Sunday, December 09, 2012

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Poet and scholar Anna Niarakis has translated my poem, “Tops,” into Greek. Read Anna Niarakis’s translation of “Tops” online at the Greek-language poetry journal, To Parathyro.



a plum or knob, to see
purposes, prior to, or, unlike a knob or fruit

a purchase, or gestalt
in time or in enumeration

the nature of a stick in sand, the nature
of a rib, stuck upright in a palette

before a spry, metaphysician
an accent, passing close, unstoppered


a poem, in simple measure
can say the names of surrogate places,

can count the change in a blind man’s cup
a day, in folds, moves, asking leave to come and go

when having heard, are setting works, in geography
to days

when having heard, are breathing deeply
into cups


going, is town to town, changing hands
into cups


in act and in objective
another sequence, or condition, in nearness, to

spinning articles, and arrival, at once
a wish or trespass

the entrance of a man.
And as was consonant with sleep in daylight

after hurry, and pursuit, after warp and corrugation

to say, the saying of a fold, this is a face

this is a church, and, this is a moment
in a wheel

a father, and a son, a wife, or, inflection
recovering a no

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Sarah Valeri Interview

Sarah Valeri
of the band Colorform Music and Live Art

interviewed by Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino

(Photo Rob Domingo.)

Something occurred to me during the Colorform show at Fontana’s back in August: because of the lighting situation, that is, while there are lights trained on the stage, there are no lights trained on you, there are no lights on the audience and you are virtually in the audience when and where you are performing, so while there are lights on the performers on the stage, there are no lights on you, so you are virtually drawing in the dark, down on the floor, there, in front of the stage. So I imagine you can barely see the colors of your chalks, can barely distinguish one color from another—it’s as though you were color-blind—and yet your drawing comes out so colorful, and the colors fit. And it occurred to me, given that (besides your work with the band Colorform) you are a teacher and in the practice of art therapy: you have special-needs students, and some are blind, and they are drawing with colors they cannot see: it occurred to me how to some degree you are experiencing as they experience. . . . Watching you draw, during this same performance, I think I noticed that at points you were moving in time with the music: there were several points at which the music took on this fast rhythm and you seemed to take flight along with it. Do you consciously move to the music, or, does something inside you take over, or: watching you draw, you are in a way dancing to the music. . . . What’s going on here?

Well, yes it has actually been described as dancing to the music. So when I draw live with Colorform I unroll a very large piece of paper on the floor or tape it to the wall if I can get away with it. I need as much room as I can to be able to use my whole range of movement, so the paper is usually the length of my body at least. The band has performed everywhere from crepe shops, church birthday parties, bars, galleries, lofts, DIY showcases, and even a cathedral. So lights and materials can change a lot depending on the venue. I am accustomed to drawing in the semi-dark. For a long time the colors would surprise me when the lights came back, but now I know the difference between orange and red with the lights out.
 The immediate mix of the music and movement is the whole idea. I really enjoy isolating those sensations for the moment and I don’t pay attention to much else. Because it was shocking at first to draw in front of people I had to create a sort of separate space for myself from everything else. I remember that I didn’t recognize songs that I heard only while I was drawing. I would ask the musical band members about a “new” song and they would tell me that they had played it at the last 5 shows. Now I am much more at ease, able to wave at folks occasionally while I draw. I draw much faster and feel less and less controlled and more curious about what might happen.
 I work as an art therapist at a school for children with visual impairments and other exceptional needs. At school we only focus on their work and mine has nothing to do with their process. Many of the students have some sight, so they might be interested in color, but usually intense color, or specific contrasts of color. The only time a child without any sight has asked me to help them find a specific color was when they were making a gift for someone who says they like that color. Many adult artists adapt their methods to make work for a sighted audience, but for the children to be able to interact independently with the materials, and make choices based on their own experience we focus on pressure, shape, weight, balance, pattern, forms, space, etc. There is plenty room for them to work without color. If we are going to have an exhibit I will try and make sure they have monochromatic materials so that sighted visitors will not be distracted by the color and miss out on all the great things the child did with space and touch. I’d like to see more exhibits that feature sensations that can be mutually shared by the kids and the visitors, without anyone having to translate or be dependent on someone’s description.

This idea of “Live Art.” This’s quite a concept. This is art in distinction to “performance art,” theatre, dance, indeed any choreography that is repeated night after night. Your art is totally extemporaneous—before our eyes you are transforming the noun “art” into the verb “to be.” Would you fill us in on the birth of this concept? Was it born at the same time the band was born? How did the band come together?

Kate Logan sang and played guitar with Matt Logan who played cello and composes. Later they met Ben Deibert who added more guitar. I heard them play at a place called R&R Bar on its last night open. At the time I was living in a big loft in Bushwick and I asked them to play for my open studio. Later I asked if I could draw along with the band, and being the easy going folks that they are, they let me. So I drew with them on Halloween night of 2006 at Kenny’s Castaways. Matt was dressed as a shark and Ben was Disco Stu. Kate was a Cereal Killer. My friend Hilda was there dressed as a cop. And then I just came with them to every show. And that really is it.

