Thursday, April 29, 2004

This Saturday! Carol Mirakove presents C.E. Putnam & Allison Cobb at La Tazza 

May 1

1830- Irish-American labor radical Mother Jones born, Cork, Ireland
1919- Pacifica Radio founder Lewis Hill born. Kansa City, MO
1965- Vanguard musical performer Spike Jones dies.

May 1, 2004

Carol Mirakove presents C.E. Putnam & Allison Cobb
108 Chestnut St. Philly
Cocktail hour 7pm
Readings at 8 sharp

C.E. Putnam was born in Seattle Washington and has lived in three world capitals (London, Washington DC, and Bangkok). He maintains P.I.S.O.R. (pie-Zor) (The Putnam Institute for Space Opera Research) & operates FiftyCentsOffPress. Monkey Puzzle, Bird Dog, Pom2, Ixnay, Pavement Saw, Tin Fish, Skanky Possum, Lungfull 13 and canwehaveourballback contain some of his writings. He is the author of the chapbooks The Maniac box(2001), Did you ever hear of a thing like that?(2001), and Things Keep Happening (2003). His sound art projects include "PISOR Scares Halloween Mix Double 2003" and "PISOR's Music for Plants and other living things." He currently lives in Brooklyn and will be moving to Bangkok Thailand in July.

Allison Cobb was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her first collection, Born Two, was published by Chax Press this year. She is co-editor of POM2 magazine and BabySelf Press.

Upcoming Readings:

Michael Gottleib & Kathleen Miller will close the 2003-2004 La Tazza season on May 15.

Check out:

DC Poetry 2004 Anthology
RNC Not Welcome
Philadelphia Independent Media Center

i agree 

suddenly i feel like Jane Fonda coming home from walking the streets of Hanoi and approaching a jittery papa Henry in On Golden Pond for forgiveness.

but i'm not, really.

although i do stand corrected. many may have corrected me, on this blog, and others, including an angry Buck Downs, and you're all right about what you say.

i had already come to the same conclusions on my own, and in fact did so within that very post being quoted.

this is not a backhanded way of getting out of anything, it's direct. because if i didn't agree with any of you, i'd hold my position.

the filter was off, maybe it's rarely on.

but yes, i do realize soldiers have something to say. and i do see how you are not of course in favor of a war in support of empire which is playing itself out in a most horrific color with our tax dollars, etc.

and at the same time i'm glad you've all written. all points taken, quite seriously, to heart, mind and otherwise. and i'll say it again, you're right. i agree.

but as far as soldiers go, the real hero for me is the soldier who says no when it needs to be said, despite the cost of saying so. like Stephen Funk, who spent time in military prison for refusing to go to Iraq. his point was that he was all for being a marine to defend America, and that invading Iraq was indeed not defensive. that it was brutality of the most explosive and inexcusable nature. the NEA isn't knocking on HIS door, you can count on it.

money from the NEA sounds like a reward, to me, no matter what is said.

but this is beside the point about my saying that soldiers have nothing to say. of course that was stupid. but i'm not thinking about them as individuals, i'm thinking about them as a swarm of thugs with guns. and that's another mistake i make. because they are human beings, each of them, with their own worries and dreams, etc. it's hard to get to that point though, for me, when i watch the news (especially the very uncensored British and German news) and see American soldiers busting down doors to houses in Baghdad, with screaming, terrified women and children on the other side.

i refuse to apologize for being angry, not that anyone has said i can't be. anger is warranted and is a force that can be used as a useful tool against all this madness. was my anger being useful saying what i had said? no. i wasn't being either wise or useful. i understand that, and am glad no one hesitated to say so to me.


this is an e-mail from Buck Downs with the subject line "one step over the line." i wanted to share it, because it should be shared. --CAConrad 

Dear Conrad: your

"there's really nothing new to learn from soldiers"

seems to forget, e.g. Frank O'Hara was in the Navy, Ted Berrigan was
stationed in Korea with the Army, & displays an arrogance I would not have
expected from you.

In making this kind of statement your opinions begin to converge with the
ethics of those you profess to despise.


Wednesday, April 28, 2004

what scares me... 


"i'm not interested in reading their poems from the trenches or from their homes in Idaho after they return. there's really nothing new to learn from soldiers."


how dismissive this sounds -- how reductive -- of an entire group of people -- of an experience, that, whether you support or oppose the war, certainly deserves to be documented by as many different voices as possible. voices who are not Peter Jennings. deserves & needs to be documented. how does it go, those who don't remember history are destined to repeat it?

let's insert another word for soldiers:

there's really nothing new to learn from *activists*


there's really nothing new to learn from *women*

& we'd all be up in arms.

no pun intended.

but the thing is, how can we dismiss a group without looking at the individual?


"murder is murder. period."

my father is the superintendent at sci graterford, & has recently started a new poetry workshop program at the prison, working with various arts organizations in and around philadelphia to bring in poets to work with the inmates.

the above quote is the kind of thing the general public tends to say when they find out abt such programs & protest their tax dollars funding them -- that murderers are murderers, period, & deserve no voice, no art, no acknowledgment of their expression. there's really nothing new to learn from convicted criminals.


abt the group v. individual thing:

personally, I do hope to be read as an individual.

rather than, "oh, dear. it's another american, middle-class, straight, white woman. there's really nothing new to learn from THEM."

jenn mccreary.

Vet Lit 

I'm interested in reading poems from the frontline(s), because I don't think that their story's the same. Some joined the military after September 11, only to find themselves doing beat-cop work in a country hardly implicated in the terror attacks. Almost half of the troops in Iraq not only didn't join to Crusade in the Mideast, but didn't even join the military proper. These are folks who joined the National Guard for a check & some college, thinking the extent of their action would entail guarding supermarkets from looters after the Mississippi River floods.

