Does the imagination have limits? Are we actually in the time of “uncreative writing”? In the age of information overload, is appropriation–the resampling of other texts–the last reservoir of our creativity? Is there really nothing new under the sun to be said or done?
When I look at the engravings of Gilvan Samico, the Brazilian artist who died yesterday at the age of 85, the answer to all these questions turns out to be a resounding no.
Kazuko Shiraishi Molly Bendall
The Gurlesque has been blowing its pink and black bubbles in Japan in various ways for the last 40 or 50 years. In particular, I am thinking of the visual artist Yayoi Kusawa, who as early as the 60’s made her polka-dot habitats and gold-spray-painted furniture with flowers and phallus shapes sprouting from it. And, of course, I am thinking of Yoko Ono, who performed her Cut Piece first in 1965.
Also active in the scene was the poet Kazuko Shiraishi who was publishing her risqué, outlandish poems in Japan in the 60’s and early 70’s. In 1973 she was invited to spend time at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. She was championed by Kenneth Rexroth, who translated some of her work (along with others) into English. Her book Seasons of Sacred Lust was published at Rexroth’s urging by New Directions in 1978. The book consists partly of long erotic, jazz-inspired “descents” that at once lament estrangement, chit chat, and pay tribute to an urban night-time hedonism. Among the titles of the lengthier poems: “The Man Root,” “Seasons of the Sacred Sex Maniac,” and the homage “Dedicated to the Late John Coltrane.” Here’s a section of that one in which you can see her improvisatory abandon where spacey, surreal, and smutty morph fluidly:
With your extremely heavy
And short pilgrimage
Full of fleeting eternity
You were mainly blowing thoughts
Thoughts are eyes, wind
Cascades of spicy sweat
Streaming down your forehead
Thought is an otter’s scream
The sexual legs of chickens
Killed by your old lady
Boiling in a pot
Women’s pubic hair
Alice or Aisha
Thoughts are the faceless songs
Of pink stars
Squirming in the sky
Of every woman’s womb
On the cover of Seasons of Sacred Lust, Kazuko Shiraishi appears in a patchwork of photos. Posing with satin blouses, fans, flowers, cat-eye makeup, and in one holding a microphone, she’s a provocateur. She often performed her poems with jazz accompaniment and would recite, as she said, in her “Samurai movie voice.” She said that Allen Ginsberg, John Coltrane, and Henry Miller were all inspirations.
But there’s certainly something else, something girly and grotesque and blushingly brutal in her work. Reading her is kind of like getting your cards read at a motorcycle/go-go club by Hello Kitty and Chococat. This is not meant to diminish her work; it’s worth considering her stance, which is willingly naïve at times and lets in a wider range of sensitivity. Here’s a little of “The Man Root”:
Sumiko, I’m sorry
But the penis shooting up day by day
Flourishes in the heart of the cosmos
As rigid as a wrecked bus
Other short lyrics in the book appear with animal titles. She creates these mini-
beast masques, a sort of sexualized anime.
That man is a rhinoceros-oyster
He is so big and strong,
But with a heart like a delicate petal.
Don’t be cold to him
Don’t fall in love with him for fun!
If you love him seriously
You will know that
Nothing could be more fearful
Than his love, a love of an oyster-rhino.
If he ever discovers
You are unfaithful, Carmen,
He will take you down the road to death
On his horn,
Instead of kissing you with his gentle eyes.
Don Jose is a rhino-oyster.
Like Yoko Ono and Yayoi Kusama, Kazuko Shiraishi is still producing in her eighties. Her most recent book My Floating Mother, City came out from New Directions in 2009. The Gurlesque lives on:
I can no longer become six nipples, nor a male with a tail
time is moonlight in front of the graveyard
the Doberman’s syle Debussy music becomes a raging storm
coming into now the joy without even the smell of death
on top of hot raspberry soup becomes a vanilla ice-cream girl
(“April is the Melancholy of a Doberman’s Nipples”)
“Black Luck: The Silence of Marcel Duchamp Has Been Terminated” (Tales from the Crypt, Vol. 666) By Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle
By Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle
Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews by Calvin Tompkins (Badlands Unlimited, 2013)
The Unknown University by Roberto Bolano (New Directions, 2013)
In 1964 when Calvin Tompkins interviewed Marcel Duchamp verbatim transcripts weren’t the vogue. Incredibly, these three were shelved for 50 years before breaking day, eclipsed by preferred first person narratives, bon vivant vignettes, portraits posed in sympathetic situations. Dreck. Such as “So, I savor a Sauterne on Saint Germaine with mon ami Marcel, who wears downplayed gray Dior. Later, over smokes, he buoyantly confides that he’s ‘a pseudo, all in all.’”
