Wednesday, August 31, 2005
(photo of Brenda Iijima by Kerri Sonnenberg)
Welcome to issue #4 of PhillySound Feature, an occasional blog-zine which focuses on the work of a single poet. Members of our blog collective alternate editing issues and choosing poets to feature.
To read previous PhillySound features visit the zine's ARCHIVE.
Our fourth issue is dedicated to the very fine work of poet BRENDA IIJIMA.
editor of issue #4
Brenda Iijima is the author of AROUND SEA (O BOOKS, 2004) and several chapbooks, most recently, EARLY LINOLEUM (FURNITURE PRESS, 2004) and COLOR AND ITS ANTECEDENTS (YEN AGAT, 2004). ANIMATE, INANIMATE AIMS is forthcoming from LITMUS PRESS in early 2006. She runs PORTABLE PRESS AT YO-YO LABS from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn where she has lived for the last 7 years.
From ECO QUARRY BELLWETHER by Brenda Iijima
Flock of seagulls hover in the embroidered dawn
Glows the cathedral air
Peacefulness of creamy orange
Salt splashed metamorphosis snowfield
Touch approaching festivals
Two texts usher in congeniality as various specifics
Of meaning begin to meld. Essentiality becomes
Phantasmal. Infinite trajectories hone in on strings
Sublimation of mercurial zero
Tenderness tied to this immediacy
So, among the brook and hemlock outcroppings
Wildness unhindered and spiraling
Dance spur beyond an abyss of an act itself
Animal vitality freely—objects are blind effects
The sun tarnishes the feigned
Yá de l’ Un
With this message of self erasure
Determinism unraveling spool
Glued to the gap in symbolism
Architectural fetish, self combustion
Air brushed full name ozone
Other names peel their veneers
Lake's dimness loved
Wallow a nude whole
Lounge spawns trust and timber
Pardon o parcel
Expanses of sumptuous skin and brain
Slash is residual
Every covering, coating, stroke
Conversion of paper
Sight recognition flight recognition
Extraneous trajectory migratory
Song birds gave way to acid rain
Quietist of forest      quell
Under the underbrush lush spruce moss mulch
Pinecones jostle portrait
Your stones take on resemblances to magic
The paper screen is torn
Household effects enjoy flashing scenery
Bluish summit of reliability
With reference to this dragging wind
At night, difficult to know the season
So it is at the gates of hell
Giant ants pushing out
The acropolis bears the drama
So thick of itself
Then awareness of the giant condition about to seal coastal
Fate. Fishing villages dissolve into murky tumbles
Of surf. The earth raked.
Water encircled incoherently
As long as the horses survive
As long as the bamboo grove
As long as the song birds
For as long as the
Where border where speech where
Erosion, erect, erection, pinnacle
What seems to go on
As if forever
I've been happy there echolocate
Bird telling lands since the mouth was born
And shook to pieces. Treasures of light in the beak
Shimmers from cave to valley and sculptures
Theme of noise. Economic pressure. Chromium,
Expertise. Besides, these mechanisms totter
Toward night. Terra Cotta. Sepia. Red arrow on the plot
Pheromones. Grope cold clouds, carcasses
Even a horse joke. Frightening in a million bundles
Give or take. Rhythm in relation to death.
Night is anything but night. Death follows
River carries on land to another as a voice does
Another passes loosely
Questions by CAConrad
"Bike through emollients bite the thickness
In a mouth"
--Brenda Iijima, from AROUND SEA
Brenda, your book AROUND SEA has tones, not in a descriptive sense with your words, but actual ringing tones in the reading of these poems. They tone up to tune up. From my reading, your bigger message seemed to hit me at "page ninety-one". Or a new look and listen I should say at the poems as a whole. It's here you invoke The Scientific American Cyclopedia of Formulas, 1921. The process of building an actual mirror, from the silver and/or other metals, to the warning of how access to air will corrode if one process is taken over another.
The reader here is forced into the nearest bathroom to contemplate molecules and their reflections, and maybe more important is digesting the responsibility of the power of reflection in general, asking to find the break in the path behind the mirror itself. It's this page where your hawk carries us out, so to speak. Suddenly it's not so much the question about the mysteries of the world but the mysteries of our Selves which block the mysteries of the world, and, every, one, and, thing.
Asking, how could we BE HERE and not know the importance of every sustaining, living being beyond our human family? It's here that previous pages become newly seen epiphanies, like,
"And the Magellanic Clouds
NGC 598 familial extension
'cause we're so pale
half the time
elliptical cup of laughing gas"
Capricorn is the advanced Earth sign. It is the last island before air and water take the zodiac home. How do you as a Capricorn see poems as your Land, the AROUND SEA as spiritual tool for some awareness of WHO WE ARE in the race to preserve this world?
I am a Capricorn goat (goat is ascribed to the lunar year in which I was born, so I am a double goat)—a conflicted sign—because at least half of my being is given to capricious joyousness, the other is involved in diligent, goal oriented struggle. The diligent side of my being is winning over, joyously because if there are contentious struggles going on that represent crises of magnitude; it is where I want to dedicate my energies—as a poet—as a civic individual. Just this morning it was reported on the radio that the reputed Klansman accused of participation in the murder of three civil rights activists is now being retried, 40 years after these crimes was committed. Edgar Ray Killen's trial came to a false stop when a sole jury member found it impossible to find an ordained Baptist minister guilty of such a crime. It has taken Philadelphia, Mississippi this long to formulate the most remote form of justice. Destructive forces move with such velocity and almost unhindered. It is puny to announce that I want to work for the resolution of these and other such issues. Writing's capacity is immeasurable and can't be sated.
Art for art's sake is a triviality when imminent matters express duress. When I write (what's seen to be) in an experimental mode, I don't feel that language is merely servicing my ideas—these meanings, rather language is acting holistically with the world that engenders it. The writing—to be vital, fecund, generative seems to need to participate in the world, not in a vacuum governed by cleverness, superficiality and solipsism. Entropy is the culmination of such institutional verse operating on aesthetic concerns alone. The effect is to tranquilize. Poetry that pursues its own lingual bonanza as a witticism seems formulated with cynicism and embedded in a fin de siècle stance I consider gratuitous. I never feel I am writing out of or in opposition to the New York School, Language Poetry—however these modes of writing are parsed and termed, etc., rather what can be present in all classification of writing—a disregard for tangibility. I can't fault philosophy or theory on these terms, after all they are exercises in showing the tangibility of language's existence, its experience, its relationships, its connectedness being-in-the-world. Philosophy justifies this position as best as it can. Language can't fly away but it can falsify. There seems to be such a proliferation. I am interested in language that has an anticipatory quality. Otherwise it seems insidiously dead on arrival. Plastic in the undesirable sense. Equivalences are not what they seem to be!
Language can be stubborn as it advances glibly while dulling itself as it is made to express the status quo or quotient gesture that immediately separates from the individual transcribing such a statement—multiplicities and nuanced specificities get denuded. The vitality of representation gets completely stranded when it is given over to bulwark symbol and prefabricated stunts of conceptual or categorical standpoint. I am interested in perceived boundaries, thresholds, their insistences. Phases too. AROUND SEA is partially a study in how language dissipates and reactivates—psychically, physically, theoretically, etc.,—manifold potentialities encompassing and stretching outwardly toward, beyond the usual vanishing points, permeating without finality. I hope there is an expansiveness about AROUND SEA. And that it is shakable—being presently shaken. Yes, I pondered scale, proportion.
Brenda, some of how your AROUND SEA challenges reminds me of John Muir saying, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitches to everything else in the Universe." And so soon after Muir's gift to us all by helping preserve the land and trees, we are faced with our present government's total disregard of Muir's legacy. You have been doing your part in helping fight the Bush administration's allowance of commercial logging within the boundaries of the Giant Sequoia National Monument. It's almost incredible that it could even be possible that land Trusts are being breached. Please tell us about your petition to Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, and what's the progress report of stopping this madness?
