Wednesday, May 14, 2003

I've written part of a post about rock guitar & poetry (a digression from the conclusion of the Saturday night MIT readings) but have decided to let it sit for a while. What in poetry is the analog of the sudden, propulsive, zig zag rock guitar (cf, "Sympathy for the Devil")?* Or, another way to put it, what in poetry is the analog of a squirrel darting erratically across the road & then disappearing, leaving only a shaking branch behind--all of it done with perfect timing? I last got that feeling from reading Vladimir Holan's "A Night with Hamlet" (trans. Clayton Eshleman & Frantisek Galan w/ Michael Heim). Some of this feeling has to do w/ idiom too. There is always something supracolloquial about the squirrel-guitar. It begins in the colloquial & goes beyond it.

. . . They are anemic,
as if without bloodshed there would be nothing,
they are expelled but not yet excommunicated,
they are curious but have yet to find the mirror
in which Helen-Helen
looked from below-below,
in fact, they are so deaf, they would like to hear
the voice of Jesus Christ on an LP . . .

from "A Night with Hamlet"

Well, I'm off to read myself to sleep. Think another go at Eshleman & Galan's Holan will rouse the daemons of the subconscious.

slainte & paz

[* Some months back Ron Silliman posted an email from Chris Stroffolino that asked a similar question. My line of thinking comes from my shadowy memory of Chris' email as well as more recent listenings & readings that have given a bit of flesh to the memory's ghost, though the original/Chris' flesh is not the new/my flesh.]

Monday, May 12, 2003

S=A=T=U=R=D=A=Y n>i>g>h>t
at 60 AT MIT
{A Cambridge Spring Poetry Festival}

I've spent the last week writing MCAS preparation curricula for the local community college (North Shore C.C.) & preparing Gloucester tenth graders for the English Language Arts MCAS test (the next phase of which begins tomorrow). What kind of pact have I made with what kind of devil?
8:15 “Transformed”
Jon Woodward’s poem “Billy Goats Should Always Stay on Platforms Too” reminded me of my friend Greg (no relation) Cook’s comics (see In fact I think Greg would do a wonderful job illustrating the poem for a small chapbook.

Jon’s poems seemed to consist of interior monologues & strange, short narrative episodes. It took me a few poems to find the thread that wove the phrases into a poem (as opposed to a string of non-sequiturs) but once I found the thread—floating in the air, as threads do at readings—I enjoyed the Jon’s work. In fact I wrote this note, “not non-sequiturs but things brilliant kids might say.” The poems seemed to be about the need to tell someone things, wonderful & strange things. The telling had urgency & seemed to reveal something of the narrator’s own vulnerability & wonder. This seemed especially true of the newer poems. Thanks, Jon.

8:30 “Counterfeit to be tied”
Friday night Behrle said something about giving a prize to the poet who best incorporated the equations left over on the blackboard into a reading. Brendan Lorber took him up on the offer (though I’m still not sure who, if anyone, got the prize). Brendan struck a professorial stance, commented—er, “corrected”—an equation, then segued back into the regularly scheduled reading by saying he would “continue with the regular syllabus.”

A student at Gloucester High School, Dan Sloane, wrote a mock-feature on reindeer hunting for the school newspaper’s December edition. He’s also written a mock-history of the highway system—invented to suit the whims of presidential transportation & somehow related also to presidential micturation—& submitted a yearbook blurb about discovering the contents of stolen rations in the stomach of a dead friend during World War II. Why am I telling you this? I wrote Dan’s name in my notebook during Brendan’s reading & now I know why.

Brendan’s work, though, includes word play in addition to oblique satirical narrative. He uses language with a reckless, buoyant, fluent virtuosity. It’s the kind of work that makes a question like “what does it add up to?” seem irrelevant. But I find myself asking the question anyway.
8:45 “many moons called suns”
I experienced a few “ah ha!” moments during Brenda Iijima’s reading. I’d read—and promised to re-read after an interesting conversation about pathos with Mark Lamoureux—Brenda’s Pressed Wafer book “In a Glass Box”. There was something about Brenda’s work that I found intriguing but a bit “anti-absorptive” (to use Bernstein’s phrase from “Artifice of Absorption”) about Brenda’s work. As Bernstein points out, it is not strange for a reader to find an intriguing text—or speech, a read text—both inviting & resistant. In general, I find myself both distrustful of language & easily seduced by it. (This is how I feel about melody too. See Mike County’s comments about Wilco at his blog A New Yorker review of Sonic Youth also comes to mind. The critic said something about Sonic Youth playing with the line between music & dissonance. Yeah! {Funny then that Wilco & Sonic Youth are playing together at the F**** Boston Pavilion at the end of June.})

In Brenda’s work lovely phrases like “numerical wetness” and “many moons called suns” are quite seductive. There are also passages of philosophical abstractions, “spatially contiguous to the present.” The poems seem to interrogate language: how do we use language to mean (or try to mean)? how do we perceive with (and without) language? etc. etc. So once the probing aspect of the poems came clear to me a lot more “light” seemed to get through them (come from them, “shining forth”?) into my mind’s ear. What was once fascinatingly opaque was now at least translucent.

Readings are at least partially about learning how to hear.
9:00 “because of the death of being sincere”
So there it was again. Sincerity. Right there out in the open for one & all to swing at or hug. Yuri Hospodar also offered—Did he then retract?—a “bowl full of honest intent.” Yuri, I do hope you’re wrong & that there is “liberation from the hairy armpit of morality.” The play & insistence in the poems is such that if Italo Calvino had an ear for writing American poems & if he were also invaded by Mayakovsky’s less violent daemons, he would be you, Yuri. Of course, to be Yuri he would also have to seem to run smack into ostensibly unavoidable puns (smiling knowingly all the while).

Some puns are like Stop signs to pedestrians. No, I don’t mean that they make one stop. I mean that when one walks into them & falls to the pavement, it is both funny & foolish. But Italo Mayakovsky only seems to walk into puns. Approaching a street sign which hangs over the sidewalk somewhat, he slyly puts his hands in front of his face at the last moment. The impact is absorbed by the hands but he fakes surprise & falls to the ground, playing the fool to make us laugh. That is my theory about Yuri & unavoidable puns. Surreal humor is often foregrounded in Yuri’s poems but lurking a bit back & perhaps around the corner (i.e. line break) is the pathos of language’s limits. Yuri knows it’s there—around the corner, every corner & down all the mind’s alleys.
I have a note in my little green book that "Jim gives up his drink for poetry." Elsewhere I wrote that “the words are their own (accompaniment) own music.”
It’s getting on & I must return to writing MCAS prep units for NSCC. Next time Marcella Durand’s “sham nation” & Douglas Rothschild brings the Zinc Bar to Cambridge.
Slainte & Paz