Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Poetry Finds Static

I had a request to repost this:

Poetry Finds Static
(A Manifesto)

Poetry rides shotgun on a highway going nowhere anyhow. Let’s just get that straight out front. You just want to find a station. Let’s get that straight too. I can’t remember the last time poetry put in. It can tell a story. That is true. But it’s no friend. Don’t make that mistake. Sometimes poetry shakes you to wake you. That is true. Poetry always turns to the station you don’t want to hear no how. Is that true? Poetry never finds it anyway. It gets stuck between stations. Poetry finds static. You can almost hear what it’s trying to say. That is true. But it can drive you mad. That is true too. Two tunes at once. Can poetry be both? What isn’t really? That might be true. Poetry takes its time or no time. Depending. What is poetry but language? What is language but the scenery? The same images shifting perception, each of us interpreting but not really knowing. As if you could. As if it could. What is true? If nothing else, that is. It makes sense to look at poetry this way and that. Drip comes close. Buzz is closer, but that’s about it. Whisper and sizzle and clang too I guess. There are more of course, but no more are needed. Buzz Whisper Sizzle Drip Clang. Drip Whisper Clang Buzz Sizzle. How can that be true? No, true, of course, is meadow horse lake love nightingale God. So true yet it certainly doesn’t seem so. The road is what we decide. Get that straight if nothing. Poetry finds static.

Gertrude Stein said there ain’t no answer. She also said there ain’t gonna be an answer and there never has been an answer. That, she said, is the answer. Poetry is as good an answer as any. Or not. If poetry claims to have the answer it is lying maybe. Maybe not. How do you know? Gertrude Stein says so, that’s how. Poetry finds static. That is the only true thing. Poetry will smoke your last cigarette. It sits beside you or behind you. It sleeps a lot. Poetry can be ahead of you sometimes always anyway. That may be true or not. Don’t ever let poetry drive. For that you’ll be sorry. If you only take one thing away from this or that let it be. Poetry is not dependable. It barely looks at the road ahead anyway. It gawks at the rabbits and the tumbleweeds and the lines behind. It will leave you in the ditch or worse. That is true. Out of gas and out of cash listening to static. Believe it or don’t—it doesn’t matter much anyway. An old, drunk poet said there are worse things than being alone. That may be true. But he didn’t say what. He also said that friendship means sharing the prejudice of experience. That of everything seems true. So maybe poetry is your friend. Remember, it can tell a good story if you let it. You can let it. But you have to be willing to listen to both stations at once.

You can find it in this really lovely anthology of manifestos---------------------->

Which can be ordered from these really lovely people here:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Desk

I've been writing, I just haven't been posting here. So before it starts to get all cobwebby, I've decided to dust off my blog and start posting again, beginning with this little story I wrote a few years ago and just recently uncovered...

The Desk

The desk sits in silence. Its seat perfectly molded to imperfect specifications in a low-grade, space age, polymer-like polymer substance. A perfect fit for the average student’s average-sized rear end. Its flat, laminated surface attracting—no, begging—for the kinds of misuse and abuse that it has been subjected to.

I see that “J.D.” was here back in ’01. I wonder what that little fucking vandal is up to now—now that he’s out there in the real world. I bet he wishes he’d picked a different major. Ancient gum hides just out of sight on the pressboard underbelly of the thing. After we’ve blown ourselves to bits; after the nuclear winter, some visitor from space will puzzle over this little petrified, pink blob—the last remaining remnant of our sensationally-sophisticated, super-sexy civilization.

More interesting than the thing itself are the reflections in the fingerprinted, curved, faux-chrome legs of the stale, jaundiced fluorescent lights above. Morphing and twisting shapes like a fun-house mirror, they’re a lot more engaging than this lecture. If I wanted to, I could tilt my head at just the right angle and use the reflection to look up that girl’s skirt—you know, if I wanted to.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Troubles Swapped..." is finally out...

I have a manifesto in this anthology...

Go here now to support a publisher that supports poets:

Salt Publishing or Amazon

(it's cheaper from Salt)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mammal Soup

We ate the mammal soup.
Methadone ponies hawk idolatry,
forecasting plasticized night terrors.
Our dream puppies
succumb to the kryptonite,
their nostrils spitting phlegm.
These ruminations,
these bedtime space parades
triggered by the harpy heartthrobs
that ply us always on nights like these
with liquor and Vantages,
smegma and sweat.

