New Directions published in 2007.The contexts of these poems are complex ones, but Howe's book artfully establishes the grounds of her inquiry. She begins with two bits of prose, the first describing the Puritan preacher and writer Jonathan Edwards, and how he'd ride through the wild country of Western Massachusetts thinking through his essays and sermons, and scribbling on scraps of paper which he'd pin to his clothes, using their location as a mnemonic device. It's a beautiful figure of the poet, wearing words in the wilderness, clothing the body in fragments of text. Then Howe offers a riveting ars poetica, a description of her research time in the library at Yale, the crumbling books of American language, fragments of history. Such dislocated bits of speech float up even through her prose.
"Often walking alone in the stacks,' she writes, "surrounded by the raw material paper afterlife, my spirits were shaken by the great ingathering of titles and languages. This may suggest vampirism because while I like to think I write for the dead, I also take my life as a poet from their lips, their vocalisms, their breath."
The vocalisms and breath of the dead are indeed present in the short poems that follow, each a small rectangle of text in the center of the page composed of six to eight lines. There's a strange and exhilarating feeling of space between words and phrases, as if these fragments had sifted out of those library stacks, out of the gathered words and yellowed books our ancestors have become. Howe's
especially interested in the Labadists, a group of 17th century utopians of whom almost nothing remains, seeking the faint echoes of their presence, and her tracing of a kind of ancestry leads her to the doorstep of none other than Wallace Stevens -- who also was interested in tracing his ancestry, and who seems one of the most potent of the souls that ghost Howe's own poetics. A group of poems that bear Stevens' address as a title have the odd sense of being whispered, half-overheard conversations with spirits of the past. And, as in Stevens' own poems, they try to worry out the nature of beauty. This poem might be spoken by Stevens in his study, or by Howe in her own study, or Howe looking into Wallace Stevens' window on Westerly Terrace in Hartford.
Face to the window I had
to know what ought to be
accomplished by precedecessors
in the same field of labor
because beauty is what is
What is said and what this
it -- it in itself insistent is
Those last three lines are such a ringing esthetic credo. Like all Howe's work, they ask for full engagement, inviting the reader work out the relations between these words and lines, relations which are not fully determined already but contain the possibilities for multiple meanings. But how rewarding this work is, and how startling that such a forceful and intelligent definition of beauty -- that old Romantic problem! -- is made here in 17 words, most of them tiny, and together they make an abstract and irresistible music: "it -- it in itself insistent is" is music for ear and mind.
And these poems, of course, would be impossible without the poet's allegiance to her method:her crabbed, curious, gnomic collecting, her cobbling of order in the detritus of time.
You don't read such a book straight through and be done with it; you don't expect each part to yield meaning right away, and some of it may never come clear. That's what it's like, listening to history: confusion and multiplcity, glimmers of clarity, waves of inscrutable speech. How's book part library, part forest, spaces in which an American woman is walking and thinking with words pinned to all of her clothes.
First stop: the Keynote Address by US Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway, August 31, 8 PM at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts at Emory University.
On Saturday, September 1, from 11:15 am-12:00 pm the Best American Poetry 2012 Series Editor David Lehman, BAP 2011 Guest Editor Kevin Young, and BAP 2012 Guest Editor Mark Doty with celebrate the anthology and share their work along with poems from the current volume. Decatur Presbyterian Sanctuary Stage. A book signing will follow the presentation.
There's a lot going on in Decatur this weekend! Find out all about it here.
Readers will surmise from the book’s title (taken from a quote by Walter Lippmann) that its content involves a radical theme. It is centered on several coinciding factions of a progressive political movement. The time is 1914. New York City serves as a microcosm of America as a whole. The most prominent factions are the Industrial Workers of the World, better known as the Wobblies, represented by William “Big Bill” Haywood and John Reed; and the Anarchists, represented by Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman. Intertwined, and not without competition, are the liberal, progressive, and socialist factions. These elements converge on the streets of New York, challenging the status quo of class inequality and the oppression of labor. It is a panorama of demonstrations, violence, and reform. Jones succeeds in painting a picture where these forces of change can be viewed from afar as a citywide conflagration, while at the same time highlighting the differences between them. Jones’s sympathies clearly lie with the Anarchist movement. The most radical actors figuring in the book decry the ineffectiveness of mainstream liberals and socialists, and it is not difficult to envision Jones arguing the same points on his own.
Jones is clever in his blending of mainstream political history with the radical alternative. He gives us an overview of domestic social conditions intersecting with international crises. As World War I erupts, tensions mount with Mexico, then in the midst of revolution. Both major political parties have embraced the language of progressive reform. (This is one area where 1914 largely differs from 2012: numerous politicians today have eschewed progressivism for austerity measures.) Both President Woodrow Wilson and New York City Mayor John Purroy Mitchel have been elected on progressive platforms. The events covered in Dynamite illustrate how radical organizing and street demonstration challenged the grip of these mainstream liberal authorities and of the reactionary forces of such capitalist titans as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller Jr.
Dynamite is not a romantic narrative of World War One-era New York City radicalism in the mold of Allen Churchill’s The Improper Bohemians or the epic 1981 Warren Beatty film Reds. Far from romantic, Dynamite is a close examination of an environment that has become sadly familiar. The title of the second chapter -- “The Jobless Man and the Manless Job” -- sums up the feelings of hardship, hopelessness, and despair that are tangible in the present day Great Recession. We encounter starving families and a city unable to cope with the influx of the homeless and unemployed crowding the streets and overflowing the shelters. In the midst of this turmoil an unsung hero emerges; teenager Frank Tannenbaum, an out-of-work dishwasher and devotee of the IWW cause. Young Tennenbaum’s story is one of countless prisoners of politics and principle. He is arrested for leading a throng of homeless citizens into a church for the purpose of claiming shelter. Charged with incitement to riot, he is railroaded through a trial, denounced for leading a “mob,” and sentenced to a year at the workhouse on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island). Tennenbaum would later graduate from Columbia University to become a distinguished labor historian. In what can only be described as a clear example of historical whitewash, his 1969 New York Times obituary makes scant reference to his radical early life.
(Ed note: This post first appeared here on March 10, 2008. Mark Doty is the guest editor of the Best American Poetry 2012. You can catch him at the BAP launch reading on September 20. Find out more about Mark Doty here.)
I've just gotten home from school (I'm a guest teacher at Cornell University in Ithaca this semester)which means I've walked a bike-path through the woods, still ice-coated from this weekend's storm. It's amazing. When the wind blows the trees crackle, with a sound that's a bit like hissing oil in a skillet and a bit like the sound that that the highest lick of seawater makes as the tide comes in and sinks into dry sand. I like this walk and it's a good time to sort through the conversation and events of the workshop I've just taught.
Today we were looking at poems by Terrance Hayes from WIND IN A BOX. My workshop's centered on the poetic sequence, so we're interested in poems composed in groups, or longer poems in sections. I think my students were slightly frazzled by the daylight savings timeshift today, and I was feeling sort of spun-around myself, because right before class I'd been reading an essay by Charles Harper Webb in the current issue of THE WRITERS CHRONICLE. Webb's essay concerns difficulty in poetry, which he thinks there's too much of; I paraphrase here, but he seems to feel that many poets write for an elite group of other poets who appreciate coded gestures and opaque language that may be incomprehensible to the general reader. The thing that startled me about the article was that Webb says that such poetry has turned away from "natural human taste."
Whoa. It's clear that it's in the nature of human beings to make things, but as to calling what we make "natural" or "artificial" -- well, that's a scary business. Webb feels that poems that are readily understood by the general reader (he cites Billy Collins and Sharon Olds as examples) are natural, and that more demanding work isn't; astonishingly, Webb identifies the general reader as someone who'd probably like A Prairie Home Companion.
