Monday, December 28, 2009


Tom Raworth's 2009 Holiday Collage

In ancient Rome — back when transnational finance capital was nothing more than a busted dream in her mommy's loveless eye — the Barrack Room Emperors took great delight in slicing the perineum off inept economic advisers. Suddenly the difference between a courageous set of cajones and an asshole was negligible.

Wikipedia tells me Bush the Elder presented the US Presidential Medal of Freedom to Friedrick von Hayek in 1991. In 1947 — long before deregulation completely disemboweled post-Depression welfare states in the developed world — a bold gaggle of intellectual gun thugs and neoliberal economists on the run from Keynesian practices organized around Baron von Hayek to form the Mont Pelerin Society. Not surprisingly, the group included a young and ambitious Milton Friedman and insisted in its founding statement on the necessity of "private property and a competitive market" to restoring "the essential conditions of human dignity and freedom." Nearly three decades later at a February 1975 meeting organized by the Institute of Economic Affairs, a hyperconservative British think tank, Margaret Thatcher famously yanked a copy of Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty from her briefcase and slammed it on the table, bellowing as only Thatcher could, "This is what we believe."

Copenhagen was a gas and the US troop surge in Afghanistan tells us Obama was not merely the leading candidate but in fact the only true candidate for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. This is what we believe. Fuck all y'all. This is how it's done.

Or as Larry the Cable Guy says, Git 'er done. Her. Eddie Izzard said the same in The Riches. To do and be done with her. Poetry, on the other hand, does nothing. As Jeremy Prynne says in his 2007 review of Keston Sutherland's Hot White Andy, poetry's fucking retarded:

It is well known and widely if tacitly acknowledged that poetry is a retarded practice: it surely does make nothing happen. Really we know this, outside the hot-house, because by now we are grown up past the fancy that language could ever tell us more than we already recognize from daytime TV.

But this doesn't dismiss poetry from the obligation of determining, as Prynne insists Hot White Andy does, "whether it can be that poetry is not after all now only retarded and fatuous." Put differently, the work of poetry seems to involve naming the violent distance in the cultural imaginary that separates a swinging set of trucker balls (a factory-farmed bushel of plenty) from a rank skidmarked asshole (the abyss). Nasty work. Like giving ole Grandad a sponge bath.



Without the privilege of leaning on rigorously trained eyes (without the disadvantage of leaning on trained but compromised eyes shaped by a prior moment) it's hard to identify work that registers and responds to this particular historical conjuncture in productive and meaningful ways. CA Conrad's Book of Frank got a lot of play this year. Deservedly so. A long time coming for Conrad. Selected for the Gil Ott Award by, among others, Myung Mi Kim (whose Penury was released earlier this year to a surprising hush). Conrad came through town recently, reading with Simon Pettet under the mantle of the Big Night series curated by Aaron Lowinger and Mike Kelleher. (Pettet's Hearth another sleeper; someone set the bomb for snooze).

But far and away the book most on my mind is Rob Halpern's Disaster Suites. In "Post-Disaster," an afterword of sorts, Halpern remarks:

I hope these poems don't persist. Or rather, I hope the conditions that make them readable do not.

According to the afterword Halpern began writing the poems October, 2005, "in the long shadow of Hurricane Katrina" and completed the poem in the weeks following the death of kari edwards. Stitched to one another within the frame of the book, the suites as a whole are a sort of intermezzo or point of articulation connecting his earlier Krupskaya volume Rumored Place with Music for Porn, a project he was working on before throwing himself into the suites. The suites have a sort of bounding pulse threaded with a desire to adequately register and survive the disaster (without diminishing, identifying with or erasing the singularity of those struggling to survive in real-time rubble and rising tides):

Ground cleaves to what the new sun hews my
Real relations having flown to where there's
No work proves a boon & open forms absorb

This shit in my mouth we're a living effect of
Waste these synchronies of organization
And command (see I'm finally opening up

To you alone at the time of sentencing this
Not being ours with a wage you can live on
Value for time is in the hedge fund as I am

In love tonight mean's we're self-grounded in-
Dependent semantics call it a monetary circuit
Breaching spans of life whose measures can be

The poem concludes: "— traded." I recall trading (or swapping, the two possibly not the same) action figures with friends as a child, the gesture partly symbolic, something to do with friendship and trust. The exchange a risk built on the promise of an even shake. (And I'm reminded of Kevin Killian's Action Kylie, the child is there).

