Friday, August 29, 2008

Elizabeth Bachinsky reads K. Silem Mohammad

The Nose To, the Tens No, the Not Ens, the Sent On, the S o n n e t

"…she is very capricious; one cannot summon or foresee her; she comes as happiness comes, hands filled with an achievement that is already in flower."

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, on rhyme.

K. Silem Mohammad is currently at work on Sonnagrams, a collection of poems in which the poet translates Shakespeare's sonnets, line by line, into anagrams. The procedure goes something like this: the poet plugs a line of Shakespeare's verse into an online anagram generator, the results of which serve as a sort of smorgasbord of poetic possibilities from which the poet sculpts a new line—and another and another until the poet has built a new sonnet. In this case, the new poem is complicated by an adherence to the metrical structure of the original sonnet (tricky!), although, admittedly, the poet is willing to break the rules, as it were, and drop a letter down a line or two for the sake of sense. The resultant poems look like this:

Overwhelm the Hot Depth of the Hush Muff

Unwholesome leather flagpoles gross me out;
I never may endure their bulging mass.
Abjection hatches random nests of doubt
When I am reading Newsweek in the grass.

Intense coyotes way hopped up on meth
(Mere formalists by virtue of their hats)
Cannot but shudder at the thought of death,
Although they dwell at Watergate with rats.

Those photogenic walruses are still
Unfocused in their smooth immunity
To styrofoam protrusions of the will,
And oft enough outwitted by a bee.

Are London bedbugs thought to be that tall,
That Mammoth Jack must huff to drub them all?


[Sonnet 44 ("If the dull substance of my flesh were thought")]

It's a task suited to poets with a penchant for meter and patterns and puzzles and it's the sort of task that could probably drive a person crazy. I can relate. A few years ago I translated T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, as well as a number of other canonized poems, in a similar manner. So, for the sake of comparison, for the sake of spookiness—here's my version of Milton's "On His Blindness" from my first book of poetry, Curio (BookThug, 2005).

She Is Blond Sin

Dim, nephritic, yet single (whoosh!)
She's a dandy kid. Why film her drear wilt and
Tease the wanton hidden clit? Oh had I that
Molten loadstone rebel—gum my thighs. She is down
To her panties. Revere her knees. Tada my
Darling! In time he ruts her cunt. My curt
Deus ex machina
goads both girl and Delt. Today
Only I partake in neither—devout—but
Soon that rumour (not greed) plies me. Don't
Fight. She's a Norse beast. Now I stroke her.
Baby my every limb seeks this state…hide, eh? His
Deep kiss taunts singly. Ding! Had I shod a bi
Dancer (post Streisand) taut and low—oh
Woo! What a dish! And to yell nasty verse!

(John Milton, "On His Blindness")

This was the first poem I ever "anagrammed" and after writing it I felt as though I'd reached into Milton's grave and poked the poor guy in the eye. It felt so irreverent, so freed. Which is, of course, why I continued to longer procedural projects. But the job was arduous. At the time, the Internet wasn't so speedy as it is now, so I did it all by hand. I tried to maintain as close a mimetic structure to the original poems as possible, and I was firm with myself; I wasn't allowed to carry letters on to following lines. After all, if a computer could come up with 500 alternatives for "April is the cruelest month, breeding" then surely I could come up with one. But no matter what nuances of craft there are between Mohammad's procedure and mine, it's the similarity of the end result that strikes me as simply wonderful.

Why wonderful? Because it's as if we are two scientists who have chosen to conduct the same experiment, unbeknownst to one another, and have arrived at similar results. In a way, this proves the procedure is sound; that a sense of fun, diligence, and irreverence can lead to some formally interesting work. And I don't use the word work lightly. The types of constraint-based poems Mohammad is invested in here are hard, hard work, not to mention there's something reassuringly plebian about the end product. Anyone with the inclination can write these kinds of poems and come up with similar results. There's nothing rarified about them and, so long as you are willing to leave your performer's look-at-me-desire-for-recognition-of-virtuosity at the door, the poems require a poet abandon persona and allow procedure to take centre stage.

Mohammad writes:

The sonnagram feels full of intriguing possibilities to me right now, as it is poised at an interestingly liminal point between traditionally formal and experimentally procedural conceptions of constraint. The elements of "chance" and "intentionality" (in Jackson Mac Low's sense of the words) are balanced, or held in tension with each other, so that the act of composition simultaneously involves a submission on my part to the felicities of the arbitrary linguistic draw, and an indulgence in a more traditional version of "craft."

I'm quite happy to take this statement further and say I don't see much difference at all between traditional forms of constraint-based writing and emergent traditions. Craft is craft is craft. Poets writing today have a particularly large pool from which to draw the elements of their work, and I think they write best who draw deep and draw often. Do I think projects like K. Silem Mohammad's Sonnagrams will remain as Shakespeare's sonnets have remained? Somehow, I doubt it. But perhaps that's part of the charm of the anagram. They're slippery. They want to mutate. Just when you think you've got one nailed to the page, it turns on you and slips away.
-Elizabeth BachinsKy, Vancouver 2008

