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Attention Span 2011 | Titles Mentioned Five Times or More

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The seventy-five contributors to Attention Span 2011 referred to 856 works in all. Single mentions constitute fully three-quarters of the total list, but as in previous years there are some patterns of overlap: one title was mentioned by seven contibutors, another by six, three books were cited five times, four four times, twenty-three three times, and fifty-three were mentioned twice.

Titles Mentioned Five Times or More | Click on contributor initials to view individual lists

Susan Howe | That This | New Directions | 2010 | DBQ DD JE MP MS PaMc RD

Robert Duncan, ed. Michael Boughn and Victor Coleman | The HD Book | California | 2011 | DBQ DD LS PQ RD TC

Caroline Bergvall | Meddle English | Nightboat | 2011 | DD EM MP PaMc RL

Jennifer Moxley | Coastal | The Song Cave | 2011 | DB JC JP KK RS <note

Cedar Sigo | Stranger in Town | City Lights | 2010 | DB EB JE JS JW


Back to 2011 directory. Full list of titles mentioned more than once in 2011.

Written by Steve Evans

November 4, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Attention Span 2011 | Titles Mentioned Four Times

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The seventy-five contributors to Attention Span 2011 referred to 856 works in all. Single mentions constitute fully three-quarters of the total list, but as in previous years there are some patterns of overlap: one title was mentioned by seven contibutors, another by six, three books were cited five times, four four times, twenty-three three times, and fifty-three were mentioned twice.

Titles Mentioned Four Times | Click on contributor initials to view individual lists

Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith, eds. | Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing | Northwestern | 2011 | BKS PS RL VP

Eileen Myles | The Inferno | O/R Books | 2010 | JC MQ SW TS

Christopher Nealon | The Matter of Capital | Harvard | 2011 | CW FB JoCl SB

Alice Notley | Culture of One | Penguin | 2011 | AB DD JG MSH


Back to 2011 directory. Full list of titles mentioned more than once in 2011.

Written by Steve Evans

November 4, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Attention Span 2011 | Titles Mentioned Three Times

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The seventy-five contributors to Attention Span 2011 referred to 856 works in all. Single mentions constitute fully three-quarters of the total list, but as in previous years there are some patterns of overlap: one title was mentioned by seven contibutors, another by six, three books were cited five times, four four times, twenty-three three times, and fifty-three were mentioned twice.

Titles Mentioned Three Times | Click on contributor initials to view individual lists

Amanda Ackerman | The Seasons Cemented | Hex | 2010 | AC HA MaTi

Charles Bernstein | Attack of the Difficult Poems | Chicago | 2011 | AL MSH RL

Michael Boughn | Cosmographia: A Post-Lucretian Faux Micro-Epic | BookThug | 2010 | DD MQ PQ

Norma Cole | To Be at Music: Essays & Talks | Omnidawn | 2010 | BF PQ SN

Tim Dlugos, ed. David Trinidad | A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos | Nightboat | 2011 | EB NO SiSc

William Fuller | Hallucination | Flood | 2011 | CW DD KT

Christian Hawkey | Ventrakl | Ugly Duckling | 2010 | EM MP PP

Uyen Hua | a / s / l (age / sex / location) | ingirumimusnocteetsonsumimurigni | 2011 | JMW JoCl MS

Frances Kruk | Down You Go, or, Négation de Bruit | Punch | 2011 | KT NO SG

Joseph Lease | Testify | Coffee House | 2011 | DTG GM JC

Donato Mancini | Buffet World | New Star | 2011 | BF MT SC

Peter O’Leary | Luminous Epinoia | Cultural Society | 2010 | GCW PP RD

Jena Osman | The Network | Fence | 2010 | JW MD PaMc

Ron Padgett | How Long | Coffee House | 2011 | BB MSH RD

Srikanth Reddy | Voyager | California | 2011 | DBQ JE MP

Arthur Rimbaud, trans. John Ashbery | Illuminations | Norton | 2011 | DT JePe JoCl

Andrew Schelling | From the Arapaho Songbook | La Alameda | 2011 | BF JR PP

Juliana Spahr | Well Then There Now | Black Sparrow | 2011 | CW DTG RL

Elizabeth Willis | Address | Wesleyan | 2011 | PaMc PP RD

Ronaldo Wilson | Poems of the Black Object | Futurepoem | 2009 | AC JG JS

Uljana Wolf, trans. Susan Bernofksy | Falsche Freunde / False Friends | Ugly Duckling | 2011 | MP NO RL

Lissa Wolsak | Squeezed Light: Collected Poems 1994-2005 | Station Hill | 2010 | JW PP PQ

Steven Zultanski | Cop Kisser | BookThug | 2010 | KT MaTi NO


Back to 2011 directory. Full list of titles mentioned more than once in 2011.

Written by Steve Evans

November 4, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Attention Span 2011 | Titles Mentioned Twice

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The seventy-five contributors to Attention Span 2011 referred to 856 works in all. Single mentions constitute fully three-quarters of the total list, but as in previous years there are some patterns of overlap: one title was mentioned by seven contibutors, another by six, three books were cited five times, four four times, twenty-three three times, and fifty-three were mentioned twice.

Titles Mentioned Twice | Click on contributor initials to view individual lists

Brian Ang | Paradise Now | Grey Book | 2011 | DTG JMW

Stan Apps | The World as Phone Bill | Combo | 2010 | HA MaTi

Rae Armantrout | Money Shot | Wesleyan | 2011 | KT RS

Gregg Biglieri | Little Richard the Second | Ugly Duckling | 2011 | CD KK

Daniel Borzutzky | The Book of Interfering Bodies | Nightboat | 2011 | JG JoSt

George Bowering | My Darling Nellie Gray | Talonbooks | 2010 | MQ PQ

Brandon Brown | The Persians by Aeschylus | Displaced | 2011 | KK NO

Louis Cabri | Poetryworld | Cue | 2010 | MQ SC

Joshua Clover, trans. into French by Abigail Lang | Fragment on the Machine | na | 2011 | BA JMW

William Corbett | The Whalen Poem | Hanging Loose | 2010 | PP SiSc

Michael Cross | Haecceities | Cuneiform | 2010 | DTG JePe

Kieran Daly | Plays/ For Theater | bas-books | 2011 | AL CD

Amy De’Ath | Erec & Enide | Salt | 2010 | SC SG

Timothy Donnelly | The Cloud Corporation | Wave | 2010 | FB SB

Patrick James Dunagan | There Are People Who Think That Painters Shouldn’t Talk: A Gustonbook | Post-Apollo | 2011 | NO JS

Craig Dworkin | The Perverse Library | Information as Material | 2010 | KD PS

Elaine Equi | Click and Clone | Coffee House | 2011 | DT TPT

Michael Farrell | thempark | BookThug | 2010 | AL PB

Robert Fitterman | Now We Are Friends | Truck | 2010 | LC PS

Benjamin Friedlander | Citizen Cain | Salt | 2011 | DB FB

Forrest Gander | Core Samples from the World | New Directions | 2011 | DBQ PP RD

Renee Gladman | Event Factory | Dorothy | 2010 | EB NO

Lawrence Giffin | Sorties | Tea Party Republicans | 2011 | MB MS

Marosa di Giorgio, trans. Jeannine Marie Pitas | The History of Violets | Ugly Duckling | 2010 | HA RL

Peter Gizzi | Threshold Songs | Wesleyan | 2011 | JP MP

Rachel B. Glaser | Pee on Water | Publishing Genius | 2010 | NO JoSt

Carla Harryman & Lyn Hejinian | The Wide Road | Belladonna | 2011 | CW DD

Jennifer Homans | Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet | Random | 2010 | BB SB

Paolo Javier | The Feeling Is Actual | Marsh Hawk | 2011 | NO TPT

Tony Judt | Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 | Penguin | 2005 | BB JP

