Saturday, July 05, 2008


Just over two months have lapsed since updating this blog — though a good deal has happened.

Volume IV of Damn the Caesars has been completed and contains new work by Lisa Samuels (New Zealand), Alan Gilbert (NYC), Meg Foulkes (England), Stacy Szymaszek (NYC), Matvei Yankelevich (NYC), Hoa Nguyen (Texas), Simon Pettet (NYC), Aaron Lowinger (Buffalo), mIEKAL aND (Wisconsin), Linda Russo (Washington), Tom Leonard (Scotland), Peter Makin (Japan), C.J. Martin (Texas), Hugo Garcia Manriquez (California), Billy Mills (Ireland), Richard Kostelanetz (NYC), Harry Gilonis (England), Erica Van Horn (Ireland), Gerry Loose (Scotland), Shin Yu Pai (Washington), Andrew Schelling (Colorado), Catherine Walsh (Ireland). The feature contains a fifty-page run of poems by Kyle Schlesinger (NYC) which appear under the title The Family and are introduced by poet and Atticus / Finch publisher Michael Cross (Washington). As ever, the orientation of this volume of the journal is international and transgenerational.

The NPF Poetry of the 1970s conference happened at Orono. I'll post a separate discussion of the event — a wonderful gathering of poets and critics from across the country and the Atlantic — and this the first NPF conference to take place after the death of Burton Hatlen. The loss of such a figure is naturally quite a blow to poetry in America and elsewhere. Fortunately the University of Maine has core poetics faculty like Steve Evans, Jennifer Moxley, Ben Friedlander and Carla Billiteri to continue organizing these conferences as they have in the past. This year's conference was an important intervention in the reception of poetries produced in the 1970s. An honor to be a part of it.

In early May I traveled to Chicago with Geoff Gatza to pick up a Vandercook 1 proof press and by the middle of the month I located by way of the web a cabinet of type for sale in New Hampshire. Since I'm situated in Buffalo, the conference in Maine gave occasion to pick up the cabinet. Twenty-four cases in all. Led type. Cheltenham. Black letter. Borders and dingbats. Caslon. The detour for the cabinet demanded I take poorly maintained state and county routes most of the way. An unanticipated pleasure taking in the landscape at moderate speeds. The Adirondacks. The craggy mountains of Vermont. The rolling hills of New Hampshire. The curiously moist and misty landscape of Maine. Moose crossing signs everywhere but sadly no moose to be seen.

After wandering around the country for the past two months — from Buffalo to Jersey to NYC to South Carolina, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Maine and elsewhere — my aim now is to take the next week or two and sit quietly with the books that have been piling up on the floor around the desk for the past year or so. Many of them I've read through quickly and placed on the floor in stacks, hoping to comment on them. Among them a number of Barque and Object Permanence publications, Peter Manson's Between Cup and Lip, Steve McCaffery's Slightly Left of Thinking, Karen Mac Cormack's Implexures, a number of Yt Communications books, Andrew Schelling's Dropping the Bow, a number of Cuneiform publications (including two Ted Greenwald books), Kyle Schlesinger's Hello Helicopter (the font on the cover alluding to Robert Creeley's 1976 collection Hello, designed and published by Alan Loney), several issues of Plantarchy, Jordan Davis' Hat magazine, the Helen Adam Reader edited by Kristin Prevallet, Tom Pickard's Ballad of Jamie Allen, Tyrone Williams' On Spec, and loads of other publications. Hopefully over the coming week or two I'll work through them and discuss them here.

And of course yesterday was Independence Day. Over the past week I found myself completely taken by Dale Smith's call for a Slow Poetry movement — this in a moment when so many poetic projects are given to excess, exhaustion and furious production which, in the end, seem to reproduce relations of production as they respond to these destructive relations. Modeled in part on the Slow Food movement first founded in Italy over twenty years ago, Dale's proposal calls for a rethinking of our relation — as poets, critics, artists, producers — to the conditions of material and intellectual production and consumption that have shaped the current politico-cultural landscape. It is a call to attend carefully to local approaches to poetic and cultural production that are often lost in the rapid exchange of information on a national and international scale.

This to say, I spent the better part of Independence Day playing records as I thought further through Dale's notion of a Slow Poetry. I pulled an old SSD record off the shelf that I haven't listened to in years and found myself thrilled with it. SSD sat at the center of a wonderful moment in Boston hardcore during the early 1980s, a moment that gave rise to bands like Slapshot and later the Trouble. Afterward I threw on the War and Peace comp brought out by Radical Records in 1984 — the same year Maximum Rock-n-Roll brought out Let Them Eat Jellybeans, another extraordinary comp that attempted, at a time of intense powerlessness and limited means of production, to respond to the destructive tendencies of the Reagan and Thatcher administrations. By wile and guile these records were distributed every which way imaginable — through larger distribution hubs, mail order catalogs, from the backs of vans driven by touring bands. To be sure such approaches to distribution are nothing new. Jonathan Williams carted hundreds of poetry titles around the country in a battered old station wagon back in the late 1950s, bringing small press poetry to the furthest reaches of the United States. City Lights. Auerhahn. His own Jargon titles.

But what makes these records from the early 80s especially dear to me is the ethos embedded in the production / consumption dialectic governing their distribution. Many of the records include pay-no-more-than labels. These are not stickers appended to the records, but printed on the covers. Unless the cover is damaged or torn the buyer knows immediately where to situate the seller. Even if neither buyer nor seller heed the label, such a label calls attention to the antagonistic relationship upon which all such transactions are predicated. The label creates a space for investigating how and why we exchange commodities the way we do, suggesting we look further into what markets are, how they operate and who they benefit. These small labels do a lot of work, even if we choose to ignore them.

So rather than spend an afternoon with Lou Harrison, Harry Partch or Charles Ives I gave Independence Day to early punk and hardcore. The War and Peace comp I first found used in the late '80s. Widely referred to as the Peace comp, it comes with an impressive newsprint booklet. Each of the fifty bands featured on the record are given a page. Unfortunately most anyone that's managed to locate a copy of the record lands up with a copy missing the booklet. Inside my own copy is a sheet of paper with the track listing scrawled down. Like the international orientation I aspire to in editing Damn the Caesars, the Peace comp features bands from a wide range of countries: Gism (Japan), Crass (UK), DOA (Canada), Boskops (Germany), Negazione (Italy), Conflict (UK), Reagan Youth (US), MDC (US), Subhumans (UK), and others. In many ways records like the Peace comp — or for that matter Not So Quiet on the Western Front, Burning Ambitions, and any number of Secret and Link comps — do work not completely unlike Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. But instead of operating on a national scale and using nation as the organizing principle for curating these comps, many of these records are international and organized around concerns involving genre and political orientation. Rather than aspire to circumscribe and define as Smith's anthology does, the comps brought out in the early 80s struggle to respond — and it's this dialectical tension between defining and responding that interests me. Defining a situation can of course be framed as a form of response, but the distance between a project like Smith's and these early punk comps are, at least to my eye, greater than their proximity.

In any event, this is what the day was given to. Spinning records that, however entangled they might be in the nations and wars that drive market economies, struggle to resist them. However crude or seemingly juvenile such projects may appear in the larger scheme of cultural and intellectual production, I never fail to find myself deeply inspired by these records.