Elizabeth Bachinsky is the author of Curio and Home of Sudden Service, which was nominated for a Governor General's Award for Poetry in 2006. Her third book of poetry is forthcoming with Nightwood Editions, Spring 2009. She lives in Vancouver.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

parc jarry, post storm

We enjoy compiling the slender catalogue of our city's modesty.
--Lisa Robertson

The vast and bumpy green of the urban expanse is broken by a Maple. Silver, one would guess from the seat of one's bicycle. Urban appears in description after description of parc Jarry, as if wishing to transform the suburban before our very eyes. But the parc seems to know itself, or at least what it isn't. What makes the leap from suburban to urban? The congo drums, the number of couples lying on the ground making out? Is it scope? Scale of trees? Lack of design, or simply a matter of description? There is no wrought iron here, none of Olmstead's curved paths leading to and from the fountain, which is a kind of question mark at the center of the scene. There are no bridges that elevate much more than footpaths, and one is always disturbed by the tags and bar codes dangling from the tree's branches, the black netting sticking out from the earth's seam.
On this day several women in hijabs, their sons (or grandsons) appearing to describe the fountain for them. What translation, one wonders? To what end? The gestures are punctuated with plastic figures, Hot Wheels ride the sky above their heads. The women (grandmothers), lean in from their stone perches calmly, eyes on the future. Perhaps they are aware of the several young women flagrantly reading magazines on a blanket, families with toddlers precarious and flighty as kites.

There is no trace of the visit from Pope John Paul II, no Jehovah's Witnesses here today, not the sound of the Canadian Open, no crack of bat, not the echo of 70,000 plates being hand from one hand to another--not a clink--for no doubt those plates would have been paper, flimsy, and left smears of mustard and Ketchup on the grass.

This length, next to the traffic on boulevard Saint Laurent is noisy; traffic funneling toward Jean Talon. The parc prickles as the wheels of the bicycle traverses its lawn. An incline at the southern end fails to keep the energy from spilling over into the housing complex. The eye moves longingly and ends up back at the fountain. The parc has been home to the Montreal Expos who played their last game their on September 25, 1976, one learns, and after the Pope's visit it was re-named for him, but the name didn't stick, and by 1987 it was called Jarry again.

Space is never settled until it realizes its own potential. Or perhaps, it is simply never settled.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Laurie Anderson, elsewhere, and autumn in the air

Autumn in the air, and the lure of galleries, the clean walls, the sheen of matte concrete like hardened sand soft under foot.

This last week of August, the first week of September, like a funnel, shifting us back indoors. And so appropriately or not, a snippet of Laurie Anderson this morning from a great column in Art Forum called 500 words. My favorite word count.

I was feeling very detached in a lot of ways. Homeland currently begins with a quote from Aristophanes’s The Birds. Last summer, I performed it at the Herod Atticus at the Acropolis; it was the most hallucinatory experience to be quoting an ancient Greek play in an ancient theater in Greece. The theater was full of birds, and the story was, of course, about birds. There’s a part of Aristophanes’s play that describes a time before the world began. Since there was no land, only air, the birds were constantly in flight. The first bird was a lark, and one day, her father died, which was a colossal problem. Burying your parents was a big deal in Greek tragedy. What do you do with their bodies? So the lark is panicking, wondering what to do, and she finally decides to bury her father in the back of her own head. I describe this act as the beginning of memory, and to me, it had a haunting connection to our century, in terms of groundlessness—how much we’re detached from a sense of place. It’s all very theoretical, very digital. A lot of the stories in Homeland are about the disappearance of things. Record stores, phone booths—what it means when things turn into numbers, and how you deal with that.

The war was the thing that inspired this. And since this is Artforum, I’ll say I was really surprised at how quiet artists and intellectuals were, after Susan Sontag stopped talking. When I say Homeland is political, it’s in a very loose sense—though some of the work is quite specific. I’m sure some people will find it didactic. And I can see that reaction; it’s actually my biggest fear. As an artist, I want to create something that’s very open-ended and that gives people, myself first of all, a feeling of freedom. Something people could use as a way to get out of traps. I’m always looking for that: How do I get out of the most recent trap I’ve built?

Voyeur of a voyeur: Watching Laurie Anderson watch a film in the making by Laurie Anderson, Chelsea, 2007

Friday, August 22, 2008

Marilyn Hacker on Gwendolyn Brooks, plus 5 Questions

The Rites for Cousin Vit

Carried her unprotesting out the door
Kicked back the casket-stand. But it can’t hold her,
That stuff and satin aiming to enfold her,
The lid’s contrition nor the bolts before.
Oh oh. Too much. Too much. Even now, surmise,
She rises in the sunshine. There she goes
Back to the bars she knew and the repose
In love-rooms and the things in people’s eyes.
Too vital and too squeaking. Must emerge.
Even now, she does the snake-hips with a hiss,
Slaps the bad wine across her shantung, talks
Of pregnancy, guitars and bridgework, walks
In parks or alleys, comes haply on the verge
Of happiness, haply hysterics. Is.

from Annie Allen (1950)

This sonnet is from Gwendolyn Brooks’ Annie Allen, the first book by an African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Brooks, born in 1917 in Kansas but a Chicagoan for her eight decades, is a poet whose strongest work combines contemporary (though rarely demotic) diction with a love of word-play and supple, elaborate syntax recalling Donne or even Crashaw (and frequently Eliot) which she brings to bear, with affectionate irony, on her subject. Annie Allen is a collection of poems which, taken together, chronicle and counterpoint the life of a young woman and of her community: a black working-class neighborhood in Chicago during and just after World War II. That community, and its subsequent transformations, from working-class aspiration to urban decay to the radicalized youth movement of the ‘sixties, remained Brooks’ major focus through later books. Through a more than a half century in which an autobiographical aspect was predominant in American poetry, even in the discretion of Elizabeth Bishop or the verbal legerdemain of cummings, Brooks constantly eschewed this vein: even in poems spoken in the first person, there are indications that we are reading a dramatic monologue. One could say that the protagonist of each book, and of the work as a whole, is not an individual but a community.

