Thursday, September 30, 2010

Eileen Myles

Coming soon to a reading series near you

Eileen Myles from Monofonus Press on Vimeo.

More on Myles from Emily Gould.

There was a sense of permission implicit in Myles’s writing; it might have been just the idea that your stories didn’t have to contain large frilly descriptive passages about how everything in a room looked and smelled and what everyone in the room was probably thinking. She gave me the idea that you could trust readers to assume a lot, and that not only did this mean less fakey straining for you, it also meant a different kind of experience for readers—a better kind, I thought.

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down & Wept

Jack Gilbert once told me only a fool writes first of love, or directly of love, though first love is often fuel for all writing.

I was going to say, what else compels us to write? Then I thought about constraint.

I think conceptual tactics can be a bit like engaging with a lover. Desire is triangulated by a constraint. Or a withholding. The text can bare the imagination. Engagement girders.
Seeing these images though, I am tempted to push back the weave of ever-encroaching data and, while I still can, claw my way into a cabin for a bit and feel some led on my thumb. Who knows, maybe sit by the fire and doodle.

On the other hand, the above manuscript pages have the urgency of a woman in confinement. As if telling it right is the only possible way through. And of course it is. No need for anything but desire sometimes.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Brief Conversation with Michael Nardone

LH: Michael, thanks for the post on the Gulf this summer, and part two earlier this week.

MN: My pleasure, Sina. I am just starting to sift through the materials--notes, maps and recordings--from the Gulf trip, and am planning to return should a storm hit the coast. There's a spot in the bayou I am hungry to get back to, a wondrous stretch of land near Pointe-aux-Chenes.

LH: Also congrats once more on taking the Prose Poetry Prize. There were a lot of great entries for that--quite remarkable actually (and we are going to publish some of the other contenders). Is "Deathless Nuclear Family of the Spangled Mind" part of a larger sequence? Can you tell me a little bit about where it came from?

MN: This poem is actually two separate pieces within a long composition called The Ritualites. It is a kind of transcription by memory, and was written during a time when I had Auden's "Paysage Moralisé" streaming through my head. A couple of years ago at the Banff Centre, the first part of "Deathless" was read with Liz Bachinsky, Julie Berry, Mary Dalton, Tracy Hamon, Don McKay, Paul Rowe and David Seymour doing the voices. Currently, I'm laying out a collaboration with the painter Jude Griebel to make a handscroll of a movement from this poem. The project is loosely based on and along the same dimensions of the Heiji scroll "Night Attack on the Sanjo Palace" and will hopefully be finished some time in the coming year.

LH: It's great that you're going to be posting. I understand you're going to be sharing some of the transcription work you're compiling for the new Jacket out of UPenn?

MN: Yeah, initially I'd like to organize some transcriptions on themes of poetics and experimental pedagogies in preparation for the CCWWP in Calgary & Banff, reading and listening in various circles around Jerome Rothenberg, Joan Retallack and Juliana Spahr. Also, there are some ideas to arrange on David Antin, Ed Dorn, and Heather Fuller amongst others on polyvocality & the vernacular. Critically, I've been thinking of English as a primitive language of the future, and will address this in writings to come.

LH: Can we expect to hear a little bit about the Victoria writing scene as well, or do you plan on reading/discussing outside of your immediate community?

MN: Yes, I'll be sometimes in Victoria, sometimes back in the bush outside of Yellowknife, but hope to write on various strains and practices of poetry from all over. In Victoria, Jeramy Dodds and Lisa Robertson will be reading soon at Open Space, so I plan to write on and record these, and I will track down a recording from Xi Chuan reading there. Tim Lilburn brought Xi Chuan to Victoria for several months last fall/winter, and he had a huge impact on a number of us.

Also, I hope to curate a few digital editions of small press work I've sought out or stumbled upon, and some curiosities found in the archives of the Yellowknife Public library. Should be a good mix. Finally, I've been making some great tape recordings of talk radio across America, and will soon find a way to make them talk across computers.


Michael Nardone was born in the USA. After studying philosophy in Boston and Varanasi, he moved to Berlin where he worked as an editor and translator. Nardone now lives in the Northwest Territories where he is composing The Ritualites, a long poem, and Life in the Naughts, a lyric history.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kenneth Goldsmith on Saturday

Shedding Light on the Obscure. A conversation with a charismatic visionary, looking at archiving the known and unknown arts, and the role that avant-garde culture plays in popular cultural creation. With an introduction by Darren Wershler-Henry.

via Matrix & LitPop

175 avenue du Président-Kennedy
Montreal, QC

Brilliant:  Goldsmith's Avant Garde All the Time Podcast

Recommended in Particular:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pulled off my shelves #1: Alison Turnbull’s Spring Snow—A Translation (London: Book Works, 2002)

Thank you Sina for bringing me aboard lemonhound— I’m excited to be involved. This “pulled from my shelves” series will be my weekly exploration of concrete and conceptual books which I think have been overlooked or under-discussed; a chance to bring some texts out “from the vault”, dust them off and see where they lead…

I have a rippling fear when I complete a novel that just beyond the limits of my knowledge another writer has published a similar project, and done so in a manner more deft, more intricate, more … better.

