Third Factory/Notes to Poetry

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Attention Span 2011 | Michael Nicoloff

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Brandon Brown | The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus | Krupskaya | 2011

It’s vaguely embarrassing to me that, having compiled this list, this is really the only book of poetry on it but that it hasn’t yet been released and I’m sure I haven’t even read the final version of it. But I think it’s a testament to the strength of this work that even in the fragmentary form in which it’s come to me, I still think of it as pretty much everything I want in a book of poetry. This “translation” manages to at once be a very emotionally raw and moving work and a sort of metacognitive essay on translation and its process, one that pulls that very awesome, Letters of Mina Harker-esque trick of making us unsure of whose voice we’re hearing—BB himself, BB’s rendering of Catullus’s voice, or BB inhabiting (or being inhabited by) Catullus as a mode to exercise something like his own speaking voice in addressing the beloved. I frankly can’t wait to tackle it again in its final form and add another layer to the rich experience I’ve had in reading it.

Leonie Sandercock | Cosmopolis II: Mongrel Cities of the 21st Century | Continuum | 2003
Judith Innes and David Booher | Planning with Complexity | Routledge | 2011
Oren Yiftachel | “Re-engaging Planning Theory? Toward ‘South-Eastern’ Perspectives” | in Planning Theory 5 | 2006

Urban planning and its discontents have been holding a lot of my attention in the past couple of years, and it’s largely poetry’s fault—all the talk about ourselves as arts communities wouldn’t get out of my head, and trying to answer the questions that came up in the process led me to all these broader spatial and community development concerns that, in turn, won’t get out of my head either. So here’s my mini-essay on a few touchstones in my current mega-preoccupation:

1. Leonie Sandercock’s (best name ever, right?) book is a half-update/half-sequel to her own Towards Cosmopolis, and it acts as a kind of opinionated textbook/idea clearinghouse of all the difficulties of urban planning in an era where the Robert Moses-style “godlike planner machete-ing cities with utopia in mind” has been thoroughly discredited but still makes its eternal return. Between tackling of modernist ideas of planning and excavation of various planning/anti-planning heterodoxies, analyzing the way fear gets spatialized and sanitizes the supposedly “cosmopolitan,” and digging into the nitty-gritty of planning methodologies with an eye on social justice—whew—Sandercock’s book makes for a really good place to start for anyone with an interest in the variety of planning work out there.

2. Innes and Booher’s book delves more into collaborative planning method and for my money really puts the meat on agonism’s theoretical bones, and I like the way that they draw on complexity science in opposition to logical positivism. Sidestepping planning’s (implicit or explicit) focus on using data to come up with “correct” analysis and “final” answers to urban problems, analysis/answers that can’t take into account unanticipated second/third/infinity-order side effects, Innes and Booher instead focus on strengthening participatory political processes. Relationship building and collaborative learning are the name of the game here, but with the recognition that no network or alliance or structure is ever final—the best we can do is learn how to strengthen and surf the participatory process and come up with contingent solutions that’ll give way in time to further complications.

3. Yiftachel’s essay, while written before Planning with Complexity, can be read in response to the “communicative” turn in planning that Innes has long been identified with. Innes and Booher briefly point to the limitations of the collaborative methods they discuss, but Yiftachel’s drawing out of those limitations is particularly detailed and trenchant. Those “south-eastern” perspectives are of course referring to the global South-East; Yiftachel says that the sociopolitical situations and different dynamics in how concepts of “nation” and “ethnicity” (blind spots, he says, for many planning theorists) function in the South-East can preclude the kind of techniques associated with the communicative turn. He further argues that the communicative turn can create a focus on planners instead of planning itself and that this can result in losing sight of the kind of critique of spatial policy planning should be (and sometimes is, in its critical geography wing) known for. This might seem an obvious topic that no planner should miss, but planning theory’s frequent North-West focus has meant that lip service gets paid more often than the kind of analysis that expands the toolkit of oppositional planners functioning in the midst of varying degrees of repressive activity. Yiftachel fires a pretty powerful shot in the name of this kind of expansion.

Samuel R. Delany | Return to Nevèrÿon series | Various publishers | 1979-1987 (republished 1993-1994)

Delany is probably my favorite essayist out there, but I’d never read any of the sci-fi/fantasy that represents the lion’s portion of his work. Listening to Wagner (see below) and watching Game of Thrones coincided with me picking up Delany’s Silent Interviews, where the Nevèrÿon series is lengthily discussed, and voila, perfect storm for me to rekindle my youthful love of fantasy novels. Nevèrÿon is in many ways an excuse for Delany to have fun / fuck with the conventions of the sword-and-sorcery genre and fit in discursive explorations of money, caste, slavery, and S&M (the monologues in the series, which meander over all this subject matter, are pretty awesome), but what’s captured my attention most is his explorations of the way narratives are formed. I think this in part has something to do with the role storytelling plays in collaborative planning processes, but beyond that I’m not quite sure, and it’s surprising to me, because the shifty sociocultural nuts and bolts of narrative haven’t been an overriding interest for me. But apparently it is now, and the fact that I can get a genre fix in the process seals the deal. (I was originally going to include the reality TV show The Bachelor/The Bachelorette here both for trashy and similar exploration-of-stock-narrative reasons—the romance, in this case—but I figured I could use my space more wisely than by big-upping the ABC network.)