Masters of wet dream paraphernalia
and bagpipe marionettes—the flesh-coated proletariat
cry out when the Magpie Priestess sings.
Her little wisps of daisy lipstick
bend the willows of our worsened angels.
A bourgeois cutesy, she's always up for a smug grizzly caress
as she belts out Kerouac eyeshadow serenades.

Frazzled moments of shoestring importances,
Blake-like contrivances,
Hobbesian nightmares, and expectations

upon expectations
upon expectations

Another sanctimonious sunrise—
this binary travesty, this cheetah-scream light show
shakes us from the trick, moonlit facade.
Be happy the sunshine tapped you
for this twisted evolutionary carnival.

Ambiguities traded for electric hipster mugshots,
mud-cake diseases for Facebook lobotomies,
and regrets for these scurrying bombasts.
Scant relief, I know.
Each hour, a stanza,
the day,
this poem.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Graduation Ruminations

I haven't been posting lately and, for those of you who are still paying attention, I apologize. I am currently busy working on a chapbook of poetry which should be finished in a couple of weeks and, honestly, just enjoying my life.

Yesterday, someone reminded me both of my poor neglected blog and the late David Foster Wallace (who pops up here from time to time). He was one of the finest writers who ever lived. Here is the transcript of the commencement address Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005:

I'll post more soon, I promise...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What Is At Stake in Poetry? Part 1: Good vs. Bad poetry and the Modernists

What is at stake in poetry? For most people the answer would, undoubtedly, be, “Nothing much.” Today, poetry is read by few. Those who do read it are usually poets themselves or, if not, are using poetry as a way to engender popularity within a certain group of academics or hipsters applying certain forms of practiced elitism. Others use poetry as a way to garner sex because they've heard it is “romantic” (but, since these people are typically not qualified to evaluate power struggles within poetry, I will mostly ignore them in this analysis except in cases where the attempted elicitation of hot, sweaty lovemaking relates to elitist pursuits among the above-mentioned groups and/or poetry consumers not affiliated with Pablo Neruda).

I intend to, in the following discourse, a.) answer my first question, “What is at stake in poetry?” and b.) ask, “If poetry is indeed relevant, how much of that relevance is due to the prosody of the work and how much relies on the personality of the poet?” Hint: the answer to the first part of question b.) is yes.

Because most people have only a vague notion of “good vs. bad” as it relates to poetry and an even more tenuous grasp on the history of poetic movements, I will begin by exploring my own feelings—or, as eighteenth century philosopher David Hume calls them, “passions”—about poetry. My own likes and dislikes seem to stem from some kind of reaction deep within my bowels somewhere between my pylorus and my anus in what is commonly known as “the gut.” It may be helpful, here, to cite a portion of the poem, The Tay Bridge Disaster, by William McGonagall that is generally regarded as “bad poetry”:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

Few would disagree that there is a deeply embedded suckishness here—but why? “Old Timiness” seems to be one of the poem's problems. That, however, doesn't explain why the poem was ubiquitously reviled even in its own day (when it would have been considered modern). Consider this, then, from Walt Whitman's A Voice from Death, another poem about a natural disaster involving a bridge, which predates McGonagall's poem but sounds much more relevant even to contemporary ears:

A voice from Death, solemn and strange, in all his sweep and power,
With sudden, indescribable blow--towns drown'd--humanity by
thousands slain,
The vaunted work of thrift, goods, dwellings, forge, street, iron bridge,
Dash'd pell-mell by the blow--yet usher'd life continuing on,
Amid the rest, amid the rushing, whirling, wild debris,
A suffering woman saved--a baby safely born!).

Perhaps, then, it is because McGonagall's poem is too rhymey. But that, too, is reductive and discounts the fact that much of the most renowned poetry of all time has included a great deal of rhyming. Look at this stanza from To Autumn by John Keats:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

So if it isn't old timiness (discernible by the heavy use of apostrophes in place of the letter “e” in past tense verbs) and it isn't (necessarily) copious amounts of rhyming, what is lacking in bad poetry? One answer seems to be “metaphor”—something conspicuously absent in Tay Bridge. There is a vividness in both Whitman's and Keats' poems that is underutilized in McGonagall's. Other than a vague description of the bridge as “beautiful” and the river as “Silv'ry” there is nothing in the poem that distracts from the fact that he was rewriting a newspaper headline (except, perhaps, the particularly abrasive rhyming). So, metaphor seems to be a clue as to what separates good poetry from bad, but alas(!), McGonagall doesn't even try. He was simply reporting an incident. Watch what happens when I incorporate the same technique using a headline from today's New York Times:

Alas! Once mighty insurer A.I.G,
us'd taxpayer money for bonuses, you see,
both Obama and Republicans agree,
those greedy execs that A.I.G did pay
should return all those dollars right away!