It's not realistic to anticipate that men & women in real danger of dying are going to be trumpeting administration rhetoric in their journals. Unless they really believe it, of course. Regardless of how they got there, these are people forced to grapple with life & death & seperation & the past & the present & will there be a future. Now that they're in combat, they aren't walking the streets with targets on their backs for Western civilization anymore. They are fighting, killing & witnessing death around them so that the guy or gal they walk the streets with, who they spent day in & day out with during the last year, will get to go back to their construction job in Jersey- or wherever. Loyalty, death, life, betrayal, regret, redemption- these are the stories that can change literature & lives.

CA, you're right, the news isn't giving you the real story. Why aren't you interested in hearing the truth from the folks living it who are willing to share THEIR experience? And murder may be murder, but it doesn't mean it's not interesting. If it wasn't, True Crime wouldn't sell.

- Frank Sherlock


Conrad wrote, "i'm not interested in reading their poems from the trenches or from their homes in Idaho after they return. there's really nothing new to learn from soldiers. " Whoa! Really? Wish I had time to delve in more, but I felt like I had to at least briefly counter your post, Conrad.

Do I endorse an army of empire? Certainly not. But I agree with Jennifer's recent post - people join up for a wide range of reasons that extend beyond bloodlust. For some folks, it's the only chance to get an education, or to get out of a backwater town; other people buy the notion that they're doing the most noble thing possible by signing up. Does this excuse their participation in a killing machine? No, not in my mind. But to lump all military personnel into one big hyperbolic heap doesn't seem productive to me as a way of thinking or as a way of arguing, and to ignore soldiers' varied stories strikes me as a strange kind of hypocrisy - we want a multitude of perspectives except when it's offensive to us, and in those cases we should just ignore those people's tales? Hmmm...

- Chris McC

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

more on the subject of War and the NEA 

Owen and Sassoon were both gay - sometimes in reading their poems I
wonder if they weren't able to express their disgust and horror with
war, while simultaneously still remaining involved in it, because being
in the field involved being away from home (England), which in the wake
of Wilde's trial was hardly a good place for them to be. It was an
option. There are other reasons to enlist besides wanting to kill
enemies. Not that I'm saying I endorse war - far from it - but I think
that you're being unfair to individual soldiers. Maybe I'm overly
naive, but the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines don't use images of
killing in their advertisements. It's about "being all you can be,"
and I wonder if, for many, the armed forces offer an alternative, an
opportunity to get out of their existing lives. There's structure, and
training, and hierarchy, and a sense of knowing where you belong and
knowing exactly what you have to do in that position. You don't have
to think outside of that; you can just follow orders, and not have any
agency or responsibility. For some that could be very appealing. I'm
not saying it's right, or using it as an excuse. I abhor killing in
any form. Which is why, for me, the idea of writing workshops for
soldiers isn't offensive. It might get some of them thinking for
themselves. And the possibility for witnessing, for them to feel
enabled to tell their own experiences -- we get so very little
information from over there, even pictures of coffins shipped back are
being suppressed -- and I for one want to know what's happening, what's
REALLY happening. Not that I think these ridiculous workshops will
result in something that tells me, but there's a possibility that
something could come out of it that might give another piece of the


..................war, nea, and getting nuts 

Sassoon was treated badly because he was gay, besides for his objecting to the war. but besides that, the whole idea of wanting anything from yet another soldier makes me want to puke, frankly.

i'm not interested in reading their poems from the trenches or from their homes in Idaho after they return. there's really nothing new to learn from soldiers. murder is murder. period. the only thing that can be relished from the experience at this point in our grisly historical position is that they might actually develop a bold new LOVE from their murder. maybe they'll be transformed somehow. maybe they will have poems and stories different from those in the past. but i truly fucking doubt it.

war is not interesting to me. it's not entertainment, and i REFUSE to allow the goddamned news on television to lead me into thinking it is, with their disgraceful theme songs sounding like Rambo is back to kick more ass. the news is not a movie, it's real. the History Channel is not the world's history either, because our lives are not just about war, and that damn channel is JUST about war.

history is not war. how dare they tell us it is! war is a disruption of history. war is what breaks into lives, and yes, it's significant, but i challenge anyone to prove it's more significant than someone's great love beside them in the morning, and the story of that love. war is not the marker, it's a footnote! each of us and who we are is the real story. our blood is not pounding through our limbs to be a mere number in a death toll. FUCK Peter Jennings! and you know what? Peter Jennings has loved. don't you believe it's so? yeah! i want to hear about it! i want Peter Jennings to say, "I AM A TERRIFIC LOVER!" i want him to moon the camera and turn around and lick his lips and say "AHHHHHHHHHHHH, that was nice!"

HOW DARE THEY tell us we're not worthy of being in history books unless we've supported yet another room of rich men's game plans! HOW DARE THEY insist time be marked by the bloodshed of their nation building! HOW DARE THEY ignore pain of breaking hearts for the pain of broken cities! HOW DARE THEY make me angry when i really want to love! HOW DARE THEY not finally shut up and let their true needs be met!

numbers and identical desert-print fatigues is NOT the story either. each of those soldiers has a story also, so maybe you're right. it's such an emotional thing, all this SHIT about soldiers writing. maybe there are soldiers who will see for us with an honest set of eyes, and write it, and it will be an emblem for a new America.

i keep going back and forth on this, and SO WHAT if i do!? anger needs to be guided into a bonfire right about now!

