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Attention Span 2011 | Keith Tuma

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Steven Zultanski | Cop Kisser | Book Thug | Toronto | 2010

“Workers of the world, come on already.” 32 brands of beer matched by 32 Zultanski personalities, Lenin a deck of identity cards, Mao with Zultanski’s mother: this is a collection of long tail poetry taking on the banality of information with insight and wit, its idioms absolutely contemporary, its prosody deadpan, its cover brighter than canary yellow. Rod Smith wouldn’t let me out of Bridge Street Books without it. He was right to insist.

Rae Armantrout | Money Shot | Wesleyan | 2011

“All we ask / is that our thinking / sustain momentum, / identify targets.” I don’t know a poet who thinks more in her poems, via analogy, juxtaposition, definition, and otherwise. Armantrout begins the first poem with a line from the Book of Revelation promising a new world, noting that new worlds are always with us—and also not with us—in “The spray / of all possible paths.” But thinking can’t stop with recognition or contemplation: “Define possible.” Several of the poems think about the collapse of the economy, e.g. “Money Shot” and “Soft Money,” where one notorious phrase from the pornoculture—“so hot”—deflates those who would eroticize social inequality.

Jeff Hilson | In The Assarts | Veer | 2010

A comic sonnet sequence and something of a clearing in the dark wood of recent experimental English poetry, no less serious or engaged for its light touch. The kitsch of England from crossbows to Kinks, Anne Boleyn to Jeremy Irons. “I am sick of the banks of England” in a mix of faux-archaic and contemporary registers where Wyatt meets Berrigan: “I was lost in doe a deer.” Stephen Rodefer gets a cameo, and there’s passing reference to In the American Tree and The Reality Street Book of Sonnets. One poem opens with what is probably a joke about a recent book by Jean-Luc Nancy. That one takes us back to the book’s first poem, where the reader is asked to “Give them thy finger in the Forêt de Nancy.”

William Fuller | Hallucination | Flood Editions | 2011

It’s not only poetry that almost successfully resists the intelligence—try banking: “Several times a day someone passes by the door holding a report.” That’s the first sentence of the book’s last poem, a prose poem called “The Circuit.” Maybe it’s best to indicate the texture and quality of these prose poems making for more than half of Fuller’s book by quoting first lines from a few others: “More numbness from less pain, I heard the preacher say. When does apprehension become extinction? Of what omitted act is it the fruit?” (“Flaming”). “It dreamt that it spoke as it dreamt and wrote down what it spoke in echoes of situations dreamt about which its mind wondered at” (“The Will”). “For the period of thirty lunar days after the receipt of appropriate notice [undefined], the parties [not specified] shall attempt in good faith to resolve whatever dispute has (evidently) arisen by employing the advanced measurement approach, which computes a given event’s penumbra as it tumbles into the lap of someone who studies it.” Seeing as if through fog events apprehended only after the fact constitutes most worlds; these poems map our life “in the dark” while admitting—not always as ominously as “The Circuit” does—the “imperceptible” as fact.

Frances Kruk | Down You Go / Négation de Bruit | Punch | 2011

A series of fragments after Danielle Collobert, two or three lines or clusters of lines per page, white space the silence between them and allowing for their little explosions —“I revolt / project.” “Swarms! We will bang / into the sun Blinded.” Bitterness distilled to an essence: “I ordered a hurricane & I am still / on this island I am still / on this island.” I had to look up “crkl,” which appears twice, and so courtesy of Wikipedia: “Crk-like protein is a protein that in humans is encoded by the CRKL gene…. CRKL has oncogenic potential.” I don’t know Collobert’s work well enough to suggest the most pertinent comparisons, having seen only two books translated by Norma Cole, but I do know that this is a powerful and defiant book—“We come to fuck the mutants / We go to mutant them / I am with the mutant / firing limbs.” One of the best young British poets is Polish-Canadian.

Mina Loy, ed. Sara Crangle | Stories and Essays of Mina Loy | Dalkey Archive | 2011

As Crangle notes in her introduction, this first book-length collection of Loy’s short stories, drama, and commentary is not a “definitive” or “critical” edition, but its apparatus includes a smart and readable introduction and 100 plus pages of notes briefly situating and glossing the work while detailing the nature of the manuscripts involved and listing Loy’s editorial corrections. The book ought to make for the best news of the year in modernist studies, though you can ignore modernist studies and just read it.