See what I mean? I almost threw up a little writing that. So that we are starting from the same place, let's just agree that good poetry often includes metaphor. For Keats, there was a clear answer to what makes good poetry—beauty. He put it this way, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." And for Keats, Elaborate Word Choice + Sensual Imagery + Sophisticated Rhyme Schemes = Beauty. Keats submerges the reader into his verse and few would disagree that his poems are, indeed, beautiful. Sounds good to me. Done.

But, wait, is that really all there is to beauty? Other than in the case of puppies, kittens, and this thing, beauty is purely subjective.

As the nineteenth century succumbed to the twentieth, T.S. Eliot warned, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” By then, readers of poetry were becoming tired of rhyme schemes and iambic pentameters that had existed since before Shakespeare. They were also getting a bit lush-landscaped out, making way for The Imagists.

Ezra Pound was almost single handedly responsible for the first great poetic movement of the new century: Modernism. Contrast Pound's poem, In a Station of the Metro, with Keats':

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

It was clear to Pound that “truth” wasn't going to be found by piling on more rhyming couplets and forced iambs. Pound's prescription was to sparingly use the tools of language—replacing dense metaphor with allusion—to find some deeper truth, something even beyond Keats' conception of beauty. Pound was also the hub of the new avant-garde, influencing and supporting some of the greatest poets and writers in history including W.B. Yeats, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, H.D., Williams Carlos Williams, and Gertrude Stein, among others.

Coming soon: Pound begats Charles Olson, the Beats, and More

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Blog Less Traveled

At first I was going to agree with Jess, tee up my anxiety, and punt blogging for good. I have been having similar feelings for some time. To me, blogging can both be an extreme form of self-indulgence bordering on narcissism while, at the same time, a navel-gazing activity that exposes and confirms all of my insecurities.

But then I realized that pretty much every worthwhile thing I've ever done has made me feel that way. Therefore, I intend to press on.

Good things about blogging:

1.) It makes me write. If I intend to be a "writer" or "poet" (which I do) then I'd better do this.

2.) The feedback is instructive and constructive. To tread unapologetically over a tired cliché--feedback makes me a better writer. If I'm going to write (which, as I may have mentioned, I intend to do), I need to escape the vacuum of my head once in a while and this seems as good a space as any to do that. I know when I'm being lazy or, alternately, genius and, once in a while, I require confirmation and/or validation.

3.) If used correctly as a tool of (post?) late capitalism, blogs can be used to get the word out about readings, events, etc. I agree with Jess that they are not the best place for creative work-- the work always feels somehow unfinished, etc.--but there are other places online and off for my "best" work. Journals and magazines abound for that ultimate validation. The blog is just a sounding/bulletin board and probably should be thought of that way.

4.) Blogging will go on with or without me. Blogs are here to stay. My aversion to pretty much every technology from cell phones to iPods lasted right up until I got one. I don't want to end up like the old guy screaming at the damn kids to get off my lawn.

So, there it is. I'm going to push through...I think. I agree that a local community is important but, if anything, I think blogging can facilitate and support that while, also, exposing me to a much larger one.

Like my father used to say, "Do your homework or I'm taking off my belt." This blog is my dad's belt.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I'm going to preface this post by saying that, for the most part, I love the language poets. These are just my initial impressions from reading Eleana Kim's piece and my (admittedly limited) knowledge of the movement. I wanted to quickly get down some of my thoughts and then tease them out in later, more substantial posts. Hopefully, having said all of that, the following doesn't come off as some polemic tirade against them.

First, it seems to me that the language poets were more than a little consciously aware that they were trying to "become a movement" despite their, to me, rather transparent objections to the language label. Silliman, in particular, seems ideologically bent on promoting the genre through a steady stream of anthologies (in which he, more often than not, includes his own work). I don't get much of a sense of anti-hegemony from them at all--despite their claims of wanting to create "alternate social formations." As a group, they were more organized, more self-aware, and more capitalistic than their forbears.