Richard Wagner | The first act of Siegfried, conducted by Georg Solti | Decca | 1997 [1962]
Robert Ashley | Perfect Lives | Lovely Music | 1992

There are debates out there regarding everything having to do with Wagner, apparently (I’m new to Wagner crit), including whether this notorious anti-Semite in fact intended the Nibelung dwarves Alberich and Mime to represent his own ugly take on Jews. Wagner’s intention is kind of beside the point given the amount of Nazi mythological baggage the Ring Cycle carries with it—these operas aren’t getting rid of their association with that whole Aryans-must-throw-off-their-bonds nonsense any time soon. So it’s with a degree of ambivalence that I write that through all of the Ring Cycle it’s Mime that I find most compelling, at least in the performance by Gerhard Stolze on the Solti record. There’s something in his sinister/sniveling delivery of Mime’s abject but complicated emotions that I just find far more human and real than what we see in Siegfried, the supposed hero of the tale, whom Tony Kushner describes as a kind of stupid teenage jock, and who, I’d add, has some major Prince Valiant/Mighty Mouse vibes to him from his opening notes. I don’t sympathize with “evil” per se, but the air of desperation in his will to power seems a lot more relatable to the smaller-scale, perhaps misguided desperation many of us run into on a regular basis. Perfect Lives, that “opera for television,” feels approachable and familiar in its own way too, in that its libretto is mainly Robert Ashley himself reciting meandering philosophical narratives with some very odd tinkly piano playing and two-person chorus backing him up. Frankly, I don’t know if I have much more to say about it beyond stating that I really enjoy listening to it and that I find it really exciting that Dalkey Archive is republishing the libretto in book form this fall, allowing me to read lines like “driving under the influence of succotash” forever and ever.

Lindsey Boldt and Steve Orth, eds. | Various titles | Summer BF Press | ongoing

I’m glad to count Lindsey and Steve among my good friends, but I also think they’re carving out a really smart and useful space in the small press realm. Many of us know and love Dana Ward’s Typing Wild Speech, but between publishing work by Dodie Bellamy and republishing Bruce Boone’s The Truth About Ted, Summer BF seems to be emerging as a go-to source for experimental nonfiction past and present. I think the “past” part is what makes it especially exciting, because while we do end up with republications of perfect bound lost classics from time to time, it’s nice when smaller, shorter, perhaps less lucrative but superb work that’s fallen out of circulation can find a new place in the conversation alongside equally exciting new work.

Miles Davis | Bitches Brew | Columbia | 1970

Between this and Perfect Lives and Wagner, I feel like I’m the epitome of old news here, but I continually find this record to be a rich source for compositional ideas—less in the direct sense of, oh, I’m going to do what Miles did here in my poem, but more so in that something with such density, intelligence, and fun functions as creative juice. Space is just packed full on this record, and so while there are “solos,” there’s so much other rhythmically dense activity (and sensitive listening by its players) going on that it feels like an ensemble piece. It’s given another layer knowing that Davis was operating under the influence of Stockhausen, piecing together of minimally structured group improvisations into more structured compositions via cutting, editing, and looping tape. The push-pull between structure and something unhinged, or between clearly traceable melodic lines that are given a dense collaborative bed to float on top of—well, that balance between complexity and listenability, and thus, re-listenability, is something that I strive for, and that I can always be reminded of here. Also, Bennie Maupin’s clarinet playing—damn.

VA | Third Coast International Audio Festival archive | | ongoing
Almost anything | Link+ | at Berkeley Public Library | ongoing

These are important information sources for me, the first being an archive of good radio that I can listen to while doing the more menial parts of my job, and the second being effectively a regional interlibrary loan system. Of particular interest to me was hearing audio from various parts years of the Third Coast conference, which was intriguing for its insight into the compositional techniques of a medium I love but don’t know much about, and also because I got to hear various producers’ favorite pieces, which pointed me towards things that I’m really taken with, like “Bells in Europe” or work by Scott Carrier and the Kitchen Sisters. Link+ is an incredible resource for the institutionally unaffiliated like me, because via the public library I can get a hold of the more specialized texts in the holdings of academic libraries. It seems obvious what a boon this system is for anyone trying to piece together a continuing education, in preparation for further formal study or not, and thankfully, it’s free.


More Michael Nicoloff here.

Nicoloff’s Attention Span for 2006. Back to 2011 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

October 25, 2011 at 9:00 am

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