Sunday, December 31, 2006
PhillySound Feature is 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.
Previous issues can be found in the ARCHIVE.
Issue #5 is dedicated to the very fine work of poet SUZANNE STEIN.
editor of Issue #5
Suzanne Stein is the author of Tout Va Bien. She is the former codirector and film curator of four walls gallery in San Francisco. Poetry & performance talks have appeared in a variety of publications, including Bay Poetics, Encyclopedia, Vanitas, Both/Both, Mirage #4 Period[ical], Commonweal, 14 Hills, Small Town, and Minor American, among others. Film and film/text performance work has been shown at Refusalon Gallery, the Berkeley Art Center, New Langton Arts, Artists Television Access, and elsewhere. She is editor & publisher of the small press TAXT, committed to making visible the work of contemporary poets, writers, & artists previously under-represented in publication. She lives in Oakland, California.
by Suzanne Stein
for stephanie young
(also for david buuck, & david becker)
as treasonous Children, --so this floraling
Appearing before us
where follows a fervor
slapping & stripping?
in honor of one of our Crimes
I was writing
a text who
was perfectly aware the passers-
by & by would refuse an intervention
of heaven or earth as--
soon enough--all things cease to be written.
within hours or hairs
on knees on hands on
sprawled, promiscuous pages,
lit up as
a gesture less than whole, or by becoming heightens
the dyed-in-the Descriptive
& thus laid beneath the Hero, who would not come.
a body that won't feel itself is Not
having it any better
than the body
in the waters there at night, the shoal, the sleep, the night,
complicity levels rise and rise, as walking rises our level, Stephanie rise and rise,
I was the pretty young girl once
and quit it for shelter like a knife in errant water, it was errant shelter
the books too improbable to hold, and only water
you were the pretty young girl once
fastened by a locket to the throat of
out of decency, or in
thy that I could or not
remember--a radio Stephanie, a radi os
vaporish, cocainish, loosens the contours of the shape of
bodies shaped adrift for steam or fire, all baptized, all cauterized, and still
Questions by CAConrad
Suzanne, time is something many poets seem to have such a hard time managing that the poems wind up getting pushed away, and lost in the time, the need for time. You've told me how important it has been for you to MAKE that time, to push the rest of the world away from the surface of the clock to get to your poems. This is something everyone, no matter what creative things they want to do should listen to you about. Making the creative core a priority is necessary to being alive, and necessary to changing the world (I'm not at all saying this lightly here) as Real Change must have creative bodies at work. Elaborate for us please on your creative process, and making the time for it, and how it's changed your life and changed the world around you.
I don't know that I've learned how to manage my time, I feel I waste it inordinately all day & all night long, I can never get enough done no matter how much I do or try to do. I will say that there have been very few decisions I've made about my life that haven’t been with some eye towards how I could continue to begin to investigate language & eventually poetry, particularly in its most expansive [architectural] forms, or thinking, and try to come to some understanding of what it is possible to have happen inside of it, that can willfully effect or affect my own body and therefore or possibly additionally the bodies and environments around me. I can’t really separate the work that is the writing of texts from the work of being a poet or person or agent in the world. There is the part of me that goes to a job every day that is not about writing with the hand and the pen [keyboard], and I lament that but I also take it into account as an opportunity--when I can remember to--to make a wilful prosodic act by my manner of being present there. I guess what I am addressing here is how I engage at every moment what you are calling the creative core, even in those places where it doesn’t look possible to do that.
In 1998 I left the gallery I'd been running with a friend for four years because I recognized it was keeping me from being fully attentive to this other [writing] work I wanted to do. I went to graduate school and I was at that time semi-employed at a law firm where I had no work to do and an office with a door that closed, and I kept that job for almost 7 years. I finished my graduate thesis there, then they laid me off and I had about eight months of being unemployed, where I walked around Lake Merritt every day and read a lot of books [I think] and started a press, and became as busy as if I had two full-time jobs, one which was reading and writing and the other about being even more fully engaged with the community of writers here. Then I had to go get an actual full time job on top that.
I would say that these efforts have landed me at 38 somewhat outside of what I myself feel is appropriate or at least conventionally socially acceptable for a person my age: I live alone, I'm poor, I'm in debt and I have a pretty grueling low-level administrative job [albeit in a wonderful place]. All my efforts have also put me very productively & giddily inside a conversation and a community and a body of work [mine and the works of those around me] that I feel have possibility for what you call "changing the world" if by nothing else, their, our, insistent continuance. I do think that making life-decisions in the service of art, even if one fails, is itself a life-affirming act that demonstratively feels up other bodies, and hopefully excites them to take their own matters into their own hands.
To specifically answer your question about time and creative process: right now, since I have the full-time job: weekdays & weekday nights are for the day job & for dispensing with tasks like laundry bills correspondence business of poetry tasks and anything to do with the press. Also reading, thinking, notetaking, walking, yoga, a social life [you see already that it is impossible]. Also I try every day while at work to put a little of my writing life into it [more about that below]. On Saturdays I am working on one book, and on Sundays I am working on another book. [Except maybe they're one book; I keep changing my mind.] So far this plan is sort of working. But also I need long periods of unstructured time in order to work/think/write well and this is something I'm trying right now to negotiate, as I have very little time thus. I have to take a long-range view of my work and be patient, not my foremost quality, patience.
You are employed at the SFMOMA, one of my favorite museums! What's it like being around all that amazing art everyday? Has being at the SFMOMA changed your poems and the writing of poems? And if so how?