Next, I'd like to address the whole "movement" thing. Other than being a self-created movement within poetry, what were the larger social implications of LANGUAGE? Lacey mentioned that they have been highly influential on other writers and poets, which, if true, is not insubstantial--but how much have they really affected the way writers (other than poets) write? This is a serious question. I'd like to know who, duly influenced by Watten, Hejinian, Silliman, et al, is challenging the hegemony in the larger culture (outside of poetics). By eliminating the author from their own work, I believe they have an almost built-in irrelevance outside of poetry (not that there is anything wrong with that). But people need flesh and bone, skin and phlegm human beings to emulate and rally around and, unfortunately, they won't find that person here. Again, not that there is anything wrong with that, but language is not going to start a revolution by itself--it needs a face. Try to imagine the Gettysburg Address without Lincoln (or even Howl without Ginsberg).

I did my own, completely unscientific test and googled language poets as compared with other poets past and present to see how many hits they received. Langpos got, mostly, in the tens of thousands of page hits compared to New York School, Beats, Modernists, Imagists, etc. who were all in the millions. Even Christian Bök returns millions of pages. And, just because he kind of reminds me of him, I entered Ed Begley Jr. and found he registered twenty times the hits Barrett Watten does.

Even though it may not sound like it, I really think the Langpos were onto something. If the goal, however, was to affect society outside of poetry, (which I believe, despite the rhetoric, it was), I think Language stumbles. It is difficult for the lay reader to connect with and so, without some heroic poetic persona to follow (ah, that personality thing again--I am obsessed with celebrity), it becomes but a pebble rolling on the literary landscape--not a landslide. Perhaps their legacy will be in their influence on others (as Lacey suggests) or as the form the next great movement rejects.

To be continued...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Poetry and Personality

How much does the personality of the poet have to play in a poetic form's acceptance? Does a poem in and of itself have the power to create change (as activism, a movement, or whatever) or is there some kind of "I want to be like that person" thing going on?

The reason I ask is because I've been thinking about celebrity lately (as I am wont to do) and what makes someone "popular" outside of their own circles. It seems to me to be like a snowball gaining momentum as it rolls down a hill--snowflakes (lets call them "people") tend to get run over by the larger movement, not necessarily because they are positioning themselves in the path but, more likely, because they can't get out of the way. Eventually the mass gets larger and larger until, finally, other people do jump on because they are feeling left out. But what creates the initial momentum (especially as it relates to poetry)?

I would argue that boredom with previous forms leads to a lot of the shift in consciousness that precedes a poetic movement. The new thing is always difficult and, almost by definition, resists becoming relevant. The relevance, I would argue, comes not from the form itself but from the people pushing the movement--the avant garde, if you will. Imagists like Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein weren't writing poetry in a vacuum--they were engaging in a dialogue that said, "Hey, doesn't it seem as if that old thing has kind of played itself out? Look at what we're doing over here." Had they been communicating only with each other, however, it wouldn't have caught on. They were out in the world having parties and gatherings, salons and shows, and attracting more and more "first adopters,"--those people who lead by the sheer force of their personalities. Eventually the piling on begins.

By today's standards Ginsberg's "Howl" seems pretty tame but, at the time it was truly groundbreaking--and the reason it seems tame today is because Ginsberg and his fellow Beats were worth emulating (at least to those outsiders looking in). What they were saying had to be said, of course, but the way they said it was challenging to societal norms, cultural taboos, and--at that time--could get you thrown in jail. But there was something about those guys that enough people were willing to take a risk (to buy their poems and books, rally around them, defend them, etc.). People looked at a lifestyle that was remarkably different from their own (and thus appealing) and began to glorify it. The sense of freedom the Beats projected--and just enough of a ring of truth in what they were saying--made the poetry itself a difficulty worth overcoming. What warm-blooded American boy didn't want to be Jack Kerouac or Neal Cassady (and what girl, deep down, didn't want them)? For many, the advantages of a raise in stature amongst a certain group outweighed the problems inherent in trying to get through something as dense as Burrough's "Naked Lunch."

Poetry seems destined to remain on the fringes for now. There are so many disparate and often engaging art forms these days, something as "simple" as language has a hard time competing for attention spans that have become not unlike those of weasels on meth. Of course the form itself is important--people aren't going to respond to something that's been trod over and over until it is as flat as a tapeworm nor are they likely to respond well to sound poetry that barely stops short of causing eardrum hemorrhaging--but I'll bet the next time a poetic force comes along to shake up the world it'll be because the person or persons responsible for it couldn't be ignored.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

In Defense of Word Clouds

Jodi Dean argues over at iCite that meaning is not at stake in word clouds (which she mistakenly refers to as “tag clouds”). But is meaning really “at stake” in most speech or writing? When every pundit on television and radio can bloviate incessantly about what this or that “means” and still not come up with an adequate answer, who is to say word clouds are an any less useful form of discourse? I would argue that, as the reader (or viewer as the case may be), it is my place to ascribe meaning and I can get as much of it, if not more, from a word cloud than many of the things that pass for argument or dialogue today. Language is far from adequate to convey “real” meaning anyway (if such a thing even exists), but it is the best tool we have. If I can look at words in a different way and make connections that I wouldn't have made except for the word cloud then I have gained something that used-up clichés and blowhard analysis can never give me.