I could talk about what I disagree with in this position for several weeks worth of blogging, but suffice to say that the presumption inherent in calling any kind of art "natural" is unnerving, because of course it implies that whatever the critic doesn't care for will go tumbling into the abyss of the other category. "Natural" has a long history of ugly usage. There are plenty of states remaining where I could be arrested, if the authorities so desired, for my private practice of "unnatural acts," and one doesn't have to look far back in time to find the ways in which what was presumed to be "natural" for women or for people of color was in fact simply an expression of the prejudices of the moment. "Natural," as they say, pushes my buttons.
I can only be grateful that poets refuse to take such a position seriously. The two greatest of American poets were, of course, practioners of disparate poetics practically incomprehensible in their own time; how long did it take Whitman and Dickinson to find their audience? Should they have attempted to speak to the "general reader"? (Whitman, of course, did so, as time went on, and not always with very happy results. His great poems are the demanding, uncompromising ones.)
What looks difficult to us is often merely different, and isn't it a pleasure to encounter what we don't know how to read yet? There ought to be room in the huge house of American poetry for all sorts of practice, from the plainspoken to the highly wrought, from the direct to the encoded, from the open to the secretive. And besides, if what we strive for is to be "natural" -- well, which to prefer, the artifice of the spider or of the bee, the termite or the paper wasp, all makers of intricate systems? I am not convinced that nature is all that plainspoken.
Okay, enough rant. I was thinking about my class, and about how my dear and earnest Cornell students, who dwell in a culture that places great value upon intellectual achievement, on working hard
to find correct answers, seemed to struggle with finding their way in Terrance's poems. What I understood, after we talked about two pieces, was that they weren't quite hearing his tone; they hadn't found access to the voice that informs the work, the over-riding or indwelling current of feeling.
For them, the poems were emotionally difficult - which presents another, more interesting dimension
to Webb's argument. There are many sorts of difficulty, after all, and what "difficult" is depends on who's doing the reading.
Ever since the launch of Mobile Libris in 2005, Sharon Preiss's traveling bookstore has sold thousands of books at hundreds of readings in and around New York City. Mobile Libris is our go-to bookseller when we hold readings in bars, churches, classrooms, libraries, and other locations that don't ordinarily sell books. Preiss (above) or one of her twenty or so employees arrives on time with an attractive book display and, most importantly, a good supply of the author's books for sale. With the fall reading season upon us, Sharon agreed to share her observations about readings: What makes them succeed? What can those who give readings do better? Post your questions for Sharon in the comment section and she’ll answer them.
1. Can you identify the key ingredients that make for a successful reading? That is, what can a reader do that will give his or her audience pleasure and make it more likely that they will want to read (and buy) the author's book?
There are so many variables that can affect a reading, it's just about impossible to guarantee a great one. Even things like technical problems, weather, and the temperature of the room make an impression on the audience. The best thing authors can do, though, is concentrate on thing that matters most — their presentation. Rehearse, know your material, time your talk. The better prepared you are, the more likely it is that you will come across as authoritative and confident. If you're feeling good about what you're about to say, you'll speak clearer, slower, louder, with more ease — you'll be taking care of some of the little things that can turn an audience off. You may not be able to stop the snowplows grinding by the window battling the worst blizzard of the year, but you're going to make sure the people who braved the storm to show up will be glad they did.
Also, some of the best events I've been to are those where authors limit their amount of actual reading from the book but talk about the book instead — some background on the subject, what brought them to it, how they researched, what the writing process was. This background stuff really engages and intrigues the audience, piques their interest in the book and doesn't give too much of it away. But that probably applies more to fiction and non-fiction than poetry. With poetry it's always the poems that matter most. A little bit of between-poem chat is good but I've seen audiences get restless and embarrassed for the poet when the talk becomes too revealing or personal. I recommend that if you're in doubt about what to say between poems, just read the poems.
It helps if the audience knows that books will be for sale. If there’s advance publicity, be sure to mention that books will be available for purchase and that the author will sign them. The event host should make such an announcement at the beginning of the event and at its close. And readers: your audience likes it when you sign their books so plan to stick around.
2. What are some of the most common mistakes you have seen authors make, things one might do to turn the audience off or make them lose interest in an otherwise great book?
Rule # 1-10: DON'T GO ON TOO LONG. Really, it's the worst thing you can do. Even if you're absolutely sure your audience wants to hear more, stop. Let 'em buy the book and get the rest of the story there. Seriously. I can't emphasize this enough. I know you think they're dying to hear more. They're not. They're just dying. Adhere to your time limits or be prepared to make lifelong enemies!
Also, think about the difference between being modest versus being self-denegrating. It's pretty awkward to hear readers say how terrible their work is or make excuses about its quality. Even if your doubts about your work are real, assume that people are there because they want to hear you read. Don't apologize for your writing.
3. You've sold books at poetry, fiction, and non-fiction readings. Which kind of audience is most likely to buy the books? Can you speculate why?
I'm not sure genre has much to do with sales, at least at readings. Really, it seems to have more to do with how special the event or the book feels. Take The Best American Poetry, for example. We've sold BAP for the last three years at the annual September launch reading held at the New School [Thursday, September 20, 2012, 7:00 PM. 66 W.12th Street -- ed] People are excited about the book. It's just been published and many people are seeing it for the first time. It's a special event just for that book. Everyone's focus is on showcasing it, presenting it in its best light. It's like a coming out party for the book. Sales are tremendous. Everyone wants a copy. You feel special walking away with one, and you're going to remember the night you bought it. I guess someone who's more of a business person than a book person would call that marketing, but that sounds really crass. I like to think of it more like giving every book its due moment in the spotlight, even if it's just at a small reading at the corner bar. It takes a lot to write a book, and each one is sort of like its own person, with looks and personality and charm. They deserve to be treated special.
4. What is the craziest/funniest/most outrageous/ thing that has happened at a reading?
Our bookseller, Ben, came back from an event at the Science, Industry and Business Library on Madison and 34th and told us a crazy story about what had just happened there. Normally, the library events are pretty small and uneventful. We generally don't expect to sell a lot of books there and it's just a simple in-and-out for the bookseller. On this particular day we were selling Galileo's Gout by Gerald Weissmann, a doctor and researcher at NYU. Nothing special, really. It's a book, like a few others recent ones I can think of, that examines the relationship of science to politics and calls to question some current US government policies.
Well, I'm not sure exactly why, but the room was packed. Middle of the week, middle of the day, but standing room only and turning people away at the door. The librarians had to push people out of the room and actually lock the door to keep all these unruly professors and doctors from storming in. There was shouting. There was cursing. There was gnashing of teeth and raising of blood pressure. They all wanted to hear Dr. Weissmann, but there was no way they were all going to fit in the room. We sold out of books within short order, and Ben made it out of there without any major injuries. It was quite a scene. That PhD crowd! Totally out of control.
The best New Yorker sentences of the summer appeared in John McPhee's piece "Editors & Publisher" (July 2, 2012).
Editors of every ilk seem to think that titles are their prerogative -- that they can buy a piece, cut the title off the top, and lay on one of their own. When I was young, this turned my skin pink and caused horripilation. I should add that I encountered such editors almost wholly at magazines other than The New Yorker -- Vogue, Holiday, the Saturday Evening Post. The title is an integral part of a piece of writing, and one of the most important parts, and ought not to be written by anyone but the writer of what follows the title. Editors' habit of replacing an author's title with one of their own is like a photo of a tourist's head on the cardboard body of Mao Zedong.
I chose this passage for the wonderful outlandish simile that nails it down and because I agree with McPhee in principle. He is certainly right about editors' sense of entitlement, to use the apt word. When I wrote for Newsweek, I rarely got to title any of my pieces, though I must admit that my senior editor very often improved on whatever I had proposed. The late Ken Auchincloss was especially gifted at headlines. And these are important. I have called headlines and captions the haiku of journalism, and I remember being pleased (though some associates grumbled) when Ken ordered writers to write the captions under photos illustrating their articles. (I forget what embarrassment provoked this change.) Among my favorite headlines: the sublime "Rose is a Red" (which was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when Pete Rose returned to Cincinnati in the 1980s). The Newsweek caption I enjoyed writing most was "Laurels for Mr. Warren's Profession" when Robert Penn Warren was named the nation's first official poet laureate in 1986 (if memory serves).
