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Archive for the ‘Attention Span 2009’ Category

Attention Span 2009 – Michael Hennessey

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Paul Blackburn | The Cities | Grove Press | 1967

I didn’t gain a full appreciation for Blackburn’s woefully out-of-print work until I put together his PennSound author page. Recently, I tried to sum up what I loved most about his work, and came up with this list: “his sharp urban observations, his unbridled (and unabashed) lusts, his ability to discern providence and wisdom in the everyday, his deadpan humor and accurate ear for speech, sound and music.” Here it all is in one generous and welcoming collection.

CA Conrad | The Book of Frank | Chax Press | 2009

I like to think of The Book of Frank as one of the best novels I’ve read this year— while the title character’s story is told through dozens of poetic vignettes, rather than straight prose, it’s a clear, complex and compelling narrative that draws us in instantly. As a general rule, I adore anything Conrad writes, but here (and also in this year’s Advanced Elvis Course) a malleable singular concept and generous length allows him to indulge every facet of the story, yielding a marvelous work that’s simultaneously hilarious and absurd, campy and macabre, sympathetic and shocking.

Tracy Daugherty | Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme | St. Martin’s Press | 2009

A fitting and long-overdue homage to the postmodern master, right down to the dozens of short attention span chapters, which beg readers to dip in at any point and keep going. Daugherty deconstructs Barthelme’s dense metafictional collages, providing valuable insights into his work process, while never diminishing the original stories’ magic for readers. Moreover, he provides a shockingly candid portrait of the man behind the pen.

Stanley Donwood & Dr. Tchock (Thom Yorke) | Dead Children Playing | Verso | 2007

The visual aesthetic surrounding Radiohead (the work of Stanley Donwood and frequent collaborator, and frontman, Thom Yorke) is almost as formidable as their musical genius. In this slim but powerful portfolio, we finally get a chance to see the larger series of paintings from which those iconic album covers were selected (thankfully reproduced larger than the five inch squares we usually see them in) and hear the artist discuss his diverse inspirations (the Kosovo war, media saturation in the U.S., Viking king Canute). If, in a digitized society, we’re continually moving away from the record album as physical artifact, it’s heartening to see these images treated not as ancillary decorations, but rather as worthy objects of our attention.

Lawrence Lessig | Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy | Penguin | 2008

Lessig’s groundbreaking work on the overlap between creativity and legality in the internet age (along with Siva Vaidhyanathan’s) has greatly shaped my approach to the work we do at PennSound, as well as my own aesthetic sense. This volume (his swan song on the topic) offers his most hopeful vision yet for a potential future of unbridled culture, along with a chilling portrait of the alternatives we face if we don’t wise up.

Bernadette Mayer | Poetry State Forest | New Directions | 2008

While Mayer’s voice has been consistently strong throughout her long writing life, I find myself increasingly fond of her most recent work, both this volume and her last, Scarlet Tanager. As vast as its title image, this collection can ably accommodate a wide array of modes—personal, political, elegiac, experimental—further blurring the boundaries between writing and everyday life. As always, Mayer ambitiously explores poetry’s rich potential and invites us to do the same.

Ted Morgan | Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs | Henry Holt & Company | 1988

My guilty-pleasure “beach reading” on a long cross-country trip this summer—I picked it up almost without thinking and couldn’t put it down. Morgan’s done his research, takes fruitful detours and has insider’s info, but it’s the sharp and mildly catty tone that makes this illuminating bio so addictive.

Tim Peterson | Since I Moved In | Chax Press | 2007

Throughout this startling debut, but particularly in its longer suites (“Trans Figures,” “Sites of Likeness,” “Spontaneous Generation”), I’m reminded of Barthes’ privileging of habitability as a fundamental aesthetic goal in Camera Lucida. Here, I continually discover places, emotions, personae, that I want to climb inside and stay with for a while.

Frank Sherlock | Over Here | Factory School | 2009

I’ve loved many of these poems since they originally appeared in chapbook form, but it’s wonderful to have them collected under one cover, with some strong new material added to the mix.  Sherlock’s work often reminds me of Jean-Michel Basquiat (invoked in “Daybook of Perversities and Main Events”), in that both share a sharp ear for street language, and know how a few perfectly placed words or phrases can set off a vivid image, though here, the sights are all conjured in our heads.