I guess what I'm having difficulty understanding is, if indeed “meaning is not at stake in tag (word) clouds," why is Dean having such a problem with them? So what if words become images? It isn't as if word clouds are somehow usurping regular speech in everyday dialectic (as she seems to be implying) or that they haven't existed since at least Dadaism and the Russian avant-garde (as she acknowledges).

Dale Smith at Possum Ego latches onto Dean's thesis to use it in his, apparently ongoing, argument against flarf. The presumption that “contextual meaning” is of prime importance in poetry is, in my opinion, a ridiculous one. Poetry is, above all, art—and art is what I as the artist derive from its creation or you as the audience gain from its consumption. I don't need my “ah ha” moment spoon fed to me, thank you very much. Some people do and those people, I would argue, are missing out on plenty of meaning. I'm sorry Dean and Smith don't “get it” but, fortunately for me, it's not necessary that they do.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Word Clouds Part II

and another concerning the economy...

Wordle: Capitalism in Peril

"Word Clouds Are Symptoms of the Decline of Symbolic Efficiency*" (and I think I like it)

From a research paper I wrote about Thomas Hobbes...

  Wordle: Leviathan


Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

I remember our Jack Williamson
and also our yellow tree thingies.
I remember more than an
awkward taste of sweet N. Scott Momaday.

I smiled, or laughed, when you shouted
Yosuke Matsuoka! Yosuke Matsuoka!
and looking for bacillus calmetteguerin
in a something thing.

I remember me and all my Whiggishness
and you and your strange fascination with
And a head, that moved.

So, when you left, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis,
you did not leave me,
because of what I gave you for a long, long time after.
You are lobster rabbit.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Despite the heavy influences of both Robert Creely and Charles Olson on his poetry, Paul Blackburn eschewed the label of Black Mountain poet given to him by Donald Allen in his anthology, The New American Poetry, saying he believed in the value of “all work, if you work 'em right.” Active in the Lower East Side poetry community during the 1950s and 60s, Blackburn was one of the people most instrumental in establishing the Poetry Project at St. Mark's on the Bowery—even though he was passed over as its first director in favor of outsider Joel Oppenheimer. This snub felt like a slap in the face to many of the poets in the community including Anne Waldman (who would succeed Oppenheimer and run the project herself for a decade), as Blackburn had been almost solely responsible for the vigorous poetry scene in Greenwich Village and surrounding areas by his tireless promotion of live readings as a viable alternative to printed works. Blackburn, however, never publicly complained and, in fact, congratulated Oppenheimer on his appointment in a letter that began, “Dear Joel, heard the good news of yr Komisariat...”. By all accounts, Blackburn was a class act and his own, oft-overlooked, poetry deserves reconsideration nearly 38 years after his untimely death at the age of 44 in 1971.

Here's an excerpt from “AT&T Has My Dime” by Paul Blackburn

After your voice's frozen anger
emptied the air between us, the
silence of electrical connections
the vacant window pale, the
connection broken: :

...and an audio link to Blackburn reading his poem “The Assassination of President McKinley” here.

Speaking of Joel Oppenheimer—it is a little difficult not to be critical of him considering his seemingly unfair promotion in the Lower East Side poetry community over the classy, talented and deserving Blackburn. Just when I start feeling like I'm being too hard on Oppenheimer though, I read this:

wind soft as the
last time you
did it. wind soft
as a soft wind.

From “Blue Funk” by Joel Oppenheimer.

OK, I'm excerpting him out of context just to make an unflattering comparison to Blackburn but it's my blog and, so, my prerogative. His poetry really isn't necessarily that bad (but he's no Paul Blackburn). He wasn't much of an administrator, though, drifting away from the Poetry Project after only one year. Said one of his students, “some wondered how a man who had not drawn a sober breath in years was going to operate a poetry center with a several hundred thousand dollar budget.” I was going to try to redeem Oppenheimer at the end of this post but I found it nearly impossible to locate any of his poems or recordings on the Internet—perhaps a reflection of a low estimation of his poetry by others? hmm...

