Sunday, October 18, 2009

14. "oh mute promise of bunnies overpopulating the sod"

Either in a dream or from my reading I remembered some sentence that our first violence to the animals was the violence of our words,

and I thought, "What a human mistake to make.  Our first violence to the animals was the violence of our violence."

John Berger writes about the animal gaze, that animals and humans look at each other in much the same ways humans look at each other, with all that wariness, but that only humans, with each other, can use language to reach across that gulf.   As Berger writes,  the animal's "silence guarantees its exclusion from and of man."  Or rather, isn't there something else here, like: "our language guarantees our exclusion from and of the animals"?


What can we use to reach across the gaze?  Not poetry, I guess, though I admit many times I have wanted a poetry for animals and aliens.   But as our language is not our violence so to our language is not our remedy. (We can mostly offer the animals something across that gaze something like the opposite of death -- something like food -- which has the effect also, of making us masters to them -- an opposite of death, but also like enslavement.)

I've been thinking about the lost culture of animals as described by the 18th century naturalist Georges Buffon (and quoted in Berger):

"Reduced to slavery, or treated as rebels, and dispersed by force, their societies have vanished, their industry has become barren, their arts have disappeared, each species has lost its general qualities, and the whole have preserved only their individual properties, matured, in some, by example, by imitation, and by instruction; and, in others, by fear, and by the necessity of perpetually watching over their won safety. What views, what designs can be possessed by slaves without spirit, or exiles without power? compelled to fly, and to exist in solitary manner, they can arrive at no improvement; they can neither acquire nor transmit knowledge; but must continually languish in calamity, and decay; they must perpetuate without multiplying; and, in a word, they must lose by their duration more than they acquire by experience."

Anne Waldman's book of poetry Humanity/Manatee notes something like this, too -- "what animals must be sacrificed to the colonization of time?"  For it is the future that hurts animals, futurity too: that they are crowded out by us, their habitats (their cultures) destroyed.  There is along with language and death --  "progress," that other human violence.


Anne Waldman's book has so much in it that I'm afraid no one will read it, heavy as it is with all of our ultra-contemporary sorrow:

a life in struggle

of everyone broken in heartbreak
& the animals
experience that too


so restrained
in admitting it

unlike humans crying all over town

I am afraid of writing about it, too.  Sometimes I imagine that what I am doing when I write about what I read is akin to taking a dropper full of marrow.  Here it is rather more like taking a dropper full of sea from a planet of mostly seas, and how it might be, if I am not careful, that you would think this book some sort of trendy vapid ecopoetics like green marketing or some sort of buddhist liturgical to which all who are not flying tibetan flags would be a allergic and while it is an ecopoetics and it is a liturgical it is also

a new style of poetry filled with yearning for the animal
but empty of animals remember only
in our naming of things after them
cars & trucks & teams & products that sap
their mana

"a bowl to catch my android tears."

13. "tiny distinctions appear among luminosities" or "perform parthopoeia on what used to be your gallows"

Lynn Behrendt's chapbook Luminous Flux was published in an edition of twenty.  I was sent  number seventeen.  It has both regular sorts of pages and short little pages, bookmark-sized between the regular page, and these bookmark-sized pages say things like "here comes a pop-up / yellow silt " or "I flow in two directions / radiation up."  On the regular sorts of pages is a long poem written in first person luminous:

Maybe what I see as inequality is just
some blindness to interval
point of radiation dip
magnetic reasoning.

 or "as if I am a lumbering / embezzling want  lousy with verbs."

Ann Lauterbach's Or to begin again was published by Penguin this year and nominated for a National Book Award.  Ann Lauterbach is very award winning.  From her poem, Alice in the Wasteland:

Alice was caught in the radiance of the not yet knowable.
This, she thinks, drifting, must be
the feeling of being young.
She could not say
in the radiance of the not yet knowable
which seemed, now a reason for youthful sorrow.  

Behrendt again: "I'm not minor I'm not minor I'm not nothing / coarse satire & omnivorous camera"

or Lauterbach:  "Way over in the particularities of the evening / gold touches the back of her neck"

or Behrendt:

I am ordinary & exhausted.
Do I need to put on a coat
carry a rubber knife?
I'm half in & half out
and sort of hoisted
pinned maybe
unlucky not sure really

Monday, October 12, 2009

12. "myself!/ through the whole long universe"