Hannah Weiner, ed. Patrick Durgin | Hannah Weiner’s Open House | Kenning | 2006

Was this book disqualified from further praise after last year’s survey? Durgin’s empathetic understanding of Weiner’s work makes this a wonderful standalone volume, as well as an eye-opening introduction to her broader body of work. I can’t quite quantify the effects this book has had upon my own work, the doors it’s opened.

More Michael Hennessey here.

Attention Span 2009 – Kit Robinson

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Clarice Lispector | The Stream of Life | University of Minnesota | 1989

Benjamin Moser | Why This Life: A Biography of Clarice Lispector | Oxford University| 2009

Carla Harryman | Adorno’s Noise| Essay | 2008

Anne Tardos | I Am You| Salt| 2008

Lyn Hejinian | Saga/Circus | Omnidawn | 2008

Rodney Koeneke | Rules for Drinking Forties | Cy Press | 2009

Michael Gizzi | New Depths of Deadpan| Burning Deck | 2009

Clark Coolidge and Bernadette Mayer | The Cave| Adventures in Poetry | 2009

Andrew Joron | The Sound Mirror | Flood Editions | 2008

Lewis Warsh | Inseparable: Poems, 1995-2005 | Granary Books | 2008

David F. Garcia | Arsenio Rodriguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music | Temple University | 2006

More Kit Robinson here.

Attention Span 2009 – Sawako Nakayasu

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Keith Waldrop | Several Gravities | Siglio Press | 2009

Vanessa Place | La Medusa | Fiction Collective 2 | 2008

Janet Sarbanes | Army of One | Otis Books/Seismicity Editions | 2008

Eric Hoyt | The Earth Dwellers: Adventures in the Land of Ants | Simon & Schuster | 1996

George Kubler | The Shape of Time | Yale University Press | 1962

Kurt Schwitters, trans. and ed. Jerome Rothenberg & Pierre Joris | Pppppp: Kurt Schwitters Poems, Performance, Pieces, Proses, Plays, Poetics | Exact Change | 2002

Daniel Heller-Roazen | Echolalias: On the Forgetting of Language | Zone Books | 2005

Seiichi Niikuni | Works 1952-1977 | Shichosha | 2008

Piero Heliczer | A purchase in the white botanica | Granary Books | 2001

Viktor Shklovsky | ZOO or Lettersd Not about Love | Dalkey Archive | 2001

Caroline Dubois, trans. Cole Swensen | Caroline Dubois: You Are the Business | Burning Deck | 2008

More Sawako Nakayasu here.

Attention Span 2009 – Omar Berrada

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Hélène Bessette | Suite suisse | Léo Scheer | 2008 (1st edition Gallimard 1965)

Hélène Bessette (1918-2000), who invented the GRP (Gang du Roman Poétique!), was much admired by the likes of Raymond Queneau, Marguerite Duras, Jean Dubuffet, Dominique Aury. A couple of years ago she was almost completely forgotten and her 13 extraordinary novels, published by Gallimard between 1953 and 1973, utterly un-findable, even in libraries. Thanks to a few admirers’ efforts, Hélène Bessette is slowly being republished and rediscovered. No English translations available, except for 4 pages translated by Keith Waldrop for the journal Avec in 1990.

Edgardo Cozarinsky | Museo del chisme | Emecé editores | 2005

The title translates as The Gossip Museum. After a theoretical introduction on “indefensible narratives”, and following Karl Kraus’ precept that most things are insignificant but everything signifies, the book presents 69 anecdotes, mainly about writers and artists from various countries and generations, culled from books or from oral sources. Absolute hilarious gems.

Mark Z. Danielewski | Only Revolutions | Doubleday | 2006

Very impressive semantic, syntactic, typographic, poetic and narrative tour de force. Beautiful to look at, intriguing and often exhilarating to read. This “Democracy of Two, set out and chronologically arranged” has two teenagers in love, perpetually 16, on a road trip, with US and world history flashing by the side of the road (i.e. the margin of the book), over a period of 200 years (and 360 pages, with 360 words on each, to be read from the beginning and from the end –upside down).

Dominique Fourcade | Citizen Do | P.O.L | 2009

In this book Merce Cunningham meets Nicolas Poussin, and René Char meets Saskia, the author’s grand-daughter. Fourcade meets Welles, and language meets the world, hence citizen-ship (“à ce point, réel de la langue et réel du monde ne font qu’un”). In such “écriture-contact”, verse meets prose, songs are systems and lyricism is ethical. “Poésie est identification et séparation et dislocation systémiques”.

