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Attention Span 2010 – Craig Dworkin

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George Albon | Step | Post-Apollo | 2006

A book-length meditation on the moment between one foot leaving the earth and its back-again fall, or what Marcel Duchamp termed the “inframince”:

“le bruit ou la musique faits par un pantalon de velours côtelé comme celui ci quand on le fait bouger [the noise or music made by corduroy pants like these rubbing when one moves]”; pantalons de velours—/ leur sifflotement (dans la) march par/ frottement des 2 jambes est une/ séparation infra-mince signalée/ par le son [velvet trousers—/ their whistling sound (in) walking by/ brushing of the 2 legs is an/ infra-mince separation signaled/ by sound].”

Following the lead of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Samuel Beckett, and Bruce Nauman, Albon puts the locomotive gesture in the service of philosophy. It’s been out a few years now, but I just came across this book and it’s the most intellectually exciting and sonically exacting poetry I have read in a decade. Absolutely thrilling.

Christian Bök | The Xenotext Experiment | manuscript | forthcoming

I have seen the future of writing, and its name is Deinococcus radiodurans. Bök has encrypted alphabetic letters as amino acids, writing a poem in the medium of genetic nucleotides inscribed in an animate biological substrate. With that sequence implanted in its DNA, the bacterium, through gene expression, manufactures a protein which can then be decoded in turn, using the same cipher, as an equally legible poem. It is not surprising that Bök has set himself an Herculean formal task and a nearly impossible lettristic puzzle. Nor is it surprising that he solved it with aplomb. But what will shock you is the degree to which the alphabetic code generates a style of wispy late-romantic lyricism (with a Steinian twist at the end).

Clark Coolidge | The Act of Providence | Combo | 2010

Just enough sense to encourage referential pursuits, but not enough to let semantics get the upper hand in the contest of percussive sound patterns and the grammatical slap of words in willful categorematic insubordination. Speed along the I-95 overpass of phrasal rhythm (“The city lulls you/ as you farm on by”) or settle down in the Armory district of documentary polaroids (“Having a good time? Lock right down”). Either way, “Providence rates.”

Michael Cross | In Felt Treeling: a libretto | Chax | 2008

This little book suggests tracery in both sense of the word: a delicate interweaving of open-work lines as well as phrases traced from archaic sources. With syllabically based sonic densities and fleeting gossamer hints of sylvan drama, Cross’ perspective shifts between the mottled-shade expanse of the forest and the hardwood singularity of every individual tree. Exquisite.

Larry Eigner, ed. Curtis Faville and Robert Grenier | The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner | Stanford | 2010

I have to confess that I never really understood all the fuss about Eigner. But then, every once in a while, I catch a glimpse. Like the poem first published in Bob Perelman’s journal Hills (Number 4; May, 1977): “Whoppers   Whoppers   Whoppers!/ memory fails/ these are the days.” I think of it every time I pass a Burger King. Here, that poem is number 952, on page 1267 of Volume III, leaving another 825 poems to go before the end of Volume IV. A luxury production (each book has the heft and gloss of a volume of the Oxford English Dictionary), the set is marketed for institutional sales. Put in an acquisition request with your local library.

Graham Foust | To Anacreon in Heaven | Minus A | 2010

Discursive, chatty, and topical by Foust’s standards, To Anacreon in Heaven is more direct and less wryly torqued than his previous books. But all the pain and precision are there in full. An alternative “Star Spangled Banner,” with an ethics of enmeshment and implication in place of bellicose nationalist fealty, the poem commemorates the battle between a subject who knows it can neither genuinely connect with others nor retreat to an easy unaffected detachment. The work, accordingly, is not Anacreontic in the traditional sense; if this is a drinking song, it has the bitter taste of necessity rather than cheer—“and that’s a vodka bottle full of quiet bees.” Every sentence goes straight into the stanza, but cannot leave the stanza to itself. Signature design by Jeff Clark.

Robert Grenier | Sentences | Whale Cloth | 1978

Long out of print and exceedingly rare, a score or so of Grenier’s legendary boxes were recently discovered; they had been safely stored inside Michael Waltuch’s printing press and completely forgotten for decades. Each of the 500 cards in Sentences offers an understated epiphany—a quick glimpse of the enlightenment that can only come from sustained meditative attention to the tantric forms of the individual alphabetic letters that filter, distort, and permit the linguistic environment of our everyday experiences. Shuffle ’em up and deal ’em out. The few remaining rediscovered copies are priced for accession by library special collections; see whalecloth.org for details.

P. Inman | now/time | Bronze Skull | 2006

Two volumes of Inman’s collected poetry have been announced by James Davies’ imprint If p Then q; for now, it’s time to puzzle over this performance score. The title translates Walter Benjamin’s keyword Jetztzeit: the pressing immediacy of the present moment—or, more striking, the snapshot image of a past moment grasped with all the fullness of the present in an interrupting flash of profane illumination—isolated from the causal narratives constructed by conventional historical views. In Inman’s text, intersecting lines enact the concept at a syntactic level since each word is freed from the subordinations of grammar and separated from neighboring words by full stops. With “time. occupied. of. my. language.” in this way, words—for a moment—can be seen to be replete without the buttressing hierarchies of semantics. A word, in now/time constitutes a lexical plenum of sound and materiality: “a Nunc-stans,” as Hobbes writes in the Leviathan, “which neither they, nor any else understand.”

Kenneth Irby | The Intent On: Collected Poems, 1962-2006 | North Atlantic | 2009

Irby’s Collected is the secret consistory located somewhere between Placitas and Berkeley, somewhere between intellect and orexis, somewhere between Olson and Ponge, where Peter Inman and John Taggart hold council in lyric tribunal. One would do well to pay the kind of attention to the corpus of Irby’s poetry that it pays to the embodied, numinous world around us.

Joseph Massey | Exit North | BookThug | 2010

Microtonal miniatures from a poet able to gauge the precise, graduated degrees of catenarian variance in the tension of the simplest sentences.

Aram Saroyan | Complete Minimal Poems | Ugly Duckling | 2008

Not truly “complete” and certainly not “minimal,” but completely provocative and prescient works of minimalist poetry (UDP must have intended the title in the topological sense of “complete minimal surfaces,” such as catenoids and helicoids). They may have mean curvatures of zero, but the intensities generated by rotating one of Saroyan’s single words can feel infinite. Challenging Clark Coolidge’s conviction that there cannot be a one-word poem, Saroyan moves between visual poetry, the Bolinas goof, and steely proto-conceptual writing. I always hear Robert Grenier’s “JOE JOE” [from Sentences, see above] as a reply to Saroyan’s “Coffee Coffee.”

More Craig Dworkin here. His Attention Span for 2009, 2007. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2009 – Craig Dworkin

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

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

Derek Beaulieu | Local Color | ntamo | 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Kenneth Goldsmith | Sports | Make Now | 2008

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

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

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

James Hoff | TOP TEN | No Input Books |2008

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

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

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

Dana Teen Lomax | Disclosure | Ubu Editions | 2009

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

Yedda Morrison | Darkness | Little Red Leaves | 2009

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

Vanessa Place | Statement of Fact | unpublished MS | 2009

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

More Craig Dworkin here.