Mark Leidner | Beauty Was the Case That They Gave Me | Factory Hollow | 2011 | JoSt NO

Astrid Lorange | Eating and Speaking | Tea Party Republicans | 2011 | KD PB

Farid Matuk | This Isa Nice Neighborhood | Letter Machine | 2010 | EB RD

Bernadette Mayer | Studying Hunger Journal | Station Hill | 2011 | AB MS

Deborah Meadows | Saccade Patterns | BlazeVOX | 2011 | KK MD

Lorine Niedecker, ed. Jenny Penberthy | Collected Works | California | 2002 | JP MSH

Linda Norton | The Public Gardens | Pressed Wafer | 2011 | JC PaMc

Michael Palmer | Thread | New Directions | 2011 | PP RL

Marjorie Perloff | Unoriginal Genius | Chicago | 2010 | RL VP

Tom Pickard | More Pricks Than Prizes | Pressed Wafer | 2010 | KT SG

Meredith Quartermain, drawings by Susan Bee | Recipes From the Red Planet | Book Thug | 2010 | EM PQ

Evie Shockley | The New Black | Wesleyan | 2011 | CW LS

Patti Smith | Just Kids | Ecco | 2010 | GM MTF

Juliana Spahr & Stephanie Young, authors and eds. | A Megaphone | ChainLinks | 2011 | JW JMW

John Taggart | Is Music: Selected Poems | Copper Canyon | 2010 | GCW LS

Mathew Timmons | The New Poetics | Les Figues | 2010 | HA LC

Cecilia Vicuña and Ernesto Livon Grosman, eds. | The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry | Oxford | 2009 | CW RL

Dana Ward | The Squeakquel | The Song Cave | 2011 | CW DTG

Dana Ward | This Can’t Be Life | Edge | 2011 | AB NO

McKenzie Wark | The Beach Beneath the Street | Verso | 2011 | BKS JoCl

Philip Whalen, ed. Michael Rothenberg | The Collected Poems | Wesleyan | 2007 | CEP MeNe

Christian Wiman | Every Riven Thing | Farrar | 2010 | PM RS

Raúl Zurita, trans. Anna Deeny | Purgatory | California | 2009 | LS RL


Back to 2011 directory. Full list of titles mentioned more than once in 2011.

Written by Steve Evans

November 4, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Attention Span 2011 | Barbara Jane Reyes

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I am teaching Filipino Literature in two different universities over the next few semesters, and so the works in my attention span are a reflection of this:

R. Zamora Linmark | Leche | Coffee House | 2011

Bino A. Realuyo | The Gods We Worship Live next Door | Utah | 2006

Bienvenido Santos | Scent of Apples | Washington | 1979

E. San Juan, Jr., ed. | On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan | Temple | 1995

Carlos Bulosan | The Laughter of My Father | Bantam | 1946

Lynda Barry | One Hundred Demons | Sasquatch | 2005

Nice Rodriguez | Throw It to the River | Women’s | 1993

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, ed. | Growing Up Filipino II | Philippine American Literary House | 2010

Edna Zapanta Manlapaz, ed. | Songs of Ourselves: Writings by Filipino Women in English | Anvil | 1994


More Barbara Jane Reyes here.

Reyes’s Attention Span for 20102009. Back to 2011 directory.

Attention Span 2011 | Sawako Nakayasu

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Juliana Leslie | More Radiant Signal | Letter Machine | 2010

The poems feel diaphanous, and like they wouldn’t fare too well in a bar fight, except for the fact that we are all thrown off our stools by a strange and beautiful light that disappears when you turn away, or does it.

Don Mee Choi | The Morning News Is Exciting | Action | 2010

There is so much I love here. If this is postcolonial literature I want to write postcolonial literature too, though I can’t, being Japanese and/or American.

Zachary Schomburg | The Man Suit | Black Ocean | 2007
Zachary Schomburg | Scary, No Scary | Black Ocean | 2009

Love is when a boat is half-buried by all the cobwebs of eyelashes in the ocean.

Kiwao Nomura, trans. Kyoko Yoshida and Forrest Gander | Spectacle & Pigsty | Omnidawn | 2011
Hiromi Ito, trans. Jeffrey Angles | Killing Kanoko | Action | 2009

Nomura’s poems are just as hypnotizing as they are in the original Japanese–darkly gorgeous and radiant, as the ‘orgasm-monger plods past/ nerve ants plod past.’ Norma Cole in her book of essays compares the expansiveness of theater-making to that of her experiences with group translation, and I think she is onto something there–perhaps the future is in collaborative translation.

One of the first things I heard about Hiromi Ito was that Japanese women in the 80s were trembling in the closet reading her work with a flashlight. Some have chalked up her work to an aesthetics of the shocking (as in, Kanoko is the name of her own daughter), but it’s been a very important part of Japanese feminist poetry these last few decades.

Frances Chung | Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple | Wesleyan | 2000

Chinatown is a place to go eat chinks. It’d be kind of silly to label this work something like the Chinese-American New York School, but I just did and yet it’s much more than that–in fact the last thing I want to do is to wrap it up under some Chinese-American bubble because it cuts across these lines, similar-different to Teresa Hak Kyung Cha. Walter Lew sent it to me this summer when I was bugging him about Yi Sang. Thank you, Walter. Thank you, Frances. I have always loved the color celadon, but now joining it on the palette is duck shit green. 

Norma Cole | To Be at Music: Essays & Talks | Omnidawn | 2010

A guided tour of Norma Cole’s readings, thinking, and practice…including some excellent writings on translation, Mina Loy, and color. Now the heartbreak of the rational.

Lily Hoang | The Evolutionary Revolution | Les Figues | 2010

Their bodies begin as uncooked noodles, stiff and starchy, but as their heads wander, they limpen, soften, become saturated with dream.

Miryam Sas | Fault Lines: cultural memory and Japanese surrealism | Stanford | 1999

It’s true that I’m working on a Japanese Modernism project right now, but as I go back into this book, I am finding that it offers a conversation about more than just that particular time and place–examples of how to think about cultural transactions, or write about writing, or consider Surrealism inside and outside of its original and secondary contexts.

Marisol Limon Martinez | After you, dearest language | Ugly Duckling | 2005

This analogue version of hypertext is a wonderful way to house a narrative, and makes me think about more analog-digital potentials in poetry. (I also recently realized that I am married to a technophile-technophobe.)


More Sawako Nakayasu here.

Nakayasu’s Attention Span for 2009, 2008. Back to 2011 directory.

Attention Span 2011 | Stephen Burt

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Angela Leighton | On Form: Poetry, Aestheticism and the Legacy of a Word | Oxford | 2007

Art for art’s sake becomes art for form’s sake becomes art for the sake of nothing, or nothing inside: a nihilism not for destructive Russians but for pensive, patient ancients, in a line of descent that starts with Lucretius and keeps on ticking, to (take your pick) Stevens or Ashbery or you or me. Bonus: includes the best case I have ever seen for sustained attention to the thoughtful poetry of W. S. Graham.

Jennifer Finney Boylan | She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders | Broadway | 2003

“I didn’t want to be told I had to be a woman…. People can’t have everything they want, I thought. It is your fate to accept a life being something other than yourself.

“I don’t think this is so crazy, even now. If I could have pulled this off, I would have.”

Christopher Nealon | The Matter of Capital: Poetry and Crisis in the American Century | Harvard | 2011

At least half the people who read Third Factory probably knew this book was on the way: it’s out, and it’s short, and it doesn’t disappoint. Some of its supposedly contrarian claims are going to be commonplaces pretty soon—sort of like the claims in The Well-Wrought Urn. Bonus: includes the best case I have ever seen for sustained attention to the thoughtful poetry of Kevin Davies.