Michel Gauthier | Les promesses du zéro | les presses du réel | 2009

Brilliant art criticism. Six essays, on Robert Smithson, Carsten Höller, Ed Ruscha, Martin Creed, John Armleder, Tino Sehgal and how their work can help us not look for meaning or an ultimate essence, but rather develop our inability to see and/or our capacity to get lost.

Also recommended, Michel Gauthier’s previous book, L’Anarchème (anarcheme, as in, unit of anarchy), about artworks that sabotage their own authority by de-focalizing the viewer’s gaze away from themselves (Peter Downsbrough, Claude Rutault, Steven Parrino, Jessica Stockholder, Cécile Bart…)

Daniel Heller-Roazen | Echolalias | Zone Books | 2005

This is a book « on the Forgetting of Language », which reads the history of language as multiple stories of oblivion and loss and recovery (of sounds, letters, texts, idioms). With multilingual sources ranging from the Zohar to Chomsky and from medieval Arabic texts to Proust, a feat of extraordinary erudition that is also an immensely pleasurable read.

François Noudelmann | Hors de moi | Léo Scheer | 2006

This is a book angry, if polite, against genealogy, or rather, against conservative contemporary uses of (the concept of) genealogy that stray away from the genius and method of Nietzsche and, after him, say Foucault. Everyone seems to be endeavoring to find their family origins, psychogenealogists are on the rise as the transmission of values is rumored to be dysfunctional. This echoes a general form of thinking that strives to restore linearity and causality and to reestablish ‘lost’ continuities and analogies. Noudelmann, on the contrary, vigorously calls for alternative, radical, non-pure modes of kinship, in thought and in life.

Avital Ronell | Crack Wars | U. of Nebraska Press | 1992

Already a classic. Still über-exciting. A work of resistance written at a time when chasing crack users boiled down to a sheer ethnocide. Taking her cue from Nietzsche, Avital Ronell sets out to show that “the history of narcotica is almost the history of ‘culture’, of our so-called high culture”. She does so by exploring not the expected canonical texts (Burroughs, Baudelaire, Benjamin…) but rather Emma Bovary as addicted body (“EB on ice”). Flaubert as you’ve never read her.

Jalal Toufic | Two or Three Things I’m Dying to Tell You | The Post-Apollo Press | 2005

Jalal Toufic is always surprising. He keeps arresting my interior monologue (see his first book, Distracted). Here Spielberg, Rilke and Lewis Carroll are read together in the light of Lebanese politics, and Lyn Hejinian’s A Border Comedy in the light of The Thousand and One Nights as well as other, mystical, Arabic texts. Toufic also invents a fascinating double feature titled Rear Window Vertigo (1954-1958), directed by Alfred Hitchcock where, from the first part to the second, James Stewart aka L.B. Jefferies/John (Scottie) Ferguson had a psychogenic fugue leading him west, to San Francisco.

Bénédicte Vilgrain | Ngà | Héros-Limite | 2009

For a few years now, Bénédicte Vilgrain has been making poetry out of tales and proverbs culled from old Tibetan grammar treatises. Her own version of a Tibetan grammar has been coming out, chapter after chapter, in various forms of publication. Ngà is chapter 8, the longest so far, a little book of its own with Geneva-based éditions Héros-Limite. I don’t always get it but i love to read it. Beautiful, mysterious and unflinching.

Marina Warner | Managing Monsters | Vintage | 1994

“Queen Victoria opened the first dinosaur theme park at Sydenham in South London in 1852”. Thus begins Managing Monsters – Six myths of our time. These are 6 essays that Marina Warner gave as the Reith lectures on the BBC in 1994. She packs in, with radio-lightness, a lot of ideas about gender and myth and contemporary society that get more substantial development in her other, heftier, books (From the Beast to the Blonde, Monuments and Maidens, etc.). She looks at the origins of six modern myths: monstrous mothers, warrior heroes, diabolical innocents, wild beasts, savage strangers and the myth of origin, or of home. The book ends “without sentimentality, without rancour, always resisting the sweet seduction of despair”.

More Omar Berrada here.