Well, here's the thing, Conrad, I am in a cubicle the color of dried blood all day long, and I have so many phone calls to make and emails to write and envelopes to do things to and papers to print out and calendars to fill in and then empty again, it's not that often I go look at the art. HOWEVER, this might be because there is an Anselm Kiefer show on right now and I don’t like it or how it works on my body, so I have of late been avoiding the galleries generally, which is insane. When I started at the Museum five months ago, Matthew Barney DRAWING RESTRAINT was on view and I walked into those galleries every morning and was willfully, willingly and exhilaratedly eroticized all the time. Before I had this job I spent a lot of time looking at and thinking about the visual arts, so I'm not sure how my work has changed foundationally [anyway it is too soon to tell] since coming here, on the other hand, as would be true anywhere, the languages are seeping in or being borrowed, so that even the piece of writing I think you're going to post here is very obviously affected by--ugh!--Anselm Kiefer's language of heaven&earth and what is "holy" and what is the use or effect of "cauterization."
However, the job itself and being a worker in an office there is rich terrain for thinking more clearly about elements I've already been considering in prosody. For example, working in the museum is causing another reconsideration of the prosodic or effective action of my real body in a real and very particular social space. How do I present or perform my social role as a poet in this space? I’m confronted every day [as we all are, always, but this job has brought it all the way home for me] with a public which is not witnessing prosody, and what is my responsibility or possibility within that particular sphere or milieu? The one comprised of this set of workers/humans who are perhaps cultural workers [is that an awful phrase or what?] of various other kinds outside their museum roles, but inside of the museum corporation are mechanisms of a very particular and modulated kind of culture interpretation and dissemination. And who, as a rule [there are exceptions], do not think about poetry. What use is my prosodic or prosodized body there? I think about this a lot, both in my raging egocentric demanding childish way and also in my pure and openhearted stance as a being who cares and who loves and who wants to give it away, as often as possible, in poetry, which is stance, which is love.
Another thing being in the new job is encouraging me to think about and examine is how people organize and disorganize themselves inside of already-built structural social containers--I'm in an unusual situation in that my department as a whole is very new, I mean the department existed before but more than half of the workers, including the person who heads the department, have only arrived to their jobs within the last year, and we haven’t settled into a formal operating unit I don’t think, or, we are in the interesting process of arriving there. We're still negotiating the basics, like, how do we congregate and decongregate? How do we deal with each others bodies [corporeal and emotional] in the small space we share, which is the physical site as well as the theoretical site of the group still finding its way into its own role as a single force or body. That's the most hopeful picture of what a "department" in an "organization" does: it self-creates according to its own demand. In a way. So I'm being invited to think about something I haven't participated in thinking about before, and observe myself being acted upon by the structures in place and consider how to properly acqueisce to the group and to the neccessity of personal and social and structural and departmental agency all at the same time. Can you acquiesce with agency?
Also, I think about the building a lot, both the main museum building itself, the Mario Botta building, and the little four-story contraption of cubicles across the alley, which is where I spend my days. I do go into the Museum building several times a day and go up and down the stairs. There is a large central stairwell [and it feels like a well] that is the main support of the building, and then there are these ridiculous decorative columns in the central open atrium, whose purpose I think is to keep the interior space from giving you the feeling it's going to topple over on top of you & crush you to pieces, & I think What is this indecorous sleight-of-hand doing for or against me? In general I am considering how does it affect my body? I walk into the galleries on the upper floors, which are more light, airy and open, and I think, if my body is a porous piece of, or continuousness of, text, what is it absorbing and transferring? How is my breath affected, is it expanded and made more open or what happens to it? Am I breathing? What happens to other bodies here? I’m very focused on considering how my entering and exiting the physical as well as all the social spaces I encounter throughout the day is cocreative and personally and socially affective, and I'm thinking about this as a large scope of continuous text, drawn out over time and always traced and retraced and revised and rewritten & set down on top of. I am always trying to think about how to build a poetry that can have these sorts of real-body/real-action phenomenological effects. Or that these experiences are prosody. It seems I could answer this question forever, because its been so particular to my recent experience and thinking.
To just say one or two more things about it: It is also very curious and interesting and exciting to me to be all day around people who are thinking about art & its strategies in the world in ways that are particular to how that information is interpreted, encountered, and disseminated. I wish they thought about poetry more, but I also wish poets thought about art more. It seems to me in San Francisco there is not enough intergenre, intermedia, intertextual reproductive sex happening. So I have made a conscientious effort since arriving at the SFMOMA to get [especially the younger] poets into the museum like crazy, I want them to come and have their own selves affected by the works, am always calling people and telling them to meet me in the café for a date and then sending them off into the museum [I get free tickets! five each day! everybody come visit!] to look around and have an experience. The other thing I did as soon as I got to the museum was ask all the writers I know to donate books for a small poetry lending library in my cubicle, for the exclusive use of the Education Department [of which I am the littlest cog]. The library is still unadvertised to them, but not unused, but maybe by the time this goes live I will formally invite them. My department does all of the PUBLIC PROGRAMMING, and of course I have also suggested in my terrified and squeaky way [and in writing] that poetry and language arts events be part of that programming. In this job, as in all parts of my life, I do believe that just standing in and speaking and offering, in whatever small ways one can, is an effective world-and-being-changing action. One of my coworkers has just read Frank O'Hara for the first time in her life, via the secret lending library, and she loved it. Six poets watched the endless Matthew Barney Drawing Restraint 9 film with me [and they have forgiven me for it]. So, how wonderful is that? It's true. I love it here. It might be the most excruciating job I've ever performed in the best place I've ever worked. But I'm all about loving--and changing--with all my will--what torments me.
Can you please share with us some details surrounding your "site-specific performance" given last year at New Langton Arts in San Francisco in which you write:
"If one could write a book that would build a more humane human being while that being read. Employed in the construction of the co-de-edification device a system of INTENTIONALIZEDBUT UNORCHESTRATED POETRIES plus inelidable sciences, perpetrating a PHYSICAL, AMETAPHORIC biopsychopharmaceutical poetics, without the drugs." (Tout Va Bien)
Please witness the re-construction accordingly and willfully sound out the actual aspect of building as devotional architecture.
Thank you, and wish you were here.
And now you are."
Oh boy, this is a big one.
