Saturday, December 23, 2006

E·ratio 8 is online

With poetry by: Anne Gorrick, Marci Nelligan, Donald Wellman, Jody Porter, Nicholas Manning, Chad Sweeney, Christine Hamm, MTC Cronin, Amanda Laughtland, David Chikhladze, Jonathan Minton, and Scott Wilkerson

"Though we are continually being hurt owing to the narrowness of the reality in which we dwell, we blame life, and do not see the necessity of finding absolutely new standpoints." --Maurice Nicoll

To all the contributors for issue 8, I thank you so for sending and for your patience. I am so honored to have you.

Friday, October 13, 2006

More from my archive of reviews: Here are three I wrote for Jennifer Bosveld's Pudding Magazine. Of these, only the first one appeared in Meat Epoch (Meat Epoch #18, March 1995), the other two were published in Len Fulton's Small Press Review. I am happy to report, Pudding Magazine, and Pudding House, and Ms. Bosveld, for that matter, are still going strong.

PUDDING MAGAZINE: The International Journal of Applied Poetry
(#24, 1994) Pudding House Publications. 74pp. $6.75. ($15.75, for 3 issues.) ISSN: 0196-5913

There is an aura surrounding Pudding Magazine, an aura in part cast by the published viewpoints and practical to-dos of its editor, Ms. Jennifer Bosveld, and in part cast by its longevity, a longevity nourished by the caliber and stylistic diversity of its contributors. For Ms. Bosveld’s part it is foremost her perseverance—it is her faith in and commitment to poetic expression, and to poetic expression as cure. But while her commitment is unaffected, her faith is not naïve. Let us define cure as the realization and cultivation of “poetic sensitivities,” the insight “to identify challenges and solutions at significant moments in our lives.” This grants a purpose to poetic expression that extends beyond the sheer aesthetic; this psychology allows that through poetic expression—that is, generally speaking, through the artistic, the deliberate bringing together into words of one’s personal and distinctive feelings and impressions and gone-throughs accrued via direct life experience—one may, if not defeat adversity, nevertheless make of that adversity such as can be gainful, tolerable, and perhaps, eventually, the liberating jewel, for both writer (in the form of a catharsis, a relief from tension, the breaking of inhibition, self awareness, a knowledge or lesson obtained, there is generally some hygienic merit) and reader respectively. Thusly, then, though not exclusively, does Ms. Bosveld exercise her privilege as editor.

Being chief editor of an established and time- & trial-honed small magazine, Ms. Bosveld is at once privileged and fated to preview hundreds of manuscripts, consequently acquiring for herself an almost confidential knowledge of the latest, the best, the worst, the most promising and the most obtuse of our poetic afflatus. This confidential knowledge stands beside her privilege; it is as much her honor—her distinguished opportunity—as it is her forte. The poems she has selected for Pudding #24 have recognizable points in common: There is, perhaps above all, a frank correspondence to the workaday world, to the actual (if not familiar) lived realities of towns and cities, farms and classrooms, in kitchens and in cars, and in vivid dislocative* narrative; these are lives we can recognize and appreciate; conditions and situations we can understand and, maybe, identify with. The imagery is pictorial and aural and concrete, the setting is seen as well as heard, the poem has local color, has ambience, these poets have ears. And in these narratives, the sentiments and delicacy of feelings and emotional (and ideational) appeals are appropriate—so that they have a versatility; we are susceptible to them and they belong to us all. Stylistically, their diversity is for the most part a matter of tone or voice (which is not to say a prime specimen of a particular literary art will be of course excluded). This correspondence, and concrete imagery, are the primary characteristics of realism; however realism also treats us to symbols and archetypes and to a moral and psychological depth; realism can be “unsophisticatedly” folksy and “naïve,” as well as stylized or refined to a “high” sophistication. Turning adversity, even the workaday, into poetic expression can result in an intensely personal confessional poetry (a sort of special pleading, say, for forgiveness or re-acceptance, even an exhibitionism), but in its most accessible and useful transfiguration (and indeed, what seems to appeal to Ms. Bosveld most), something approaching realism, or the extra-personal, if you will, may be the desired effect—along with some sense of acceptance, if not total overcoming.

All works of art are in a sense (most likely, unintentional) personal documents, but not all personal documents are strictly speaking works of art. The idea of an “applied poetry” also involves—beyond the disclosure of poignant reflections of human thought and feeling—the considerations of example and service. Outside of Pudding Magazine, two works, or documents, come into mind: Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl, presented by Marguerite Sechehaye, and Mars, by the pseudonymous Fritz Zorn. It is questionable, whether either of these documents (both extreme cases) can pass for a work of art (notwithstanding passages of extraordinary flight), but they are rich in frank and exacting disposition, description and disclosure, rich in raw self-analysis and remarkable psychological acuity, and both writers were able to express themselves and adapt themselves to their intention; both works are specimens of the applied. The assumption that someone has something to say and would benefit from saying it, is the basis underlying applied poetry. The realization and cultivation of the expressive and adaptive aspects of such are paramount goals for the instructor of an applied poetry program. These considerations are clearly acknowledged and surpassed by Ms. Bosveld, who has devoted much thought and scholarship to the matter, here and in her sourcebook, Topics for Getting in Touch, now in its tenth edition.