In an effort to prove that there isn't consensus about the many blatantly destructive policies that are being proposed and forwarded concerning the environment I decided that I had to respond with a personal letter of plangent protest to as many issues as I possibly could—still this didn't seem enough. I came upon the idea of mass producing a personalized letter and calling it instant petitioning. I hand out letters within the various communities I belong to. The recipient of the letter need only send it in the envelope I have provided. The contact feels excellent. It is a vital exchange. On the average I am able to generate 200-1,000 letters regarding a specific issue. My goal is to concentrate on at least four pressing issues a month and to make sure that the correspondence reaches representatives who could actively address the situation at large. I am hoping that others feel renewed energy to speak out (or is it up?) and that this information gathers people with commitment to press for environmental considerations (in the very least). I am hoping that this approach curbs the sense of beleaguerment. This project has helped me become more fluent in how this government operates and I feel the functionality of the individual, so long as enough individuals aren’t acquiescing by not expressing something constructively to their elected officials. Lobbying groups that hire lawyers to challenge various dubious situations are excellent antidotes, but I do believe that individuals should also endeavor to bring concerns to the attention of their elected officials (who have office hours, email addresses and mailing addresses for precisely this interaction). The environment is a common denominator. Without its health all other concerns are moot. I am not naively excited, but I am infused with passion and increasingly more knowledgeable about the environment and what it means to protect it. It happens not to be it, rather it is us and all the myriad beings that have us as their care takers because how can an animal challenge a human. Rhetoric has no place in these letters. This is language with a motivation for survival. If you'd like a packet of the current spate of letters going out, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brenda, what was your process in writing AROUND SEA?
My initial impetus was to try to present environment without human intervention—a ponderous impossibility. I couldn't conjure landscape without the bracketing of language because of language’s formulation and construction—how it has been used to engage in the world. I wanted to see within symbols given to the land as representation, to place these recordings of setting upon, naming, coding, acquiring in contrast to land—all that is—environment—nature. To spin these systems. To match deliberation with deliberation. Each naming occasion was as much an occasion for intrusion/invasion however mild it appeared. Mostly violent and acquisition driven. Reclaim the land for the land. Acknowledging the uses of language—rhetorical forms. I set out to familiarize myself with every discovery narrative—a genre with a very pointed political goal. The double bind of exposure. And the sort of double blindness of cataloging and intellectual knowing. Fractal encounters created this conglomeration and outline with pock marked holes and other features.
What poetry are you working on now, and what can you share with us about it?
I am acclimating and regrouping (directly) after the experience of writing ECO QUARRY BELLWETHER. Presently I am in transition. Other projects continue on but having spent the better part of this year in process with ECO QUARRY BELLWETHER I guess I’ll mention a few resounding intentions I had and however much of its sense I can convey without resorting to exegesis.
The manuscript consists of four pillar-like sections buttressing a vision of sensuality and political discourse. I wanted to present a simultaneity of the political interplaying with vatic, multifarious, careening, incompressible language of the environment which is experienced sensually. A breakthrough occurred the night I was fortunate enough to hear back-to-back readings by Nicole Brossard followed by Alice Notley (at two separate venues—I dashed from one to the other by taxi, barely in time). Nicole Brossard read with complete dedication to the emotive, sensual interactive realm of the mind melded with registrations of desire manifested in feelings. This came across as daring, rare and utterly beautiful. Alice Notley read work fervently, as if she was an emissary from a camp of Trojan women, giving prophecy, warning of the ramifications actions have—fiercely, boldly, incredibly searing in her proclamations. Their voices felt very present to me while writing of this document. Waves of confidence flooded me. I realized this manifestation by ushering intermittencies, unruly variables, careening, wild, open language—as much receptivity as can be conjured. Although I feel myself to be an autonomous self, evermore, with the realities of total global environmental duress and the arising of a kind of totalitarian media domination coming out of a glutted global commerce run by a few magnates and supported by law, I feel this tumultuous unruliness in opposition to this. No way can I bar myself from this avalanche of steely power pushing for domination only to bring on more chaos. I should itemize the various degrees of this and how it is being played out—I will in a forthcoming essay! Meanwhile there is the array and disarray of words and their meanings and logic that sticks residually sometimes dubiously to semblances of words, phrases. Previous work felt like I was hovering. Now I am surging and plunging and also wrestling. But I wish I were swimming.
Brenda, if you were given the opportunity to spend an hour as a visiting poet with a group of high school kids who are interested in poetry, and you could say, ask, do nearly anything you wanted, how would you spend that hour?
Anything to avoid dogmatic recitation and boredom. Perhaps we would give the funds away (to whoever would need them) on a long walk anywhere—determined by our mutual moods. I am a proponent of a self-study regimen as far as poetry is concerned. Schooling is for those who want to be schooled—need not be the obligatory or ubiquitous way poetry methods and attitudes are acquired. We'd be very much attuned to language in all its uses. And we'd comment on what we saw and said. Sure we'd share our reverie for books. Beyond that I wouldn't plan a thing.
A few poets were asked how they feel about Brenda's poetry. This is the collection of their replies, many thanks to those who participated.
"A sentence can't handle this fall." That is Brenda Iijma's latest summary of her position, from a section of a recent manuscript entitled "Tertium Organum," after P. D. Ouspensky. "Fall" has all the mythic resonance of the Biblical story and expresses Iijima's sense that she is writing out of/to a fallen condition. But for this Wittgensteinian Steinian who inherits the German language through her family background, Fall is also the "case" that is the world of Wittgenstein's Tractatus: Die Welt is alles, was der Fall ist ("The world is everything that is the case."). Iijma's insistence that the sentence can’t handle this world points to later Wittgenstein, philosophically, and to the Objectivists, poetically. Language is inadequate to represent the world, but in poetic language we can sometimes catch the fleeting presence of the world in its music, its movement. The musical quality of Iijima's work distances it from Language poetry, ties it to a lyrical tradition with ancient roots. Its primal nature is suggested in the image of the ocean that is Iijima's image for the world that escapes the sentence: Around Sea, not About Sea, is the title of her first trade publication.
Here is a stanza from Around Sea:
A numeral like zero
holds the world up.
But water itself
goes way down, bottom
of the bowl.
The human world is upheld by signs, but signs themselves, vessels of meaning, float on "dark oceanic / doubt," as Iijima calls it in an earlier poem, "Believe" (from Person (a)). In contrast to the uplift of signs, water’s fall leads to a natural world, the world that cannot be contained in a sentence, though the impossibility of saying that uncontainment is discovered in the shape of the bowl that Iijima limns as false bottom of the abyss. We cannot read this world, but we can hear it in the depth of the vowel "o" that echoes throughout the stanza’s closing lines, in contrast to the consonant "l" that persistently marks sonic boundaries in the opening lines and at the very end of the stanza, in the "l" of "bowl." What is lost in the sentence might perhaps be recovered in sentience, if somehow we could feel the world "strange and un- / bridled" (Around Sea), not "clogged with familiarity" ("Tertium Organum"). Iijima struggles to break up the jam of log(o)s:
Register fuzz, miasma
Wobble jammed orchestration
Detonates sounds to brood and oxidize candor
Little animal hides one at a time
No, mask like motions of totality troubling game
River clogged with familiarity
River circuits, sentience, river sentience
In the mission statement for Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, Brenda Iijima describes her editorial process as, "I look for the utmost realization of the felicity of language. Urgency. Gorgeousness, lushness—most often sensuality and splendor additionally. Emotionally and politically loaded." This statement indicates the high level of pride and care Iijima takes in both the books she produces and the poems and artwork she creates. In the essay "INCLOSER," Susan Howe asks, "Does the printing [of a book] modify an author's intention, or does a text develop itself?" In Iijima's case, text and book co-develop, art melds with word, image with language, tangible with oratory.
Meredith Quartermain describes Iijima as a "master crafter of soundscapes" and recognizes that in an Iijima poem "the potentialities of language are never forgotten." I would agree with these statements and add that Iijima is also queen of turning verbal to visual. In "Viewed from the Sea," she begins "2" with the line "yielding foliage as an idea," a unique enveloping of a visual word like "foliage" with active, more cerebral definers. Foliage goes beyond visual, beyond beauty, to an active ponderance.
In Around Sea's "A Poem for the Land," Iijima writes, "Telling this/ is like being/ tied to a tree/ in the garden." In these four short lines, Iijima sets up an entire scene and then subverts it. The image of a person as tied to a tree is somewhat familiar, but the addition of the garden image alters the entire poem. It is as if each word and line break are so carefully thought out, that every syllable in these poems resonates both in the eyes and in the mind. In "2," she strings together one word stanzas of odd pairings, "Seersucker/ Briefcase/ Sacred/ Animated."