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

A brief memoir of the 1970s that has Pickard’s arrest, imprisonment, and eventual acquittal on charges of selling marijuana as its central story, with glimpses of Eric Mottram and Jeff Nuttall and a more extensive account of Basil Bunting and what he did for Pickard as mentor and character witness at the trial. I wish we had more of this kind of thing about the days of the so-called British Poetry Revival. I’d trade it for a dozen academic studies. Written in a no-nonsense prose, with one moment where Pickard puts his foot on the gas. That’s where he’s detailing a scheme to use books as ballast in crates previously emptied of “almost one ton of Ugandan bush” and writes of selling the people who were doing this all of his copies of The Strand Magazine, his sets of The Times History of World War I and Encyclopedia Britannica. That’s not enough to make the weight so he starts buying up crap books all over London. Here’s the Homeric moment: “The ancient bookseller was blissful as we bought much of his space wasting dust gathering, back breaking, spirit deadening unread and unreadable religious and military texts; all those pounds of printed pages by puffing parsons, anaemic academics, bloated bishops, geriatric generals, corpulent combatants and high ranking haemorrhoidal heroes. All that catechistic cataplasm, the militarist mucus, that pedantic pus from festering farts. The engaging entrails of emetic ambassadors, pestiferous papers by prudish pedagogues. I struggled to the wagon with arms full of books, and still he wasn’t satisfied—so I purchased conquering chronicles by conceited commanders….” This goes on for another 40 or fifty lines and ends as follows: “And it still wasn’t enough so I bought the works of talk show hosts, canting sofa cunts coughing up chintzy chunder, bloated volumes by toady poets who sit in circles blowing prizes up each other’s arseholes with straws—until we’d filled the crates.”

Jed Birmingham and Kyle Schlesinger, eds. | Mimeo Mimeo 4 | Winter 2010

Like Pickard’s memoir, a valuable resource for those who want to catch up with the British poetry that matters most, including the “only known essay” by Asa Benveniste, whose poems ought to have more readers, interviews about small press publishing with Tom Raworth and David Meltzer, essays by Ken Edwards and Alan Halsey (on the mimeo editions of Bill Griffiths), and selections from Eric Mottram’s correspondence with Jeff Nuttall. It concludes with Miles Champion’s interview with Trevor Winkfield.

Gizelle Gajelonia | Thirteen Ways of Looking at TheBus | Tinfish Press | 2010

The modernist canon as read and written through in Hawaii—Stevens, Bishop, Crane, Ashbery, and Eliot’s “The Waste Land” for starters. Here’s the Eliot poem’s opening lines:

He Do Da Kine in Different Voices

January February March April May June
July August September October November
December is the cruelest month, mass breeding
Plumeria leis out of homestead land, mixing
Exoticism with desire, stirring
Dull roots with windward and mauka showers….

The chapbook ends with prose titled “The Day I Overthrew The Kingdom of Hawai‘i”: “I remember filling out the application form. Gajelonia, Gizelle, Evangelista. My middle name is my mother’s maiden name because I’m Filipino. ‘Are you an American citizen?’ the form asked. No, I told you I’m Filipino. Technically. I have a green card. And a green passport. But I’m an American. I’ve been here 4 years. I got my period here. My first love was an American boy named David Powers. My favorite boy band was N Sync, not Backstreet Boys. I’m in the ninth grade. In the Philippines there’s no such thing as a ninth grade. I’m not sure what I am. Is that an option? Call my mother in case of an emergency….”

Rachel Warriner | Eleven Days | RunAmok | 2011

One poem each day between the IMF’s arrival in Ireland and the agreement signed: “burn me up / in anonymous austerity / your fat face / lies / in last sovereign days” is how it begins and “sold out and done” is how it ends. For now. Promising work from a new press in Cork.

Ron Silliman | Wharf Hypothesis | LINESchapbooks | 2011

I’d lost track of Silliman’s poetry since the The Alphabet was published entire and found it pleasant and interesting to look over his shoulder on the train from Victoria to the Text Festival in Bury, England, noticing him noticing this and that (missing baseball diamonds) and thinking about writing and about kissing while punning along (“feeling blurby—Simon / mit Garfunkel”). Like Dickens in America—maybe—and Dickens ends the poem, which is said to belong to “Northern Soul,” which is in turn said to be a part of Universe. Beautifully produced, with a cover photograph by Tom Raworth.