*Dislocation refers to narrated events, intentions, etc., less the benefit of depictive locale, usually but not limited to imaginary events.

Pudding Magazine: The International Journal of Applied Poetry #32, Dec., 1996.
Edited by Jennifer Bosveld. 3 / yr; 80 pp. Pudding House Publications. $18.95 / yr, $6.95 / copy.

Pudding Magazine is going strong approaching the close of its second decade. Founding publisher and editor, Jennifer Bosveld, has with gifted sensibilities and model resolve kept the proceedings on a steady course, veering only towards improvement. While keeping to the magazine’s express purpose, the foundation, demonstration and promotion of applied poetry (a term originated by Bosveld to signify the beneficial role the creative process can play in healing, learning, working and integrating with society), there is also a liberal commitment to bringing forth fine contemporary and experimental writing. (It’s clear that at Pudding the term experimental is not used as an apology for bad writing; rather, here it means writing that does not restrict itself to familiar plays of language, writing that purposefully departs from traditional models.) With applied poetry, the foremost objective, it seems, is to remove task-attitude constraints which can otherwise control production; the purpose is to keepsafe the writer’s subjectivity while helping him become much less self-conscious. And when shared, the turning points in a life are exposed to view, and this can revise a reader’s perceptions and sensitivities. Thus Pudding is of service both to writers and to readers. There is also a commitment to Virtual Journalism (another term originated by Bosveld), which is concerned not with the reportage only but the transmutation of experience into art, but while this may sound pretty familiar, it’s actually quite a specialized art form.

Featured in #32 is Willie Abraham Howard, Jr., and from his excerpted letters and poetry it’s clear he does not suffer from dictaphobia, he speaks his heart with a vividness and penetration. This is just the sort of writer Bosveld is pleased to discover. Mr. Howard’s place is Southern-urban, or else any black enclave just outside or enclosed inside a city. Howard is shrewd and to a degree worldly-minded, but he is not wearied or cynical; he has learned, and probably early on, to keep a psychological distance, and this is key to his style of portraiture—when his feelings enter the narrative, it is not to pass judgment, but to register his affections. But Howard has a secret weapon; he has the ability to translate meaning into value, and value into poetry. (The author’s expression need not only take the form of a shriek.) In the poems presented here, we see the contrast between the poet’s ideal and his reality. In “Rockbitch In Vine City,” the slang phrases are disturbing, but still they are only language; with minimum detail Howard tells of a woman prone to prison and drug abuse, yet despite her wrecked life there remains something inviolable about her; she is still a human being.

All the writing in Pudding has a direct connection to some or other lived experience; depending on the style of the author, this connection can be more or less concrete. And as in Ralph S. Coleman’s short story, “Off the Main Road,” the connection can take the form of a revelation, an awakening either to or out of a self-deception. Ben Miller’s “Tiny Tales of Mayhem, Madness and Murder” is something of a ringer—it’s typical of Bosveld to include a piece that is so refreshingly unusual yet still suits her purpose. These really are tiny tales, excerpts from a longer work; brief paragraphs, each one with a well wrought twist. Miller may well remind the reader of Calvino; we cannot possibly foretell the last sentence or word but when we read it we are treated to the ah-hah effect. Because of the remarkable quantity of submissions received, Pudding is able to publish three big issues a year, and submissions meet with an amazingly efficient turn-around time (manuscripts are read the day received; this is more than a practicality, this is a courtesy to the authors, and one worthy of emulation). It shouldn’t be long before The Best American Poetry acknowledges Pudding with their selection. Always begin with a SASE for guidelines.

Pudding Magazine: The International Journal of Applied Poetry #40, Spring 2000.
Edited by Jennifer Bosveld. 66 pp.
Pudding House Publications.
$18.95 / 3 issues, $7.95 / copy.

Pudding’s motto reads in part, Poetry Applied to Intentional Living. The idea, really the principle, of “intentional living” has been with me a long time, even before I found proof of it in Rilke, in Shotetsu, and in Thoreau. It has more than anything else informed my writing, and, just as importantly, my reading, of poetry. For I conceive of the poem to be a document, behind which there lies a life, a person, a history. The poem is, in a sense, a constellation of sensibilities, drawn from the personal night sky of the poet—and sometimes, should the stars be so aligned, we can make out the outline of an archetype.

