Saturday, September 29, 2007


Last night's Triple Launch Extravaganza announcing the latest numbers of Pilot, P-Queue and Damn the Caesars was a delightful success. Held at the Adam Mickiewicz Library on Buffalo's East Side, the event brought in an impressive gathering of approximately seventy-five people. More pub and performance space than library, the site of the event featured a dimly lit bar with a wide selection of Polish beers and vodkas, an air hockey table, contemporary Polka, and a large hanger-like theater space where the voices of even the softest speaking poets projected outward to the farthest members of the audience.

It was an honor to begin the event with readings by Steve McCaffery and Karen Mac Cormack, both of whom have work appearing in this latest volume of Damn the Caesars. Publicly acknowledging the recent passing of Bill Griffiths, McCaffery started by reading the first part of an untitled Griffiths poem also included in DTC: "WE move forth// silent (step) separate// atta slow pace over sward/ descending/ from this mausoleum". He then read, at a moderately quick pace, from the longer poem Gobi Vedda. Mac Cormack read the shorter poem "Green Logistics" and "ITS...", a prose poem constructed of dislocated phrases culled exclusively from Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Contributors to the most recent number of Matt Chambers' Pilot magazine, the following block of readers included Sean Bonney, Frances Kruk, Sophie Robinson, and Kai Fierle-Hedrick. Assistant editor of How2, Fierle-Hedrick recently returned to the US after eight years in London and was fortunately in the area and available to read. Bonney, Kruk, and Robinson, on the other hand, were able to make the launch through arrangements made by Kevin Thurston and a generous grant from the Mildred Lockwood Lacey Foundation for Poetry. Co-editors of the Yt Communications imprint, Bonney and Kruk traveled from Hackney while Sophie Robinson, now finishing an MA in Poetic Practice at Royal Holloway, traveled from London.

The evening was closed out with readings by Jose Alvergue, Ben Bedard, Jon Cotner, and Siobhan Scarry—all of whom are contributors to the fourth volume of P-Queue magazine founded by Sarah Campbell and now under the editorship of Andrew Rippeon. Alvergue, who received his MFA from the School of Critical Studies at the California Institute of the Arts, read both work which appears in P-Queue and parts of a newer project. Ben Bedard read from Implicit Lyrics, a series of prose poems, a few of which have recently been translated into Spanish. Jon Cotner read from the first part of his book-length collaboration with Andy Fitch, Conversations Over Stolen Food. The part of Fitch in this first conversation was performed by Zach Finch. Siobhan Scarry ended the evening by reading from a series of occasional poems written earlier that day, including variations on two Shakespeare sonnets and poems generated through cell phone discussions. Guaranteeing their occasional quality and foreclosing on the possibility of further iteration, Scarry set the poems aflame after reading the last and these burning poems marked, in a particularly dramatic way, the end of the event.


Edited by Andrew Rippeon, volume four of P-Queue includes new writing by Michael Robbins, Philip Metres, Siobhan Scarry, Allison Carter, Susanne Hall, Laura Jaramillo, Michelle and Richard Taransky, Harold Abramowitz, Crane Giamo, David Driscoll, Meg Barboza, Jose Felipe Alvergue, Elizabeth Cross, Mathew Timmons, Ben Bedard, Anthony Hawley, Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch, and Jordan Stempleman. Two-color letterpress covers and a numbered two-color letterpress card of poem #6 from Susanne Hall's Loteria, part of which appears in the volume. For further information, write: P-Queue c/0 Andrew Rippeon, 306 Clemens Hall, English Department, SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14260. Or visit the P-Queue blog:

Issue two of Pilot, edited by Matt Chambers, is a boxed set of 17 chapbooks featuring new writing by a wide range of younger British poets, including Sean Bonney, Emily Critchley, matt ffytche, Kai Fierle-Hedrick, Giles Goodland, Jeff Hilson, Piers Hugill, Frances Kruk, Marianne Morris, Neil Pattison, Reitha Pattison, Simon Perril, Sophie Robinson, Natalie Scargill, Harriet Tarlo, and Scott Thurston. Covers designed by Chris Fritton. For further information, write: Pilot c/o Matt Chambers, 306 Clemens Hall, English Department, SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14260. Email:

Friday, September 14, 2007

BILL GRIFFITHS (1948-2007)

Matt Chambers called from Buffalo this morning to let me know Bill Griffiths passed away today. According to a message sent out by Tom Raworth, Griffiths was checked into a hospital last week and then released. Today he was found in his County Durham home with the television, radio and a computer on.

Endearingly grizzled with tattooed knuckles, Griffiths worked with Bob Cobbing through the Writer's Forum. His first poems appeared in Poetry Review in the mid-1970s, the journal then under the editorship of Eric Mottram — another figure important to Griffiths and whose archive he would later catalog at King's College, London.

