Wednesday, July 30, 2008

CATCLYSMIC TRANSGENERATIONAL SPRAWL

Who in their right mind would want to draw a strong line of demarcation between one "generation" and the next? In reading, editing and thinking around poetry I've resisted this tendency toward privileging one generation over another, periodizing, caging. I recall reading a wonderful statement by Phillip Whalen which, if i can crudely paraphrase, goes: There is no generation gap / scratch an American smell a cop. And in the 1970s it seemed perfectly natural for the Language Poets to absorb Jackson Mac Low, who had been producing textual and visual work since the mid-1940s, into the sphere of their own poetic production.

This to say, I was quite excited to come across the following statement in a letter from Pound to Zukofsky:

What's age to do with verbal manifestation, what's history to do with it,—good gord lets disassociate ijees—I want to show the poetry that's being written today—whether the poets are of masturbating age or the fathers of families don't matter.

And though he exlcuded Rexroth, Don Allen did, after all, include a fifty year-old Charles Olson in his NAP anthology. As a close friend often says, time is fascist—and those editors and anthologists hell bent on periodizing are, more often than not, the shock troops of this fascism. And the drive to bring out hack work by younger poets—aren't we tired of privileging youth, lusting after it, exalting it? Yo—I don't want some kid's crayon drawing on my fridge, nor do i want them anthologized, bound and on my bookshelves.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NEW BOSS SAME AS THE OLD BOSS

NPR reports that World Trade Organization negotiations have collapsed this week. In an election year it might be important to remember that it was the Clinton administration which threw the US into the WTO and that Congress still has yet to ratify US membership in this organization — which means the US is technically not a part of it, but yet has a surprising amount of sway in these negotiations. The US is precisely the reason talks have collapsed, the US accusing China and India of "insisting on too much protection for their farmers" (BBC). In India food prices have skyrocketed. And this is to mention nothing of the strangle-hold US-based corporations like Monsanto have had on their agricultural and food supplies for the past few decades, forcing Indian farmers to bend to their will through introducing highly destructive GM seed, pesticides and other products into their agricultural economy.

But it's not only in India that food prices have skyrocketed. While lumpenproles in developed countries continue to enjoy the dollar-menu at McDonald's — even though some may have lost their homes — the working poor in much of the underdeveloped world have seen food prices double and even triple, creating a market-driven food crisis. In other words, like the potato famine of 1848 or the Ukrainian famine of 1932 (which continues to be memorialized annually in the Ukrainian Orthodox church), this food crisis has less to do with climate conditions than with the machinations of the market. The food is there, being produced. This crisis, like most other famines, is man-made and determined by market prices. Much of this is naturally connected to the rising cost of oil and petroleum-based products.

Food prices have risen in the US (grains and cereals by 41%) but this increase is slight compared to the rising cost of foods in underdeveloped nations. Food riots have been common in much of Africa, but also in nations as geographically disparate as Bangladesh and Haiti, whose government completely fell apart as the result of food riots back in April. This to say, most of those hardest hit by these rising costs are curiously not white.

Many of the farmers Chinese and Indian WTO officials seek to protect are subsistence farmers. Thus while the US refuses to lower tariffs in key industries (auto and manufacturing) and continues to provide subsidies which give American farmers an edge on the global market, US trade reps like Susan Schwab are struggling to muscle China, India and other nations into lowering the import tariffs that protect their farmers. All of this is further complicated by the fact that underdeveloped nations like Uruguay and Bangladesh have been pitted against other underdeveloped nations in negotiations over trade barriers and protection.

These issues are crucial in an election year — especially one where the lesser of the two meatheads comes to us in the form of a messianic figure. Obama is wealthy. He's connected to the Chicago School of Economics. In fact, Obama's already selected staunch Wal-Mart defender Jason Furman to lead his economic policy team. Here Naomi Klein's article "Obama's Chicago Boys" has been immensely useful. Little of this information appears on his own website, his Wikipedia entry or even the wide range of essays, columns and articles produced by Obama's more conservative critics. In other words, on the terrain of global trade, it's unlikely that Obama's policies will be markedly different from Clinton or Bush administration policies. After all, NAFTA came into effect on Clinton's watch. As Klein writes:

Now is the time to worry about Obama's Chicago Boys and their commitment to fending off serious attempts at regulation. It was in the two and a half months between winning the 1992 election and being sworn into office that Bill Clinton did a U-turn on the economy. He had campaigned promising to revise NAFTA, adding labor and environmental provisions and to invest in social programs. But two weeks before his inauguration, he met with then-Goldman Sachs chief Robert Rubin, who convinced him of the urgency of embracing austerity and more liberalization.