Dreams (and the unconscious). Dreams and art: they have a lot in common, the dream (its visual images, its emotional content, its conceptual phenomena) and the work of art. In regard to both the dream and art, we can say that “content” is represented not realistically but psychologically. And for instance, and even in strictly mechanical terms: there is distortion, condensation, symbolization—the representation in terms of symbols, and in terms of difference, in terms of opposites. Both the dream and the work of art speak in a language of symbols (in figure, in color, in gesture), both may be said to reflect the fundamentally subjective nature of the mind, and both may be said to be the product of a psychic discharge. And for instance—and here I’m jumping to an extremely sophisticated proposition—the dream and the work of art both specialize in disguise. Do you ever talk about your dreams in public—or, isn’t that exactly what artists do, or rather what they do when it’s working. . . ? What role, or roles, do dreams play in your art, and in your life? Do you keep a dream diary? Do you “cultivate” your dreams with, for instance, melatonin? Do you consult a dictionary of symbols (pictorial and otherwise)? Do you specialize in disguise?

Oh dreams. I do miss them since I moved to New York and my sleep was relegated to short bursts of total blackout. If only work could wait until about ten. There are some recurring dreams from my childhood that have provided a lot of symbols and characters that I think have sort of walked on out of that environment and into their own identity. They have gathered their own memories and priorities now and may not be what they were when I first met them. And of course, many animals. I can’t help it. It wasn’t until New York that I even allowed any manmade items to appear in a painting, only living things were allowed. It’s hard to ignore all the non living things around you in the city. They make up so much of the landscape.
 Certainly I think a lot of my artwork can serve as a substitute for a dream with all of the discovery and release. All the creatures and symbols do carry a lot of significance that I don’t necessarily want to spell out and if I try to manifest them explicitly they will lose some of their dimensions. So the mystery surrounding the symbol isn’t a disguise, it helps keep the air circulating, keeps evolution possible and allows some unheard of things to hitch a ride. The metaphors don’t lie, but it loses some transformative power in explanation, and they know it.
 See this little piece from a writing project Susan Scutti and I participated in:

 I’m writing year long agendas, applications that have to describe what I would paint for a year if ____________ organization offered me a studio space. It’s like writing a little novella about mythological beasts, which is mostly true. Then I have to get the fairy book owls and wolves, snakes and moths to stand together at a podium and write their campaign speeches. They don’t like it one bit and they are threatening to go rogue. “Broken arrow!” yells the owl and cannonballs off his paper. He doesn’t really yell, he is just telepathic in a very intrusive way. And the sheepdog pisses on all the application and turns off all the lights so the moths begin to cry. 
 I’ve also become aware that people will read these entries. I am much more used to images. They squirm silently in the lower brain. Their impressions are strong, but not feasible in a court of law. The owls are willing to take a little blame for the murders and jubilations they commit, though they don’t care who they take down with them. The woman wrapped in quilts is still trying to protect the innocent.

Serenade. (c. 2012. Ink on paper, 11” x 14”)
The sum of her days. (c. 2012. Silk dyes, graphite, ink on paper, 10” x 30”)

In both your drawings and your paintings, your subject matter, the images and characters and events, seem to be born of dreams. Such as we see in The sum of her days, which is subtitled “alligator love,” and in Serenade. The words that come to mind are fable, fabulist, fantastic, phantasmagoric. Your drawings seem more “figurative” than your paintings—your painting seem more like Action Painting, Abstract Expressionism, although even in your drawings some of the lines look to me like “drippings,” I mean in the way they arc, the arc given by your gesture. . . . But not only “figurative,” your drawings, for instance as we see here in Serenade and in the series of works you’ve entitled The Stories, there are narratives. You are a storyteller by way of pictures. Would you tell us the story behind this drawing, Serenade, and behind this character, Monk? And if you will, who is Hester? Who is Spinnerette?

Yes, I actually meant to write down words in some sort of eloquent sequence but I just keep drawing finer and finer pictures. It helps me think, and I have done a lot of reading during this time, but little writing. Eventually there will be writing that responds to the images. My friends are getting tired of hearing me talk about it. I think they may not believe me at this point. I will redeem myself. Be on the lookout for the Fugitive’s Astronomy Club.
 Very simply the little monk is of mysterious origins, but he appears in a monastery that has managed to preserve medieval history on a cold island. He really grows into a sweet anomaly in the middle of this dark priesthood, and eventually he is cast out and exiled for his happy go lucky gait. It’s based on my research of an actual monastery in the White Sea. I imagine that as he found himself flung into a fast, falsely lit world he would be a little hungry for stars, and so he might, out of desperation, sing out to the streetlights.
 Hester collects sounds. To the neglect of everything else. That is all I will say about her now.
 The Spinnerette is the most practical of all of them and willing to be a bit cruel if necessary. I think Hester and the Monk might be able to cross the sea in a rowboat, forget to eat and be none the worse for it, but the Spinnerette doesn’t let that happen to anyone. She makes sure everyone is fed and she’s willing to bring down the unjust. And she doesn’t delegate.
 As for the aesthetics of these drawings, yes they are more specific, and there is a little less room for travel. I’ve had some trouble actually getting used to it. They are more illustrative because it’s an image turning into writing, but also there is the simple limitation of motion that has effected how I make them. I made my paintings in a studio where I had room to hang five large oil paintings, leave my paints strewn across the floor, scribble on the walls, and paint on all the paintings simultaneously. This was a very rich time for me, to have that freedom of movement and some day I will have it again. For right now I draw in my apartment, which is actually smaller than the studio I had to give up. So my drawing is limited to a small space and the movement comes mostly from my wrists. I spent many hours in stillness making those drawings this summer. In the summer! I can’t believe how much time I spent sitting still. This has never happened before.