You are quoting from the self-published chapbook Tout Va Bien [Everything's Fine]. I did, as quoted above, make the book--subsequently--as a kind of reconstruction of the performance. I will talk here about both. The first part of the performance [and the book] outlines a kind of poetic stance which endeavors to suggest that, put in the simplest terms, poetry [and only poetry, perhaps] can refigure a body or a being or an environment. Then it outlines HOW. I knew the space I was going to be presenting in, and I knew--for the most part--the bodies who would likely be in attendance that night, and I constructed the performance with those things in mind. It was to have a tripartite construction, a kind of church-like space built in time, with my body as the building [vocalising] agent. [The work/poetry as the extension of this acting body.] So, in the first part I do this kind of difficult and dense explication of a theoretical, and inside of that dense theoretical there are poetries that--maybe rather than illuminate the theoreticals, they exist in order to foundation the theoreticals. Maybe if we think about the poems of Spring and All, or of La Vita Nuova, as the foundational, not demonstrative, but also demonstrative, actors, that exist in order to provide their own frameworks which surround them. Something like that. So, I read this very dense stuff, which talks about itself as designed to do all the things Laura Riding Jackson, according to Joel Nickels, hated and despised about poetry, ie, maybe it wanted to hypnotise and soften or loosen, to make a magic on--that's what it wanted to do, to soften and loosen all of our minds and bodies, mine included, and prepare them to be altered [or altared]. The second part of the performance needed to be an entertainment, something that passed the time, which would let the listening bodies rest and forget [and absorb] the theoreticals. So I showed a play--an Orpheus story stolen, fake translated [I don’t know French] and compressed from Cocteau's early play--not the film!--Orphée--my version is much better--and projected it on the wall as intertitles, decorative, like a silent film, with the actors being the text only, and the audience required as a group to read to themselves alone together in silence. After that, the third part, I read a long poem that addressed/demonstrated in prosody all that had come before as well as specific beings I knew would be in the audience, and our social currency, it is kind of a version of The Wasteland, or anyway it sort of refers to The Wasteland but maybe doesn't have anything to do with it. I put my body into that performance with a kind of acute awareness of it being the only thing I had to make the whole thing effective in the way that I wanted it to be affective. I don’t know if it was successful, but I think it was enjoyed.
The chapbook then was a way for me to try to see for myself if I could reproduce what I usually do in performance [all my work til then was for the most part completed, if not begun, as a willful performative act, often with dire results]. Again, I considered the site I had at hand, 24 pages, 8.5 x 5.5. I used all the same texts as from the Langton performance, but sometimes modified--but I had to find another interruptive entertainment that could somehow pass the time, and that could not be the play, because in the form of a book, the play could only be seen as a text of something else, not as an actor, not as a separate action of time, it could only be a representation and not as something outside of the rest of [the book/time]. At the time of making the chapbook I was rewatching all of Godard’s films on DVD [thus the stolen and badly and multiply translated title of the chapbook], and thought I could steal lots of stills from all the films and put them in very tiny, across the central spread, but choose very seductive images, so that hopefully a reader would slow down in the middle of reading the book to look at all these pictures, which do not make a narrative, of guns and of Brigitte Bardot and sexy apartments and if I was lucky that reader would have a similar experience of forgetfulness of all that came in the first part of the book, thus softening, letting the first part sink in, and then be ready, willing, open, for the last part. Which is the long poem. I want us to have come through the same but different. It does sound like what I want to do is tell other people what's good for them and top them and seduce them and give them what I've hypnotised them into now really wanting, but I don't think that's what I'm really after [ah, who knows, maybe it is], but I recognize this is one very obvious perhaps deserved criticism heading my way.
Does that answer the question? I do not really address the content of the performance in this answer, just the form.
You've mentioned you are writing a critical book, something you refer to as "architectural poetics," and I was wondering if you could tell us a little about this project?
My other answers here surely indicate several possible directions it could go. Somebody asked me to develop a project of "talks", which is in part what I am doing. I could say I suppose that if, as Madeline Gins & Arakawa say, Alexander Pope in constructing his grotto "exceeded the bounds of the mainstream tradition that embraced him by constructing prosody in the round", then what I am wishing to do is reinsert prosody-in-the-round into the poem itself. Which is ridiculous but perhaps probable. "She behaves as if she were on her own recognizance, never quite sure that it is valid to assume this." Madeline Gins & Arakawa, Architectural Body. Or, "A constructed world that has, with great forethought, been tactically posed and thus been given its procedural due will instruct people in brand-new coordinating skills and in the compounding of skills attained. Ability to coordinate a greater number of skills leads to a freer and wider-ranging and more persipicacious intellect." Ibid.
The present community of poets in the San Francisco area are a force to be reckoned with! Nothing against the men by any means, but you've got a large, DYNAMITE group of women poets, something that feels very rare in a male-dominated world. What's that like, a woman poet writing poems in a community of such strong women poets all around her? What have you learned in your community that's different from other communities that we can all learn from?
Amen. I am the luckiest person in the world to be living in the Bay Area right at this moment where I agree with you poetry and all that it can do and all that are practicing it here are exploding. I feel we are all in the calm eye of a storm [but which storm exactly?], making clear, precise, forward- and beneficially backward-thinking actions and poetries. Here's the thing about being a woman in this community of strong women poets: it is such that I do not often have to think about the fact of ourselves as women. Maybe this is my own failing, or the superb success of the women who have been working here in many forms for many years: Norma Cole, Laura Moriarty, Leslie Scalapino, Myung Mi Kim [ok she's gone now], Susan Gevirtz, Kathleen Fraser, to name a few immediately most important to my experience.