It was a little great to get a surprise photocopy of Alice Notley's 1973 chapbook Phoebe Light in the mail only a few days after I had listened to her read some poems from it on Penn Sound.  1973 was the year I was born, and I remember nothing of it but family pictures,

but there is an Alex Katz cover, peeking out of an envelope, its hand-written title as charmingly faux-naif as the poems inside. A friend said, "Do you think that is Alex Katz's handwriting? " and yes I think so, it is thin like his paintings and the letters sit at angles similar to his lines. At least I want to think so, holding in my imagination, as I do, that encouraging myth that is the 70s,  poets un-institutional and intermixed with artists, all those brave broke bohemians "with their guts and balls." You see I was only an infant and therefore authentically a naif that year, as I guess I remain,

but there is Alice Notley in 1973 the grown woman, unafraid, as she would remain, of sentiment or experiment: "antediluvian bang in arched fur willful & exploded pussy" and (in its entirety)


I needed a long bus ride up-
town like a new hole oh well
my only comfort the possibility
you're unhappy, insane, etc.

This is early work but nonetheless the work is defiant: "My second year I read THE CANTOS (1-95) of Ezra Pound.  They were just like everything else."

Like an oracle, always, is APRIL: "broke the bed fucking."  And in its entirety:


The great cosmetic
Strangeness of a normal deep person. 

11. "the ha ha part of the land"

A recent review in The Believer of David Lau's book of poetry Virgil and The Mountain Cat describes a book that is "unknowable" or equivalent to "Rorschach blots" or poetry without "rational explanation."*

This is nothing like the book I remembered.

The book I remembered reading  was crammed with the familiar stuff of too-late capitalism (Irving Co. strip malls, golf courses, Enron, visas,  pseudoephidrine) and composed with brilliantly schizoid diction.  It was a book full of dense lyrics weaving in and out of easy assertion "History is two blue jars traveling in opposite directions" and claustrophobic formal play "the anfractuous path / leading down here is for dowers"

Indeed, what was notable to me was not the work's mystery, but the ways the book's formal logic repelled mystery.  It was so heavy with all this euphony: 

 "spring, snaky splinter / signal to another season, oppositional"
"the last Levi's plant barred its doors with oars"
"Pullulation. Push-up. Push-up.  / Pestilentia"

that every word seemed obsessively bound to the next by sound. 

Indeed, I had an impulse to pickpocket Lau and deprive him of some alliteration.  Then I wanted him  to take a relaxing vacation before his next book of poetry, and on this vacation I wanted him to take a spool of thread and unwind it into a mess which he would then provide as a nest for a bird, seeing also, through this unspooling, that he could leave a little more space between things and still be of use.

I am unable to provide much for Lau's vacation other than a spool of thread and some crumbs to attract a bird, though, and I recommend this vacation only as an experiment, not as a corrective.

I get the feeling that even without the instructional unspooling vacation, he might shrug off some formal armor.  There is under this armor, also, a strong body of other sorts of material that gives the poems life under all that formal logic.  This body is, I think, animated with a documentary impulse, also with a longing that I think underlies so much of the poetry of our moment -- that longing (in the lyric, made almost erotic) for something like a just world. 

That's why, reader, I reread the book, to check if memory had failed me.  Memory had not failed me,  and Virgil and The Mountain Cat remained the same book--the one so formally sensical it was if it were composed via tetris shapes pimped  with spikes and super glue.

* A person is given a book to read, and this book is written in some language unknown to the person. The person attempts to read the book.   When asked to describe the book, then, she says something like "look at this book, it was made out of a strange language!  I have never encountered this strange language therefore I will remark mostly on how strange the language is.  How unknowable is this crazy nonsense, yet how it has a beauty, as if it almost communicates but what it communicates, no one can know!"   Alas,  that language unknown to the person, is, well, French, and lots of people know French, speak French, and find French makes perfect sense.  Tres fucked.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

10. "never get up, and if you do, never say where you are"

Renee Gladman's Newcomer Can't Swim, published by Kelsey Street Press in 2007, is like an almost-boring dream, also like following a map for the wrong city, also like a Tarkovsky film.  Or rather,  these things are what the book is "about" (sort of).  It's written in that kind of matter of fact prose that spares you most of the creative-writing details.  It's a set of directions you find on a piece of paper and try to follow:

"You said Liberty was on the corner of Travail and Jonathan, and I can't believe I let you get away with that"

and can almost follow, but then can't.  You are in the wrong place and/or these directions were not written for you. Still you kind of get there. 

There is also this woman on the ground, this woman on the floor, this woman on a bolted chair, this woman confused and "staring into the intersection all wrong."

Here is all this slow longing for something with the almost impossibility of moving toward it, yet all through the book things manage, in that mix of inertia and desire, to move:

"You've got to go somewhere with someone, the equation said."