Liberalization here of course means privatization, just as so much of the war in Iraq has been "liberalized" rather than regulated, strategic security missions continuing to be farmed out to corporations like KBR that make of the Middle East a sort of wild west, a lawless region that truly understands the destructive currents of neoliberal laissez-faire policy. And here I wonder how the economic policies of a candidate like Obama, both at home and abroad, will act on or inflect his foreign policy. If he's already selected figures like Furman to deliver economic advice, who else is lurking outside the limits of his down-home neo-populist rhetoric? Might we also find executives associated with Halliburton, Lockheed Martin and other corporations deeply invested in the war milling around the Oval Office in January?

The complicated relation of world trade to US foreign policy, a policy presently characterized by protracted war, is crucial here. The deficit is immense, ringing in at around $450 billion. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue — and it is unlikely either of those nations will see the withdrawal of US and coalition troops during the next presidential term. In some ways I find myself more frightened by Obama's connection to Chicago and Friedmanism than Alan Greenspan's connection to Ayn Rand. The distance between one party and another is almost negligible here. It's important to remember here that the ongoing war in Iraq didn't end under Clinton, it was simply elided by the media. The bombings continued, almost without interruption. And much like the international community's long delay in entering into the Rwandan crisis in the 1990s, we see a similar delay in responding to the current rape crisis in the Congo where rape has been deployed as a strategic military tactic. But this is the Congo which, along with Mozambique and other West African countries, supplies the metallic ore coltan to much of the world, an ore which we find in everything from cell phones to computers to digital cameras. It is coltan in fact which allows me to upload this entry to the web. On the terrain of the market, is there something to be gained by not intervening in the Congo crisis?

Given the complexity of all of this, the overdetermined relation of economic and foreign and domestic policies — including those policies and less formal trends that govern the ebb and flow of media and culture — I find it hard to believe that casting a ballot can effect change in any meaningful way. As Ed Dorn said, if voting changed anything it would be illegal. The new boss, if not the same as the old boss, will never be too markedly different. Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe questioned years ago the limits of political participation, asking why it's so difficult to imagine a form of participation broader, more immediate and more inclusive, than the token forms of participation offered to us through western democracy. After the failures of the anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s and early '00s this decade, in terms of struggle, has been characterized by a debilitating and deeply fatalistic sense of powerlessness. But if Obama swings into the Oval Office next year perhaps his presidency will simply give us a greater sense of agency, even if largely illusory as it was under Clinton.

Monday, July 28, 2008

THEY ARE FLYING PLANES

The most mysterious package arrived in the mail this morning containing two publications in a transparent acetate envelope plastered with stamps. One of the two saddle-stitched books is the magazine They Are Flying Planes. Rather than attaching a name to the sticker bearing a return address, there is only the title of the journal. Further, although there's an address included in the journal, the name(s) of the editor(s) are not disclosed. It begins with a table of contents, but once we move past the table of contents the names of authors and artists have been omitted and, like the early numbers of Cid Corman's Origin, do not appear beside their work.

The roundup of poets in the journal is an amazing blend of poets and artists, some I know well and others I'm encountering here for the first time: Michael Basinski, Ryan Gallagher, Lisa Jarnot, Clint Krute, Willem John Doherty, Carol Ann Davis, Helen Phillips, Orlando White, Patrick Durgin and Jen Hofer, Randall Sellers, Evan Kennedy, Tim Morris, Adam Thompson, DG Nanouk Okpik, Edward Hopely, Matt Reeck, Anselm Berrigan, Michael Keenan, Derek Fenner, Dustin Williamson, Tetra Balestri, Ed Go, Christopher Stackhouse, Mary Millsap, Cat-Bear, Nora Almeida, Buck Downs, Jessica Pavone, Thom Lessener.


