Wednesday, October 31, 2007
JACKSON MAC LOW (1922 -- 2004). He was a poet, composer, painter and multimedia performance artist who often collaborated with his wife Anne Tardos. He performed and lectured all over North America, Europe, and New Zealand. Among his many published books are 22 Light Poems (Black Sparrow, 1968), Stanzas for Iris Lezak (Something Else Press, 1971), The Pronouns (Station Hill Press, 1979), The Virginia Woolf Poems (Burning Deck, 1985), Two Plays: The Marrying Maiden and Verdurous Sanguinaria (Green Integer Books, 1999), 20 Forties (Zasterle Press, 1999), Doings: Assorted Performance Pieces 1955-2002 (Granary Books, 2005), and others. Some of his audio can be found online at PENNSOUND, and UBUWEB. Tim Peterson, John Mercuri Dooley and Christina Strong put together a Jackson Mac Low Tribute page for EOAGH. He received the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets in 1999. He lived in New York City with his wife until his death on December 8, 2004.
Gil Ott (1950 -- 2004). He lived and wrote in Philadelphia with his wife, the poet Julia Blumenreich, and their daughter Willa. Before he passed away in 2004 he had written and published many books of poetry and prose: Yellow Floor (Sun & Moon, 1985), within range (Burning Deck, 1987), Public Domain (Potes & Poets, 1989), The Whole Note (Zasterle, 1996), Traffic (Chax Press), PACT (Singing Horse, 2002), The Amputated Toe (Cuneiform Press), and others. He was the editor and publisher of Singing Horse Press, and the magazine PAPER AIR. (There are some of us who secretly wish to see the issues of PAPER AIR released as an anthology.) Kristen Gallagher edited The Form of Our Uncertainty: A Tribute to Gil Ott (Chax Press). There is a marvelous recording of the Gil Ott Celebration on PENNSOUND (from 10/27/01). You can also hear him sing a song and read a poem for FREQUENCY Audio Journal. His last interview appeared in BANJO Magazine.
JACKSON MAC LOW, interviewed by GIL OTT at PS 1, Long Island City, NY (August or September 1979)
Copyright © 1979/2007 the Estate of Jackson Mac Low
Copyright © 1979/2007 the Estate of Gil Ott
From your beginning to write up through performances, where does emotion enter into your work?
JACKSON MAC LOW
The pieces I've composed from at least 1961 on have been of a kind of which the score may be produced by relatively "objective" chance means, but of which performances are done by performers following certain procedures spontaneously when using the given materials. Thus performers' emotions are involved as much as they like (although I strongly discourage "ego-tripping") when they use the given materials and procedures. Nonhuman means are, so to speak, shaded and modified by people's feelings.
I ask that because I see your writing as aleatoric...
JACKSON MAC LOW
But it isn't all that way. In a poem such as the "Light Poem for John Taggart" (PAPER AIR, vol. 2, #1), many of the names of kinds of light were drawn from a chart of such light names that I made in 1962. There are 288 names of kinds of light on this chart, but it only includes light names that begin with letters that appear in my name or in that of Iris Lezak, my former wife. The chart's columns are headed with the letters that are in our names. In making it, I just collected names of kinds of light. Then I used the chart as a source for light names in most of the Light Poems I've written between June 1962 and the present.
So there were "objective" means that drew the names of kinds of light into the poems. In writing them I followed a method that I call "working from nuclei": certain pivotal words or phrases are given by some "objective" system--usually one involving chance in some sense of the word. In composing most of the Light Poems, light names were drawn into the poem by such a system. In writing many of the Light Poems, many of the later 1962 ones and almost all of the more recent ones, such as the one for Taggart, I then composed freely between the nuclei, that is, between the names of kinds of light.
Since all of the Light Poems are dedicated to particular people or groups of people (or in one case, to the interior regions of the sun), I usually use the successive letters of the dedicatees' names to determine the columns of the chart from which the light names are to be taken. Then the particular item in the column that is to be drawn into the poem is usually determined by a random-sampling means such as random digits (a table of which I've used for about 21 years). In making the chart I sometimes was unable to think of enough light names beginning with a certain letter to fill a whole column (i.e., 20 light names), in which cases I filled out the remainder of the columns with light names beginning with related letters. For instance, not many light names begin with a "Z," so after running out of "Z" names, I filled the rest of the column with light names beginning with "S." As a result, some letters in dedicatees' names are represented in the poems by light names that begin with other, "related," letters.
To what extent do you regard writing as a meditational practice?
JACKSON MAC LOW
I don't think I've ever consciously thought of it as such.
Not even in those open areas?