Those of us who make art more than talk about it hold that, while Duchamp’s reticence proved golden, today Duchamp word for word cannot be overprized. (Plus the complete poetry of Roberto Bolano? Nuff said.)
A guest plus a host is a ghost.
In Roberto Bolano’s headstone-thick testament, 2666, goliard critics Jean-Claude Pelletier and Manuel Espinoza, listlessly trawling a disconsolate Mexico for incorporeal author Benno Von Archimboldi, visit one Oscar Amalfitano while mordantly dredging for clues. Archimboldi is their Moby Dick. Whether white whale or eminence grise, wild goose chase or fish story, proof of life’s iffy at best. Nobel prize nominee cum U.F.O. Archimboldi affords only inconstant, inconsequential sightings, ever unconfirmed. Close encounters of the third kind appear to have occurred, like twice. Such that a single dicey, and infra-thin (sic) tale draws these sad Ahabs clear across the Atlantic to the horse latitudes of gruesome, deplorable Sonora.Lunching on beans at Amalfitano’s home, Pelletier spies a geometry textbook suspended by a string from a clothesline in the yard, weathering in the wind “like a shirt left out to dry.”
Lina Ramona Vitkauskas posted a fascinating review of The Fassbinder Diaries the other day on her blog. I really like the way she relates the book to film theory and to specific qualities in Fassbinder films. Her excellent book of poems entitled A Neon Tryst, which I reviewed here a few months ago, is also about film, using the medium as a way of conjuring further poetic ghosts…
I am in a strange position because while I am certainly ‘avant garde’ in terms of my affinities with the historical avant garde I feel I cannot be avant-garde because my affinities are historical.
That is, I am a Futurist, but I am a Futurist of 1909 rather than a Futurist who believes or anticipates a Future as envisioned by, say, TED talk panelists or believers in the progressive motion of literature as a reinforcement of political/capitalist bona fides.
My favorite part of the Futurist Manifesto is where they imagine themselves benighted and about to be consumed by cannibal teens.
They will find us at last one winter’s night in the depths of the country in a sad hangar echoing with the notes of the monotonous rain, crouched near our trembling aeroplanes, warming our hands at the wretched fire which our books of today will make when they flame gaily beneath the glittering flight of their pictures.
They will crowd around us, panting with anguish and disappointment, and exasperated by our proud indefatigable courage, will hurl themselves forward to kill us, with all the more hatred as their hearts will be drunk with love and admiration for us. And strong healthy Injustice will shine radiantly from their eyes. For art can only be violence, cruelty, injustice.
Futurism set itself up against decadence, but to be Futurist in 2013 is to be decadent, moving backwards. It is indeed strange to feel time folding, to be in 2013 thinking like 1913. Why has time folded. Why is it no longer moving forward. Why am I not a avant-garde. Why am I not avant. Am I a rear-gardist or just an asynchronous, a bad soldier.
After her reading last night, the brilliant Sylvia Guerra shared that me that she is working on a new book based on Lautreamont, one which ‘writes around’ Lautreamont.
Why is she asynchronous not looking forward to a neatly progressing time why is time folding why do we need Decadence again.
I believe it’s because after the horrors of the 20th century Decadence is the deeper vision. It is no longer ‘escapist’ or ‘merely shocking’. After the horrors of the 20th century constantly re-reeling in media and repeating themselves in new depredations across the globe, Decadence takes on the work of truth, truth’s firey destructiveness. Everything is burning. Man’s default mode is cruelty and exploitation, outrageous depredation and deprivation. We have to go backwards to find an art form that does not hide this truth under ideologies of progress or purity. The TED-talkathon, which infects every part of our political and cultural environ, amounts to a new Victorianism, the imperialistic export of progress. We must be Decadent again.