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Keith Tuma‘s On Leave: A Book of Anecdotes is due from Salt later this year.

Tuma’s Attention Span for 2010, 2009 . Back to 2011 directory.

Attention Span 2011 | Brian Ang

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Alain Badiou | Conditions | Continuum | 2008

The best introduction to Badiou’s system as immediately useful for literary criticism, due to its accessible thematic organization around Badiou’s four truth procedures of poetry, mathematics, politics, and love: an opening parry and complement to the denser Being and Event. I’ve found Badiou and the strength of his system, as a philosopher proper, to be a cleansing challenge to post-structuralist and Marxist tenets grown dogmatic: philosophy restores contextual problematics to conclusions simplified into the present.

Calvin Bedient & David Lau, eds. | Lana Turner 3 | 2010

A wealth of emergent ideas pursued all year: I’ve returned the most to David Lau and Joshua Clover’s works, and Ben Lerner, Marjorie Perloff, and Gopal Balakrishnan’s works were also highlights. Lana Turner’s sustained editorial argument achieves a hybridism with the capacity to take a stand.

Alastair Brotchie & Harry Mathews, eds. | Oulipo Compendium | Make Now | 2005

Editor Ara Shirinyan gave me the Make Now catalogue when I visited Los Angeles in June. A trove to the endurance of form and stalwart ideas, and an historical authority behind the wager of contemporary conceptual writing.

Joshua Clover | Fragment on the Machine | self-published | 2011

An occasional pamphlet made for the “Can Art and Politics Be Thought?” conference in Los Angeles in June in an edition of 50. Contains Clover’s recent poems “Gilded Age,” “In the City It Was Warmer,” “Poem (Oh capital let’s kiss and make up)” and “Years of Analysis for a Day of Synthesis” in English and French. The first and last were published in Lana Turner 3 and 2 respectively. Clover’s recent poems are his best and most urgent.

Benjamin Friedlander | Period Piece | porci con le ali | 1998

I had correspondence of poems and thoughts with Ben this year and among items received was this poetic tribute to San Francisco Bay Area Language poetry as he knew it. It was a fascinating reading experience, for the effects of Ben’s Bay Area moment are strongly sedimented in the present Bay Area in which I live. It was a helpful work in thinking about historical cultural sediment in both spatial specificity and concept and an affirmation of how poems are a uniquely maximal form of communication over time’s milieus.

Richard Kempton | Provo: Amsterdam’s Anarchist Revolt | Autonomedia | 2007

Read as part of the suggested material for Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr’s Durruti Free Skool, along with Raul Zibechi’s Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces and the East Bay Skool specific complement, Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch. I found this book to be the most directly useful of the materials to the immediate situation by the Provo anarchists’ similarity of environment of a modern city and their insistence on playful insurrectionary performance art. It was also a reminder of the importance of a rigorous theoretical understanding of material conditions: the Provos proved not to be sustainable past the exuberance of their moment without a program.

Ron Silliman | The Alphabet | Alabama | 2008

Silliman’s works take such a commitment to read, their experiences are unforgettable and permanently transformative. In the pressure chambers of Silliman’s works, some sentences only read once have echoed in my head for years. Preparing for and presenting at Louis Cabri’s Alphabet symposium in March gave me the necessary energy to finish this. I can’t think of any other book in which time-congealed labor is so palpable in every sentence.

Brian Kim Stefans | Viva Miscegenation | Insert | 2010

I received Insert Press’ PARROT chapbooks nos. 4-7 from editor Mathew Timmons when he read in my apartment in May, and I’ve returned the most to this one. Stefans leans more toward his Ashbery inclinations than his Bernstein ones here, subordinating thickness of language to making an antechamber of communication toward the ineffable importance of a potential recipient, striking an exceptional pleasurable organization between intimate address and expansive play.

Dan Thomas-Glass, ed. | With + Stand 5 | self-published | 2011

Thomas-Glass’ generous experimental sensibility and DIY community sensitivity capture the organic ambiance of the moment and let the spray paint and duct tape dangle. This latest issue is the densest yet and a rich document of the year.