The movement of Annie Allen is that of the character, Annie’s moving out of romantic self-absorption, and beginning to observe that community – which , for her as for Gwendolyn Brooks, is not limiting, but a source of energy, information, support, and, most of all, of stories implicit in the quotidian lives of its citizens. “The Rites for Cousin Vit” is, an elegy as well as a sonnet, but it is an elegy so overflowing with the life-force of its subject that, with no overt religious context, it constitutes a denial of death. Although subordinated to the imperative “surmise” which makes this rising an act of imagination, the verbs “rises in sunshine” and “ must emerge” metaphorically equate the sensual, down-to-earth Vit with the risen Christ – who then “does the snake-hips with a hiss,” becoming both Eve and the serpent , until , after the communion of the “bad wine” and the purely human interaction of “talks,” these transcendental identities are resolved with the final verb, a one-syllable sentence of affirmation: “Is.” All this is contained – or rather, turned loose – in an Italian sonnet of two envelope quatrains and a sestet framed by the end-words “emerge” and “is.” Nothing is accidental here, certainly not the title, in which Vit’s name echoes the Latin for “life” – and her identification as “cousin” implicitly creates a narrator/ speaker with a familial relationship to her, confirmed by that imperative “surmise” which the only mark of that speaker. “Cousin” also claims her as a community and family member, a fact which informs the “outlaw” aspects of her behavior: the plural “love-rooms,” the bad wine, shiny dresses and dirty dancing. “Outlaw” perhaps, but not outcast.
Originally published as "The Sonnet As A Wild Woman's Blues: On Gwendolyn Brooks' "The Rites for Cousin Vit." Field: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, #61, Fall 1999. Reprinted with permission of the author.

5 Questions for Marilyn Hacker

LH: Marilyn, I've had the pleasure of hearing you read Brooks' sonnet, "The Rites for Cousin Vit," and you read it as passionately as if it were your own. Does Brooks' voice have a particular meaning for you?

MH: Brooks' lyric observation, narrative skill, use of the dramatic monologue (which this poem becomes if one reads the almost-absent speaker as Annie Allen) and of quotidian portraiture have always aroused my admiration and desire for re-reading, as does, perhaps even more so, the sheer verve, the joy in her sculpting of English syntax.

LH: As one of our great sonneteers, I wanted to ask you about contemporary approaches to the form. Your own engagement with it is both contemporary and traditional in that you are using it—as Brooks did—as elegy, monologue, mourning, etc. but you are also very much in conversation with the forms early masters, Donne, for instance. Do you feel the form is open for endless variations? Can you see some traces of your idea of sonnet in a computer-generated sonnet for example?

MH: I admit to a lack of interest in computer-generated poetry. I do feel that the sonnet form is adaptable to near-infinite variations made by human beings, most of which include some kind of implicit dialogue with previous practitioners of the form. It intrigues me into how many disparate languages the form has travelled. Mahmoud Darwish included in one of his later book a series of sonnets in Arabic, which may (I could be wrong) be the first passage of the sonnet into that language, but which is entirely indicative of Darwish's own continual dialogue with other poets and poetries, Lorca being one of his interlocutors. One of my favorite contemporary sonnet-writers in English is George Szirtes, now British, born Hungarian, who also translates widely from the Hungarian -- and the sonnet is vital in contemporary Hungarian poetry, including the "heroic crown" of 15 sonnets in which the last sonnet is made up of the first lines of the 14 others. A lovely English example of that feat of legerdemain is British-Iranian Mimi Khalvati's "Love in an English August". But so, in another register, and in the United States, is Marilyn Nelson's A Wreath for Emmett Till, which brings the sonnet back to (as it happens) one of the horror/martyr stories of American racism also commemorated by Gwendolyn Brooks. Karen Volkman's linguistically surreal sonnets in her new book Nomina are a fascinating permutation of the form.

LH: You've been reading and thinking about poetry and essays—Montaigne—can we expect a collection of essays from you any time soon, or do you fold that thinking into your poetry?

MH: I have been working on a collection of essays that is being "looked at" now. I hope something will come of it.

LH: What is the last book that took your breath away?

MH: Violette Leduc's Trésors à prendre Fady Joudah's The Earth in the Attic My Arabic textbook when I sit down to do my homework.

LH: What are you working on now?

MH: Trying to finish a book of poems. Also a collection of "Selected Translations" of ten contemporary French poets.

Marilyn Hacker is the author of nine books, including Squares and Courtyards, and Winter Numbers, which received a Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Award of The Nation magazine and the Academy of American Poets in 1995; Selected Poems, which was awarded the Poets' Prize in 1996, and the verse novel, Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons. Her most recent book, Desesperanto, was published in 2003 by W.W. Norton. She has translated Claire Malroux and Vénus Khoury-Ghata. She lives in Paris and New York where she is Professor of English at the City University. You can hear Gwendolyn Brooks reading "We Real Cool," and you can hear Hacker reading "Migraine Sonnets".

Marilyn Hacker reading at the Dodge Festival, 2004.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Memories, originally uploaded by Eejla.