I think I’m particularly taken by The sum of her days. And to fabulist and phantasmagoric and born of dreams I want to add symbolist. There is the whole aspect of the excitement of the art and the music happening together, there is a spectacle aspect to that, the impact of the drawing, the “Live Art” going on in sync with the “Music.” There is that whole aspect of your work but when one sees such as The sum of her days one finds an introduction to a whole other side to your creativity. I want to point out that this piece immediately reminds me of two works by Gustav Klimt, they are his Female Friends (1904-07) and the Salome (1909), and in particular the Salome. There’s real tension here between what is representational and what is abstract—and as though this could stand for the tension overall between your “Live” works and your more studied “studio” works—but more than this you manage something quite remarkable, and which you also share with the Klimts: glitter! It’s the light reflected, first of all, in her necklace, bodice, of beads. You manage that so well. When did you begin to do that? Was that taught to you? That’s quite a technical achievement. How familiar are you with the Klimts I’ve cited? “Glitter” is welcome because glitter sets off rapid eye movement, involuntary rapid eye movement, and this is pleasurable (whereas that which absorbs the light absorbs the eye and causes fatigue and to turn away). Is this a self-portrait? Is there a story behind The sum of her days? Why the alligator? Why, “alligator love”? The alligator uses submersion and stealth to approach its prey, has that anything to do with love? What’s her story?

Well, I was just looking at this drawing and it is really only pen and ink and a little pencil if you notice. There is no glitter or special technique to be found. I am familiar with the Klimt paintings and would not associate them with this drawing at all. There are colored detailed patterns certainly, but for different reasons, and this image has nothing to do with Salome or the predictable, old seductress of myth. She may be drawn with an intense stare, but she is such a predictable figment of the imagination. Like a 20 second film that only repeats forever. Actually I like some of Klimt’s study drawings better. I rather like the alligator and would rather look at the whole thing than dissect it.
 There is a story behind The Sum of Her Days, I’m sure. I doubt I’d get it right if I tried to tell you. I drew this as part of a series on Love Spells, it is true. When I began to think of things I could put in the “spells” I realized I didn’t like them at all. A “love” spell is usually a wish to make someone do something that they apparently have chosen not to do. If it worked it would be, at best, a cruel puppetry. So none of the drawings are love spells really, but gifts. The alligator is more well rounded than you give her credit for. (“Alligator love” was merely a bloggy quip, not a subtitle.)

What was your education in the arts? Do you have any formal training? When did you realize that you loved to draw? Was there encouragement for you to pursue a career in the arts? What turned you to becoming an art therapist?

I drew by myself as a kid. It was my own thing and I don’t think I ever met any artists until college. I looked at some art schools, but I wasn’t interested in showing anything. I studied education and my school started an arts program my sophomore year. The first couple years the classes were made up of a hodgepodge of students taking electives, and it was run mostly like informal drawing sessions until they hired more professors. Really it just assured that I had some non negotiable drawing time. We had painting class in an old stable by the woods and drawing class in a portable. I have fond memories of those places. Now I hear there is a sophisticated, tricked out art building and theater.
 So that’s when I first picked up oils and made terrible paintings. I learned to stretch a canvas from the Utrecht’s catalog. I’d love to take the time to develop more sensitive skills in this area, but that’s for people who don’t have to work.
 I did exhibit occasionally after school. I was living in Nebraska for a while and multicolored nudes were not welcome. Really. I did most of my painting in a dark basement with lots of field mice and wolf spiders. There may have been about ten people who ever saw them.
 I came to art therapy by accident. I had been teaching in Nebraska and I was fed up with No Child Left Behind. Both pointless and punitive. So I decided to get my doctorate and work towards making policy. I found out about art therapy while I was searching out programs of study, and it made me think of the unacknowledged power of meeting people eye to eye. So in the end I declined the programs that accepted me and moved to New York to get my MA in art therapy. While it is very creative work, those experiences are completely separate from my personal art. It might be easier to make art if I had some free flowing free lance work, but if I am going to spend so much time working I need to do something that I can truly involve myself in.

See/hear Sarah Valeri “Live” with the band Colorform Music and Live Art at their EP Release Party December 7, 8pm, Parkside Lounge, LES, NYC.

  Thank you, Sarah Valeri.