JACKSON MAC LOW
No. I just write in those stretches as I would when writing any other (i.e., nonaleatoric) poetry. Of course, there is a sense in which writing poetry is a meditational practice, but I don't think this is any truer of my writing, aleatoric or nonaleatoric, that it is of anyone else's.
Where the writing isn't predetermined, e.g., by a chance system, how do you form it?
JACKSON MAC LOW
I think I proceed intuitively--usually, spontaneously--in those poems or parts of poems--without preconceived plans.
However, many whole series of poems, such as the ones in the book STANZAS FOR IRIS LEZAK and both the numbered and the "matched" Asymmetries, were entirely produced systematically. There's nothing (or hardly anything) in STANZAS that was chosen, except that sometimes I chose to use a particular text or group of texts as a source.
How do you choose the texts that you use?
JACKSON MAC LOW
That's usually impulsive. Usually, when I've written that kind of aleatorically-determined poem, I've worked from whatever I happened to be reading at the time. For instance, the summer of 1960, when I was writing STANZAS, I was reading books on botany, Buddhism, politics, and so on. I was reading some poetry and many articles in Scientific American and all sorts of other things, ranging from the National Enquirer and the Marquis de Sade to pacifist flyers and religious pamphlets. The poems came largely from whatever I happened to be reading. That's the personal part of those poems: the fact that I applied my aleatoric methods to whatever texts I happened to be reading, since what one reads is a very personal matter.
I began using the "Nucleic Method" in 1961, when I wrote a number of poems whose titles begin "From Nuclei..." At that time I also produced a whole pack of cards for improvising performers (NUCLEI FOR SIMONE FORTI), parts of which later became the basis of the series of Dance-Instruction Poems called THE PRONOUNS (3rd edition, Station Hill Press, Barrytown, NY, 1979). (This pack and how I got from it to THE PRONOUNS is described in the prose essay published with the poems.)
At that time in early 1961 I drew several lists of words by means of random digits from the Basic English List. Both the NUCLEI FOR SIMONE and a number of verse poems I wrote at the time were made by using chance means to draw words from these word lists that themselves had been compiled by chance operations. The Basic English list had been compiled in, I think, the 1920's by C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards. They believed that it included all or most of the most basic words in English and that most other words in English (except for proper names) could be "translated" into combinations of these Basic words. For instance, they translated the whole New Testament into Basic English. They thought that Basic English would be a better universal language than Esperanto, which in the 1920s was the widely used "universal language," albeit an artificial one. Since English was already so widespread, they thought its grammar and basic words would be a better universal language than any artificial one.
In making the FROM NUCLEI poems, the NUCLEI FOR SIMONE, and some other 1961 texts, I just used aleatoric means to draw words from their lists, which was in one of my dictionaries. That's when I began working freely between chance-given pivotal points ("nuclei"). Starting with Ogden and Richards' list, I'd let random digits draw a large list, and then often make a smaller list from the larger one, also by means of random digits, for use in any particular poem. As I said, between the chance-given nuclei I wrote pretty freely. I used similar methods in writing THE PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, but in making that series, I used the Phoenician meanings of the successive letters of the alphabet that comprised the presidents' names as my nuclei. For instance "G" is "Gimel" or "camel": thus the first line comes from the first letter of George Washington's name: "George Washington never owned a camel." Similarly, "E" and "O" mean "eye" and "head": the next line begins: "but the eyes in his head..." and so it goes throughout the series.
What I really want to get to is why you use methods so exclusively.
JACKSON MAC LOW
For reasons derived from Buddhism--originally from Zen. For the Buddhist, the ego is an illusion. My purpose in using chance operations is to try to evade the ego, at least to some significant extent. The "pure" chance work presents each word, phrase, etc., apart from any valuation I might put on it. It's somewhat like the practice that later developed among people such as Clark Coolidge, Ron Silliman, Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, and Steve McCaffery.
But they select their words.
JACKSON MAC LOW
Yes. But I mean the effect of the words they select is somewhat similar. Each little word or word string--sometimes even fragments of words--is set off from the others. My words are seldom as detached from each other as those in the work that Clark produced in about 1964 or 1965. I tended to go in the opposite direction--toward more and more connection--after I began using the "Nucleic Method" in 1961.
Do you feel, when you've written a sentence, that it satisfies you, or is it just another grouping of words or phrases?