Timothy Donnelly | The Cloud Corporation | Wave | 2010

Another long-awaited book about the deformations that way-too-late capitalism works on the voice and the soul; exhilarating and saddening at the same time. It helps if you, too, love Stevens, disappointments, urbanity and urbanneness (not the same thing, and not in that order). “Right around here is where I start getting lost.”

Jennifer Homans | Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet | Random | 2010

I started reading this book because I had to (it was a candidate for an award): I didn’t think I cared for ballet at all. By the time I finished it I had come to care a great deal, not just for the art form and its history, but for the magisterial way in which Homans takes her imagined reader in hand: it’s a doorstop, but it’s also a masterpiece, and it’s a book you ought to consult if you ever plan to write a large-scale cultural history of anything at all.

Charles Baudelaire, trans. Wallace Fowlie | Flowers of Evil/ Les Fleurs du Mal and other works: a dual language book | Dover | 1992 (1963)

“Through the symbolic bars separating two worlds, the main road and the castle, the poor child was showing his own toy to the rich child who was greedily examining it.”


Stephen Burt is a professor of English at Harvard. His books include The Art of the Sonnet, with David Mikics, and Close Calls with Nonsense.

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Attention Span 2011 | Tim Peterson (Trace)

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Samuel Ace & Maureen Seaton | Stealth | Chax | 2011

Part call-and-response song, part double-entendre submarine expedition, part utopian lyrical slippage dance-off, this marvelous book performs my favorite kind of collaboration, the kind where it becomes impossible to determine who wrote which lines. Although espionage is a major theme here (we see its pervasive influence in Stealth’s complex and sometimes confounding Rube Goldberg economy of vessels and tropes), it’s possible that the frequent melding of two voices that occurs in this book is equally a function of trust. Having been a fan of Samuel Ace’s work for many years, I think I recognize here his ongoing interest in non sequitur, in the leaps between perceptions and the way in which these leaps evoke the act of listing. I also think maybe I recognize Ace’s penchant for articulating in language queer, liminal, confounding, sometimes even portentious bodily experiences for which we don’t have an easy linguistic shorthand (who wrote “What happened to my legs? They seem so / rabid, furious, relentless”?). The playfulness of these lines can sneak up on you obliquely (“Hardly anyone / saw them coming”), and under their dialogue we can hear a range of emotions at work: sadness, bemusement, anger, exasperation, yearning, ambivalence, and love. Perhaps my favorite aspect of this book: the notes section at the end, “Epilogue,” in which references are elucidated, is followed by a “Sources to Epilogue” section which contains notes to the notes.

Mina Pam Dick | Delinquent | Futurepoem | 2009

The incredible gender-busting writer of some of my favorite poems in the past few years, Mina Pam Dick brings a formidable knowledge of philosophy into play with prose riffing and with poetry’s penchant for non sequitur, employing both in a truly new mode that allows us to understand how gender and identification function from the boundary between inside and outside utterance. Pam and her alter egos Traver, Hildebrand, et al understand trans in the original liberatory sense of a blurry zone, and the philosophical stand up comedy here is necessarily also embodied, talking about real things, as it gracefully runs the full gamut of possible affects. On the one hand, Pam had me at “Robert Redford looked really sexy in Downhill Racer. I wanted to fuck him or be him,” but even this is counterbalanced by injunctions such as “Love the ones who might disdain you” or taking it further on a social level, “they say I squander equanimity. Yet much is left, although all is already written.” This poet who boasts of having debuted “as Don Giovanni or Faust or a split-second Antigone” also revises Whitman’s democratic promise of inhabiting all positions or embodying all possibilities in a kind of surprised, persnickety, exasperated running commentary that signifies on so many levels it makes your head spin: “Meanwhile, meanwhile! Can I finally momentarily contain everything? If so, why? If not, why not? Hey, why shouldn’t I?”

Elaine Equi | Click and Clone | Coffee House | 2011

Elaine Equi’s poems evoke two situations simultaneously: that of a good friend confiding in you (especially confiding something blunt or off-color), and that of a stand-up comic telling jokes on stage. The alchemy of these two overlapping scenarios produces a voice slightly estranged from its own speaker in advance, a kind of blurted archness that inspires everyone listening to new heights of explosive giddiness: “Warning: these poems may cause / Headaches, hives, hard-ons in women, / Vomiting, vagueness, / Feelings of camaraderie where none exists.” Equi’s improvisations on the theme of lipstick in one poem expand upon this speaker’s predicament “Yes, that’s my mouth. I recognize it, but I’m speaking a peculiar staccato dialect of roofs piled closely together along a river.” Whether she’s exploring the acts of projection involved in the usual techniques of lyric poetry (“The waitress murdered somebody. Even now, she looks guiltily / over her shoulder as she wipes the silverware clean”) or whether she’s having tea with a “lecherous troll” and admits “I hated the taste, but enjoyed playing chicken with the troll, / letting my eye sweep his dirty corner without grazing him,” Equi’s smart poems are entrancing, entertaining, and endlessly surprising. Sometimes she’s playing with paradoxes of avant-garde and progressive thinking and the exhaustion or bankruptcy of their tropes (“I try my / best to deplete / Our planet’s resources, / But even so, can’t gain the attention / Of higher-ups who spectacularly / And regularly waste whole cities”) and sometimes she’s just being memorably silly (“See you womorrow — / or maybe Satyrday?”), but there’s always a hair-trigger attention to how the poem is constructed, how it springs open and shut, and a willingness to be playful. Sure our desires may be a reproducible gesture, but life goes on, and it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun.

Paolo Javier | The Feeling is Actual | Marsh Hawk | October 2011

How many different writers can you be in one book; how many different modes can you explore? Tour-de-force The Feeling is Actual sets a new renaissance man record. But no dilettantishness here; Javier pulls it all off with the touch of a virtuoso: poetry comics, plays, film narration, ambivalent dramatic monologues, signage translation bloopers, and erotically ambient vispo here all explore a consistent set of thematic concerns. This post-post-post book goes beyond discourses of appropriation, beyond empathy, the constitutive stereotypes of filipino or caucasian identity, postcolonial aporias, or even Brechtian alienation. In the process it creates a kind of affective experience that I understand as urgent, cognitively provocative sensation but don’t have the language for yet; in other words…(yes, the title—you guessed it!). Of course, the book has its recognizable set of revolving tropes, the selection of which signifies certain associations: the knife-edge complexity of Bill Murray’s affect, the hunters chasing after the elusive wild Bigfoot, Batman (as hero and epithet), and a whole other set of connections hovering around conmen who potentially cruise the streets of Florida looking for an angry google. But you gotta grow new serotonin receptors and read it yourself to see what I’m talking about.

Vincent Katz & Yasmil Raymond, curators | Dia Readings in Contemporary Poetry | Dia: Chelsea | Fall 2010-present

One of the most vital reading series in New York during the past year. Not only was there a sense of freshness and energy about every pairing (young and old, established and upcoming, and unexpected); there was also a combination of sensitivity and incisiveness in Vincent’s very perceptive introductions that almost always taught me something new. Readers in the past year’s series included: Eileen Myles & Stacy Szymaszek, John Giorno & Taylor Brady, Charles Bernstein & myself, John Ashbery & Paolo Javier, Ann Lauterbach & Paul Foster Johnson, Michael Lally & Brenda Iijima. The upcoming series in fall of 2011 features Anselm Berrigan & John Godfrey, Rae Armantrout & Lisa Jarnot, Alice Notley & Brenda Coultas, Jennifer Moxley & Tony Towle.