Guest Posts, or How Poems Work

The idea for the guest posts stems from my appreciation of the How Poems Work column that the Globe & Mail ran a few years back. The posts were generally insightful and instructive, opening up poems and poetry not only to other poets, but to the uninitiated. Some of them became useful pedagogical tools. Some conversation starters. The column became an entity that often inserted poetry into a conversation that otherwise would not have occurred. Few were disturbing. And few were disturbing because the agenda of the writer was clear: read this poem, it works like this, it makes me think this, look at this line, what about this... See how she did that? What does it mean that she chooses to do this? What does it mean that she didn't choose this, this is how a sonnet works, this is what she did with the form, and so on.

Poof! In an instant all that verbose "review speak" gone.

The purpose, to my mind, of the "How Poems" work genre, isn't to gloss, or rant about a poem or poet, but simply to engage with the text, to query the inner workings, to tease out meaning, to wonder, yes, to appreciate too, but mostly to open up texts. Open, open.

The other thing that excites me about this genre is that it models a way of reading. How we read is under-investigated. How does one approach a text when they have no clues as to what it's responding to and why? What if there are no difficult texts, just texts that one hasn't found a way to enter? Let these posts be points of entry.

The "How Poems Work" offerings will be mixed in with reprints, such as derek bealieu's last Friday, and a few upcoming posts of reviews published elsewhere. But the reviews posted I believe, are more in line with the latter, than the kind of review we've come accustomed to reading. And they are a very mixed bag of voices and styles.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Michael Ondaatje, O.C.

Michael Ondaatje, O.C., originally uploaded by johnwmacdonald.

Another great one from John W. Macdonald. His photo stream on flickr is packed with great shots. Do check it out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated...

A response from the Globe and Mail today tells me that there are no plans to alter, or cancel the Book Section. Okay, that's the last internet rumour the Hound responds to.

On the other hand, it's nice to show a vote of confidence for what we have.

Blogrolls, links, lists and resources

The blogroll is daunting. There have been several. While in New York this blog had a long list of Canadian literary resources, whatever online readings and review sources there was (those that were actually engaging with the literature, not simply promoting a limited agenda for it it), were there. It was never long enough, and there was never any review source that I felt absolute confidence in. (What's up with that in Canada? Looking at the product of our literary imagination in the form of the traces we leave on the net is not actually very pretty. Please, someone do a thesis on Canadian public literary discourse. It's fascinating.) But I digress. The lists and blogrolls were lost long ago when the blog format changed, and the thought of building those lists again didn't appeal. And ultimately I was and am suspicious of the blogroll. Partly because I'm not sure what the purpose is. Is it about size? In terms of how many friends one has? Allies? Another way of establishing one's poetics? Or, in the case of Silliman, in terms of archiving all the ongoing blogs? The latter is useful, but Silliman has done that already.

While in New York it seemed important to provide Americans with good Canadian resources. It's probably still a useful thing to do, but what would those be? It was also useful to offer Canadians portals into US poetry scenes, and that probably still is useful, and if you check archives you'll find them. In any case, you'll note a list of blogs accumulating on the side. I see the list as an ongoing survey of the lit blog. What I'm looking for is blogs that are thinking. Not just self-promoting, but engaging with the world, literary or otherwise. What works? And I'm looking at gender too. Very much interested in seeing more women thinking in public. To think is to risk. That interests.

Moreover, as the reviewing venues of the world respond to shifting economies, it seems to me the literary blogs will do (and are doing) important work. It will likely lead to the next thing (is this the transition space?). The next space of public discourse. Perhaps there are forums we've not yet imagined to get this work done. Perhaps there are new ways of thinking and writing about writing? New ways of organizing review venues. New ways of conceiving books and texts and genres...

Where does a blog like Silliman lead? Or what is the next incarnation?

Curiouser and curiouser.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cat Nap

CatNap.jpg, originally uploaded by ninjatira.

There is an unbelievable number of photographs out there that involve cats and books. Much, much more than make it into the Books & Portraits pool that the Hound administers on Flickr. Not so many books and dogs. No books and Hounds. What would it be like to have a weekend paper without a Books Section? What would the cat sleep on?

Globe and Mail Book Section

Please take a minute to write the Globe and Mail regarding the disappearing weekend Book Section. We have our gripes about it, but it's our only real national voice. It's absolutely shocking that a newspaper of the Globe and Mail's stature would consider a Books Section optional. A more imaginative approach might be in order. A more dynamic interface, a book blog like The Guardian and The New York Times have, might be in order, but canceling the Book Section is like cutting off our future. There are already so view viable venues for discussing literature in this country it's quite unbelievable this could even be considered.

Expanded yes. Diversified yes. Refreshed yes. Cancelled? Absolutely not.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

This is conceptual poetry

In case you were wondering Nada Gordon clarifies.

mount royal, afternoon, summer

The mountain is not a mountain really, at least not from the perspective of a person from British Columbia, but in the minds of Montrealers it is indeed a mountain. Some even say it's an extinct volcano, an Angel having sprung from its left thigh, where people gather to smoke pot and play music. One looks up from the corner of Marie-Anne and Mentana say, and sees the mountain, one looks up from the corner of boulevard Saint Joseph and rue Chambord and sees the mountain. Not long after one is walking up. Or running. Running up the mountain is gentle, civilized really. There are cicadas, and languages, families, couples, old men in hats, and brothers in shorts and socks, there are cyclists and runners, and more than half way up a beautiful stone water fountain with cold, cold water to soothe. There is the cross, and there is the cemetery and Lac au Castors once you get to the top. People circulate, men clutching wallets and women with sweaters. All very civilized. Not at all the seawall crowd. Last night a 50-something woman in a formal white knit suit, very coiffed, cycling up, and one wonders where else in North America does fitness look quite so elegant?