The Oulipans’ term anticipatory plagiarism refers to the very problem “when someone steals your original idea and publishes it a hundred years before you were born.” The term places the artist at the top of the literary food-chain with all texts feeding her contemporary work while excusing any gaps in research into potential influences

Only after I had already completed and published Local Colour (a page by page response to the colour palette of Paul Auster’s Ghosts) did I find Alison Turnbull’s Spring Snow—A Translation (a page by page response to the colour palette of Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow). As soon as I encountered the book I was both anxious and thrilled.

With Spring Snow—A Translation, Turnbull reads Mishima’s original not for plot, for character or for any other traditional reading trope. Instead she reads simply to record the occurrence of more than 600 colour words. She then lists each of these words by page number and chapter. The book takes the cataloguing even further by presenting a chart of 12 blocks on each page—each swatch representing a different colour from Mishima’s original in the order they it occurred.

Reading here is not a search for a narrative-driven epiphanic moment, it is simply a charting of encounter with the text on the page. Mishima’s Spring Snow is loosened from signification – the words no longer point at a larger narrative, they point only at colour. Turnbull’s translation of Spring Snow focuses not on the narrative, nor on the problems of moving from one written language to another—she treats the language itself to a filtering; embodying Beckett’s defense of Joyce’s Work in Progress: “[h]ere is direct expression—pages and pages of it.”

The colours, through repetition, build a suspense and crescendo which is loosened from traditional narrative. Derrida, writing on Blanchot, asked “How can one text, assuming its unity, give or present another to be read, without touching it, without saying anything about it, practically without referring to it?” Each page of Spring Snow is a completely unique, diagrammatic representation of the occurrences of certain words. By reducing reading and language into a paragrammatical statistical analysis, content is subsumed into graphical representation of how language covers a page.

Turnbull’s translation is not such much a single translation as a workbook for further translations – one can imagine what other narratives could form around the occurrence of those particular hues scattered in that particular order. Barthes argued that “The Text requires that one try to abolish (or at the very least to diminish) the distance between writing and reading, in no way by intensifying the projection of the reader into the work but by joining them in a single signifying practice.” The emphasis here is on latency, Turnbull unlocks Mishima’s text as only one of a series of potentialities; a single volume in a Borgesian library of texts swaying around anchored chroma.

Author of five books of poetry (most recently the visual poem suite silence), three volumes of conceptual fiction (most recently the short fiction collection How to Write) and over 150 chapbooks, derek beaulieu’s work is consistently praised as some of the most radical and challenging contemporary Canadian writing. A collection of his critical writing entitled "Seen of the Crime" is forthcoming from Snare Books. He is online here:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gaga for Gaga or Is the Lady Conceptual?

Vanessa Place on the wunderkind over at Gaga Stigmata
What Gaga does is force a confrontation with our lack of theoretical apparatus for making sense out of our current no-nonsense. Postmodernism will not do, as it rests upon the gap for existence, and there’s no neo- for this confounding to return to. A kind of contemporary conceptualist frame works, if only because it leaves the encounter empty of direction save that provided by the one who encounters—Gaga is a concept, and as such, may be conceived any number of ways by those who choose to tarry with whatever portion of her fragmentary All. But then there is the Object, an object very much of design (a design, naturally, both equal parts designer and DIY: her “white Birkin bag covered with fan-created graffiti,” The disco bra from the ‘Just Dance’ video I made with my own two hands) and, while iterable, this site is neither fungible nor Fluxus. 
Can there be a female Warhol? If so, I think it's more apt to be Ms. Place than Ms. Gaga.
All Gaga wants of me is my time. My attention. To plug into those two inches of socket in my face. She just wants me to look at her looking at me looking at her looking at me, endlessly. We are made for each other. As Paglia rightly notes, Gaga is a star “of the digital age” who is “almost constantly on tour,” and her biography doesn’t quite synch up, and her erotics are an erotics of death, and thus, according to CP, un-erotic, although Paglia fails to obviously conjoin the obvious disjuncts, and, again stupidly complains about The Thing itself as the Thing itself...
Okay. Can there? Is there?

It's heartening to see a woman work the system with such panache. One of the things Gaga does brilliantly is bond with her little monsters.

and include them in the show. What's not to love about that?

Oh, and of course the Gaga machine isn't afraid to be political:

Though it didn't help in this case did it...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

derek beaulieu on How to Write

In my last post I shared a video of derek beaulieu reading from his book of conceptual fiction How to Write. Using the power of the interwebs, I was also able to ask beaulieu some questions about his new book...
Helen: You’ve called How to Write a work of conceptual fiction. Why do you think of this book as a book of fiction and not poetry? When it comes to conceptual writing, where do you think the line is between the two forms? Does the line even matter?

derek: I considered How to Write a collection of short fiction because—for the most part—the source texts were fiction. I wanted to know how much I could remove from a piece of “fiction” and have it remain “fiction.” I do try and categorize the book as a collection of prose pieces, suggesting that most of the hallmarks of “fiction” (traditionally) are absent from How to Write, and yet I don’t think its poetry.
I don’t know the blurring of the lines between poetry and prose is an issue unique to conceptual writing, I think its endemic to poetry as a whole. That said, Conceptual Writing as a genre I think is more concerned with issues around ‘writing’ than issues around ‘poetry’. Poetry has little to offer outside of poetry itself, writing—on the other hand—is a much more dynamic space. Poetry tends to know its poetry, while writing doesn’t always know its writing.