Wayne Koestenbaum | Humiliation | Picador | 2011

Koestenbaum’s latest is profoundly unsettling in all the best ways. It discovers, light years ahead of any available it’s-good-to-be-bad posturing, a way to speak about a “monstrous” topic that typically “erodes the voice that tries to lay siege to its complexities.” A series of meditations on humiliation as an “engine,” this book explores what it means to be humiliated, to humiliate, and to observe humiliation, navigating that troubled triad from the perspective of an observer who is fatigued, “tired, as any human must be, after a life spent avoiding humiliation and yet standing near its flame, enjoying the sparks, the heat, the paradoxical illumination.” Something about the way he positions his witnessing continually makes us aware of the act of writing, not just as material but as something which disturbingly doubles back upon the writer, a scene of humiliation in itself: “Writing, I occupy a humiliated position: the voice on trial. When someone speaks, or writes, that person’s voice is held captive by the laws of language, and by the demands of its listener.” Koestenbaum’s speaker this time around is consequently a fort-da lurker, sometimes affable sometimes pretty sinister, expertly splicing together any number of rhetorical positions which might include Virgil leading us through Dante’s Hell, Blake’s furtive wandering through each chartered street, Baudelaire’s pungent disgust, Barthes’ conversational gusto, or Sontag’s shocked imperiousness. But he is also an expert at putting the reader on the spot, inviting us to join him in the voyeurism, sometimes teasingly scolding us as “virtuous reader.” Also constantly implicating us is Koestenbaum’s masterful sense of comic timing: “The Buddha’s first noble truth was humiliation. (I haven’t yet met the Buddha, though I’ve sent out an invitation.” He combines a Frankfurt School gravitas with a penchant for gossip and dishiness about the lurid details: eating feces, imagining Jeffrey Dahmer and the Marquis de Sade on Craigslist, small penis ridicule, bathroom solicitations, concentration camps, being hit with a cream pie, Michael Jackson, and many other topics too difficult and disturbing to talk about here; you need to read this book to experience them for yourself. Perhaps most moving is the way Koestenbaum reports the visceral bodily effects of the emotion: “a shivering, nearly physiological sensation of inner reversal. The mind becomes Siberia and Hades, simultaneously: hot, cold. And the body, too, suddenly must host climactic opposites. Turned into naught, I feel all the blood drain from my body; I burn and freeze at the same time.” One of this book’s stunning accomplishments is the way that it subverts available vocabularies of zero-sum or binary thinking (high/low, hot/cold, great/humble) as a way of getting at something more inchoate, terrifying, and immediate, something central to our experience but something we are too embarrassed to talk about: “the apprehension of a singular prey: the detection of a whimpering beast inside each of us, a beast whose cries are micropitches, too faint for regular notation.” But rather than providing an escape, Koestenbaum gives us endless hovering, the stuckness of eternal return, in a predicament simultaneously painful, pleasurable, and fraught with difficulties. Once we start reading, we can’t look away.

Sueyeun Juliette Lee | Underground National | Factory School | 2010

The title of Sueyeun Juliette Lee’s electric, luminous, ominously lyrical book Underground National is two adjectives which alter one another and which correspondingly act as preface to a noun that is yet to arrive. This expectant stance or act of imagining has something to do with an idea of Korea and what it might be, neither divided between punditry stances of north and south and nor pledging allegiance to “the origins of a national boundary—a stain.” For Lee in this book, the frame of “the nation” contributes to a kind of undiagnosed illness that afflicts its citizens, and the book diagnoses the symptoms or effects of this. On the one hand Lee shows how our documentary attempts to access the reality of Korea and understand it are interrupted by the static and white noise of discursive frameworks, here figured by assemblages of extraneous language from the internet: “Your request is being processed… / Roh Moo-hyu, Former South Korean President, Kills Himself / dig Share this on Facebook Huffpost – Rob Moo-hyun, Former / South Korean President, Kills Himself stumble reddit / ShareThis RSS / KWANG-TAE KIM | May 22, 2009 11:59 PM EST | AP / Compare other versions.” On the other hand, there is also an attempt to understand from a interior perspective how the effects of ideology are part of the body, internally felt yet extending beyond the body’s bounds: “A cross. Kite. My link to the sky, pinned up into wafting blueness there. Grafted together, folded like a paper coat, a hidden oath like a never worn, golden ring. Wait—I thought this was the beginning of my skin.” As these two quotes demonstrate, the book uses a number of very different writing strategies, with some sections composed mostly of appropriated texts and other sections featuring Lee’s amazingly microtonal, stunned, expansive prose poetry. The poems in this book continually leap across the gap between national ideology and social interactions, as well as the gaps between people: “I love you when I slap your hand. / You love me when I reach and fail.” Such gaps are also momentarily bridged by asking provocative questions such as “would they fight if there were an unforeseen rebellion?” and “Should I emigrate if the opportunity arises.” Not a call for unification per se (the author or one of her sources reports with a diffident, dry irony how “There has also been a ‘united Korean anthem’ created by blending the melodies of the two nations’ anthems seamlessly, used by some to promote Korean re-unification”), the book’s more valuable function seems to be straining to hear other (more disturbing or more hopeful) unwritten anthems, a potentially holistic understanding of alternate structures, a study that can’t be pursued in the light of day.

Filip Marinovich | And if You Don’t Go Crazy I’ll Meet You Here Tomorrow | Ugly Duckling | 2011

The title of Filip Marinovich’s new book makes a cameo appearance within the text as the second half of something spoken to him by a teacher of Zen Buddhism: “Who am I now Who am I now Who am I now / keep asking yourself that / and if you don’t go crazy / see you again here tomorrow.” It is an Emersonian question, and Marinovich’s struggle to be accurate to and aware of himself at each moment of writing, as a way of paradoxically transcending himself, usefully figures the Time-Being of Dogen’s Uji as a kind of homespun pragmatist generosity. Marinovich’s address to the reader doubles and subverts this relationship between teacher and student as he generously teaches us what he knows by modeling what he doesn’t know, through playfulness, spontaneous improvisatory energy, and at times unabashed goofiness. His refrains have a kind of gleeful, mad chutzpa, evoking alternately the innocence of a children’s rhyme, the pathos of stuckness, and short attention span theatre: “you thought you dissolved / the Soviet Union / the Soviet Union is dissolving in you / a time-release pill / washed down with a white and black Russian / Prince Washington / China is Fortinbras / Curtain / asbestos / Trotsky wakes and signs the Capitol hull with an icepick / plucked from his inkwell skull / was he killed in his sleep / who murders sleep / what do you grip in your sleep / a throw pillow / on a wake-up pill / the bill comes I can’t pay it.” We feel the direct energy of mark-marking here, as in drawing. But the messiness and speed also display tremendous knowledge of technique as well as wide and broad reading: this is writing with an abundance of structure. The rubik’s cube permutations, the personal grammar of nicknames, and the mannerist flourishes suggest either that catechresis is the name of the game or that Marinovich’s brilliant mind could be two steps ahead of his pen. His talent for precision comes through in “Self-portrait at Storm King Art Center,” a poem which consists entirely of the following: “This map / makes an ineffective / and / fabulously flapping / sun hat.” The WCW-like attention and the preposterous and wonderful uselessness of this image gets at a central theme of the poems in this book: they are something which has been ridiculously repurposed for something else, a poem derived from a life for example, or suffering transmuted into joy, or a living metaphor resurrected from the dead tissue of Nietzsche’s coins that have lost their value. This inventiveness produces too many memorable lines to count, as when he asks “Why raise panic when / so much is steak” or finds hilarious gratitude in the circular logic of alienation: “Thank you for losing me in the crowd like that / otherwise I never would have taken a crowd bath.” Filip Marinovich wakes us up.

