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Attention Span 2012 | Anselm Berrigan

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Dana Ward | This Can’t Be Life | Edge | 2011

Sure it can.

Anne Boyer | My Common Heart | Spooky Girlfriend | 2011

Totally opened up when I read it back to front, which set me up more acutely for the logics of its arrangement. The voicing structures morph under their surfaces in all these odd ways.

Hoa Nguyen | As Long As Trees Last | Wave | 2012

As the dude in Masked & Anonymous said, “sometimes it’s not enough to know what things mean. Sometimes you gotta know what things don’t mean”

Joe Brainard | Collected Writings | Library of America | 2012

“Everything that has ever existed has been reproduced in miniature by someone, at sometime.”

Leslie Scalapino | Way | North Point | 1988

Read this along with The Descent of Alette (A. Notley) and Douglas Oliver’s The Infant & The Pearl in the late fall. All long poems coming out of the $$-bleak mid-late eighties. Major shit. Condescension-free ambition for the work to be large.

Fred Moten | B Jenkins | Duke | 2009

The last time I did one of these lists I put this book on it. But I keep reading it and reading it, probably more than anything else in the past few years, and every time I open it up again, it totally opens up again. So there’s that.

Maged Zaher | Thank You for the Window Office | Ugly Duckling | 2012

The main reason I’m doing this list is because I’m reading this book right now.

Lunar Chandelier Press

Lunar Chandelier has put out books by John Godfrey, Toni Simon, Lynn Behrendt, Vyt Bakaitis, and Joe Elliot since it started up in 2010. High quality reads and objects. No bullshit, no program. You can tell the work is cared for.

Camille Roy | Sherwood Forest | Futurepoem | 2011

Dynamic diction triggering layers of invitation. Makes me want to write.

Mary Burger | Then Go On | Litmus | 2012

Lent this to someone who won’t give it back.

Murat Nemet-Nejat | The Spiritual Life of Replicants | Talisman | 2011

I put down something about this book being a total breakthrough for the present art, on the levels of feeling bringing about events and speculative sensory observation, and that’s the way I feel about it.

Arlo Quint | Death to Explosions | Skysill | forthcoming 2013

Wrote about Quint for the Boston Review not so long ago. Now his first book should be out sometime soon. The thing I’m wanting the most to be in the world. I love listening to Quint’s work.

Michael Robbins | Alien Vs. Predator | Penguin | 2012

The only thing this book is missing is a Tebow moment, and maybe a podcast on betting lines with Cousin Sal.

Corina Copp | Pro Magenta/Be Met | Ugly Duckling | 2011

Fabulous propulsion.

Note: all of Kevin Varrone’s baseball poem Box Score: An Autobiography is amazing. There’s a chapbook, but I can’t find it, because some kid hid it somewhere.


Anselm Berrigan‘s contributions to Attention Span for 2010200920072004. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

December 28, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Attention Span 2012 | Matvei Yankelevich

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Sergio Chejfec, tr. Margaret Carson | My Two Worlds | Open Letter | 2008

I just found out about Chejfec at the ALTA conference this October, and am very pleased. This is a writer’s writer, translated by a translator’s translator. I strolled through this “novel” as slowly as the novelist recounts his walk, feeling each comma as a cobblestone in the park of prose. It’s a beautiful, understated work; likewise the translation.

Paul Stephens, Jenelle Troxell, Robert Hardwick Weston, eds. | Convolution No. 1 | Fall 2011

This magazine, the magazine of my dreams, situates itself in the trajectory of the Evergreen Review (of the ‘Pataphysics issue), The New Freewoman, and The Little Review. But it’s an update to something modern, beautifully produced, designed to enhance thought. This issue, if you can find it, has weird stuff on Duchamp, a Bob Brown reproduction, a fascinating essay by Nancy Tewksbury on Xu Bing, an interview with Charles Bernstein, a cool manifesto on “Patacriticism by Paul Stephens, and some really cool looking essays and art that I still have to get my head around. The editors have an incredible vision for what a magazine could be. It may be a little too hip in places (slight pieces by Sarah Crowner, Craig Dworkin); but it’s super relevant for the moment and engaging as hell—both conceptually and materially—to sit with and thumb through.

Steven Zultanski | Agony | Book Thug | 2012

This is a long lyric poem, a kind of sur-literal autobiography, from the author of Pad and Cop Kisser. My blurb couldn’t fit on the back of the book, nor even here, so here is just a part of it:

In a manner that parodies and surpasses the lunacy of American pundits, Zultanski leads us on a mathematical journey into the volume of humanity’s tears and saliva exchange in kisses, and the square-footage of breasts and pet-intestines to explore the Markson-esqe, Mobius sociality of the solipsistic self. […] Call it conceptualism, lyricism, the new literality, or agonic financial planning—whatever it is, Agony is not for the faint of heart.

Thom Donovan | The Hole | Displaced | 2012

Through epistolary poems and lots of back-matter (responses, essays, etc.) Donovan engages some current issues raised (very differently) in conceptual works. There’s actual poetry in this, taking up the bulk of it even. I love the whimsy of Michael Cross’s design and the way all the design choices support the process of digging the book as one digs a hole in the ground.

Alan Loney | The Books to Come | Cuneiform | 2012

This is one of the best books I’ve read about books—the reading of books, the making of books, the distribution of books, the hoarding of books, the etc. of books. The writing is precise, modest, laconic, easy. The thoughts are useful, provocative but without pushing any buttons. If you can find the earlier first edition (hard-cover), that’d make it even better.

Fred Moten | Hughson’s Tavern | Leon Works | 2008

This summer, I finally got this book and was very glad I did. Read the music. Note: it’s a thinking music.


Matvei Yankelevich‘s contributions to Attention Span for 2010 and 2007. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

December 28, 2012 at 11:04 am

Attention Span 2012 | Minal Singh, Kaveh Bassiri, and friends

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Jerome Rothenberg | 25 Caprichos a partir de Goya | Calamus Poesia

Mark Liedner| Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me | Factory Hollow

Joshua Edwards and Van Edwards | Campeche: Poems & Photographs | Noemi

Kim Gek Lin Short | China Cowboy | Tarpaulin Sky

Mary Jo Bang, trans. | Dante’s Inferno: A New Translation | Graywolf

Gina Abelkop | Darling Beastlettes | Apostrophe

Sommer Browning | Either Way I’m Celebrating | Birds LLC

Roger Sedarat | Ghazal Games | Ohio

Julian T. Brolaski | gowanus atropolis | Ugly Duckling

Andrea Rexilius | Half of What They Carried Flew Away | Letter Machine

Loren Erdrich and Sierra Nelson | I Take Back the Sponge Cake | Rose Metal 

Caroline Bergvall, Laynie Browne, Teresa Carmody, and Vanessa Place, eds. | I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women | Les Figues