I am intrigued by “ecolinguistic issues in translation studies” (Phil Lynes): that translation can help think through ecological relations between and ecological impact of languages (and this is a beautiful amplification of biocultural diversity‘s claim that languages encode endogenous knowledge, including ecological knowledge).
The ecology of translation is one thing; what excites me about the idea of “ecosystemic translation” is the translation of ecology: “the embodied practices through which linguistically constructed patterns of sustainable living with other life forms are translated into our dominant paradigm and interrupt their hegemony.”
—knowing and remembering that it is not the job of any non-dominant pattern to be translatable/translated into our dominant paradigm, even if to interrupt it—and that the goal of translation is not to make available any kind of universally accessible knowledge or monocultural reality.
& yet. We are aware that our dominant paradigms are severely in the need of being injected with dynamic, participatory knowings and practices unfolding in interaction with other species, temporalities, the earth, ancestors. Precisely because we are at the risk of losing this diversity that must be nurtured and celebrated.
So how may we invite the “minor” languages or (linguistic) practices to help? Lynes recommends Michael Cronin’s translation ecology, with its metaphor of the network, for its honoring of particularism and place. To cite Cronin:
Firstly, a network is by definition open-ended and therefore capable of being extended indefinitely … As a result, new elements can lead to restructuring without collapse. Secondly, … [t]he potential openness of the network does not mean it is open to all. Thirdly, the logic of the network is greater than the power of its individual nodes. In other words, the connectedness of nodes is what permits their flexible and dynamic response to changing situations but it is shared goals, values and end, which allow for a level of structural coherence in the network itself.
These are some beginning thoughts about strategies for translation in the midst of ecological crises, shedding of old stories, eco-awakenings.
Just a quick note: I’m reading in the Cine in Athens (Georgia, not Greece) tonight (Monday Nov 18) at 7 pm. I think I’ll read from my repulsive Sugar Book.
I’m reading an anthology called “American Poetry: The Next Generation” and I think it’s very bad because of the pervasive quietist aesthetic and because of how the curating makes everything – even by poets who might otherwise write differently – into the same reflective-personal tone and narrative mode; but most of all (and this is related to the previous two) because the way it makes American poetry into something so incredibly homogenous. I’m horrified to think that this book is being used in classrooms!
Are there any anthologies of contemporary poetry that lets in the conflicts and disagreements of contemporary poetry? Aren’t anthologies for teaching? Then it seems that they’re doing an incredible disservice by suggesting that all poets are the same and believe the same thing. I mean, I’m not looking for “inclusivity”, I’m really looking for a sense that one CAN believe differently, one can be at odds.
Can there be an anthology that doesn’t seek to avoid conflicts or synthesize them (like American hybrid) but actually lets the conflicts be part of what is american poetry?
Or do we not really need anthologies in the age of the Internet?
Silvia Guerra Diaz, Uruguayan poet and scholar, will be visiting ND Monday and Tuesday from the real Montevideo. She will be reading her poetry bilingually on Tuesday November 19 in the Snite Museum.
Here is her poem’La farsa en el umbral, se hamaca’ translated as ‘The Farce in the Doorway, Swaying’ which was published in the anthology Hotel Lautreaumont:
Now it comes back luminous: that part of the sphinx that
recalls nothing and everything seems to her a tall tale. Painted
on the wall upon a silk sheet, the lip to kiss
violet and directed toward disenchantment rectilinearly the
schizophrenia of returning. The sand that glistened and
a woman’s body on it, not mine. Barely twenty
years before, she was silken as a sheet and twenty
and in twenty more no one could endure so much cadence
as live animals sewn into the hem of a blouse that
ends up at the hot edge of the day, teeth
jutting out through black light. And it says schizophrenia
the mark of the sphinx, the smile’s horizontal line
the rope we crossed together when the future was
still in front of the sky egg-laying anguish so it wouldn’t
see the teeth in the violet of the cross,
the broken sticks.
