Monday, May 24, 2010

POETRY WITHOUT WALLS | UNCONTAINED EXCESS

Shockingly, American Book Review is a hard publication to locate in Buffalo unless one runs to Barnes and Nobles or Borders. On first hearing the cover feature "Poetry Without Walls" was edited by Kyle Schlesinger I hustled here and there to locate a copy. But no dice. Fortunately a copy arrived, somewhat mysteriously, by mail.

The issue (March/April 31: 3) is striking all around, especially as it brings into focus a community of loosely — or accidentally — connected poets that sprawl across any awkward sense of generational difference or geographical location. A round-robin circularity characterizes the feature: Rob Halpern reviews Michael Cross, Gregg Biglieri reviews Alan Bernheimer, Miles Champion reviews Tom Raworth, William Corbett reviews Michael Gizzi, Alan Davies reviews Kit Robinson, Kit Robinson reviews Anne Tardos, Elizabeth Fodaski reviews Michael Gottlieb, Michael Gottlieb reviews K. Silem Mohammad, etc.

What most connects these poets to one another is not any particular tendency or accident of circumstance beyond the incredible scope of Schlesinger's own cultural catholicity. And I sense this is a catholicity he takes from the generous and widely read poets he draws into his thinking, some of whom are peers while others first emerged out of a prior moment. Schlesinger, his introduction:

The contributors in this issue of American Book Review are largely from a school without walls, writers who have read widely and deeply, engaged with and contributed to the work of their contemporaries, yet avoided (perhaps consciously) the trappings and perks of aligning their work with any particular school of writing. They share in a community where a rigorous and productive exchange of ideas and information about the work itself is the norm.

Earlier in the intro, Schlesinger:

A few years ago I was asked to write a short article about the history of small press publishing in America. When I turned in my article, the editor told me that I needed to make a stronger correlation between presses and movements: Jargon Society is to Black Mountain as Sun & Moon is to Language or Black Sparrow is to Deep Image as United Artists is to Second Generation New York School, etc. I thought this logic was flawed and told the editor that I strongly disagreed. My conviction is even stronger today.

Several presses quickly come to mind, but so do a few anthologies — anthologies that, to my eye, seek to undo the work of tucking away, reducing and fundamentally misreading singular work or work articulated through a tendency that extends beyond the limits of movement, school, circle and coterie. Jerome Rothenberg's Technicians of the Sacred. Steve McCaffery and Jed Rasula's Imagining Language. Ric Caddel and Peter Quartermain's Other: British and Irish Poetry Since 1970. The extent to which these and any number of other carefully constructed anthologies seek to explode rather than cage is impressive — like any number of presses or little magazines that extend beyond coterie and out toward a sometimes uncomfortable but nonetheless essential conversation.

Apropos: Champion on Raworth's recent Equipage title appropriately named There Are Few People Who Put On Any Clothes:

Family members come and go, commercials interrupt the TV show ("I'm making this noise so I don't hear the advert I don't like") and blunt observations, almost shocking in their throwaway profundity, stop us dead in our tracks ("No other animal keeps a picture of another animal outside its memory").

Oddly, There Are A Few People was first written in 1972 but, according to Miles, "was only recently rediscovered by its author in a box liberated from storage." But it announces itself in the present with a clear insistence on its urgent contemporaneity.

Like most of the contributors to the ABR feature, both Miles Champion and Tom Raworth embody precisely the sort of complexity and adulterous cross-community activity Schlesinger refers to. Both are difficult to locate under the mantle of any normative category, whether geography, school, movement, moment or tendency. Yet each, in their work as poets and editors — and in Raworth's case, typographer, visual artist and printer — stand as an intersection that invites and troubles any attempt to rigidly map the landscape. Overall Schlesinger's feature points toward an utterly uncontainable excess that refuses the written record or the limits of normative thinking. In ABR of all places. Tactical. Like terrorists without nations.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

THE FIRST EVIL | THE WALTONS

Joseph Walton's Election Message from openned on Vimeo.