That takes care of the good. As for the bad, well, sometimes the bad is so bad it's good ("Though a strapping five-nine today -- closer to five-nine and a half, really -- in the prepubescent days of my love affair with sports I was a shrimp"), or it's bad on purpose ("A little history is always useful"), or it's just bad when stripped out of its context when that context consists of banal word-clusters (e.g., "in a world characterized mainly by mobility, change, and uncertainty"). The quotes come from Louis Menand's pre-Olympics navel-gazer, "Glory Days," in the issue of August 6. The last is followed immediately by this:
No matter what happens to us next year, there will be a Super Bowl.
The statement, while not nearly as funny in context as out of it, should have an admonitory effect on writers who value their sentences as much as their paragraphs. Perhaps the magazine might use "there will always be a Super Bowl" as a tag for odd witticisms on the order of "there will always be an England." Was it the same author who, in an earlier piece, characterized his father as a snob on the grounds that he favored good grammar and correct usage? -- DL
A poem by my writer friend of many years -->>
The Big Bang
This took place when they were half asleep
The way you look when you roll over and say Huh?
Dead brained, dream soaked
While engaged in making a baby
Neither spoke much
Or cared much what the other might say
With the exception of what you wouldn’t exactly call
Like: Oh fuck, Oh Jesus, and the like.
They were eighteen.
Collectively, thirty six
Breath, sweat, skin, whatnot
Mingled like Japanese cars after a collision
Limp airbags littering
The tv howling away
Someone banging on the ceiling or wall.
Nine months later
Sandor Fox arrived
His name a presumptive chariot
Air for a helium zeppelin
A city map
(Instead of a City)
Sprawled on a kitchen table
Or was it a restaurant booth
Amidst red formica dots
Photographs of eggs.
He cried his little lungs out
To be born an American
At the end of
The age of glory
The age America made up
Looking in its mirror that said
Made in Japan,
Crying like a little sewing machine
A cloister, a swift
A piece of damp angel food cake
An overcarobonated 7 up.
Born under a pile of bills
Believing in food
Believing in doctors, clergymen
Thinking about five to four
Supreme Court decisions,
Consumed by a need to assert himself
On the next available nipple.
The road not taken
Running through his new house,
Sprouting strange life between velour couch cushions
And he, Sandor, a cyclone
Whirling inside the mirror of his parents eyes
The family has cloistered itself in re-sold ideas
Shoveling its past into plastic bags
Confronting its future with Glade.
Sandor. Sandor. What should we do with you?
Hope of our hope.
Destroyer of nakedness.
Curer of dreams.
What should we do when you wake crying at 2 am
With your parents silently growing in their beds?
When you scream at four am,
The hour dreams are packed up for the night.
When your own tiny brain revolves in your skull
Like the dawn sky, emptying itself of stars?
What should we think about you?
What should we do?
We’ll meet on the street
And I’ll say, Sandor,
Do you realize what we have in common?
We both come from the Big Bang.
No, Silly, not that one,
Not that wet tumbling and rumbling
And fighting and slithering
And skidding, evulsing and sliming:
The other one.
-- Nevin Schreiner
Okay, face it: the academic year is about to begin. This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around. Put away the sunscreen, dump all those plans you had for the Summer of Continuous Industry and Focus out back with the compost. For many of us reading this blog, the creative writing workshop is heading straight at us, whether we’ll be teaching or taking one. So I can think of no more appropriate poem to post today than this beauty by Rodney Jones, the tongue-in-cheek raconteur I am always eager to read, because just as you start to think you’re having way too much fun to be reading a serious poem, he plunges into the depths of something. “The Ante” first appeared in New Ohio Review 10, Fall 2011.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
A few sonnets about nature and the Greek gods.
Many free-verse poems in all lowercase letters.
Huey wrote of madness, Maddox of possums.
John played the sadness of empty stadiums.
Two berets, one silver-tipped cane, tweedy blazers.
In most Natalie poems, she took off her clothes.
The year of the Tet offensive. Wallace in Montgomery.
We read James Wright, Richard Wilbur, Anne Sexton.
One Friday an ex-guidance counselor from Jasper
leapt through the window of a cafeteria, shouting
“I am the son of Jesus Christ! Behold the rapture!”
But nothing much happened in Poetry Writing 301
until Walter C. Avery wrote that a black swan,
born in the infralapsarian brain of a garbage dump,
would crack the codes of the Southern Baptists.
And for this jack-surreal, mildly apocalyptic truffle
was taken for near genius material, practically
a second Edgar Allan Poe, until Sam Maisel
submitted his “Poem for The Worksheet Typist,”
which made everyone consider how scandalous
it must have seemed for her, a local woman,
a seamstress, and mother of Christian athletes,
to run across “I know you think you’ve seen it all before,
but this is duck rape, feathered love.” And some
in the critique afterward, praised the line-endings;
one person even mentioned “The Second Coming,”
which, admittedly, made me blanch with envy,
so I had wanted to say something about how
sometimes the subject is not what you think
or the ones you imagine you are talking about
stand abruptly and begin to talk back to you,
but spring was bearing down on the workshop,
ripping out pages, grinding the opinions to nubs.
So much energy in the streets—demonstrations,
happenings, awakenings—so many instances
of sudden and involuntary enlightenment,
though mostly my friends and I spent our nights
on Sixth Street drinking beer at The Chukkar
or crouched in a huddle around a record player.
By the time I thought of Sam’s duck again,
May had slipped into June and June into July,
and what is poetry in a copper tubing factory?
A cloud would fan out around the tubes
as the crane lifted them from the soaping vats
after they had softened in the furnace.
My job was to crimp a point on each of them.
Then the next man would carefully run them
through a die. Down the line I could see
the process repeating: the furnace, the point,
the die—the tubes and men diminishing.
All night the saws screeched and whined.
The pointers clattered. The press roared.
That was the beauty of it. You could sing.
No one would hear. You could say anything.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Some forty-five years later, the workshop Jones describes sounds very familiar, though I don’t see many berets these days. The idea of poetry, “the beauty of it,” and I think Whitman would agree, is supposed to be our liberation from the phrase “supposed to be.” You’re supposed to be freed of all those rules – social, idiomatic, topical – enough to say what you need to say. Yet if we’re not careful the creative writing workshop becomes like any organized group of people, fraught with sidelong looks, with political and aesthetic pressures. Is he allowed to say that? Can she get away with that metaphor? Self-consciousness naturally interferes with pure expression, and writers can be pigeonholed even if only one or two of their poems memorably mentioned possums or nakedness. Well, what is poetry in a copper tubing factory? For the speaker in this poem, at this moment, perhaps it’s a relief to be away from people grouped about a table civilizing, judging, taming each other and imposing their views on what’s important to him. We write in order to be read, sure. But also, and maybe foremost, to sound our barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
Rodney Jones has published nine books of poetry, the most recent being Imaginary Logic, which appeared last fall from Houghton Mifflin. He has been the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Harper Lee Award, and the Kingsley-Tufts Award. He is a professor of English at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed -- thanks for the opportunity, David! -- presenting these poems from New Ohio Review all summer long, and I hope you’ll seek out the other good poems we publish. Meet you up on the roof.