I believe Andrew Rippeon has a far more responsible investment in the work, that an exchange between he and the work will produce more than I might be capable of (i.e. we don't begin, as Marx insisted, with the production of life itself but perhaps with a moment of commerce in the space of exchange, the work of conception prior to production).

In the latest number of P-Queue Rippeon frames his introductory editorial in relation to unrest in Iran, homing in on the legibility (or illegibility) of signs held by protesters, considering how the legibility of the gesture the journal itself makes might read through street-level signs of protest situated at a marked distance:

This doesn't hope to be a step from "placard" to "signifier," but rather to suggest a radical continuum extending between the crowd and aesthetic practice. By rights we own a one of vote, and are gauged and gauge by that one. But with a swollen city square, the claim is no longer to or through the one, but by and upon the uncountable many. That many refuses an other even as it marches against a one, and such refusal is, in its deepest core, aesthetic ...

The statement is bold and after a few months with it I still find myself thinking through its terms, but if it's legible to me at all I think it's a statement that, like Halpern's lyric encounter with disaster, aspires toward a clear disavowal of the logic that aligns the call of a single individual (the man with no name) with a rigidly defined, economically oriented order of cultural freedom (a carefully legislated lawlessness).

Iran. Reporters funded by Allah knows who speculate the US is funneling support to Marxist Kurds along the border in northern Iraq in order to further destabilize Ahmadinejad. During a brief romp through Buffalo Luke Roberts mentioned that Marianne Morris recently returned from some months in Iran on a Cambridge fellowship (that such a thing could even be imagined in these free states). Her visa application was denied during the moment of unrest, but later approved on the condition she study nothing during her stay. It's reasonable to expect a book full of sweet Persian nothings to follow.

And here, beside me by way of a friend, the Bertram Rota edition of Bunting's translation of Obaid-e Zakani's fourteenth century Pious Cat. A game of cat and mouse:

Once on a time that ravenous ratter ate
his daily mouse at a steady flat rate,
but since he took to prayers and pieties
he bolts us down by whole societies.

The book is inset with an illustrated chaplet of the story in Farsi. The language is utterly other to me. I'm left to trust Bunting: "like muck spread thick on winter stubble."

Like muck. A sort of moral majority lurks in the wings and stands in for the whole, viz. Falwellian rhymes exceptionally well with Orwellian. Cf. the ghost of the Stupak amendment in the draft of the healthcare bill passed by the Senate on Christmas Eve. But if there are Anglophone poetries that angle to resist the residual traces of Falwell's spirit and reimagine a sense of the spiritual that opposes the reified theological tendencies clogging liminal arteries of exchange — if there are poetries grounded in careful theorizations of community and friendship — I see them in small, quietly circulated and largely unannounced ephemeral publications.

The Vigilance Society books have been especially important to me in this way. An early installment of Halpern's Disaster Suites. Michael Cross' Cede. More recently Thom Donovan's Our Insalvageable and Andrew Rippeon's Priest.

The scale of the books subtly understate the work contained in them, as though the poems cradled within the modest frame of each book sustain an almost unbearable tension and register an excess produced through concrete limits. The books are commensurate with (and as easily misplaced as) a sixteen gig memory card. No digital storage device can be scrubbed so thoroughly that previous files are completely erased. A remainder, however useless or illegible, is left behind. Memory is built into most forms of inscription. Rippeon reminds us bruises are a species of memory that stands as the remark of what has been made:

This fit for bruise, and
that for blood wedge die
stamps this what is invented priest
once meant club and what was
for remembrance

But to save is not what it means to be saved. What is in fact insalvageable. Thom Donovan's Insalvageable "Nail House":