Like the First Evil, there are a thousand names for Joseph Walton. At bottom he is always the same: a Jungian archetype stowed safely away in the extra-fatty subcutaneous tissues of the collective catastrophe. His evil amanuensis, really the wizard behind the Union Jack and the brains behind the outfit, is a Walton not entirely dissimilar to the world's largest single employer. I recall, that is, what a red letter day it was for American soldiers when the first Wal-Mart opened in Seoul, south Korea in the late 1990s. Soldiers as far south as Pusan made holy pilgrimages all the way to Seoul by train, bus, even air to purchase gaming consoles on the cheap. Or the ideological continuities that connect land masses on either side of the Atlantic run much deeper than most first believed, like the First Evil, beneath the ocean, through the molten mass of filth that gurgles thousands of miles down.

Holly White is Acutane®, the medicinal respuesta to the First Evil, ingested orally or applied to intractable surfaces. The US prescription is expired (viz. the only ones reading the mag this side of the Pecos are either identified with the good offices of Chicago Review or the hallowed halls of Miami University; otherwise all is lost; American exceptionalism is what it always was, an utterly incurable strain of leprosy). Or may the underfunded cheese wagon take us to school before we Hummericans, aping the slogans of British conservative candidates, howl again into the wind: BRITONS know your PLACE.

Vol 1 iss 2 of Holly White. A few appropriate lines by Joel Duncan: "Heath Ledger died so I don't | finally morning | neck cracks and seagulls hurry | caw Lord caw." Broke and back. And not American at all. Nonetheless like Gibson, THE PATRIOT. The definitive.

Recent Gallop Poll results reveal that while only 9% of Americans officially identify themselves as card-carrying Tea Baggers, over 28% support them. This in our most delightful nightmares would allow Texas governor Rick Perry to pull a Bowie knife from his boot and gallop toward the presidency in 2012. To lose the Alamo over and over again, pro bono and in perpetuity. The necessary condition of epic form. Good form. An order of sacrifice like John Berryman's great leap forward, away from the messy American altar of cannibalism, or something like the shotgun salute that allowed Del Shannon to show a dunce like Kurt Cobain the way. (Shannon's shot should have been the one heard round the world, but he was shorter than heroes should be.) Can you throw them over your shoulder | like a Continental soldier? These are gods in the American imaginary. F.O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance:

Carlyle, who kept urging Emerson to carve an American hero out of the facts of the nineteenth century, drove through (1849) to an imaginative conception of a possible American myth of the frontier: 'How beautiful to think of lean tough Yankee settlers, tough as gutta-percha, with most occult unsubduable fire in their belly, steering over the Western Mountains, to annihilate the jungle, and bring bacon and corn out of it for the Posterity of Adam ... There is no Myth of Athene of Herakles equal to this fact.

The fresh facts. Was it Jim Bridger, the mountain man that played cards on the back of a dead man freshly frozen on all fours? Or the outlaw Josie Wales. The unilateral action of the Unibomber. Who isn't tired of invoking the Founding Fathers, instrumentalizing the past, mourning the dead or ringing the bells of doom when it serves one's career. Paul Metcalf from a review of Frederick Turner's Beyond Geography:

History has in fact become two properties -- one in the hands of the academic historians, and the other belonging to the poets. Child psychologists have a term to describe the behavior of small children, when they play side by side, but not together: "parallel play". It may be the same set of toys, but they are not shared; there is a gap.
A fair enough statement. What Metcalf misses here is the deeper continuity, the fresh fact that these toys are often viewed in almost precisely the same way by both historians (academics) and poets (non-academics). That a deeper continuity cuts across the gap. I mean, when a labor historian, Fox News and a poet mourn the deaths of 28 West Virginia miners they mourn a different loss, not death but the economic base that once was (mining accounts for just over 1% of labor in the US, is not the true face of labor and these deaths are but a fraction of the nearly 6,000 job-related fatalities that occur each year; like appeals to the Founding Fathers, the work of mourning these deaths masks a deeper horror). And we all support the troops. Don't shoot the messenger. And fault no mourners; they're only following orders. Like the Waltons. Vote conservative.