 Copyright © 2012 Sarah Valeri & Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

E·ratio issue 16 is in production. Proofs are on the way. If you are awaiting a reply to your submission, please know that one is coming soon. E·ratio is still reading and accepting for issue 16.


Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Contributing editor Joseph F. Keppler (center, smiling) is a sculptor, a poet, a theorist and essayist, a member of The Seattle Group and an astute observer of the scene in Seattle, WA. Read his essay—The Mallarmé Project: an examination of a yearlong series of art and writing in Seattle—in E·ratio 15.

See photos of his sculpture, here.


Monday, October 01, 2012

Read Me!  An interview with Carey Scott Wilkerson, publisher of my volume of poetry, The Valise. . . .

“The discussion is wide-ranging and, in Gregory’s inimitable style, discursively reflective: a real inner-view of the artist in his philosophical universe.”  — Carey Scott Wilkerson

Spring 2012 *

1.  Your new book The Valise seems, in some sense, to be a series of radical containments and equally radical moments of opening.  I wonder if you develop these ideas programmatically or if they emerge as you put the collection together? 

They develop programmatically, which I do emphasize is not the same as algorithmically.  They develop as a matter of form, poetic form.  But, see, the idea is, and besides research into the poetic, the idea is to acquire for oneself a toolbox, so to speak, a technique and a style, a methodology, as these are the means by which one proceeds and as this is the stuff of one’s poetic signature.  Still, the process, and in purpose and in procedure, is one of discovery, is one of problem solving, it’s heuristic, and necessarily so. 

2.  The book’s title poem ends with absence, indeed, it ends with the provocative image: “in absence,” which is here suspended without final punctuation.  In fact, this is true of many of your poems.  And yet I feel there is here a kind of St. Thomasinian, invisible diacritical, marking a distinctly Heideggerian aufhebung, but one that struggles with the idea of ends and endings. What are the risks of leaving a poem’s final moment open to that sort of hermetic drift?  And I ask this because, as Alan Halsey observes in his description which graces the back cover of your book, you “[write] with a philosopher’s precision.” 