JACKSON MAC LOW
It's according to what kind of work we're talking about. In poems in which I say things all the time, as in the later Light Poems, I play off between the ego and the nonego. That's something I got interested in about the same time that I started composing performance works that are realized largely by performers' choices (in a loose sense of the word, by "improvisation") rather than by strict chance regulation. Works written before 1961, such as my play THE MARRYING MAIDEN and the performance methods for realizing STANZAS FOR IRIS LEZAK as a simultaneity, have rather strict chance-given regulations of delivery and/or other performance parameters. In performing STANZAS, for instance, performers use three kinds of cards to determine what and how they speak and when they're silent and/or produce nonverbal sounds.
Do you regard a lack of restriction, allowing for more improvisation, as allowing for more of the performer's ego to show, or less of it?
JACKSON MAC LOW
What I think of the ego, and what I think the Buddhist position on the ego is, has, I think, changed over the years. Some kinds of Buddhism, notably, Tibetan Buddhism (or some forms of it) work through the ego to achieve a nonegoic state. Personally, I have a mixture--maybe, a self-contradictory one--of attitudes toward the ego. What ego is and what it isn't gets more and more problematical for me. When instructing performers, I always ask them not "to go on ego trips," but always to relate to and respond to everything else they hear, everything else they sense during the performance. I ask performers to allow themselves to become part of the performance situation. I'm not interested in ego expression per se--as "self-expression"--but some degree of self-expression is an inevitable by-product of working, to whatever extent, improvisatorally. One is restricted by the rules of the pieces to using the given materials in prescribed ways, but this includes almost an infinite number of possibilities. Nevertheless, what comes up spontaneously in relation to the environment and other performers is not necessarily the same as what one would be doing as an ego expression. In fact, I'm doubtful as to how much poetry or art of any kind is really ego expression.
When you have performers in this nonegoic state...
JACKSON MAC LOW
It's not actually nonegoic, but it isn't centered on expressing their egos. They're using their faculties and skills as sources for the performance. The main point lies not in their "expressing themselves" but in the whole situation's becoming something in itself. That's the relatively "objective" aspect of such performances that's analogous to the use of chance operations.
Monday, October 29, 2007
(SPREAD THE WORD!) PHILADELPHIA VOTERS WE MUST VOTE JUDGE TERESA CARR DENI OUT OF THE COURTS ONCE AND FOR ALL!
THE DENY JUDGE DENI CAMPAIGN HAS BEGUN!
Monday October 29, 2007
To the Editor:
We were appalled to learn that on Oct 4 Municipal Judge Teresa Carr Deni dropped all rape and assault charges in the case of a woman gang-raped at gunpoint. Because the woman was working as a prostitute, Judge Deni decided that she could not have been raped and changed the charge to "theft of services." Deni later said that this case "minimizes true rape cases and demeans women who are really raped."
As groups organizing against rape and in support of victims, we could not disagree more. All women have the right to protection from violence. The idea that any woman is "asking for it" is a lie that we fought for decades to destroy. It is especially offensive to see it revived by a female judge, who reached her position as a result of the women’s movement and is now using her power to deny justice to the most vulnerable women.
Deni told Daily News columnist Jill Porter that the victim met another client before reporting the rape. We have learned that this is completely untrue; the transcript of the hearing proves it. For a judge to make a false (and self-serving) accusation against a victim in the press, in addition to her prejudiced and reckless contempt for women’s safety, confirms that she is unfit to serve. The outcry following Deni’s decision shows how out of step with public opinion she is and that most people believe that prostitute women deserve the same protection from violence that we all have a right to expect.
No woman is safe when prostitute women aren't safe. Serial rapists and murderers often target prostitute women knowing that they are more likely to get away with it. Labeled criminals by the prostitution laws, women are less likely to report violence for fear of arrest themselves. When sex workers do report, the violence is often dismissed. Here, the same man and his friends gang-raped another woman four days later. Decisions like Deni’s are a green light for further attacks.
The victim in this case was a Black single mother with a young child. In Philadelphia, where one in four people lives in poverty and welfare has been almost completely dismantled, many women have been forced into prostitution to survive. This should not make them fair game for rapists.
We are glad that the District Attorney is pursuing the original rape charges. The public can make our voices heard in the November 6 election: vote "No" on the retention of Teresa Carr Deni as Judge of the Municipal Court of Philadelphia.
On behalf of
Global Women's Strike
Women Against Rape
US PROStitutes Collective
Black Women's Rape Action Project (BWRAP)
Legal Action for Women
Every Mother is a Working Mother Network
Wages Due Lesbians
Payday Men’s Network
Go to this link to see a Sample Ballot for the November 6 election. The vote for Judicial Retention (Judge of the Municipal Court) is near the bottom.