Helen: Your piece “I Can See the Whole Room… and There’s Nobody in It!” is a collection of all the text from Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book paintings. In your introduction to the piece here in Montreal, you discussed how the estate of Lichtenstein not only sues people who plunder Lichtenstein’s work, but also those who cite the work Lichtenstein cites, saying that no one would use this work had Lichtenstein not introduced them to it. Like many pieces of conceptual writing, your book subverts stringent copyright laws and intellectual property rights. Why do you think this is important? Should writers hoard their content and guard it jealously, or let others steal from their work? What’s at stake? How does this issue in writing comment on our everyday lived experiences in a culture governed by these laws?

derek: I think that in the age of the internet, copyright laws as they currently exist are becoming increasingly obsolete. In fact, as Kenneth Goldsmith argues, if a text does not exist online, it does not exist at all. Our culture is one of constant appropriation and recontextualization. Writers in ostrich-like ignorance of the potential of sharing—as opposed to hoarding—their texts, are ignoring potentially the most important artistic innovation of the 20th century: collage.

What’s at stake? Nothing but your own obsolescence. If you don’t share you don’t exist.

Helen: When you read from your book you explain the strategy you used to write each piece, and in the last pages of How to Write we find a list briefly explaining how each piece was composed. Do you think the work is more meaningful if the audience is given this way in? Is there anything to gain from withholding your sources or compositional strategy in a text like this? Does letting your audience know where you stole your content contribute to the radical political message of the book? Is your artistic theft more meaningful if people know where you stole your lines? Why list the writing methods at the back of the book, and not at the beginning of each poem?

derek: I think that allowing the audience access to the texts through support material, notes and bibliographical references fosters what Goldsmith again refers to as a “thinkership” instead of a “readership.” Knowing that the entirety of the text in How to Write was stolen undermines the idea of artistic genius, and suggests what Perloff now refers to as “Unoriginal Genius.” I included my sources as a nod to my own bibliographical impulses and interest in literary archaeology. Including the citations allows the original texts to slide more readily into an uncanny space of familiar yet not. Craig Dworkin argues that “the test of poetry [is] no longer whether it could have been done better (the question of the workshop), but whether it could conceivably have been done otherwise.” Authors are now judged not by the quality of their writing but of the infallibility of their choices.

Helen: The title piece of your book is, to quote your summary of the piece, “an exhaustive record of every incidence of the words “write” or “writes” in 40 different English-language texts. These texts were picked aesthetically and to represent a disparate number of genres.” Do you see conceptual writing as an organic movement that has grown naturally out of the long and complicated history and interaction of English-language writers through the centuries, or is conceptual writing a sharp and conscious break from literary history? In compiling lines from disparate genres, are you demonstrating that all writers and writing are in it together, or are you subsuming other genres to fuel conceptualism?

derek: I think that Conceptual Writing is the application of theories from the visual arts which have been ignored (or at least under-represented) in the literary arts. Brion Gysin’s dictum that “writing is 50 years behind art” Is accurate in as much as it is sadly underestimating the length of time that writing has ignored the innovations occurring in other art forms. I think that collage and sampling texts is nothing new—even in writing—and I recommend Letham’s article “The Ecstasy of Influence” for a discussion of the historical precedents for appropriation in writing (Davis Sheilds’ Reality Hunger: a manifesto is another strong argument).

The thing is, when I discuss these issues with my high school students they look at me like I’m a simpleton. For them this is reality; the internet is not something that challenges who we are or how we write it IS who we are and how write.

Writers—being writers—are simply the last to realize the fact.

Helen: Your piece “Cross It over It,” “is a series of pornographic instructions pertaining both to tying a tie and to composing poetry” and gets laughs every time I’ve seen you read it. Is getting dressed in the morning and putting on a tie a type of classist masturbation? Is writing poetry like jerking off? Is writing conceptual poetry a white collar activity? Why is tying a tie or writing a poem so absurdly funny? Is your book jerking off on the reader? Finally, almost no women wear ties, and as instructions for masturbation, this piece could only be useful for those with penises. What does this say about male authorship and the role of women in conceptual writing?

derek: Writing poetry is very much a classist activity, and has been so for a very long time. Poetry is a completely disposable form as it has not remained contemporary. It is the domain of academics and specialists. Is this a bad thing though? If we require nuclear physicists and oncologists and mechanical engineers to have specialized dictions and stay contemporary with the most cutting edge of research and practices, why would we not require that of poetry?
I don’t know that is my place to comment on the role of women in conceptual poetry, though I would point to the work of Sarah Cullen, Emma Kay, M. NourbeSe Philip, Rachel Zolf, Alison Turnbull, Elisabeth Tonnard, Marjorie Perloff, Kate Eichorn (and others) as potential places to begin that exploration.