Attention Span 2009 – Joseph Mosconi

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Dodie Bellamy | Barf Manifesto | Ugly Duckling Presse | 2008

Elisa Gabbert & Kathleen Rooney | That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness | Otoliths | 2008

Tan Lin | Heath: Plagiarism/Outsource | Zasterle Press | 2009

Roland Magazine: Featuring a Guide to POOR. OLD. TIRED. DEAD. HORSE. | Eds. Charlotte Bonham-Carter & Mark Sladen | Institute of Contemporary Arts | 2009

Yedda Morrison | girl scout nation | Displaced Press | 2008

Brad Flis | Peasants | Patrick Lovelace Editions | 2009

Lawrence Giffin | Get The Fuck Back Into That Burning Plane | Ugly Duckling Presse | 2009

Steve Zultanski | This and That Lenin | Bookthug | 2008

K. Lorraine Graham | Terminal Humming | Edge Books | 2009

Ara Shirinyan | Your Country Is Great | Future Poem | 2008

Joseph Mosconi co-edits Area Sneaks.

Attention Span 2009 – Craig Dworkin

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Nathan Austin | Survey Says! | Black Maze Books | 2009

All of the answers from a two month stretch of Family Feud game shows, alphabetized by the second letter of each phrase. Survey Says! is the literary version of those vernacular works of obsessive fan collage made popular on YouTube (every curse on the Sopranos; every “what?” from Lost; every “Buffy” from the first season of the eponymous show; et cetera). The next task would be to match Austin’s answers to the appropriate questions in Ron Silliman’s Sunset Debris….

Derek Beaulieu | Local Color | ntamo | 2008

A visual translation of Paul Auster’s 1986 novella Ghosts, in which the characters are named—Reservoir Dog style—by primary colors. Beaulieu has removed Auster’s text, but left a rectangle of the eponymous color wherever the names appear. Each page thus looks like a manic, rigid version of a Hans Hoffmann abstraction, with overlapping monochromes floating on a narrative field. To be read alongside Alison Turnbull’s Spring Snow (London: Bookworks, 2002) and All the Names of In Search of Lost Time (Toronto: Parasitic Ventures, 2007).

Clark Coolidge and Bernadette Mayer | The Cave | Adventures in Poetry | 2008

Long awaited, this publication is like finding an old home movie from the ’70s. Or maybe one of Stan Brakhage’s home movies from the ’70s (well, at least one of Ed Bowes’ films from the period, though they seem to be irretrievably lost). A Rashomon-like account of a trip to Edlon’s Cave near West Stockbridge, Massachusetts in the Fall of 1972, the book is a banter you want to press your ear to: a paratactic battery of deliciously opaque (but always ultimately referential) phrases featuring that prime ’70s mode of dense internal rhymes, hard saxon consonant clusters, and bopped akimbo rhythms. Lots of geology, lots of Wittgenstein, and an unaccountable obsession on everyone’s part with breasts (which may explain the lines “bearer/ dome milks,” from Coolidge’s contemporaneous Space). The work was at one time tentatively titled Clark’s Nipples.

Robert Fitterman and Nayland Blake | The Sun Also Also Rises; My Sun Also Rises; Also Also Also Rises the Sun | No Press | 2009

The first of these three pamphlets extracts all the sentences beginning with the first person singular pronoun from The Sun Also Rises in a grammatical analysis of Hemingway’s masterpiece. The second booklet rewrites those sentences to account for Fitterman’s move to New York in the early 1980s. And Blake’s contribution rounds out the trilogy by reducing Hemingway’s prose to truncated intransitives and catalogues of definite nouns, rewriting the novel in the mode of John Ashbery and Joe Brainard’s Vermont Notebook.

Kenneth Goldsmith | Sports | Make Now | 2008

The final installment in Goldsmith’s New York trilogy, inevitably following Traffic (2007) and Weather (2004) with the logic of an AM news station. Like those other books, the interest here is generated from the distance between the deodorized and totalizing paratexts (a year’s worth of weather reports; a day’s worth of traffic reports; the transcript of the longest baseball game ever broadcast) and the messy specifics of the texts themselves, riddled with inexplicable gaps, lacunae, and aporia. Like the photograph of a Mexico City traffic jam on the cover of Traffic. Or the photo of a basketball game on a book about baseball.

Lawrence Giffin | Get the Fuck Back into That Burning Plane | Ugly Ducking Presse | 2009

Heir apparent to Kevin Davies’s pitch-perfect spin of idiomatic vernacular, critical theory, and a range of references spun between stunned horror and laugh-out-loud humor. “Is this thing on [?]” Giffin asks at the end of the second section. Absofuckinlutely YES.

James Hoff | TOP TEN | No Input Books |2008

Hoff compiled a decade of “Top Ten” columns from Artforum, in full facsimile but with the illustrating images blacked out like funereal Mondrians. The frustrated indexicality recalls Robert Smithson’s nonsites, but the images were never representative to begin with and always pointed more to the magazine’s decorative turn toward a frivolous hatue fashion, obsessed with runway models on aircraft carriers and the design of Prada boutiques. The prose, however, remains some of the decade’s essayistic best. Perfect bathroom reading.