Happy birthday, Lenny (1918-1990), genius and amazing musician (with a surprisingly weak singing voice). My favorite of your songs. WIth words by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. -- DL
(Ed note: I came across this essay by following a twitter link posted by @pete_wells and since I know so many readers of this blog share my passion for cooking and for writing about food, want to recommend it here. Please do let me know what you think. Do you have an annotated cookbook of your own or of a loved one? -- sdh)
As a historian of food and nutrition, I’ve amassed a substantial collection of cookbooks, old and new, over the years. But one cookbook I often find myself coming back to amidst the hundred plus dusty volumes cluttering my office is a 1930 edition of the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Meals Tested, Tasted and Approved: Favorite Recipes and Menus From Our Kitchens to Yours. I purchased it for $12 from a Toronto vintage shop and consider it one of my favourite purchases to date.
On the surface, at least, the cookbook seems unremarkable. Good Housekeeping cookbooks from the period are common enough, and like many others in my collection it’s well worn and smells vaguely of mildew and decades-old flour. Its spine is broken and held together with clear tape. Its pages are stuffed with dozens of handwritten recipes on cards as well as a number of others cut from newspapers and magazines. These include a fading recipe for Dandelion Wine written in pencil on a piece of scrap paper and a Campbell’s Soup can label with a recipe for Oven Glazed Chicken. In other words, it’s a cookbook like hundreds of others that could be found in kitchen cupboards in households across the country, and my personal collection includes its own fair share of similarly well-worn, well-loved volumes.
But what makes this particular cookbook remarkable – to me at least – is the inscription in the front cover left by its original owner, Jean Stephenson.
We're big fans of Joe Brainard and have written about him several times, most recently here. We were delighted to get an e-mail telling us of a new film about this singular artist and writer whom, we're happy to say, seems to be gaining in popularity. The film was directed by Matt Wolf and is built around archival recordings of Brainard reading from his famous memoir-poem "I Remember."
Here's what Matt Wolf has to say about his film:
I've always been a huge fan of Joe Brainard's art and writing, especially "I Remember," which is probably my favorite poem ever. When I found archival audio recordings of Joe reading the text on the online archive PennSound, I knew that I wanted to make something— to bring to life the poem, but also to tell Joe's story. I approached his best friend, the poet Ron Padgett, after reading his very moving book Joe: A Memoir, and he connected me to great photos, films, and materials to tell the story. I also interviewed Ron about his lifelong friendship with Joe from elementary school in Tulsa, Oklahoma up until Joe's death. When I was editing the film, I wanted to create a kind of conversation between Ron's recollections of Joe, and Joe's memories from the poem. I started to realize that the film wasn't just a tribute to Joe, but a film about deep friendship, and the unique bonds artists form with each other.
Hope is the feeling you have that the feeling you have isn't permanent.
-- Mignon McLaughlin
The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960
via The American Scholar (Summer, 2008)
So, I was contemplating my reading to celebrate the publication of my new chapbook, The Accidental Present (Finishing Line Press, 2012). The more I thought about it, the less I wanted to hear myself go on for a half hour or more, as much as I like my poems. It occurred to me that many of them might be done better justice if read by other people, some of them not necessarily poets, just friends, coworkers, and neighbors who have good voices and strong characters. Imagine that!
And so was born the idea for my "poetic happening," a "community poetry read" in which the majority of my poems would be read by others. There are 22 poems in the chapbook, and I had fifteen readers each read one poem. I read three, one of which was the title poem. We went through the poems in the order that they appear, skipping a couple along the way. Hearing them read aloud that way, I discovered I had put them in an order for a reason. More surprises.
I had assigned the poems in the two weeks prior to the reading, so that my designated readers had a chance to familiarize themselves with the words. I did not "test" anyone before the reading. I just trusted them to do the best they could, even though some of them told me they were nervous. Some were afraid that they would not do the particular poem justice.
Let me say right here, not a single person disappointed me. In the moments when the readers were on stage, I was blown away by the care with which each person read. I could tell that each person had clearly practiced, and had thought about giving the assigned poem some personal power from his or her own inner repertoire of thought and emotion.
For me, it was as though all the voices in my head that I cannot actually speak the way I hear them came to life during that 45 minutes. There was the voice of the angry woman, the loving man, and the anguished poet. Janet, who is in her 80s, read a poem in defiance of getting old. Lynn, who is seeking to grow and evolve, read a poem about just that. Ed, who had some training in the monastery many eons ago, read a poem with scriptural references, and Al, who has the slightest southern drawl and an occasional stammer, read a poem in which God invites us to stop complaining and join him for a shot of tequila.
If I may say, the effect was quite mesmerizing.
It was something theatrical, layered, magical. Yes, they are "my" poems, but I like to think that they belong to the world, and hearing others read them made that real for a short while. Lest you would question the sanity of a poet not reading her own work, please read more about the evening from the perspective of an observer, essayist and Stoneboat associate editor, Signe Jorgenson, who witnessed the whole thing:
And, if you need to treat yourself to something really enriching one of these days, get your friends to read your poems for you at your next reading. You will be amazed at how wonderful you sound when it is not the sound of your own voice you hear.
Over breakfast in Tijuana in 2010, the two sides of me came face to face. I was there, a Mexican-American poet visiting from Brooklyn, with the novelist Cristina Rivera Garza, who teaches at the University of California, San Diego. It was my first trip to the area, so we were sightseeing across the border. Cristina, a double agent of sorts, keeps two cell phones, two wallets, and homes in both cities. We were overnighting at her house on the Tijuana coast.
Back in June we posted about the July weekend writing retreat for nurses, sponsored by the Center for Health Media & Policy at Hunter College in New York City. The retreat was part of the CHMP’s program in Narrative Writing for Health Care Professionals, and was cosponsored with the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing.
I asked Jim Stubenrauch, who along with Joy Jacobson leads the retreat, to keep us posted and I'm pleased to report that it was an enormous success, so much so that its likely that they'll be run once a quarter. Follow this link to read Jim's take on the weekend and this one to read about it from the perspective of Patricia Wagner Dodson, one of the participants.
Winning Words writes to spread the word about an exciting on-line workshop with Katy Evans-Bush, poet and writer of the popular Baroque in Hackney Blog (you should read her sharp commentary about the Pussy Riot trial). The workshop begins tomorrow and is available to you regardless of your location. Here's a brief description:
Get those creative juices going before the autumn – over two quick sessions, learn to treat your poem not as the answer to something, but as a question. Keats talked about Negative Capability - the ability to be ‘capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’. We’ll use readings, discussion, and exercises to explore how to write through what you don’t know, and how to decide what to leave out, as well as put in.
Find out more over at Winning Words.
“A Mile In” was selected by 2011 judge Nancy Eimers as the winner of our annual New Ohio Review Poetry Contest, and was published Fall 2011, in New Ohio Review 10. What grabs me about this poem is the non-event it describes: a sudden and inexplicable hyper-awareness, prompted by an inherently insignificant announcement.
A Mile In
The snow had been with us for awhile
and was dingy and not well lit.
But the sun promised to come out.
The light fog lifting
against the skinny tree trunks
and the grounded limbs they’d lost
and the thick, half-detached vines
would lift off,
dissolved, by the end of our walk.
We’d taken the footbridge
across the creek and followed the bend
away from traffic and toward the west ridge.
We’d gone a mile in,
to where usually I begin to listen to
our progress in the twigs and gravel of the path,
and past this, and past my own
periodic reminders to the dog
to the short, uncomplicated songs
of winter birds. And there,
near the spill of rocks in the creek
where the fog was still passing through branches
and a little farther and to the right
where a stretch of tall grasses
received a wide gift
of sunlight and several cows,
the air that stood still
between the trees and shimmered
over the grasses filled with sound—
a big voice moving through
a hundred thousand habitats—
and it said, “Attention in this area.
The following is a regular monthly
test of the Outdoor Warning System . . .”
It spoke from the west first,
sounding closer than it could be.
And it spoke from the southeast next.
This is a test,” it said, “only a . . .
“This is a test . . ." it began again
from somewhere else.
The dog returned to me, cowering.