Friday, August 15, 2008

carre saint louis, mid-afternoon

There is something of a faded elegance about carre saint louis these days. It's still beautiful. The fountain well maintained. But on a given day there is a chemical-scent, reminiscent of Pioneer Square in Seattle, or Victory Park at Hastings and Cambie in Vancouver. One doesn't want to linger. On this day, the pup above had the run of the place, snapping at the occasional leaf in her fountain, doing laps, and when she made eye contact she obliged by coming out for a good shake. Naturally. And a little sniff too.

derek beaulieu on blert

Tongue Tied: Jordan Scott’s blert.
Review by derek beaulieu

Jordan Scott’s blert (Coach House Books, 69 pp., $16.95) is a poetic engagement with the physicality of the author’s own stutter, where “every vowel and consonant must be traversed, claimed, made audible by non-stop bodily action.” blert moves from language’s shorelines to the pounding surf, from the languid sandbars to the towering cliff-edges – the unstable sides of falling rocks and jagged precipices.

blert is written in alternating sections of prose poems and shorter, imagist “chomp sets,” and each section explores the typically non-poetic diction of stammering by juxtaposing the “dribble of spit trapezes” of knocking teeth and frozen tongues with the “amoeba rhythm” of a naturalistic vocabulary. For example, in “Marble Bubble Bobble,” Scott develops the impressionistic swerve of “Umbra marbles drench the ravine slot, divot light, a barreled birch grasps citrus palm as pumice, as coastal groove hulls plunge pool, the cervical troll, pawpaw bract.”

Scott continues on this slow grind of meaning and sound in a series of “Fables” which confront traditional means of ‘curing’ speech impediments with a tense, tongue-tied verbiage. Each of these fables builds a vocabulary both in sound and in description:
Eat your grasshoppers – bonbon bilobate, cert cerus. Your long crus of incus chillax maxilla, buoyant in vignette. You will take care to open your mouth, crepitate shoo shoo to Band-aid dollop. Mop up atrium of Listerine tornado slow to Lego toot-sweet.
Scott ups the ante by moving from “you” and “I”, driving a sound-based abstraction into an autobiographical elision – teasing out details in abbreviated gasps of breath, stilted sentences and short-line blerts of “cusp / munch / crunch / rump.” These abbreviated lines “slip and slide like fat suburban men in July” out across the page, gulped breaths of poetic “orchestra of tendons or bees.” The poet, knowing the readerly stammering that accompanies his text, asks “But […} how will I speak in these rooms? I answer that you will speak the curve of hyoid, cradle-rock syllable until rockabye acrobatics, and the ache for speech before dream.”

blert dwells in the moments of syllabic asphyxiation when “phonemes flutter” and the vocal chords become constrained. Working within this physical constraint Scott’s work revels in the “rumpus banter” of tension.

Breathing deeply the “exhaust in your vocabulary”, the exhaustion of a constricted vocabulary, Jordan Scott’s blert is a major poetic event, redefining how we write and speak our bodies and our voices.
Published originally in Fast Forward, reprinted with the permission of the author.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dr. Henrietta Mann - a TITANIC discovery

Women who do...

Plastic, size, compassion fatigue and art

What does Andreas Gursky's 99 cent diptych have to do with the floating garbage patch in the pacific? (Seen here thanks to Moma). What are the implications of the kind of deep looking that his photographs require? (An earlier post on Gursky here.) As if to force us to grow accustomed to looking at what appears like simple minimal repetitions...we've grown accustomed to thinking manufacturing or replication is benign.
Scale, scale, scale (even in Chelsea he's huge, not Serra huge, but enough to take up more than one gallery at a time...) is so instructive.
The problem of the garbage is complicated, and it's so big experts don't have a clue how to begin to solve the problem. Does seeing the problems really make one pessimistic? How to look without getting burned out? What do we do with all this information? Is it useful to know that there are 191 million global migrants. On the other hand what does business see when it looks at a floating island of garbage? Sometimes just picking up one piece is a start, no? Isn't optimism confronting things head on? Doesn't that suggest at least a will to move through and beyond?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More ado about not much

Couldn't leave a comment about the comment and ongoing discussion concerning the new Penguin Anthology of Canadian fiction so I'll leave it here. It's a simple bit of instruction courtesy of Sharon Harris' Avatar. One need only replace poetry with fiction. A move that matters about as much as whether a reviewer likes or enjoys a piece of art matters to the assessment of a given piece of art or literature:
There is a very simple method for distinguishing a good poem from a bad one without hurting anyone’s feelings. Rotate the poem in question on a plate, and the true masterpiece will spin in the mind for eons. If its form and content are uniformly distributed and mostly pure, then it will stay upright like a top.

The contradictions within a lesser work prevent this. Since the form and content are likely warring, these opposing forces create a sense of inertia. Thus the poem falls flat and doesn’t stand up to the force of reviewing.

Women who do

Of course there are many who make the world their salon...shall we do an inventory? I still think it would be a small, but fabulous, list. I could start with the blonde Janice Joplin in the parc this afternoon. There was no corner not reverberating with her voice and she didn't give a shit if you wanted to listen. Is that a good thing? Because that's the other question--how to take up space?