P. Inman | ad finitum | if p then q | 2008

Absolute hardcore. After two decades of carefully reading Inman’s work I still have no idea what he’s doing. But whatever’s going on, it involves a thrilling frisson of microphonemic densities, a radical torque of grammar, and an obdurate materiality whose unassimilability is the test of its politics. I hope I never really figure it out so I can keep re-reading ad (in)finitum.

Dana Teen Lomax | Disclosure | Ubu Editions | 2009

Ihre Papieren, bitte! It has been a long time since poets were expected to be authentic, and the government doesn’t much care either, so long as your papers are genuine. Under the regime of the modern bureaucratic police state, identity is less an essence than a manner of presentation—not self-fashioning, but self-documenting. Here is the documentation, in the most radically confessional work of poetry ever published: parking tickets, loan statements, rejection letters, report cards, lab results, a drivers license, et cetera. Identity, we learn in Disclosure, is always nostalgic: these documents freeze a moment in time—when Lomax was 145lbs, or in sixth period study hall, or placing fourth in the Junior Golf Program or delinquent on her payments—but while those papers remain a fixed part of her permanent record she will continue to change, unstable, mutable, unpredictable. Full disclosure: I know less about my girlfriend of ten years than I do about Dana Teen Lomax, and I’ve never even met her.

Yedda Morrison | Darkness | Little Red Leaves | 2009

The first chapter from an edition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with everything but references to the natural world whited out. Like most works of conceptual writing, the premise at first sounds mechanical, but what counts as “the natural world” is far from self-evident, and opens onto a range of philosophical and ethical questions. A lesser writer would have been paralyzed by indecision, their bottle of correction fluid drying to a brittle pallid skin before the little brush could set to paper (or the photoshop tool mouse to screen, as the case may be).

Vanessa Place | Statement of Fact | unpublished MS | 2009

Just the facts, Ma’am. The only way to be more clever than Kathy Acker, it turns out, is to be less clever. Charles Reznikoff sampled the National Reporter System of appellate decisions for his verse in Testimony; Acker incorporated legal documents from In re van Geldern as part of her modified plagiarism; but Place recognizes that such documents are far more powerful left unedited. And they read, frequently, like the reticent syllogistic prose of Hemingway short stories. Reframed from the public record as literature, the results are emotionally unbearable.

More Craig Dworkin here.

Attention Span 2009 – CE Putnam

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Peter Cully | The Age of Briggs & Stratton | New Star Books | 2008

Another set of walks around Hammertown with Mr. Cully. Nature and machine in conflict and decay & Smithsonian bird found-poems from 1910-1954.

& even when they make it over the line

the berm is not permanent

and the fuckraking leafblowers

papercut the air into orange froth.

Mel Nichols | Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon | Edge Books | 2009

Fragmented lyric float bubbles: Day Poems. Step carefully.

“do the fish know they are not drowning but in dream photograph with dense knowing”

Takashi Hiraide, trans. Sawako Nakayasu | For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut | New Directions | 2008

111 prose poems (many in a commuter/subway context). I love living in its strange beautiful world. I couldn’t help but think of Yoshida Kenko’s “Essays in Idleness.”

“The soap that transforms in the hand of silence into a living thing. The railway where the claw marks of those approaching death lather fragrantly upon our skin”

Ruth S. Freed & Stanley A. Freed | Ghosts: Life and Death in North India | Anthropological Paper of The American Museum of Natural History | 1993

This anthropological study utilizes an unusual method for naming project informants, resulting in lines like:

“Curmudgeon, who, like all men in the village was much concerned about the perpetuation of the male line of descent, blamed the death of Little Boy on his levirate spouse, Scapegoat.”

Carlos Reygada, dir. | Stellet licht | Mantarraya Producciones | 2007

A big screen is a must for this one. I had the chance to see it at the NW Film Forum earlier this year. This film tells the story of a love-triangle in a secluded Mennonite community in Chihuahua, Mexico. The film is gorgeous to look at and it moves at a very very slow & quiet pace (watching a sunrise/sunset speed), but it builds and builds and storms. The lack of a musical soundtrack & great sound editing/effects (crunching snow, an unnerving ticking of a kitchen clock, etc.) add tension / agitation. Unforgettable ending. Dialogue in German and Spanish w/ English Subtitles.