Now the enjoyment of poetry is not only a matter of these words, these images, this particular circumstance, the enjoyment is in where the poem takes you. Reading Greg Kosmicki’s “Everything Has A Life of Its Own,” about a slight but significant conversation between father and son, I was taken to remember a man I’d met at a retirement party. He asked me what I’d been doing, I told him I was a student, and then he asked me what I loved, and I told him I loved poetry. The man then took out his wallet, and took out this old piece of cloth that was folded so to fit inside, and he said that this was from his child’s blanket, and then he held it close and said, This is a poem. I reread Kosmicki’s poem, and the others in the set he has published here, as this issues’s featured poet, and they were all equally rewarding.

Rewarding too is “Ambivalences of Color,” a short slice of life by Robert T. Sorrells, and John Bennett’s “Take the ‘A’ Train,” which can be considered a companion piece to the recently published Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. It’s often said that a magazine reflects the sensibilities of its editor, I think that’s true, and we can be grateful for Jennifer Bosveld, whose sensibilities include a commitment to people, to poetry, and to intentional living.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Review of the journal JUXTA from Meat Epoch #19, 1996.

(#2, 1995) 977 Seminole Trail #331, Chrlottesville, VA 22901. 78pp. $4.50.

The word juxta is a combining form, a word base used as an element in word formation, meaning near, beside, close by, and we may tend to combine it with position, as in juxtaposition, meaning (all of its implications notwithstanding) a being close together, as in nearness or closeness in space; however we may just as well construe this nearness to appertain to time—to the now (to a parallel and Other now?). Thus Juxta, the new journal by editors Ken Harris and Jim Leftwich, is presenting the writings of our contemporaries, writings that belong to and reflect our time, writings that are happening now and that may be said to represent the first in order of “the new.” Thus tuned, Juxta takes its place alongside other journals of the new in its being representative of what some might call the “otherstream” and of what we here at ME call works of logoclastics.

But the writings in Juxta #2 show such craft and sense of purpose and design; yet each writer seems set on discovering his and her own signature procedure and upon his own point of departure. These points of departure may leave a common ground, an open or community sense of antecedents, but those first and further steps in advance are as personal and singular and idiosyncratic.... The character of peoples as revealed by their vocabularies? Yes! If poetics experimentation is to be a search, and not “just” a testing of the trustworthy, then it must be a search after form and idiom. Form cannot be dispensed with, it is essential even when it is not obvious. It’s best not to plant for form; use good seed and earth, and water on time; form is what comes into bloom. In Juxta #2 we find idioms so diverse as Bob Grumman’s in his “Cryptographiku No. 3” and Spencer Selby’s in his overlay of text and image, and John Perlman’s in his “These Thresholds Crossed.” If you are unfamiliar with these names, then boy, do I envy your surprise.

Outstanding among our prose works is the Susan Smith Nash essay/review of James Chapman’s novel, Our Plague: A Film from New York. Here she discusses the theme of apocalypse (being the stark and shared awareness of imminent death and alienation as this is communicated in the "film") as a strategy for reconnecting the ostracized and marginalized Other to the mainstream culture. This does depend on the reader’s (indeed, the mainstream culture’s) will to make the leap of empathy. What in part prevents this “leap” from occurring are the metaphors for social perception that in reaction to AIDS, and to other illnesses, have come about. These metaphors give the mainstream culture the illusion of safety and immunity and, in the case of AIDS especially, function to justify prejudice and hostility and the very act of objectifying. Employing Sontag and other writers, Ms. Nash discusses these metaphors as they affect the state of mind of the ostracized Other, the person suffering with AIDS. The apocalypse strategy, as it pertains directly to the "film’s" protagonist, is in nowise a treatment or restorative, but is the term reflected off what seems a physiological phenomenon that occurs just prior to death; what occurs is a vivid “fever dream,” an hallucinatory fugue state that in the "film" takes the form of a disjunctive photomontage. (Whether Chapman’s "film" is a documentary or a dramatized account is not clear and is perhaps irrelevant. But this “fever dream” may be the result of a release of endorphins, peptide hormones that have the pharmacologic properties of opium.) It is by way of the depiction of this fugue state (revealing the degree of subalterity that the protagonist has suffered, first for being HIV positive, and second for developing an awareness of his own imminent death, an awareness of the end of the world) that the sense of apocalypse (and so the apocalypse strategy) is communicated and thus the reconnection may occur: “Thus the apocalypse presented in Our Plague is one which reconnects the ostracized Other to the culture. The idea of connecting through the shared experience of pain is particularly effective because it brings about the realization that we all possess a body, and thus we are subject to the same intimations of our own mortality.” Ms. Nash is an engaged and engaging writer with an incisive and authoritative voice and an increasing mastery of the language. She is testimony to the tonic effect clarity and exactness have on the mind. Our Plague: A Film from New York [1993], is published by Fugue State Press. Next there is Jake Berry, who in his declarative composition, Creative Transfinity, proposes something on the order of a heterodox plurality. The time of the heretics is come! Mr. Berry’s composition brings a passage out of Heidegger to mind that I shall offer here as an addendum: When the creators vanish from the nation, when they are barely tolerated as an irrelevant curiosity, an ornament, as eccentrics having nothing to do with real life; when authentic conflict ceases, converted into mere polemics, into the machinations and intrigues of man within the realm of the given, then the decline has set in. For even if an epoch still strives to maintain the inherited level and dignity of its being-there, the level falls. It can be maintained only if it is at all times creatively transcended. Or else: “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia.”