Again I am reminded of Howe's "INCLOSER," and how she writes, "every statement is a product of collective desires and divisibilites." Iijima is able to negotiate between the individual and unique and the universal. As she writes in "ECO QUARRY BELLWETHER," "Only/ Is a quantity." Or, in "Roof Garden," "The claim of this brand is to subvert us/ to ecstasy." Silliman refers to this linguistic phenomenon in these poems as "the language that follows every "unlike."' And, when a vocabulary becomes new, a reader becomes submerged. And, this immersion in a familiar reborn is one to read again and again.
Brenda Iijima's Around Sea is a poem that's a collection of numbered pieces—not to be described as a sequence, since the word "sequence" implies a transpiring in order. If one mixed up the numbered pieces composing Around Sea to read them in a different order, reading would be altered—yet the gesture of Iijima's text, or any of its parts, is not an unfolding occurring in its sequence. Neither the whole, nor a piece of it, goes forward or back, is vertical or horizontal, as movement of narration or of perception.
The words in Around Sea are locations as such, and therefore spaces, without describing any location. They are thus "unlike" something else. Apparently Iijima traveled and the text reflects her actual movement at some time, but without referencing her movements or life. The use of many gerunds creates a sense of action being only in a present continually. One piece or segment (#1 on page 23) is a collection of 'unlike this' 'unlike that,' adding "Even now" as if to say 'even at present' is unlike 'it'. Even the present is unlike the present and/or is unlike what words are, hers or any. Or: even after time has gone by, the words are unlike their objects or any memories which are their referents.
There are no thoughts or few thoughts in Around Sea, in that there being no locations, only words—the sense that words are devoid of complication by being an outside (as if words were the objects they cite, and are seen as never to be that), not reflecting the mind except as action or movement of it, but not being it—allows the mind to rest as one is reading, rest from constructing as imagining. Brenda Iijima's own mind, also, is not the subject, is noticeable only indirectly as a mind-action of play and things being placed together. For this reason, Around Sea is not only restful but there is a sense of clear sight of an aspect of an 'outside' that we cannot see in any other way. And which would change if this were 'technique' or a 'mode' that was repeated.
If a thought or feeling is arising in Around Sea it is arrived at in reading as moving through sensory as spatial juxtapositions: as in the following first eight lines of #7, in which reading what are then (after reading the third line) judged (by the reader) to be posted signs, is followed by, but simultaneous with, "mesmerized"—which is followed by, but related to, knowing (which references feelings of other people who are not either the viewer or the reader):
Mesmerized:             razorlike fencing
Magnification of the combination             look up at the sky
Through oculus slot              A lock
State penitentiary                       PANOPTICON STAR
You must know of this pent-up feeling         (#7, p. 47)
Brenda Iijima's way of making no mind imposition on occurrence, yet the occurrences having a word order (as if an occurrence is 'found'—as, what it actually is—by the line or word order, while the words are unrelated to, in the sense of do not render, describe or narrate, the occurrence) is I think akin to Larry Eigner's work, at least Around Sea is.
NATHANIEL A. SIEGEL:
If you stay over with Brenda she will make you a comfortable place to sleep. You can drift off to sleep thinking of sea shells stacked and photographed. You will want to look at everything in Brenda's home even the plaster is of interest. In the morning tea and juice and sunshine talking about let's see…the conversations are immediate fresh green ripe like vegetables please remember to eat right I am concerned about you. Brenda makes stuff the collage for a chapbook "you made that!" Her offspring take many forms take is wrong word MAKE poem MAKE reading MAKE dance MAKE vest MAKE book. Her companionship sits attentive present and restless-active- mind equal heart HER NATURE ocean rhythms HER HARK call advance in every direction connection PROTECTION ENVIRONMENT protection freedom PROTECTION OPEN SPACES and coverlets for dreams!
Friend note: this sentient sentiment is mailed post-haste time "I love Brenda in gold !"
Just a few pages into Brenda Iijima's Around Sea I knew that I was in the presence of a poet who comprehends both the luster and the multi-dimensionality of words. Iijima is a Word Worker, a facet of being a Poet that not every Poet values, or is able to so directly access. Her sonic dexterity has often been noted and extolled, but there is also a tandem graphic quality produced by her anagrammatical logic that inundates a reader's senses: cypress becomes papyrus, partaking becomes parking, gestures become lovers become flowers and sister becomes sinister. When patio becomes ratio, a shift so undemanding, yet disarming, I feel realigned with my reptilian brain. Lacking language, its impulses are instinctual and ritualistic. Iijima participates in the ritual of making a community of words that move us.
Every Word & Every Character
Was Human according to the Expansion or Contraction, the Translucence or Opakness of Nervous fibres such was the variation of Time & Space…
Rereading Around Sea caused me to reread Blake, whose lexicon has been the topic of many studies. Iijima's text, like Blake's, insists that we meet and attend to words in their vertically fathomless force field. Iijima is also a visual artist and if you are familiar with the books she makes at Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs you may wonder how she might illuminate her own texts. I'm thinking in particular of her herbaceous illustrations of Jill Magi's Cadastral Map as well as the creature quagmire enriching Roberto Harrison’s Mola.
Congratulations to you Brenda! for being a prolific writer and publisher, and bows to CAConrad for conducting these celebrations of poets.
BRENDA IIJIMA online:
from THE EASTVILLAGE.COM
listen to her read on LAVAMATIC.COM
Meredith Quartermain's review of AROUND SEA
from THE BROOKLYN RAIL
from ART IN AMERICA (with Jack Kimball)
Saturday, August 27, 2005
I have been involved with Chax Press, a literary and
book arts press, as one of its authors and an interested
friend of its various projects. I give my own time and
money to Chax Press because I care deeply about
what they do.
Currently, Chax Press is experiencing a deep and
immediate need for transitional funding. I wouldn’t ask
you to help if I did not consider it an urgent matter; you
can rest assured that your money will be well spent,
and that this press will continue to do wonderful work. I
am only asking people who I know can help, and who I
can trust with my own deep care for Chax Press. Chax
Press has been around for twenty years, and feel sure
they will be here for a good while to come.
For those twenty years, Chax Press has published
literature that crosses boundaries, holds no ground
sacred, transgresses — poetry that, as Emily Dickinson
put it, takes one’s head off. These books obliterate
distinctions between poetry and prose, language and
art, literature and life. The effort Chax has put into
support of Gil Ott's work is particularly dear to me. In
addition to their fine edition of Traffic and their part in
the tribute volume The Form of Our Uncertainty,
Charles Alexander and I will be editing a posthumous
selected writing to be published by Chax sometime in
Chax Press receives support from national and local
arts agencies, but the greatest part of its budget comes
from individual donors. I ask for your tax-deductible
donation of $30 or more, to help the press through a
time of need. I urge you to make this contribution
immediately – write a check and put it in today’s or
tomorrow’s mail, please. Charles Alexander is offering
all who help a significant discount on any of four new or
forthcoming books from Chax Press.
Thank you for helping to make words and the art made
from words matter. Please see the attached form below
for more information on new books and how you can
send a donation to Chax.
Friday, August 26, 2005
Please join us for a celebration of the life and work of Henry Flesh
Selections from the author’s works will be read by friends and colleagues
Tuesday, September 6th, at 7 pm sharp
Cooper Union Great Hall
7 East 7th Street @ Third Avenue
A reception and art show will follow at the Pink Pony café
Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side between Houston and Stanton
The above is an announcement sent to me today about the passing of Henry Flesh. I'm shocked that he's been dead since June and I had no idea. I KNOW I KNOW, the picture of him above is strange because it's out of focus, but it's perfect. At least I think so, like, his molecules are going-coming-leaving-starting all over. Flesh, flesh doing a step to the left. Oh boy.
Anyway, wow! I'm sad about this. The first time I met him was at a reading and book signing he did in Philadelphia for his book MASSAGE. Novels don't interest me too much, but his reading was powerful, a sort of sexy brutality. Not brutal in that Dennis Cooper-let's-kill-them-THEN-fuck-them kind of way, but human, very human. Like he was saying This Is Who You Could Be kind of brutal, all of you, all of us. He had the We down in the story, if that makes sense.