Endless Boogie | Focus Level | No Quarter Records | 2008

I STILL can’t stop listening to these NYC 50-somethings as they punch me out with “Safe as Milk” era Captain Beefheart vocals (a low-key growllllllly mumble rather than annoying) riding atop an “endless boogie” of psychedelic blues jams. Tough, rough and raw. Fire up the grill. We are “Smoking Figs In The Yard.”

Joshua Beckman | Take It | Wave Books | 2009

Starts like this:

Dear Angry Mob,

Oak Wood Trail is closed to you. We

feel it unnecessary to defend our position,

for we have always thought of ourselves

(and rightly, I venture) as a haven for

those seeking a quiet and solitary

contemplation. We are truly sorry

for the inconvenience.

Signed,

Ranger Lil

Portable Shrines Shows | Seattle, WA | Various Locations (Funhouse/Comet Tavern)

Portable Shrines is a new “psychedelic music” collective that has just started putting on shows and experimental sound events in the Seattle Area. It’s a homegrown thing, sheets on the walls for projections, etc. (really enjoyed “Yoko Ono’s Fly flim during the Oko Yono set the other week—and Treetarantula and AFCGT were pretty good too). Anyway, haven’t been as excited about a Seattle scene since pre-Nevermind Nirvana. Can’t wait to see what happens next.

Aram Saroyan | Complete Minimal Poems | Ugly Duckling Presse | 2007

“typewriter kittens”

Kenneth Patchen | Hallelujah Anyway | New Directions | 1966

Maybe it’s the effect of living with a two-year-old, but I’m especially enjoying the curly words and crazy critters in these “picture poems.” A nice old edition. The kind that you can still find (sometimes) in U-District used bookshops.

A Geo-Bibliography of Anomalies: Primary Access to Observations of UFOs, Ghosts, and Other Mysterious Phenomena Compiled by George M. Eberhart | Greenwood Press | 1980

My selection for reference book of the year (1980). Organized by geographic regions of North America it documents over 22,000 separate events in 10,500 geographic locations with a Subject AND an Observer Index.

Erratic Starfish, 261

Moving lamp fixture, 611

Mystery balls of fiber, 34

Phantom cabin, 574

Pink squirrel, 839

Water forecasting rock, 498

Weeping mounted deer’s head, 497, 865

More CE Putnam here.

Attention Span 2009 – Rachel Blau DuPlessis

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I recently had the pleasure of blurbing (to say it more politely, offering a back jacket comment for) a book about varieties of spiritual experience presented in contemporary US poetries, all people writing long poems. And they are all poets working “on the dark side of the force”—am I getting tired of the debates among experimental, post-avant, avant-garde, innovative—or what? Norman Finkelstein’s book, to come out from Iowa in 2010, is called On Mt. Vision: Forms of the Sacred in Contemporary American Poetry, and it talks quite lucidly about Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Michael Palmer, Ronald Johnson, Nathaniel Mackey, Armand Schwerner, and Susan Howe.  The list made me start wondering—were there more women writing long poems who were spiritual or who were variously interested in the sacred?  I started thinking who some of them could be.

Turns out That Anne Waldman has just published (Penguin, 2009) a rather rousing and moving book, one long work, called Manatee/Humanity, with quite a striking cover by Kiki Smith. It is spiritual in the sense of being drawn from and mimetic of a ritual, and it is a haunting, incantatory book. Among its features is the articulation of human evolution in the voice of (probably) our foremother “Lucy.”  Another is the pooling of thoughts and feelings within the poet’s consciousness in her identifying with—being spoken to and through– a manatee (a large water mammal, very gentle and playful, whose habitats are—whose existence is–endangered). Actually, the piece (hybrid and total) is pierced with voices from all sectors of the universe, from under water, from outside the galaxy, from our evolutionary past and our present. It seriously considers the question of human survival, and in a sense is one outcry, direly mixed between a scream and a hope. Waldman’s commitments to a transformational poetics as spiritual would make her and her books part of my (imagined) “next volume” of a book about long poems by writers invested in the sacred.