Julia Bloch | Letters to Kelly Clarkson | Sidebrow 

Rebecca Lindenberg | Love, An Index | McSweeney’s

Brandon Shimoda | O Bon | Litmus

Tomaz Salamun | On the Tracks of Wild Game | Ugly Duckling

Matthew Henriksen | Ordinary Sun | Black Ocean

Dan Magers | Party Knife | Birds LLC | #

Eric Baus | Scared Text | Center for Literary Publishing

Raúl Zurita | Songs For His Disappeared Love | Action

Joshua Corey and G.C. Waldrep, eds. | The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral | Ahsahta 

Dot Devota | The Eternal Wall | Cannibal

Héctor Viel Temperley, trans. Stuart Krimko | The Last Four Books of Héctor Viel Temperley | Sand Paper

Joyelle McSweeney | The Necropastoral | spork 

Frances Richard | The Phonemes | Les Figues

Joseph Harrington | Things Come On: An Amneoir | Wesleyan

Dana Ward | This Can’t Be Life | Edge| $

Farid Matuk | This Isa Nice Neighborhood | Letter Machine

Noel Black Uselysses | Ugly Duckling | *

Anna Moschovakis | You and Three Others are Approaching A Lake | Coffee House


These titles were selected by

C. Violet Eaton
Chris Martin *
Douglas Hahn #
Jared White
Kaveh Bassiri
Mary Austin Speaker $
Minal Shekhawat
Robert Alan Wendeborn
Carrie Murphy
Rosa Alcala
Russel Swensen
Sara Nicholson
Steven Karl


* Microreview of Noel Black’s Uselysses (Ugly Duckling) by Chris Martin 

A much anticipated full-length debut, Black’s book enfolds libraries within its wings, which flap about on sonar-taut lines. It’s a book of friendship and derangement, hope and domestic adventure. It concludes with the New Narrative’s newest classic, “Prophecies for the Past,” which Kevin Killian called “the sort of reading experience they must have invented poetry for.” And Noel wrote that shit in prose.

 Chris Martin is the author of American Music (Copper Canyon 2007) and Becoming Weather (Coffee House 2011).

# Microreview of Dan Magers’ Party Knife (Birds LLC) by Doug Hahn 

Party Knife‘s poems are boiling with dark humor, quiet rage, and poignant sadness. They weave the conscious and unconscious with an Ashberian intensity that verges on schadenfreude, but in the end we glimpse the everyday sublime. On the surface level, these poems are very funny and very bizarre, but they are also fine examples of poetic form and do indeed have a profound overall meaning—this is what makes the book special to me: in a world filled with either self-important or glib post-MFA projects, here is a poet who excels at both entertainment and instruction. On a more personal note, I worked and lived as a poet in post-9/11 New York City for many years, and this is a book that embodies the artist’s experience in that horrible and amazing place in American time.

$ Microreview of Dana Ward’s This Can’t Be Life (Edge) by Mary Austin Speaker

The book that I anticipated most this year is Dana Ward’s This Can’t Be Life, published by Edge Books. Typing Wild Speech, Dana’s excellent chapbook, is included here in full and bowled me over just as much as it did the first time I heard him read from it. To hear Dana read, or to read him on the page, is to hear the unflinching inner monologue of someone who prizes social interaction as much as the drive to make art and is as exploratory in each endeavor. “Take for instance the notion of ‘poet.’ I’ve allowed a lot of myth to hold sway over how I perform that for myself. . . . How to be ‘poet,’ ‘partner,’ ‘good friend,’ on & on. How resolve all this practical alienation,” he writes, fully aware of both the banalities (with which he quickly dispatches) and the moral consequences of asking such a question. It’s brave, totally compelling writing, and beyond that, it is joyful and anxious and stylish and very, very smart.

Mary Austin Speaker is the author of the chapbooks The Bridge (Push Press, 2011) and 20 Love Poems for 10 Months (forthcoming from Ugly Duckling); a collaborative play, I am You This Morning You Are Me Tonight, written with her husband, poet Chris Martin; and the forthcoming full-length collection, Ceremony, due out in 2013 from Slope Editions.


Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

December 26, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Attention Span 2012 | Benjamin Friedlander

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Matthew Cooperman | Still | Counterpath | 2011

This year I began reading Walter Savage Landor’s Imaginary Conversations. In one of them, Landor has Michelangelo say, “In our days, poetry is a vehicle which does not carry much within it, but is top-heavy with what is corded on.” Cooperman’s Still yields a retort: “Counterpoint: never the vessel for what’s inside, it’s tidings of thought and who’s drinking with you.” Which sums Landor’s appeal as well as Cooperman’s own, since the play of voices (or really, pronouncements) in Landor’s prose owes all to its ease and flow, a conviviality of form. Cooperman, for his part, has mastered the secret of the list poem—a cording on of things that drift by. His details are keepsakes, not provisions. There’s no stopping to unpack along the way—interiority is a given, but for ballast alone. Meanwhile, the movement forward is incessant, and speedy when needed, even when the vessel grows top-heavy.

Aris Fioretos, trans. Tomas Tranaeus | Nelly Sachs, Flight and Metamorphosis: An Illustrated Biography | Stanford | 2012

Because of her Nobel Prize—and Holocaust connection—Sachs’s first Schocken collection, O the Chimneys, was the only book of poetry in our house when I was growing up, which means I came to her in the order of most readers before 1980: prior to Paul Celan. Since the order of reading is a chemical process, transformative and irreversible, I count myself lucky for finding Sachs first, undimmed by comparison, and then Celan in light of her. That said, my knowledge of Sachs remained pretty thin over the years. This thick description, produced by the editor of the four-volume Werke (which slipped into print in 2011), gives us a poet celebrated and forgotten before we really learned—by way of Celan—how to read her.

Lawrence P. Jackson | The Indignant Generation: A Narrative of African American Writers and Critics, 1934-1960 | Princeton | 2011

As it happens, two of the poets most important to me—Robert Hayden and Gwendolyn Brooks—belong to the generation in question, or began there, so I was overjoyed to find a book so rich and readable on those years, which literary histories generally pass over as mere interval. And certainly the Harlem Renaissance and Black Power eras are more exciting. They’re also more copiously understood and documented—or were. I hope Jackson’s sequels and prequels are under contract.

Henry James | William Wetmore Story and His Friends | Grove | 1957, original edition 1904

Written for money, with much complaining, and little respect for its subject, the Storys, whose children urged on the task, this lapidary account of expatriate life in Italy is far more enjoyable—and more peculiar—than its neglect ever led me to expect. If I’d expected anything: I was hunting down a reference and couldn’t stop. The fretful syntax is typical of late James, but how strange, if not comical, to find it in the service of so pedestrian a genre: the two-volume Victorian “Memoir,” told through letters and diaries, with brief stretches of narrative to carry things forward when the documents tucker out. As a rule, these books have an honorable plainness, setting forth the facts to speak for themselves. But how could such an approach do for James? Investing discretion—that most sociable of virtues—with an antisocial charge, he dulls the shock to a stimulating burr, brushing us with the velvet he draped around his kind.