John Noto writes on New Synthesis poetics, its antecedents and its values, with reference to Charles Borkhuis, and Adam Cornford. Will Alexander’s prose, from his Sunrise In Armageddon, speaks a language of primurgenial morphogeny: “I’ve grown, I’ve come to understand the fracas that all my blood has watered, the fracas of my chiseled blood bearing ices. When one has opened a plenum of microbes, when one has pierced all galactic possibilities, the erratic persona can live without abatement, and begin to exist for the cherished interior sculpting that has finally taken root in my essence. I’ve set aside all the animal favours I once descended upon my person even in my thirst for anomalous disaster. I’ve always trained my heart to listen to my own anomalous connivings, to listen to my bickering impasse gales, so as to give myself the smouldering recognition of one who literally exists without name.” And in M. Kettner’s Popular Apocryhpha, An Essay, still another sense of our despair and misengagement is spoken to: “The way out is at least a brief carousel ride, if not a total plunge into infinity.” But yes, Holden, around and around. And the song of the spheres? Oh, Marie!

There is poetry by John Perlman from his Texture Press book The Natural History of Trees. New poems by Sheila E. Murphy, Jake Berry (including some pages from his Brambu Drezi, Book Two), John M. Bennett (including from his Luna Bisonte Prods book Blind On the Temple), Charles Borkhuis, Adam Cornford, Peter Ganick, and others....

Juxta #2 is sewn and perfect bound, 8 3/8 by 5 1/2. Advertisements are welcome.

Review of Irving Weiss's Visual Voices from Meat Epoch #19, 1996.

Some Notes after Irving Weiss’ Visual Voices
(1994, The Runaway Spoon Press, ISBN 0 926935 95 X)

“To use the intellect to make ourselves conscious
of the automatisms inherent in our handling of the alphabet.”
—Karl Gerstner, Compendium for Literates

The visual poem has become a genus of poetry unto itself. When we speak of “visual poetry,” we no longer have in mind or make reference to just the pattern (or shape, or emblematic) poem (I prefer to call these eidetic poems—from the Greek eidos, meaning “that which is seen”—because the idea is given directly to the eye and thus a mental image is formed—one is interpreting a figure which seems to be external, in contrast with the interpretation of words as such) in the manner of George Herbert’s Easter Wings, his Altar, or his Cross, or Lewis Carroll’s Mouse’s Tale, or John Hollander’s Swan and Shadow, but we may be speaking of an ever extensible field or genre of poetry (yea, writing) with respect to which we can discern common characteristics according to which the eidetic poem is but one species unto a genus. Of these common characteristics, it will be sufficient to our purpose (but presently we shall treat these in some detail) to say that as a general rule, the visual poem, or visual writing as such, shows as well as or in addition to what it tells, and these two ends are complementary in their exemplification. As a general rule, the visual poem has available to its reader the occasion or opportunity for a double (yea, a potentially multifold) and often (but not necessarily) coinciding, if not simultaneous, interpretation (or understanding). I would hold these by admission preliminary and decidedly abstract rules to apply to the Pompeian Paternoster, up to and beyond Herbert to Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, to now.

With Irving Weiss’ lively and often arresting lab-book of experiments in visual writing, Visual Voices (The Poem As a Print Object), we open upon a series of such events ostensibly aimed at translating—perhaps we ought to say, transmogrifying—the “voices” of a selection of the most highly esteemed poets of the Western canon into a “visual poetry” medium or form. Subsidiary to this end (and what is quite a pursuit in itself), Mr. Weiss explores, and explodes, the parameters of what we shall in these pages call the poetic template.

(The book is designed so that the originals—ostensibly, the voices—appear on verso pages, while the visuals then appear on recto pages. The originals—or what are here specific points of departure for Mr. Weiss—are each headed by an object hypothesis—a statement given as to the concept, the objective, Mr. Weiss’ reason for writing. This “title” heads the title of the original. Often the object hypothesis will be supplemented by a footnote further explaining Mr. Weiss’ motive and objective. For instance: Above a 12 line fragment of John Keats’ 404 line “Sleep and Poetry” is added, Telescopic Piece of Poem Marching in the Poetic Firmament, and below it is added, “The poem is seen here from an ‘astronomical’ distance in appropriate recognition of its theme.” Its theme.... When we turn to the visual, we are met with a series of widely spaced letters, their congruity intact—but as though we are peering through a telescope, and the letters are as stars unto a constellation.)