The subject of poetry and punctuation—and immediately I’m thinking of Dickinson and Cummings, and of Yeats and of Shakespeare’s sonnets—and of what is appropriate and of what is necessary (to convey significance in the poem) is of absolute interest to me, but first, please, let’s hold on to “a series of radical containments and equally radical moments of opening” and see these together with “absence” and “aufhebung” and what I can make of “hermetic drift.”  Containments and openings are not a matter of punctuation for me, yea punctuation is not a matter of containments and openings for me, not as such, anyway, which is to say the purpose is not to draw the reader’s attention to my punctuation, but rather and something to the contrary I intend my punctuation to be a commentary on the sentence in poetry, and which is to say I do not think the poetic can be expressed in sentence form any more (not in “traditional” sentence form, that’s for sure), it’s at once, it’s simultaneously this commentary, if you will, and is itself of the grammar of my program, which is to say of logoclasody.  I was deeply into the study of W. B. Yeats, reading all the major studies of his work and then of course A Vision, Essays and Introductions, Explorations, The Autobiography, the plays, et cetera, The Lonely Tower, The Man and the Masks, et cetera, and reading his poetry I became intrigued, obsessed, really, with his sentences, his sentence structure, and how he was writing in these long, sophisticated, sort of, and down-right, run-on sentences.  So I became very aware of his sentence structure.  And I became very aware of how poetry was written in sentences—something I, myself, was doing, but was doing unconsciously, which is to say I was writing sentences but my first intention was not to write sentences but to write poetry!  In the writing of my sentences, I was concerned with the sentence as sentence, not as a language via which my poetic is conveyed.  I discovered for myself that the grammar of the sentence is not the grammar of poetry, at any rate not of poetry as I envisioned it, not of my poetry!  This of course brought to mind the case of Dickinson, whose, quoting Linscott, “erratic punctuation and lavish use of capital letters were changed to conform to accepted usage,” and how “occasional liberties were taken with the text in order to correct grammatical vagaries or to clarify rhyme or meaning.”  And of course this brought to mind Gertrude Stein, and the punctuation of the stream of consciousness “sentence.”  The grammar of the language (of the conversation, the discourse) was as much an expression of that language (a subject matter) as was the depictions, descriptions, imagistic evocations, as was the information being conveyed.  I believe that Dickinson and Stein, and as was Yeats, and Cummings, were “programmatically” searching, exploring language in pursuit of poetry, of poetry and of its poetic elements.  This is not to say that I believe there was ever a time when poets thought of language, when they did think of language, as an innocent bystander.  I think the idea of the poem as a work of language is a given throughout history.  But the idea that language per se can be, but more than merely expressive (as we see in, say, calligraphy), the idea that language per se can be informative of its own essence, of its own eidos, and as such of a poetry that is the Poetry behind the poetry, of a poetry that is the ground of the, let us say, ostensible poetry!  This poetry that is the Poetry behind the poetry, this is the end of poetry, and by “end” think not of terminus but of “purpose,” or, more precisely, “fulfillment.”  This is what poets have always been after, and they did, and do, seek it in various and idiosyncratic ways, and whether they have realized it or not, and they have known it by the frisson that accompanies it.  It is this frisson that the poet is addicted to, this is his high and this is his reward, and with this he knows that his poetry is real.  When the poet alters his consciousness—for instance through drugs, or, even in madness, in the cultivation of madness, or in neurosis, in the cultivation of neurosis, or in the “long, intensive and reasoned (“reasoned” because with purpose!) disordering of all the senses” of Rimbaud, or in the “self-discovery” of Basho or in some or other form of self-abuse—the poet is seeking a pathway into poetry, and his frisson rewards him and guides him in his pursuit.  For myself, I don’t think this “poetry that is the Poetry behind the poetry” is to be found in “altered consciousness,” or else not exactly, rather I think it is to be found in thinking.  For myself, by way of my own explorations into language, driven by my own poetic afflatus, in pursuit of that eidos, in pursuit of this Poetry—and this includes Heidegger’s writings, and including the writings on the poet Hölderlin—I came to understand poetic language as a matter of, what did we say, “containments” and “openings,” but more as discontinuities and continuities, the word being in itself, the word as word taken in its particularity, being a discontinuity, while simultaneously being a sentence and thus being a continuity, and more in that this sentence does not become a sentence until it is perceived to be so (continuity and discontinuity are reunited in observation, or, in perception, or, in the conscious, intentional act of signification—a cardinal note of logoclasody—or, in thinking).  Consider, now, liken this to the quantum particle which is simultaneously a particle, and thus a discontinuity, and a wave, and thus a continuity, a continuum.  Discontinuity and continuity are reunited in nature.  In thinking.  So, there is the sentence as a discrete, discontinuous structure, which is to see it in its particularity, and, there is the sentence as continuous, the sentence as wave.  But the idea is not to be stuck on language, or, rather, the sentence, as a discrete, discontinuous structure, that being a word followed by a word followed by a word and so on.  The discontinuity I’m thinking about is not seen, it is not seen but it is intuited.  The discontinuity I’m thinking about is that space where in the conscious, intentional act of signification the word behind the word breaks out, and in that logical suspension thus thought is formed a continuum (to the next word).  The word behind the word—I use the Greek word for this, logos.  Logos is the word behind the word.  I think to be stuck on the idea of language as a discrete, discontinuous structure would be ignorant of the place of language, and of mind, in nature.  Language is not simply a tool for conveying information, language reveals to us the Poetry behind poetry, the word behind the word, or, if you prefer the Being behind beings, and it does this in the conscious act of signification, whereby the logos breaks out, and that’s logoclastics.  With regard to “absence,” when one packs his valise and takes leave, what he leaves behind is “his absence,” and that is what we experience about him, we know him in his absence.  He is simultaneously gone and known “in his absence.”  And to know someone “in his absence” is different, of course, than knowing him in his presence.  For one thing there’s a sentimentality involved, in the reminiscence—we know the idea in the light of that sentimentality.  Throughout most of the writing of the poems in The Valise—and one of the them, “The Crocodile,” was first published in 1998—I was writing out of a deep sense of absence, a sense of loss and, even, of grief.  The loss of my brother and then almost immediately, barely one year later, the loss of my mother, the loss of my childhood, of my “innocence.”  My deepest memories of my brother are of when we were kids living in the country in New Jersey, we were naturalists and explorers and we were quite the mythologizers, as in nothing was simply what met the eye but rather everything had a mythology and was fecund (that’s a word I associate with Yeats) with significance and with a sort of magic.  Our world was enchanted.  We used to take a broomstick and tie a white flag to the end of it and we’d go out into the dark and wave the flag high above our heads and this attracted the bats and the bats would swoop down at the flag and that was our idea of having fun.  I would say, everyone is entitled to his own mythology, and I don’t mean that of Hollywood or comic books.  One ought to, I think, make his own mythology.  A life as literature.  A grammar of one’s own.  So far as “hermetic drift,” to take it in the negative, I think no poem can be all things to everybody, no poem can be all things to poetry.  The poem has to be its own structure, and that structure, and of necessity, I think, unless your thinking haiku or an imagistic miniature, will be to a degree an instance of figure-ground.  Now this is not to draw attention away from “in absence (without period).”  The person who is “seen” in the first lines of the poem, a dancer (“an attitude”) exercising at the barre, by the end of the poem is gone, and yet something remains in her absence.  What remains?  Is it simply the mentioning in a poem?  To take it in the positive, between those first lines and that last word is depicted a hermetic drift, a stream of consciousness.  And about “marking a distinctly Heideggerian aufhebung, but one that struggles with the idea of ends and endings.”  Consider, just as the particle is still a particle even when it is a wave, the word is still a word even when it is a sentence.  There is a permanence of identity—an invariance “hidden” behind the unending mutiplicity of the senses of that identity.  Is this a trick of the mind?  Or is it in the nature of things?  (Nature, and mind, abhor a discontinuity.) 

3.  Formally, The Valise is extraordinarily disciplined, written entirely in two-lined stanzas, loosely the couplets of a venerable tradition.  I want to describe these poems as rigorously experimental, but I’m not sure that’s quite right.  Can you speak to their design? 