It was a house in a ditch
Like our sex third fourth fifth
It treated the air
Around it like it was privileged dirt
This was called history
But nothing will be saved

Other small, willfully unobtrusive publications easily misplaced among bills, catalogs and supermarket circulars carefully undermine the conditions of their own call to being. Aaron Lowinger's Guide to Weeds illustrated by Becky Moda (House Press). "Butter and EGGS (Linaria Vulgaris)" —

Letters from the department
cease desist enter 'regeneration areas'
in warm cracks between sidewalk and brick
[william st, btw elm & michigan, 14203]
prepare to annihilate occlusions
along ways out four continents
made this grey technicolor sky
but they simply don't exist
there is clear passage for roots on Mars too
(with a pattern not so much symmetrical as borrowed)

Kim Dorman's monthly "gleanings" and "fragments" circulated slow post (10430 Morado Circle #1824, Austin TX 78759). The ongoing installments of Kenneth Warren's critical investigation of Olson, The Emperor's New Code, in his House Organ (PO Box 466 Youngstown NY 14174). Buck Down's postcard poems (1813 Burke St SE Washington DC 20003).

"Black-Crowned Night Heron" from Lisa Forrest's exquisitely designed Bird-Lore:

This left behind begins
back as front
scapulars glossy streaked
slender to touch to reach

That a left behind can begin anterior to itself. The concerns of the end user come first.


In his talk on Jameson's reading of Bob Perelman's China, Rob Halpern addresses the locally oriented but internally differentiated "publishing ecology" of the 1970s Bay Area. And here, today, I wonder about the extent to which contemporary small press microecologies have been further decentralized. Poetry and publishing communities are far more easily mapped these days through shared concerns than the physical real-time landscape. A cultural landscape no less natural.

Austin forms its own nucleic center of poetry and publishing activity. The triple relocation of Kyle Schlesinger's Cuneiform Press from Buffalo to Brooklyn to Austin. Dale Smith and Hoa Nguyen's Skanky Possum (the list of publications at the website only offers a fraction of their publishing history). CJ Martin and Julia Drescher's Dos Press. Scott Pierce's Effing. Micah Robbins' Interbirth nearby in Dallas. The relocation of David Hadbawnik's Habenicht Press and magazine Kadar Koli from the Austin area to our neighborhood here in Buffalo. Overlapping and intersecting coordinates. A complex gossamer web of ghostly traces marks rapidly shifting routes of cultural and intellectual exchange.

Ted Berrigan. Collaborative work between Bill Berkson and George Schneeman. Berkson writes in a note: "Ted Berrigan, the book of nine black and white ink-drawing spreads George and I did in 2006-08, was prompted by my finding a few pages in a notebook devoted to thoughts of Ted Berrigan." Like Berrigan the scale of the book is large, over a foot in length with bold interior images spread across the gutter from end to end, the images contained in the book sprawl, expand, dart and circulate like meteorological phenomena, like turbulent weather fronts. Schlesinger in his publisher's note:

The last time we dropped in at George's place together, the idea was that Bill and George would create a title page for the book as well as a final spread to accommodate Bill's line (borrowed from Ted, if I remember correctly): "Poetry should be something real -- not just an interesting lie to tell your mother." Bill suggested that George paint a Madonna and Child to accompany the quote. George thought it over for a minute and said: How about a bow and arrow instead?

Dale Smith wears Ed Dorn's old hat. Literally. No bullshit. Black beaver felt. Fuck filling the shoes; they leave footprints (Smith knows used footwear never fits right): "When I go to bed my mother leaves the door to my bedroom open."

(A Man walking up the street yells into a cellphone: I worked 49 hours this week! Instead of paying me overtime they're gonna roll my hours over to next week. Yeah. I know.)

CJ Martin's WIW?3: published by Delete Press in Fort Collins, Colorado. Dislocated points of articulation. To allow for circulation. To account for forms of circulation inhibiting blood flow, shutting down movement, "fenestration," or an order of movement that discloses (carves out the shape of) the settled weight of capital flows:

Tremendous rot rout
out — Perhaps have pattern
Out-wrought / vertical change.