Pattie McCarthy | Table Alphabetical of Hard Words | Apogee | 2010

Never before have I been so entranced with the mechanics of grammar and etymology as when reading Pattie McCarthy’s ingenious Table Alphabetical of Hard Words. This riveting book uses the dictionary as governing trope and discourse, unfolding from there a multitude of structures and writing processes. Each of the ten sections is an individual “project” inspired by (and partially appropriated from) its own group of texts. So for example, the first section “askew” borrows from The Examinations of Anne Askew and Andrzej Szcypiorski’s Self-Portrait with Woman, proceeding to fill in the spaces between with a kind of improvised mortar made of stuff mixed together from etymological handbooks, dictionaries, and McCarthy’s own incisive, highly aware writing (“the sinews and the strings and the spaces between”). One thing McCarthy accomplishes here is to discover new ways of relating Jackson Mac Low’s old dance partners “source text” and “seed text.” This would ordinarily lead us to think about the trope of being written or being spoken (as opposed to speaking or writing). What McCarthy brings to fore is the ways in which we are spoken and written by etymology. But the form of these poems highlights something else too, the idea that the Dictionary itself has a rhetoric, and a set of implied speech acts that go along with that rhetoric. When McCarthy writes the following, we can hear in these lines a kind of attenuation that gives these utterances the urgency of a manifesto: “joint & several, mine / an askew— / as nauger begat auger    thus endeth / the first examynacyon / askey looking aside / asuint or awry / assay proofe or a triall.” When manifesto language posits things, it performs an action halfway between two states: a present state of describing things as they are, and a conjuring of a future thing that has not yet materialized. These poems are enacting a note-taking of possibilities. When McCarthy evokes narratives of people or experiences, they grab us with their immediacy but they are quickly turned inside-out, as when she writes “the boy was badly bronzed. He fell / into the sea, badly. Bronzed he. / (see bell metal— also fig. applied to a loud / ringing voice) & in this way one / learns not how to fly heavy but to swim, / also heavy. [that if gold ruste, what shall / iren do?]” Here the etymological digressions keep becoming the main point, and narrative keeps flipping back and forth, rabbit-duck style, between something that tugs at your heart strings and merely another instance of the rhetoric of the dictionary, a function of etymology. McCarthy gives us textuality superimposed upon textuality—the dictionary as writing practice, connective tissue, and urgent call all at once. It’s really something to think about.

tc tolbert | Territories of Folding | kore | 2011

Smart, sensitive, enthusiastic trans poet tc tolbert’s brilliant debut is without doubt the widest book of poetry I have ever encountered. Once you open it, it’s triple-wide, designed to unfold in two halves from a center portion that acts as a kind of “bridge” between the two halves (do you see an allegory coming your way?). I’m unsure whether the book was designed to fit the long serial poem or the poem designed to fit the book, but I suspect the former is the case because tolbert’s text has such a unusual, utopian, and at times difficult, body. The incredibly long lines that stretch across the pages, sometimes in stanza form, productively and creatively distort grammar to make language capable of saying new things. They tease us with the possibility of syntactic subordination that one ordinarily hears in “voiced” poetry, but they smuggle in a kind of disruptive, delightfully surprising parataxis through interruption and erasure: “In a body no longer possible still a when. Please, still a when, please gently. Least lately, double saunter, through the rest.” The way tc uses commas and punctuation as musical notation, it’s possible to hear Gertrude Stein and Beverly Dahlen among the influences peeking through the blinds. But unlike either of those writers, this is very much an open field poetics, a kind of dance in which nothing about the spacing of the poem or the way it proceeds can be taken for granted; you need to order yourself a copy of the book to see these acrobatics in action. One thing I can get across in this brief review format though (Tolbert is making me aware of my own body as a critic now) is his ability to inhabit sensitively different affective modes while being alert to the different possible layers of metaphor produced by, and producing, intimacy that might arise at any given moment: “When I wash dishes, I fill up the largest bowl with water,, soap, and silverware. I place this large bowl in the chest of the sink. Notice the rule of nonrecollection. It is paramount to the myth of the sink.” Tolbert’s wisdom here lies in being aware of what’s happening on five levels at once, and of how linguistic form generates content, an exploration which also involves not accepting the myth or the narrative from an outside source. In tolbert’s conception, one can be trans and have a past, one’s poem can have a simultaneously material and morphing body, and one’s generous address to a “you” can make that direct connection as it takes you by surprise with its candor: “You will never believe I am eating edamame.” Tolbert’s poetry helps us to grow, to question, and to embrace, all at the same open time.

Mark Weiss | As Landscape | Chax | 2010

 As Landscape, the long-awaited new book of poems from noted translator and publisher Mark Weiss, is full of memorable details and mysterious pleasures. Alternately mischievous and majestic, serene and disorienting, these poems make observations of details that each last for just a moment, following rapidly upon one another. The unit of thought is the stanza, which Weiss builds in chains reminiscent of renga, though he has a certain fondness for the individual line as stanza: “…Salty flower // The poor at the gates. // On the empty canal a gull. / a snake. // Holds up her veil. // Pried / like a clam / from its solitude. // Even the process invisible.” Yet the leaps here are larger and more disjunctive than renga, and there is something else going on as the lines fade in and out: the stanzas seem attached behind the scenes by mysterious threads, and the poems beckon us to project, participate, and share in the spaces between observations, which never quite resolve themselves. Another available influence for the way these gaps function is Weiss’ experience as a filmmaker; take one of his films such as “They’ve All Gone Away,” in the collection at MoMA, as an example. It’s not exactly jump-cutting, but Weiss’ own version of organic form seems indebted to an awareness of the associations that develop when one scene fades into the next, under the influence of a particular emotion or theme. In the last section of the book, Weiss provides a “provisional poetics” statement emphasizing the importance to his work of the processual, noting that for him writing is a bit like being possessed. In this statement he explains the gaps in the poems as in one sense the result of partial seizures he suffered at a certain point in his life and the antispasmodics he took to treat them, after which he found himself only able to write in short bursts. This experience made him aware of the extent to which the physiology of the writer influences the resulting poem. Yet I think there’s also a very eloquent and careful, and very conscious, examination of grace and gracefulness in these poems, and a cultivation of the quality as well, as in one short untitled poem the entirety of which reads “A gull / shakes one foot / then the other / scratches its neck / and resumes its dignity.” At other moments, his distinctive sense of humor comes through in the juxtaposition of such imagery with sardonic cultural observations: “All you can eat. // In the midst of great happiness / listen to the voice inside you crying / ‘desist, desist.’ // Swan-luminous night.” The surprising, complex, and heartbreaking rhyme here says it all.


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Ron Padgett | How Long | Coffee House | 2011
Ron Padgett | Tulsa Kid | Z Press | 1979

When Ron Padgett’s latest book, How Long, came in the mail, I happily dropped everything and spent the afternoon reading it cover to cover. I first had the pleasure of hearing some of these poems during the Tulsa School Conference Grant Jenkins organized at the University of Tulsa in November 2009, as part of a career-spanning set of poems focusing on Padgett’s Oklahoma roots, and relished being able to see them in print for the first time. Ron’s one of our greatest everyday elegists—a role in which he’s sadly had far too much practice—and those talents are on full display here, for dear friends both recently and long-since departed, and for Padgett himself, as he faces his own mortality and reflects on his life’s work. Reading these poems against Tulsa Kid, written nearly half a lifetime before, makes this feeling of loss even more acute. Of course, in both books we also find plenty of Padgett’s trademark wit and casual conceptualism, which tempers and sweetens the rawer emotions, and the earlier volume also includes a number of playful collaborations with Joe Brainard and George Schneeman (my personal favorite featuring a tiny cowboy riding a rooster with the caption, “shit on you”).

Alice Notley | Culture of One | Penguin | 2011

Like Padgett’s latest, I first heard excerpts from this book in Tulsa and was grateful to have it as a companion during a very hectic week traveling from Cincinnati to Philadelphia to Cleveland and back, where Notley’s claustrophobic desert environs provided a centering influence. While I’ll always have a soft spot for the “dailiness” of her early New York School-inspired work, the hybrid novelistic forms she’s developed over the last few decades are quite formidable, and in Culture of One they culminate in a work of great empathy and distance, guided by a sharp sociological eye. It’s poetry that’s draws upon every instant of Notley’s tumultuous life; a book that rips your heart out and comforts you at the same time.