Paul Legault | The Emily Dickinson Reader | McSweeney’s | 2012

Every Emily Dickinson poem reduced to a single line. These are often wisecracks, material for the back of a class (zombies, really?), but the rest has an acuteness that puts scholarship to shame. And the whole has a destructive ambition worthy of its subject—though Dickinson’s ambition was of course trained higher. But she too relied on the reductio ad absurdum, and she too was given to wisecracks (some of which, drum roll, are now recited in class).

Haki R. Madhubuti | YellowBlack: The First Twenty-One Years of a Poet’s Life | Third World | 2005

The segregation of taste that our warped institutions promote, with our unthinking help, has kept me for too long from appreciating Madhubuti’s importance. Which is all the more revealing—and mortifying—when I recall my high school enthusiasm for Don L. Lee, as Madhubuti was known before 1975. This book is very much Lee’s story, a tale that rivals Iceberg Slim or Michael Gold in its pulp power. And that would be enough! But it’s also Madhubiti’s tale, which means the story is told with a wisdom pulp only achieves in the hands of a Dostoevsky or Richard Wright—shaped with a gentleness all Madhubuti’s own.

Denise Riley | Time Lived, Without Its Flow | Capsule Editions | 2012

My childhood was a study in parental mourning, with methodical care preferred to expressions of grief, analysis to elegy, perhaps because the quickening of the mind was how grief was let go, temporarily—interest forgetting its struggle with depression. I wouldn’t presume to say the same is true of Riley, only that this remarkable book (not a memoir; a record of interest in one aspect of mourning, its temporality) sustains its care so methodically, grief itself is moved; not to tears, but a clearer perspective.

Lisa Robertson | Nilling: Prose Essays on Noise, Pornography, the Codex, Melancholy, Lucretius, Folds, Cities and Related Aporias | BookThug | 2012

The dependence of sense on the senses has never been more evident to me than in these essays, which let loose the mind in a world of color and perfume, texture and sound, a world so dizzying, only words can comprehend it unstunned. Making comprehension itself a sensual experience, interrupted now and again by a pang: how dull my own words feel in comparison.

George Saintsbury | A History of English Prosody: From the Twelfth Century to the Present Day | 3 vols. | Macmillan | 1906

Marianne Moore gave Saintsbury two places in her ideal library, as many as Coleridge, more than Plato. So why not, I thought, and requested these volumes from storage. Soon enough, the need to mark passages overcame me, and I acquired a set of my own: age-softened library discards, which I can’t take to bed on account of their smell. How pristine, in contrast, the prose. Bright and liquid as a stream, bubbling over the pebbles of opinion. Which do make for a slippery footing. Better, perhaps, to reach down and take away a charm, cutting one’s own path through the history of verse. Returning, of course, when thirsty.

Gertrude Stein, ed. Logan Esdale | Ida A Novel | Yale | 2012

Stein’s fictions are her flyover states, with Ida my preferred hub. This “workshop edition” (a corrected text with drafts, letters, related pieces, and reviews) took me out of the terminal, into the city. A destination after all!

Rachel Zolf | Neighbour Procedure | Coach House | 2010

There is a madness in thinking the problem of Israel and Palestine can be thought through or sorted out, a philosophical conundrum or puzzle of language; and there’s a despair in thinking that reason has lost its right, leaving all to violence. In Neighbour Procedure, Zolf chooses madness, but yields to despair her suspicion that reason never had a right—only a discourse of ruins, monuments and counter-monuments to hope.


Benjamin Friedlander’s contributions to Attention Span for 201120102009200820072006200520042003. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

December 18, 2012 at 11:54 am

Attention Span 2012 | Omar Berrada

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Georges Didi-Huberman | Ecorces | Minuit | 2011

A beautiful and moving book, where one discovers that maverick philosopher-art historian Georges Didi-Huberman is also a writer of incomparable acuteness and grace. It is an account of his first visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau—after having written extensively on the pictures taken by members of the Sonderkommando and their value as testimony. This short book is written as a meditation on pictures the author himself took during his visit. In particular pictures of bits of bark he stripped off from birch trees onsite. Fragments from the surface of reality.

Stacy Doris | Fledge—A Phenomenology of Spirit | Nightboat | 2012

“Since I love I fall down / since a ridge is all that / disintegrates so home”. This year’s heartbreak. So many of us have been mourning Stacy’s passing. I have not yet been able to read this book. Only one or two pages now and then. But I have been taking it with me everywhere, this “bunch of love poems of undying love”.  “Because we don’t make we’re / kin to permanent what / we touch”.

Forrest Gander | Core Samples from the World | New Directions | 2011

A heady exploration of languages and topographies via interweavings of poems, micro-essays, and photographs. A virtuosic voyage of the imagination. “But under their masks of muteness, the visitors go beyond listening to; they listen into”.

Nathalie Léger | Supplément à la vie de Barbara Loden | P.O.L | 2012

A wonderfully insightful and well-written, and partly fictional, and largely personal, investigation into the life and work of Barbara Loden and her film/character Wanda. A meditation on life and words, words and image, actors and characters, description and invention, documentary and autobiography. Including a fantastic few pages featuring Mickey Mantle as reader of Proust.

Philippe-Alain Michaud | Flying Carpets (exhibition) | Villa Medici | 2012

This has to be the most stimulating exhibit I have ever been to. Richness of thought spatially unfolding, in the form of echoes between 16th and 17th century carpets, experimental films, paintings and watercolors, and recent art installations. For years now, Philippe-Alain Michaud (curator of film at the Centre Pompidou in Paris) has been exploring alternative genealogies of film freed from the technical apparatus of projection that the 20th century history of cinema as we know it has locked it into. For him, film is not a medium but a set of properties having to do with movement and framing. The present exhibit convincingly looks at carpets (moving surfaces, metaphors for flight, frames for endless motifs) as repositories of these properties, therefore as loci of a proto-cinema.

José Miguel Puerta Vílchez | Historia del pensamiento estético árabe | Akal | 1997 

This is monumental. Because of its size (900 pages) and because of its underlying project: to assume the existence of a tradition of aesthetic thought in Arabic, and to attempt to read it on its own terms (much more rare than you might think) and retrace its history. Two advantages, at least, for the Western (and, to say the truth, the native) reader: studying Arabic civilization through the prism of aesthetics, i.e. away from the usual theological reductions; and discovering alternative conceptualizations of images, of erotics, of beauty or of the sublime.

Equally recommended, in a similar (though less historical and less encyclopedic) vein, Mohammed Hamdouni Alami’s Art and Architecture in the Islamic Tradition—Aesthetics, Politics and Desire in Early Islam (I.B. Tauris, 2011)

Lisa Robertson | Nilling | BookThug | 2012

The essays in this collection are so intelligent and dense that you can spend days with this short book of thrilling definitions and recognitions of the author’s, the reader’s “fall into the luminous secrecy of reading”, where “I am only certain that I think insofar as I read” and “the text I read seeks through me to another text”. “How big is the subject? Quite tiny”, seeing as “contingency is larger than knowledge”. “Why speak of the soul? Capital isn’t secular”, though “time repeatedly donates inexperience to cognition”.