And lastly: If writing a poem is inherently funny it is because its hard to believe that the author had nothing better to do. It is inherently funny because we still chose an outdated form as a medium for argumentation. If we had something to say would we chose the poem—with its sliver of audience and lack of cultural cache—as the arena to announce that opinion?

Helen Hajnoczky's first book, Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising, is forthcoming from Snare Books.

A Gulf Notebook, Part 2

The well is plugged—"effectively dead"—nearly five months to the day of the explosion that killed eleven workers and spewed over 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf.

Yes, BP is paying for everything: there is the $20 billion payout-to-come in the victims compensation fund, not to mention the however-many-billions from further government fines, lawsuits and legal fees. But the tab I got to see expand is the currently-$9.5 billion for the cleanup costs: all the white-suited hazmat men along the gulf shores shovelling oil balls into garbage bags; the small boats rented from now out-of-work fishing guides, both boat and guide hired as part of the Vessels of Opportunity Program (at a base $1500 per day); the ships, barges and base-camp flotillas for deepwater surveillance; the giant vacuums used to suck oil up from the water's surface (after which, onboard, oil and water are separated, the water pumped back into the gulf, the oil sent to be refined); the thousands of miles of boom lining the shore and the hundreds of trawler boats (many of which are also now out of regular work) used to transport them; the mesh of logistics and subcontractings of such vast proportions I can't begin to comprehend; right down to the breakfast, boxed-lunch, dinner and in-between snack-fuel for everyone involved Panama Beach to Galveston. How many millions has BP spent on Mountain Dew and Aquafina? (Yes, Naomi: This unnatural disaster sponsored by the Pepsi Corporation!) How much of the logistics for this cleanup has been subcontracted to Xe Services (formerly Blackwater), with their conveniently-close base of operations in Houma, Louisiana? Perhaps we'll never find out, or, perhaps, we will, but years after the money has been paid out and spent. Anyway, should it even matter with BP dishing out all of the cash (as opposed to, say, US-taxpayers for the Katrina aftermath)?

Well, yes, especially if the reports—of the few still being published on the spill—keep ringing in that this really wasn't such a big deal, the Gulf will naturally recover: oil is, after all, a natural product of the earth. This being the din of conservative talk radio shows—national and local—across Southern airwaves, interspersed with the looped message from a BP spokesperson affirming that BP won't be able to keep "all the oil from coming ashore but [they'll] do everything [they] can to stop it," and this amidst nearly all of my interlocutors' knee-jerk accusations—Panama City Beach to Port Fourchon—that the problem with this whole oil spill lies with the federal government, and that any kind of federal regulation of the oil & gas industry will only make matters worse (read: a regurgitation of the conservative talk radio agenda), well, then, all of it sets the stage for BP's smiley retreat from the coast, a general "shucks, these things do happen" and jovial slap on the back from oil & gas lobbyists public and private across the world, meanwhile achieving nothing towards politicizing the practice of creating sustainable social and environmental risk-funds and impact assessments for these already-dodgy extraction techniques.

Of corporate responsibility, the absolute minimum will continue to be the standard. And when the money from 42 days of cleanup work—even at the handsome $1500/day—runs out and the fishing guide still can't fish his local waters, then what? One could ask the same question for tens of thousands of people across the Gulf, from shrimper to vacation-home owner to the guy who makes the burlap bags in which oysters are packed. Also: what of a storm, especially as we head into the thick of hurricane season, what happens when a tropical storms rolls in? It could be a third of the force of Katrina, but enough to stir up the water column and bring back to the surface that 100+ million gallons of oil that have not yet been scooped or suctioned up, and believed by many to have evaporated, hallelujah!

Driving along the Gulf of Mexico, stopping in each town, walking along each beach or sanctuary, sifting through the still-present impact of Katrina on this coast, shrimping and crabbing on the bayou with a crew of bawdy Cajuns, placing my practice of poetry within the confines of the media (well, the poet as medium via Yeats and Spicer) to go on every Coast Guard media tour I could, and getting out on those rig-dotted waters, I could not help but imagine a spill happening in another place where the people lived such existences wholly dependent upon the health of a body of water or state of land. The Mackenzie Delta came to mind, and the whole upstream track of it that is being divvied up by many of the same companies busy now along the Gulf. The downstream flow of the Slave River from Fort McMurray and the Tar Sands towards Great Slave Lake was another place, this one already wavering on the brink of a disaster. I imagined a spill of this magnitude taking place on the waters near Tuktoyaktuk, a place where the bounty of logistic support needed to respond to such a mess is far from present and more than difficult to mobilize, not to mention the weather conditions being far more severe than that of a Gulf summer. I thought of the remoteness of this place, how inaccessible or unaffordable it might be for less-than-mainstream reportage, and how the reports that did get out would be oh, it's not too bad, it's all natural, everything will be back to normal soon, meanwhile upper management and their investors swagger on to the next location.


Michael Nardone lives in the Northwest Territories.
He transcribes for PennSound and Jacket2.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ah the Peg, oh the Forks

I love you Geist, and thanks for the newsletter with its variousness.
But are you really saying Winnipeg is this boring?