my mother is angry at me because i'm not angry with her at the Iraqis who aren't GRATEFUL for "all we've done for them." she's been writing to several cousins of mine who are in the army and the marines, over there, right now. i know where she really comes from with this. she is thinking of these boys coming from NOTHING, zip, zero dollars, and there REALLY ISN'T much choice for making a wage in Camanche, Iowa. and she sees this, and is proud of them, and wants that pride to be shared, and wants NOT to admit that they are part of something which is very very wrong. and to be honest with you, i canNOT ask my mother to feel anything than what she's feeling. i disagree with her, but i keep it to myself mostly. it's a touchy, tough situation. and it's mostly about not having money, and not having room to have anything but shame for not having money. and then BOY OH BOY, you put on those uniforms, and you REALLY FEEL like SOMEONE! and i see that. and i understand that. and it's hard, but i don't judge that. being poor is ugly business.

by the way, what i said was that the NEA clipped the wings of certain organizations which happened to be very outspoken. the members of these organizations say so as well, by the way. when the NEA attacked Finley, as well as others, it was direct individual artists. this time it was NOT direct. this was quiet, simple, reallocation of funds, with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about budget cuts, and about this year's committee making new decisions of their own. are you aware of all this? not sure you are. to use what has happened in the past with Finley is not really suitable in this case since we're dealing with an organization which has learned from its mistakes in dealing with those whom they do not wish to deal with.

anyway, it feels good to be writing about all this. the war has been something i've been mostly keeping an eye on, and talking about with others. Frank Sherlock has much information he reads and shares, and that's a wonderful gift to his friends, like me. but to be honest, i feel like a basket case when i get to writing about it. and that's my problem, and it's the least i can do, considering that i'm too much of a fucking coward to NOT pay my taxes, which in turn goes to making bullets and bombs, which kill innocent people. i'm ashamed of myself, in the end, for paying my taxes. i don't need to be a soldier to kill, just a tax payer.


more on NEA and Gioia 

Gioia comes across as such a stick, doesn't he? "others may provide
vivid accounts of historical events that rise to the occasion of
literature" - goodness.
I didn't realize it was for the troops after they get back, not while
they're over there. That's disturbing. They should be writing NOW,
like Owen did in the trenches, before the mist of panegyric and
flagwaving hits them when they return. I can't help but think of
Siegfried Sassoon, too, who was one of the first officers to officially
object to WWI, and he did it in a letter written straight from the
trenches in France. They brought him back, but didn't want to
courtmartial him right away, and instead had him put into an
institution and diagnosed with shell shock. He went back and kept
fighting. But he didn't stop writing the truth. Have you ever read
Pat Barker's _Regeneration_? Amazing book about that whole thing.

And HAH - the NEA doesn't make decisions based on content - give me a break,
didn't they get taken to court by Finley et al. over a
decade ago, to be FORCED to not take content into account? (I read
Finley's collected works last month after she came through town,
revisited all of that controversy, so it's fresh in my mind).

Anyway, thanks for sending that.


Monday, April 26, 2004

Clancy, Conspiracy & the Hunt for Dead Nonprofits 

Here are a few points, to make my position clear. The idea that Clancy can school soldiers on "conspiracy awareness" is absurd. To occupy Fallujah for instance, the US soldier can't survive without an acute awareness of the shifting alliances, rifts & backstabs from day to day. How strong is the tie between Al Qaeda & the Baathists today? What is the core of their dischord? How can that be exploited? How does Al Qaeda's plot to attack Shiites further the anti-American cause? How does Sadr's plans to draw the Occupation into Najaf promote radical Shiite solidarity? Conspiracy theory is a way of life & death in Iraq. I'm sure they could hip Clancy to their own conspiracy theories, whether it involves Rumsfeld, Chalabi or their own lieutenant.

Clancy is there to reinforce a pro-administration agenda. And you'd better believe if he deviates, he'll be replaced. Par for the course- he's either with them or against them. I don't believe that the Poetry Project was singled out for the Poetry Is News event. It just doesn't serve the administration to fund them, so they don't. It's a policy of "death by a thousand cuts", limiting the funding of organizations that work in ideological disagreement with administration policy. Next month, the Federal Election Commission will rule on whether a nonprofit can advocate or oppose political candidates, or even an issue associated with a particular candidate- a scare tactic, plain & simple.

The writing workshops are just a small part of a larger culture war. It is evangelical in scope, and literally allied with the war machine. Boeing will not be funding anything that cuts their production. It is sinister in its intention. But like so many conservative schemes, it may deliver results beyond their control.

- Frank Sherlock

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Dana Kill-Joy to create NEA as new form of goverment spy organization, am i being crazy? or am i being Clancy? OY! 

yes, i agree the possibilities are quite open here for these soldier writers. and maybe you're right, Jennifer, that Clancy could induce conspiracy awareness.

hadn't thought of it that way.

it kind of reminds me of this time an old boyfriend showed me a Life Magazine photo of West Point cadets in uniform, in neat rows behind desks at school, reading, unbelievably, HOWL. and my boyfriend was upset with the photo, saying that it was an outrageous statement. but my question was "what was the statement?" and i recall saying that it was insane for West Point to give those young men that book, really, in lieu of expecting obedience. maybe it turned some of them into acid dropping haiku writing free dancing kind of guys after all, right?

can Clancy open them? Jesus! i can't believe i'm thinking it's possible! but maybe you're right Jennifer!

i still say though that it is more of the administration's reallocation of funding to only aid ideas as conservative as possible, be it art, or whatever.

recently i dreamt that i was walking through the pentagon, for some reason, and there were MILLIONS of crucifixes hanging on the walls! all kinds of them. ivory, dark wood, bamboo, all kinds of weird bleeding Jesuses hanging on by bitty nails and hanging out in this weird building that, as i kept walking, completed a circle.

i think my dream represents Dana Gioia as a modern Wordsworth (in actions, not as a writer), a so-called free thinker turned government informant. no, i really don't think that my dream represents this. but i do believe Gioia would visit Wordsworth if time travel permitted, to get a few tips on how to handle the chaos of the world with a fist of old fashioned state-imposed control.

maybe i'm being unfair with that point.

maybe i'm not.

time will tell.

i'm glad Frank laid out his thoughts. this damn thing is much more sinister than it may seem at first, i believe. and i believe Frank is correct to point out the specific Poetry Project stance against the Iraq invasion as possible cause for losing funds.