9. "oh please, your highness, we must do something awful"

The problem with any Russell Edson book, such as the Russell Edson book See Jack just out from University of Pittsburgh Press, is the overwhelming urge to describe it as being very much like a Russell Edson book.  See these Russell Edson poems, how they are exactly like Russell Edson poems?  See the strong influence of Russell Edson upon Russell Edson's poetry?  Isn't Russell Edson always the tenor and never the vehicle?  And what shall we do when he is both?

And because these poems, so much like Russell Edson's poetry, are notably Russel Edson-like, do I point out I find them slightly more brutal than those poems of which have come before?   Everything is "gross," people are "puking," potatoes are farting, and men have gone to whore houses to buy wives.  Even the clouds are copulating.  Both sons and their fathers want to be grandmother's "hand-me-down-turd." Fathers step on and kill their little mouse daughters. It makes sense in this book for men to have sex with the cows they are planning to slaughter.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

8. "The American People just want / to tap that feminine side"

Poetry might occupy that dumb gap between life and our language for it, like how much it can suck to be a girl --  a subject position made both of something like reality:

I am a head & a half
taller than our city's police commissioner
A head that hurts & is gorgeous noxious.

and culture's cruel instruction:

You are a bird
inside this cage


Appropriation is always a slant authorship, aggravating to those who want to believe a poem is something with which we can disagree.  This  technique always has exactly a feminist cunning, and always a feminist heritage (the Baronness, Acker).  We steal shit.  It's not okay.  It is sideways and deflecting and done with our under-hand out.

This is poetry as "opposite day": that maddening formal experiment of third graders, who spend hours caught in their own ambiguities of not-exactly-meaning-this-but-meaning-sort-of-another-thing.  Why do third-graders play "opposite day"?  Exactly because they are of a human class that's been mostly bribed, punished, manipulated, and cajoled into behaving for eight or nine of their human years. When language is used to keep you docile you find some intricate ways to game language, to mess-it-up and make it work for you.  And as every third grader also knows, to mess with words is likely to freak out those with a heavy investment in using those words to set you (to set it, to set the record) straight. 

So Shanna Compton in For Girls & Others, published by her own Bloof Books (which will publish my novel, JOAN, too),  steals shit, specifically from an old-fashioned instruction manual For Girls, also a little from that great heaving machine of cruel instruction, The Internet.  To steal words to screw them up and then to self-publish them is for a girl (subjected to cruel instruction) like doing everything you were instructed against.  This is a book made from elegant defiance.

Compton means almost nothing of what she steals and says, not directly.  She does not want us or our girl-offspring, to remain "soft / pink / forlorn." 

"It's time to put on the big girl pants/ and kick some ass."  

She means mostly what she does.

7. "we might have stayed in this minute"

Mina Loy's Insel says to her narrator: "I . . . see clearly into you. Your brain is all Bronte"--this after Mina Loy's narrator says to Insel: "You're acting Kafka." Life is so fanfiction. Poetry, too.

The everything of Mina Loy becomes also the everything of Susanna Gardner's [lapsed    insel   weary]. Loy's wirepuller from "Love Songs" becomes Gardner's toothpuller.  Loy's Arno becomes Gardner's  "filthy Potomac":

Now only the filthy Potomoc speaks in it
dead-pan sputters in its wry in its hushed-up
way in waves while we have walked in the
nights faint light having since watched

The incoming planes create such strong havoc
abandoned among errant waves over words
we now remain incoherent we now stay
Poetry is so fanfiction.  Life, too.  Imagine the ways we translate: "I have thrown the central/ port of our desire into my most nar-/ row river: so only I will know where/ I have placed it."

6. "the process / of blanking becomes / isometric"

Rebecca Wolff's The King from Norton reminds me that a problem of motherhood is a problem of form, that is, it's a problem of content.  We are ourselves, aren't we, so who among us wants to be emptied of our specifics?

We become, as The Mother, a variable.  An X to The Baby's Y.  A verb to The Baby's noun.  An abstract or category or cog in the formal situation, stuck in the syntax of relationship or in relationship's equation.

To be The Baby means to not fare much better --The Baby is never really a person itself, but rather the object of The Mother.  The Baby is a thing to be cared for always, lacking many actions and also appearing to lack some agency  except as it is expressed through need. 

Note how in The erotics of the baby: "the feeling is mutual / (from) one container / to another".

What is The King?  Well content, of course,

but not exactly:  here also, one can be of one category (The Mother)  or the other (The Baby) but we know something like a woman is more than only The Mother (we know this because wants to let her "freak flag fly," because she keeps a hand to herself while the other cares for The Baby.)