The Hound will be reading in her old, old, old stomping grounds this Friday for the first time ever. In fact, I believe I will be staying somewhere either behind the lens, or to the right. No doubt I will walk too close to the river. I always did. And at least once was accompanied home by a police officer for this practice. Okay, I'm older now. No one will likely notice if I get too close.

Very excited to be in the mother-city.

Course, psychologically this is more accurate.

A long forgotten cousin prepares to welcome me home with an old favorite song from a classic Winnipeg band and you know, a classic Peg sound.

Nope. He's not going to look up. As is the custom, he's a little shy.
Oh, and then there's the Legion. This is the Rockwood Legion. Grant Park. Hours spent outside of it while adults remained inside it.

And if you don't know that song don't bother saying hello, eh? Lots of Legion hams and such. Good times.

Won't be making it north, though the Hound was born in northern Manitoba she hasn't been north of Lundar since, well, since she was old enough to go off-leash.

Here's a final bit for you. Technically my relatives didn't settle in Gimli, though I do believe I had at least one Uncle who passed away in the mental hospital there. This last one is haunting. A word that is rightly associated with his province. Love that voice. No idea who it is but love it.

Um, no, that isn't really my cousin. But here's a piece about my cousin Carlene's son, Andrew Harris, a young man the family is pretty happy with these days and apparently so are the BC Lions.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The more things digitize the more we return to the printed page.

I’m fumigating at the moment (fleas, sowbugs, clothing moths). Akin to moving, only you move right back in to the same apartment. This is why I missed Lisa Robertson and Eileen Myles read at the charles h. scott gallery on Saturday, which I'm certain was all kinds of woman rock star writer awesomeness.
Over the summer, I attended, and briefly read at, the west coast diagonal zine fair, a hopefully inaugural event featuring these BC-based zines and chapbooks. I plan an overview of BC literary publications for a future post, but for now I'd like to call your attention to Perro Verlag Books by Artists, a Mayne Island, BC-based small press that puts out beautiful objets d'arte, including the devilishly good Hell Passport series. Perro Verlag has published such multidisciplinary poet/writer/artists as derek beaulieu, Donato Mancini, Sally Ireland and Billy Mavreas.

I also picked up a wee zine thing entitled Kittenclops (Volume 0 - Issue 0)--for obvious reasons--from the nice fellow selling the Perro Verlag books. Kittenclops was put out in 2007 by Winged Moose press and features drawings by artists Terry Plummer, Jason McLean, Luke Ramsey & Owen Plummer and Wesley Mulvin. There is virtually no information on Winged Press online, and I suspect that's how they like it.

It may be preferable to close the lid/shut off the screen and fondle the page, while we still can. Alternately, draw your own poem.

Nikki Reimer is the author of one book of poetry, [sic]. She lives in Vancouver and is a member of the Kootenay School of Writing collective.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The city is my studio...

Having a lot of fun putting together resources for my Conceptual Writing class. Here's a short video on Zhang Huan. I've posted this video before. And posted on him several times including this one, and this one on a larger strand of conceptual/writing art.

Proof that people confuse negative with intelligently, or amusingly, critical

Not that I need open the whole debate again (nuff said on that I think), but here's a little piece by Michael Robbins that appeared in Poetry Magazine. Back when I was posting about reviews, Robbins and I were having a back and forth about what people were thinking of when they used the word "negative" in relation to criticism. He sent me a snippet from this review of Hass which made me laugh. Partly because it's funny, but it's funny because it's true. We shared a laugh. Not, I might point out, at Hass' expense. Or at least it didn't feel that way to me. If it's a visceral response one might use to gauge a critical position, good criticism makes more. Negative criticism makes one feel like losing one's lunch. Negative often seems to come in a one-two punch with grudge.

I don't get that feeling here:

Like Mary OliverBilly Collins, and Sharon Olds—in their different ways—Hass has made a career out of flattering middlebrow sensibilities with cheap mystery. Unlike those poets, Hass has real talent. The Apple Trees at Olema is a frustrating blend of banality and brilliance. The second volume, Praise, now reads as a primer in late-seventies period style, the kind of laid-back beach koans that led people to believe Galway Kinnell’s “The Bear” was a good poem. There are more berries, more naming of flowers, more embarrassingly tin-eared warbling in the demotic:
It is different in kind from a man and the pale woman
he fucks in the ass underneath the stars
because it is summer and they are full of longing
and sick of birth. They burn coolly
like phosphorous, and the thing need be done
only once.
     —From “Against Botticelli”
Does ass fucking really require such a high-minded justification? Upon being told someone is fucking someone else in the ass, has anyone ever responded, “What! Why?” I regret to inform the reader that Hass goes on to compare this sex act to the sacking of Troy.
Again, funny and insightful.

Here's a review of the review, oddly enough. And in the comments you'll note Steve Fama taking Robbins to task for the following:
Look, the cheap stunt nature of Michael Robbins' rip on Hass' "list of stuff in [the] kitchen" is plainly shown by the fact that he doesn't bother to discuss, or even mention, the context in which the lines appear.
I didn't feel the piece was either gratuitously stuntish, or mean-spirited. It isn't how I would approach the task, but then I don't think everyone should approach the task the same way. What Robbins points out, that I think needs to be pointed out, is the sentiment and the sincerity, that in so much contemporary poetry seems to me more laughable than Flarf.