HEY, if Richard Clarke can be turned down for a promotion for making comments against a preemptive strike against Iraq, why NOT believe it's possible that Dana Gioia is really taking direction from someone someplace in DC as far as dishing out the arts funds? art is dangerous. and there's a lot of it. and there's more to come. and there's no fucking way to stop it. they can stop all the grant money in the world and it's still going to come at them, at everyone, to get us to wrap our minds around what's going on. and DO something to END the madness, and the complicit sleep.


Friday, April 23, 2004


My point in conversation with Conrad is that the NEA/Pentagon/Boeing Inc.ultimately will not be able to control the direction the soldiers & veterans take in their writing. As a tactic, it could be messy. It's hardly smart-bomb propaganda, given that satellite-controlled literature won't (I don't want to say can't) be the final product. The potential for blowback is great, though this caviat seems to be of little concern for an administration that refuses to learn from past intelligence strategy foibles.

That being said, the program is a sinister attempt to harness a literary propaganda in support of a pre-emptive presidential doctrine. The workshops are instructed by folks that have been good public relations for the military. You ain't getting Studs Terkel, George Evans or Bruce Weigl. These workshops are not open per se, since the NEA selects the soldier/writers who are given the opportunity to attend them. And it is a reallocation issue, certainly. From top to bottom, domestically & internationally, this administration has had a "with us or against us" attitude, in theory at least. Why fund the Poetry Project, where last year's Poetry Is News event was held in opposition to Iraqi invasion? It’s a bad investment, according to this line of thinking. With Clancy & co., they're banking on higher dividends. But the teachers can only really teach technique. They can't tell the vets what truth is to be written. Just like we can't. They're the ones who really know what's going on in Iraq. And there's a possibility that this may someday become a monster beyond federally-funded control.

- Frank Sherlock

re: the NEA and their bastard chairman 

CA and all -

Agreed, agreed, the NEA has made a lot of infuriating decisions lately. I haven't read the article (would like to! CA will you forward it to me?), but it does seem to me that there's nothing wrong with giving individual soldiers the opportunity to do writing workshops. And the amount that Boeing has committed to the project is really, when you think of it, a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions of dollars already spent on destroying Iraq in the name of democracy. It's insulting.

But I don't think that "this smacks more of the old BUSH reallocation of funding to better suit his administration's agenda of Jesus and bombs." Isn't giving money for writing workshops for individual soldiers much better than giving money to arms contractors and oil developers? At least Boeing is rechanneling some of the jack it gets from the government (albeit peanuts, no more) to writing. Tom Clancy notwithstanding. But hey, maybe a good dose of Clancyesque conspiracy thinking will do worlds of good for Our Boys In Uniform. They might start wondering what sort of international wheeling and dealing has brought them to this place where the populace doesn't want them, where they're dying in increasing numbers even though technically, the "war" is "over." I would like to hear Frank's view on it - I agree with him that we don't really know in what direction these soldiers might take their writing. Think about Wilfred Owen:

If in smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in.
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desparate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

(Owen was caught in a German machine gun attack just seven days before the Armistice in 1918)

I've never read any German war poetry, from either WWI or WWII, but I've heard from people who have that a lot of German soldiers had harrowing memories, and wrote them down. I doubt the Nazi party would have funded writing projects to write Memories of Invading Poland. They might have gotten Riefenstahl to make the film, but they probably would have burned individual soldiers' diaries. Or refused them paper and pens in the first place.

I do think that writing programs for American soldiers and Iraqi citizens, together, is a great idea. Pity. (Wonder what it would take to get over there and organize one?) CA, the NEA makes me sick too - but this particular program isn't part of my own nausea. I do want to read the article, though.


the NEA and their bastard chairman 

the other day Eleanor Wilner sent me an article written on April 20th about the NEA's latest project: funding writing programs and grants to U.S. soldiers to write about their experiences in the war in Iraq. i wish i could reprint the article here, but am not sure that's legal. (if you want a copy, write me at CAConrad13@AOL.com, and i'll forward it to you)

but the gist of it is that NEA chairman Dana Gioia is working with Boeing, a leading weapons contractor on this project. Boeing has donated $250,000 to the project. and they have writers like Tom Clancy (no kidding, seriously, no kidding) leading these writing workshops at different army and marine bases. espionage thriller meets real combat. it's just too weird that he's teaching (along with others). well, then again, not too long ago we did have Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan in his fictious-nonfiction role as president.

one of the most BIZARRE comments from Gioia in the article though was this one:

"I have noticed a lot of similarities between the military world and the
literary world. Both are highly specialized and highly professionalized.
And when that happens, you tend not to see a lot of things outside of
your immediate world. I'm hoping this program will make a difference."

okay, first of all, WHAT!?

second, after talking to Frank Sherlock about it, i can see his point, that the program doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. he made several points, which i hope he'll share here on the blog. one in particular was that we don't really KNOW what direction these soldiers will take their writing. true. after all, i've heard that there are soldiers with blogs who are writing some pretty fucking serious criticisms about the war these days.

and really, i'm NOT being some elitist asshole who thinks that soldiers don't have the ability to be creative writers. wanted to make that clear.

BUT i am saying that it's a slap in the face at a time when Gioia joyfully burns down many a house, withholding funding every direction turned, not the least of which being The Poetry Project at St. Marks.

also, i have to say it, i really DO FEEL that this smacks of more of the old BUSH reallocation of funding to better suit his administration's agenda of Jesus and bombs. take the money from arts programs (most of whom have harsh criticism for Bush) and give some to the soldiers. take money from domestic programs and give it to organizations with a faith-based determination for the ever chaotic world. as though the Salvation Army wasn't bad enough! oh i know they do good things, but i recall being a kid, and my mother and i spent some time in one of their shelters, but you couldn't eat a speck of food before hearing their fucking sermon and sing their fucking Jesus music! as though charity has a price outside generosity!