Finally, I'm going to talk a little about Allen Ginsberg. I love Allen Ginsberg. Not only do I love his poetry, I love what he and his fellow Beats did in helping to undo and overturn the puritanical obscenity laws of the Beaver Cleaver 1950s. Ginsberg proved that poetry can change the world. Too much? Too bad. I heart Allen Ginsberg.

Here he is reading “Kaddish.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Statement - Paul Blackburn

Paul Blackburn's Statement can be found here.

Psychotic Verse

Another, earlier post that deals with Olson's Projective Verse...

A warning to more sensitive readers: The following post contains references to violence, profanity, and thematic elements (I'm not quite sure what they are but I know them when I see them)...

Paul Allen: Why are there copies of the style section all over the place, d-do you have a dog? A little chow or something?
Patrick Bateman: No, Allen
Paul Allen: Is that a rain coat?
Patrick Bateman: Yes it is! In '87, Huey released this, Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is "Hip to be Square", a song so catchy, most people probably don't listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself.
[raises axe above head]
Patrick Bateman: Hey Paul!"

From American Psycho, 2000

I introduce these lines from American Psycho not only because I think it is a really, really good and under appreciated dark comedy, but because I believe they relate well to both Shelley's A Defence of Poetry and Charles Olson's Projective Verse. The nod to the "pleasures of conformity" that Patrick Bateman (played by Christian Bale) gives when discussing a very
bourgeois Huey Lewis reminded me of Shelley's essay but it was the axe that brought to mind Olson. Imagine that the head of the Paul Allen character (played by Jared Leto) is syntax and that Bateman, like Olson, is a modern poet who wields an axe instead of a pen. The style section spread across the floor, then, is FIELD COMPOSITION. Now, if we accept that Paul Allen's brains, blood, and skull fragments represent the syllables used to create PROJECTIVE VERSE then we can take it one more step and see, very clearly, that the raincoat represents the aversion by "establishment" poets and the general public to what Bateman, uh, I mean Olson, was trying to do--well, you get the (very sharp) point...

Leaving the above comparisons behind (oh you can be sure they'll return just like American Psycho 2: All American Girl only not as lame but, sadly, without William Shatner) I would say that Olson, despite his bantering tone in Projective Verse, was only partially kidding. We can see projective verse in action in his poem, I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You, written in 1953: "and a man slumped/attentionless/against pink shingles" (Part 3, lines 22-24). Here the "conventions of logic has forced on syntax [are]...broken open" (388). Of course what he was doing was nothing new (he even mentions that Cummings, Pound, and Williams were already doing what he was talking about), but America in 1950 was still the land of Robert Frost (hmmm...maybe it still is) and there were big changes in poetry on the horizon thanks, in no small part, to Olson and his contemporaries.

With Projective Verse Olson has written a manifesto that contains, in its language, as much rage, violence, and dark humor as American Psycho (you were so warned). Olson talks about verse as if it is a tangible thing (and to him it probably was--he was, as Kasey has said, crazy, after all). Olson doesn't just compare the poem to energy--he says it is energy. In fact it "must, at all points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy discharge" (387). Like the Bateman character, the poet "can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself (387). Perhaps this is why Bateman uses a variety of weapons to dispatch his victims including a knife, chain saw, and the ever-popular nail gun. The line must be split in half ("the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE/ the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the line (390)) because it (think of Jared Leto's head) "has, is, a deadness..." that "we (Bateman?) are bored by" (390). I could go on and on of course, but I won't. I am satisfied that, if I have achieved nothing else with this post, you will never again be able to watch American Psycho without thinking of Charles Olson and vice versa--and, perhaps, that is for the best.

Zombies: Then & Now

Because Kasey mentioned zombies the other day I'm reposting this--an essay from an earlier, more innocent, class...

What is this?

Journal # 8 – Robert Grenier and Clark Coolidge

We have spent a lot of time discussing language in this class. Well you have anyway, while the rest of us stare unblinking at you as if we were extras in a remake of a George A. Romero film. Remember the movie “Dawn of the Dead” when the zombies longed for the brains of the living but were relentlessly gunned down in a shopping mall by the well-meaning “heroes” (I mean, come on, even if zombies don’t have “feelings” like the rest of us they were somebody’s loved ones—I just feel that blasting them in half with a shotgun or decapitating them with a machete is overkill considering that most of the time they could be taken out quite effectively with a sharp blow to the head with a baseball bat)? If not, I’m sure that you remember Barbara Guest and Jackson Mac Low from last week. They were the poets who, among others, talked a lot about language. If Guest’s An Emphasis Falls on Reality was about the birth of language and Mac Low’s “Dance” poems were about the usage of language, as I have previously claimed (see Journal # 7), then Robert Grenier’s poems are about the tools of language.