As for poets, a random undertaking, but I'll start with Dodie Bellamy because Dodie (pictured here with Kevin Killian), is not interested in being a good girl. I'm sure this makes us good Canadian girls a little nervous. And though we might not be interested in being good girls either, and though we might like to swill Scotch, thump our breast and yawp, there's something to the rumour that we're basically "good girls," and polite right? (Except my friend Kate who once smacked someone at a party in Philadelphia who insinuated as much...and Lynn Crosbie whom I will get to in a bit, and whom I would never dare suggest is a good girl though likely underneath all that bite she is too...and now I'll try not to apologize...)

Anyhow, yes, probably titles such as Cunt Ups and Barf Manifesto would make the average Canadian she-poet uneasy. Which is why you should order them of course--stretch your unease. To start, you can read an interview here, and if you're in Vancouver, you can catch Dodie at the Positions Colloquim that KSW is hosting this month. She has recently posted a video of Ariana Reines, whom I mentioned last week in my post on Coconut, and she will no doubt continue to illuminate and provoke. More on Bellamy when my copy of Barf Manifesto shows up in my mailbox.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Suzzallo Library (2)

Suzzallo Library (2), originally uploaded by AJTx0.

Imagine a time when people believed that design might impact the way a person read, or that they did read. Imagine if energy went into creating spaces of mingling and thinking. Seattle, that great, wet, pomo hill-hugging city of vintage, lattes, and brick, has some very cool libraries, including the great new public library. This beauty is clearly not designed by Rem Koolhaas, and meant more as a place to read Lucretius, rather than Eunoia. What entirely new spaces would one concoct? The Hound has always been partial to rafts, or tree forts. Something with a very large moat.

Monday, August 11, 2008

the fountain, parc lafontaine

you can't make out the edges of the park. there is a mime. he too is in shadow. a man in a white suit rides a unicycle. half a dozen young men in baggy pants joust under a maple with light wooden swords they have made and decorated themselves. they topple over each other landing on the pungent earth. it isn't soft. and like the underweave of a ancient carpet the grasses no long touch each other. in the gaps earth worms ripple and dive. small stones are unearthed. a wine cork, several cigarette butts, several languages, many crickets, the whir of cylcists, the endless versions of bob marley, and this night the Symphony playing Beethoven in Théâtre de Verdure.

3 Nice things about Lemon Hound

Thanks for the post Chris. I think I met Chris at a reading in Toronto where he has recently relocated. Good news for Toronto it seems. The blog is Buggeryville. Check it out.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Lady Lisa Robertson

Author of City Eclogues:

How simple was I to believe
Delusive poetical dreams!
Or the flattering landscapes they give
Of meadows and murmuring streams.
Bleak mountains, and cold starving rocks,
Are the wretched result of my pains;
The swains greater brutes than their flocks,
The nymphs as polite as the swains.

-from "
The Bride in the Country; a Parody on Rowe's Ballad, "Despairing beside a Clear Stream," &c.

You can hear a bit of bio courtesy of BBC. If you know nothing of Montagu, you'll find it intriguing as she was very unsual indeed, apt to scorn admirers--such as Pope--a lady who achieved much success as a poet in her day, and whom I believe assumed the world to be her salon, robed as you can see above, in Turkish style after her visit to the Ottoman lands. Her last words apparently were "It has all been most interesting..."

Here's an excerpt from the Basset-Table, An Eclogue. It's probably time for a new version of her texts, with a slighty more attuned ear.
Soft SIMPLICETTA doats upon a Beau;
PRUDINA likes a Man, and laughs at Show.
Their several Graces in my SHARPER meet;
Strong as the Footman, as the Master sweet.

Cease your Contention, which has been too long;
I grow impatient, and the Tea's too strong.
Attend, and yield to what I now decide;
The Equipage shall grace SMILINDA'S Side:
The Snuff-Box to CARDELIA I decree.
Now leave Complaining, and begin your Tea.
And a snippet from "In a Paper Called the Nonsense of Common Sense, January 24, 1738.