John Cage | Silence | M.I.T. | 1961 and A Year from Monday | Wesleyan | 1967
Kyle Gann | No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage’s 4’33” | Yale | 2010

This past fall, I was grateful to have a number of very talented students from our College-Conservatory of Music in my contemporary world poetry class, and while they were enthusiastic to talk about Kate Lilley, Mónica de la Torre, Christian Bök and John Tranter, our conversations, both in class and afterwards, would often drift to contemporary composers, conceptual artists and pop music. Cage was a particularly important figure to them—as he was when I first discovered him as an undergrad—and their enthusiasm sent me back for deeper reading, first to Kyle Gann’s recent book on Cage’s most infamous work and then into the writings themselves. It’s somewhat disorienting to re-immerse yourself in work so central to your aesthetic development, that feels as if it’s written in your bones, and Cage’s disarmingly friendly voice, his Zen-poetic phrasings, his fragmented constructions that invite you to start and stop freely, all serve to heighten this sensation. Judging from the testimony of a great many poets (Ashbery, Bernstein and Berrigan all jump to mind), the “Cage-phase” is a fundamental moment for the young artist, and I couldn’t be happier that my students’ experience gave me the opportunity to reconnect with it and reorient my critical perspective.

CAConrad, ed. | Jupiter88 | | 2011

CAConrad’s cinéma vérité “video journal of contemporary poetry” has had an auspicious first eight months, showcasing an astounding array of poets in its fifty-five installments, along with another thirty-one video tributes to Allen Ginsberg curated for this year’s Howl Festival. The common factor uniting these authors is their friendship with Conrad himself—recently hailed by Ron Silliman as “Philly poetry’s modern day Ben Franklin”—and the various episodes are filmed either when these poets visit Philadelphia or when Conrad travels outside of his hometown. Jupiter 88 is a testament to the power of coterie fostered by technology, or better still, technology fostered by coterie: though our viewing experience is nonetheless vicarious and mediated, it’s also an intimate one, bolstered by the host’s affinity for his guests, the brief glimpses of their private spaces and the personalized touches, including the strange props that frequently dominate the frame. Moreover, Jupiter 88’s creative use of technology at the disposal of many (a webcam, Facebook used as a media host, Blogger used as a homepage) not only serves as an idiosyncratic document of a thriving period in contemporary poetics, but also welcomes the remote viewer into that discourse.

Claudia Rankine | Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric | Graywolf | 2004

In last year’s Attention Span list, I praised Maggie Nelson’s Bluets as “a breathtakingly ambitious work that crosses genres and disciplines as it explores its enigmatically ambiguous topic,” and this year I’m glad to have found another book that accomplishes all this and more. While Nelson maintains an essential continuity throughout her diverse investigations, Rankine dwells in the possibilities of fragmentation, allowing the swiftly-scattered subject matter to thread emotional connections at its own leisurely pace. Moreover, while both authors lull readers into a welcome intimacy with the author and take risks in terms of form, Rankine’s metatextual wizardry (including copious illustrations, David Foster Wallace-esque endnotes and found intertexts) achieves the startling effect of placing readers inside and outside of the book simultaneously. Reading Don’t Let Me Be Lonely at a peaceful seaside retreat in North Carolina, I experienced a further distancing from the deeply-felt litany of violence contained therein (the Oklahoma City Bombing, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, and most saliently, September 11th), and was moved to feel lost time and pain return with such great immediacy.

CANADA (Luis Cerveró, Nicolás Méndez & Lope Serrano) | various music videos, shorts, commercials, etc. | | 2008-present

Like many people, I first encountered this Barcelona-based directors collective last fall through their unforgettable video for El Guincho’s “Bombay”: a dizzying, rapid-fire montage of cinema and sex, evoking Man Ray, Réne Magritte, Erwin Wurm, Michel Gondry, b-movies, and much, much more. Other stunning clips followed (for Scissor Sisters’ “Invisible Light,” Two Door Cinema Club’s “What You Know” and most recently, Battles’ “Ice Cream”) and browsing through their website I was surprised to find an expansive archive of films of all sorts—shorts, screen tests, ads, television bumpers, etc.—underscoring CANADA’s ambitious mission of “creative excellence in projects in a variety of areas: advertising, fashion, music videos, TV and cultural events.” Though the quick and sunny collage style’s emerged as the group’s hallmark, they can also produce gorgeous results from simpler and quieter concepts, and while I experience the same giddy joy as watching a younger generation of music video auteurs (Gondry, Spike Jonze, Mark Romanek, Jonathan Glazer, Anton Corbijn) come into their own, this feels different. Instead of biding their time with music videos until the movie studios come calling, CANADA’s work, though steeped in cinema history, seems perfectly conceived for the 21st century—attention-grabbing art for art’s sake that courts short attention spans and revels in the possibilities of microforms.

Lorine Niedecker | Collected Works | California | 2002

The somewhat accidental launch of PennSound’s Lorine Niedecker author page this past winter—thanks to the intervention of Marcella Durand and Eric Baus (the full story’s here)—sent me back to Jenny Penberthy’s marvelous Collected Works to reconnect. I made my way through her poetic output over the course of a long Megabus ride to Chicago, moved not only by its great variety, but also its continuities: the Objectivist observational minimalisms that lay dormant through her neglected middle years only to flourish again in her marvelous final poems. It’s further testament to Niedecker’s tragic circumstances that there’s so little audio of her, and yet I’m grateful that we have Cid Corman’s brief recording of Harpsichord & Salt Fish poems to present to our listeners.

Charles Bernstein | Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions | Chicago | 2011

Our new decade’s brought with it not only a career-spanning Bernstein retrospective (All the Whiskey in Heaven) but also a new volume of critical work: the long-overdue Attack of the Difficult Poems, his first collection of this sort since 1999’s My Way: Speeches and Poems. Rereading old favorites (“Against National Poetry Month as Such,” “Poetry Bailout Will Restore Confidence of Readers,” “Recantorium [a bachelor machine, after Duchamp after Kafka]”) and discovering hidden gems (“Electronic Pies in the Poetry Skies,” “Making Audio Visible: Poetry’s Coming Digital Presence”), what I’m most struck by is poetry’s rapid techno-cultural evolution, from late-90s days of Usenet, listservs and America Online to our current “wreaderly” quasi-utopia, where open source venues like PennSound, Jacket2, the Electronic Poetry Center, UbuWeb, Eclipse, the aforementioned Jupiter88 and scores more make work available to ever-widening audiences. Conversely, while it’s heartening to realize how far we’ve come, Bernstein’s still-incisive criticism reminds us how this process has only served to widen the chasm between poetry’s progressive wing and “official verse culture.” After so much worthwhile looking backwards in these recent volumes, what I most want is a collection of the new poems that have accumulated in the five years since Girly Man.

Yoko Ono | Grapefruit: a Book of Instructions and Drawings | Simon & Schuster | 1970 Yoko Ono | Onobox | Rykodisc | 1992

Yoko Ono’s work always occupied a respectful, if peripheral, place in my mind. Certainly, I thought her contributions to Double Fantasy were better than John Lennon’s, and happily scorned those making cheap jokes at her expense; however I never really had the chance to immerse myself in her work until this past year. Grapefruit was fascinating, largely for the ways in which its event pieces firmly root her in, yet subvert Fluxus tradition (Ono can be, at times, more whimsical, more poetic, or more emotionally attuned than, say, George Brecht), but also for the way in which its texts served as raw materials for her diverse musical pursuits. While Onobox showcases plenty of what folks might stereotypically expect—namely, challenging avant-garde voice pieces and sound collages—that’s finished after one disc, and the remaining five sides are filled with ridiculously good stuff that even pedestrian listeners couldn’t find fault with: uncompromising feminist anthems, wry social observations, solid grooves, haunting ballads, blistering rockers, New Wave experimentation, and much more. We made a two-disc distillation of the best bits for the car and listened to it nonstop through the new year’s bleak opening months, happily singing along with each track.