Ryoko Sekiguchi | Ce n’est pas un hasard | P.O.L | 2011

Ryoko Sekiguchi is a Japanese poet living in Paris, who writes both in French and in Japanese. This book is her diary over a period of 7 weeks, starting the day before the Fukushima disaster. “Je le comprends aussi; ce que je suis en train d’écrire, ce n’est pas de la littérature. / C’est un ‘rapport’. / Je dresse un rapport, le plus sincère possible.” Observing Japan from France and France from Japan. Disarming directness and devastating insights.

Truong Tran | dust and conscience | Apogee | 2002

I “discovered” Truong Tran’s work a few months ago, by chance, in a bookstore that had several of his books. I was encouraged by the look of them, and the blurbs, and a few lines read at random.  His sentences have a rhythm of their own, with no punctuation or capitalization, or linebreaks for that matter. What they do have is a lot of biographical directness, at the same time as what the french would call “pudeur”, a certain reticence, in accounting for growing up in America with parents who couldn’t speak English. The author/speaker shows a great simultaneous deal of defiance and tenderness with regard to said parents, affirming a life of his own yet preserving their memory through the very syntax and lexicon of his very virtuosic brand of broken English.

Morad Montazami, ed. | Zamân n°5 | Mekic | 2012

This journal is gorgeous. It is also smart and eclectic, claiming a sort of “heretical orientalism”. This new issue, the fifth, has, among other things, poems by Etel Adnan, an essay on Syrian-German painter Marwan with reproductions of many of his works, a study on poems by victims of the Inquisition found on prison walls in Palermo, delicious Iranian recipes, etc. This fifth issue is in fact the third, as the journal is a continuation, thirty years later, of a journal of the same title (Zamân, which in Persian, and in Arabic, means “time”), edited by the current editor’s father and uncle (Iranians in exile in Paris in the late 70s), and which had only two issues back then. The journal is all in French, though there is one place in the US where it can be found (the Saint Marks Bookshop).

Ghassan Zaqtan, trans. Fady Joudah | Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me, and Other Poems | Yale | 2012

One of my regrets for 2012 is to not have met Ghassan Zaqtan at the Poetry Center in San Francisco on April 5. He was not granted a visa to go to the USA. Apparently, poet + Palestinian = dangerous. The event still took place, and Steve Dickison, as always, made it a warm occasion. Ghassan gracefully sent a video of his deep raspy voice, and Fady Joudah read from his beautiful translations to a packed room, in the face of “the absence / that never stops”.


Omar Berrada’s contributions to Attention Span for 2009. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

December 16, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Attention Span 2012 | Suzanne Stein

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Charles Atlas | Hail the New Puritan | Distributed by EAI | 1985-1986

It’s the 80s in post-punk London. This 87-minute “docufantasy” follows the Michael Clark dance company while they’re rehearsing New Puritans—that’s a paraphrase or direct theft of the Wikipedia entry or else the blurb at EAI.  The film is a sunrise-to-sunrise day in the life of Michael Clark and company, via a sequence of camp vignettes and staged scenarios—including a space-age crash pad where it seems the Martians are getting ready to go clubbing—interlaced with studio and full-dress rehearsals; a scripted, subtitled interview with Mark E. Smith and Brix Smith; and, as noted by AD Jameson, assless dance pants. Starring and with choreography by Michael Clark; sets and costumes by Leigh Bowery; music by The Fall. Pure Charles Atlas, with signature intercuts, still snaps, cinema vérité views and jumpy mixes. Gorgeous, mesmerizing, and seductive; virtuosity in abandon. I wandered into the media galleries at work for a ten minute break early this summer and emerged an hour and a half later, purified, like I drunk myself sober.

A clip:

The Bhagavad Gita  

Yoga is a harmony. Not for her who eats too much, or her who eats too little; not for her who sleeps too little, or for her who sleeps too much. A harmony in eating and resting, in sleeping and keeping awake: a perfection in whatever one does.

Rudyard Kipling | Kim | Doubleday, Page & Company | 1901

Kim’s an orphaned English boy in India raised by a half-caste opium smoker and trained later as a spy, whose job it is to go into rooms and remember everything in them, to be reported upon later. Or that’s how the story was told to me, and how I told it later, although that’s not precisely what happens to Kim. It amused me no end that the story begins when Kim becomes chela (disciple) to his lama outside the gates of the “Wonder-House”—the Lahore Museum. It’s possible to read Kim as more or less a religious text, a propaganda of occult imperialism whose motivating subtext is the occult adventure of the lama on the Path, who after hundreds of pages of Kim’s thrilling pretextual escapades is allowed to tumble finally into the waters of enlightenment—only shortly to be “saved” therein, from drowning, by a Punjabi operative working for the British.

Frances Yates | The Art of Memory | Chicago | 1966

My obsession with my fantasy of the memory theater of Giulio Camillo has lasted nearly twenty years, since borrowing this book from an acquaintance with a strange-sounding name I still suspect was an anagram.

In L’idea del theatro di Giulio Camillo we were able to trace in detail the basis in the Hermetic writings of Camillo’s efforts to construct a memory theater reflecting ‘the world’, to be reflected in ‘the world’ of memory. If man’s mens is divine, then the divine organisation of the universe is within it, and an art which reproduces the divine organisation in memory will tap the powers of the cosmos, which are in man himself.

Bob Flanagan | Slave Sonnets | Cold Calm | 1986

It’s rare, it’s fierce in its abjection, it’s tender; it has a cover by Mike Kelley and I got it free in the Reading Room at the Berkeley Art Museum, in March, because Camille Roy left it there. The cover is black and white, with a herringbone pattern behind an upside-down white heart (ass, balls, whatever), and inside the heart is another heart, one of those Mexican loteria el corazon-style ventricled cartoon hearts, red, skewered from the bottom up by a huge hunting knife, and the word Love written across it in a sort of punk-gothic tattoo script. A month before, a friend—whose life changed almost every aspect of my own life—died, and on the same day, Mike Kelley died. Also that day, the person I was long-distance dating and sort of in love with, who was still sort of in love with an ex-girlfriend, called to tell me his ex-girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend just killed himself, maybe over the girlfriend. Later that afternoon, I discovered that my long-distance boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend WAS Mike Kelley. I googled the girlfriend. She has a Mike Kelley tattoo on her chest that looks a lot like the cover of Bob Flanagan’s Slave Sonnets.

Jalal Toufic | Distracted | Tuumba | 2003

Because it is included in this list, you know that this was one of the nine most important artworks I lived with this year; why now that I am looking inside it again do I feel like I’ve never even laid my eyes on it? The relation to the past has nothing to do with memory and everything to do with telepathy. The only freshness is the untimely. Then I look at it again and find it a little irritating, or, dazzling.

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


The sixty-fifth poem in the corpus of Catullus is addressed to his friend Hortalus.