Our theoretical point of departure is “the poem as print on the page and the traditional consciousness of print as a repertory of visible choices.” Mr. Weiss proceeds on a reordering, a recreating of the traditional elements of print, of the space between letters, words and subdivisions of the poem, and the fundamental space that is the page, as these occur in the works of these esteemed poets, all or most of whom wrote before the invention of the typewriter (in 1867) and all of whom we must then presume wrote in longhand; this last point is of great importance, as it goes to Mr. Weiss’ proposition that the poem in its longhand form, or appearance, is inherently different from, and influences the reader differently than the poem that is typewritten or typographically set on the page; this difference in composition also acts upon the poet, as typewriting presents possibilities that do not obtain to longhand. It is important to note, that this difference appertains to the eye, and not to the ear as such. Additionally, Mr. Weiss intends an “affront” to what he takes to be the “smugness” of the printed page or “ground” (with its double sense of foundation as substrate or surface, and as standard of valuation or logical basis) upon which the writing is put down.

When he succeeds, as he frequently does, in his reordering of these classics of the Western canon, the heuristics of his method uncover a poetics unrealized in the originals or in fact unavailable at their time of composition.

Just as frequently, however, the poem, in Mr. Weiss’ hands, for all its considered ability to transform perception, becomes a wholly self-referential object, the McLuhan/Fiore maxim to the nth degree; the poem no longer means or represents, it only is—and it could just as easily not have been. This is not to say that Mr. Weiss reduces the poem—and all that the poem has traditionally been, the signature of a distinct identity, for instance—to but an arrangement of print on the page, to but a mere print object or graphic design (though after all, he is silencing, or erasing, a distinct voice—a voice he purports to make visual—he is expunging history, and replacing it with a for the most part neutralized picture—in effect killing off the significance, but leaving intact yet suggestive if indeterminate signifiers), rather, as the poem as such recedes, he manages to conserve and draws forward those characteristics of poetry that have traditionally gone unnoticed, or have been taken for granted, namely the mind that moves the hand that holds the pen that spills the thought across the page—some ghost or sense of the original poem in somewise remains, if simply by virtue of the presence of its title and the poet’s name, two elements which in and of themselves can act upon a literate intellect—and namely, but what is most important to Mr. Weiss’ purport, the poetic template that is born of Man pursuing black upon white—it is here lies the crux and true worth of his endeavor.

What I am here referring to as the poetic template is the outlining pattern or eidos that (certainly traditionally, but then in visual poetry as well and with a sense all its own) coincidentally accrues to the poem upon its being quilled or scripted or inscribed or however recorded or preserved, or reproduced, whether by handwriting or typewriting or typographical (or word processor) design. The poetic template, generally speaking, consists of the margin and the indentation. The poetic template corresponds, is communicated to, the eye; it is seen and it is read (interpreted and understood), but it is not, strictly speaking, heard or recited.

In Mr. Weiss’ translations, the poetic template (so too the poet’s voice and thought) is made all the more conspicuous given its new-found deformation (for the most part it is rendered obliquely); indeed, it is just this that he construes to be so much “smugness.” For it is precisely the poetic template towards which he intends his “affront.” (Do note: It is the poetic template that undergoes a dislocation in open field poetics! Predominantly, a dislocation of the margin. For while open field eschews the uniformity of the (nevertheless elastic) poetic template, it freely admits of anything and everything else. And yet, not unintentionally, while the open field procedure eschews the “traditional” margin and indentation poetic template, it brings to the page a poetic template—of margins and indentations and subdivisions—all its own. An outstanding instance of this is found in Larry Eigner’s early “Six Poems.” The open field poetic template—while certainly in a sense eidetic—is in nowise anterior to the poem, is in a manner of speaking interior to the poem, and is properly given to insight and inference.)

It did seem, at first, that Mr. Weiss would, would indeed in effect if not in actuality make visual the poet’s voice—or more readily, the poet’s thought, so much as this can be allowed; a clear instance or illustration of this would amount to something on the order of Herbert’s Easter Wings. We should expect an understanding of the poet’s text, or thought (to occur to Mr. Weiss), and then a visual or eidetic representation of that thought, or theme, to accompany the text. What is the case with Easter Wings, the text is reordered so (by the printer on command of the poet!) to represent Herbert’s imagery in visual or eidetic fashion. Thus Easter Wings is in a sense increased, is in a sense two poems (and both are complementary in their exemplification); there is the strictly textual poem, the word for word, verbal poem we may read aloud, and then there is the eidetic poem, or figure (yea, the Gestalt law Prägnanz—conveying the essence of something) that feeds the eye and the sensibilities but such as does an icon, a sacred icon. (As figures are usually seen as more meaningful, and so are more easily remembered.)