God bless Momma, and, and God bless the prez-president of America. Thank you prez-i-dent Bush for, for killing the bad brown peoples.

not only that, we invaded Iraq, and are occupying it. it's so grotesque to me, this new NEA project. sort of like if Hitler had won there would have been Nazi party funded writing projects to write Memories of Invading Poland.

how about the NEA funding Iraqi-American writing programs for THEIR take? or even Iraqi citizens for that matter? we are their evil stepfather at this point. the whole thing makes me sick. sick sick SICK!

maybe the day will come when NEA grants only go to those writing American praise poems, complete with biblical epigraphs.

fuck the NEA!
double-fuck Dana Gioia for openly supporting the war machine!
it seems Mephisto has made another new friend in the USA!


Thursday, April 22, 2004

April 28 Philly Sound Reading Canceled 

Due to scheduling difficulties, we'll have to burn Molly's down another time.

Anselm Berrigan & Edmund Berrigan WILL be reading at Molly's this Saturday at 7pm.

Molly's Books
1010 S. 9th St.

- Frank Sherlock

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Cities Without Citizens 

"Globalization takes the periphery right to the center, the frontier between First and Third Worlds starts running through the middle of world cities. The historical relationship between Paris and Algiers finds its analogy in the relationship between Baghdad and NYC." --- Eyal Weizman

CA's post about the Invisible Hands of Empire pointing east has been on my mind the last few weeks, as it happens to intersect with an excellent book I'm reading that was released last month. Cities Without Citizens is a collection of architectural/theoretical/political essays edited by Eduardo Cadava and Aaron Levy. Besides being just gorgeous (Slought Foundation/Rosenbach Museum & Library Press), CWC offers new ideas about the past & future of new urban construction, refugee cities, & IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) that inhabit them.

Cadava’s “The Guano of History” makes sharp connections between George Jackson's Soledad Brother and an Emersonian understanding that enslavement & death that comes from dispossession, compromises the ideals of independence on which the actions are based. The promise of equality is coming from an unequal place, & can only remain just that. The creation of "progress" for other people/nations has a tenuous record at best, & a disastrous one at worst. We'll live to see the outcome of the latest U.S experiment, and witness/experience its fallout.

Rafi Segal & Eyal Weizman ("Military Options as Urban Planning") see the West Bank as a kind of laboratory in which Empire can employ a new urban warfare/design for the world, much in the way the occupation of Algiers became a lesson for a Paris designed for crowd control. The IDF's strategies & tactics continue to be considered as new cities/camps are born & blueprinted.

But CWC's strength is re-examining refugee camps/cities beyond a temporary war fallout focus, replete with army tarp roofs and military regimentation that demoralizes its long-term "citizens". An ecological perception of the perma-camp as part of the region transforms refugees into stakeholders in its present & players in its future. "Displacement: the Realpolitik of Utopia" (Gans & Jelacic Architecture) takes design for nomadological living & applies it to refugee city planning with environmental & ecological consideration. The vision goes beyond a military short-term, envisioning a possibility for permanent infrastructure implemented amidst ruin(s).

This a just a partial take, because I'm still working through the book. I’ve been invited to the 4th Rebuilding Iraq Expo, which is being held later this year in Arbil. I wish I could make attend with Cities Without Citizens under my arm.

- Frank Sherlock

An embarrassment of riches: April 15, 2004 

There are a number of first-rate readings going on tonight in the Philadelphia area -- I wish I could go to them all.

Here are three:


Lou McKee is reading with Dan Hoffman. Long-time editor of the Painted Bride Quarterly and now One Trick Pony and publisher of Banshee Press Lou Mckee is a heartbreakingly honest poet and writer. Lou was my high school English teacher, and in addition to being a no-nonsense teacher (he secret was that he gave a shit about literature and the kids), he turned me onto poetry by giving me the anthology The Voice Great Within Us. Recently I have been reading Hoffman's smart and enjoyable book on Edgar Allan Poe: Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe.

2.) Robert Creeley Villanova University at 7:30 PM (Info: 610-519-4630).

This past Sunday, The Philadelphia Inquirer published a review of Creeley's new collection of poems. Here is some of what I wrote:

"I am ahead. I am not dead./Shovel it in," writes Robert Creeley with a dark bravado and verve in the last stanza of his "Supper." The poem might as well be called "The Last Supper," but is not, as the poet continues to "shovel it in."

The new poems in If I were writing this are a powerful and down-to-earth amplification of Creeley's well-known expressive minimalist aesthetic. At their most engaging the poems offer an alchemy of innocence and experience, which evokes William Blake at his most stirring. Again, in the poem "Supper," Creeley writes:

Days on the way,
lawn's like a shorn head
and all the chairs are put away
again. Shovel it in.

Eat for strength, for health.
Eat for the hell of it, for
yourself, for country and your mother.
Eat what your little brother didn't.

Be content with your lot
and all you got.
Be whatever they want.
Shovel it in.

3.) 6:00 PM: A Celebration of National Book Critics' Circle Award Winners Susan Stewart and Paul Hendrickson at the Kelly Writers House. (I will be attending Stewart and Hendrickson's reading.)

Susan Stewart is one of my favorite contemporary poets and writers. Her new book Columbarium is a gift to all who appreciate the power and beauty of language and thought, and their attended pressures, as they are counterbalanced with the intriguing pressures of Stewart's verse.

Paul Hendrickson is first-rate nonfiction writer, working in the tradition of what Tom Wolfe dubbed the New Journalism. Hendrickson's book Sons of Mississippi recounts the story of seven white Mississippi lawmen depicted in a horrifically telling 1962 Life magazine photograph and of the racial intolerance that is their legacy.