 The poem is in the vocative and is usually read as epistolary, a letter to accompany a translation that Catullus has made of a poem by Callimachus. This work of translation has been incredibly difficult, because there is a crisis in the life of Catullus that has made prosody frustrating.

The crisis in the life of Catullus is that his brother is lying on the beach dead in Troy and a wave licks his little pale foot.

The death of his brother has made it impossible for him to “produce the sweet fruit of the Muses.” As if prosody were a redemptive tactic against the total loss effected by death.

I find it interesting that Catullus, who remains associated with the anachronistic but persistent mode of the lyric, constructs a practice almost always including appropriation. Translation, and certainly as Catullus himself practices it, is an artwork of appropriation. And yet much contemporary translation as much as contemporary works of appropriation purport to cancel the somatic vehicle for lyric material.

That is, the conventional picture of translation, in which the translator is invisible, which excludes her body from the scene of translation, does not suggest a space in which the translator’s desire—or grief—can find any entry into the imporous mimetic activity they understand as “translation.”

The last ten lines of the Callimachus poem translated by Catullus as the 66th poem in his corpus were missing even when Catullus makes his translation.

Instead of making the loss of the text legible, Catullus inserts a brief catalogue of prayers, more in line with his own, not Callimachus’, aspirations: e.g. for concord in marriage and reciprocity in love.

The word Catullus uses for translation is expressa. An expressor is someone who presses or forces something out of something else. The word, as it pertains to translation, implies both the physical labor of the agent appropriating from the text which precedes the proceeding writing known as translation as well as a directionality characteristic of the epistemic tradition of translation and appropriation. Someone makes something out of something else.

 Again, Catullus makes an oath to the negative space once inhabited by his brother, consisting of a promise to always “love” him (in whatever figuration love of negative space can be attained). This love, however, is primarily activated by the promise to constantly write poems morte, or, “about his death.”

About. What’s he going to press out of his experience of being in love with negative space as a demonstration of his enduring love for his brother? It’s hard to say—there’s only one other poem in the whole corpus about his brother and his brother’s death. But like several poems about loathsome politicians.

We can’t know how much of his work might have been translation. We know that Catullus #51 is a translation of a poem by Sappho, and that #66 is a translation of Callimachus. In other poems he makes references to having done translations. In many of his poems something like an appropriative gesture of citation takes place, recuperating tropes from classical Greek and Hellenistic poems in order to “express” an “original” affective sentiment.

This particular translation is accomplished “despite” the fact that Catullus’s mind has been itself appropriated by profound grief.

Lawrence Rinder | Revenge of the Decorated Pigs | Publication Studio | 2009

More eso- and exo- teric sex and (art) worldly intrigue and adventure, with siblings, doubles, or twins (take your pick), disguised identities, mystical revelations, love, hermeticism, earthworks, and Ben & Jerry’s, in this roman à clef-ish tale from curator/museum director Larry Rinder. Kevin stretched and felt his muscles come alive. He wondered why he’d stopped going to yoga. “There’s nothing like getting fucked to remind you that you have a body,” he thought.

Cliff Hengst | Maybe | Live performance (part of Stage Presence at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) | Thursday, August 9 – Sunday, August 12, 2012

In fact, all of Stage Presence, both the series of performances curated by Frank Smigiel in the Tucker Nichols-designed media theater, and the exhibition entire (subtitle: Theatricality in Art and Media), curated by Rudolf Frieling, belongs on this list. It would be an endless catalogue to say all that I loved in them, but as a quick gloss: the landscape I found so compelling here is intimate fractured lyric narrative; broken, reconstituted, reinvented identity; and humor and spirituality light and black, all of these things inhabited (or tried on) in the most playful and political possible ways, from Fischli and Weiss’s existentially inflected rat and bear films, Sharon Hayes’s re-performances of the Patty Hearst tapes; Geoffrey Farmer’s exquisite magazine cut-out puppet collages; the aforementioned Charles Atlas; and so much more. Costume, mask, rehearsal, reenactment, reversal, repetition, mirroring, comedy, it’s all there.

The backdrop of the exhibition was the precisely right situation for Cliff Hengst’s reprising of a suite of short works from two decades of performances. Cliff is an artist & longtime star player in Kevin Killian’s troupe of regulars for San Francisco Poets Theater, and so is very familiar to Bay Area poets in his infinite incarnations, in some sort of drag, of hilarious Killian-esque characters (many of them without a doubt written specifically for Cliff). But many of us probably are less familiar with Cliff’s performance works, less even than with his paintings and drawings, which like the live works are also funny, unfathomable spirit-works as much as they are spot-on gestural reflections and appreciations of hi-lo culture. All the Stage Presence iterations were three-show runs; a Thursday evening followed by Saturday and Sunday afternoon performances. Cliff began each of his three shows with Ballimbo (2004): Carrying an uninflated balloon, he approached an audience member at the front of the darkened theater, leaned in close as if to whisper in her ear or kiss him, and then after a few moments stepped back and blew into the balloon a little bit, before proceeding to a next participant. When he stopped with me, I felt he was gathering up a bit of my juju, my essence, and I felt this tenderly, though not everyone seemed so comfy with his approach. When the balloon was fully inflated—with audience spirit, don’t you know—he tied it to the front of the stage and commenced the rest of that day’s performances. On Thursday evening it was Incantation to Destroy a Cultural Institution (2012), which included cow bells shaken at all corners of the stage and other curious ritualistic gestures, along with a spooky live set by Aero Mic’d (Cliff with Scott Hewicker and Wayne Smith). I wasn’t at work on the Friday and missed the Saturday series but when I returned Sunday afternoon my colleagues all said thank god Cliff was going to remove the hex, everything was going crapwire, the museum was surely about to actually collapse. (Had he only but waited another day…). Sunday’s centerpiece, for me, was Maybe (1999)—a lip-synch to The Three Degrees’ cover of the blues classic “Maybe.” The media failed three times during Cliff’s attempt to perform this piece, and with consummate grace under pressure he finally gave it up after the third try—hex incompletely dissipated? In Shout Out to All My Departed Pets (2001) he called for his pets, like anyone calls theirs home (Snooooowwwballll!), followed by the equally drawn out, “I miss you”. (All the departed pets: Porsche, Gingerbear, Snowball, Sylvester, Moses, and Texas.) The afternoon closed with Stink Bomb (2005): the artist sprays himself with a full can of drugstore-issue men’s cologne head to toe til the can is empty. That cleared the theater. Such tenderness and deep deadpan hilarity throughout!—Cliff’s signature style. Waiting for him to clean up for the party, a dozen of us went into the media gallery and sat on beanbags in the dark, watching Hail the New Puritan. And then downstairs, to drink wine and eat Chinese food and celebrate our friend in the catering kitchen after. Other works performed that day: When Life Puts That Juju on Me (2009); You Can If You Think You Can (2012); You (2004).

