Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Luke Roberts generously sent to the Miami University Brit Po list a transcription of an uncollected Dorn poem, "To Tom Pickard and the Newcastle Brown Beer Revolutionaries" — not surprisingly a poem beyond the scope of materials available to Don Allen at the time he edited The Uncollected Poems (Four Seasons 1974, enlarged edition 1983). Roberts mentions that the poem appeared in The Lesser Known Shagg, mag edited by Pickard and Tony Jackson circa 1968. I suspect like Pickard's earlier mag King Ida's Watch Chain, this zine too was hastily printed, poorly distributed and abandoned after a number or two. Eager to know more about the journal, but for now the Dorn poem alone worth the price of admission:

that time's intestines took fake shit flower shit
and begged in those streets
for the mouth to take something in
where economy was agreed to be our debt
dropped into the nest, a machinegun nest
when the time's appropriation called
but a chit was offered when that time's times
were that old mother whore like a fixed address

(Photo above: Tom Pickard at the Old George Inn, presumably Newcastle, December 5, 1973. Posted by Jeremy James at Poets In A Lens, an extraordinary blog featuring the photography of David James. If I recall, there's a photo of Dorn at Morden Tower among the images.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Earlier today Slavoj Zizek gave a wonderfully contingent, wildly perambulatory talk on Hegel: "Is It Possible To Be A Hegalian Today?" Introduced by Joan Copjec and sponsored by the Center for Pyschoanalysis and Culture at UB, the talk ran nearly two hours. I was fortunate enough to catch the first hour on a hand-held digital:

Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Five. Part Six. Part Seven.

Much of the talk a cursory circumscription of previously trod territory (Sublime Object; essays in Contingency, Hegemony, Universality; For They Know Not What They Do; Multi-Nationalism; The Monstrosity of Christ; etc.) — and further clarification (or reformulation) of his position on Hegel. Dialectical sleights of hand: i.e. Hegel = materialist; Marx = idealist.

In both the talk and The Monstrosity of Christ Zizek names by way of Hegel a structural principle fundamental to Christianity "still worth fighting for." The argument is compelling if not completely seductive. But in an ongoing and seemingly interminable post-911 moment the appeal to Christianity seems confrontational, aimed perhaps at a bourgeois left committed to a separate-but-equal species of multiculturalism. Cf. Zizek's first essay in Monstrosity: a reading of the New Testament through the Book of Job recognizes Christ not as symbolic representation of God on Earth but a God willfully thrown into his own creation and consumed by it — the same God that in Job turns against himself in an atheistic gesture of abandon, self-loathing and negation. For Zizek the fundamental Christian principle worthy of struggle = Holy Spirit = totality without social relations set against a vertical scale of power. The God Zizek locates in scripture is neither compassionate nor angry but a self-effacing God that eventually disavows, through the figure of Christ, the privilege of his own social position. (Rexroth: "If offered a crown / Refuse.")

Like struggling to thread a needle in a maelstrom. Grateful to the Center for Psychoanalysis for bringing him to town.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


After listening to Sunday's Radio 4 broadcast on Barry MacSweeney I was grateful to see MacSweeney receiving some affection from mainstream media. But I also felt a little stunned and disappointed by the pathologizing rhetoric of alcoholism through which so much of the work was read. Given this it seems especially important to recall Clive Bush's reading of MacSweeney's Book of Demons (1997):

It is no less than the destruction of the poet as a measure of value that MacSweeney takes as his theme and he takes it, too, from the bourgeoisie who like to see their artists wounded, crippled, dying, or in some way at least fatally produced by a culture they have, less-than-secretly, little desire to change.

This reading of MacSweeney's Demons — with the movement of capital at its center — should have been integrated into the BBC program. That it was not reduces the force and complexity of MacSweeney's work and the extent to which he was fully aware of his contradictory relationship to the interpellated role of self-destructive poet within a market system.