They are designed to make available to the reader a certain reading experience—on a poetic level, one akin to trobar clus, and on an aesthetic level one that is analogous to cubism in painting.  If you consider cubism (analytical cubism) experimental, then I suppose you can refer to a poetry, to this poetry, as experimental—experimental in the sense that, say, I’m going to write a certain way and see if I can live with the results.  And like I said above, the process is one of discovery and of problem solving, it’s heuristic, and necessarily so.  For instance, what do I mean by “cubism”?  What is a cubist poetry?  What does a cubist poetry look like?  Well, the analogy is very simple, it’s based on faceted form.  It’s the analogy between the geometric structure of the painting and the grammar of the poetry (of the sentence).  To facet grammar is to break it up, but not to break it up gratuitously or “by chance,” you have to understand the parts of grammar and know how they function.  It’s not just a matter of breaking up syntax—you’re not just putting syntax into disarray.  If something is “rigorously experimental,” then it is both theoretically and experimentally rigorous.  Writing in couplets (and in sonnets) seems intuitively and organically very comfortable for me.  I have no problem using the term “couplets,” and I do intend mine to be more than just units of a couple of lines each.  Here’s an example, from The Valise. 

The Crocodile

in stress and carriage
in darning pleats and salts

and bearing certain ordinary likenesses
or to pass, unrecognized

in tide.
in shallows and remove

in summer lists and anthem
is making face of boot and purse

4.  “The Archaeology of Palestine,” a Pushcart-Nominated poem, encodes the intimacy of things lost to time but holds history up to the tests and texts of its “didaskalos” and inscribes “the names” and “the letters” in the proving grounds of imaginative experience.  How, as an artist, do you reconcile the power of art with the twin forces of the “wand and schedule of tides”? 

“Wand and schedule of tides,” that’s Moses.  This is his science and his magic.  His gramarye. Moses was in conversation with God.  Jesus, the didaskalos, gave his disciples a language, a prayer, with which to have a conversation with God, it’s called, Oratio Dominica, or, “The Lord’s Prayer.”  I think by “power of art” we mean the power art has to evoke a time and a place and an experience and to make available to the reader an insight.  If there is no insight, the work runs the risk of being gratuitous, and exploitative (—art can disseminate propaganda, and art can degenerate into “agitprop”).  The power of art is its power to bear witness.  (And that is through depiction.  The language of art is not the “message” one writes in however “artistic” a fashion on a placard to be carried during a demonstration, it’s a language of symbols and of depiction.  Otherwise there’s a risk the “art,” with its power to enchant, can lead to deception.) 

5.  Will language survive its own competing narratives? 

Well, by “language,” let’s say we mean “poetic language.”  The language of poetry.  Let’s say we just mean poetry.  Now there’s a lot of poetry that we can call, and that I do call, “ordinary language poetry,” that is exactly the sort of poetry I am not talking about.  And by “narratives,” let us say the narratives of technology, and I’ll define “technology.”  By “technology” I mean “ordinary language.”  And, certainly, “ordinary language” can include symbols and depictions, “ordinary language” is also computer code.  So I make a distinction between “poetic language” and “ordinary language.”  “Ordinary language” gives us information.  “Poetic language” does more than give us information, it, as I said above, reveals the Poetry behind the poetry, the word (or, logos) behind the word.  (Doesn’t all language do this?  Yes, but in poetry we celebrate it, we practice it for the sake of it, in poetry we write in the consciousness of it, we sing of it.)  Here’s an idea: The poet as generator of language.  In what sense is the poet a “generator of language”?  The poet is a generator of language in that he produces metaphors and metaphors produce semantic changes and semantic changes increase language.  In this, poets are in competition with “technology” which also generates language, language in the form of, for instance, neologisms, catch-phrases, slogans, for example “the one-percent,” “the ninety-nine percent,” these slogans compete with “the road not taken.”  Will language survive?  Yes: Language has had the first laugh and language will have the last laugh.  

*This interview originally appeared at the Dead Academics Press Page at Facebook. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Come see me, this Saturday, September 15, and then again next Saturday, September 22, 5 to 10 PM, corner of Mulberry and Prince. It’s The Italian American Writers Association and we’re a part of the “Via del Popolo” at the San Gennaro Feast!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review of COLORFORM at Fontana’s (105 Eldridge, Lower East Side).

 Made it over to Fontana’s last night for a performance by the concept band Colorform (that’s Colorform Music and Live Art). I don’t use the term “concept band” loosely, it can apply to “acts” as diverse as The Velvet Underground and Pussy Riot, not to mention the compositions of Cage, Berio, Glass, and where art is concerned there is of course the artist/theorist Sol LeWitt (who gave currency to the term), but, really, the term can be used and is indeed over-used to explain and to justify and to “upscale” just about anything. I use it here in its epitome sense to point out what is the real thing—which is to say, in Colorform the idea is realized, and it’s realized live, it happens live. Colorform is a multimedia event that lives up to its name.