Keith Haring: 1978-1982 | Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati | 2011

I’ve loved Haring’s work ever since I was a child and yet in all my years of museum-going, I don’t recall ever seeing his work in person, so you can imagine my delight in discovering that a newly-curated show focusing on the artist’s formative years was debuting downtown at the CAC. To be honest, it’s a somewhat imperfect show, ending just as Haring hit his stride, but the absence of work from his primetime years and his poignant final output is more than made up for by the sheer density of materials archived here—plenty of paintings, but also flyers, video works, sketchbooks, diaries, slideshows and all sorts of other ephemera. What impressed me most was the opportunity to interact with these ancillary artifacts, tracing lines of influence (most notably the Burroughs/Gysin cut-up method) and seeing how Haring’s multifarious student interests were honed into an idiosyncratic style.


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Slavoj Zizek | In Defense of Lost Causes | Verso | 2009 

In Defense of Lost Causes has been my favorite of Zizek’s books so far. I admit that this may be due in part to his prose’s public mode of address, but more importantly it is due to the political timeliness of his project: to establish some kind of universal, leftist response to the universality of capitalism, late or not. It’s the risk suggested in the title that makes this ambitious volume such a thoroughly engaging one. Rather than accepting Fukuyama’s thesis of “the end of history,” which Zizek claims the left has effectively done—”the task today is to resist state power by withdrawing from its scope, subtracting oneself from it, creating new spaces outside its control” (339), In Defense looks back over the failed revolutions of the not-too-distant past—from the French Revolution to the Chinese Cultural Revolution—in order to discern where they went wrong and how we might “redeem the emancipatory potential of these failures through avoiding the twin trap of nostalgic attachment to the past and of all-too-slick accommodation to ‘new circumstances’” (3). With chapters provocatively titled “Radical Intellectuals, or, Why Heidegger Took The Right Step (Albeit in the Wrong Direction) in 1933,” “Revolutionary Terror from Robespierre to Mao,” and “Why Populism Is (Sometimes) Good Enough in Practice, but Not in Theory,” Zizek argues in the “Afterword to the Second Edition” that it may be “Better to do nothing than engage in localized acts whose ultimate function is to make the system run more smoothly (acts like providing space for the multitude of new subjectivities, etc.). The threat today is not passivity, but pseudo-activity, the urge to ‘be active,’ to ‘participate,’ to mask the Nothingness of what goes on” (476). He cites José Saramago’s novel Seeing in which the population, en masse, decide not to vote in the country’s latest election, as an example of the ways in which  “violent subtraction” can undermine the seemingly all-powerful state by refusing, like Bartleby, to participate in legitimizing rituals of power. Whether or not one agrees with Zizek’s take on things is less important than the text’s persistent provocation to thought.

Kit Robinson | Train I Ride | BookThug | 2009

Books of poetry are not usually considered page-turners (and all the better for them—isn’t all poetry slow, even fast poetry?). But this volume I found difficult to put down. I say this because the book arrived in the mail just when I was busy preparing to host a poetry reading in Eugene and was in a hurry to bone up on a poet whose work I was largely unfamiliar with at the time. In other words, I was “supposed” to be reading something else (which, needless to say, I found compelling, as well). Not that Train I Ride takes much time to read; at thirty-eight pages, it can be polished off in an afternoon or evening (if “pigging out” is your thing—I preferred to linger in the text as long as I could, not wanting it to end, yet feeling a sense of urgency to read it cover-to-cover rather then in the collage-like, disjunctive manner in which I usually read: hopping from this to that to this and that and so forth, maybe finishing this or that, maybe not, for now). The book—a low-budget gig from Book Thug (a feature that adds to its charm)—arrived in the mail with Robinson’s latest book, the more professional-looking Determination, out from the excellent Cuneiform Press, which I have yet to fully read. Formally, the two texts contrast with each other—the latter more in the minimalist mode we find in The Crave (including some his “Ice Cube”-like, one-word line poems) and the former more along the lines of the new sentence. Sentence after sentence, Train I Ride is full of gems, like these randomly chosen nuggets: “A lost week. I remember everything that happened. But nothing was said.” “The sadness of stadiums. Public life packaged.” “The space inside a lower-case e. You could set up shop there.” Of course, it’s not the cleverness and insight of such lines that ultimately stand out but the masterful way they are assembled that makes them resonate and “pop” off the page (I’ve been watching too much of the Food Network—when exactly did “pop” become part of our TV vocabulary?). Kit Robinson is writing some of the best stuff around these days, in my opinion.

Hannah Arendt | Men in Dark Times | Mariner | 1968

I first came across Arendt’s writing when reading her introduction to Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations back in the mid-80s. I remember at the time thinking that I was as inspired by the introduction as I was the writings of Benjamin himself. But it wasn’t until, years later, when, thanks to a friend and colleague in graduate school, I was recommended The Human Condition (1958) that Arendt became a critical component of my theoretical thinking. Her discussion of labor, work, and action was crucial to my dissertation on poets and their jobs. There was thus a real sense of urgency when I learned, while listening to a recording of Kathy Acker’s talk at Charles Bernstein’s poetics seminar in Buffalo (available at her web page at the EPC), that Men in Dark Times was one of Acker’s favorite books (along with Deleuze and Guatarri’s Anti-Oedipus). The title, which is somewhat misleading since the book is composed of essays on women as well as men (though mostly the latter), comes from the excellent opening essay “On Humanity in Dark Times: Thoughts About Lessing” which offers up some important advice for our own dark times: “Pleasure, which is fundamentally the intensified awareness of reality, springs from a passionate openness to the world and love of it. Not even the knowledge that man may be destroyed by the world detracts from the ‘tragic pleasure’” (6). But it is her discussion of Lessing’s valorization of friendship (our desire to “share the world” with others) over fraternity (our allegiance to a truth that binds us to like-minded thinkers) that makes this chapter (and the book) so relevant to our increasingly polarized society. Noting that “for the Greeks the essence of friendship consisted in discourse” (24) about the world (the “world” being that which “lies between people” [4]) rather than “the intimate talk in which individuals talk about themselves” [24]), Arendt writes that when it came down to choosing fidelity to truth (doctrine) over friendship, Lessing critically chose the latter: “Any doctrine that in principle barred the possibility of friendship between two human beings would have been rejected by his untrammeled and unerring conscience” (29). I tried to keep this in mind while visiting with my (Tea Party) in-laws over the summer in Indiana.