Even if Grenier’s poems were total gibberish (which they aren’t) they would “seem” to have substance because of the tool he uses—namely the IBM Selectric typewriter. When I was a kid, my parent’s ancient manual typewriter fascinated me. I would spend hours hammering away on it, not to create my literary masterpiece or even to write impassioned letters to the editor—no, I just wanted to see how many keys I could jam together at one time. Then along came the Selectric with its electric pseudo-efficiency—what a machine! Without those cumbersome keys my hyperactive imagination was freed to zip, efficiently, across the page at 70+ WPM! Since I no longer saw a future in key-jamming on a Smith-Corona (my boyhood dreams crushed like the face of the undead with a Louisville Slugger), I decided to learn how to write instead—something I’ve been doing, on and off, ever since. Grenier’s poems remind me of that simpler time—that time back in the 1970s when the costumes in zombie movies consisted of little more than gray makeup and thrift store clothing—and when I first discovered my love of writing.

Clark Coolidge’s manifesto Words had me reeling like a guy with a twelve gauge surrounded by flesh-eating corpses. Perhaps you were hoping that the zombie analogy would have died with Grenier, but it has, instead, crawled from the grave even stronger and smarter than before—in fact, it now bears more of a resemblance to the creatures in the film “28 Days Later” than anything Romero ever dreamed up. Coolidge’s words, like our weapon-toting heroes, are living, breathing entities—oh, sure they can dance like Michael Jackson in the Thriller video, but they can do so much more.

If I would have read Words only six weeks ago, I would have, embarrassingly (because I’m imagining myself in class doing this), scratched my head and said, “huh?” But my brain is so much bigger now (uh oh, I can only hope that no undead T.A.s—and I know they’re out there—are going to be reading this because, well, you know, bigger brain…)! Words makes sense to me in a way that I would never have expected. I am enjoying the feeling of “getting it”—that beautiful precursor to the magical ability to lavish elitist snobbery on others (a dream I’ve had ever since I first got the ‘F’, ‘G’, ‘H’, and ‘J’ keys successfully locked together like a Mississippi chain gang). Coolidge’s manifesto and his poems have opened my mind (insert your own zombie joke here) and inspired me to experiment with my own poetry. And, since I haven’t quite been able to beat the zombie thing to death yet (for God’s sake, toss me that lead pipe!), I’ll just add that, for me, Coolidge is definitely the hero of this journal. But does that, necessarily, make Grenier a zombie? I think Grenier might have a problem with that, so let’s let him be a hero too—but he doesn’t get the shotgun—no, if I have to use this cheapo plastic Microsoft keyboard, the least he can do is fend off those rotting spawn of Satan with his weighty Selectric.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Squamous Mind

Under order is another but rather the further bending and rendering of something similar in twist-up axioms and mayflower flowering done and done in. Beneath there's a sort of knowing that even allegiance to the other ends up over and over with some likewise lacking. Something like torture or whoring wrenched out, out of order, deification and/or de-edification and scales, covered with scales, resembling scales.


a favor to grovel
for mother's
hasty salt suture.
gravel ground palms—
a roadside stigmata
dealt with
with aspirin,
and isopropyl alcohol.
it still burns

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

To Clarify

I was thinking a bit more about my point in class (and in my previous post) that, for Victorian era poets, the Romantics, et al., words were like the stone (or sculpture) while for the modernists like Stein they were the chisel (or tools) and what I meant was that, for someone like Keats (to use Kasey's excellent example--and I'm certainly not knocking Keats), "'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." But for Stein, the question might occur "what is beauty?" Keats tells us what beauty is but is that, really, all ye need to know? And, anyway, it sounds true but, to me, it doesn't feel true. My suggestion is that there is something deeper going on (buried in our biological selves) and that, perhaps, there isn't a way to describe beauty using mere language. My feeling is that Stein knew this, realized that you can't find "truth" by describing and defining it and, instead, used the tools at her disposal (words, syntax, repetition, etc.) to hammer away to create (or maybe find) something that, in my opinion at least, is every bit as true or truer than what Keats and eons of previous poets had valiently attempted. I'm not saying that many of the poems they created weren't beautiful, just that they weren't "true" (if they were, I doubt so many people would still be writing in the styles of the modernists and postmodernists). As poets we're all, I think, searching for that elusive "genuiness" or, at least, something that seems real to us. And, with that, I think my attempt at clarity has utterly failed. But you know what I mean.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Imagists