The next time I saw him was at a reading I gave in New York, and we were suddenly SHY around one another. He knew that I knew that he knew that I knew how we felt, how I felt that we felt. He was the Elvis of super nerds to me, and I was ridiculous around him. But he liked that, and I liked that he liked that. We just liked it dammit!
When he first heard that Soft Skull was publishing a book of mine he said we should read together, and that made me very happy. Funny because I've never been happy before about the idea of reading with a novelist. But it was him, Mr. Flesh. Hehehe, when I would e-mail him back in the days of working at Giovanni's Room I'd always call him Mr. Flesh! It just sounded so cool, where saying Henry or Henry Flesh, well, you get the idea. Mr. Flesh! You are so damned cool Mr. Flesh!
But then we fell out of touch. And the next time I saw him was at a reading in New York for Eileen Myles's book of poems SKIES. She had done this interesting thing where she asked others to come and read from the book for her. So a bunch of us were there. I arrived with Hassen (Hassen you must remember this). Henry told me he was reading the poem "Bone" and I said, "Great, we can both read it." He wasn't sure if he should read it if I too was interested in reading it, but I insisted we both read it. I mean, WHY NOT give a poem two different readings, especially if it's a beautiful poem. No one writes breakup poems like Eileen Myles, and "Bone" is a beaut! Wow, I remember just HOW different the readings of that poem were too, because he really emphasized the break of the breakup, and I was sucked into the love surrounding it. For me it was the What of the roses of it.
each lack each pit
of the rain slowing down outside
reminds me of your missing
warmth, your regularity.
I hated living with you
I had enough
I know you hate me for
having said it with Roses
--from "Bone" by Eileen Myles
That was the last time I saw Mr. Flesh. He hugged me goodbye and I was kind of jelly, stupid, in fact I giggled and it didn't seem to matter because it made him smile. That's nice, his smile the last thing I saw of him.
Anyway, he was a sweet, beautiful, sexy man, and I'm sorry I didn't spend more time with him like we said we would. Life is so fucking short. It's times like this, when you have someone in your mind, someone you liked being around, someone you were even attracted to, and you find out they've died -- well, you know where I'm going with this. It's got to be something that you keep in mind, death, to keep the living moments more alive!
Dear Mr. Flesh,
keep the burn alive for the next incarnation,
yeah, see you then, I'm looking forward to it,
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
(w/ "...it's Saturday/which stands for all Saturdays/a song is a drug you tell yourself you need
till need takes over and you really do")
(BTW, i miss you around here, ethel, if you read this)
finally tapped into our neighborhood blog because i wanted to mention bird if another hasn't already.
jared my bird/boy, who's now snug in boulder not phila had, when home, splurged and bought andrew bird's *the mysterious production of eggs* as well as *weather systems* - something we (j & i) heard him (a.b.) do live at the tin angel on 2nd st a couple years ago & which was so astounding and intimate almost as if it didn't divinely happen at all - but back to "...eggs" - i don't know maybe a.b. is well known among us but in case not if there's anyone you listen to this season or year let it be him because the stuff's far too delicious if not life-changing to not partake. so much so that i've kept close - even still almost prefer to keep it to myself or mention him sparingly i guess because you know what happens when. &/but i felt bad for him & gang a moment when he came to town back oh what maybe 8 yrs when i was one of maybe a dozen who showed up for The Bowl of Fire show. didn't seem to phase a.b. who put on perhaps the best smoking violin & tragic shadow not to mention the spine tingling compositional performance i've ever seen. maybe i cried for joy
philadelphia is a rough town, no doubt and that's consensus among all influx handsdown. certain poets and some boheme aside & possibly their exceptional exception(s) are directly resulting from the former. diamonds, blues, that sort of thing. philly? salt/vinegar potato chips.
& i adore joe massey but the New Sincerity Manifesto is maybe a tad ironic don't you think she sez not to invalidate but applaud such postmodern delight & i can say that now without cringing maybe as a challenge but that's ...
wow, look what happens when i think i can sleep in the next day i get all wound up at eleven or whatever it is.
how come nobody's writing/talking about
-gaza? i'd like the egyptians to come here tonight & guard the crazy camden border two houses down
-or russian oil? i just don't have time, otherwise...
An excerpt: Jonathan writes:
“Childhood is not merely basic training for utilitarian adulthood. It should have some claims upon our mercy, not for its future value to the economic interests of competitive societies but for its present value as a perishable piece of life itself.
“Very few people who are not involved with inner-city schools have any real idea of the extremes to which the mercantile distortion of the purposes and character of education have been taken or how unabashedly proponents of these practices are willing to defend them. The head of a Chicago school, for instance, who was criticized by some for emphasizing rote instruction that, his critics said, was turning children into ‘robots,’ found no reason to dispute the charge. ‘Did you ever stop to think that these robots will never burglarize your home?’ he asked, and ‘will never snatch your pocketbooks....[sic] These robots are going to be producing taxes.”
And how does the mercantile school prepare its students against becoming cogs on the labor end of gross capitalism? Jonathan writes:
“In all the various business-driven inner-city classrooms I have observed in the past five years, plastered as they are with corporation brand names and managerial vocabularies, I have yet to see the two words ‘labor unions.’ Is this an oversight? How is that possible?”
Monday, August 22, 2005
Kevin Killian sent me the link to his latest article, which you will enjoy reading as much as I did, trust me! It's a short, but very fun trip reading this!
One of the reasons he sent it to me is because he KNOWS how excited I would be to see him mentioning the ELVIS / SATANA connection!
NO ONE EVER mentions the ELVIS / SATANA connection! Ah, but Kevin Killian does!
Reading his account of going to see her in San Francisco at a recent screening of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! made me think how, when you fall in love with Elvis, you also love (and are simultaneously jealous of) Tura Satana.
Busy thinking about WHERE the snapshots are of my Satana drag from one Halloween,
P.S. IN A JUST WORLD TURA SATANA WOULD KICK PAT ROBERTSON'S ASS FOR WHAT HE JUST SAID ABOUT DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ!!!!!!!
In the post-clip commentary, an utterly frustrated Pat Robertson said "I'm not sure about this doctrine of assasination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it,"
- Frank Sherlock
- Frank Sherlock
Saturday, August 20, 2005
--a "journalist" from The New York Times
I'm not quoting the "journalist" above to argue her point, which, let me tell you, I could go on for hours telling you just HOW wrong she is! (Ah! I almost wish I hadn't used her quote here, it's painful to look at!)
But the fact is she's talking about the very time I arrived in Philadelphia. Next year it will be 20 years. And Philadelphia was FILLED with artists, jazz, poets, sculptors, let's just say it was wall-to-wall amazement!
You've probably heard others (maybe yourself) say When I Win The Lottery I'm Going To.... Well, I do play the lottery (as faithfully as the next member of my family), and when I win The Big ONE, one of the first things I intend to do is to buy several brownstones downtown and rent the apartments to poor, working class kids for $200/month.
When I first moved to Philadelphia in 1986 my first apartment was on Juniper Street in a converted hotel called The Imperial. I was in apartment 501, and various boyfriends, etc., would always make comments about the blue jeans popular back then. But my rent was only $210 a month, which afforded me the opportunity to have a job that didn't kill me, and I'd come home, write/write/write, then go out with friends.
That time was crucial to my development when I look back on it. Especially going out to see friends. There used to be a bar at the corner of Juniper and South called The Bacchanal, WHAT an amazing place! In fact, I'll just say that I still have yet to find a place in Philly or New York for that matter, with that much going on. Artists of all kinds, philosophers, poets yelling at one another, and so much to listen to and learn. It's where I first met Gil Ott. It's also where I first met my boyfriend Angel, who was standing very still at the time while a young woman wrapped his naked body in plaster strips for a sculpture.
This is not going to turn into a long trip down memory lane, I'm just trying to point out that the affordability of the city back then allowed me to be part of it, coming from a poor family in the middle of the rural routes of Pennsylvania. And it was luck that I could afford it, being it was the time that it was.
There are a few people I work with today who came to Philadelphia for the very same things I came for, but I'm sad to say they can't get it. Not that it's not there for them, but that they literally canNOT get it because they're working three jobs JUST to pay the rent. They're the exhausted poor.
That very same $210 a month apartment I mentioned earlier is now $850. That's MADNESS!