There is something about community here that I want to address, and this is the tension, I hope productive tension, between those poets pretty firmly ensconsed in the academy and those poets who are not. And in this case, I am referring only to our little group of so-called experimental poets, we're mostly white people, which should be embarrassing, & I am not including say the spoken word people or other "writing" [let me show off my bias with a couple of scare quotes] communities around these parts. But in our small milieu there is what I feel a strong insistence on certain forms of discursivity that, let's say in the social verbal space, can be overwhelming & terrifying to anyone untrained to speak that language. I feel myself as one of the terrified. [But probably we're all terrified.] There are particular maneuvers of speech acquired in the academy that can be totalizing and silencing, even or especially I suppose to the real creative bodies manifesting [laboring under] it. I suppose one thing I learn from that is how to speak up anyway, and how to be attentive to and listen to and value all kinds of articulation and attention and response. My own and that of others.
That said, this self-organizing body of poets & writers I find to be very generous and attentive generally. I don't know if it's unusual or not—because I've so firmly come into being alive in this place. We all know there's not much to be traded on a poetic, and that it's pure will, interest, and devotion that keeps everyone showing up to all the readings, and reading everyone's work all the time, and as Juliana Spahr said recently, believing that poetry can in fact change the world. I just could never hope to meet a more loving, dysfunctional, brilliant, energetic, creative set of beings. The list of names is long, but I feel I would like to give at least some of them: judith goldman david buuck david brazil kate pringle magdalena zurawski elise ficarra stephanie young juliana spahr bill luoma brandon brown laura moriarty alli warren norma cole brent cunningham taylor brady rob halpern kevin killian david larsen eleni stecopoulos kate colby...
These people help and cause me to always investigate my own complacency, they all know so much more than I do, or different things than I do, and I look to them to gain a more complete understanding of a world I have great difficulty seeing. Living in the constantly charged and competitive cocreative state with these poets compels me to always seek further, research more, work harder at being a writer and human being and take the example given by this group, of intellect, education, self-training, sensitivity & loving-kindness always applied to what it is to productively imagine--in language, the foundational loop of a real architecture--how to be anticomplicit to the implicit power structures we're all so singularly still married to.
Finally, an important thing I've learned being engaged with my people here is that not every single one of us has to address and do every single thing at every moment. Which was my own problem of feeling personally responsible to achieve every sort of poetic at every second, which will make you crazy! We all have different roles to play and works to do, so Judith Goldman attends to one prosodic or social concern and Stephanie Young to another, and Brandon Brown to another and I get to live with and learn from each and all of them and their works every day of my life and understand that arising all together is a complete and open participatory stance in the world that hopefully can in its collective generosity indicate a life-giving and -pursuing devotional vocabulary that changes itself and models for the rest of the world an economy-less public which is its own public. Is that tautologically stupid? That's entertainment, and it's good for everyone. It is.
This thinking of S
In a file box under my desk is a large file with Suzanne's name on it, containing numerous copies of drafts of work she has shared with me over the years of our acquaintance. The first page is a handwritten note, given to me when I was going through an especially challenging time. It reads, simply "dear friend I am thinking of you."
This thinking of/about/toward/with a/the "you" is a defining note of Suzanne's poetics—its action a palpable interactivity—activated and actuated with and through you. "wish you were here," she writes in the opening of Tout Va Bien
"And now you are."
We met in graduate school—in a workshop with Myung Mi Kim. Suzanne wrote letters to the class inviting conversation about writing and not writing. One piece she performed that semester, dedicated to another writer, was a headstand in the middle of the room, a perfect articulation of simplicity, grace, precision and risk.
Her conviction that a breach binds more than a bridge is evidence of her particular faith and devotion to poetry's action—that what isn't there joins us more completely and thoroughly than the structures we construct for that purpose. Her piece CANCELLATION (a reading, which she did not attend but had filmed in absentia while a friend distributed a beautiful broadside made for the occasion) is another manifestation of this understanding.
I cannot speak about Suzanne’s work without speaking about devotion.
taut and taught
traces Obsession’s lip
ceasing to desist
a course of course a blinking light
sweeps seas roving illuminatory
Soft behind the locking (i)
Dear Suzanne thought thinking its coiled rope you were a leaf written upon as palm and carried close to flesh you changed hands you arched back and pressed the cage of bone (a) moment's home fluttery and laced Dear Suzanne thoughts flew up from the smallest unit into syllabaries contesting the space behind sky that moon would not stay put clouds fluted over and were understood as cover, dear suzanne you write
"at the center is a nut of this nut it is golden"
"sound out the actual aspect of building as devotional architecture"
Godard said somewhere that for a film you need a girl and a gun. Naturally, Suzanne has both.
Likewise her work shares his playful embrace of contradiction and via its own psycho-surgical maneuvers (intellectual yoga?) explores terrain traversed in the film Tout Va Bien (Yves Montand… Him, Jane Fonda, Her, Suzanne) like 'Can Love Survive Relationship?' and 'Can Revolutionary Thinking Survive Revolution?' However, if Godard rewrites the rules of narrative, Suzanne seeks to rewire the human being
"The self's shrapnel rewounds the self. The self's wounds belong to and reinjure us all. Thus to restore oneself first is a mandatory social act" (TVB).
Keeping in mind an absent referent, say you are writing from the social body of a wound whose only recourse is to speak itself—an articulation involving organic emanations mixed with artificial playback—mimetic rewiring being one aspect of the real a notch closer than—
Suzanne does this and offers it freely
The VICTORY comes in breaking open
"I bring closure, no, I brought foreclosures-I came upon and went,I did thus, I broke it, I broke it hard over itself, came upon it and wept-
I did that thus like that again—breaking upon it, under it stood up on it went
upon it, or I came then over the mark, again I broke it" (TVB).
I'm getting a little kick out of contributing feedback, as a community representative, for this amazing and overdue project (thanks Conrad), partly due to the fact that it was Suzanne Stein who wrote to me that "a poetry community is made up of humans, not of poets." So do I make this address to humans, as a human? Or to poets as a human? Or to humans as a poet? And clearly it would be quite nice to do all four.
Which is to say that the love I have for Suzanne Stein as a person, and the numerous never resolved questions knowing her has opened up in me as a person, are and are not extricable from the love I have for the work of Suzanne Stein, which is poetry, and the numerous never resolved questions knowing that work has opened up in me as a person.