In 1987 Griffiths earned his PhD in Old English and Anglo-Saxon Studies from King's College. Aside from his own poetic production through the 1970s and 80s, Griffiths translated from the Anglo-Saxon, translations which include The Battle of Maldon and Guthlac B. Through Anglo-Saxon Books in Norfolk he published Alfred's Metres of Boethius and Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic in the late 1990s. Other critical and scholarly works include North East Dialect: Survey and Word List (Centre for Northern Studies, newcastle) and Dictionary of North East Dialect (Northumbria University Press).

Among his dozens of poetry collections (and this is to mention nothing of the perhaps hundreds of ephemeral publications he brought out) are: Tract Against Giants: Selected Poems (Coach House Press), Future Exiles: 3 London Poets (with Allen Fisher and Brian Catling), and, most recently, Mudfort (Salt 2003). He was also, with Tom Raworth and Tom Leonard, included in Etruscan Reader 5.

Earlier this year the Salt Companion to Bill Griffiths, edited by William Rowe, was published. In addition to various interviews with Griffiths, the book contains both casual and critical discussion of Griffiths' work by Eric Mottram, Jeff Nuttall, Alan Halsey, Iain Sinclair, John Seed, Tony Baker and a number of others.

Unfortunately I am in Santa Fe and not Buffalo, away from the handful of Griffiths titles I have — so I cannot access them and think through the work as I consider his passing. Further, it's only six months now since I first started corresponding with Griffiths. In response to a very brief letter soliciting work for a forthcoming volume of Damn the Caesars, he not only sent several wonderful poems and a sizable number of Amri and Pirate Press books but, on hearing about my interest in David Jones, he sent an essay he'd written on Jones' inscriptions and letter design. These poems and the essay were due to appear in the next volume of DTC, now at the print shop. That he has passed before I could get copies of the new volume to him is especially painful. I very badly wanted him to see how much his work was appreciated by younger poets and scholars this side of the pond. Aside from Steve McCaffery, Charles Bernstein, Peter Quartermain, Keith Tuma and a handful of others, Griffiths work didn't enjoy the readership in North America it otherwise deserved.

Discussing Griffiths' poetry In his introduction to the Salt Companion Jeff Nuttall writes:

Bill Griffiths’ poems are dazzling. More than any work in English since Gertrude Stein they insist on being recognised as surfaces and structures. Statements are made. Stories are told. Places and people are described. A bitter anarchism is expressed, also Nietzschean yearning towards energy and joy. Yet statement, narration, description and expression are kept in check so that the poem is seen as itself, a poem, an artefact, an edifice with an importance over and above its subject matter. It is not the light and the landscape, the sense of motion of limbs or machine, the anger and the disappointments, the passions and hungers, which are magnificent. It is the poem itself which, in Griffiths’ work, perpetually dazzles and astonishes in exactly the way the great stained-glass windows of European cathedrals dazzle and astonish before the eye has recognised whatever image is depicted.

It is hard not to agree with Nuttall's assessment of the work. The poetry does dazzle like the stained-glass windows of European cathedrals. But there are no such cathedrals in Santa Fe. Up the street from the Hotel St Francis where I'm writing now is the Loretto Chapel. And a few blocks from that the San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the United States. Built by Tlaxcalan Indians under the direction of Franciscan Padres in 1610, the church was eventually destroyed by fire and then restored in the late seventeenth century. While on the phone, Matt had a drink to Bill -- a shot of Glenn Fiddich. Having no liquor in the hotel room, I wandered up to the mission and lit a candle.

ADDENDUM: Matt Chambers just sent the following photograph of Bill with Geraldine Monk. It seems to offer us a window into the community of poets he worked with and worked to galvanize — and I can't thank Matt enough for sending it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


My wife is in the bedroom wiping dust off the face of a stuffed Teletubbie—the one with the Lacanian center protruding from the top of its head. My brother with his construction-working gorilla sausage fingers wrapped round my narrow neck tells me water seeks its own level. In other words, we are poets because we’re lazy. I tell him all poets are indeed lazy and want nothing more than to project this laziness onto the world—that is, they map their desire onto the world around them by means of critiquing it. They inject this desire into the consciousness of others in much the same way a radiologist injects barium-meal into the rectum of a patient—uncertain where the cancer resides but having a hunch it's there, the art of resisting Wal-Mart lies in the search for this cancer. As auroras expose the landscape, the process of the poem exposes whatever cancer may or may not reside in the patient. It draws the cancer out. It is a critique of cancer. It makes of the cancer a beautiful thing at precisely the moment it identifies and condemns this cancer. Experts are uncertain whether barium itself, which allows us to view this cancer, is itself cancer causing. This is the poem. This is itself a material manifestation of desire. Like a muddy puddle, the economic ground we throw this desire against reflects the image of our desire back at us, but also transforms and distorts this desire, which is always already distorted, which is busted up before it comes back to us like a boomerang in the form of a fucked up, static image. This is desire.