It's fine for youth with money already in hand, they don't have these problems of course. But who knows how much genius is being wasted on greedy landlords.
Let me say that my friend Nicole McEwan is a landlord who goes out of her way to make space affordable for artists, and in fact encourages artists to take up residence with her. It makes me happy to know she's there, and that there must be others like her.
Recently I was telling a friend about my plan to buy brownstones when I win it BIG, and she said that I should just let them live there for free. To be honest, it helped having some kind of job, but like I said, not a job that was going to drain me of my spirit. And hey, $200 a month is pretty fucking okay. And will free up lots and lots of time to write, or paint, or whatever they need to be doing. (Besides, I've already decided that the $200 includes all utilities)
Instead of hating the rich --something I spend too much time doing as it is-- I want to talk out loud about my plans for winning the lottery. NOT just because I believe I'm going to win it, but also to maybe encourage those who already have money to see what NEEDS to be done to give time and space for those less fortunate who want to develop talents we all need in this world. We really do NEED everyone's creative potential right now.
If this world is going to change for the better it can only be done with a creative collective. And frankly, we NEED poor kids in there making art with everyone else, because we NEED those who are going to help keep a different focus on the world for everyone. Diversity in class as much as race, as much as anything else.
Friday, August 19, 2005
You say, "I meant no harm to Philadelphia, nor no NYC proselytizing. I thought that that was clear." Well, I'll take your word for it, since you've given me your word here. However I've got to say No, it wasn't clear. In fact, I'm confused how you could ever think it was clear, but that's the way it played out.
I thought I was pretty clearly PISSED OFF about this article. And that it was printed in The New York Times, NOT some weekly rag, but one of THE most respected newspapers in the world. This "journalist" is lying and slandering end-to-end, (racist, classist, all-around the type of elitist scum I despise!) and I'm trying to grapple with it, then YOU come along with your comments which, NO, were not clear, now that you say you meant no harm.
To me you weren't set up for dialogue, in fact, to me you were agreeing with the "journalist" (I'm not even interested in writing her name, she deserves NO publicity!). Most especially with your "Oh come on." When someone BEGINS a statement with "Oh come on," it generally means that they think the person in question is ridiculous. And frankly there was nothing ridiculous with my signing off NOT A NEW YORKER, considering the lies she told of Philadelphians walking around saying we're the 6th borough of New York!
I'd rather you insult me before the city. This of course is not to say that the city doesn't have its faults, problems, horrors even. But let's agree that insulting the city is not the same as talking about its faults. Insulting Philadelphia is like insulting my mother. And to be honest, I'd rather you insult my mother before Philadelphia!
Later you say, "I thought this strand was funny, but I see now that you don't think it so funny." Okay, I'll take your word for it, but let me say a couple of things about this.
One, you didn't appear to think it was funny, but you say so, so I'll take your word for it.
Two, you say "I see now that you don't think it so funny," which, again, I'll take your word for it, but it's surprising, considering that I've been DEAD SERIOUS about this from the start. For instance, the title of my original post read, "This argument about Philly vs. New York upsets me because of the obvious yet ignored class issues involved." The key words being "upsets me" and I'm NOT in the habit of saying something "upsets me" if it doesn't (for future reference).
Where I really take issue with your last post however is you saying, "To argue merits and demerits is fine. On the other hand, I'm not going to be alligatored into some inarguable muck at pond bottom." There's no way I'll take your word for this! This is bullshit!
It's ironic that you suddenly want me to take your feelings into consideration when you were so incapable of reading anything I had said in order to understand where my feelings are.
One more thing, so what's up with Simeon, Levi and Jacob? Jacob being murdered by Simeon and Levi, right?
A celebration of 150 years of
Leaves of Grass
12th Street and Broadway
Thursday, August 25 at 6:30 p.m.
Poets gather for a tribute to Walt Whitman on the 150th Anniversary of the publication of Leaves Of Grass.
Moderated by Frederic Tuten, the author of Tin Tin in the New World, this night of poetry, feasting, and libation will be a French-American homage to the great American poet. In acknowledgment of the importance of Whitman among contemporary French writers, biographer and memoirist of the recently published Them, Francine du Plessix Gray will read the poems in French.
The poets who are reading—Macgregor Card, Tom Devaney, Marcella Durand, Chris Edgar, Peter Gizzi, Robert Kelly, Lisa Llubasch, Joan Retallack, Lytle Shaw, Elizabeth Willis, and artist Trevor Winkfield—will be available to sign their books.
Walt Whitman hom(m)age 2005/1855 was published jointly by Turtle Point Press in New York and Joca Seria in Nantes.
I meant no harm to Philadelphia, nor no NYC proselyting. I thought that that was clear. To argue merits and demerits is fine. On the other hand, I'm not going to be alligatored into some inarguable muck at pond bottom. I thought this strand was funny, but I see now that you don't think it so funny. So I'm going to bow out before I raise more hackles.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
The notion that a city should surrender its identity once it's been "discovered" by priveleged hipsters is disgusting. I have NEVER EVER heard a Philadelphian refer to her or his city as "the sixth borough". But what do you expect from a journalist whose weekly gossip article is fueled by snarky put-downs?
The story behind the story is New Yorkers running away from themselves. The reason settlers need a "new Brooklyn" is because these same people plundered the old Brooklyn, leaving chain stores, mediocrity & skyrocketing rents in their wake. Developer Bart Blatstein is despised in Northern Liberties. People like him don't make vibrant neighborhoods, they "develop", then destroy them. The same people who want to keep their 718 area code in Philly wanted to hang on to their 212 when they first moved to Brooklyn. Go figure.
I welcome my NYC sisters & brothers to Philadelphia. Just leave the NY Times delusions of annexation on the Chinatown bus. Embrace the 215. Stay (even on the weekends). Know the city. Become the city. Love Philly. Hate Philly. Be Philly.
- Frank Sherlock
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
are you actually attempting to get me to agree to some notion that New York is better? Or that it's okay for the Times to casually comment on New York consuming the Philadelphia borders, not to mention the boarders who are increasingly broke from rent escalation due to the wealthier influx?
Or worse, that it's okay for the "journalist" to write such bullshit as, "All of which has collided with a peculiar cultural moment in which uncool is the new cool, in which blue-collar scrappiness and a surfeit of fried-meat specialties now seems endearingly kitschy."
This above quote of course needs to be examined because she's admitting that she and what she considers her New York Kind I suppose, have more money, more class. And of course the article was so wrong in many different ways about the SUDDEN art scene blooming, I mean, what a fucking joke! She obviously hasn't been aware of the oodles and oodles of artists, writers, poets, not to mention the enormous number of jazz musicians. She only mentions the Philadelphia orchestra, but that's NOTHING compared to the jazz in this town.
It reminds me of the arrival of that fucking poet from NY (what's his name?) something O'Neal or something? He ran the "big" poetry events at the Painted Bride, and he literally said "There was no poetry in Philadelphia before I arrived!" Huh? What an ass. I remember laughing with Gil Ott about that one! It's one of the few times I ever heard Gil Ott call someone an asshole.
I'm aware that the tricky part of this argument on my end is to NOT appear as if I'm bashing New York. Because I'm really not, nor do I want to bash New York. I have a lot of good friends up there and the city is great for a million reasons, it is, and I know it, I know it already okay?
But while I am NOT bashing New York, you Will ARE bashing Philadelphia.
You do realize that, don't you?
Let me ask you Will, seriously, and directly, is it really NOT okay with you that I love, FUCKING LOVE this city!? Your argument swings in the direction of, OH C'MON, HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY!?
Well, frankly Will I truly LOVE this city! And if I loved it anymore I'd be arrested for indecent exposure!
You may slather all the reasons you want onto this discussion as to WHY I'm just not seeing The Truth, but it won't change me a bit.
I've loved more people in many different ways in this city than I have anywhere else on this planet because it speaks to me with all that language Love speaks with.
Next year will mark my half life here, meaning I will have spent half my life here.
Will, you can share all the ideas you want, disagree with me, hate me for all I care, but don't try to corner me into some bullshit idea that I've misplaced my Love for half my life. No way.
This city's in my dreams when I sleep and I don't just mean the streets I walk. There have been nights where a color pattern impossible to explain breaks loose and trees and sidewalks and everything bursts into light and converses. It's a dream where I can feel and see all the different incarnations, also meaning long before the city was a city and it was streams of water and moss and rocks and squirrels and deer and lion.