I’d wondered before
without much curiosity,
where were those speakers housed,
were they towered, did they revolve?
Ordinarily heard in the yard
while I stood pinning laundry to the line,
the broadcast soon plunged and sank
into the noise of passing cars
and blown and rolling garbage cans
and faded like the little ringing
that emanates from construction sites.
But here, it seemed full minutes long
before my breath was back again in my chest,
and my dog’s breath,
steady and rough, was back in hers
when the voice had left the air
between the trees, as had the fog.
At last a bird sounded from a twig.
At last a squirrel came down
and sent the dog. And then,
made up of other sounds
I could not have singled out,
a normalcy rolled in.
Infinitesimal bits is all it was
—quick beaks breaking up the peat,
the slow collision of a leaf landing, scooting
half an inch along a big flat rock,
a splat of excrement in white,
a flinch, a flap, a flick. But as it came it felt
to be a counter-vigilance. Or like
the sound of consciousness. The is.
> - - - - - - -
Those announcements, heard in the context of routine from the safety of the speaker’s backyard, were merely part of life’s backdrop, sound coming from a single direction. But on this day she hears them “a mile in,” so deep into her walk that she has left the cluttered multi-tasking zone behind and reached a focused and meditative state. The first twelve lines are what I like to think of as gray language: words in the monosensual service of describing literal fact, every detail flat and purely visual. Once we pass the point of her “beginning” to listen, released from the duty of reprimand or “reminder” – beyond civilization with its traffic and garbage cans as well as its expectations of comportment – the language lifts onto a more lyrical plane: we hear about “the spill of rocks”; “a wide gift/of sunlight”; the shimmering air; and the sudden imaginative perception of those “hundred thousand habitats.” In this second state, her ears are alert to the several directions from which the announcements emanate and reverberate, and despite the announcement’s semantic reassurance, animal instincts kick in. Both the speaker and her dog are alarmed to the point of breathlessness, suspended for an indeterminate pause. Once signs of normalcy return, the world picks up where it had left off, but the speaker has arrived at a third level of awareness. We are privy again to multi-sensual details of natural events at an almost excruciating pitch of awareness. She not only hears whisper-soft sounds distinguished as flinches, flaps, flicks; now she can make out the “sound of consciousness.” The announcements have functioned here in the woods as an annunciation, delivering to the hearer a kind of transcendent alertness. Nothing in the usual sense of the word has happened in this poem. The speaker hears a sound she has heard many times before, and yet this time she feels changed by it. She recognizes only "infinitesimal bits” of some altered perception of the world.
I admire the modulated gait of this poem, how it saunters casually into “the test,” freezes, and then emerges into a more deliberate movement, “a counter-vigilance.” What exactly is meant by this? Certainly not casual indifference, which would be the reverse of vigilance, but a progression beyond fearfulness toward a purity of focus and awareness per se. It calls to mind “The Great Figure” by William Carlos Williams, in which a similar momentousness is achieved by the urban passing of a fire engine, a common enough occurrence. There too, we feel the excitement of the witness and his sudden sense of urgency to find significance in the “unheeded” golden figure 5 clanging past. (The painter Charles Demuth also tried to capture that feeling, inspired by Williams’ poem, in his work The Figure Five in Gold. It’s hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. )
Robert Frost also has more than one poem about non-events; notable among them are “The Most of It,” “An Old Man’s Winter Night,” and “For Once, Then, Something.” In each case the speaker reaches a heightened watchfulness, leaving us with ambiguity concerning the actual thing learnt or seen. Emily Dickinson, in “There’s a Certain Slant of Light,” discovers “internal difference, where the Meanings Are” – which is a statement simultaneously, maddeningly, vague and precise. That is, it feels precise, but upon examining what’s been illuminated, we have gained only questions. When the light leaves, we are left feeling shaken as after a long journey; our values have shifted like the contents of an airplane’s overhead bin.
The pleasures in Hanson’s poem sneak up on you – that description of the “little ringing/that emanates from construction sites” is superb, as is the line “quick beaks breaking up the peat” – and they leave me hyper-aware of the sounds and shapes of the place I’m now reading in, giving new meaning to the phrase living room.
Julie Hanson’s first collection, Unbeknownst, won the Iowa Poetry Prize in 2010 and was published by the University of Iowa Press in 2011. I’m going to be watching for more of her work.
See you next week, when if you just close your eyes and focus, you’ll be able to hear everywhere around you the little ringing of Back-to-School cash registers. – JAR
For a sneak peek and to pre-order, click on the image and scroll down:
Join Best American Poetry Series Editor David Lehman and Guest Editor Mark Doty as they introduce this year's volume of the acclaimed series. The following contributors will be on hand to read selections from the book: * Heather Christle * Eduardo C. Corral. * Elaine Equi * Kathleen Graber *Amy Glynn Greacen * Richard Howard * Marie Howe *Lawrence Joseph * Noelle Kocot * Joy Katz * Kerrin McCadden* Honor Moore * Michael Morse * Carol Muske-Dukes * Angelo Nikolopoulos * Mary Jo Salter * Lynne Sharon Schwartz * Brenda Shaughnessy * Tracy K. Smith * Mark Strand * Susan Wheeler * David Yezzi. *
The reading will be followed by a book signing. Books will be available for sale.
Here's what Publisher's Weekly has to say about the Best American Poetry 2012 :
Now in its 25th year, the Best American Poetry anthologies have become something of a yearbook for American versifiers. The 2012 volume runs the gamut of styles and positions, from the experimentally mixed registers of Rae Armantrout (“Information describing the fading laser pulse// is stored// is encoded// in the spine states/ of atoms”) to the unrelenting intensity of Frank Bidart (“the burning// fountain is the imagination// within us that ingests and by its/ devouring generates// what is most antithetical to itself”) to an extended meditation on art and family by Paisley Rekdal: “Here is the killer with his handsome face./ Here is Manson, Bundy, Hitler,/ the Terror’s row of heads still spiked on stakes.” Doty, this year’s guest editor, is a populist at heart, who believes poetry is available and useful to all who are willing to seek it out, and so he has chosen poems that take the national pulse in the midst of a tensed political moment (Joy Katz looks to the “Department of Trance/ Department of Dream of Levitation/ Department of White Fathom” for answers) and also look mysteriously inward at a timeless human core as only poetry can: “I keep my distance like the tines/ Of a fork from one another,// Dressing, undressing the fabulous wounds,” writes Noelle Kocot. As usual, there is something for everyone; this is a particularly good volume in this series.
This event is sponsored by Scribner, the New School Writing Program, and the Poetry Society of America. For more information go here.
For the last few years, I’ve shared and exchanged poems with a number of poets on the Post-Flarf listserv. What I love about the listserv is that I can send around poems that I think are atrocious. It’s a place where experimentation, writing bad poetry, posting “found” poems from the internet and writing highly “distasteful” poems is actively encouraged. I also like that the list isn’t about publishing poetry in magazines but rather sharing work with other poets in an open space.
I asked poets who have been active on the list to talk to me about the aesthetics of Post-Flarf, the differences between Flarf and Post-Flarf and what they’ve found in common with fellow poets on the list. (The list is an open one, so if you are interested in joining, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sandra Simonds: I invited people to enter this conversation who are active on the Post-Flarf list but who have not been invited to the top-secret Flarf list. This is our revenge. What do you want to say to those people?
Maurice Buford: The primordial Flarf List is a coterie of vampires. They are a secret bunker built atop a tree fort. Since its inception, many people have left the Post-Flarf group for what appear to be legitimate reasons I can no longer recall, and some have since rejoined. Go figure. Maybe it has to do with our haircuts.
Sandra Simonds: No one commented on my poem, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. I guess it sucked.
Tiffany Denman to Sandra Simonds: I liked that poem a lot but couldn’t get past the grape flavor of the title which sent me into a whirling discontent for which I blame Jada Smith. Following M-word 3, the poem is peerless perfection with penguins.