Tiqqun | Call | 2004

I hosted several Talk events at my apartment this year and this was distributed at one of them for discussion. I’ve found the Tiqqun texts stimulating for redeploying Situationist-style energy out from historical contemplation back into urgency in confronting contemporary particulars. Contentions with and lessons from Tiqqun have been immediately contributive in recent activist movements, including for student activists engaged in and coming out of current Californian public education struggles.

Barrett Watten, ed. | THIS 9-12 | THIS | 1979-1982

Barrett gave me these when we both attended the Alphabet symposium in March. It’s moving to read the major poems of Language poetry of the period, including Tjanting, a.k.a., “I Guess Work the Time Up,” and Four Lectures, in their first appearances and organization through Barrett’s visionary editing.

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Brian Ang is the author of Communism (Berkeley Neo-Baroque, 2011) and Paradise Now (Grey Book Press, 2011) and the editor of ARMED CELL. Starting in October he will be a Guest Commentator on the PennSound archive for Jacket2. He lives in Oakland, California.

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Attention Span 2010 – Andrew Schelling

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Sherwin Bitsui | Flood Song | Copper Canyon | 2010

For anyone who identifies with the land of the American West—all that good Western dust lightly held on our altoplano—this book will sit in your hands as a familiar. Yet buried in all that familiarity coil the edges of violence, abrupt encounters with spirit-world, wild-life, thunder, flash floods. Something close to surrealist imagery occurs here—but not the surrealism of old Europe’s super-charge dream-state. Here it erupts in fragmented visions of deserts, buttes, asphalt baked cities, ravens, long sun-blistered highways. If I read the book rightly, this is the account of an archaic singer’s vision of present day Navajo life. Bitsui’s ear is terrific, and just enough Navajo words occur to send the conscientious reader to a Diné lexicon.

Leslie Scalapino | Day Ocean State of Stars’ Night | Green Integer | 2007

Sometimes I feel alone in my generation, in how much I read Leslie Scalapino’s poetry. Maybe I can’t separate out her writing from the generosity she showed so many of us younger writers and friends over the decades, publishing work in O Books, meticulously responding to letters—hers a dark shy generosity. We will miss her. Of the many titles of Leslie’s on my shelf, I’ll select this as it contains “It’s go in quiet illumined grassland,” one of her most incantatory Buddhist-inflected poems, and the haunting Gulf War Noh play “Can’t is Night.” In fact this fall I will use “Can’t is Night” alongside some Fenellosa-Pound Noh plays with my Naropa kids—we’ll act them out at the local Buddha hall Zen center yurt.

Joanne Kyger | About Now: Collected Poems | NPF | 2007

This is how books used to be made. Bring together a fine poet, pair her with one of the subtlest book designers out there, and construct a book that weighs in your hands like an artifact meant to serve you a whole lifetime. Joanne Kyger’s work: humor, concision, ecological savvy, political alertness, the tempered eye of the naturalist. So many small press titles that run through the years, helping us all ‘live lightly on the earth’; finally collected here, each poem laid with a comparable lightness on the page by JB Bryan.

Paul Moss, edited, translated by Andrew Cowell & Alonzo Moss, Sr. | Hinóno’éínoo3ítoono: Arapaho Historical Traditions | U of Manitoba P | 2005

What good tales, of the recent historical past, occurring in the region given the Arapaho by the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851): between the Platte and the Arkansas Rivers, from the Continental Divide into Kansas. Not old-time myths, but events that happened in somebody’s memory. Captivity tales, visions, coyote helpers, the Medicine Wheel. Bi-lingual, with a good account of Arapaho grammar, and a careful glossary of notable words. The translators’ use of Arapaho narrative devices to discern line-break and stanza makes this a contribution to Ethnopoetic practice.

Robert Bringhurst | A Story Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World | Nebraska | 1999

Most exciting book I read last year. Even my first and second year college students couldn’t put down the volume, which weighs in at 527 pages. The fullest account of the Boasian project in “salvage ethnography,” with a cast of characters a novelist couldn’t invent. Also a detailed, and not at all abstract look at oral literature. Accounts of how the singers proceed, how they reshape tradition to deal with smallpox, rip-offs, hunger, even anthropologists with pencils. Bringhurst knows his languages, knows natural history, the twists & turns of ethnography. Even the footnotes ring with discovery.