One of those dreams wound up in that chapbook Frank Sherlock and I wrote, where I'm in the dream, standing on a corner and can actually see where a field of buttercups once grew. Where a thicket of berries sheltered rabbits. It's an amazing dream, and the next morning, in the waking world, I bought chalk, and I went to those spots from the dream and I wrote on the sidewalk, "cantaloupe ghost" etc., where the world was when it was in my dream.
Just because you can't hear the Love doesn't mean the rest of us are deaf.
Listen, I'm very serious about this, DON'T SHIT ON MY LOVE! I don't care if you disagree with my opinions, but LOVE is not an opinion, ever.
I feel like we're brothers and you're trying to convince me our mother is a whore! And even if she is a whore, I Love her anyway!
But I always feel like a Philadelphian,
an intestinal expatriate.
NOT a New Yorker,
p.s. I don't know the rattlesnake museum. How could I have missed that? There is a lot of really great art there, and beautiful shrines. And this sounds silly, but it's true, the guacamole is a religious experience, and I mean it. No where else do you feel guacamole enter your body like that.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
In support of Angry Mothers everywhere,
This argument about Philly vs. New York upsets me because of the obvious yet ignored class issues involved.
Jason apologized for her, then we started a conversation about the snobbishness and where that comes from. He said, "Well, you have to admit, Philly people do feel they're living in the shadow of New York." I about choked on my drink, "Actually, none of my friends feel that way. We don't walk about thinking, Oh it's a lovely day, Oh but it's just the shadows we're walking in, Oh it's not really Philadelphia!"
See, this is the kind of thing that pisses some New Yorkers off because they don't understand that I don't HATE New York, in fact I LOVE New York. It's a great place! It's just that I LOVE Philadelphia, and it's Philadelphia, not New York. Do you fucking understand this? I'm not hating New York here, I'm just saying that I don't WISH I lived there. I very much like living in Philadelphia.
The only time I ever hear people in Philadelphia pine over New York like they're the poor orphan cousins is in neighborhoods like Rittenhouse Square, where I work. But then again, I've seen these people cream their pants if someone nearby is speaking French, or with a British accent. They really do go out of their way to make it clear they feel Philadelphia is inferior, but I believe this is actually their way of proving to be superior to the heart and bulk of the city, which they fear and loathe.
This is a working class town, and folks in Rittenhouse and Society Hill know it and are clearly ashamed of it! When I was working at Metropolitan Bakery just before the 2000 Republican Convention (I'll ALWAYS remember this!), the city was cleaning up the streets and planting fabulous trees and plants and it did look beautiful! But I'll always remember this pack of lawyers who live in Rittenhouse, coming into the bakery, and the one guy, the one with the biggest, stupid voice, said, "The city looks GREAT! My only question is, WHAT are they going to do with the scabby people in South Philly, maybe ask them to go to Atlantic City until the convention's over!?" They all cracked up. They just loved themselves. Yeah, what a bunch of wonderful, loving human beings. WHAT A BUNCH OF SCUMBAGS!
To be honest with you the New Yorkers who are moving down here are not all that kind either. First of all, they always seem to go out of their way to make it CLEAR they are from there. Okay, got it, you're from THERE. Recently a young woman said, "I don't LIVE here! I live in New York!" And I said, "Oh, but you said you're phone number is 215?" "I'm just going to school at Penn." And I said, "Well, BEING somewhere for four years might be considered LIVING there!" She sneered and said, "OH I GUESS SO!"
Some days my irritation runs dangerously close to exploding all over the place!
Class geography politics is both fascinating and irritating to me. I experienced it all the time when I lived in Albuquerque, which is 45 minutes from Sante Fe. I worked near the airport at Alamo Car Rental doing security checks on cars (probably the worst job of my life in my little aluminum booth with the tiny fan in the middle of the fucking New Mexico sun), and there were always these fancy assholes from LA who would make comments like, "OH, let's put the peddle to the metal and get out of THIS town!" They were always headed for Sante Fe of course. Albuquerque was the working class town. It became a routine conversation, someone would say how hungry they were, and I'd suggest a place nearby, and they'd say, "WHAT!? OH NO! That's okay, we can WAIT until we get to Sante Fe!" People acted like Albuquerque was filled with the plague, they really hated the place, and I bet they never really spent time there. Granted, I didn't enjoy living in New Mexico, but I have to say I preferred Albuquerque. Sante Fe had the most extreme case of rich and poor I had ever encountered, and the rich people were so racist it freaked me out. The same company I worked security for at Alamo had me work a couple of weeks at a museum in Sante Fe, and the fucking rich people there would always make the most outrageously racist remarks about Mexicans and say, "YOU KNOW what I mean!"
Anyway, I could go on, but I'm not going to,
it's too Goddamned depressing,
Monday, August 15, 2005
Here is the link:
It's a mostly positive article about how some New Yorkers are moving to Philadelphia.
However, the writer, Jessica Pressler begins by going to see what "a real Philly apartment looks like" -- it's a "spacious" one bedroom apartment that supposed to be $800 in a brownstone "on" Rittenhouse Square. The problem is that there are no brownstones directly on Rittenhouse Square. And if there were, the $800 bucks rent would not reflect the prices of what you're going to get for that there. The rest of the article, the focus is on the not-so-close-to-Rhittenhouse Square neighborhood of Fishtown.
Then there is this item: "Philadelphians occasionally refer to their city - somewhat deprecatingly - as the "sixth borough" of New York," -- SAY WHAT? -- I've never, not once heard anyone call Philadelphia -- and I've heard called nearly everything -- but the "sixth borough" of New York."
Thanks for the props, but get the facts straight.
The link for the website movetophilly is also slightly strange (besides an email link for a tour) since it doesn't seem to go anywhere: http://movetophilly.com/ -- maybe it was just when I was trying it.
I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least; Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Present in the audience at this morning's concert was Celeste Zappala, the mother of Army Sgt. Sherwood Baker, who was the first Pennsylvania National Guardsman killed in Iraq, and also the first Pennsylvania Guardsman to have died in combat since 1945.
Celeste had just come back from (literally just come back from) Crawford, Texas, where she had been camping and protesting with Cindy Sheehan and 500 others outside President Bush's ranch. It is exciting to hear that the 500 others are not only other parents of children who have died in Iraq, but also active duty service men and women who came to camp with Cindy Sheehan and support her protest while on their two week leave.
If you're interested, this Wednesday night at 7:30 pm, Celeste Zapala will be giving a talk about Cindy Sheehan, and leading a vigil in support of her efforts at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown. The location of the church is 6023 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia. It's easy to get to, check out SEPTA's website for details.
Read Celeste Zappala's article "The Problem With Karl Rove's Phone" on Michael Moore's webpage.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
The interesting thing for me is not that Whitman wrote this about himself, what's really interesting, is that so many future critics and readers have agreed with Whitman's own assement of his work.
Here is a section from my poem "The Car, a Window, and WWII" --
The experimental film Walt Whitman Nurse and Poet,
it's not bad; we enjoyed the catalogue of birds.
The dull and unmusical notes of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo,
like the cow, cow of a young bull-frog repeated eight or ten times
with increasing rapidity.
The way sounds become words, and words
can store their sounds, and return back to Sound.
As we learned, some of the birdcalls and songs were recreated
from written descriptions.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
We're in the midst of bringing ixnay press back to life - first up, in the very near future, will be the second installment of the ixnay reader. Shortly after that, there might be a perfect-bound book, and we're going to try to assemble pdf files of the ixnay press back catalog for web distribution as well. As part of the revamp, I've set up a new blog that'll house the details regarding future projects. In the spirit of the original poppycock newsletter, I'll also post reviews and interviews there on a semi-regular basis. Any time something new hits, I'll be sure to post a quick link here on PhillySound so you know to hop over there for more info.
dark horses the cartoon
I have no idea who put this blog together. Nor do I care to name him/her. There has never been a limit to the amount of fame one can win from frisson.
for the dangers of video games, read:
man dies after video game
The writer referred to in the Jim Behrle/Kent Johnson blog war as "some Bosnian dude" is the incredible poet, Semezdin Mehmedinovic. Sarajevo Blues and Nine Alexandrias are available from City Lights Books. Here's a Mehmedinovic sampler:
not before you have coffee
at the train station;
the dispatcher tapping the wheels
of the locomotive with a hammer;
the paper tucked under your arm--
leaving the city in peace--
you'll never be true to yourself anywhere
unless your very life is the only truth
unless the empty air calls itself freedom--
unless you're a deserter
with an uneasy conscience
unless you're Billy the Kid
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Jonathan Skinner will be at Temple University this year conducting a juicy, interdisciplinary seminar he calls "Imagining Open Spaces." He's also looking for a place to live in Philly until May. If you have any rental offers/propositions, please email me at: email@example.com.