Sandra Simonds: I wrote it to get through watching the movie. I sort of know that the poem sucks, but that’s how I feel about the majority of the poems that I’ve posted to the list. I started writing the Post-Flarf poems after work when my baby was asleep. I would have a glass of wine and writing them seemed to be a way to blow off steam and not worry about writing “good” or “serious” poetry. Anyone else feel this way?
Tiffany Denman: I feel a similar release or freedom from pressure in writing Post-Flarf and I think there is a hilarity present in the poems we write/read in the group. But there’s also something very heady about them, too. I constantly think of the Apollo/Dionysus, Tate/Ashbury contrasts when considering Flarf/Post-Flarf/Conceptual. Smart smartasses.
Sandra Simonds: None of us are that funny, so why are we on the Post-Flarf list? In fact, most of the poems from you guys seem to be sort of serious. Wait! Why are we on the Post-Flarf list again?
Tiffany Denman: Let’s face it, none of us are comedian poets (thinking Eugene Levy, Doug Ross, wha?). There’s irony but not parody. No one, outside of, well, us may be reading these poems for a good laugh. But, as Benjamin (see below) pointed out, we’re laughing from “some painful psychic corner;” we like a sharp poke for our buffoonery.
Sandra Simonds: What is Post-Flarf? Are we just rejects from every other walk of poetry life?
Tiffany Denman: Yes. Thankfully.
Sandra Simonds: Most of you strike me as coming from the far, far left. Like left of left (politically). I know that Brian studied with Joshua Clover at UC Davis and a number of poets on the list studied with Kasey Mohammad, so that, in itself, hints at the political proclivities of this group. Discuss.
Brian Ang: Post-Flarf is poetry responding to the poetry of Flarf’s progenitors, such as Nada Gordon, Sharon Mesmer, Kasey Mohammad, and Gary Sullivan, and their poetries’ characteristic tendencies, such as the use of outrageous mass cultural materials especially from the internet. My first book Paradise Now was consciously a Post-Flarf work, combining Flarf’s approach with Marxist concerns. I started writing it in March 2010, after hanging out with Kasey at the University of California, Santa Cruz’s “Reimagining the Poet-Critic” conference and being asked to contribute to his magazine Abraham Lincoln. My contribution concept of “Marxist Flarf” was generative enough to produce a cohesive book. It was completed by July 2010 when I shared it at the 95 Cent Skool in Berkeley, California. During its composition I also shared it at Kasey’s first annual Lollapaganza festival in May 2010 in Ashland, Oregon, and was added to the Post-Flarf list and shared it through that. The venues for sharing work were essential for its composition.
Regarding “far left” tendencies in Post-Flarf-related poets, I attribute it to a combination of practitioners’ developments under “the post-2008 market crash’s systemic re-exposure of capitalism’s brutality at the level of everyday life and resultant re-ignition of political imagination and praxis for the efficacy of activism” (see my “Poetry and Militancy”), in contrast to Flarf’s development during the post-9/11 political malaise, and experimental culture’s historical potentials for cultivating radicalism by being an interface to radicalisms in the culture at large. The composition period of Paradise Now coincided with my participation in the University of California protests, studying radical political theory with the purpose of immediate praxis, and Flarf’s characteristics were exemplary for reflecting on my enthusiasms.
Tiffany Denman: I think you’re accurate in the left-of-left (see Marxist concerns, radical left sympathizers) assessment of the politics of the group which seems as though it could be nothing but. Why is that? Brian’s assessment, which I think is accurate for poets in the group mainly concerned with dialoguing directly with the political, as well as the younger poets in the group who came-of-age in the political climate he specifies, is part of the solution. I’m not sure the group at large is as concerned with writing directly at these issues (though receptive to them, yes).For me, I allow the political in as it is present in the language or it is present in my conditioning/ thinking, but the concern of Post-Flarf, I think, goes beyond this.
In 1992 (to date myself), I took my first poetry writing workshop with Brenda Hillman. In it, two key lessons she offered stuck with me as my writing (over decades) shifted from the lyrical to what we’re examining now. The first was the idea of the poet carrying a journal at all times. An elementary idea to experienced writers, but the idea of writing down scraps of eavesdroppings (ploop), is I think what drives the poetry I work on today. At the time, I could gather material in a coffee shop, grocery store, campus quad. . . Whether my presence in the public or the public itself changed, over time I stopped overhearing anything that seemed worth working into poetry. There seemed nothing to hear any more. To say people speak less, what they say in public is less interesting to me, that the shift to the electronic versus the real has changed our public interaction—all true. But I think more it was the discovery of the chatter online at my disposal. Like a cultural mnemonic, it was there for the stealing.
Which brings me to the second lesson, plagiarism. I remember specifically the instruction that using over three words from another’s work was plagiarism and was to be avoided with grave, unnamed consequences (which I reasoned meant expulsion from the poet club). I received lines in the class from a graduate student during a writing exercise. I remember the lines, “I wish I could be as brave as fruit/ All skin and showing it.” Agitated, for several years I tried to work pieces of this into work without violating the rules of plagiarism. The discovery of work which not only allows this rule to be violated but encourages the blatant, unrestrained repurposing of other’s language/words/work, was as liberating to me as the first time I broke a villanelle. To begin where we all begin and tap away at accepted structure/rules/traditions, that’s what drew me to the idea of Flarf (not discounting the humor and irreverence).
I think this same rebellion/humor/irreverence is present in Post-Flarf but the marriage to the outdated lyric and the attempt at infusing the “I” and its relation to the stolen words from the electronic echoes we draw from is vital. I don’t see how else to net the language of the contemporary/ to capture the echoes without utilizing the swirling electronic cacophony. And I think that’s what Post-Flarf is concerned with—whether the focus is political, social, cultural, sexual, personal—it’s the reverberations. Since I just completed it, I’m thinking specifically of Sandra’s Mother Was Tragic Girl and the play of the associative, the created, the repurposed—the creative/non-creative formal gesture which produces what I love most about Post-Flarf and the work that the group produces—the tear-jerks from laughter and heartbreak and the greasy smear of nostalgia for an intimacy I’m not sure ever existed and the discord produced as a result.
Sandra Simonds to Tiffany Denman: I am fascinated by the academy’s hysteria (for lack of a better word) surrounding plagiarism. It’s like everyone has Turnitin.com-itis. It seems like such a modern phenomenon and I do wonder if the Flarf/ Post-Flarf poetry that uses plagiarism as a sort of aesthetic stance is a kind of response to issues of intellectual property and the idea that language could in any way be “owned.” But the plagiarized language seems to come from anywhere. Like in the poem you posted called “R U Relevant?” where did you find the following line: “I forgive u, for u not neither what ur on about, nor r u relevant anymore. #sadlittlemen.”
Tiffany Denman to Sandra Simonds: That line came from a message board regarding Irish identity in sports (I surmise). Interestingly, the search didn’t reveal anything outside of that line (with some number combinations I’ve been working with which I edited). What I was mostly concerned with was this idea of “relevancy” and the number “33” (which my work has been connected to for a number of years now.) In a poem which is greatly concerned with weak intimacy and defining identity (cultural/political), it is an entirely appropriate board (http://www.peoplesrepublicofcork.com/forums/showthread.php?t=188733&page=3) for dialoguing with the piece.
This idea of language being “owned” is so tricky. I consider the language that most of us draw from to be eavesdropped. The complication, of course, is that the language is recorded in some sort of written form (though even that varies—poets and pieces both). I think that the approach is deeply a stance against this idea of intellectual “property” and redefining what is inherent to language, the “speaker,” the poet, the poem—what can be possessed and what can be stolen.
Benjamin Bourlier: This has helped me realize the things I find funniest aren’t (as) funny as poetry, more or less as a rule. Or that poetry-funny is this deep, dark plumbline of comedy that maybe isn’t funny-funny, but something you laugh at...in some painful psychic corner. Too painful for basic collectivity.