But this is not exactly what Mr. Weiss succeeds in doing; rather, he presents what is his very own spin (as per his object hypotheses) in a “visual” form on these yet fecund pieces—disregarding, yea, discarding their once? significance entirely.

Thus in Visual Voices, Blake’s tyger is all to-do amidst a jungle of predatory signs, the hair on its tayl stands erect, John Milton’s Paradise Lost—having passed through so many readers’ mental coin-box, having been subject to countless exchange—is gaining new currency, re-aborn less its argument in prose as but one half, the top half, of a could-be visual contradiction, and George Herbert—but again not his Easter Wings, where in early editions the lines are printed vertically to represent the figure of wings on the page (to Eliot this seemed but an elegant trifle)—is subject to something of bad weather.

Mr. Weiss eschews partiality in the poem, as well as the statement as such; he draws freely upon the Metaphysical poets, but appears also to eschew their metaphysical wit. Should we be grateful the Areopagitica is in prose?

In his introduction, Mr. Weiss provides something of a disclaimer to the effect that his “interpretive strategy” is not to effect a “deconstruction” of these texts: “I am interested primarily in the ways in which print levels poems into poetry and separates itself from the poems it serves.” Mr. Weiss is correct, he has not effected a deconstruction of these texts; it is more on the order of a transmogrification. When he writes that print levels poems into poetry, what he means is not poetry, but the poetic template. What he has separated from these poems, these voices, is their signification, the bond that holds between.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Edward Gorey’s cover for Quake, Quake, Quake: A Leaden Treasury of English Verse by Paul Dehn. My copy is signed, “Optimistically! Paul Dehn Dec. 1961.” Paul Dehn was the life partner of composer James Bernard. Bernard is famous for his scores for Hammer Films. Dehn and Bernard shared the 1952 Academy Award for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story, for the film Seven Days to Noon. Dehn also wrote, with Richard Maibaum, the screenplay for Goldfinger. Dehn and Gorey are a perfect marriage, just like Gorey and Bram Stoker, and just like Gorey and Samuel Beckett.

Monday, July 17, 2006

During the nineties I did a little photocopy-and-staple "art-lit" 'zine called "Meat Epoch." I published poetry and essays and artwork and visual poetry and I wrote reviews of other 'zines and of journals and of chaps and Meat Epoch sort of became my access into the then still somewhat subterranean world of 'zines and the mirco-press. It is my pleasure to present here at the e·ratio blog-auxiliary an ongoing series of some choice pieces from Meat Epoch. No doubt there is much here you will recognize. —Should you wish to research the whole micro-press and small 'zine phenomenon you cannot do better than to begin at Luigi-Bob Drake's smashing periodical TapRoot Reviews, and you might also check out Factsheet 5. One thing that cannot be emphasized enough is that the works under review here are HIGHLY COLLECTABLE.

Review of the journal River City from Meat Epoch #22, 1997.

River City
V. 17, #1; Winter ’97, Edited by Paul Naylor, Dept. of English, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38152.
2/yr; 145pp; flat-spined; $7/copy, $12/sub.

RC is a quality academic journal with a focus on “contemporary culture.” Each issue features a special topic, here being “Engendering Culture.” One can “engender” culture in two ways; one being so as to produce it, to bring it about, and the other being so as to denote sexual difference. In English we denote sexual difference (or gender, we en-gender) generally by noun or name (Victor, Victoria) and pronoun (he, she) reference; and then in our culture at large as a matter of custom, or expectation, as in how we dress and act and present ourselves, and as in how we seem to inherit our roles and capacities in society. (Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Boys are made of snakes and snails and puppy-dog tails. That sort of thing. It’s everywhere. And it’s virtually inescapable.) However, both language, and culture at large, are open to creative transformation. Since the 1970’s—but certainly going back to important figures in modern literature and in philosophy, and in social movements—our culture has undergone some affirmative, if at times tentative, transformations. In fiction, poetry, art and essay, and in an interview with the philosopher Moira Gatens, this special topic is explored to engaging and compelling effect.