As an object the magazine is something to behold. Its format is large, the cover simply a large (18" x 12.5") white envelope folded in half with Japanese endpapers and two separate signatures, both of which are hand-stitched to the cover. A small handful of ephemeral items also appear in the magazine — two small broadsides, one on translucent vellum, a screen-printed three-color visual image, and a small screen-printed envelope which bears the image of a hand giving the okay sign and is filled with grains of something or other (it makes noise).


The journal has a whimsical Fluxus feel, something like Justin Katko's Plantarchy and Critical Documents publications, but was clearly assembled with tremendous care. The thing is interactive, it demands a lot of the reader, makes of the reader something of a participant or performer in the project. The envelope is to be shaken and one must be careful to keep the broadsides from falling out. When reading through the poems this morning I was thrilled by the absence of names, an editorial gesture that forced me to read the poems as anonymous or authorless or collaborative works -- outside any relation to a particular name. What I encountered were simply texts standing on their own -- unless, of course, I flipped back to the table of contents to track down the name of the poet or artist. Such a strange book. Given the size of the thing, flipping back and forth from poem or visual piece to the contents page demands much of a reader, forcing the reader to move in strange ways and focus on the magazine. It controls the situation in a sense — much like a car might when it breaks down.

And what does it mean for an editor or group of editors from Brooklyn, a stone's throw away from Ground Zero, to call a journal of the arts They Are Flying Planes?

Unfortunately I missed out on the first number of the journal. But I look forward to getting future numbers.

The second book, Mike Basinski's auXin, is similarly wonderful. Black bristol cover with screen-printed title. Visual images screen-printed across the inside of the cover. And the text:

the fungi constitute a kingdom
of their own mutations including
me, deletion, duplication
the arrangements, translocations, inversions one
word witch two

This brought out through Amphibole Books, which I imagine has some connection to TAFP. The address: 570 45th Street Brooklyn NY 11220. No website.

NONE MORE BLACK

Friday, July 25, 2008

CHARLES BERNSTEIN . CREELEY . COMMONS

In a recent and especially useful essay on Creeley called "Hero of the Local," Charles Bernstein discusses the relation of the particular to the common. BOO. Both terms are highly abstract, fungible and often completely unmanageable. Abstraction's not always such a terrible thing, but it's especially bad when it discloses itself as something other than (an) abstraction, as something like an impenetrable and sovereign "particular" or "singularity." In the case of each, we've beaten these terms to death, ground them down, sapped whatever residual meaning might be lurking within them. Each time I hear the word "particular" I want to vomit. And I imagine this nausea has something to do with the excess of meaning that characterizes the word — its meaning is indeterminate, undecidable, utterly beyond location. Particular. From the moment I first encountered poetry it was one of those words that was — without mercy — beaten into me. The particular this. The particular that. It didn't set the terms of the conversation so much as it shackled the conversation, narrowed it, presiding over it like a little dictator. It deluded us into believing that the multiple, the reproducible, was singular and singularly unique. This particular moved through the world like a god or Big Brother, at once everywhere and nowhere. But this particular dictator ...

The same is the case for "common." What "common" and "particular" hold in common is their malleability. We can do any damn thing we want with these words, fiddle with them to meet our ends, stretch them like pennies to make ends meet. It is precisely because neither are particular in any essential way that each are so useful to so many.

But what happens when neither the particular (difference / singularity) and the common (sameness) are not framed as mutually exclusive terms, but terms that collapse into one another. What happens when the common is defined not as sameness but the terrain within which multiple differences or singularities reside. As Bernstein says of Creeley's poetic practice:

Creeley's equal emphasis on both the particular and the common is another one of his paradoxes: for it is the particular within the common that is the obscure object of his desire and frequent frustration. The common is not one thing (or one idea) believed by all but a shared space in which our individual differences converge without disappearing. A commons is a place of dispute and provisional agreements, a convention not a conversion, a particular place not a universal claim. In Creeley's prosody, and here the mark of Zukofsky is evident, we count by ones: a serial order in which the contingency of the next is honored and each word (nouns no more than prepositions) carries its own weight. This is a poetics not of subordination but of the sublimity of the modular and the local. Each part doing its part against an horizon of a whole that never arrives.