Jonathan also edits Ecopoetics -one of the most interesting litjournals around. You can download the first three issues for free.
Here's the course description for "Imagining Open Spaces":
Led by 2005-2006 External Fellow Jonathan Skinner
Sponsored by the Temple Society of Fellows in the Humanities
This interdisciplinary seminar explores the history, ecology, sociology, politics and aesthetics of green open space in North American cities, focusing on the case study of Philadelphia’s own Fairmount Park, which was partly developed from plans by perhaps the most notable landscape architecture firm in the history of urban planning. The legacy of Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s firm is a core object of this course. We will study the landscape aesthetics behind Olmsted’s designs, considering class and race in relation to his hygienic agenda and his attraction to “Southern” landscapes, as well as the catalytic role Olmsted’s parks would play in the mid twentieth-century civil rights movement. We will also look at the poetry of open spaces—Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” the “Sunday in the Park” section of William Carlos Williams’s Paterson; the on-foot, projective geographies of Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems; Ian Hamilton Finlay’s polemical poetry garden, Little Sparta; Cole Swensen’s park and garden writings—and at the interventions of contemporary artists and composers: Robert Smithson’s land art; Cecilia Vicuna’s ephemeral street installations; Hildegard Westerkamp’s soundscape compositions; Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s “maintenance art.” Concepts from ecology and sociology will help ground our discussion in bioregional and demographic contexts, as we survey some of the discourse around urban landscaping: including writings on urbanism, situationist theories of walking, postmodern philosophies of space and notable contemporary landscape constructions, such as the Freshkills Lifescape project on Staten Island. The seminar involves discussion, lectures, field trips, a screening and a guest speaker or two, and demands active participation: students will be asked to pursue a project, involving onsite investigation, that essays a creative and/or critical intervention in spaces at once social and natural.
This first one is only for those of you who were in a creative writing program. How do you feel about creative writing programs and competition? How was the competitive atmosphere? Was this atmosphere mostly student directed, or from professors? In the end, do you feel this competition moved you and your poetry forward? Or maybe that it kept you back in some way?
How do we all feel about Walt Whitman writing reviews of Leaves of Grass under various pseudonyms? This was something I didn't know about until one of my visits to the Whitman house in Camden, when a young history student was the curator. He showed us pictures of what a mess Whitman's room had been at the time of his death with trash to the knees. In that trash is where they found drafts of his reviews of his work.
But is it unethical to write glowing reviews for yourself? What are your feelings?
BELOW ARE SOME RESPONSES:
Here is poem. Describe poem. Does poem feel "earned"? What are "formal characteristic" of poem? Is A) lyrical, B) narrative, C) meditative, or D) rhetorical? Because those only options for what poem can be. Is better than last poem? If not, Tarzan think student slipping. Write down suggestion for poet, and now Tarzan proceed to "fix mistakes" in poem. Does poem feel "welcoming to Tarzan reader"? Tarzan personally think "loaded gun" is mistake -- poet should change to "fluffy bunny rabbit" to not intimidate Tarzan. That cheap move. Describe "music of poem" – do poem voice sound "flat" here? Do poem show "Tarzan mind at work"? In order to "fix," poet need make exactly like ideal poem which Tarzan have in mind but which he never reveal. Student keep until get right. Other student here write more close to Tarzan ideal poem, so Tarzan make jealous by give other student all Tarzan praise and attention!!! Tarzan bet student feel shitty now, right? Tarzan know how to write Tarzan poem, student not allowed artist. Student apprentice, Tarzan train student write poem like Tarzan write. Have read all book on Tarzan syllabus composed entirely of book written by friend of Tarzan? Good, if student write like friend of Tarzan book student soon publish by Copper Canyon Press no time! But wait! Tarzan no got to best part, which mean REVISION! Ah, yes, revision. Do student know Louis Gluck make over FORTY DRAFT of single poem, and over half of draft just CHANGE SEMICOLON? Do student know that most "serious poet" do nothing than sit at desk and REVISE POEM ALL DAY LONG? Because Tarzan poem "never finished"! Tarzan teach strive toward make "perfect" curious “inwrought Tarzan thing” which ideal form and which also Stand Up To Test Of Time, because Tarzan poet not live in this world. Nosirree, live in next. Ugh.
I started college (Columbia College, Chicago) when I was 17, and my
first poetry teacher, Paul Hoover, was amazing in the way he framed the
competition issue within a serious career context. I wasn't in a
"program" per se (this was in 1978, before the MFA era) but I did take
many, many workshops and lit classes with him, and he pretty much
introduced me (and others: Kim Lyons, Connie Deanovich, Elaine Equi) to
the Chi literary scene, such as it was then: post-Berrigan and Notley
(they'd live in Chi for awhile and pollinated), post-Yellow Press. His
take on competition was sort of like, it's there, you can't get away
from it, but be prepared, and find some positive way to deal with it.
So, from 17 on I pretty much understood the dynamics. That doesn't
mean I was any good at competing (I wasn't and I'm still not,
unfortunately), but at least I was prepared for it even back then.
When I did get into an MFA program, it was at Brooklyn College, and
Ginsberg was my teacher. Now, for better or worse, he was all about
the work, and the issue of competition was not something he wanted to
deal with, although he was always helpful with career stuff like
recommendations, introductions, etc. And -- for better or worse -- he
was one of the most magnanimous, generous people I've ever dealt with
within any poetry scene. (Why "worse"? Because one could always talk
to him, and now he's not around.) He once called me at my boyfriend's
house at 11 in the morning on a Sunday (after calling my apartment
first and asking my roommate whether she thought it was okay to call at
the other place) to ask if he'd already done a recommendation for me
because he woke up worried that he'd forgotten to do it. He once said
to me, "You got some information, why not share it?" While that may
prepare for you for your karmic errand, it doesn't quite translate into
advice on career moves. However, I can only hope their examples
translate into generosity that I can extend to my own students. I
really try to pass that on whenever I can.
My Columbia experience was about cultivating talent and finding a place
in a literary scene. There were students there who, like me, were
interested in writing as a career, and we worked/drank/ slept together
and then bitterly resented each other forever after. But we were all
writing pretty good poetry for people in their teens and early
twenties, and I think **that** aspect is competition at its best.
(And also "academic poetry" was a different animal in 1978.) The
Brooklyn experience (1988-1990) was not about competition because most
of the people in my class had never even been published. I was quite
appalled to discover that. I had been published (in Maureen Owen's
TELEPHONE) at 18, had edited a couple of Chi lit mags (B City and
letter eX) by the time I was 23, and then there I was at 27 with people
who'd never even sent out a poem (tho I know that isn't the case there
now). So I just sort of put my energy into spending as much time as I
could with Allen and learning certain things from him.
About competition: when funnelled into the energy that makes you write
better and better work because your friends/colleagues are really
producing, it's great; when funnelled into the energy that makes you
boring because you're all worried about getting a job, it's fucking
I love it. I totally agree with what Holman said. In fact, I'm gonna
do a few myself. Right now. So look for reviews of my new book by the
eminent critic Norah S. Remsem.
I wasn't in an MFA and/or creative writing program. But I can't imagine that I would like to be in a competative atmosphere. I now teach in an MFA. I don't really see much competition; it seems to me as if everyone gets along fine. But I might just not be able to see it. Sometimes the poets and the fiction writers seem to get in little fights. Or say they can't understand each other. Or complain about who gets more of what, when. Once I gave an assignment where everyone had to fill out one of those Duncan influence charts and then discuss it for the first class and I inadvertantly created a huge name dropping session and some people in the class freaked out and I had some visits to my office that week.
It is cute. Although the idea of dying with papers to the knees makes me scared.