United States writers are not the only ones who have recently articulated an interest in the spiritual. Turns out that Anne Blonstein has just published her tenth book of poetry, The Butterflies and the Burnings (Dusie Press, 2009). Blonstein is a British national, living for the past years in Switzerland where Dusie is also based. This is another book length work approaching the question of the spiritual, quite differently, although, like Waldman’s poem it is similarly research based. This is a book of vocation—I mean this both as poetic vocation, but also as an investigation of the vocation of religious figures. In a wonderful pun (the scintillation of poetic surface is one feature of Blonstein’s work), she is “unfolding the vulvate” (108). She tracks mainly Catholic women saints—most of them from the long medieval period, but some across the ages. Along with—and this is important, as Holocaust materials figure strongly for Blonstein—the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer was one of the few German clergymen who resisted Hitler publicly and tried to help overthrow him, and he was executed by the Nazis just before the end of the war. Blonstein’s poem sequence to and through him is one of the high points of this unusual book, which dazzlingly animates a variety of spiritual figures and saints, from Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz to Mary the Egyptian. Among the most striking works are dialogues or closet dramas—they would make really interesting radio plays (the Gertrude-gertrude-gertrude text is notable). The works are as if monologues from the surreal or post-real parts of their consciousnesses. All were sorely tested, all were visionaries, and the construction by Blonstein of a sense of a shimmering field of possibility amid their pain is remarkable.

We could also move to Canada for another spiritual long poem work. And this one is not a new book. In fact, it startled me to see that this year is its tenth anniversary. But the point about poetry is that sometimes one actually returns (gasp!) to something loved and admired so that it may strike you again. In this case, it’s Erin Mouré’s double titled work A Frame of the Book (shadowed by the title The Frame of A Book), published way back in 1999 by House of Anansi Press. This is a work, which, like Robin Blaser’s oeuvre, speaks of the erotic as an infusing power that is, by definition, spiritual. Not leading to the spiritual, but in itself spiritual, in the sense of self-transcending, and transformative. The frame of the book is love, sexual love, desire, physical longing, emotional yearning, amor loin and amour fulfilled. Jouissance is, here, an intellectual fulfillment too. In fact, body, mind and spirit are not riven, but made as one. That is a remarkable fact about the impact of Mouré’s language and book-construction (she both breaks the book open and rebuilds it, realigning its components, including typography, page-space, part-whole relations like top and bottom of the page, norms of where things go). This book is filled with diagrams, footnotes, different (from English) languages, “theory,” and in a way is an experiment with (noting an important statement from Lyotard that Mouré cites) inventing idioms that don’t yet exist for feelings of passionate suffusion. It is a remarkable book of the Book, almost a midrash on desire.

Well, I will circle round in this briefest comment on long poems and book-length works that show a variety of spiritual practices (as a case in point by contemporary Anglophone women)  to come to something odd, perhaps, but anyway, as in the majority of Finkelstein’s examples, something by a US male poet whose whole career has been devoted to the long poem. I’d call this one a walking meditation. Putting one foot in front of the other, step by step, with every step (strange metaphor!) as if a slightly different pebble, carefully crafted out of generally unadorned language, and placed in a long row, and reaching a long way into naming without ever arriving at a destination. It is the journey that is the spiritual practice. I am referring to Ron Silliman’s Ketjak (1974—this year being its thirty-fifth anniversary), a work recently republished within a grouping of four works (and “satellite texts”) called The Age of Huts (University of California Press, 2007). This work is the mother lode of Silliman’s practice, the discovery that “You could start almost anywhere and find anything” (45), which I would call not only “sociological” or “historical” (etc.) but also spiritual. That is because his writing denominates what is. What is, in language. Every sentence has been fabricated; most look at the world, a few look at language (puns, tricks of resemblances) or at his own writing process (physical and mental). It is an account of “this this this this” (89), and it thereby shows a remarkable patience and ambition at once, a patience with what is seen (sometimes felt or remembered) and an ambition to offer it up in words, one thing after another, without hierarchy or flurries of affect, but simply as a deictic meditation. To look at in language, as Creeley said. “Thinking of the practice” (65).

More Rachel Blau DuPlessis here and here.

Written by Steve Evans

October 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Attention Span 2009 – Tim Conley

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Lisa Jarnot | Night Scenes | Flood Editions | 2008

A twinkle, twinkle rhapsody.

Eliot Weinberger | Oranges and Peanuts for Sale | New Directions | 2009

What colour did women in the T’ang Dynasty prefer their eyebrows to be? What is the attitude among the Yoruba to twins? Weinberger knows, and Weinberger seems incapable of being boring. Here are collected essays on Vicente Huidobro, the politics of poetry, James Laughlin, “What I Heard About Iraq in 2005,” Beckett’s Mexican job, Susan Sontag, translation, translation, and more translation.