THERE WILL BE A PRESS CONFERENCE AND RALLY THIS THURSDAY 11/1 FROM 1 TO 2 PM OUTSIDE THE MUNICIPAL COURT (CRIMINAL JUSTICE CENTER), 1301 FILBERT ST., AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE TO SHOW JUDGE DENI WHAT SHE'S UP AGAINST!
Saturday, October 27, 2007
In the meantime here is a link to the Daily News article about the judge's decision to throw out a rape case, stating that the prostitute who was gang raped at gun point needs to understand it was an "occupational hazard." Really? Well Judge Deni, WE want YOU to understand that you should look for work in the wonderful world of fast food from now on!
More later as this unfolds! PLEASE spread the word! And VOTE this monster out of the courts!
P.S. the anti war rally was a good one today. It was especially good to see so many CODE PINK members there! I LOVE the CODE PINK group! One thing I do feel I want to say is that I'm a little tired of the endless speeches at these rallies. Um, well, they're boring. And endless. I'm not saying people don't mean well, but we really need to find something else to do at these things. Frankly I LOVE Carol Mirakove's ideas of turning these into festivals. I wish we could find Carol a job where she makes such things happen. It might just turn everything around in ways we never anticipated!
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
New recordings by Frank Sherlock and CAConrad on PENNSOUND!
Frank Sherlock's page HERE, CAConrad's page HERE.
Thanks to Michael Hennessey for all his amazing work, to Charles Bernstein for the invitation to record, and to everyone else at PENNSOUND and The Kelly Writers House,
Frank Sherlock and CAConrad
Having been exposed to many kinds of poetry in my life, and having seen many kinds of readings, it's nice, very nice in fact, to go to a reading that's completely different. Completely different is what this was.
Celebrating the "Visual and Sound Poet" Bob Cobbing last night at the Kelly Writers House was Maggie O'Sullivan, Cris Cheek, Marvin Sackner, Charles Bernstein and Matthew Abess.
Cris Cheek gave a performance never to be forgotten. Following a charted ride of markings on a page came his sounds of booming, murmur, zithing and punctured soul kind of extended cries, using his entire body to get them out. The page itself is beautiful, but it seems like some channeled foreign language, and not foreign meaning from another country, more like another dimension. At times frightened to be honest, I was enthralled, and could have listened to him for HOURS!
Cheek then had us read a Cobbing poem together, which in part was this:
Ha-ra-xeh-u-ka Ha-ra-xeh-u-ka Ha-ra-xeh-u
Ja-sa-yeh-ee-la Ja-sa-yeh-ee-la Ja-sa-yeh-ee
Ka-ta-zeh-umm-ma Ka-ta-zeh-umm-ma Ka-ta-zeh-umm
La-va-beh-oh-no La-va-beh-oh-no La-va-beh-oh
Ma-wa-deh-eh-pa Ma-wa-deh-eh-pa Ma-wa-deh-eh
It was music directed through the collective centralized nervous system, making us giddy and high after the test of reading, singing this out loud together.
There was also a short film of Cobbing and company in a small art space in London making these poems come alive and the impact of this has to be seen, experienced.
Click HERE to see the Writers House page with links to Cobbing and all the other contributors.
Maggie O'Sullivan blew my mind. Her reading of her poems will be with me for a long time. I look forward to hearing this whole event, but most especially O'Sullivan again once PENNSOUND has it available online. Her website is very generous, entire facsimiles of her books to read through. Click HERE. She hasn't been to the states in over 5 years, and before that it had been 15 years since she'd been here. What an amazing gift to have heard her read her poems!
Currently on display at the Van Pelt Library on the 6th floor is a Cobbing exhibit put together by Matthew Abess which I look forward to seeing. And you should too.
If you didn't get to see/hear this event tonight, PENNSOUND will have it available shortly. Look for it there. I want Bob Cobbing in my life from now on!
Saturday, October 06, 2007
That was nice, those parting words, now that I'm thinking about them. We didn't always have nice words between us over the years. In 1984 when I first met him he was very involved with New Formalist poet friends of his who were being published in QRL (Quarterly Review of Literature). Herschel had a way of talking to me like he needed to teach me something, saying things like, "If you're not in QRL you're not worth being read," charming things like that. Looking back I feel fortunate to have been raised by a hotheaded mother and if I didn't like what I read then that was that.