This notion of the common is not only spatial but also exterior to difference, outside of singularity, delimited by the "horizon of a whole that never arrives." But a "common" space can also be internal or interior and may have a location in (or jurisdiction over) consciousness, the unconscious, etc. What about difference within? Can we conceptualize each and every material being and / or body as (part of) a common within which contrary subjectivities compete, converse or negotiate with one another. Identity is many, right? And competing ideologies (the production mills of subjectivities) move through the body and act on it, determining its movement and position within the world, its relation not only to others but ultimately to itself. If discourses or ideologies pass through bodies, do these bodies — these singular beings, these particulars — also become part of "the common"? Doesn't something of the common reside within each particular? But perhaps this is the paradox Bernstein refers to in Creeley.
___________________________________

ADDENDUM: I've decided to construct what I would like to call THE PARTICULAR STICK. I imagine this as a sort of truncheon or fraternity paddle with the word "particular" inscribed on it. It is for beating people. Into submission.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

SCHLESINGER, MIMEO MIMEO &C

Kyle Schlesinger launched a message this morning wondering if I was familiar with Jeremy James Thompson's letterpress work. The work is quite extraordinary, Thompson insisting on rethinking letterpress broadsides not as single-author projects but as truly collaborative projects beginning with a poem and sprawling outward to include poetic and critical responses to that poem. This approach to broadside design is truly dialogic, and Thompson's use of color bold, asking as much of a reader's eyes as the work asks of the mind.

I always find myself completely taken by Kyle's attention to the forms and technologies that mediate texts. For him the bibliographic and material aspects of a poem scarcely ever take a backseat to the textual or intellectual production of a poem.

Kyle's recently invested tremendous energy in promoting the work of Ted Greenwald — and this coupled with countless essays, lectures and constant blog postings on the work of bookmakers, publishers and letterpress artists suggests a lot about his sense of poetry and its relation to material production. For him the proximity between the textual production of a poem and its material production collapses — maybe not entirely, but enough to suggest that a poem is best thought through the limits or possibilities of its material production, through the complex of technologies which first brought it into being and carry it across time.

Mimeo Mimeo, which he coedits with Jed Birmingham, focuses almost exclusively on bookmaking and the material production of the poem. As he and Birmingham write in the inaugural issue of the journal:

Mimeo Mimeo is a forum for critical and cultural perspecives on the Mimeograph Revolution, Artists' Books and the Literary Fine Press .... this periodical features essays, interviews, images, correspondence, artifacts, manifestos, poems, and reflections on the graphic and material conditions of contemporary poetry and language arts. Taking our cue from Steve Clay and Rodney Phillips' ground-breaking book, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side and its corresponding exhibition at the New York Public Library, we see the mimeograph as one among many printing technologies (letterpress, offset, silkscreen, photocopiers, computers, etc.) that enabled poets, artists and editors to become independent publishers. We have no allegiance to any particular medium or media.

The journal includes images which compliment each essay or interview but these images also reinforce the last line of their mission statement. There is no privileging of one medium or media over another. From Jed Birmingham's essay on Jeff Nuttall's My Own Mag to Kyle's long and electric interview with Alastair Johnston, images are used to great effect, covering without discrimination a wide range of approaches to publishing and book making. Fucking brilliant.

Digital images of the entire run of Nuttall's My Own Mag can be viewed through the Reality Studio site.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

COMMUNITAS & INTERNAL DIFFERENTIATION

Every once and again I stumble upon a strikingly simple statement, powerful in the force of its simplicity. Reading through R. James Goldstein's The Matter of Scotland (1993), a book that attempts to think through the discursive formation of Scotland as a nation during the late medieval period, I come across the following statement:

But if communities, both then and now, are by definition the site of conflicting voices and interests, to make them speak monovocally is to deny the significance of political difference.