Christopher Priest | Inverted World | NYRB Classics | 2008

A sophisticated game of illusions by way of disillusions (again, by way of illusions), this book strangely acquires greater dimensions as one moves through it. The reader cannot help but look back in admiration.

Eugene Ostashevsky | The Life and Opinions of DJ Spinoza | Ugly Duckling Presse | 2008

This is the closest I’ve ever seen poetry come to a video game. Avatars, knock your blocks off!

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, trans. R. J. Hollingdale | The Waste Books | NYRB Classics | 2000

Javier Marías, trans. Margaret Jull Costa | Your Face Tomorrow, Volume Two: Dance and Dream | New Directions | 2005

The spy who came in from the recherche du temps perdu. Can’t wait for the translation of the third volume to appear.

Daniel Albright | Beckett and Aesthetics | Cambridge UP | 2003

Jordan Scott | Blert | Coach House Books | 2008

Complains Daffy Duck: “Thith ith the latht time I work with thomeone with a thpeech impediment.” Methinks the duck doth (doth!) protest too much. Jordan Scott hears the stutter –the stutter we all have, each in our own fashion– as poetry. The legion of troublesome phrases become opportunities for new sounds. You will read this book aloud and you will get it all wrong and all will be very well.

More Tim Conley here.

Attention Span 2009 – Josef Kaplan

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Kevin Killian | Action Kylie | ingirumimusnocteetcomsumimurigni | 2008

They said they would never put any photos of cats in Artforum.

Michael Scharf | For Kid Rock/Total Freedom | Spectacular Books | 2007

Re-read this after the post-’08 election euphoria (and my money) had been plowed into corporate handouts. Scharf refracts the claustrophobic political atmosphere of 2002/2003 through an equally stringent pyramid of de rigueur poetics to show that “total freedom” is, of course, totally not. The book’s appulsion of liberal aesthetics and furtive atrocity reads both cogent and anxiously sympathetic, a “bourgeois panic” that is mordant, lucid, the relentlessness of its critique entirely correct.

Gordon Faylor | 5 6 | Self-Published | 2009

The Mechanical Turk meets Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk.

Stephen McLaughlin and Jim Carpenter, eds. | Issue 1 | For Godot | 2008

The fall of the house of usher.

Roberto Bolaño | 2666 | Farrar, Straus and Giroux | 2008

It’s nice how this post-modern novel is almost totally unconcerned with the meta, how it instead just ruthlessly tails the fractal, internal details that spin off from stuff like… ordering a coffee, or a city’s (sub)conscious conspiracy to murder every woman living in it. The Baudelaire epigraph: “an oasis of horror in a desert of boredom”; Sonora stretching out its infinite ends.

Anne Boyer | odali$qued | Blogspot | ongoing

Poetry’s Battlestar Galactica: humans create little machines which create other little machines and they all blow each other to pieces, over and over again. Also a response, doing Kafka one better by cutting out the Max Brod-style middleman. An anti-bureaucratic literature that inverts and immolates against pretty much every authoritarian context in sight.

Tan Lin | HEATH (PLAGIARISM/OUTSOURCE) | Zasterle | 2009

Poetry’s The Blob. Less a “book” than an open source platform for critical reimagining. Strikingly handsome for being that, too—like the titular man himself? Or the shrub?

Rachel Loden | Dick of the Dead | Ahsahta Press | 2009

“This machine” / you know / “kills hypocrites”

Marie Buck | Life & Style | Patrick Lovelace Editions | 2009

“People! Cool personalities!” These burrowings into consumerism, vanity, gender cultures, celebritydom (both literary and pop-culture-y), social networking, social damage, flagellism and futurity are often as gentle as they are disturbing. Not a small feat. The absence of irony doesn’t come off as pedantic, but instead gives everything a tragic, keen(ing) sheen.

Brad Flis | Peasants | Patrick Lovelace Editions | 2009

The Lottery-esque scratch-and-win cover reveals a severed head, which is kind of how the whole book works. Also worth noting that the severed head looks like a combination CNN image capture/Chuck Close portrait, which, again, is kind of how the whole book works.

David Lau | Virgil and the Mountain Cat | University of California Press | 2009

Stately state mash-ups. Lau redistributes allusion across a field of junked discourses, declares a new decadence based in the reification of history. The tone of this book is just so oddly, wonderfully grandiloquent, like wigs worn to the King’s beheading: “a domed frieze phrased in freedom, / extra moiety signum // as time’s / dipterous nonextension / deemphasized dispatches to come– // incurable, its miserable son.”

More about Josef Kaplan here.