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....