Such clear statements are always seductive, but I'm especially delighted with this one simply because it poignantly problematizes any notion of a "people" — and such a statement is especially timely, here, in the last five months of a presidential campaign in which all candidates continue to rely, and to great rhetorical effect, on the notion of a unified, internally consistent, homogeneous American people.


Monday, July 14, 2008

REGULATING THE COMMONS OF CULTURE

Thinking again, as I'm sure a number of us are, through Dale's call for a Slow Poetry, I stumbled upon (by way of Silliman's blog) Zizek's brief article "The Ambiguous Legacy of '68" contained in the most recent issue of In These Times. Zizek sketches out four glaring contradictions specific to late capitalism which may (or may not) be strong enough to mark it's end. In doing so he appeals to the notion of "commons" as defined by Hardt and Negri, the same notion which drives Dale's sense of a Slow Poetry:

... does today’s global capitalism contain contradictions strong enough to prevent its indefinite reproduction?

There are (at least) four such antagonisms: the looming threat of ecological catastrophe; the inappropriateness of private property rights for so-called “intellectual property”; the socio-ethical implications of new techno-scientific developments (especially in biogenetics); and, last but not least, new forms of apartheid, in the form of new walls and slums.

The first three antagonisms concern the domains of what political theorists Michael Hardt and Toni Negri call “commons” — the shared substance of our social being whose privatization is a violent act that should be resisted with violent means, if necessary (violence against private property, that is).

The commons of external nature are threatened by pollution and exploitation (from oil to forests and natural habitat itself); the commons of internal nature (the biogenetic inheritance of humanity) are threatened by technological interference; and the commons of culture — the socialized forms of “cognitive” capital, primarily language, our means of communication and education, but also the shared infrastructure of public transport, electricity, post, etc. — are privatized for profit. (If Bill Gates were to be allowed a monopoly, we would have reached the absurd situation in which a private individual would have owned the software texture of our basic network of communication.)

We are gradually becoming aware of the destructive potential, up to the self-annihilation of humanity itself, that could be unleashed if the capitalist logic of enclosing these commons is allowed a free run.


Of particular interest here is the privatization of what Zizek refers to as "the commons of culture." Argoist Online editor Jeffrey Side recently sent a number of messages to Brit Po listservs calling our attention to the rumored regulation and restriction of the internet by 2012. Although this digitally-based enclosure act hasn't yet been officially confirmed or announced, what we do know — as Paul Joseph Watson points out — is that a number of moves have been made to regulate and restrict internet usage over the past decade. This is familiar to us, right? The issue is such that Obama has been forced to establish a position on it.

At a time when we (poets, artists, critics, activists) already find ourselves struggling to negotiate the digital divide, even the rumor of further regulation is enough to drive one mad. And here regulation is not the dialectical opposite of privatization — the two would, as they always do, work in tandem to construct a situation wherein the free-flow of information would be limited to privilege those with the capital to shove their ideologically-fucked, cultural trash down the throats of millions. Isn't it for this reason that not thousands but millions have jumped from using Myspace to using Facebook as the social-networking site of choice? Some of us, like myself, have given up entirely on such sites, tired of the need to constantly reconstruct over and over again the virtual veils through which we form communities and exchange information. As one social-networking site shits the bed, giving way to another that will inevitably shit the bed because of big money, we see ourselves constantly running on the spot, forced to shift tons of information from one virtual location to another. Poetry communities in particular are surprisingly dependent on these sites. We might consider Blogspot itself one. Facebook another. In fact, the National Poetry Foundation has a Facebook profile through which it has, in conjunction with the NPF website, been disseminating information around the recent conference at Orono.

Like squatters, millions of people have invested so much of themselves and their communities in these sites that these sites are central to the "commons of culture" Zizek talks about. But we don't own them. The information we compulsively upload in an effort to shape our communities belongs not to the communities we construct but to the companies and corporations we freely give it to in an effort to reach others beyond them. In other words, the very mediums through which many of us discuss struggle are themselves crucial sites of struggle and are precisely what is at stake. The medium may not be the entire message, but it is always a central component of it.