One thing Suzanne has always maintained is that we (and I think she means poets, though I think she means humans, and even more perhaps she means her and I) can't read each other. In that spirit, I hope that Suzanne would endorse if not the content of my misreadings of her work, at least their structure. Since one thing that work insists, to my mind to a radical degree, is that error is not only productive it is therapeutic.
This is one of my favorite pages of poetry:
"That forward-moving praxis traces. We are to put our eye and effort to the actual manufacture of the task. Our best use is to build a better being.
The self's shrapnel rewounds the self. The self's wounds belong to and reinjure us all. Thus to restore oneself first is a mandatory social act. Poetry's microtechnological use is of a religious order (ardor), and it manifests that religio-spiritual ardor as a psycho-surgical maneuver.
It is its other than its viability. Something which does other than that which it's built, or meant, for doing. If it does that which it is built for else than doing, and this act making that same act an actual viability--are we--am I--dutiful, and to what duty are we then bound" (Tout Va Bien)
These three paragraphs thrill me--they resist perfection of mode ("which would be HELL" -- SS) in order to impart in paralogical fashion the paralogical ground to which any ontogeny is bound. So that a "trace" can be imagined not only as the inscribed remnant of, say, an act of writing, or an act of anything that does or makes, but something that's also already in the future--a vision of a trace, or a trace of a vision, unlimited by the standards of prophetic (in all its senses, from Swamic to Spicerian) discourse. (Oh, that's one of the best lessons I've learned from Suzanne Stein person and poet, that there is no chance of forward-moving praxis if anyone persists in complicity with the standards of any discourse. I think that this means, as an example, that going to an organized war protest could be understood as an encoded action that instead of challenging the war machine serves to endorse it, as the war machine is dynamic, not simply brutal; I'm afraid that I live too much in phonemes to tell you about how to most successfully [but not perfectly, that would be HELL] move forward in a way that resists those standards, but I would suggest in any case reading all of Suzanne's works and e-mailing her.)
"Biopsychopharmaceutical poetics, without the drugs"
Poetics as a "maneuver", a "psycho-surgical maneuver." I understand that as a description of poetics as precisely a practice of healing--a "maneuver" I understand as an action undertaken by the hands, given as performance including the performance of writing and reading, and given to the group as a tool of repair. Where does one human body end and the next one begin? Or where does one human body end and what is space? Okay, right. But there's something very important, to my mind, in the questions Suzanne's text above raises, questions about "duty", about "binding" (which is "religion" in its literal sense)--and then the non-question but imperative mandate for self-repair. And it is about the poetry community, after all, since the poetry community constitutes a group (in, yeah, a very weird configuration, or the weirdest) and the group in this case is made of humans, humans performing this action that is "its other than its viability". Poetry as radical self-help--but I'm trying to find a way to talk about it that doesn't make anyone chuckle.
Failing, sorry SS.
Very soon after I met Suzanne Stein, she enlisted me to assist her with a performance in Berkeley. She had agreed to do a reading, decided to show films instead, and then decided to cancel the reading. My role was to cancel the reading, and I arrived with a text made by Suzanne. When the curator's look became truly withering, I stood up and cancelled the reading. But I remember vividly that the small group who attended the reading had been changed (one person told me later it was the first poetry reading he had ever been to!)--and they wouldn't go to another reading with exactly the same expectations or anticipations. And I was changed, too. And that was the best introduction, for me, who had never really considered the fact, to comprehending the ways in which poetry enacts change at the cellular level, that poetry has a use, that a microtechnological procedure necessarily contributes to a macrotechnological procedure, so one person repairs herself and literally repairs the group. These measures have been enormously generative for me as a thinking and writing human being, and a thinking and writing person.
Suzanne Stein's person and works have been and are for me beautiful and life-changing performances, and I hope that this written feedback is the least of the return I can offer for them.
Suzanne Stein's writing seems to me both metaphysically and physiologically determined and psychically self-creative and doubly self-interpretive. It swallows me whole, confronts my cynicism, and yes, changes the (my) world. I read her work as epistemology, ethics, ontology, and much, much more than those component parts.
"If one could write a book that would build a more humane human being while that being read. Employed in the construction of the co-de-edification device a system of INTENTIONALIZEDBUT UNORCHESTRATED POETRIES plus inelidable sciences, perpetrating a PHYSICAL, AMETAPHORIC biopsychopharmaceutical poetics, without the drugs." (Tout Va Bien)
Suzanne's work insistently persists in seeking, and I, as reader and writer, am consistently awed at how this pursuit and what is sought is reflected in the shape and sound of her works. To imagine a world and thus a prosody which maneuvers with and acts out its body. As well as the fact of our being cells. The "psychosurgical" procedure-"Poetry's microtechnological use is of a religious order (ardor); it manifests that religio-spiritual ardor as a psycho-surgical maneuver."
--the work performs on you/me/reader, on poetry, on diction. If I'm going to read and listen to this work, I better wash up and get them scrubs on. It's a procedure without anesthesia. An operation in which the world is undressed and poked/pokes around in the insides. With the precision of a bricklayer, a watchmaker, an architect. And I mean to thus imply poet as builder, as essential funnel for and in the factual-spiritual world.
The unfathomable becomes real via the (poetic) maneuver. Bodies change in the writing of the happening of it. The enacted tracing of viability. The chemistry of intervention. Even in not knowing, we know. In the uttering of an eye there is the other, its pair. The faciality of address. A face in a dress. One addresses oneself, one dresses. One addresses all – the faciality of prosody. As in ethics. The writing enacts an ethics – the imagining is the foundational act.
The poetry of Suzanne Stein is for me ceaselessly groundbreaking. Nothing seems quite the same when I put the poem down / leave the performance space. Not poetry, not poets, not how I think about what we (poets) can and should do:
"Here is the axiomatic triumvirate of we revise the State starting in our own neurology:
First, that we can replace the either/or world with a both/and world.