 Around the early nineteen-sixties there came about the phenomenon we call the “Happening.” A Happening was a live and in great part chance-derived event that could be “staged” anywhere and that, in one way or another, exceeded the spectator’s expectations. More than just the unexpected, Happenings held an element of awe (something unfolding before the spectator’s eye and often including the “spectator’s” involvement—even if only in that he was there to be awestruck, to be “entertained,” or, simply, to bear witness). A Colorform performance is a Happening.

 Colorform is variously electric and acoustic with cello, percussion and atmosphere guitar (last night’s show was electric) and is fronted by singer-songwriter-guitarist Kate Logan and artist Sarah Valeri. Both Logan and Valeri are “physical” performers—Logan, who can wail lyrical riffs and in that she is constantly in motion, exuberantly “dancing” to her song and Valeri in that she is (most times, and as she was last night) on her hands and knees in the gestures of an Action painter over a huge “canvas” that is (most times, and as it was last night) stretched out on the floor before the stage. Her gestures bring to mind Jackson Pollock, de Kooning, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Valeri is an artist just born to create live, “live” as in before an audience, in a performance atmosphere. She puts out as much energy as a drummer.

 Colorform lives up to its name, “Music and Live Art.”

 Colorform is playing Fat Baby September 15 and on September 27 they’re at Cake Shop. See them now while you can still get up close.

Check out their Facebook Page for the rest of the story—

Colorform Music and Live Art.

by Sarah Valeri of Colorform Music and Live Art at Fontana’s 8/29/12 (detail).

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

Made it over to the Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn this weekend for EXQUISITE FUCKING BOREDOM, Polaroids by Emma Bee Bernstein. This is the second show of Bernstein’s photography that I’ve been able to see. (She passed away in 2008, at the age of 23.) Both shows have been curated by Phong Bui, who here had access to more than 200 Polaroids from Bernstein’s personal archive and private diary notebooks. Unlike with the photography in her last show, An Imagined Space (Janet Kurnatowski Gallery, 2011), where the photographs were not Polaroids, but were blown-up prints, the photographs here are impervious to any aesthetic angle I might approach them from. Instead, I find I’m nonplused, and my feeling is of implication, insinuation. Trespass. It’s not a sense that what I’m viewing was not meant to be seen, but, rather, it’s the unexpected seeing of myself. One does not lose oneself in Bernstein’s photography, one finds oneself there, and we’re not always prepared for that. If we can base the success of an art on whether we are better off for having seen it, then I can say this art succeeds, and on that basis I can recommend it. (There’s certainly more here than you’ll find in any two-hour movie this coming weekend.) Now until June 25.

 Emma Bunny, Polaroid, estate of Emma Bee Bernstein © 2007


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Photo from The Indian Moose Tour, New Hampshire and Maine. (This is Maine, Friday, February 17, 2012.)

What does a transcendentalist look like?


Friday, February 24, 2012

Susan Bee, Recalculating, 2010. (Oil on linen, 16 x 20 inches, from the collection of Richard Deming and Nancy Kuhl.)

I am happy to have been able to make it over to the School of Visual Arts (133/141 West 21 Street) last night for a talk and presentation by the artist Susan Bee (see The Susan Bee Interview at E·ratio). This was part of SVA’s ongoing Art in the First Person lecture series. Bee is charming and amusing talking about her work and what I learned increased my appreciation of her paintings significantly and opened a new window on her collaborations, especially those with her husband, the poet Charles Bernstein. Bee is open-minded and undogmatic—and both where concerns issues of aesthetics in her own art and where concerns the role of art generally. She is humorous without being comical and serious without being stern, and this fits well with her Recalculating series: renderings, or, “recalculatings,” of details of scenes from film noir movies. (Her recalculatings add an element of paraphrase to the scenes sometimes bringing to the surface what was otherwise subliminal.) This film noir series of paintings makes up a very small part of her output and as a small series it succeeds. The presentation was too brief to be an actual overview of her work, for instance the series “Philosophical Trees” was left out. She did show some of her most recent paintings and I was deeply impressed by these and by what I would consider their “psychological content” (I was reminded of Hesse’s drawings for his Pictor’s Metamorphoses and C. G. Jung’s drawings in The Red Book). I am very much looking forward to her next show.

Watch the video: Susan Bee: Recalculating: paintings and collaborations.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Next time you’re in a used book store that carries old journals and old art-lit ’zines, look for copies of Atticus Review. Atticus Review was edited by Harry Polkinhorn and David Quattrociocchi.