By the early twentieth century poetry needed a makeover and Ezra Pound was just the person to give it one. Pound's brilliance wasn't so much in his own poetry (although some of it is brilliant) as in his ability to recognize what change was needed and to connect a group of people capable of making that change happen. The Imagists were looking to strip away the rote structure and sentimentality that had come to define poetry of the Victorian era. It was clear to Pound that “truth” in poetry wasn't going to be found by piling on more maudlin rhyming couplets and forced iambs. Pound's prescription wasn't just to upend the status quo in search of clarity or to find something that satisfied us linguistically—it was to sparingly use the tools of language to reach for some deeper meaning (and I don't mean that pejoratively).

So I disagree with poet Kenneth Rexroth when he says, in his essay The Influence of French Poetry on American, that Gertrude Stein's “syntax is simply a development of tendencies latent in typically American speech.” I think it is much more than that. Stein is touching, through and throughout her syntax, word choice, and repetition, on the deeper workings of the human mind—that vast part of the brain that exists outside of language and deals with entities, spacial concepts, and causal relationships. Stein probes those places with her poetry and creates something far more substantive than “syntax derived from latent tendencies in speech” (and much of the verse the Imagists were rebelling against). If poets prior to the Imagists were concerned with creating beauty from language then Stein, et al. were using language to get at something else. For those earlier poets words and syntax were the stone—for Stein they were the chisel. Stein chose function over form (paradoxically, the form worked itself out) and, out of a single poem, scratched more “meaning” than a thousand stale sonnets ever could.

William Carlos Williams, in a different way, plumbs our inner workings. Williams was far more concerned with the material world than Stein was. “No ideas but in things” rings true enough that it seems reasonable to base a life's work on. I agree with Rexroth when he says, regarding Williams, that “His long quest for a completely defenseless simplicity of personal speech produces an idiom identical with that which is the end product of centuries of polish, refinement, tradition and revolution.”

Stein's A BOX. and Williams' The Manoeuvre both, in their own way, affect me every time I read them.


Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same
question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful
cattle. So then the order is that a white way of being round is
something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so
rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so
earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again.


I saw the two starlings
coming in toward the wires.
But at the last,
just before alighting, they
turned in the air together
and landed backwards!
that's what got me— to
face into the wind's teeth.

Both Stein's repetition (which defies and denies closure) and Williams' imagery never fail to create a visceral reaction in me—sublimating, perhaps, a part of my lizard brain (or maybe I just need to quit drinking turpentine). Stein satisfies my rationalist side while Williams sates my empiricist. So it isn't that I just think the imagists were on to something, I know they were.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Manifesto 2 - The Revenge of Manifesto

A new manifesto based on a class discussion of clarity...

Poetry is Undermining

Poetry is undermining. It takes something—language—so familiar, so comfortable, and makes it difficult, hard. It is cheap usurping. The poet is anarchist. Why doesn't he—or she—or the divine inspiration, or whatever leave it alone? No. We want meaning or, at precisely least, clarity. Then, externally, the poet with his (or her or its) guile and uncomfortableness, out of nowhere really, disorders and spills. Somebody (and let me tell you it isn't going to be me) has to clean up the strife. Let me be clearer—this schism, this rift, this chasm. To put it simply, poetry is the demilitarized zone between the known and the understood. That's definitely not specifically analogous enough for you. Poetry is violence. So, in that way, it is accumulated carnage. It is not de-militarized, in fact, at all. It is post-actualized discharge. Poetry isn't connection as much as can be deliberated. It is subterfuge—an act, you may have heard by now, of undermining. It is tearing and littering. A land mine buried under pleasantries and would-be's. A poet, as he or she or it (let's just quit laboring around and call it shit) is no innocent, no refugee, no witness. Not that. A poet is a terrorist, or worse, enabler. It is not energy along points as Olson exacts, it is, moreover, energy dispelled, not to the reader, or even other poets but at, more specifically, me. Sometimes you, but mostly me. It exists in and without politeness. I surmise this “society.” So it is as nuclear as it is unclear. It is vile earnestness. In as much as it is “form” (and certainly not applauded by Plato), it is kilterless and defiant. Honesty is important here.

H.D. and Me (Sitting in a Tree)

I've got a "thing" for H.D. Don't ruin it for me by saying things like, "She'd never go for you," or, "You realize she's dead, right?" Mmm, H.D....