Diane Glancy | The Cold and Hunger Dance | Nebraska | 1998

A haunted book. Most of its pieces sit on the edge between essay, poetry, translation, and memoir. It looks easy but I bet it’s not. There’s a whiff of sage and other herbs, bitter, medicinal, sweet, nauseating—between Sun Dance and Bible, Cherokee heritage, Christian faith. Lots and lots of driving by night thunderstorm across the Great Plains.

Thomas A Clark | of Woods & Water | Moschatel | 2008

Good to remember how poetry’s power also comes from the unspectacular, the subtle, the brief rhythms, the filtered sunlight through soft leaves. Green solace in a technology-mad world. Poems so light it seems the poet’s hand scarcely perturbs language at all.

Jerome Rothenberg | Poetics & Polemics 1980-2005 | Alabama | 2008

The talks here—especially those on Ethnopoetics, poetry & the sacred, and so forth—remind me why so many of us set out on this troubled, wonderful path in the first place.

Dale Pendell | Walking with Nobby: Conversations with Norman O. Brown | Mercury House | 2008

Five conversations with Norman O. Brown. Each in the form of a walk—which Pendell took with Nobby in those last years before Brown’s Alzheimer’s silenced him. For those of us who cut our teeth on Love’s Body’s subtle, visionary politics, its aphoristic wildness, and its dance at the edge of poetics, here is the late book he never got around to writing. I knew Brown, and these reconstructed conversations provide the cadences of his speech, plus his greatest trait: never to settle for easy ways out, no matter how painful clear seeing might be. Pendell wrote these talks up afterwards from memory, they are not the result of tape recording. How did he do it?

Salim Ali | Indian Hill Birds | Oxford | 1949

Tiny volume, maybe the best writing I’ve encountered in a field guide. Salim Ali (1896-1987) was the doyen of ornithology in India. A terrifically literary man, an exemplar of the India that emerged after Independence under the guidance of Nehru: resolutely secular, democratic, confident in both art and science, proud of its culture, far away from North America. Of Salim Ali’s many field guides for birds, his natural history essays, and the autobiographical writings, I choose this title because of its concision, its sumptuous illustrations by G.M. Henry, and the precise use of terminology. Of the common myna he writes: “The nest is a collection of twigs, roots, paper and miscellaneous rubbish placed in holes in trees. Large nesting colonies occupy weep-holes in revetments alongside the hill roads in the Himalaya….”

Ron Silliman | The Alphabet | Alabama | 2008

Rather daunting to have this enormous TOME, but all those separate books on the shelf don’t get you the full poem. It’s the architecture of the sections that intrigues me at present, a lot like the attention to architecture you find through Pound’s CANTOS. And the cumulative emotion that develops within each section, sentence heaped on sentence. Many of the individual volumes have such independent spirit—Paradise, What, ABC, and so on. Now you can see how the various sections fit into the larger whole (itself part of a yet larger whole)…. I hope I finish reading this before UNIVERSE appears.

More Andrew Schelling here. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2009 – Rachel Blau DuPlessis

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

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

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

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

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

More Rachel Blau DuPlessis here and here.

Written by Steve Evans

October 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Attention Span 2009 – Andrew Epstein

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Roberto Bolano | The Savage Detectives | FSG | 2007

As many others have said, this novel has to be one of the most exhilarating, devastating, exhausting, and revealing accounts to be found of avant-garde poetry and the movements that sustain it – the avant-garde as dream, as farce, as tragedy, as inspiring coterie and impossible community, tantalizing possibility and heart-breaking, inevitable failure. “The problem with literature, like life, said Don Crispín, is that in the end people always turn into bastards.”

Jack Spicer, ed. Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian | My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer | Wesleyan University Press | 2008

“I gave you my imaginary hand and you give me your imaginary hand and we walk together (in imagination) over the earthly ground.” Such a beautiful, and beautifully edited, book. The early work, like Spicer himself, feels suddenly indispensable. “Plague took us and the land from under us, / Rose like a boil, enclosing us within.”