As a small press editor and publisher — and certainly as a poet — I find myself completely alarmed and utterly unhinged by the thought of further internet regulation and restriction. My wife and I already fork over $50 a month to have the access we do to the web. Cost is always a form of restriction, right? And this to say nothing of the cost of the machines themselves, the need to keep up with upgrades and such so that we might continue the conversations we've started and find our way into other conversations that may be of equal importance to us.

Using the post to circulate print information on anything beyond a local scale is already a dead letter, an impossibility, an utter joke. Since the US Postal Service has done away with surface mail (which was untimely to begin with) sending publications to people in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Japan and elsewhere GROSSLY EXCEEDS the cost of production. But for many of us invested in print production, in bookmaking and other practices, the material object itself is part of the information we aim to disseminate. With rising postal rates and the rising cost of print production we find ourselves — at least those of us intent on casting a geographically broad transnational net — becoming increasingly dependent on the web. That the only affordable medium for exchanging textual information may find itself further regulated and restricted is an outrage. What happens when the only effective medium we have for forming national and transnational communities encloses us in culturo-virtual ghettos, coralling us in like cattle and excluding us from reaching out to communities beyond our own so that organizing on any level beyond a local level becomes an impossibility? Again, this is a medium from which millions continue to be excluded. Even if low-income families across the globe have free internet access at libraries and schools or free wi-fi connections through local businesses (which most of the undeveloped world doesn't) what is an hour or two of access a day compared to those who enjoy twenty-four hours of uninterrupted access through a corporation like Verizon, one among a number of corporations proposing further regulation and restriction? It's like arming someone with a slingshot and pitting them against a fully-equipped, mechanized army of millions.

Naturally, there are a number of assumptions that run through this rant — and more than a few statements that have to be theorized MUCH further. But the most important assumption here is that every poet and all poetry is always already political, located at all times on a site of struggle — and the site of struggle itself, as rumors of further net regulation suggest, is always in danger of falling away from us.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

JEAN-LUC NANCY'S ONGOING CRITIQUE OF IMMANENCE RESUMES

Those of us wretchedly situated as monoglots in the Anglo-phone world have the privilege of reading three new Nancy titles this year, two of them published in April and the third to be published in October — all of them brought to us, somewhat surprisingly, by Fordham University Press.

For me the most exciting title of the three is Dis-Enclosure: The Deconstruction of Christianity. Nancy visited Buffalo two years ago, shortly after this title was published in France and, naturally, in French. He addressed many of the issues raised in the book and I've been waiting since for it to come to those of us without French. At long last, here 'tis:

Perhaps democracy, since Athens, has been nothing other than the renewed aporia of a religion of the polis, capable of renewing the succession of or indeed replacing (if either of these words is appropriate …) those religions from before the polis, those religions that, by themselves, created both social bonds and government. Athens itself, then Rome, and then the sovereign modern state have, each in turn, renewed this aporia (4).


Nancy's work has been immensely useful to me in the past, particularly his work around finitude. But I often find myself unsatisfied with his critique of Marx, a critique which, each time I read it, comes to me as somewhat reductive and incomplete. But there is the following crucial passage from Innoperative Community which leans heavily on Marx:

... the totality of community — by which I understand the totality of community resisting its own setting to work — is a whole of articulated singularities. Articulation does not mean organization. It refers neither to the notion of instrument nor to that of operation or work. Articulation has nothing to do, as such, with an operative system of finalities — although it can no doubt always be related to such a system or be integrated into it. By itself, articulation is only a juncture, or more exactly, the play of the juncture: what takes place where different pieces touch each other without fusing together, where they slide, pivot, or tumble over one another, one at the limit of the other — exactly at its limit — where these singular and distinct pieces fold or stiffen, flex or tense themselves together and through one another, unto one another, without this mutual — which always remains, at the same time, a play between them — ever forming into the substance or the higher power of a Whole. This is why a whole of singularities, which is indeed a whole, does not close in around the singularities to elevate them to its power: this whole is essentially the opening of singularities in their articulations, the tracing and the pulse of their limits.
Here I would ask precisely if and how these singularities shape one another through their articulations — that is, across time and as they encounter one another over and over again, do they not change? Are they not transformed and perhaps even constituted as subjects (if they are singular beings) by way of this play, through their articulations? And this movement across time, the temporal dimension of this play, isn't this the movement of history itself?