Flarf for me has been about a nauseated cynicism, very much a “post-9/11 political malaise”, as BA says. Living in NYC in 2008, the market crash did do something to complicate and direct this malaise. I don’t know who it was exactly that said this about the original DADA movement (probably Tzara?), that it was not “fun” but incredibly bitter and desperate...I sort of like to think of Flarf as having to do with this, though Flarf folk clearly have plenty fun. Consider the middles of flarf poems...
I recently wrote: “force of/ rectal disgorge/ is in my love of gatherers/ of protein into hair to call brothers/ forward from whatever shit room/ they end up in, renting”. I feel this is my postflarf. There is camaraderie in the sense of that James Baldwin bit, that “camaraderie makes the question of sincerity archaic”. And this is politically charged, and leftist. But it’s dialed back a stage, the body fluids as still the body’s, the partial digestion.
I’m very interested in the so-called “New Extremism” in film. It’s maybe useful to consider how postflarf can be such an extremism. There is no “new extremism” film that is definitively funny/nihilist/porn/horror/arthouse et cetera and they’re so gorgeously debased and violated and teeming with some kind of visceral aesthetic frame that requires private life romantic delusions that go overripe and savage in ways flarf can’t allow itself.
The Zhivago passage regarding “the private life is dead..for a man with any manhood” comes up so often for me, considering the political ramifications of flarf. The first half of the statement is something very un-flarf because it is very much flarf itself. The second half could be flarf because this couldn’t be serious rhetoric and because it implies genitals and presents them neatly for violation. Part of flarf is in the neatness of presentation for violation, yeah? There is chaos but everything is coughed up neat, in google chunks. Everything has been sort of neutralized prior. Flarf isn’t dead, it’s dead.
I have the thought of the difference between a body-without-organs and a body-beside-organs...
Also, re: plagiarism: Proudhon on the mathematical impossibility of property, on the right of increase...Nietzsche’s theory of the origin of philosophy being ascetic, there being an epistemological dependence on asceticism, such that plagiarism, inasmuch as it restricts subjective access/advancement, may reproduce the ascetic ideal which “for a long time served the philosopher as a form in which to appear, as a precondition of existence”.
Thus the hazard of originality in contending with the very death of reason. Plagiarism as the “provisional expression” of free thought, of subjective pause.
I feel, in other words, that, coming out of my reading of Nietzsche, plagiarism is quite literally a necessary precondition of thought itself.
The progression of contemporary poetry goes:
Make it new (Modernism)
Make it fucked up (Flarf)
Stop making it (Conceptualism)
And Post-Flarf is somewhere between the final two.
Post-Flarf is a hangover, and I don't mean that pejoratively. A hangover’s dysphoric moments provide critical introspection, discontent, and an enhanced sensitivity to the absurd. So the abundance of wet absurdities meant to provoke laughter or at least nervousness in Flarf gives way to the more subtle absurdities and cynicism in Post-Flarf.
The laughter of Flarf begets the shivering of Post-Flarf. I like Bourlier's assertion that “Flarf isn’t dead, it’s dead.” Let me put it this way: Bruce Willis for the majority of The 6th Sense is Flarf. Post-epiphany Bruce Willis is Post-Flarf. Perhaps that's why many of the poems that have been shared on this list have contained fewer (if any) elements of the wet absurdities of pee-stained unicorns, pizza kitties etc. — although realizing one is dead is technically impossible, it is still a very grave matter. (Believing you are dead can have negative consequences that can lead to actual death whereas simply being dead has no repercussion other than to feed the things that digest your corpse, but then again, it's no longer yours to disperse.)
The formal aspects of Post-Flarf speak to its heightened cynicism, sometimes even approaching the purely nihilistic. In my own poems I steal when I want to steal and create “original” content when I want to, knowing that it is meaningless to make a distinction between the two modes. Post-Flarf still retains the same generative noise mechanics of many Flarf works, using the web's steady banal hum as putty, but not as its exclusive fuel. Perhaps Post-Flarf asymptotically approaches conceptualism’s disregard for the Subject, yet it doesn’t have the faculties or the determination or the funding to linger for more than a moment on epistemology.
Sandra Simonds: Yes, there’s something about Flarf that contains the fool’s laughter (I’m thinking of Shakespeare here). Post-Flarf seems to want very little to do with this. There’s a different kind of intelligence going on with Post-Flarf, I think, that’s more direct than in Flarf poetry. I like the idea of that Post-Flarf poems are still drinking in the banquet hall in the early morning when everyone else has chosen to leave chasing after some old-fashioned lyric goodness. In this sense, it might be the ideal form, both born of the decaying empire and made for it. And, in this sense, it does seem like a kind of Realism.
Sandra Simonds: How does Post-Flarf subvert issues of sincerity and irony?
Maurice Buford: Post-Flarf was not only (or really) a reaction to Flarf, but a reaction to economic and political strangulation—e.g. Economic Collapse, Endless War, made poetically corporeal by the Flarf v. Conceptual “war” and just as disingenuous and back-door handshake-y as our current political situation.
Sincerity and Irony are not at all interesting concepts to me in terms of writing and language. These concepts are imaginary political poles in the same manner as Democratic and Republican: they are hollow words filled with a kind of candy that rots the mind.
Flarf and Conceptual writing were, arguably, the first new forms to bring the construct of the internet to the foreground, to make present and known the ubiquity of its language. Post-Flarf writers assumes the internet. Also, Post-Flarf is nothing more than a “shiver” in reaction to endless void of the internet (space, death, etc.). The Post-Flarf list is the saddest party. It is not a movement, or a function of limbs, but instead a Neutral position of the body, sitting in front of the computer, watching the whole world get fucked and burn.
Sharon Mesmer (Interloper!): Well, here I am, the first Flarf interloper — Sharon Mesmer. I see my name mentioned somewhere — anywhere — and I have to be there, you know.
Firstly, and briefly (yeah, right … just wait and see how long this ends up being), I take issue with the comment by “MB” (Maurice) about how the primordial Flarf list is like a coterie of vampires. If Bourlier is asserting that “Flarf isn’t dead, it’s dead,” then how can we be vampires? Vampires are the UN-dead, as practically everybody knows. Or is that zombies? Whatevers. Are we still talking about Flarf in relation to PostFlarf? (And is there a hyphen there or not? Nomenclature, people!) If so, I prefer to think of Flarf like the machines in “The Matrix,” and PostFlarf as our energy source, our brain-in-a-vat, our “exclusive fuel” (per BC — whoever that is). You people seem to have no idea why PostFlarf was created. Except for BC, the new Neo. Actually, to be honest, I found “The Matrix” kinda hard to follow, so maybe someone could explain it to me sometime. Along with the breaking of line. That Helen Vendler can be so “back door handshake-y” sometimes.
I found the following to be possibly the most salient points of this discussion (outside of the issue of Irish identity in sports, which *really* is a subject someone needs to take on). Firstly:
Make it new (Modernism)
Make it fucked up (Flarf)
Stop making it (Conceptualism)
And Postflarf is somewhere between the final two.
I like this because 1.) it situates us; 2.) it situates us (all contemporary schools and movements, really) in relation to the first world war, which was really why we have anything like Modernism at all. People hate war, and yet war has given us so much. WW1 gave us Modernism; WW2 gave us, or rather we gave the French during WW2, the “WC,” and the French gave us practically all our ideas as a way of saying thank you; and the War on Terror gave us Flarf. I’m not sure what gave us Conceptual, but I think it might've come from Kenny's beard. And, as Maurice noted, Endless War gave us PostFlarf. So, to me, PostFlarf is a critique of the concept of endlessness, and that's why you guys all have such short lines and oddly-timed line breaks.
The second thing is something noted by BB, i.e., Brigitte Bardot (another way the French said "thank you" ) . . .