How many pretty gentlemen have been unmercifully jilted by pert hussies, after having curtseyed to them at half a dozen operas; nay, permitted themselves to be led out twice; yet, after these encouragements, which amount very near to an engagement, have refused their billets-doux, and perhaps married other men, under their noses. How welcome is a couplet or two, in scorn of woman-kind, to such a disappointed lover; and with what comfort he reads, in many profound authors, that they are never to be pleased but by coxcombs; and, consequently, he owes his ill success to the brightness of his understanding, which is beyond female comprehension. The country squire is confirmed, in the elegant choice he has made, in preferring the conversation of his hounds to that of his wife; and the kind keepers, a numerous sect, find themselves justified in throwing away their time and estates on a parcel of jilts, when they read that neither birth nor education can make any of the sex rational creatures; and they can have no value, but what is to be seen in their faces.
Lisa Robertson riffs on Montagu's city eclogues in her second book, XEclogue. Here we meet the razor-tongued Lady M as she speaks to the elusive Nancy:
Dear Nancy,
It's the same day. I had meant to read you the word in my purse--a word like lipstick, petulant and sentimental as a dress, yet complicit with your smudged revolution. But I let the moment pass, and now I must risk censure and speak of my shimmering girlhood--for the politics of girls cannot refuse nostalgia.
To be raised as a girl was a language, a system of dreaming fake dreams. In the prickling grass in the afternoon in August, I kept trying to find a place where my blood could rush...
and later:
When a boy walks into the philosophical, he's on a private earth. He's out of his skin; risk slips into his syntactic cleft then falls out. The private earth dissoolves, blooms, contemplates its horizon....On the blurred selvage we tucked liberty in our cheek like a tongued and rotten diction. Transparency was leaning on our couch. A tempting-looking girl-prince, she whispered to the impalpable frontier 'that's where we belong.'
Was it already two years ago that Robertson made the Poetry Foundation her salon? It was. It was a meandering, connective and expansive entry which I offer you a snippet from.
Much of what writing has become for me unfolded from a chance discovery, deep in the footnotes of a scholarly biography of Lady Mary. I learned that while living in the south of France in the early 18th C., Lady Mary wrote a series of letters, in French, to Marguerite of Navarre, the Renaissance writer of the Heptameron. I burned to read these letters, which are I think in some private archive in England, and have never been published. Suddenly one morning in 1990, thinking and desiring was not limited to the era in which I happened to be born. Since then I have experienced passionate friendships with the dead, and they are not less real because of the discrepancy. This causes me to live in libraries. I have no intention of calling this community. Perhaps what we are is a cult.
There is always, in the texts of Lisa Robertson, a burning for other texts. Like one of those Russian Dolls, only in the case of Robertson the dolls grow bigger, more expansive, become sculptures, houses, airway terminals, as one peels away the layers to reveal more, more, and more.

You can read Robertson's entire journal here.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

the pool, parc laurier

The times one is tempted into the pool are usually the times it isn't available. Long after the howling seven-year olds and mating teens have retired, long after the slender life guards have bolted the door, when the church bells have rung their last, and the swallows punctured every inch of air, when the alleys of Montreal are scented with jasmine and pot, when the late night dinners start up on patios across the plateau, then the water calls. Still, cool, blue as a sea of Melmac, and completely out of touch.

Make the world your salon.

Lisa Robertson places the above quote from Mina Loy at the beginning of Debbie an Epic--which you've all read, right? It is a direct address to you women:
Rhetors, Travellers, Neighbours, I've Been
thinking--yours are names I'd like to wear in
my lungs. All grace and catharsis you pull
thought across, and this stuff, this dignity
and doubt and tenderness pumping over
your flesh shows you exquisite. Since pari
ty is your minimum take this swank kiss:
This goes out to the women who read Lemon Hound and other blogs. Those who don't comment, don't enter into public discourse. What would it be like to make the world your salon? To be as comfortable with one's opinion at a conference table, or weblog, or otherwise, filled with experts (all men of course, with endless commentary designed to undermine your place at said table), as one is sitting across from friends in one's living room, a cup of tea and endless streams of commentary about everything from the design of the cup in hand, to the possibilities of poetry as a political tool, and so on?

Looking at the media surfaces, the illuminations on the net and elsewhere, I tire of seeing women commenting on commentary, or the style sections of newspapers, as adornment, as fluff. Note on the side bar a new list building. That of the she-blog, or other-blog. The voices outside the dominant streams of things. May it build. May it bite. What if Susan Sontag had blogged? What if Gertrude Stein or Mina Loy had blogged?

Make the world your salon.

* Note regarding fluff. What I meant by that statement is that women get to do "fluff" or be "fluff" easily enough. Check the commentary postings on the Globe and Mail over a week, you'll see it's largely men who get to have opinions about things, unless it's to do with a toaster, or pumps... I like pumps, you like pumps, but I wouldn't mind seeing women invited to comment on Afghanistan, climate change, the sinking loonie, and so on...

Friday, August 08, 2008

parc baldwin

Rain, rain, and more rain. Still, perfect weather for writing an essay and taking mid-day running breaks. parc Baldwin is near rue Rachel and rue Fullum. It's the central feature of run #3, the east side of the plateau. This part is entirely surrounded by triplexes, tall, and well-treed. Behind the park to the east two major thruways and the eastern leg of rail lines cup the north east part of the plateau. A covy of trees near a factory houses so many crows you can hear them from this park, quite a ways off. Just around the corner there is a tiny cafe called Les Belles Souer. It's not on rue Fabre however, where Tremblay was born.

I wonder what the last Quebecois poet you read was? Aside from Nicole Brossard, I mean. There are other poets aside from Brossard, right? Somewhere? I'll get on that...

Meanwhile across the pond French literature is, well, a little gloomy.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Quote of the Day

When I grow up I want to be difficult.

carre saint louis

carre saint louis, originally uploaded by lemon hound.

The square is elegant, and if I recall there is a skating path around the rim of it in winter where the grey stone buildings that surround the park seem more like ice than stone. Once Michel Tremblay and Claude Jutra lived on the square, so rumour had it in the 90s. Now Tremblay has migrated a little east.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Is poetry a machine?

Poiesis is making, techne is knowing how to do things, including making. When the making in question is of an explicitly material nature, as in sculpture, architecture, carpentry, etc., the role of techne is relatively unproblematic. It involves a knowledge of materials, tools, and, physical techniques (hence the word techniques). (This is the stating-the-obvious part, so please bear with me.) The techne of the builder, the craftsperson, the designer, is measurable and finite, at least at a certain basic level that defines minimal competence.
Discussion over at the lime-tree.