Second, "every intellect is capable of assuming every shape"
[omnis intellectus est omniformis]
Third, whatever the spirit can imagine, it can also realize"
An axiom is self-aiming, aims at itself, our selves. Any given outcome becomes a viable one. Severed, unfathomable and spirit-full, up from the broken-open grounds.
I want to say thank you.
My friend Suzanne Stein lives on the opposite side of Lake Merritt from myself. 'The jewel of Oakland,' Lake Merritt is roughly a circle and 3.18 miles around. The City of Oakland, and I guess me too, a resident of the City of Oakland, refers to the lights that surround the lake as a ‘necklace’. Lake Merritt is the oldest wildlife refuge in North America. It was not always a circle. It was something else to begin with, something called a tidal estuary, or mudflat. A slough. Then it was a gigantic sewer system. Then it was dammed. And then it became a lake.
Suzanne and I walk around this lake, alone and together. Sometimes I walk more quickly than Suzanne likes, and she asks me to slow down. Other times Suzanne walks through the big groups of pigeons that congregate because people feed them there, and this annoys me, that people feed the pigeons and that I have to walk through them, and the next time Suzanne and I go for a walk I say "can we not walk through the pigeons this time?"
Once, very soon after Suzanne moved to Oakland from San Francisco, she and I were walking around the lake and Suzanne was praising its beauty and the natural landscape and the general open feeling that the sky and the lake have together in combination and how one does not get this feeling, ever, in San Francisco, and I blurted out: "It's not a real lake." Then I felt awful.
I wasn't even sure if what I said was true. I knew the lake was constructed but didn't know the word 'slough' or that from roughly 1820-1860 the slough served as the sewage system for all of Oakland. This kind of feeling awful, like telling your sister the tooth fairy doesn't exist, and why did you have to go and do that? started a long conversation and as a result of this and other long conversations with Suzanne I've learned a little bit more about what a tidal estuary is. I'd lived in the east bay for about nine years before this particular early conversation and I guess I wanted to be something like a good and thorough tour guide to my friend Suzanne. But walking with Suzanne is not that kind of being friends.
Sometimes Suzanne and I argue while walking and other times Suzanne and I are in close understanding and agreement. Other times Suzanne and I are in close understanding even as Suzanne and I are arguing. Suzanne and I look, have looked at the lake as we are walking, as we have walked, alone or together, and Suzanne and I think, have thought about how its water level tends to rise and fall, and Suzanne and I wonder, have often wondered if this fluctuation is technically a tide and when Suzanne gets home and when I get home one or both of us looks up, has looked up 'tide' + 'Lake Merritt.'
Sometimes the air around the lake is brisk, and other times it is thick and heavy and there is a bad smell, especially on the Grand Avenue side. Last summer Suzanne walked around the lake during a heat wave. I was out of the country then and she described it to me later, how the air was yellow or maybe yellow-green, and she was the only one out walking. Often there is a lot of trash in the lake. There are also weeks of algal bloom, especially in the spring, blue-green algae which is the result of nitrate run-off from golf courses in the Berkeley and Oakland hills, nitrate which winds up in various creeks and eventually drains into the lake, because the lake is part of Oakland’s flood control system and pretty much all the freshwater run-off in Oakland drains into the lake. The algae is beautiful, appearing more green than blue-green. It clusters into more and less intense areas of green.
There is a small type of duck at the lake that reminds me of expensive and well-designed ankle boots; shoes are definitely something Suzanne and I talk about while walking--these ducks have dark grey feathers, white-tipped beaks and round red eyes like opaque marbles. I thought this duck was maybe a grebe but I just found out this morning while walking around the lake with Suzanne and Juliana and Bill and Charles that it is called a mud hen. Bill knows a lot about birds. He also identified a pheasant in the sick and wounded bird dome at the lake. Suzanne noticed a while ago that the mud hens appear to eat algae from the surface of the lake. Then I noticed it too, their heads bobbing up and down, eating from the carpet of green-blue algae as they swim through it.
The lake is a landscape that makes Suzanne and I feel better, if by 'better' I mean expansive, and if I can speak for 'us' and what 'feel better' might mean, then it is the lake. Can I speak for Suzanne and I? I keep writing 'Suzanne and I' in every, or almost every instance when I would more usually write 'we', and I do this in order to think more clearly about where Suzanne and I are 'we' and where 'we' aren't, or what complications there are in any given 'we'. But I also do this because I am a confessional poet and I am about to confess that the writing here would sound, to me, even more derivative of Juliana if I wrote 'we' as I did in the first draft, instead of 'Suzanne and I' as I am writing here, which is something Suzanne and I talked about, the first draft of what I am writing here, but Juliana's writing in general and the role of the 'we' in that work is one of the many things Suzanne and I have talked about while walking around the lake.
And Juliana is another person I think and talk and also write with, in parts of Oakland and Berkeley, and while I am trying to finally think and talk here about Suzanne's writing and how her writing is thinking so closely about but also BEING a membrane between form and formlessness, on the way to thinking about that, it seems I must also think about permeability and how writing is a received landscape in which we are walking with others. So maybe it's appropriate that I have such a difficult time filtering one kind of writing out from another, and that in some way I must really want all the salinity and freshwater and silt and nitrate and trash from the run-off of another's writing to be coming into mine and I must want to be sometimes flooding into theirs. I want to be a duck with the other ducks in a flock but also off by myself in the weeds. Is that another way of thinking about it, form v. formlessness? It seems crass to put a 'versus' there, like a dam between a lake and a bay, which is what 12th Street is, basically, although it's a lot more complicated than that, dams are always complicated, there are pipes and culverts and storm drains and a pumping station. What is a lake and what is a creek? What is a bay and what is Suzanne and what is Stephanie and what is Juliana? And how do they go between one another? I go to list the other species in the lake, and that turns into another draft, the one that tells you all about the birds and writers who lived there and live here even now, the draft in which there was more research and then Cynthia said that writing seemed somehow derivative of Suzanne.