I feel, in other words, that, coming out of my reading of Nietzsche, plagiarism is quite literally a necessary precondition of thought itself.
Coming out of my reading of Heidegger, plagiarism is the ground, the absolute ground of all thought. And not just a precondition but a pre-cognition. Which implies that there's some sort of prescience, or pre-science (which, of course, is science fiction), at work there. Which reminds me of the observation made by Philip K. Dick in Valis (or, really, an observation made by Horselover Fat — the flarfiest name ever in the history of literature — who is, in reality, PKD of course):
The One was and was-not, combined, and desired to separate the was-not from the was.
Thus, Flarf and PostFlarf are the was and the was-not, each always already past-tense, one positively charged (pizza kitties, unicorns, poo and poo nurses), one negatively ("the saddest party") in an always already was plagiarized universe.
Bios and Sample Poems of Participants:
Maurice Buford lives in Maine and is a member of the internet.
STATES OF THINGS
for Sandra Simonds
1. How You Are
we speak now of the language of corrections
or the apocalypse of the attention as Marx
is neglected in our century of vocabularies
of what is unspoken what is unspeakable
this line is lovely as Emerson was lovely
“a bee-line to the axe” necks fat & god
glistening in underwater vessels streets sing
like birds sings pre-occupation what is
happening to us to our use walloped into
the dumps which cost me perception
which cost me $$$ so much threatens you
to speak as TV people fracture our
language supporting the “perfect economy”
2. How The World Is
the world is consigned irrevocably insofar
as 1) in Berkley Duncan (the lion) sleeps
not dead 2) myself goes out into the night
got so far into the water felt my ear bend to
touch trout each coming up to speak of how to be
in a space as poetic practice shapes the
mind even declared clear we check the
statement true 3) you kiss the building
you take the building into your mouth &
gently tie a knot cut your own with a sword
then are glad to be an occupant without
language beyond me you question being
a self only through signing other words to it
Brian Ang is the author of Pre-Symbolic, Communism, Paradise Now, and the poetry generator THEORY ARSENAL. His current poetic project is The Totality Cantos, an investigation of epistemological totality. Recent criticism and theorizing have appeared in The Claudius App, Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion, Rethinking Marxism, and a commentary series inJacket2, “PennSound & Politics.” He edits ARMED CELL in Oakland, California.
Sample: Reading in Oakland
Benjamin Bourlier studied composition and piano performance at the University of Michigan, has written various chamber and orchestral works, four books of prose and poetry, and currently works as a church organist in New Baltimore, Michigan.
can almost light the purpose
with which the leaves receive.
red cent. I know I am the dog.
forsythia something ingrown
that doesn't flower
the eye what
declines to purge
something it doesn't flower
but reams piling over
in a hiss of common spill, ten
ants tend, shun flocks, bead
the particular in still a cult of heat, an
agony, a whiteness I give up
as spring's on time, I see
getting mail admitting
there could never have been enough
water, beginning to accept
common aridity in public, free to
this and every weekend in the city
still a cult of heat
dicator gum ring on a peeking cock
shaded in the least
obscure patriarch to date
no vote or feet...
probably anything in the night sky is mars,
pieces of the rug. the sitting
men, as little respect as them as
red constant this mars at night.
this fluid exchange of persons
stuck at the stage of light a sec.
how the widths of roads get so
acceptable beside single-trails
of my arm laid out on the table
of a home the drywall is the first
thing in which one comments on
thus: "Who, who could, when this is, I mean"
I mean my arm is lifting my shoulder, spreading peace
like a prop or better wall. I seem to remember
a cartoon that turned the world into flannel
and this is the echoic nearness of my joint.
Bryan Coffelt is the associate editor and graphic designer for Future Tense Books. He is also founder and publisher of Mammoth Editions. Bryan has an MA in Book Publishing from Portland State University.
when an impulsive tendency towards some important object is frustrated
when the consumption of mates loses an element of sweetness it may mean
a loss of market share or it
just might mean what i already thought
that sorrow, no
that pity is not a compound
made of sorrow
the common voice that hides
inside of things and
busts out saying
the 80s was a motherfucker
which may be difficult to comprehend in an objective or conceptual way
in this regard, the concept of the 80s is subordinate
to guilt in terms of its emotional intensity
many people find themselves
wishing they had done something
in the 80s
i myself suffered
mass production of railroads
and the first skyscraper in history
i watched you endure
Duran Duran you were
of the world
Tiffany Denman's poetry has appeared in publications including West Wind Review, With + Stand, Berkeley Poetry Review, and housefire. She is one author, with Brian Ang, Joseph Atkins, and Jeanine Webb, of the poetry pamphlet Poetry is not Enough. She teaches writing, reading, and thinking in Northern California. Tiffany resides in Davis, California.
We Wrote That We Wrote Again
A voice: It was a clap of thunder.
Me: If it doesn't work after smacking it, you're not hitting it hard enough.
Joe said: I'm too lazy to find our other thread, so sue me!
You said: Tense situations.
A voice: Since I was under the weather New Years Eve, I didn't have my shrimp cocktail; this was after
We said: The first thing everyone did was ooh and ahh.
He said it again: Yes, yes.
We said: He had been sitting in a box in his home and he hadn’t meant it. We are sad to see that again.
Sam (who is a fan of Casablanca) said: Ho hum, he is beasting it again.
He: Recently, I only say it ‘cause I mean it; I only mean it.
Me: Tireless collector of manuscripts—you get five or six of them a day. He never actually said that
phrase as a scripted line.
You said it: My heart’s in motion. I won’t ever do it again—‘til you ask me.
Shortly thereafter, Reagan said: I certainly don't think there should be an economical alternative to heavy
Excerpt: The “Murder-stroke”
We: The default behavior is to use color for weather. However, this might only be a one time
lurker and a full minute of nose wiggles.
We said it before and we’ll damn well say it again.
You said: It doesn’t get much better than this.
I only said: It. Every word.
A voice: I want to be prepared for when it gets hot.
Me: It is time.
Others said: I prayed to be surprised. They said not to be worried. I’m honest about it. They all said so.
You said: I believe I sell more. I have a lot on my plate; you can see my designs.
Me: It don’t mean now.
Ethnographic Notes: This seemingly strange composition is more evidence. Using ink to "paint" over the
cracks—encroachment on territory—viens-t'en.
Sharon Mesmer is on vacation now, but eventually is going to hell.
When Tantric Sex Gets Ugly
I'm not sure what "Tantric sex" means
but I think a finger goes up your butt.
“Tantric sex” seems to be reserved for people
that went on vacation for a week
at a Medieval Times restaurant
in Sedona, AZ
with a large dwarf named Bruno.
In other words
the redheaded stepchildren
of the fly kingdom.
When I get angry, it’s ugly.
When Gurdjieff gets angry
it’s “Tantric sex.”
At least that’s what P. Diddy told me.
I WAS A TANTRIC SEX SLAVE
FOR A SENIOR TIBETAN BUDDHIST MONK
screeching at the Tibetans to
GET OUT OF CANADA!
I was 16 and content to be
5'2" of pure Jewish jewishness.
I ended up on an island
surrounded by old perverts
where high priestesses were chanting
and touching themselves
to escape dementia.
That's when I spotted Steven Tyler
with giant white dentures
in half a coma.
I smelled a familiar perfume
the one my grandmother had worn
to her own funeral.
My fly was undone
my shirt unbuttoned
and I was making love
to a barking tiny pony.
His or her name was
Barking Mad Elmo.
He or she was not distracted
by the guy who invented Ctrl-Alt-Delete
who also happens to be
Yes, apparently, the Fonz is back in town
looking for Tantric sex involving Arthurian legends
involving Spongebob and Gandalf
involving gangsta rap and druidism
and a wrinkled-up dragon lady with all sorts of spooky
Eastern sex secrets.
I wish him all the luck.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.