--Tom Devaney

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Ernesto Neto show at the Fabric Workshop 

There is an installation by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto at
The Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, which runs until May 29, 2004.

The show at the Fabric Workshop, one of my favorite art spaces in the city, is worth going to. Neto's art is highly approachable and is often made with fragile materials (nylon, stockings, styrofoam etc.). It is an art where everything feels to be related to everything else: the piece, the room and space, and you.

In the spring of 2001 I wrote Neto over 40 letters about his work after guarding one of his sculptures for two weeks, which he calls "the blue cave," and at the time was calling: "only the amoebas are happy." The letters are now in a book -- Letters to Ernesto Neto -- designed with artwork by Nicole Michels, and will be published by Germ Folios in May 2004.

Here is a poem I wrote at the time:

Only the amoebas are happy

It's difficult to walk right
into the amoeba.
A surprising lack of give.

Wading through
two feet in
to this biomorpic pillow--

not what you expect.
Not not for kids,
but not really.

Shoes, bracelets, headphones,
boots; everything on the floor,
every thing a pile.

Body displaces the place
you land -- beads, white
spandex habitat buttons.

Something does,
something does not hold
its shape.

The Big Bang
of bean-bags--
a lot of sewing going on.

Barra-bola, styrofoam making
its escape patterns over
the poured concert.

--Tom Devaney

Friday, April 09, 2004


Thanks to everyone who came to La Tazza last Saturday to roast & toast. It could have never been possible without the finesse & wile of Greg Fuchs, the Master of Ceremony no matter what the ceremony may be- a birthday, brunch, or his morning shower. Thanks to John Coletti for his sweetness & poems, Jenn McCreary (& her damned journals!), & Chris McCreary for going easy on me in all the right places.

Conrad, Fran Ryan, Sid, Sean Stevens, Tom, hassen, Alex the Girl, DJ Alex, Anne, Alicia, Ron & everyone who made it out, thanks for a memorable evening. And cheers to Nicole & Matt (in absentia) for the one-of-a-kind cake, & the scrapbook that debunked my apocrophal theory that I was getting better looking with age.


Thursday, April 08, 2004

THE POETRY OF Barbara Cole 

After Barbara Cole read in Philadelphia recently, I asked if she would be interested in a little Q&A. Below is the result. For those who missed the reading, let me tell you, it was pretty fantastic!
But if you weren't there, you have this Q&A, so enjoy,

Barbara, when you read at La Tazza recently you read a long poem which
you said is a continuation of your chapbook "Situation Comedies," --is this
correct? Or maybe I mean to say that the chapbook was only an earlier segment of
the "Situation Comedies," which was always intended to be longer?

The chapbook that Handwritten Press published in 2002 is entitled from situ ation come dies (emphasis on from) because, yes, I always intended for the work to be a much longer and ongoing project. Although there is still every possibility that the overarching plan might change, right now, I envision the project as having five distinct parts. The first part, eponymously titled, situ ation come dies, will be followed by other sections such as foxy moron (just recently available through /ubu editions), ear say and way to know me, both of which I am currently working on at the same time. The fifth section is not yet titled.

The attraction of embarking on an ongoing project stems from my interest in long works (originally, I was going to write my dissertation on "encyclopedic poetics;" though this idea has gone by the wayside as a dissertation topic, it remains a central interest of my own poetics). Ron Silliman's Alphabet project was one of the most direct inspirations for an ongoing project published in separate chapbooks / books. And, like Hejinian's My Life, the idea is that I will continually add on to each of the sections.

Something that struck me were two parts of a particular thread, forgive
me for paraphrasing: "a poet is not a medium" "a poet is not an open wound."
Do these two things say what you feel about a poet, and the poet's poetry? If
so, could you expand/explain? Or if only somewhat, please explain. Or if
not, well, if not, then not I suppose.

At the risk of being overly-exact, the phrases you are here alluding to actually read, "The writer is not" (as opposed to the poet). The logic for this decision stems partially from my discomfort with the notion of referring to oneself as "a poet" and, more seriously, because it is my hope that the work explicitly raises questions about what we think constitutes writing and how we define different writing practices. These statements / negations recur throughout the poem (that is, in sections beyond foxy moron as well).

So much of my difficulty with writing arose shortly after completing my MA in Creative Writing-Poetry at Temple. My thesis, almost by magic, was published within a few months of completing the program as two separate chapbooks. It was lovely at first; but then, the inevitable, now what set in. So much focus had been on the thesis and then the release of not one but two chapbooks created this enormous climax. Coming down from that was abrupt and frightening. I had no "next project" lined up and I immediately began teaching interminable hours of Composition instruction as well as working in Writing Centers. What with devoting 60 hours a week to teaching, prepping, conferring, grading papers, and tutoring "how to write," it was little wonder I had no energy left for writing. But, seeing as I had identified as a writer since my earliest memories, this phase proved incredibly disconcerting and difficult. (I write about this period at great length-perhaps too great a length-in a collaborative inter alia with Pattie McCarthy, forthcoming in Kiosk.) But, to put it more briefly, situ began partially as an attempt to re-trace such a statement. What did it mean to say that I had identified as a writer since early childhood? What inspired such a glorified / Romanticized / aestheticized conception of self?

The other major impetus of situ, which brings me back to your question, stemmed from my primary anxiety throughout my time at Temple: problems of autobiography-the easy conflation of poet and speaker; concerns about the lyric 'I'; the particular gendered history of women's writing as confessional or maudlin memoir. Writing situ began as my active confronting of these fears. If I was so worried that little wives and postcards (my first 2 chapbooks) would be read as autobiography, what if I just plunged right in and actually wrote an autobiography?? And so this was the beginning of situ.