Lisa Robertson | The Weather | New Star Books | 2001

“Days heap upon us,” Robertson writes. As do words, well-turned, elusive, gorgeous, consistently surprising, like days themselves. “A slight cloud drifts contrary to the planet; the day might be used formally to contain a record of idleness… It is the clear, magnificent, misunderstood morning; we pick up the connections.”

David Shapiro | New and Selected Poems (1965-2006) | Overlook Press | 2007.

A radiant gathering: always surprising and strange, mournful, playful, and wise. “Thus, in presenting sleep // The poem must leap over the cut-offs. / You see clearly in a revolution, // Look down and notice how you have slept.” … “Out of the pills and the pencils, out of toothbrushes and night guards, out of CDs and Altoids, out of feathers and staplers, out of time clocks and syllabi, out of tissues and scissors, nothing straight has ever been made.”

Gabriel Gudding | Rhode Island Notebook | Dalkey Archive Press | 2007

This is a seriously big, seriously funny book: ambitious and capacious, sharp-eyed and dangerous (at least to other drivers on the road). “Very hazy / the bug splats collect & remark / upon the butterscotch light / of the sun directly / ahead. The corn stands in lines of / musketeers row upon rank / : It is late corn. It is late. / At 5:47 PM the sun is a / sharper orange, juicier. Then it pales.// What strange fate light is here: as if / a pig is coming out of the sun instead of / sunlight. what white, fat, changing light.”

Alice Notley | Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems: 1970-2005 | Wesleyan University Press | 2006.

Like the other large selecteds here, this volume is such a welcome, generous bringing together. “Your Dailiness, / I guess I must address you / begin and progress somewhat peculiarly, wanting / not afraid to be anonymous, to love what’s at hand / I put out a hand, it’s sewn & pasted hingewise & / enclosed in cover. I’m 27 and booked …”

Katie Degentesh | The Anger Scale | Combo Books | 2006

Flarf is trying to break your heart. “I hated my mother for hating cats / but I wanted her to live, and I knew that // in this era of navel gazing, / it was my navel she was always gazing at. // After mastering the rules of grammar / she was like a ghost to all my friends // No one felt they had the right to have her committed / while baking cookies.”

Ron Silliman | The Age of Huts (compleat) | University of California Press | 2007
Ron Silliman |
The Alphabet | University of Alabama Press | 2008.

A remarkable, inexhaustible achievement. “Ketjak,” like the rest of the works in these books, has a rare quality: addictive and good for you at the same time. “The form itself is the model of a city, extension, addition, modification.”

Carole Maso | The Art Lover | New Directions | 2006 [reprint, 1991]

“I am a lover of detail, a marker—it’s a way of keeping the world in place. One documents, makes lists to avoid becoming simply petals. I am like you, Max: a looker, an accountant, a record keeper, a creator of categories, a documenter. For evidence, I rip flyers from telephone poles, save every scrap of paper I get. Listen carefully. Organize. Reorganize.”

James Schuyler | Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler, 1951-1991 | Turtle Point Press | 2004

A wonderful trove of chatter, wit, news, and aperçus. “December in New York is one big mess. Everybody gets drunk too much: Mike Goldberg looks gray and shaky; New York looks bright and shaky; Frank, I’m sorry to say, looks gray and shaky. Write him plenty heap big buck-up notes and postals; Xmas is depressing for some of us deracine Christians.”

Joshua Clover | The Totality for Kids | University of California Press | 2006

Under the paving stones, the city! But it’s another city, a shattered and shattering place which Clover discovers to be where we already are living: “City which is / A love letter. Interior to that, / City emerging naked from the white / Indifferences of winter. City / Once hidden in the library and now / Drowsing in the sleep of the collective.” “Say hello to the generation that burned itself in effigy.”

More Andrew Epstein here.

Attention Span 2009 – Charles Alexander

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Full disclosure: In part I’m playing Chax’s horn, but mostly because I REALLY love those books!

CA Conrad | The Book of Frank | Chax Press

Steve McCaffery | Slightly Left of Thinking | Chax Press

Karen Mac Cormack  | Implexures — complete edition | Chax Press

Jacque Vaught Brogan | ta(l)king eyes | Chax Press

Michael Cross | in felt treeling | Chax Press

Barbara Guest | The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest | Wesleyan

Jack Spicer | My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer | Wesleyan

Ron Silliman | The Alphabet | Univ of Alabama Press

Myung Mi Kim | Penury | Univ of California Press

Hank Lazer | Portions | Lavender Ink

Lyn Hejinian | Saga/Circus | Omnidawn

Charles Alexander publishes Chax Books.