(trans. Alex Verdolinia & Gillian Brassil)
This new Kill List poem by Josef Kaplan is easily the best work of conceptual poetry I’ve seen in a long time. I’m an expressionist, not a conceptualist. But let’s face it, conceptualism, as Inger Christensen would say, ‘exists’. This particular conceptualist poem works for me because it invites us to consider an idea, and invites us to turn that idea over and over for as long as the idea interests us. Then it invites us to delete the idea. This is a great poem for FaceBook, for conversations heatedly engaged upon and then abandoned because other pressures such as the need to sleep or shop or nuke a burrito became more compelling. The deleting is part of the ‘reading’. This concept will self-destruct. Unlike a drone.
As for the concept: we are introduced to the phrase Kill List, which for most nice liberal American poetry readers will conjure ideas of drone warfare or revolutionary violence or the opposite of a no-kill shelter or some kind of fatal indexing. Then the poem presents us with 68 pages of alphabetized poets’ names, grouped in sets of four, each identified as ‘rich’ or ‘comfortable’. Like, ‘Caroline Bergvall is rich’ and ‘Jim Behrle is comfortable’.
One senses that this ranking of the poets into the dubious bourgeois or ultra-bourgeois categories is the bait we’re supposed to gobble up. And yet. I just read Inger Christensen’s Alphabet, in Susana Nied’s translation, last week with some students, and I can’t help but focus on that ‘is’.
‘Kill List’ could be read as a litany, it could be reading off a library shelf. The indexical adjustments of ‘comfortable’ and ‘rich’ have a nice, well, ‘comfortable’ sixties feel to them, a now- out-of-touchness, a vagueness. Like ‘don’t trust anyone over thirty’– as expressions of acute political crisis, kind of sweet. In our current context, these could be financial terms or refer to perceived social assets or even how interested the author feels in these poets–or it could be random. As 2 goes into four (ie the binary of rich/comfortable into the 4 line stanza), there is also the alphabetical order itself. Sweet old alphabetical order. Humans made you, and humans love you. But nothing humans make is innocent. Not even orders of knowledge. Moreover we are invited to read these 68 pages as a computer would, scanning for names (names are the only element that changes), data mining an index for names we recognize. Like a drone-operator or a drone. Attention or recognition here is itself weaponized.
This is where I link Kill List to Inger Christensen. Re-reading Alphabet, I was very taken by the poem’s smoothness. It has the smoothness of a big fat bomber high up in the strangelove sky. As it glides, we glide, we can see the whole horizon line of the earth, cities and species and chemicals all becoming visual in the reading-scape of the poem. [nb, I think Kill List is a very retinal poem, since consuming its well-designed pages, its nicely serifed, landscaped font, is so very easy. It's so easy to consume this book, to be an early adaptor of the predator's visual viewpoint. After all, computers as we know them were developed in the 20th c. for work on the H-Bomb, for calculating shock waves. The Internet, as we know, is a military installation]. As each noun in Christensen’s poem comes into view, the poem remarks it ‘exists’. But I also felt this word ‘exists’ could function as meaning the opposite– each of these things ‘exists’ at the exact moment it leaves the planet. Alphabet is as much a cold war poem, ‘existing’ in the split second between the dropping of a nuclear bomb and its impact, as Kill List is a drone war poem. Both invite us to think about how poetry ‘exists’ under the aeriel penumbra of war. Both make us realize how puny ‘existence’ is, how puny ‘is’ is. The incommensurateness between the title’s reference to the supposed ‘inhumanity’ of drone warfare (I think drone warfare is humanity itself) and the poem itself might be the point of this poem.
No order of knowledge is neutral because it is tainted with human’s killer instinct. We like to call ourselves ‘sapiens’ because we draw up the very best kill lists and the very best robots or enlistees or acolytes to carry them out. As the very smart J. Robert Oppenheimer remarked, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Or, nuclear bombs exist. I myself am drone.
Maybe Adam’s MFA thesis in the garden of Eden, naming all the animals, was the first Kill List in western culture. Everything that can be brought into the order of human knowledge is also on the demolition list.