What runs throughout the entire body of Nancy's work is an ongoing critique of totality, immanence, the absolute. As ever, good times.

Friday, July 11, 2008

NOT SO FAST ROBESPIERRE READING

This past Wednesday Geoffrey Gatza, Mike Sikkema and I read at Buffalo State College — part of the Rooftop Poetry reading series curated by Lisa Forrest. The reading provided a wonderful opportunity for the launch of Geoff's Not So Fast Robespierre, his fifth collection of poetry published by Didi Menendez.

Kevin Thurston notes, "In Not so Fast Robespierre, Buffalo's Johnny Appleseed of publishing lays out a public and private map of Buffalo's (and his personal) community." That bears repeating: Buffalo's Johnny Appleseed.

And Amy King writes:

How can Geoffrey Gatza fit so much love between two cardboard covers? Not So Fast Robespierre snakes us through a world of poets, neighbors, teachers and muses, all with a raw devotion we would do well to wear on our own coat sleeves. This series of remembrances does not discriminate in spreading out for us equal measures of admiration and lessons learned because, in the end, "Everyone gets a gold star and cake in the friendly garden."

Catch him if you can. He moves quick.

A surprisingly professional video podocast of the reading and further information about the Rooftop series can be accessed here.

Other podcasts available through the Rooftop site include readings by Jonathan Skinner, Barbara Cole, Brenda Coultas, Doug Manson, Roberto Tejada, Francisco Aragon, Forrest herself and many others. Good times.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

KAREN MAC CORMACK'S IMPLEXURES

The first part of Karen Mac Cormack's Implexures appeared through Charles Alexander's Chax Press back in 2003. For some odd reason I thought Chax was planning to bring out a second installment of the work, but to my surprise and pleasure Chax brought out a "complete" edition of Implexures containing both first and second parts. Maybe it's the lure and illusion of totality, but there's always such comfort in possessing a complete project — and it's this notion of totality or completeness which seems to reside at the center of Mac Kormack's project — if in fact such a center is identifiable or even present. This to say, the work rigorously theorizes itself as it unfolds, investigating through prose passages, lineated verse and epigraphs the character of constantly shifting subjectivities across time — compounded by time, inextricably entangled in the movement of history, an overdetermined space of relation between the materiality of being, textuality and cultural production. As Cole Swensen notes in a comment on the project, we have in Implexures a "delicate polybiographic structure out of research, hearsay and quotation that zings to the core of identity and displays how collaborative it really is."

There's little I might say here that can speak to the thrust of the work or keep from sapping and misreading the force of it, but I would like to point to the two epigraphs that bring us into it — one from Bryher, the other by Nancy Cunard. The quote from Bryher comes from The Player's Boy:

Time tangled; it never ran in a straight scythe cut, as they pretended in the moralities, but lay in loops, like the grass at haying time when the conies scampered for safety, and stem and flower were upside down together.

And Cunard from These Were the Hours:

It was a discovery of something entirely new, bound up with something entirely past.

Or, as Mac Cormack herself writes, commenting on a "he" separated by time from a contemporary "we":

What might have been the fastest ship of his day would not be so for us, but the observed speed of a bird's flight is more or less the same for both.

And it is this constant tension between a sort of structural continuity and radical historical disjunction that drives the work. Bound up in the new, along with those aspects of being that move across time in a seemingly immutable way, are the fractured alterities produced by history — alterities which, precisely by way of their distance, create the conditions for the production of newness.

The work is complicated — delightfully so. It's historiographic orientation insists on investigating not so much what is spoken but, as Andrew Benjamin notes, who speaks. And for Mac Cormack this who is always plural, the character of this speaking always collaborative. Jean-Jacques Lacerle remarks that the work is "not so much a polyphony of fictional voices as a collective assemblage of ennunciation." That every ennunciation, every textual fragment, is an assemblage shot through with refracted elements of the past detectable through a rigorous attention to the present, is what these poems seem to suggest.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

BETWEEN MAYDAY & THE FOURTH OF JULY

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 Parch 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.