On the poet as a public figure

Is this an example of how, or how NOT to perform your poetry?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Fourth Floor Window

Fourth Floor Window, originally uploaded by ECityBlues.

In the corridor cool thoughts, much more forgiving and spacious. Several volumes of confessional narratives have it out with rational essays on new urbanism. Flutter Virgil. The elevator man knows only Latin.

Short Fiction

A look at the world of short fiction with--we are told--a Canadian slant. So far the big-guns, but perhaps we'll have evidence of a healthy range of practitioners in Canada. I've been wanting to do an anthology of Canadian fiction for some time now, thinking about it for a non-Canadian audience which is a useful exercise. Last year I wrote an essay on Canadian fiction for a literary journal in Paris--it only appeared in French alas. But for my own part I've been so incredibly bored by short fiction in Canada that I find it difficult to comment, and impossible to read. I try, I do try.

But perhaps I just need lunch?

Monday, August 04, 2008

C. Day Lewis, Virgil's Georgics

Very odd video montage, but what a classic reading...

and from a newish translations of Virgil's Georgics by Kristina Chew. Here's an excerpt from Book III

The best look for your cow is
an ugly face
a lot of neck
dewlaps should hang from chin to shank
a good area of rib, long as may be.

Everything should be
the feet by all means
and furry ears set under
horns that curve inward.

I'm not one to be put off by a cow
spotted dark and white
who refuses the yoke
is occasionally rough with her horns
has a face more of a bull

She's to be
of general good height

and when she walks
she sweeps aside her hoofprints
beneath her tail's swing.

Chew's translation is dizzying, fragmented, thoroughly influenced by contemporary Language based poetics and fresh, fresh. Here's a classical text, and here's a classic, familiar beginning:

What makes the cornfield smile; beneath what star
Maecenas, it is meet to turn the sod
Or marry elm with vine; how tend the steer;
What pains for cattle-keeping, or what proof
Of patient trial serves for thrifty bees;-
Such are my themes.

Here is Chew's beginning:

to make fields fertile.
Under what star
it is right to turn the earth
and join vines and elms.
What the care
of cattle,
what the regimen
for keeping herds.
How much expertise
you'll need for thrifty bees.


from here
I shall begin to sing.

Not being a
classics scholar I can't give accurate account of the success of this recent translation of Virgil's Georgics by Kristina Chew except to say that I've been enjoying it immensely.
If in rich soil
you'd measure out your fields,
plant them close,
in closely planted land
the wine god's not the slower
to abound with fruit;
gradual mounds
up in and sloping hills,
if in ground

indulge your vines with r o o m a m i d t h e r o w s.
Oh, the treacheries of translation. The wrath! Here a bit of a review from one Professor Cummings, Queens University, Kingston:
Chew says her translation is "an American Georgics", and her avoidance of "corn" will be welcome to North American readers for whom "corn" usually means "maize". Chew's Blakean "what the care / ... / what the regimen" is undeniably awkward, however. She delays "Maecenas" too much and gives it an emphasis far from the subtlety of the original [it is also centered on the page], but at least has it, unlike Day Lewis. Metrically and structurally, her version has little to do with Vergil's.

The beginning of the invocation of Augustus at 1.24-28 ["tuque adeo, quem mox quae sint habitura deorum / concilia incertum est, urbisne inuisere, Caesar, / terrarumque uelis curam, et te maximus orbis / auctorem frugum tempestatumque potentem / accipiat cingens materna tempora myrto" (all Latin quotations will be from Mynors, whose text Chew uses)] is a crucial moment in the prologue. The modern reader recoils at such language and a translator must make them sound sincere:

And yes YOU CAESAR who are still unsure if you wish to go and see the City's care or that of lands besides (the council of the gods is presently to be convened); and whether the greatest of the spheres shall receive you as originator of Earth's fruits and master over storms wreathing you upon your temples in your mother's myrtle;

Compare Wilkinson:

And you above all, you of the unknown future-- Whether some council of the gods will soon Receive you, Caesar; or whether you may choose To visit cities, succour lands, and be Acknowledged over this wide world (your brow Bound with a wreath ancestral, Venus' myrtle) Author of fruits and potentate of seasons;

and Day Lewis:

You too, whatever place in the courts of the Immortals Is soon to hold you--whether an overseer of cities And warden of earth you'll be, Caesar, so that the great world Honour you as promoter of harvest and puissant lord Of the seasons, garlanding your brow with your mother's myrtle....
Chew's version reads the least like a translation, but also the least like the original.
But doesn't all translation bear the mark of the poetics of its time? Shouldn't it? I think of Caroline Bergvall's "Via" (or 48 Dante Variations) of course. You can hear those here. And for those of you who believe that translation doesn't say more about the translator and the moment of translation than it does the originary moment, what can one make of CD Lewis' re-ah-ding... How, well, how 1940s, no?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Where I could be today

Seeing contemporary conceptual art from Iceland at Luhring Augustine.

Or at DHC to spend some time with conceptual artist/stalker Sophie Calle.

Standing outside the National Aquatics Center in Beijing.

Taking in Louise Bourgeois at the Guggenheim.

Not looking for Mary Oliver in Provincetown, but possibly having a gin and tonic, or a swim.

At Carabana.

Checking out Robert Giard's photographs at Stephen Bulger--last chance today.

Reading Kafka.

Worrying in the arctic.

Reading a poem by Etheridge Knight.

Or in the quietest place on earth.