Attention Span – Steven Zultanski

with 4 comments

Some of my favorite poetry with a 2007 or 2008 copyright date.

Kevin Davies | The Golden Age of Paraphernalia | Edge | 2008

O’Hara said that Whitman , Crane and Williams were the only American poets who were better than the movies, but today, in a world with Apocalypto and 3-D Imax Beowulf, only Kevin Davies is better than the movies. Maybe you’re in it for the giddy surprise of a turned phrase. Maybe you’re in it for the zonked formal apparatus (“floaters”?). Maybe you just want to drink a Corona and take pot shots at the government. Anyway you want it, that’s the way I need it. More than one Davies book a decade? Yes, please.

Craig Dworkin | Parse | Atelos | 2008

Like the chase scene in Apocalypto, Parse is a feat of athletic strength and technical virtuosity. And I mean that in the best sense (I’m a Yes fan, after all). This book is proof that conceptual writing deserves to be realized. Sure, the idea of parsing a grammar book by it’s own rules is clever, and many lazy McLazies would leave it at that and call it a piece—but the actual fact of the book goes way deeper than any mere suggestion. This work is ‘pataphysical’ in the truest sense—it appropriates a logic only to drag it to its limits, where the supposed rationality of its system is inverted—university discourse in the service of parody, or truth.

Rob Fitterman and Nayland Blake | The Sun Also Also Rises | No Press | 2008

Mr. Fitterman at his most tender, no kidding. Conceptualism and the lyric do meet, despite hysterical claims otherwise. In what seems at first like a closed system (all of the first person statements from Hemingway’s novel) we find instead a subjective opening: the sentences are so vague and gestural that they cry out to be grafted on to the autobiography of the reader, they serve as little memory-nuggets, each interchangeable and abstract. Which is precisely why the second part, a rewriting using material from the author’s own biography, is so necessary. Fitterman finds the ripples in Hemingway narrative (or, to be more broad, in novelistic conventions of masculinity) and, instead of a destructive gesture which breaks the original, ideologically-encrusted text apart, he adds more ripples, until eventually we can’t see to the bottom of the text. Psst—there is no bottom. Nayland Blake’s terrific minimalist coda sends us off on another open, leaky note, like the closing shot of 3-D Imax Beowulf, in which a computer-enhanced actor gets caught in the freeze-frame, or the fade-out, I don’t remember which.

Peter Gizzi | The Outernationale | Wesleyan | 2007

Peter Gizzi’s cameo in Apocalypto might have increased his star power, but it hasn’t diminished his poetic ability one bit. The opening sequence, “A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me,” is an ambitious serial work that takes Gizzi’s engagement with the complex arragement of image and statement to knottier, stranger territory. The title poem knots statement even tighter by mixing the poetic line with part-words, which can only suggest meanings, and defer the meanings made by the full sentences. This is dense poetry: not in the sense that say, Prynne is dense, nor in the sense that Oppen is dense. Instead of bludgeoning us with experimental vocab or treating us to crafted, meaningful line breaks, Gizzi’s lyric resides in the no man’s land between information management and intimate conversation. His romanticism (and I mean that in the best sense—I’m a Wordsworth fan, after all) is completely contemporary—the language of the present authors the poet. Said language is soaked in both abstract, highly mediated war-time quasi-correspondence, the dailiness of human sociality, and the sensory experience of the distance between those two things—as Gizzi says, bewilderment.

Renee Gladman | Newcomer Can’t Swim | Kelsey Street | 2007

Gladman’s writing so successfully carries the illusion of transparency that sometimes it seems like there’s not much there, in any particular sentence. But the accumulation of sentences, and especially the sense of narrative blows back that very transparency to create an effect that is more crystalline than glass-like. Identity is refracted – not invisible but manifold. The narrators of these fictions, or these poems, or whatever, are not lacking identities but exposing them, not as frauds but as real structures, and as real feelings. The sentences, likewise, are not frauds in their simplicity, in their transparency. They are part of a complex and many-sided form, somewhat akin to 3-D Imax Beowulf.