And we really need more lucid, engaging, and less long-winded criticism. Seriously. It's called editing.

Baby swim

Baby swim, originally uploaded by Eythor.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What's in a reading: on hearing Gwendolyn Brooks

I've heard several recordings of Brooks reading "We Real Cool" over the years. Yesterday, in class, I played her again. This after having a student read the poem out loud. The student did a great job of reading, but when I played the Brooks there was silence, and then a visceral, prelinguistic reaction. This is an introduction to poetry class, so early days in terms of reading, discussing, encountering, and in early days it seems to me one wants to pay attention to the syllables, the way one can compact sound and meaning into such heavily charged explosives.

Try reading the poem yourself:

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Did it sound anything like this?

Shivers, right? The recording I played was from my iTunes and I can't seem to embed it here. It is similar in quality to the one above, with some preamble that turns up on many recordings of the poem in various ways. I've heard the poem many times, but every time I do it lingers, digging deep into my pscyhe and replaying for days on end. Not when I read it, necessarily, but when I hear Brooks' reading it. She has such a muscular journey through the poem. You feel you're strutting across a street that may or may not be friendly enough to ensure you get to the other side. There is, in her voice, especially the recording on my laptop, a sense of the risk, not only of the seven, but of the stripped and sharp words she builds the entire poem on.

Digging around for other recordings though I realize it's not always as charged. Or to my mind it isn't anyhow. I wonder what I would have made of the poem if this recording, found on the Poetry Foundation website, was the first one I heard? Is it me, or is there is something lost in this recording? It's the same poem, same basic approach (hard to read it any other way!), and yet perhaps it's just the sterility of the space or occasion of the reading, but it seems less charged. I'm not sure either when or where it was recorded. Her voice sounds young, without the rich, deep timbre it has in later recordings. It seems to be in a studio. The version ripped onto the youtube video above seems to be from a public event. Here's one, at Poets.Org that is from the Guggenheim, May 83. The Guggenheim version has similar gloss on the poem, and more here, via NPR where she talks about walking into a tavern and saying, "Look folks, we're going to lay some poetry on you..."

On that NPR recording you'll hear her read "The Rites for Cousin Vit." Marilyn Hacker offers a reading of that sonnet, and its elaborate syntax, on an early How Poems Work on Lemon Hound. Now, interestingly, hearing Brooks' reading of Cousin Vit was not at all what I either imagined, or want to hear. And only when I hear Brooks read did I realize how intimately that sonnet existed in my mind not as a read poem, but as sound. So where did I find that sound? Until today I've never heard the recording of Brooks' reading Cousin Vit...

But I digress. It's "We Real Cool" that I'm interested in, and sadly I suppose, because as you'll hear, Brooks' and those who love Brooks' lament the over-anthologizing of that poem. It IS Brooks. Vintage Brooks. No doubt that is true. It's the one poem she is known for, and it's so supremely crafted it will always be anthologized. It does so much, so well. Four, very slender couplets, that I'm sure it will always be anthologized.

Here's a more rigorous podcast on Brooks, via Poetry Foundation, that attempts to unpack some of the problematic apparatus around Brooks and her reputation. Yes, the irritating term "minor poet" vs "major poet" raises its head, but it raises other issues too, about the tides of poetry, the racist and classist attitudes about gathering in the canon. There's also the matter of the perspective of the poet: she's a lot more fun to read than Robert Lowell, and yes, when you read Brooks you get a line into the streets, and houses, and landscape of Chicago, not so much the inner working of Brooks (though the looking out tells us a good deal, doesn't it?) but the observations, and then the kneading of those observations into such heavily, musically, and emotionally charged lines.

(And wow, ya, that NPR podcast has a stinky ending.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I agree with a lot of what Elif Batuman has to say here in the LRB. And this as I prepare to go teach my fiction workshop...
The ideal of self-expression also explains the programme’s privileging of ‘fiction’: where ‘non-fiction’ is burdened by factual content, and ‘literature’ is burdened by a canon of classics, ‘fiction’ is taken to be a pure vessel for inner content. As if the self were a ready-made content, and as if the wish to become a writer – a complicated, strange wish, never fully explored in The Programme Era – were simply a desire to learn the skills with which to express it. McGurl cites a manual called The Story Workshop, by the founder of the Iowa programme, Wilbur Schramm, according to whom great stories ‘are written not because someone says, “Go to! I shall write a short story. Now – ho hum – let me see. What shall I write about?” They are written because someone has a story aching to be told.’ The anxieties generated by this misguided piece of pedagogy are illustrated in Flannery O’Connor’s ‘The Crop’, a story about the laughable efforts of an ‘amateur “penwoman”’ to find a subject for a story: ‘There were so many subjects to write stories about that Miss Willerton never could think of one. That was always the hardest part of writing a story she always said...
Here's a curious bit, have to think on it more, about shame
As long as it views writing as shameful, the programme will not generate good books, except by accident. Pretending that literary production is a non-elite activity is both pointless and disingenuous.

Fun times, we're living in fun times

You probably don't need the whole video.

Thanks Ms. Place.