So how much can I (we) control or do I desire to control these elements as they move in and out of the body of my writing, a body with which I am trying hard to think, but also a body I am flinging around in love and devotion to the people I walk and talk and think with--
Maybe the lake is a landscape that makes Suzanne and I, or just I, feel better because it is an open space in a densely populated urban area.
Maybe the lake is a landscape that makes Suzanne and I, or just I, feel better because it provides a particular wide angle view and within that wide angle, detail after intricate detail, such as the red-eyed mud hens, in all their particular beauty, and in the beauty of their being together in a flock. But as Charles noted this morning, the lake is also more interesting than 'nature'. I think this is because there are also so many people there, and so much trash to look at, and the traces that the people and the trash leave behind.
And for sure the lake is a landscape that makes Suzanne and I, or just I, feel better because it is one of the places where Suzanne and I talk together, about things such as poetry and fashion and the people Suzanne loves and the people I love and sometimes these are the same people and sometimes they are not. Suzanne and I think and talk about the books and art and experiences I am reading and the books and art and experiences Suzanne is reading, which is usually a lot of things all at once, right now for example I know the things Suzanne is reading includes Democracy in America and American Architecture and Urbanism and the things I am reading include Lub Luffly and Lipstick Traces.
Suzanne and I also think and talk about how Suzanne's body feels and looks, and how my body feels and looks, and how the way my body feels is different from the way her body feels. Suzanne and I are endlessly surprised by how the way Suzanne thinks my body looks is very different from the way I think my body looks, and how by the way I think Suzanne's body looks is very different from the way she thinks her body looks.
"But you're so tiny!"
Walking around the lake, Suzanne and I think and talk too about the structures I am more or less caught in and the structures she is more or less caught in, and where she and I are more or less caught in the same structure, we think and talk about how her experience of being stuck inside the structure is the same as but also different than mine, and how my experience of being stuck inside the structure is the same as but also different from hers.
Suzanne and I think about all of this and at the same time think about the landscape Suzanne and I are moving through, as we move through it, how it is constructed but also natural, and received. Suzanne and I think about the lake, with its history of intervention, and which was not a lake until a little while ago. I think maybe the lake will be something else later, maybe it will stop being a lake. I don't know. At this moment it is a circular landscape shaped by history, by the idea of leisure and civic life in Oakland.
In addition to the lake, Suzanne and I also sit in our apartments and talk to each other, but more usually in Suzanne's apartment, which is a space designed for humans to sit in together and talk. It is a usual studio apartment, with the usual amount of space, arranged by an architect and built in the usual way, but it is also not usual, because inside this space Suzanne has created a space of other but exactly the same dimensions, which is making me think of Baudelaire's "The Double Room", but that is not exactly right and neither are the words which come next. They are weak but will have to do: that other space is beautiful, it asks you to sit down on the low couch and talk some more, which brings comfort of a particular kind, that "queer, divine dissatisfaction" (Martha Graham) which can be as true of conversation as it is of the project of art and art-making.
Then, after walking alone or walking together, after sitting in Suzanne's apartment talking and sometimes drinking wine and sometimes smoking cigarettes, Suzanne and I return to our apartments, to the alone-ness of being in our individual apartments, and then Suzanne and I sit alone and read, and write.
Suzanne and I wish that our days consisted of this, of reading and writing and walking around the lake. Suzanne is I think a little better than I at devoting her time to reading and writing. Nevertheless to varying degrees our days consist of these things, but our walking and talking and writing are also helplessly informed by how little of our time is actually left for these activities after the satisfaction of the other activities our economic circumstances demand of us. Which are not exactly the same, but do share some forms of pressure. Suzanne's life is not my life, and my life is not Suzanne's but Suzanne and I do both have to work full-time in order to support ourselves. Who does not? Suzanne and I dream about this, who does not have to work, and wonder if Suzanne or I could become who does not need to work quite so much in order to support ourselves. I wonder if Suzanne and I would be happy if our only work was walking and talking and reading and writing. I wonder who Suzanne and I would be without our specific and constant economic pressures. I wonder what Suzanne and I could change in our lives to allow more time for walking and talking and writing.
It's clear by now that I do not know how to talk about Suzanne Stein's writing without talking about her personhood, and about some overlapping formal qualities of my life and hers.
It's similarly impossible for me to think about Suzanne's work without also thinking about the trajectory of her interventions in space, which have included The Gallery, The Classroom, The Reader, The Reading. "Is that a real poem or did you make it up yourself?" That's a Robert Creeley joke I just realized is totally un-funny in the context of Suzanne's writing which concerns itself not at all with the 'real' as established by external systems of value, although there is no doubt about this writing's material, spacial qualities. As with the lake, or an urban apartment, given forms shaped by the trajectory of human interventions in space thus far, so with poetry. It is 'man-made'. It is also a real lake.
Foregrounded in Suzanne's writing is why and how poetry may be the best place for human thought to happen, that form which may be containing and constructed and historic and peopled with silt and trash but also endless, actual, malleable. 'Plastic.' Infinite. In some ways very alone. A form which does not deny but finally lets go the economic and other lexicons it is, like all else, shaped by.
Zoom: we are in a poem written by Suzanne. A line breaks with physical care, it is painful to be without form and then shaped for a moment. How can I not feel it? The delicacy of that particular pain, language as the muscles in a leg, muscle fibers which are, like paper, bound together into bundles called fascicles, the fibers broken down slightly as the leg walks or runs at unaccustomed training levels, these tears rebuilt and healed while the body sleeps, or lays on the couch reading and thinking and staring out the window. Then the body leaves the apartment to walk again, the muscles and the language torn again slightly and again reassembled while the body sleeps, or lays on the couch reading and thinking and staring out the window. And so it is also built from sustained low levels of exertion in which the muscles are used at well below their maximal contraction strength for long periods of time.