Cliff Hengst, Maybe:

Maybe, The Three Degrees:

Hail the New Puritan closing sequence: 


Suzanne Stein is community producer at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the author of Tout Va Bien (Displaced Press, 2012).

Suzanne Stein’s contribution to Attention Span for 201120102009. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

December 12, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Attention Span 2012 | Lauren Levin

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Michelle Alexander | The New Jim Crow | New Press | 2010
Ruth Gilmore | Golden Gulag | California | 2007
Jonathan Simon | Governing Through Crime | Oxford | 2007

Three powerful lenses on the prison-industrial complex. Prisons, policing, and surveillance as the racist legacy of Jim Crow laws, re-tooled for a supposedly colorblind age. Prisons as California political economy, warping the landscape. And finally, the rhetoric of “crime” as neoliberal governing paradigm, with the victim enthroned as paradigmatic figure in a culture of fear. I want to read these three again in 2013.

Lauren Berlant | Cruel Optimism | Duke | 2011
Lauren Berlant | Supervalent Thought | Ongoing

“A relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing.” Cruel Optimism is the best kind of political education: patient and compassionate; rigorous and unflinching. I might love Lauren Berlant’s blog Supervalent Thought even more. If only because, like optimism and history, Supervalent Thought is still being written.

Corina Copp | Pro Magenta/Be Met | Ugly Duckling | 2011
Jacqueline Waters | One Sleeps the Other Doesn’t | Ugly Duckling | 2011

These two genius books arrive, arrows from the depths of the mystery of poetry, and I’m slain. PS – One Sleeps the Other Doesn’t showcases the best Punxsutawney Phil poem ever written in the history of humanity.

Samuel R. Delany | Times Square Red, Times Square Blue | NYU | 1999
Martha Rosler | Culture Class: Art, Creativity, Urbanism | e-flux | 2011

Samuel R. Delany’s classic on urban space, on contact vs. networking, on public sex as opportunity for cross-class communication, on gentrification. Plus, Martha Rosler’s three recent e-flux essays on the “creative class” and the transnational city as depoliticized pleasure dome. Read together, these two projects were an endlessly provocative utopia / dystopia—troubling the right to the city.

Lara Durback | Projectiles | NoNo | 2012
Sara Larsen | All Revolutions Will Be Fabulous | Ypolita | Forthcoming, 2012
Alli Warren | Personal Poem | City Lights | Forthcoming, 2013

This has been quite a year. Often events outpaced poetry. But, I heard Sara Larsen say “Hunger is free.” Alli Warren said “Lust before dishonor.” And Lara Durback told me, “I didn’t hold any of my own possessions. First I just didn’t have them. Later I rejected property.” Readings by these three scrambled my atoms when I needed it.

Samantha Giles | Deadfalls and Snares | Futurepoem | Forthcoming, 2012

Tender, pained, at times brutal work on (among other issues of empire) the Abu Ghraib tortures. This book re-sees, from many angles, the suffering muted by discourse and mediation. It’s tied, for me, to my first experience of it, at a reading organized by kathryn l. pringle. I wish I could hear all books of poetry read aloud and then talk about them with a group of thoughtful friends and strangers.

Brenda Iijima | Untimely Death Is Driven Beyond the Horizon | Unpublished MS

Antigone enters. Pesticides, eco-cide. a guiding conversation with Leslie Scalapino and the beloved dead. The drone poem and the brain-body of the dancer. This dense, velvety and deeply charged writing is a timely call and warning: also a furnace of the imagination. It “plunges the brain into darkness where it doesn’t fester.”

Killer Mike | R.A.P. Music | Williams Street Records | 2012

Reagan is a tendency. And this Killer Mike album is a testament.

Jared Stanley | The Weeds | Salt | 2012

Poems, like the tenacious weeds themselves, insist on the animist “intelligence of a disturbed earth.” Pathos, cynicism, and wit: or, “What is it you do with your skin / fuckorama worldly knives?”

Dan Thomas-Glass | The Great American Beat-Jack Volume 1 | Perfect Lovers | 2012

This exquisite object has to be held to be believed, and has to be spiraled to be read. And then there’s the poetry. I love Dan Thomas-Glass’s music, his honesty, and his tireless explorations of community, memory, gender roles, and the future—embodied in his daughters Sonia and Alma, and in political hope.


Lauren Levin is from New Orleans and lives in Oakland. She wrote Working (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs), Song (The Physiocrats), Keenan (Lame House Press) and Not Time (Boxwood Editions). Recent work appears or will appear in OMG, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Rethinking Marxism, 1913, and Catch-Up, and critical essays on Anne Boyer & Stephanie Young, and Brent Cunningham, are in Lana Turner Online. She co-edits the Poetic Labor Project blog and the journal Mrs. Maybe.

This is Lauren Levin’s first contribution to Attention Span. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

December 8, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Attention Span 2012 | Liz Kotz

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Lutz Bacher | Do You Love Me? | Primary Information | 2012

The new book project by Lutz Bacher, the influential California-based artist whose work—with language, image, sound, video, and pretty much everything else—has percolated out into the world over the past four decades. The book is made of transcripts of conversations in which the artist interviews friends and colleagues about their impressions of her, intercut with family pix, artworks and other ephemera. The results are moving, maddening, and mostly evasive. A post-it from a friend observes, “I often see the world as a found photograph by you.”

CA Conrad | A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma)tics | Wave | 2012

Another wild ride of a book: 27 “soma(tic) poetry exercises” to let the grit of life into writing, and the resulting poems, plus an interview, notes from a couple workshops, and suggestions for reading. It’s a manual for living with awareness and imagination.

Richard Hertz | Jack Goldstein and the Cal Arts Mafia | Minneola | 2011

I found myself re-reading this one after seeing the recent Goldstein retrospective. A quasi-biography of the late artist constructed from reflections by friends and colleagues—John Baldessari, Troy Brauntuch, Meg Cranston, Robert Longo, James Welling, et al—as well as Goldstein himself, it’s a classic fractured narrative. We follow Jack from Chouinard to Cal Arts and the booming New York artworld of the 1980s, and learn more than we might want about romances, rivalries and betrayals as his career builds and then unravels. Profoundly sad and revealing, it’s a great antidote to the usual mythologization of the “Pictures generation” and the Metro Pictures scene.

Branden Joseph | Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts After Cage | Zone | 2011

One of the hits of recent art history, Beyond the Dream Syndicate theorizes the emergence of interdisciplinary artmaking in the 1960s through the work and life of the experimental filmmaker and musician Tony Conrad. Densely researched, with forays into projects by key surrounding figures—Walter De Maria, Henry Flynt, Jack Smith, and La Monte Young, among others—it offers what Joseph terms a “minor history” of our recent past.