Monday, September 13, 2010

nostalgia is a digital sickness and we are all infected

In case you haven't seen this, which has made the internet rounds this past week. (Works in Google Chrome or Firefox only.) It's the first instance I've seen of the internet's full utility deployed in the service of art. Kudos to filmmaker Chris Milk and Arcade Fire.

When I worked at the nation's broadcaster I used to hear a lot of buzz about "user generated content" as the next wave of...content. The phrase never impressed me. This film, or digital experiment / interactive media experience, on the other hand, did.

Notes on affect // I don't claim to understand affect

This film's emotional affect may depend on one's generation, and socioeconomic background, and/or whether or not you think Arcade Fire is "over." Are you motivated by a desire to return "home."? Does your childhood home continue to give you nightmares? Psychoanalysts go nuts for this shit.

Alternately, did you grow up in the suburbs at the height of the suburbs? Do you find it passe to critique "the suburbs," or does the topic still hold critical relevance for you? Etc.

I watched it four times, keying in the house I lived in from 9 months to 9 years, the house I lived in from 9 years to 18 years, (incidentally that rock garden appeared after my time) the school I attended from kindergarten to grade 6, which was bordered by the backyard of the house I lived in from 9 years to 18 years, and the house I lived in from 18 years to 23 years. It never failed to produce a lump in the throat or a sense of vindication when the trees sprouted up from the streets. Watch my alienation grow with the size of each subsequent house.

Nostalgia is a sickness // I don't claim to understand sickness

The success, as a project, of this film is that it comes close to representing a collective experience, that of disaffected youth.

9 years ago I workshopped a poetry manuscript about the city of Calgary and living downtown vs. living in the suburbs. One common critique I received was that my poems were not representative of (the commenter's experience of) Calgary. Then a friend came over to my parent's place, from the lower-middle class surroundings of the University, through downtown, to the leafy upper-middle class suburbia that raised/constrained me, bordered by Fish Creek National Park, a highway and the Tsuu T'ina Nation. My friend said, "You should bring the whole class here. Then they'd understand your project."

I suppose I could have. But I took it for what it was; a failure of the poem to communicate.
This film communicates to me, because it produces an experience that I tried but failed to produce.

As an interactive media experience, this film has a terms of service agreement that is 3,950 words long.

This film is a "Chrome Experiment."


You acknowledge and agree that Radical makes no representation or warranty regarding Content on the Services...

You acknowledge that you will not distribute, publish, exhibit, or otherwise use the Services, or any portion thereof, in any manner and for any purpose not expressly permitted under this Agreement;

6. Your Submissions Are Not Confidential.
You agree and understand that messages and other Content submitted by you are not private or secure and may be viewable by persons other than intended recipients. You agree not to submit to us via the Website any Content that you wish to keep private.

But what are we collectively looking for when we look at art? Is it only to see ourselves reflected? Is it only to hear "You turned out a-ok"? What happens after the death of the subject?

When you press

Nikki Reimer is the author of one book of poetry, [sic]. She writes poems in Vancouver.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A hand, a mourning

Barthes' Hand from the New Yorker.

As readers will know the Hound has been thinking of elegy and of mourning for some time now. Have encountered Anne Carson's Nox--lots to say about that text, but little of it to do with either of those notions. Better to encounter Nathalie Stephens, or Roland Barthes. I came across the following excerpts from Barthes in this week's New Yorker, translated by Richard Howard. They come closest for me, to what this year has been. Which is something like this: there is a tooth missing. My tongue goes there, to where the gap should be, tender, expecting the sharpness associated with broken teeth, but there is no gap. The tooth is there. It is solid. Still the pain resonates, and the tongue insists.

Here's Barthes:
October 29th  
In the sentence, "She's no longer suffering," to what, to whom does "she" refer? What does that present tense mean? 
November 5th 
Sad afternoon. Shopping. Purchase (frivolity) of a tea cake at the bakery. Taking care of the customer ahead of me, the girl behind the counter says Voilà. The expression I used when I brought maman something, when I was taking care of her.  Once, toward the end, half-conscious, she repeated, faintly, Voilà“I’m here,” a word we used with each other all our lives). The word spoken by the girl at the bakery brought tears to my eyes. I kept on crying quite a while back in the silent apartment. November 9th —Less and less to write, to say, except this (which I can tell no one). November 11th Solitude = having no one at home to whom you can say, I’ll be back at a specific time, or whom you can call to say (or to whom you can just say), Voilà, I’m home now. 
April 3rd 
Despair: the word is too theatrical, a part of the language. A stone. 
June 15th 
Everything began all over again immediately: arrival of manuscripts, requests, people’s stories, each person mercilessly pushing ahead his own little demand (for love, for gratitude): no sooner has she departed than the world deafens me with its continuance.

Read more 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cultural Fuel or Irritant

Apparently all I need to become one is a turquoise one speed (thanks Sean Dixon). I'm not convinced. That tells you something. I had no idea the hipster had become such a cultural irritant though. I was kind of grooving on the thin-jeaned, foppy haired lads and ladettes this summer in London.

Love this ongoing spoof: Unhappy Hipsters.

Read my Poetry

That's the point. Read it.