Writerly anxieties are explicitly articulated throughout the poem. In the first section, for instance, one of the anecdotal snapshots or narrative blocks is interrupted by the question: "does this story mark me as a woman?" In foxy, the disavowals become more assertive in directly stating, "the writer is not seeking catharsis," etc.

To be honest, I canNOT remember the last time I heard a poem THAT LONG
(20 minutes read aloud?) with that much exuberance and vigilance to the
detail-oriented care of what seemed every single word written/spoken. You reinvent
for us (for me at least) the road to self discovery with the poem. There were
threads of separate image/subject/style, these individual threads which you
kept braiding from your mouth to our ears. And of course there are countless
forms from poetry's history which repeat or rephrase. But these threads were
very much your own, and each seemed to have total worlds of their own, almost
separate voices of awareness (not to say that at times there won't be unconscious
experiences which propel a thread into a certain conscious experience, but
maybe no, maybe yes, maybe no, maybe maybe maybe, whatever...) but at the same
time were each born from the same conscious being. Sometimes different ages of
one woman lived in a single moment of a single word, so it seemed. How would you
explain how you came to construct each thread's own voice?

Conrad, you are an incredibly generous listener and reader. Your choice of wording in terms of "threads" is entirely apropos as this is exactly how I refer to the different voices / sections / styles. (I have been obsessed with the "weave" since my Temple days and the notion of weaving together disparate threads which maintain their individuality continues to fascinate me).

The "aging" of the threads / personas has become an increasingly complicated question for me. Part of the original motivation had been to explore the "little girl consciousness" as it grows and evolves into an "adult (woman) writer" with an ever-increasing anxiety in relation to language. A love affair, tragedy, and comedy all rolled into one. I'm fascinated by how language shapes our stories, how our telling stories shapes our memory, how collective language shapes consciousness. As questions of consciousness and memory always bleed over into issues of temporality (ding ding ding-there's the language of the academy creeping in) or, shall I say, questions of time, I spend a lot of time thinking about how the narrative blocks, or snapshots, should sound. I don't want the voices to seem like mock child-speak. I deliberately work to blur the dividing line-is this the poet speaking now? Is this a flashback, a voice from the past? Who's speaking now? This type of ambiguity interests me as a reader and, I hope, will similarly engage my readers.

In terms of the actual HOW part of your question, the greatest thing I learned from Rachel Blau DuPlessis at Temple was a love of rigor. My academic side reveals itself in this way; I really love researching, perhaps more than writing. Williams's notion of the "beautiful thing" as library perfectly captures my relationship to books. I'm intrigued. I'm intimidated. I'm titillated. I'm terrified. Other people may like roller coasters for inspiring a heady rush mixed with nausea and the potential for head trauma. Me? I go for libraries. The research aspect of situ is wonderful for me, consequently, because it never seems to end-there are always more threads to actively think about. I've gone back and read all kinds of fascinating, troubling, bizarre, gross texts-from Mother Goose nursery rhymes and Grimm's fairy tales to teen magazines and etiquette handbooks not to mention, autobiographically, every journal and notebook I could get my hands on. I am fortunate in that I'm a hopeless packrat blessed with devoted parents who are equally hopeless packrats; this means that I have endless materials to weave into the poems-school reports, medical records, practically everything I ever wrote past the age of four. Some of it is just frightening stuff (i.e. my seventh-grade journal, inspired by Molly Ringwald's Pretty in Pink character, contains PAGES of musings and writing about, god help me, costume jewelry! It's scary but it's also this palpable record of what the mind of a twelve-year-old writer finds inspiring to write about. The part of me that adores really bad television, can't help but be enthralled).

Is this a poem you've written since your time at Buffalo?
Can you emphasize for us a certain part of you which has changed how you
read and write poetry since your time at Buffalo?

Technically, situ began the Spring before I moved to Buffalo. After adjuncting 4 literature classes a semester at 3 different campuses (as well as some Writing Center work), combined with the ordeal of completing PhD applications, I decided to give myself a break for my last semester in Philadelphia by only teaching two courses. Little wonder that I suddenly found my way back to writing once the workload lightened.

For months, I had simply collected phrases and snippets, mainly the thoughts which seemed to occupy my thinking in place of anything more "poetic" (i.e. the language of daily living: "did you get the phone?" "what do you want for dinner?" as well as everything we "read" which we don't actually consider to be "literary" such as ads, bills, recipes, traffic signs, etc.). I finally began assembling these lists along with the autobiographical "snapshots" I had been drafting in April 2000. These early stages were most influenced by Gregg Biglieri, Maggie Zurawski, and Bill Van Wert. Gregg, Maggie and I talked about poetry passionately and pig-headedly every day of my last year in Philadelphia. Bill, who had been one of my professors at Temple and had always been immensely encouraging of my work, simply never stopped urging me to "just write anything" to get me writing again. During the two years of my no-writing drought, all three reassured me patiently and urged me repeatedly to be "funny" in my writing-something I thought verging on the impossible-or at least less serious (my Temple poems fancy themselves as high-brow homages to high-modernism with little room for silliness).

But despite the official inception of situ while I was living in Philadelphia, my life in Buffalo has had enormous impact on my poetic activity. Though a doctoral program certainly offers its impediments to writing, I was fortunate in that Buffalo's Poetics Program truly encourages writing in the truest sense of the word (that is, not just spinning out academic jargon). During my coursework phase, I took 5 seminars with Charles Bernstein-each of these was highly influential on my thinking not only as a critic but also as a poet. Writing for Charles's classes got me disciplined again while Buffalo's ambitious Weds@4 readings put me in conversation with one amazing innovator after another on a weekly basis. Equally vital to my thinking and writing, Susan Howe's presence in Buffalo is a force to be reckoned with. Without being overly-dramatic, I think it safe to say that how you feel about Elvis, Conrad, is how I feel about Susan. Quite simply, studying with Charles and Susan is one of the great privileges of my life.

