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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.

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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.

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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 | 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.

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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 | 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.

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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.

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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.”

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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

Attention Span 2012 | Kathleen Ossip

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Roddy Lumsden | The Bells of Hope | Penned in the Margins | 2012

For some time I have been a fan and a friend of the British poet Roddy Lumsden. We met in 2002 when we read together at the Ear Inn on Spring Street, one of the chill old and now lamented meccas for poetry readings in New York. Coincidentally, we both read from confessional(esque) sonnet sequences; each of our sonnets’ titles began with the word “My.” That spoke to some kind of affinity, which I think boils down to a fondness for self-concealment/revelation via very rich and concentrated language and tight structures and formal gameplaying. His latest, The Bells of Hope, inches more toward revelation than concealment and his language is more heady than ever. It is a breathtaking account of a dark night.

Donna Tartt | The Little Friend | Vintage | 2003
Jennifer Egan | A Visit from the Goon Squad | Anchor | 2011
Cormac McCarthy | Blood Meridian | Vintage | 1992

More and more I have a hankering for narrative, relatively undiluted. Sometimes I can get this from poems, but sometimes I need novels. This summer I read three, late to the party. Tartt’s followup to The Secret History threw me back to my idle novel-reading summers as a kid, when I would drench myself in long narratives, preferably set in small, languid southern towns. Egan’s smash hit is a poet’s novel (although she’s not a poet) in its disjunction and its formal experimentation. It’s a very readable pleasure, full of despair and redemption, though I was surprised that the redemption took the form, almost exclusively, of heterosexual marriage and family. A trip through the southwest this summer urged me toward Cormac McCarthy—I wanted to understand what stories could be born from those huge, bare, alienating landscapes. I’m still in the middle of it, but once I got past the florid language, I’m compelled by the horrific and historically accurate violence of the story and find myself drawing a pretty clear through-line to 2012.

Ezra Pound | The Cantos of Ezra Pound | New Directions | 1996
Carroll Terrell | A Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound | California | 1993

I’m perpetually rereading The Cantos—it’s my desert island pick. What seems indispensable about it is its inclusiveness, how Pound put everything in, a big swath of human history, his longings, his mania, his hatefulness, his intellect, his music, his heart, his profound regrets. I read the behemoth black-covered paperback from New Directions, alternately consulting the mustard-colored Companion, an obsessive-compulsive’s dream.

Shane McCrae | Blood | Noemi | forthcoming
Joseph Harrington | Griefing on Summit
Sarah Vap | Arco Iris | Saturnalia | forthcoming
Christina Davis | An Ethic | Nightboat | forthcoming

One of the luckiest things about being a poet is getting sneak peeks at other poets’ books. This year I was lucky enough to read four beautiful manuscripts, all but one due out soon. Blood is nothing less than the story of race in the United States, from the slave trade to the McCrae’s own immediate family history. Harrington’s latest, from his multivolume documentation of his mother’s 20th-century life, explores her time as a political worker on Capitol Hill. Vap writes of a pair of American lovers and their trek across South America and the resulting enchantment, revulsion, moral uncertainty, and lots of sex. Davis’s second book asks tough spiritual questions in the aftermath of her father’s death. What they all have in common: narrative (yes), urgency, hard thinking, emotional openness, an acknowledgment of our complex relationship with language. Look for them.

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Kathleen Ossip is the author of The Cold War, which was named one of Publishers Weekly’s 100 best books of 2011; The Search Engine, which was selected by Derek Walcott for the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize; and Cinephrastics, a chapbook of movie poems. She teaches at The New School and the Hudson Valley Writers Center and online for The Poetry School in London. She was a co-founder of LIT (the journal of the graduate writing program at The New School), and she’s the poetry editor of Women’s Studies Quarterly. She has received a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

This is Kathleen Ossip’s first contribution to Attention Span. Return to directory.

Written by Steve Evans

December 3, 2012 at 11:15 am