Likewise Michael Cross' Pax. Six panel broadside. Printed in Seattle. Or Oakland. Or elsewhere. Made in. An epigraph on panel 3 by Snorri Sturluson: "let some one put his hand in my mouth as a pledge that this is done in good faith." Skaldic. What scalds the mouth insists the mouth carve (and the poem by Cross above Iceland MP Sturluson's epigraph):

we lose, mostly, took this one and fastened the share
and coulter to a plough, shaved the tops into honzon
pulled living from the well and fixed our minds on wood

Schlesinger preparing to publish Cross' Haeccities through Cuneiform. The quiet hush that surrounds the difficulties of Cross' In Felt Treeling (Chax 2008). Structures of treeling in felt and, outwardly, rebuilt into the landscape.

Thinking across Cross' insistence on haeccitythis-ness, or, in Cross' words, a thing's individuating principle — toward the khthonic Hecate (present to us) in Hoa Nguyen's Hecate Lochia:

The Starbucks mermaid logo
has lost her nipples

Nguyen pulls no punches:

Hecate doesn't fucking
need you or your loving

Lochia an excess after birth; the social that refuses (and is refused by) society: "My heart outside my body." But for the body. No less, and perhaps more, khthonic. These poems report unclaimed income willfully unacknowledged by auditors. These dollars have no market value. Hecate (deity and haeccity) nurses the young (the logo has no nipples). So Hesiod says. Nguyen insistently mis-takes "child bird" for "child birth." Far shooting. Fair shooting.


In the morning everything is new or left behind. Or, hungover, recollections of the night before are slow to come into focus. Lipstick on your collar or piss stains on your shoe. In any case. The title poem from The Morning by Roger Snell (Bootstrap Press 2009):

Still the ground shifts, I'd read the day was gone
the room black, such enclosure to stay in,
inhabit act, destroy all instances

An event cuts across disparate moments and demands continuity, something to stretch across the lost but nonetheless formative (determining) instances. There are any number of used arrowheads and discharged led slugs in the dirt beneath my feet. And below my feet, in the dirt, what might have once been rafters supporting a roof above the head. Hugo García Manríquez's Los materiales (Tierra Adentro 2008):

Los materiales contienen la figura humana
y ella, en su historia, los contiene a todos.

There is a presence embedded in the materiality of these print objects I find difficult to account for but nonetheless affirming. Despite the hush that envelops them, they resist complete refusal.


Democracy tolerates nothing beyond itself. A violent Narcissus with easy-access six-shooters and no rearview mirror. Badiou's "Speculative Disquisition":

In fact, the word 'democracy' concerns what I shall call authoritarian opinion. It is forbidden, as it were, not to be a democrat. More precisely, it stands to reason that humanity aspires to democracy, and any subjectivity suspected of not being democratic is regarded as pathological. At best it refers to a patient re-education, at worst to the right of military intervention by democratic paratroopers.

What western democracies so masterfully performed in the last century was the total conflation in the cultural imaginary of the political and the economic so that democracy is less the freedom to participate than it is the freedom to purchase from a confusingly wide range of products. And even here the wide selection is largely illusory. We all wear gray or risk having gum rubbed in our hair.

There's a kind of hush. The loudest work resides at the center of the hush. More often than not the squeaky wheel has a monstrous set of balls. Both swing in close proximity to an asshole. The squeaky wheel gets the oil.

At the center of the inaugural issue of Josh Stanley's Hot Gun! (now published out of Brighton, UK) is Justin Katko's intensive translation of Guy Debord's 1952 film Hurlements En Faveur De Sade (Unrealized Version). Translated with the assistance of Camille Paloque-Berges and heavily annotated, we see Katko's Hurlements split into two columns, one given to a transcription of sound in the film and another given to a transcription of visual action. At one point in the film, after a number of riot scenes we see a closeup of Isadore Isou smiling. The following phrase is repeated three times: "A world of screams has been lost."