But is the idea of “engendering culture” all that new, and if so in what sense, what makes it “us”? An authoritative introduction, surprisingly missing, would have given us perspective, an overview, and special purpose and preparation. Generally speaking, can one not find instances in, say, Michelangelo’s David, or in Caravaggio, perhaps at least for his rejection of idealization? Lesley Dill’s images (her art in photograph by David Horan) from her exhibition A Mouthful of Words, seem to stress at once a de- and a re-mythologizing (a re-grammatology?) of sexual difference; what’s new is that here gender succumbs to manipulation, a manipulation by metaphor, resulting sometimes in a third sex. In one image the gender is effaced, so that this otherwise male body resembles the female body in a preceding image; the pubic regions of the two images are almost identical. I think this effacement is similar, if you will, to had Michelangelo placed a fig leaf on his David. Had he, it would not have been out of obedience to the Church, but out of humility; the fig leaf is thus a metaphorical device. But what if the fig leaf stood for a question mark? The “gender” of these images, and of the David, would be in endless deference. In the interview with Moira Gatens, the philosopher speaks about feminism and feminists and the formulation of gender in the academy and in philosophical discourse. Reference is made to the rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza in line with Dr. Gatens’ forthcoming book, Collective Imaginings: Spinoza and the Ethics of Difference. What Gatens has to say about Spinoza is both attractive and promising. The “special topic” section closes with a fine short story by Glen Helfand and Kevin Killian entitled “The Range of Freedom,” and then follows three short stories by the winners of the 1997 RC Writing Awards in Fiction.

There is also some fine poetry here, especially by Gwyn McVay; and a haunting poetical composition by Andrew Mossin entitled “The Epochal Body.” Each issue of RC features what they call a “Cross Section” segment. Here there are works unrelated to the special topic. In this issue, there are two; Keith Tuma on the poet Edward Kamau Brathwaite, and Mark Nowak in conversation with the poet Maurice Kenny. Both works (indeed, everything here) are just the sort of thing one wants to hold on to for future reference. The editors at RC have come across with an issue that is entirely free of condescension and bitterness. The readability of these works is remarkable. (Perhaps RC will consider including information on its contributors in future issues. Such fine works surely merit it.) Outstanding.

Review of John M. Bennett's Prime Sway from Meat Epoch #22, 1997.

Prime Sway (A transduction of Primero Sueño by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz)
By John M. Bennett
1996; 74pp; Pa; Texture Press, 3760 Cedar Ridge Drive, Norman, OK 73072. $12.

We welcome the appearance of a long work by John M. Bennett. For while it may be that one day his great number of shorter, single pieces will come to be read as one sustained string of afflatus (an edition of Bennett’s collected poems, numbered, dated and indexed by title and first line, is sorely awaited), for the time being at least we must content ourselves with this rare long single poem.

A “transduction” is like a translation in the sense that it tries to capture and stick with the original’s spirit or phrenic energy, otherwise there is no attempt at all at a literal translation. At first blush it seems bizarre that Mr. Bennett would elect to do a transduction of a work by a Mexican RC nun who died in 1695, bizarre, that is, until we consider Sor Juana’s learning and literary productivity, one might even see in Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz a proto-feminist, given her difficulties in overcoming the hardships she faced as an intellectual woman with a gift for exposition. We also should note that Mr. Bennett is fluent in Spanish, and that he holds a Ph.D. and has been a professor of Latin American literature. So far as Sor Juana’s text Primero Sueño goes, we ought to say that it is a long poem, an analysis of sleep describing how man’s soul is dazzled at night by its vision of the universe. The poem is an attempt to comprehend the laws of the universe as they are entered into during the dreamscape.

The first stanza of Prime Sway is topnotch Bennett, gripping and welcoming, familiar and yet unfamiliar, and contains a narrative lunge that comes as something of a trap door released beneath our feet. This narrative lunge, we discover, continues for the poem’s entire 974 lines. The world we enter is typical Bennett, a cross between Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Mr. Bennett chooses words as might a lead guitarist choose the notes for his solo, that is to say he is concerned with semantic factors as a matter of stress and sound, and the meaning thereof, rather than with any significance so far as literal denotation may be concerned. Of course, as a consequence of this, meaning is mostwise surrendered to effect. But then this being a postmodern work, a transduction and what’s more a John M. Bennett poem, meaning is not a cardinal consideration, or else, as in the dream sequence, it is a matter of associations, the one to the other and all to the reader’s perceptions. (Interesting, that in composing this work of surrealism, Mr. Bennett should rely on semantic factors of stress and sound locally, rather than on their reference to any part or thing diffusedly. This just might be a universal surrealist device or method. It might help to consider it as a foregrounding of the communicative value of the discourse.) And he never entirely leaves behind Sor Juana’s text, indeed the elements of her life, of her time and place, of her intellect and of her art, are always in company.

Throughout this dreamscape, this Daliesque pianoroll-like unfolding, we encounter passage after passage of stark lucidity where the poet’s technique ceases to be seen and we find ourselves, lose ourselves, in the changing series of plays of language, ideas and oft’times jolting iconic groundwork.