The Baby is more than its lack of specifics, too: we have all been the infant version of our person, and our infant version is temporary, helpless, speechless, and in our own memory, inert: a picture from a scrapbook, maybe, and a stage we've moved through.  We can suppose The Baby would prefer to be himself, as well,

for to be a form is to be idealized, and also to be disappointing, like in The baby idealized his mother

when she was away. 
When she returned he found it
difficult to integrate
his vision
with the reality

We can't really know much of anything about The Baby, can we? He doesn't talk.  Most of what's about The Baby is a container filled with culture and projection. We imagine he idealizes us as we are so often also idealizing him, but The Baby is equally hard to keep a hold of:

"Today I dragged him screaming down the road, by the wrist / He wanted to go the other way."

This is the story of a very general kind of tragedy or romance, this tragedy or romance of categories: "I've had / my children and cannot / take that back. Buddhists call / it suffering."

Friday, October 9, 2009

5. "I have made a megaphone / MUTATO / NOMINE"

Do you remember in Alice Notley's essay The "Feminine" Epic when she asks "And what if I therefore owe an epic?"

and also when she writes:

"[We] were being used, mangled by the forces which produce epic, and we had no say in the matter, never had, and worse had no story ourselves.  We hadn't acted.  We hadn't gone to war.  We certainly hadn't been "at court" (in the regal sense), weren't involved in governmental power structures, didn't have voices which participated in public political discussions.  We got to suffer, but without a trajectory  We didn't even get to behave badly, or hurt anyone as a consequence."

and when she writes:

"I wanted . . . to avenge my sex for having 'greatness' stolen from it."


With the name changed the story is told of you.




Stacy Szymaszek's Hyperglossia from Litmus Press would be a feminine epic except that it is not feminine.  

That is, it is a book that avenges not our sex (woman's sex) but the condition of being sexed itself.

It is an epic not like descent, but  ascent. It is not of one soul moved to observe the world of many, but of a many-souled person who must make sense of the world which insists upon the oneness of each. 

The book begins when "She" wakes up with a "fake door where intercourse can occur" and "her speech-producing anatomy" irrepressible, but language does not work at first:

"ka ker flutt"

"simian figure tissue massager            ggenerosity"

The language moves, at first wrecked but reaching, wavering in and out of the territory of social/linguistic sense.  The "she" begins to become the "he" of the book, Eustace, and "I was once a private person before this / verbal hippopotamus / but it's hard to shutt up"

The boy Eustace "he wears his hair short" "his crop would grow" "his beard comes thick like the tongue of a water / bird"

but "released from a system of adhesives / a man can / be municipal."

But this is a narrative of a woman who is a boy who is a woman, always kept on the border between public and private, overlapped with identities, taxed and untaxed.,

There is this feeling of mistake here: "Eustace is dittographic a copyist error"

also of repression, that "mangling force" which will make our new epics:

"the forgetting preference of a civilization"

Thursday, October 8, 2009

4. "The guarantee of something bottomless / waiting for me"

It is difficult to write about the new book of poetry by Gina Myers,  A Model Year,  without quoting in its entirety the numberonehitpoem Brazen Youth.  This is why Gina Myers will have to forgive me:

Brazen Youth

Four years advantage in the race
across the street.  Half the pressure,
twice the speed.  The hard-learned
lesson not every pigeon can
be trusted.  Kicking through leaves
November crisp & sneaky sneaks
passing notes.  Who wants to pay
for a soda anyway?  Misused coffee
cups & imagined lives of coworkers
a thousand times better than this
ten to six day in day out.
The imagined lives of forties on rooftops
& fingernails flecked with silver
spray paint.  As if a photograph could catch
it all or catch anything at all.
Carrying the weight of our costumes
through this downward spiral circle pit.
The frenzied youth smashing
up against one another.  Now: counter-
clockwise.  Goodbye lovers &  haters.
Goodbye New York.

Is your heart now broken?  Mine is, but I'm a sucker for "the imagined lives of forties on rooftops," or every life of 99 cent coffees, lost tickets, lost calls, bounced checks.  "It's wrong to fill this longing with a haircut / and new shoes." This is the poetry of a generation for whom everything had been emptied, feeling left only in that moment the body meets the bed. Or as in the poem Saginaw: "The future I was promised / enclosed here in this / brown paper bag."

3. “I’m a lily-white fuck toy of the patriarchy”

K. Lorraine Graham’s Terminal Humming from Edge Books  has some sentences and some not sentences, has poems but maybe more some poetry.   At first I thought that it was rigorously poly-vocal, and then I thought something like “It cannot be poly-vocal if it lacks vocality.”  So it is poly-what?  Poly-focal?  Is that a type of glasses?  Or  maybe “poly dripping off language from everything else.”