Kenneth Goldsmith | Traffic | Make Now | 2007
Kenneth Goldsmith | Sports | Make Now | 2008

Goldsmith’s “American Trilogy” is the Apocalypto of poetry—one long chase scene, the spectacularization of suffering, and a relationship to history that makes accuracy an irrelevant question. Of course, the big difference is that Mel Gibson is an anti-semite, and Goldsmith is a Jew. They would probably not get along.

Ted Greenwald | 3 | Cuneiform | 2008

Quoth Patrick Lovelace: “The fundamental question of writing is: after you write a word, do you repeat the word that you’ve just written, or do you choose another?” Quoth Beowulf: “The sea is my mother! She would never take me back to her murky womb!” Ted Greenwald has been grappling with just this problem for decades. 3 is one of my favs by him, especially the standout first poem, “Going Into School That Day,” a long poem on love and memory, in which the next word is either a new word, or the previous word, or the previous word in a new place.

Juliana Spahr | The Transformation | Atelos | 2007
Juliana Spahr | Intricate Systems | The Press Gang | 2008

The Transformation may be, by the author’s account, a novel. I’m not sure. If so it’s a little out of place on this here poetry list, but who cares? The disregard for genre is part of its charm. Spahr’s increasingly intensive connective writing brings as many things into relation that can fit into a linguistic scene. Actually that’s not quote true – the relationships she builds are precise ones, with particular contemporary and political resonances. For instance, the migration from Hawaii to NYC narrated in The Transformation brings us from a colonial scene to it’s obverse: late 2001 America. Within this broader frame, all manner of institutional effects, social contradictions and forms of natural life are brought into conversation. That’s what keeps Spahr’s work from lapsing into a hippie monism or relativism: the politicized frame always reconfigures the disparate material into a specific critique. And Apocalypto.

Kevin Thurston and Lauren Bender | Boys are Retards | Produce | 2007

Kevin Thurston answers all the questions from a Cosmo Girl quiz-book, and he answers them truthfully. Is this because Thurston is a Cosmo Girl at heart? Or is it because he has a non-patronizing relationship to mass culture which allows him to engage with it formally, in a way which respects the sincerity of feeling structured by ideology? See, Thurston’s feelings are also ideological, he doesn’t pretend not to be cry during 3-D Imax Beowulf, he doesn’t pretend to be outside. Instead of a condescending attitude, instead of mocking forms of entertainment which swell legitimate emotion in legitimate humans, Thurston offers a skeptical but honest response to manipulative ad-affects. A single tear runs down his cheek.

Rod Smith | Deed | University of Iowa | 2007

There’s a part in 3-D Imax Beowulf where Beowulf jumps out of the eye of a seamonster, presumably killing the beast. How he got into the eye remains unclear. Deed is better than that scene, and Rod Smith is more heroic than Beowulf, by far.

Rachel Zolf | Human Resources | Coach House | 2007

Like spam but better, Human Resources reworks the junk language of the internet to bring to the surface it’s conflicted relationship to desire. On the one hand, spam is work written by a bot. On the other hand, spam is work written to be an intrusion in lives of people who are not bots: to spark the reader’s interest with its outrageous subject-heading or its surprising collage of often-sexualized language. Zolf uses this language to write a book not written by a bot, a book about desire as articulated by a person who speaks the language of spam, a language which is not necessarily rational, but which as immediate as a Jaguar eating a man’s face (as seen in Apocalypto). This book is spazzy, surprising and over-the-top. Since I only like things that are over-the-top, I like this book.

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Special Mention: the comments box on Silliman’s Blog

Day after day, loyal Silliman readers fill up his comments box with: insults and whining?  A terrific and totally baffling phenomenon. The misdirected anger of poets everywhere comes to a head here, in a great wash of complaining and PC finger-wagging. Silliman, to his credit, is graceful – he doesn’t seem to censor the comments, he allows all the regulars their space to be wacky or conservative, and he keeps on blogging on. A toast to Silliman, of course. But a second toast, please, to the folks who transform a poetry blog into a absolutely entertaining parade of off-beat characters.

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More Steven Zultanski here.