John M. Bennett’s poetic gestures seem primarily concerned to depict the human venture in its crosscurrents of symbol and soma. His command and verbal dexterity seem to flow from some unconscious place. And while his works are indeed quite difficult, they are also manytimes rewarding. With Prime Sway, Mr. Bennett takes a giant step toward creating his masterpiece.

Review of Jack Foley's Exiles from Meat Epoch #22, 1997.

By Jack Foley. 1996; 103pp; Pa; Pantograph Press, PO Box 9643, Berkeley, CA 94709. $9.95.

Exiles may well be the closest thing we’ve yet to a Whole Jack Foley Catalogue. In this generous and large format compilation of poetries and essays, of poetical and philosophical outlines culminating in the enchanting lay, Dove Sta Amore, what we have come to consider his most personal and by-now signature themes are here addressed and gain resounding expression: loving and mysticism, sexual desire, the panic of loss, the senses of “home” and the “homelessness” that is the writer’s solitude and station, estrangement, God, the current state of poetry.

But for all his erudition and command, and what seems an irresistible instinct to modulate to expository prose, Jack Foley is straight away the romantic; his world remains a sacred Thou. As open as his mind and eyes are to the ever increasing complexities of art, of artist, of culture and society, such is his heart, and for this reason he is a scrupulous and dependable barometer.

His form of choice, his “structuring device,” is the collage idiom as an assembling of groupings of contents, the one in relation to the other by way of the telling. It is by way of this “telling,” and his plurality of identities, that the deeper structures of his work are experienced. When read in light of the notion of “intertextuality” (where we must be capable of the same putting-into-process of our own identities, capable of identifying with the different sorts of texts, voices, and semantic, syntactic, and phonic systems at play in his composition), Foley can be understood to be a transition figure between the Beat and Bay Area traditions and postmodernism. The flipside to this “telling” is to experience Jack Foley in recital, which is to experience a national treasure.

Review of Mark Wallace's The Lawless Man from Meat Epoch #22, 1997.

The Lawless Man.
By Mark Wallace. 1996; 10pp; Pa; Upper Limit Music, 1743 Butler Avenue #2, Los Angeles, CA 90025. $?

Theme and variations in ten parts. Part one is rather Language-oriented in style and sets the iconic groundwork for what’s to follow, being tales, vignettes, variations on the theme of the timeless and time-traveling, wandering outlaw. Sometimes fabulistic and super-real, and sometimes anachronistic which lends an air of abstract eternity. Really gets going in parts nine and ten which have a sort of “story board” logic. Not at all too advanced in form, despite what we ought to expect from Mr. Wallace, but satisfying, nonetheless, and despite its unrelenting undertones of existential claustrophobia. This slight work, which doesn’t quite seem to know if it wants to be lyric poetry or prose (there is something of a story here, and it would have profited had it not been eclipsed by its lack of a decisive narrative style—it is no feat that parts nine and ten are its best), seems something of a throw-away.

Review of the journal The Minnesota Review from Meat Epoch #22, 1997.

The Minnesota Review
N.s. 47; May ’97. Edited by Jeffrey Williams, Dept. of English, East Carolina U., Greenville, NC 27858-4353.
2/yr; 256pp; flat-spined; $12/2 issues

MR is an academic journal with a Marxist perspective. This number’s series is entitled “The White Issue” and collects essays in a critical analysis of “whiteness” as the “racially dominant culture.” “The premise, in short, is that attending to and undoing the social construction of whiteness is meaningful work for imagining material equality.” The contributors are for the most part affiliated with a university or are doing post-graduate work. There is fiction and poetry, some photography, all selected on theme.

The essays are excellent, if unforgiving, and are, as one might expect, advanced in their politics and methodologies; but this stands in stark contrast to the art, which is not at all “advanced” in form or technique, but only in its subject matter, as with Jay Ruben Dayrit’s short story, “Go-Go Boy,” about a gay, “Miss Saigon in a Bruce Lee body,” stripper. It’s questionable just how advanced, or progressive, such a story really is, for while its appearence may be a sign of demarginalization, its narrative presents not a celebration of gay culture, but just the gloomy miss lonelyhearts pining that has contributed so to the male homosexual stereotype. Even as social realism, does it not fail for its narcissistic autoerotism? Just what is its inclusion here meant to indicate, the liberalism of the editors, or an irresolute aesthetics? Only Warren Lehrer’s poem, “Everything’s White,” and then only for its typography which is reminiscent of Mayakovski (a white man), is in any sense advanced; and then take away its typography and what is left, a shriek? Is there a gay, or lesbian, aesthetics (an advance in form and technique), is there a “non-white” aesthetics (again, I mean an advance in form or technique), or is Marxist aesthetics just a contradiction in terms?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Über companionables. Edward Gorey’s covers for The Ambassadors, The Awkward Age and What Maisie Knew by Henry James. On What Maisie Knew, notice Gorey’s initials, bottom right-hand corner.