Flux Film 001 | Morse from Proper Medium on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

If you had a money tree?

It's true. Things are sometimes difficult to see.

I love Théâtre de Complicité

Why did they change their name to Complicite? Too difficult for the Anglos to pronounce? Never mind. More importantly, when can I see A Disappearing Number?

or another why reason the distance between poetry and theatre is so much shorter than the distance between poetry and painting...

"A Disappearing Number" Teaser from Sven Ortel on Vimeo.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Show Us The Money

(This post is a bit long, and might be boring if you're not in/from BC, but it's important.)

Seems appropriate on Labour Day to post about the recent developments to arts funding here in good old British Columbia, also variously known as the Left Coast, Lotusland, LaLaLand, and the province that, even before the recent, well-publicized cuts, dedicated the smallest per capita amount of arts funding out of all provinces in Canada. (That would be $9.67, compared to Alberta's $20.81 or Ontario's $20.91. With the recent addition we are sitting at $6.50 per capita. Allow that figure to sink in for a moment.)

Firstly, Labour Day, around the world, is an "annual public holiday to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers, with origins in the labour union movement, specifically the eight-hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest."
Eight hours for recreation AND eight hours for rest? Barmy! Imagine that!

I kid. But seriously, there is an important discussion to be had around the idea of artists as workers, or not, and the distinction between art as work or as recreation, or both, or neither, and if so, for whom, etc. A conversation that I hope we can collectively continue in the weeks and months ahead.

I've been working on a poem consisting of comments posted in the comment streams of various online news providers (though as usual McSweeney's is way ahead of me), and one of my favourite lifted lines is as follows:

People are sick of artists expecting handouts.
Get out of the bed in the morinings [sic]
and go to work in the oil fields.

Hilarious, right? It sure sums up much of the opposition to arts funding, blithely ignorant though these "people...sick of artists expecting handouts" are of the many ways in which our government in/directly funds other industries, up to and including our friends at Big Oil.

And we had to wonder whether this reactionary negativity wasn't also the attitude of our government (till very recently...perhaps.) Provincial arts funding in BC began to be slashed last year, we had that Olympics debacle in February, and then in August our government announced $10 million in new arts spending, in the form of....wait for it...BC Spirit Festival Days, a series of festivals designed to prolong the Shiny Happy Feelings we're all purported to have experienced during the Olympics, otherwise known colloquially as WTF?

Arts organizations banded together, and people spoke out, including (my political crush, the elegant and eloquent) Spencer Chandra Herbert, Official Opposition Critic for Tourism, Culture and the Arts, and an organization helmed by independent artists and arts orgs called Stop BC Arts Cuts---whose excellent website, blog and Twitter feed has kept Those of Us Who Want to Know up to date on recent actions and newsworthy developments---the grassroots Arts Advocacy BC, the British Columbia Alliance for Arts and Culture and many, many other organizations and individuals. Local alternative weekly The Georgia Straight has also done an excellent job of continuing to report on the situation.

On August 16, BC Arts Council Chair Jane Danzo resigned with an open letter to BC's Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Kevin Krueger, saying she "felt obliged to resign in order to have a voice;" damning the government's establishment of an Arts Legacy Fund with no consultation whatsoever with the BC Arts Council, and questioning whether or not the relationship of the government to the BCAC Board was (as it should be, in a democracy) truly arm's length.

Between then and now, it started to get weird, and personal, and weirdly personal, with Minister Krueger claiming to have been threatened by arts groups (with a rather unfortunate choice of words), and eligibility for gaming grants being reduced to "cowboys and country fairs" (I wish I was making this shit up.)

However, on September 1, $7 million was restored to the BCAC. Stop BC Arts Cuts' phrasing "guardedly grateful" is apt:

Today’s announcement comes almost exactly a year after the retraction of Gaming funds for arts, part of new cuts totalling almost 91%. Those draconian cuts were somewhat reduced to between 50-60% in March, but that hasn’t lessened the emergency all that much and now many organizations are on the verge of closing. Gaming remains cut by approximately 55% or more. By Canadian standards today’s sum of $7 million is very, very small; it’s no wonder we as British Columbians have so little sense of our own identity and so little knowledge of our own culture compared to other provinces. BC governments chronically make inadequate investment – and it’s a lucrative investment, not a gift – in the BC cultural sector. But we do applaud the BC Liberals for beginning to do the right thing.

Beer Bottle Label From The Sick Brewery
So, in the grand Canadian tradition, I hope you're kicking back with a few cold ones on this fine Labour Day, but I also hope you take the time to check out this Arts Advocacy Toolkit. Every little drop in the bucket and all.

Yrs. in solidarity,
Nikki Reimer is the author of one book of poetry, [sic]. She writes and rants in Vancouver.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Random London

From my 4.5 mile Looking for Art in London Walk. Lots to report if I ever find time again...

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Atwood & Parton

No idea where they found this, but thanks to the people here for posting it...couldn't resist. Are they sharing performance tips? Talking about the connection between 9 to 5 and Handmaid's Tale? Treatment of small furry animals? How to tease out a fro? Make up tips? There is an essay from 1976 posted on line now. Thanks Emily for Tweeting.