Kevin Killian | Selected Amazon Reviews, Part II | Push | 2011

Kevin Killian reads more than anyone I know, with a range and depth that confounds me. He also writes Amazon reviews, 2430 at last count. This second small volume of “selected” reviews—of poetry, critical theory, biography and how-to books, DVDs, jewelry, household items and Ibuprofen—reveals Killian as the connoisseur of everyday life, the bard of our moment. Like CA Conrad, he understands that anything can be an occasion for writing. At a time when everyone is translating informal online writing—blogs, facebook posts, discussion boards, you name it—into book form, Killian’s devotion to the humble “amazon review” feels right.

André Leroi-Gourhan | Gesture and Speech | MIT / October | 1993

The grand theoretical treatise of the late French anthropologist, paleontologist and scholar of prehistoric art, Gesture and Speech understands language as fully imbricated with human physiology, sociality and technology. Leroi-Gourhan moves from the basic physical organization that makes us human—frontal orientation, “tools for the hand, language for the face”—to explore the roots of markmaking and what Derrida later terms “primary graphism.” Originally published in the 1940s, it underlies key currents of 1960s poststructuralism—it’s hard to imagine Of Grammatology or the “body without organs” without its lead. Although long out of print, you can find a PDF online.

Eileen Myles | Snowflake / different streets | Wave | 2012

Two books in one, depending on which side you open. One skips across the weird placelessness of Southern California and endless hours on the freeway, with quick jotted efforts (some transcriptions while driving) to grasp the feelings that constantly slip by. The other returns home to a familiar but now different world and self, in Myles’ characteristically slim spacious lines.

Chris Kraus | The Summer of Hate | Semiotext(e)/Native Agents | 2012

How could you lose with that title? A novel, I suppose, about an LA-based writer escaping town to Albuquerque and the recently sober ex con she falls in with, The Summer of Hate is also the story of our fucked-up present, our appalling prison and legal systems, and various other catastrophes. Through a romance played out over car trips and court dates, it holds out hope for redemption.

Yvonne Rainer | Poems | Badlands Unlimited | 2011

A slim book of poems by the acclaimed choreographer, filmmaker and writer, mostly written since the late 1990s. Language has always been one of Rainer’s primary mediums, and here she plays with it in spare and deceptively simple forms that look backward from a life lived well and still going forward.

Mark So | recent scores | Mark So / uploaddownloadperform | 2006-2012

For the last few years, the composer Mark So has written text-based scores—hundreds of them—that wander between music, poetry, drawing and various less formalized ways of moving through the world. Some are typed in unique copies, others handwritten on staff paper, and others use printed sheets of text and overlaid transparencies. One of my favorites is “To avoid possible boredom and the stain …” (2011), which scatters letters and punctuation marks drawn from the Ashbery poem “Rivers” across the page of five transparencies, which one places on top of the title page to generate an ever-changing process of reading and looking. It is great to see someone breaking new ground. Available online here.

La Monte Young, ed. | An Anthology of Chance Operations … | La Monte Young and Jackson Mac Low | 1963

I’m always surprised that not everyone knows this book. Consisting of scores and texts that the minimalist composer La Monte Young collected in 1960-1961 from a bunch of then-young and emerging composers, sculptors, dancers and poets—George Brecht, Walter De Maria, Henry Flynt, Simone Forti, Jackson Mac Low, Robert Morris, Dieter Roth, Emmett Williams, et al—and designed by Fluxus founder George Maciunas, it crystalized emerging forms of artistic interdisciplinarity and continues to be a strange and inspiring object. Long out of print, it is available as a PDF on ubuweb.


Liz Kotz is the author of Words to Be Looked At: Language in Sixties Art and the co-editor, with Eileen Myles, of The New Fuck You. She teaches art history at UC Riverside and writes on contemporary art. She is working on two book projects—a collection of interviews with LA-based artists and an examination of La Monte Young’s collection An Anthology of Chance Operations—as well as an essay on Bernadette Mayer’s exhibition and book Memory (1972/1976).

This is Liz Kotz’s first contribution to Attention Span. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

December 7, 2012 at 11:48 am

Attention Span 2012 | Michael S. Hennessey

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Tascam | DR-40 Handheld 4-track Recorder
Dominic Mazzoni, Roger Dannenberg et al. | Audacity 2.0.1 | 2012

I can’t begin to estimate how many recordings I’ve digitized during the five years I’ve been working at PennSound, and over the past year I put those skills to use on a pair of personal projects: making a box set of my grandfather’s home recordings (as a Christmas present for my family and to mark the twenty-five years since his death), and preserving a shoebox full of tapes from my high school and college musical experiments. Digging out my old Fostex 4-track recorder — bought after a full summer of scrimping and saving—to remaster multitrack tapes, and listening to countless hissy demos recorded on the tape deck of a J. C. Penney stereo has made me more appreciative than ever for the incredible sound recording and editing tools that are now available to anyone for free. Audacity was already a solid, if idiosyncratic sound editor before version 2.0 was released this year, and though I’ve barely had the chance to explore all of the added features, I know it’s going to be an amazing tool for saving poor-quality poetry recordings.

By the same token, after several years of dragging a full recording rig (laptop, USB interface, microphone and stand, cables, etc.) out to local readings, I was very happy this year to upgrade to a Tascam portable recorder that fits in my pocket and can still produce studio-quality audio. It saves me a lot of time and trouble, has proven to be more reliable and glitch-free than my old setup, and it gets me from the reading to the bar in less time—what could be better than that?

Moog Music, Inc. | MF-101 Lowpass Filter, MF-102 Ring Modulator and MF-103 12-Stage Phaser

While I relished digital convenience this year, I also got serious about exploring analogue synthesis, a process that started after I picked up a Monotron, Korg’s $50 cellphone-sized analogue ribbon synth. Though it’s got an authentic oscillator and the same lowpass filter as the classic MS-20, the Monotron’s size and clunky interface make it more of a noisemaker than a real instrument. While a Moog synthesizer is way out of my price range, thanks to a generous partner and a few good deals on used gear I was able to pick up this trio of “moogerfoogers” (synth modules in the form of guitar pedals designed by Bob Moog himself in the late 1990s) and I’ve had more fun, and felt more closely connected to making music than ever before. I also tracked down a series of introductory essays on sound synthesis that Moog penned for Keyboard magazine in the late 70s, which provided this largely self-taught musician and audio technician with a wealth of startling new insights, a completely new understanding of how sound works.

Eileen Myles | Inferno (a Poet’s Novel) | OR | 2012
Eileen Myles | Cool For You | Soft Skull | 2008

What I cherish most about Eileen Myles as a poet is the absorptive quality of her work, something I first recognized reading Maxfield Parrish while wrapped up in blankets on a snowy winter day. I spent this winter happily wrapped up in Myles’ hypnotic prose, which serves as an even better vehicle for her voice, that incredibly warm and welcoming secret weapon that makes even the most difficult details of the hard-lived lives she depicts beguiling, and you grateful for the opportunity to experience them.