It is helpful the first section is called:


Also it is helpful that the book is called Terminal Humming, because overall it has the effect of a noise that isn’t speech, exactly, though coming from near that speech-making place:

“there is this humming in the air now like an open test to evaluate everything welling up in everybody.”

The humming has to do with data and stupidity, that stupidity of the world and the stupidity of work and also the humming of stupid men and their data and very many stupid women and their data, too:

“the revolution / is building and any day now the data/ entry supervisors are gonna get it / and we’re gonna get all the data and then and then  . .”

And then, what?  “We exchanged extensive voice mails.” Who knows, really: bookcases, badinage, bubbly, cheese straws and “rival conflicting rules.” “Poly-noisish” doesn’t seem like it could be a word. The book makes zero promises, except maybe that one about covering self-defense &
Banished from the database, angels
fallen remain beautiful, non-
essential not quite irrelevant.

2. "a speech duct taped over the ear"

In Sandra Simonds' Warsaw Bikini from Bloof Books there are many comments on liquids, the undersea life, the protection of the minority of the opulent in the academies of the future, and “corridors of torn prints that scrap the world to parenthesis.” Take the title: ONCE I WORKED WITH A MAN.

And the first two lines: “who wanted to be Garson. / Garson was the boss. . . “

Or THESE ARE THE DAYS OF MALTHUSIAN FOOTNOTES: “She wades in a pool of serum and amoebas where the oil slick / is a speech act duct taped over the ear.” Or that poem THEIR CATS, which says, “I am the lapse” and “I am the stone testicle” and “I am the (now vegetable oil) Hummer of Arnold Schwarzenegger” and after messing around a bit with the metaphor -- “No I’m not” and “I’m poor / so poor / that I vomit pennies / dimes trash / the sunset / so count them / if you want / to be loved tonight. / In this economy / I’m nothing / my friends are nothing / the poems they write / are good for nothing / and there is nothing / they can do about it. “

Sandra is a fellow-traveler to some celestial organization, a down low ideologue for the heavens, as if an aesthete were mistaken for an astronaut and given, as a costume, scuba equipment, and given, as reading material, Das Kapital.

1. "I want to begin to be regarded as war."

I have started this blog, BOOKS OF POETRY, so that I might start writing more about books of poetry.

I will start with writing about Cathy Eisenhower's new book of poetry from Roof, would with and.  I do not know if you can buy it yet but hope you can. It is thick for a book of poetry and full of formal courage as well as a kind of courage of materials. 

There are so many things to think about this book but primarily among them I think about Ass.  This could be funny -- primarily I think about Ass -- but it is not actually funny. That is, I will prove this is not funny by starting from what is almost the end of the section called Ass: "I want to begin to be regarded as war. / as 3:22 p.m. / my very general, facial technologies, they do so for force forces them to."

At the beginning of the section Ass, in a poem called Film, Eisenhower writes

I can be funny, too, like a member of death renderings privately screened.  Fuck you, I am funny.  The humor is hilarious in its absence.


The bathroom recolonized with yellow lotions -- surround sound growing a monstrous body whose diction extends to your crotch and takes up entire screens.  People with words and mostly faces mouth "I know what that means."

What I mean is that  Eisenhower takes the word ass and moves it off of its meanings. She does this with other words, too, like rape: "we rapes stick together via literal genital contact," and "rape as a gift painted into the postures." The work destabilizes the words but does not wreck them.  These words are not voided: you just can't cash them:
recast ass broader and deeper.

define mobile ass geography, minute lapse between them, caking.

your ass edges toward five feet from other asses at 6:02 pm.

In the same section she writes: "you think of ass as funny. / it is in words, untender distance, are having caught up, are always faces undergoing faces."

What is funny "in words" is often brutal in things. The gap ("the untender distance) between the words and their things can make brutality all the more brutal. So often poets think they are celebrating language for all of its possibilities, but I think, too, poetry can be a kind of war against language for all the ways it fucks us over -- like how it can mean, or not mean, enough.

Now imagine a book that is simultaneously wanting to be regarded as war and is also something like "a silence that possesses / neither corporations / nor god."   I need to tell you that the book is both of these, at least, and  more, a document that makes most things (as most things are work, love, language, mortality, and "the fortune / to have my impulses, good / &evil, tempered / by laziness / and disenfranchisement") animal or alien.  It even almost begins, as I have so often asked for, with the word "Hello" -- 

then "where is my/ mediocre / void." (It's "flying from tree / to previous tree.")