There was one amazing incident I witnessed in the 1980s where I discovered who he was and what he had been through in this world while at a reading for the victims of MOVE. Herschel was one of the readers, and he made a big deal about the taping of the reading, demanding to not be taped. Some people were annoyed that he was making such a fuss. I asked Gil Ott why Herschel was doing this. Gil told me how Herschel had lost his job back in the 50s at RCA in Camden because he and other labor organizers were called into Senator McCarthy's hearings and were accused of being communists. Herschel's life was very difficult for some time after that, out of work, painted red, tossed aside. It's something he never got over, so it seems when I think about how he reacted to that taping of the MOVE event in the 80s, yelling, "THEY JUST BURNED DOWN A WHOLE BLOCK OF THE CITY AND YOU TRUST THESE PEOPLE TO NOT COME AFTER YOU!? YOU PEOPLE ARE NAIVE ABOUT HOW THIS WORLD WORKS!" He had been very brave as a young man, stuck his neck out to help make the world better for all his fellow workers. It was sad to see how haunted he remained by the witch hunt he and his friends had endured. And although Herschel and I never saw eye-to-eye on poetry, ever, I had a lot of respect for the suffering he had gone through to help change the world.
Over the last few years I would see Herschel on Chestnut Street waiting for a bus and we would talk, and it was always good, though he was worried about his health, and before that worried about his wife's health. Once in a while he would ask me if I still saw this poet, or that poet. He brought up Scott Norman at one point. In particular the famous reading at Jimmy Tyoon's old place The Middle East (I don't know what it's called now), where Scott pulled a knife on Daniel Kiener in the middle of Daniel's poem about Israel needing to defend the homeland. Herschel, and Etheridge Knight, and Lamont Steptoe, Bob Small, and a whole lot of others were there, in fact I'm pretty sure it was Jerome Rothenberg who tackled Scott, but maybe I'm wrong about that. But Daniel was reading in his normal fashion, screaming, throwing his fists up and down, his long, long white beard flying all over the place. Scott jumped over a chair and lunged at him with a knife. It was just a small knife, but still, it was a knife. While Scott was being restrained, screaming about freeing the Palestinians with his face pushed into the floor, Herschel took his pipe out of his mouth and started yelling, "WHY ARE POETS SO GOD DAMNED CRAZY ALL THE TIME!? CAN'T WE EVER GET ALONG!? IT'S CRAZY HOW WE ACT! CRAZY! CRAZY! CRAZY!" There was a lot of that kind of drama back then, every week it seemed there was some new drama.
Even though Herschel was always trying to get me to understand the genius of David Slavitt and other New Formalists, he had a healthy respect for Allen Ginsberg. When Ginsberg read at the Painted Bride Arts Center one of the people who clapped the loudest was Herschel. Ginsberg did a brilliant reading of Sunflower Sutra, and it was so good that I have always hoped it was taped. Anyway, I remember Herschel telling Ginsberg how we need more brave poets like him, something like that, and Ginsberg gave him the Buddhist prayer hands and nod and smile.
Herschel was a cranky, fierce old guy, even back in 1984 when I was just 18 he was old and fierce. While he was intolerant of poetry he didn't like, I admire that he always let you know what he liked and didn't like. You never had to second guess Herschel. He had no time for games because he took his poetry seriously. And if you took it seriously as well, even if you didn't agree with him, he enjoyed the opportunity to tell you how wrong you were. In his own way I think that he valued those who valued poetry, no matter what kind of poetry. I'll think of him on Chestnut Street.
Rest in peace,
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
If they do this event next year I'd like to go! The idea of staying up all night and wandering around Toronto to hear poets sounds great!
Monday, October 01, 2007
Chris & I are reading at Milkboy in Bryn Mawr this Thursday (the new one, in the old movie theatre). We rarely read together (insert Captain & Tennille joke here) so if you're in the neighborhood, stop by, lest you miss the chance to hear our acoustic version of Muskrat Love...
Mad Poets Society*
Thursday, October 4, 2007
7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Jenn McCreary & Chris McCreary
Featured reading followed by open mic
Hosted by Autumn Konopka
Milkboy Acoustic Cafe
824 W. Lancaster Ave.
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
*See full schedule for this series.
About the Poets…
Jenn McCreary lives in Philadelphia where she co-edits ixnay press with Chris McCreary and works for the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program when she is not wrangling a set of four-year-old twin boys. She is the author of two chapbooks, errata stigmata (Potes & Poets Press) and four o’clock pocket chiming (BeautifulSwimmer Press), and of a doctrine of signatures (Singing Horse Press). Recent work has appeared in Tangent and How2.
Chris McCreary is the author of two books of poems, The Effacements and Dismembers. He reviews fiction and poetry for publications such as Rain Taxi, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and New Review of Literature, and he co-edits ixnay press (www.ixnaypress.com) with Jenn McCreary. Chris is an Upper School English Teacher at Episcopal Academy.