Brian Eno | A Year With Swollen Appendices | Faber & Faber | 1996

Finally back in print after many years of unavailability (albeit in a shoddy print-on-demand edition), Brian Eno’s diary of a very busy 1995 is fascinating for all of the reasons you’d expect (among other projects, he makes records with David Bowie and U2) along with some surprises (particularly a somewhat mundane yet fulfilling family life with his wife and two young daughters). What was most interesting to me about this nearly twenty-year-old time capsule, however, were the oblique contextual details, which reveal how drastically our world has changed (especially Eno’s use of e-mail, CD-Roms and other computer technology, which feel positively archaic) and how much it’s still the same (namely, international politics are still a hopeless mess). The book’s “swollen appendices”—containing Eno’s essays, stories, interviews, proposals and correspondence spanning several decades—elevates it from a curio to an essential collection.

Joe Brainard | The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard | Library of America | 2012
Tim Dlugos | A Fast Life: the Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos | Nightboat | 2011
Matt Wolf | I Remember—a Film About Joe Brainard | 2012

It’s been a great year to be a fan of both of these poets, whose lives and careers overlap in a surprising number of ways—both were young voice-driven poets who demonstrated a broad range of styles and forms, both espoused strong queer identities in their work, both were lost far too soon to AIDS in the early 1990s, and both saw much of their work remain woefully out of print until the release of these landmark volumes. While I’ve relished Brainard and Dlugos’ writing for a number of years and tracked down affordable used copies whenever I could, I don’t feel like I fully appreciated their talents until I was able to fully immerse myself in their collected works, where the complexities of their respective aesthetic evolutions became clear. Nonetheless, these are both books that invite you to dip in at a random point, to jump around from page to page, and while you tell yourself that you’re just going to read one or two pieces, you’re very likely to come to, as if from a dream, an hour later and still want to keep reading.

The excitement of finally getting The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard is compounded by Matt Wolf’s recent documentary short, I Remember—a Film About Joe Brainard, a haunting and gorgeous meditation that deftly intertwines both imagery (home movies and photographs, Brainard’s artwork and stock footage) and audio (recordings of Brainard reading from I Remember waltz around a contemporary interview with Ron Padgett) to create a compelling tribute to the author.

Radiohead | Riverbend Music Center, Cincinnati | 2012

In a year that’s seen the demise of some of my generation’s most important bands—R.E.M., the Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth—I felt that much luckier to finally see one of my personal favorites in concert, and while their tour was ultimately overshadowed by the tragic stage collapse in Toronto that killed their drum tech, Scott Johnson, I’d rather remember a perfect cool spring night when I was able to connect with their music in exciting and intimate new ways.

Charles J. Shields | And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: a Life | Holt| 2011

I wrapped up this past academic year teaching a ten-week survey of the works of Kurt Vonnegut. While I’ve taught his work here and there (mostly Slaughterhouse-Five in a variety of classes) and have revisited a few favorites in recent years (namely Jailbird and Deadeye Dick), it had been more than a decade since I eagerly devoured his collected works over the course of a long post-college autumn, and I pitched the course to my chair less out of a great enthusiasm for the writing than in response to student interest in the class and a desire to switch things up a little. By the end of the term, I had a newfound respect for Vonnegut, both as a writer—largely in appreciation of the dense and multifaceted universe he spent fifty years creating—and as a person, mostly thanks to Charles J. Shields’ recently-released biography.

And So It Goes is an unflinching (and at times unflattering) portrait of the beloved author, showing us that he could be a terrible husband, a distant father, a curmudgeon and ultimately a victim of his own poor choices, but it also yields many new revelations concerning his talents, his writing process and inspirations. Trained as a public relations man for G.E. during his early years, the Vonnegut we know from his books and interviews always felt a little too carefully cultivated—like a persona instead of a person—but thanks to Shields, it feels as if we finally have a real sense of the man.

Dave Tompkins | How to Wreck a Nice Beach: the Vocoder from World War II to Hip Hop—the Machine Speaks | Stop Smiling | 2010

As its subtitle suggests, Dave Tompkins’s debut book takes you on a sprawling journey, tracing the history of the vocoder—a voice encoder/synthesizer that started out as a telecommunications encryption system for the military, became a vital part of musical compositions by artists as diverse as Wendy Carlos, Kraftwerk, Laurie Anderson, Afrika Bambaataa and Neil Young, and now allows us to speak to one another on our cellphones. While Tompkins’ tone occasionally gets in the way (he can be a little too glibly hip at times) he does a remarkable job of finding the humanity behind the robotic voice, honoring a diverse cast of humble technicians and often long-forgotten musicians who helped further the device’s development over many decades. Likewise, he traces the connections between disparate worlds and discourses with great ease, and the book itself is a gorgeous production brimming with photographs and diagrams. The only thing that’s missing is the music itself (which YouTube ably provides).

Elliott Smith | Grand Mal: Studio Rarities | 2006(?)–2012

It’s been nearly a decade since the tragic death of preternaturally-talented singer/songwriter Elliott Smith, and the passing of time hasn’t made the pain of that loss any more acute. While his official discography is limited to five studio albums (plus one posthumous release), Smith was a prolific and tireless writer who recorded new material and tinkered with older pieces incessantly, and like his idols the Beatles, this work was of consistently high quality—any album cut, b-side or compilation track could be every bit as brilliant as the singles. Years before his death, I was tracking down these rarities on the internet through message boards and Limewire, and like many fans I was glad to see the release of New Moon, a collection of twenty-four such tracks, in 2007. However, late last year when I discovered Grand Mal—a free fan-curated and remastered online compendium of seemingly every available unreleased recording in existence, spanning eight discs and 131 tracks—I was simply blown away. While it’s a treasure trove of amazing music, I think I love Grand Mal even more as a representation of the generous, democratic power of open culture on the web, which trumps commercial considerations, benefiting us all.


Michael S. Hennessey’s contributions to Attention Span for 201120102009. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

December 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Attention Span 2012 | Amina Cain

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NS | We Press Ourselves Plainly | Nightboat | 2010

“Charge through the door or the chimney…”

Bhanu Kapil | Schizophrene | Nightboat | 2011

“A map of three black days and beneath it in pencil a sentence.”

Andrew K. Peterson | Bonjour Meriwether and the Rabid Maps | Fact-Simile | 2011

“Huddle close to the interpreter’s glow.”

Renee Gladman | The Ravickians | Dorothy | 2011

“There is the proximity of the adult human body and then there is the closeness of buildings.”

George Eliot | Middlemarch | Penguin | 1871

“Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.”

Gina Abelkop | Darling Beastlettes | Apostrophe | 2011

“A small, raw vegetable you once overlooked was peeking out from under my skirt.”

Andrea Rexilius | Half of What They Carried Flew Away | Letter Machine | 2012

“I would begin wintered with the hawk and fox.”

Gail Scott | Heroine | Coach House | 1999

“The lens shifts again to that dome-shaped café.”


Amina Cain is the author of I Go To Some Hollow (Les Figues, 2009) and CREATURE (Dorothy, forthcoming 2013). She lives and writes in Los Angeles.

Amina Cain’s contribution to Attention Span for 2011. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

December 3, 2012 at 12:00 pm