Looking through some of the work he produced in the '80s and '90s after the program, I was particularly taken by the relentless rapid-fire rhythms of "Blackbird: elegy for William Gordon Calvert." The metrical contour of Sean Bonney's ongoing series Commons bears a striking resemblance to some sections of "Blackbird" and is perhaps informed by it:

rude unwelcome guest
luckless wind
at family's four doors
nothing fever eyes wear
solid fern
narrow compass
abjuring life
treason to my instruments
of you taken
invisibled counterfeit
midnight stealer
quiet roofs pigeon croop
sponge boots caress
aching sills
stare at rough slot
magnets on the heart
aery chambers lift
handsome filings
from dust to a star

This poem may very well be included in the Bloodaxe MacSweeney edition, but its useful to recognize that it was first published through Ric Caddel's Pig Press in Black Torch, presumably in a run of no more than two or three hundred. The poem circulated within a fairly intimate community of poets unlike the work of, say, Dylan Thomas or Simon Armitage, both poets whose work is mediated through a rhetoric of disability (alcoholism in Dylan's case and regionally-specific economic disadvantage in Armitage's) in order to market it toward a broader reading audience. Nothing sells quite as well as the mad visions of a raging alcoholic (i.e. Kerouac) or the market-friendly rise-above narratives produced by peasants that somehow yanked themselves up from the dregs through determination and biologically innate talent (i.e. from Stephen Duck, John Claire and Robert Southey's notion of untutored genius to Philip Levine). In short, it seems something of a disservice to MacSweeney to frame his work through the disabling narrative of an alcoholism articulated with a regionally and economically specific Geordie identity when in fact it was precisely the destructive character of such narratives MacSweeney consciously challenged in confronting his own alcoholism.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Philosophy of Right: "The external embodiment of an act is composed of many parts, and may be regarded as capable of being divided into an infinite number of particulars. An act may be looked on as in the first instance coming into contact with only one of these particulars. But the truth of the particular is the universal." Or the Volosinov passage David Harvey quotes:

Consequently, a word is not an expression of inner personality; rather, inner personality is an expressed or inwardly impelled word. And the word is an expression of social intercourse, of the social interaction of material personalities, of producers.

And where the wiggle room for agency? It is there. Somewhere. Althusser insists ideology almost never misses its target. And sometimes it does. Horseshoes and hand grenades.

I suspect the problem of agency has something to do with rest. One is at rest when one is arrested. The fourth section of Andrew Crozier's Veil Poem published by Burning Deck in 1974:

Bend back the edges and pull what you see
into a circle. The ground you stand on
becomes an arc, the horizon another
each straight line swells out
leaving no single point at rest except
where the pitch of your very uprightness
bisects the projection of your focal plane.

Leaving no single point at rest — a ceaseless wave of antagonisms, sonic or otherwise. No rest. No rest except. It is not enough to respond to contradictions or aspire to reconcile identifiable antagonisms; one must insist on the generative power of further unanticipated and contingent antagonisms. The Veil Poem for my own purposes the Crozier poem that counts most — one that makes a gesture toward his relationship with Prynne.

In Prynne there is no rest. In Prynne antagonism and internal contradiction are greeted with comparable force, generating a further set of contradictions. And in a contradictory sort of double movement the poems pile wreckage on wreckage, ascending away from the material base as they perform philological excavations that descend into the engine room of living. I see this as a general movement in the work that characterizes all except perhaps the earliest poems. And if such a broad-stroked reading ain't completely off center one must wonder how much rest was had within city limits during the siege of Stalingrad.

Intercourse is always social, always an erotic species of commerce informed more or less by the interminable exchange of goods and services. Where this is the case there is no room for rest. Rest = caesura. Some poems epic in scope and breath are nothing more than an ongoing caesura extended across far too many miles. Caesuras are the park benches of poetry and like undeveloped commercial properties, ideological caesuras are material vacuums that will be filled one way or another sooner or later. Force at rest is never force as such.