Eileen Myles | Inferno: A Poet’s Novel | Or | 2010

Reading Inferno: A Poet’s Novel during my daughter’s soccer season, her team’s name “The Inferno,” the parents at the games commenting on the irony of it, not that they’d think to read it—we complain of our children not reading, but where do we find adults today who take reading seriously (outside of academia)

The print is not justified, hence the prose’s jagged right margin gives off a hint of poetry with its line breaks—this is a “poet’s novel”

The vagina passage is what draws the most attention, perhaps, and certainly the most laughs at readings, but it’s just one thing

Myles prose is sometimes deliberately awkward, disjunctive, even though mostly it’s quite fluid and loose

I love novels about poets, especially the kind of poets Myles writes about; it’s all so much fun

So much of my reading comes from what I’m reading, where Myles will mention Acker who will mention Arendt who mentions Broch and so forth

Zizek will mention Agamben who will mention Robert Walser and so forth

I’d list the two Kathy Acker novels I’m reading—My Mother: Demonology, a novel and Empire of the Senseless—but they’re currently on hold (for some reason); my favorite so far is Blood and Guts in Highschool, which I mistakenly recommended to the pregnant bartender at The Bier Stein in Eugene—she was reading Bukowski at the time and so I thought she might like Acker (not that I meant to suggest an equivalency) what with her tattoos and the punk-like air she projected

Kaia Sand | Remember to Wave | Tinfish | 2010

Remember to Wave is an inspired book and Tinfish Press has done an equally inspired job of publishing it, which is no easy task, considering the formal inventiveness of the text. It’s like a cross between Susan Howe and Muriel Rukeyser, combining the documentary spirit of the Proletarian poets with the Situationists’ derives. Sand’s poetics is grounded in ethics and in the idea that poetry cannot but be political. In Remember to Wave, this means mapping the ground she literally walks on: Portland, Oregon with its buried histories of Japanese-American Internment camps during WWII and institutionalized racism. As we learn from the book, it was only in 1925 that Oregon “repealed from its constitution: ‘No free negro, or mulatto, not residing in this State at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall come, reside, or be within this State.’” Yet, if we learn a lot from Sand’s investigative poetics, we do so as much through the information Sand digs up as through the artistic play she brings to her construction of the book. Just flipping through Remember to Wave is a visual delight.

Paul Lafargue | The Right to be Lazy | Kerr | 1989

Speaking of visual delights, Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company’s paperback edition of (Karl Marx’s son-in-law) Paul Lafargue’s The Right to be Lazy, “Produced by 100% Union Labor,” is a sight that sores the eyes, at least its cover. (I’ll explain shortly.) I stumbled upon this book, though I had been meaning to read it in its entirety (which is not much, running at approximately fifty pages) for some time, while trying to track down Arendt’s Men in Dark Times and anything by Robert Walser, a writer (greatly admired by the likes of Kafka, Musil, Walter Benjamin, and W.G. Sebald, as it says on the back of The Assistant) I had never heard of until I read Agamben’s The Coming Community, and finally Foucault’s The Care of the Self at Eugene’s Smith Family Bookstore, which reminds me of the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan. (We’re fortunate to have a number of quality used bookstores in this town.) This was one of those good days when everything I was looking for I found, with the added bonus of Lafargue’s little text which I came upon unexpectedly, the goofy, cartoonish lettering of this paperback standing out amid the spines of the larger hardbounds. This last little find made my day; it’s not often you walk into a bookstore these days and walk away with such a treasure. Now, as alluded to in the comic book-like lettering found on its spine, the front cover, with its cartoon drawing of a worker laying in a hammock strung between two factory smokestacks, snoring away (“zzzzz”s bubbling out of his mouth) with an open book dangling in his hand below the hammock, his boss, with his fist raised, ineffectively shouting something up at him, makes you think you’re reading a comic book, like something from the comic strip Andy Capp. But once you get past the cover and open the book, you find that the aesthetics have changed quite dramatically. Above the print, which consists of a quote from Lafargue’s pamphlet, is a naturalist drawing of a Meadow Lark, its genus name italicized beside it in parentheses. The quote below it reads:

A strange delusion possesses the working classes of the nations where capitalist civilization holds sway. This delusion is the love of work, the furious passion for work. The proletariat, the great class embracing all the producers of civilized nations, has let itself be perverted by the dogma of work. Rude and terrible has been its punishment. All its individual and social woes are born of its passion for work.

It turns out that these naturalistic drawings of birds are littered throughout the text, which includes both an introduction called “The War on Leisure” by Joseph Jablonski and a “bio-bibliographical” essay by Fred Thompson. Yet, from my examination, there’s no explanation to be found for the inclusion of these naturalistic drawings. I love this aspect of the book. In fact, the entire book is worth reading, not least Lafargue’s essay. I enjoyed delving back into the Marxist, revolutionary rhetoric I read so much of when combing the old, crumbling editions of The New Masses and other Depression era publications at SUNY-Buffalo’s main library. You just got to love the confidence of such statements as: “Social discords will vanish. Bond holders and capitalists will be first to rally to the popular party, once convinced that far from wishing them harm, its purpose is rather to relieve them of the labor of over-consumption and waste, with which they have been overwhelmed since their birth.”

Giorgio Agamben | The Coming Community | Minnesota | 2007

I started The Coming Community (originally published in 1990) a couple years ago but wasn’t ready for it. For some reason, this time around I found it, like Kit Robinson’s Train I Ride, difficult to put down, which is perhaps due to having been primed by my reading of Agamben’s The State of Exception, an important book but one I found somewhat burdened by the necessity of historicizing and hence theorizing its subject. (The gist of the book can be discerned from reading the first chapter.) In contrast, The Coming Community reads like poetry, much of it centered around the task of reconstructing our notion of subjectivity away from the specificity of identity toward what Agamben, in a somewhat unfortunate, though unavoidable translation, calls “whatever being,” a mode of “being-in-language” (and in the world: “being-such”) that moves beyond singularity and, its opposite, the abstract universal:

The Whatever in question here relates to singularity not in its indifference with respect to a common property (to a concept, for example: being red, being French, being Muslim), but only in its being such as it is. Singularity is thus freed from the false dilemma that obliges knowledge to choose between the ineffability of the individual and the intelligibility of the universal. The intelligible . . . is neither a universal nor an individual included in a series, but rather “singularity insofar as it is whatever singularity.” (1)

This rather difficult concept, which, admittedly, I have not done a very good job of explaining here, inevitably leads to the discussion of its political significance in the final chapter—though not the last, which consists of an appendix—of this short, though dense, book called “Tiananmen.” Suggesting that identity works to the advantage of the State in terms of controlling people, Agamben writes: “What the State cannot tolerate in any way . . . is that the singularities form a community without affirming an identity, that humans co-belong without any representable condition of belonging (even in the form of a simple presupposition)” (86).

Peter Clark | The English Alehouse: A Social History 1200-1830 | Longman | 1983

“One does not need to adopt an alcoholic interpretation of history to appreciate the contribution of drinking houses to the social development of premodern Europe and North America.”

If poets and their jobs—the dilemma livelihood presents for the writer—was the focus of my dissertation, which is also the focus of Wig, the magazine I edit with Kristen Gallagher, my real interest has always been leisure, or, as I prefer to call it, loafing. As such, I decided that I’d spend the summer break (financed, I should add, by my industrious wife) working on a project begun last summer called “The Institute of Loafing.” Seated one day in mid-June, at my favorite bar in Eugene, the Bier Stein, thinking and talking about loafing to one of my Bier Stein friends, who being a Eugenian, naturally shared an interest in loafing, it suddenly occurred to me that bar life is most certainly a part of the loafing life. And, in fact, this is confirmed by Peter Clark’s book. Over and over again we read of workers heading to the bar at day’s end. While the alehouse—to be distinguished from the Inn and the Tavern in regards to class, with the former at the top of hierarchy and the alehouse at the bottom—was first and foremost a drinking establishment, it served many other purposes, as well, from lodging to commerce to reading room to what amounts to an employment agency. As Clark writes in the introduction, the alehouse was also a prime source of revenue for the government, noting, ironically that “the American War of Independence was fought by British troops and mercenaries heavily financed by a tax on domestic alehouse drinkers against colonists whose military headquarters, as at Boston in 1774-75, were often taverns” (3).


Tim Shaner’s work has appeared in Word for/Word, Jacket, Kiosk, P-Queue, Shampoo, 88: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry, The Portable Lower Eastside, Ambit (UK), The Rialto (UK), and other magazines. He is the co-editor of Wig, a magazine devoted to poetry written on the job, and curates A New Poetry Series in Eugene, Oregon. He has a Ph.D. from SUNY-Buffalo’s Poetics Program and works as a full-time part-timer at Lane Community College and Umpqua Community College.

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Written by Steve Evans

October 29, 2011 at 11:21 am