A poetry creating and then meeting its own formal demands, demands which modulate and morph even as they are met. It is not always a fast process.
It is sometimes difficult and can take a long while to construct a building, or a lake, or a new muscle.
It is even difficult, and can take a long while, to move from one building to another, from one body of water to another, to use one muscle while the injured muscle rests.
And it is sometimes also difficult and slow and painful to live in a house or apartment as it is given, a house or apartment that may not meet the needs of the landscape it is placed in, nor the needs of the people who place their lives inside it.
It is painful to do these things. To train at an unaccustomed level, and experience painful little tears in the muscle fiber. To have the endurance necessary for long, low levels of exertion.
To live in a room as it is given.
To rebuild a room.
It is painful to be without form and then shaped for a moment, or for a series of moments which become Time, I guess, and History. To move between these things in a bubble called a moment, or a line.
Within the form as it is received (the lake, the apartment, poetry) something is changing the us, the we is changing something. It is we, and also individual, and particular. There are the undeniable physical processes. There is a body soft and permeable enough to filter movement, sound, light, language, other bodies, all of which leave their trace behind, the arm and hand of a human in a boat, trailing her fingers through the water.
And there is the mysterious other alchemical process whereby these traces metastasize in text.
Suzanne is writing this other alchemy, the "psycho-surgical maneuver." It is painful and mysterious. It is primary text, I keep saying, I keep saying "psycho-surgical maneuver" to myself as I walk around this circular landscape, which is changing me, the walking, or the talking, to others and myself?
SUZANNE STEIN online:
from A TONALIST NOTES
Suzanne Stein's TAXT PRESS
other online SEARCHES
Thursday, December 21, 2006
(posted by CAConrad)
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Matt McGoldrick sent this my way on the heels of the pamphlet I'm putting together, something he and I have talked about more than once, about guiding people who want to be vegetarian but don't feel they are capable of going 100% vegetarian. You'll see it soon, where I break down the amount of electricity, grain, water, etc., which is FREED UP for each day of a week you decide you are not going to consume animal product.
But here's the article Matt sent, something that makes me so happy!
For the best possible world,
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
PART ONE for kari
PART TWO audio of kari reading from OBEDIENCE
PART THREE for kari, from Michael Ball
IT'S A WONDERFUL TRIBUTE!
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Of course I'm well aware that there are many different kinds of Christians, and that I need to stop lumping them into this one big narrow blob. But my examples of Christians haven't been positive, a few have, but 90 % have NOT been! I remember pastor Smock getting up to the pulpit and preaching on the controversy of the city government making recycling mandatory. Pastor Smock thought recycling was "stupid" and HE LITERALLY SAID, "DON'T THEY KNOW JESUS IS COMING HOME!?" with that big, dumbass smile on his face. GEESH! Makes me shudder just remembering his crazy smile whenever he said "Jesus" out loud. But c'mon man, REALLY? We don't need to recycle because Jesus is coming home? Jesus hung with the Essenes, was vegetarian, cared very much about what he put into his body, WHY would he not care about pollution? The Book of Timothy has passages which are very Macrobiotic. The body of the Earth is as important as our own bodies. Anyway, I'm having an argument in my head with this pastor, and need to not bother, it's so stupid.
Here are the AMAZING links Sina sent me (these links make me happy!):
Sunday, December 10, 2006
To see POCKET MYTHS BLOG go HERE!
To see POCKET MYTHS SHOP go HERE!
Monday, December 04, 2006
And I remember hugging her goodbye at the Chinatown bus station, never for a second thinking that it was really goodbye forever. I guess this really is goodbye, kind of. I'm in a city of ghosts & I feel her all around me.
- Frank Sherlock
Sunday, December 03, 2006
an ability of killing time as
at this point something ordinary
from kari edwards' "a doggie in the window extension"
kari edwards, I can't believe you're gone, how is it possible, we just saw you, and I'm listening to your amazing CD of music, wow, wow, kari, wow
I began frantically sweeping GOOGLE to find out more, which is really me HOPING Akilah had gotten the information wrong somehow. Akilah must have just gone offline as my urgent response asking WHERE,WHAT,WHO,WHEN? wasn't answered right away. But, while online with GOOGLE, finding nothing, Tim Peterson sent around an e-mail to those of us who are co-editing the QUEER ANTHOLOGY he's soon to publish on his website EAOGH. kari edwards was one of the 7 editors. The e-mail was about us doing events for the release of the anthology, and kari's name and e-mail address appeared, and that's when I burst into tears.
Thinking of that e-mail about celebrating the work we've all done together going to her e-mail inbox she will never read again just pushed me over the edge.
"as a reminder: if one is not born queer (but has some thought they're
slipping...you know what i mean). one must maintain a high order
out-of-the-closet-practices--disruption in every dress code known to...
(whoever). (on the other hand: if the opposite is true and one is born
queer...one must still by practice maintain-the-same-procedure.)"
--from "dear board of directors" by kari edwards
click for kari's blog TRANSDADA
click for kari's blog TRANSSUBMUTATION
click for kari's INTERVIEW in Rain Taxi
I know that I've said this a lot, but that reading kari did at Robin's with Brenda Iijima and Rachel DuPlessis was one of the BEST readings I've ever been to. kari read from her newest book OBEDIENCE at tiger's speed, rising up on the outer rims of her shoes, then dropping back down, over and over, the clock of her body, her voice, her passion churning out to us. Wow. It was SUCH a fantastic, generous reading!
kari was not just an incredible poet, but she was also an accomplished musician (she gave me a CD of her electronic music recently), sculptor, and, AND, a FIERCE activist for transgender rights!
The loss of kari edwards will be felt all through the arts and literary and activist communities for a long, long time.
Miss you kari, miss you so much,
Friday, December 01, 2006
p.s. these poems by Erica are part of her forthcoming book being published by Greg Fuchs and John Colletti on their press 24 HOURS, a book you won't want to MISS!