Featuring mostly concrete and experimental poetry, issue 17 (1989) includes contributions from Dick Higgins, Harlan Ristau, Clemente Padin, Jake Berry, Kevin Schiedermayer, Norman Conquest, Greg Autry Wallace, Ronald D. Rosen, John Eberly, Ruggero Maggi, Trudy Mercer, Petr Sevcik, Mike Miskowski, James Cushing, Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino, Barry Casselman, John Stickney, Serse Luigetti, Chris Winkler, Guttom Nordo, Kent Clair Chamberlain, Greg Evason and Erik Belgum. Highly collectable.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

a noun sing e·ratio 15 · 2012

with poetry by

Morgan Harlow, Candy Shue, Jan Lauwereyns, Doris Neidl, Tim Trace Peterson, Jen Besemer, Sheila Squillante, Lisa McCool-Grime, Natalie Watson, Julie Wood, Kristina Marie Darling, Felicia Shenker, Scott Bentley, J. Crouse, Bob Heman, James Davies, Dylan Harris, Michael Sikkema, Kent Leatham, Parker Tettleton, Bobbi Lurie, Lauren Marie Cappello, Erin Heath, Wynne Huddleston, Jane Olivier, Elise, Nathan Thompson, Tim Wright, Tim VanDyke, Iain Britton, Ian Hatcher, C. Brannon Watts, Seth Tyler Copeland, Rich Murphy, J. D. Nelson, Howie Good, Monty Reid, Dave Shortt, Billy Cancel, John Clinton, Thomas Fink, Larry Ziman, Valery Oisteanu, Michael Crane, Jon Cone, Mark Cunningham, Rick Marlatt, Nikolai Duffy, Alessandro Cusimano, Jacob Russell, Corey Wakeling, Stephen Nelson, Steve Gilmartin, James Valvis, Greg Cohen, Derek Henderson, Travis Cebula, Sean Howard, Walter Ruhlmann and Márton Koppány

and featuring

The Mallarmé Project, an examination of a yearlong series of art and writing in Seattle by Joseph F. Keppler


The Susan Bee Interview

E·ratio is edited by Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino with contributing editors Joseph F. Keppler and Lauren Marie Cappello

E·ratio is reading for issue 16, the fall 2012 issue.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Joseph F. Keppler on Ralph La Charity


That ancient Greeks worked in the language and culture of their day comes as no surprise. Nor should it be a surprise that a contemporary American poet like Ralph La Charity works in his. Yet the consequences of being an artist in far different times and places are too little appreciated.

It is a small book La Charity sent me. Four 8½ by 13 sheets are folded in half and stapled to become a 16-page, 6½ by 8½ book, entitled flawed man drowns. For images, the booklet has three surrealist collages.

Reflecting on the once inspired Seattle poetry scene I remember the pro-vocative, confrontational way La Charity presents himself and his poetry. This seems to me to be how La Charity composes: to write poetry in con-temporary American English, speak like Homer, think like Socrates.

Yet our present language is, like us, full of sales and fury, signifying noth-ing. Just listen to radio, television, or the conversations around you. Today it seems much talk is a racket we make to one another. American English is maybe as stuck-up, musical, and abstract as Periclean Greek but surely not as momentous, meticulous, or particularly philosophical. The U.S. is not ancient Greece, and Bengal Cincinnati, La Charity’s home, not bronzed-armored Athens. Differences time takes take time. La Charity is practicing an ancient poetics in our noisy streets’ exhaust and exhaustion.

He performs poetry like a traveling rhapsode from a long-forgotten legend. Sometimes he’s a bard accompanied with music. He recites from memory and repeats stock phrases the same way oral poets like Homer have always done. Playing his voice and his words he appears to enter a trance as his rhythms work their way through his mind. He also wrestles with countless demons in league against divine poetry and that means challenging his con-temporaries. With Socratic insistence, he probes their knowledge and deliv-ers their affectations.

Poets like Ed Dorn, Lew Welch, and Roberto Valenza he admires. Using their work to accompany his own, he memorializes a period only slightly past. Other names in his poems are little known outside the poetry world and require footnotes like those supplied by scholars who translate the com-pany of Plato’s or Xenophon’s Socrates. Those who know who ‘Major’, ‘Bill’, and Tom Beckett are can better realize that in a poem like ‘pithy yet over’ La Charity is taking to task the publisher and editor of The Difficulties and E-X-C-H-A-N-G-E-V-A-L-U-E-S (the one a journal focussing on lan-guage-school poets, the other a series of poet interviews). La Charity criti-cizes this apparently sophist editor’s choice to surround himself with aca-demic starlight while slighting the lights shining in his own neighborhood.

Other poems in the booklet range from the sweeping Taklimakan Desert to La Charity’s own sense of what his life really means. In ‘flawed man drowns’ the poem that gives the book its title, La Charity writes his Apol-ogy. He wonders, “so what will it feel like to be deeply me/doing the very thing I want to & must do” when drawn into “the obliviating proverbial gun-fight armed / only with a smattering of mattering . . . dependent upon / the silent tympanic of strangers?”

Like La Charity we can only wonder what if any poetry from today might become as immortal as the ancient epics. We cannot decide that; it is not our decision or a decision at all.

Rather it is for poets to oblige greatness while alive and then to die like and unlike everyone else:

      The dead do
      not oblige

      they do so

For those interested in this unique booklet or in his poetics, La Charity’s email is

Joseph F. Keppler
Seattle, Autumn 2011

Joseph F. Keppler’s essay, The Mallarmé Project, an examination of a yearlong series of art and writing in Seattle, will appear in E·ratio 15.