Finally, I must point out that the other huge influence during my time in Buffalo has been the other thinkers and writers of the Poetics Program. At Temple, I thought myself incredibly fortunate to have a circle of five friends-Pattie McCarthy, Kevin Varrone, Gregg Biglieri, Chris McCreary and Jenn McCreary-who consistently pushed me, challenged me, and made me rethink everything I had ever thought about poetry. I will not attempt to count the number of friends I am honored to consider my peers in Buffalo who have shaped my thinking, informed my poetics, and enhanced my life. There is indeed an embarrassment of riches here; easily ten times the size of the community I had at Temple. I could not begin to name each person who has inspired me here.

I guess I'm not really answering your specific question about "a certain part" of me that has changed since coming to Buffalo primarily because it would be impossible to pinpoint a single aspect or "part" that has been changed-it is all changed and yet nothing has changed. Does that sound evasive? The best I can offer you is this: the way to know me section explores the role of education and academia on writing and/or the writer. In it, each of my friends and foes, peers and professors, comrades and compatriots appears in descriptive snapshots as well as "in their own voice." So I guess my final answer is: please stay tuned.

Sunday, April 04, 2004


hats off to Greg Fuchs for organizing an AMAZING night of birthday ROASTS at La Tazza for Frank Sherlock!

Greg started our evening off with Chris and Jenn McCreary, and John Coletti. Chris and Jenn had poems to read, and some GREAT stories. Chris told us about how he can talk about his life divided by the time before he met Frank, and after meeting him.

ah, well, Jenn FINALLY put an END to the dispute over Frank Sherlock having watched Melrose Place with her (he had FLATLY DENIED it some months ago). she had found an old journal with notes on a series of poems she and her friends were going to write containing characters from Melrose Place. and THERE WAS an entry for Frank, and his character he was to write about, but i can't recall who it was. i've never seen the show (i really haven't, by the way) so none of the names meant anything to me, although it was all very funny, hearing Jenn read those journal entries, busting Frank.

John Coletti read some beautiful poems, ending with a remarkable tribute poem he had written for Frank's birthday.

Nicole McEwan brought a remarkable gift, a scrapbook of photographs of Frank from his teen years as a lead singer on stage, to a reading with Max Winter, and more.

Nicole also brought a beautiful cake with an airbrushed reproduction of a photograph of Frank from his teen years, a time in his life before "the serious beard"--as someone had said at some point in the evening of his beard.

this was a night the dozens of us in the room will NEVER forget! one of the things that could have only made it better, would have been if Matt McGoldrick had been there. he's on a business trip in New Orleans, and he called Greg's cell phone JUST as Greg was approaching the microphone to start the event. so that was a nice visit with Matt at the microphone. two, maybe three minutes later Brett Evans called, and we had another phone/microphone conversation, this one about Frank and Brett having had an incident at a Philly bar years ago with some guy's wallet, missing wallet, and i don't remember too much, i had already had two gin and tonics, and was trying to clear my head for the rest of the evening.

Don Riggs read a wonderful poem he had written for Frank, using every form of Frank he could imagine, including Franco American Chef Boy Ardie (is that right?)

Fran Ryan and Nicole McEwan both read some pretty revealing and interesting journal entries from many years ago about when they first met Frank.

it was a great night, if you missed it, you couldn't possibly have been having NEARLY as good a time as we were.

Nicole had video taped most of the event.

i had tape recorded the event, BUT someone (thanks a lot) was trying to be nice and flipped the cassette, which had already been flipped. so, a very large chunk of the beginning of the tape was erased.

there's probably many things i'm leaving out.

lots of fun! the true spirit of community to hold us all,

Saturday, April 03, 2004


2004 marks the 125th anniversary of the end of the United States's war against the Native American people. In 1879 Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce surrendered to the forces of General Howard after a hard-fought series of battles in the Montana wilderness. The Nez Perce were just 50 miles from the Canadian border, where they had hoped to join Chief Sitting Bull and his people.

125 years later while our government extends its hand in apology, creating Native American postage stamps, etc., and the rest of America grapples with our history of genocidal holocaust, which exterminated the lives of untold millions of native people, we find ourselves in Iraq with our generals and gun power, doing our worst to subdue yet another dark-skinned race of human beings.

In another 125 years, will there be an American president who will extend a hand to the Iraqi people for the missing limbs of family trees? Will there even be an America? Will any of the world's nations of people exist?

And of course it's not just into Iraq where we've spread. American corporations have invaded Burma, Indonesia and elsewhere. What our government cannot justify to world opinion for taking care of with the US military, American business leaders hire other armies to do their brutal deeds for them.

At times it all seems utterly impossible to imagine peace, real, true, peace. The television news has opening credit theme songs sounding too much like a soundtrack to a Rambo/Stalone flick. Meanwhile the born again christians are absolutely POSITIVE it's all spinning quickly toward The Rapture. It's amazing there aren't thousands of people running out onto the streets clawing at their buttons while screaming to death. It's NOT a surprise more and more folks are finding comfort in the church.

Yet still, there must be a way to get our minds in order and to truly separate the entertainment of news from news. To put an end to the compounding cynicism which seems to dominate our country's spirit with its dark, sarcastic irony. A cold, straight look at our actions and results, minus the fucking double-talking damage control.

125 years ago an honest reporter or two let America know the true details of the campaign to wipe out Chief Joseph and his people. The American outcry (freshly tired and still mending the wounds of the Civil War) prevented Chief Joseph's death. Is it possible we can find SOME WAY of getting thru to America, the America who might be unsure, or who is for the moment buying the White House line?

It's worked before.
It's Spring after all, when everything resurrects!

"If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace. Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers."
--Chief Joseph, Washington DC, 1879

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