For the Whitman, I share pretty much your take.... I find it amusing: "I Write of Myself" - who better?. With contemporary sophistication though I'm sure he would have written first an essay attacking his work, and THEN one praising it, under two pseudonyms. As I remember, the novelist Anthony Burgess did something similar back in the sixties. Yes, I find it:
Burgess was the maiden name of John Wilson's mother. He also used the pseudonym Joseph Kell and once reviewed Kell's novel INSIDE MR ENDERBY (1963) for the Yorkshire Post; when the editor sent him the author's novel - Burgess thought it was a practical joke but it wasn't. Burgess himself wrote letters to the editor of the Daily Mail as Mohamed Ali, an outraged Pakistani moralist.
I imagine those who object would be mostly critics whose self-importance blinds them to the walls of the teacup.
There were no Creative Writing programs when I was young. I can only comment from the experience of having "taught" briefly in several MFA programs over the decades. From my point of view there was no possibility of "teaching" creative writing. The writers in each group were obvious, and the smarter of them were simply using the time to write. I did find it useful to expose them all to as wide a range of writing as I could... on several occasions the work of an until then unknown to them poet was a trigger. I tried not to create clones of myself and my tastes, and when talking about their own work concentrated on what (sometimes only a few words in a long piece) I found interesting rather than the surrounding reams of dross. My sense is that I didn't do too much harm, many of them continued to write, then to publish. Some of them became good friends. But in all instances I heard horror stories from students, of other, or previous, experiences in programs.
I didn't go through the education system myself. I went to work at 16. So I do appreciate the need for time. But I can't say I write more since I have that time. My first book was written, on scraps of paper, on bus tickets, wherever I could, while working full time and running a small press in my spare time. But then cliché'd everyone is clichéd different: that's what makes it interesting.
I think WW is all-around fabulous and I love that he published himself and promoted himself. His was the best brand of boldness--he didn't elevate himself over others, he raised all to the same stellar heaven-toppling level. These days we suffer from so many silly attitudes about publishing and legitimacy and all of that. People tend to forget that the "publishing industry" is new fangled, relatively speaking. So many of the writers we admire "privately printed" their own work and published themselves and their friends, and like Walt, did their own publicity too. And aren't we glad they did? Because the legitimacy any writer possesses originates from her writing, not the circumstances surrounding its publication. You know? And damn it, somebody has to be your champion. Personally I have no problem saying that I like my own poems and that I want lots of people to read them. I did write them for you, after all. What Would Walt Whitman Do could be a very electrifying mantra for many younger poets intimidated by what they perceive to be seemly poetic behavior, particularly since it requires them to tamp down their own enthusiasm for...well...themselves. No fun.
Anyway, take care...
I teach at Columbia, where I went to school (undergrad – my only formal degree), so I am in that most wonderful position of becoming the person I used to laugh at. As Milosz says, “The man I used to be no longer embarrasses me.” I am astonished at how the world turns ferriswheelishly: I was at Bard teaching undergrad Poetry Performance when I started the Bowery Poetry Club, but Bard had no interest in Club-Academy synergy. Columbia did, so here I happily am. “Exploding Text: Poetry Performance” is offered by the MFA Writing Program– that’s anti-competition, right, a Performance course in a Writing setting? I thank Alan Ziegler, head of the department, for having the vision, and my coworkers for okaying it. The course is all about collaboration, uncovering new inspirations via others and their art and their approach to art. Coco Fusco teaches Performance as part of the Visual Art Dept, and I talk poetry film with the Film Department, but for Writing I’m the guy who critiques the students’ reading (as in perf) skills. I’m outside the Inner Circle. Now if you want to talk about my work in Slam, and my nights at the Nuyorican – woowie! But, alas, there’s no degrees, no competition.
Hilarity! How American! United Statesian! Truly the Father of US Poetry!
I got my MFA at the New School. I had the privilege of studying with some truly fantastic people, and still keep in touch with many of them. I am not a competitive person, at least I do not see myself as one. One thing I got out of the MFA program was a sense of myself as a poet. My writing definitely changed a lot and I think I learned a lot about how to stick up for myself and how to deal with criticism.
This is a great question, something I've not really thought about. My gut instinct is to think more about the time period and society Whitman was living in, rather than the notion of writing a review of oneself. I think that Leaves of Grass was initially self-published. If this is true, it makes complete sense (rationally) for Whitman to write reviews under a pseudonym. The publishing world in the 1850's was much different than now, so I think he had to write these reviews in order to get any sort of attention for the book. And, Leaves of Grass is a masterpiece and deserves as much attention as possible. And I love the idea of the floor of Whitman's room being covered in papers, some of which were drafts of these self-composed reviews. But, I also agree with Conrad, in that reviews seldom affect how I read something. They open my eyes to books I want to explore, but do not shape my opinion. Because of this, I think writing reviews of oneself is completely ok. I doubt I would ever do it, but I see no problem in it being done. And, I love the idea of pseudonyms.
Maybe I’m the exception here in that I WASN’T in an MFA program but am IN one currently. I’m a second year Poetry candidate at Naropa University, a San Francisco transplant and a competitive person (in the most generous and community based way...duh...). I received my BA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, a competitive university in that they host departmental and pan-State-university competitions each semester. Most universities do. Naropa doesn’t. On its masthead Naropa actually bills itself as a “noncompetitive” university. This is hilarious (as ANY student in the program will tell you). What Naropa means by noncompetitive is that they simply don’t have the contest money (unlike Iowa) to offer its students. Well, that’s not exactly true, during the summer semester two students, one Prose concentration, one Poetry are selected to be the Ted Berrigan and Jack Kerouac scholars. Naropa also has the Zora Neale Hurston award for students of color. Hold up! wait a minute...yeah, I thought Naropa was supposed to be a noncompetitive university? These scholarships sure sound like awards to me, and last I checked one needed to compete to be rewarded. Like I stated above, the whole non competitiveness thing seems to be an easy, less embarrassing way for Naropa to dodge admitting that it’s Writing and Poetics Department is somewhat lacking in funds (and I know a little about this, I was MFA representative to the university council last semester). Of course this is all layed out for the incoming student as an “university philosophy” (which is great! which is fine! awesome, uf’ the bullshit of contest...only...). But what really gets me is that our MFA student advisor periodically sends mass e-mails to the MFA student body announcing competitions at Iowa, Brown, SFSU et al., “you guys should totally submit!”...Look, is this “kind” (because there are plenty of other) of competition that interesting? (the question certainly is).
One more quick anecdote on competition of a different ilk. A new chapbook of mine, BOUT BOUT was recently published by Farfalla Press. The publisher and I are in contact about the book pre-published. The publisher continuously talks shit about his other writers. Something like “I can’t believe I gave such and such a perfect bound book...he better know I did him a huge favor...” or, “yeah, his book never sold so I use copies to balance my TV stand.” Oh man, this is getting weird, I should have anticipated what was to come. BOUT BOUT is published it looks good. Everything is fine. I soon find out that the publisher suddenly yanked the book out of distribution with SPD (now it’s back). I’m wondering, hmmm, what happened? A couple days later a few students tell me that the publisher burned the remaining copies of the book. I’m like...hmmm, what happened? (though not THAT surprised). It turns out the publisher “only” burned 15 copies of the book...lucky me (sarcasm). I approached him about this. Basically, to make a long story short he thought he overheard something I said that I never said (you’ve got to love the private liberal arts university scene), he soon realized this. He then goes on to tell me that “if only I was a major author” he wouldn’t have done what he did. That I “was lucky to have a book from Farfalla” etc. etc. The psychology of this character and this press goes much deeper than I have room to properly explore but in my mind, and in the minds of a few others who know this character, and have worked with his press it mostly stems from a totally misguided feeling of competitiveness. As in, “I’’m Farfalla, I’m publishing your book, Why isn’t anyone publishing my book?” This is needless to say, an incredibly unhealthy and damaging way to look at what your doing (ostensibly a great and difficult thing...publishing poetry). I wish this guy and his press the best. Under it all he’s a pretty good guy with a pretty good (prodigious) press. So there...
2. I’ve taken up way too much space with the former question but I will say that I don’t think it would be possible to review yourself and get away with it in our current poetry climate (what the hell does that mean?)...unless you’re Kent Johnson of course.