Archive for August, 2011
As I announced yesterday, we have a new issue of Action, Yes up. It’s an all-Swedish issue edited by the Swedes Anna Thörn and Sara Tuss Efrik. It features one of my favorite writers of the past few months, Stina Kajaso. I don’t have time today to write a whole lot about her, so I’ll post a couple of things I’ve written in the past.
This is what I wrote for Steve Evans’ Attention Span of 2011:
Some of my favorite “poems” of the past year has been the ranty entries on performance artist Stina Kajaso’s ultra-gurlesque blog of roughly biographical writing. If it’s biographical it’s in the best sense: performative, fantastic, ridiculous, excessive, over-the-top. And for people who don’t read Swedish, it’s got hilarious, ridiculous collages and videos (such as the one in which she explains how to put a fake sore on your shoulder and why that’s a pretty thing). She’s as likely to talk about eurovision competition as performance art (which is to say she’s likely to talk a lot about both topics).
And this is what I said in an interview with Chris Higgs on HTML Giant:
I spend a lot of time reading performance artist Stina Kajaso’s blog, Son of Daddy, which includes breakneck rants and writing about everything from dreams about being sexually assaulted by Lady Gaga to her theories about theater (it’s too high culture, the cure: “blood tsunami.”) to documentations of her performances pieces (sad bunny playing a flute inside an industrial elevator etc) and her crazy collages. To me she seems a text-based relative of Ryan Trecartin’s awesome youtube videos. Instead of the conventional academic/modernist discussion about “e-literature” and poetry in the electronic age, her blog comes off as a thrilling performance through the interface of cyberspace (rather than some kind of modernist “deep structure” based on programming).
New special Swedish issue of Action, Yes, guest edited by Anna Thörn and Sara Tuss Efrik, featuring art, texts, performances by Stina Kajaso, Cia Rinne, Ida Börjel, Leif Holmstrand and a whole slew of others: http://www.actionyes.org/index.htm
I have much enthusiasm for this book, and I think a lot of you will too.
The Mutation of Fortune is a collection of short tales narrated by an inquisitive, resilient young woman who experiences — and herself produces — a series of strange and fantastic encounters over the arc of the book. Many of these are violent, quite horrifying, and wonderfully grotesque: in “The Only Rule,” the narrator tells us her sister “has something living inside that comes out only for me” — it has “hair and a big mouth that bites me on different parts of my body.” Other tales tell both of encounter and escape — “From the Throat” describes the narrator’s corporeal resistance to her parents’ pressure to marry:
I began to cough, and felt a thread issuing from my throat. I took hold of this thread with my hand and pulled from my throat the body I had. And as I pulled my old body from my throat I became a beast once more, and lived this way for the rest of my days.
Due to a lot of back-channel emails about the Tony Hoagland essay about the “strange influence” of the New York School and my response to it, I went back and re-read both, and I have a few more thoughts about these matters and how they relate to my posts about “plague stages.” Those of you who complain that I go over the same ground, criticize the same folks, over and over, will just have to skip this post. I write about Hoagland not only because he’s got one of those “bully pits” but because I think his rhetoric is rather pervasive.
One notable thing about Hoagland’s attacks on Fence is his attack on “haplessness.” He even calls it “dangerous” because “it fatally softens and disempowers the self of the poet or the speaker.” And this I think is key in a lot of poetry discussions: it’s the SELF that is at issue. Hoagland thinks some poetry is dangerous because the self becomes softer, more porous, and loses its “power.” You may recognize this rhetoric from Ron Silliman’s dismissals of “soft surrealism” – the poet loses the ability to be “authentically” avant-garde, the ability to offer a critique. Both Hoagland and Silliman seem concerned with a loss of a true self capable of standing outside of culture issuing sovereign critiques.
For Hoagland melancholy, or “ambience of sensitivity,” is dangerous because of this loss of true, strong self. (continue reading…)
I was interviewed by English poet Steven Fowler for the online magazine 3 am.
Here’s the announcement:
A Swede who is an American, an American who is a Swede. The irrelevancy of the nationhood of Johannes Göransson is never more obvious than in the multifarious and rapacious nature of his work – it calls on traditions too intertwined, too psychological and introverted to make its genesis of much interest. What is of interest is his industry as a translator. As well as being one of the most interesting and acerbic poets and educators currently at large in the US, he is also a vital conduit to the breadth and brilliance of contemporary Swedish poetry. For Maintenant in it’s 72nd guise, the excellent Johannes Göransson
Accompanying the interview is a significant selection from Johannes’ most recent publication.
While today’s young Native-American poets do not wish to deny, refuse, or dismiss the longstanding themes of native poetry, including that of vision, they do not—indeed, cannot—approach such charged subject material in the same manner as their literary forebearers. Such poets as Sherwin Bitsui, Santee Frazier, and Erika Wurth throw native language and customs into drastic contrast to the detritus, as well as to the charms, of contemporary American culture. Stylistic innovation serves as the only methodology that can honestly register the divided subjectivity resulting from irreconcilable demands. This discussion will focus primarily on M. L. Smoker’s “The Necessary Bullet,” from her breakthrough 2005 first book of poems, Another Attempt at Rescue [Brooklyn: Hanging Loose P]. “The Necessary Bullet” is of particular interest because it directly addresses the theme of vision. The poem is bold enough to announce “this is prophecy,” but Smoker tempers the claim to vision by explicitly framing it within both the anthropological gaze of a “science” that would encase Native-American culture in the museum and a theatricality that inevitably contaminates native self-expression in the context of a white audience. The poem demands “do not use myth or legend”—in other words, do not retreat into the storytelling past. It concludes by metaphorizing native anger and integrity in explosive, non-traditional terms: “ask the Indian whether she’d take / the million dollars or the match. / gasoline is on the shelf in all our houses.” Intensifying prophecy with critical perspective, “The Necessary Bullet” redefines what is at stake in poetic vision.
Here’s Bolano on the future of poetry, taken from his essay on Parra called “Eight Seconds with Nicanor Parra”: The Poetry of the first decades of the twenty-first century will be a hybrid creation, as fiction has already become. We may be heading, with terrible slowness, toward new earthquakes of form. In this uncertain future, our children will watch as the poet asleep in an armchair meets up on the operating table with the black desert bird that feeds on the parasites of camels. At some point in his life, Breton talked about the need for surrealism to go underground, to descend into the sewers of cities and libraries. Then he never spoke on the subject again. It doesn’t matter who said it: THE TIME TO SETTLE DOWN WILL NEVER COME. (The capitalization is Bolano’s.)
Three reasons why I like this quote:
1: The phrase the “poet asleep in an armchair meets up on the operating table with the black desert bird that feeds on the parasites of camels.”
2: The idea that poetry “will be a hybrid creation, as fiction has already become.” What did he mean by this? When we consider that most of his favorite contemporary fiction writers were artists heavily influenced by genre (Javier Marias, Cormac McCarthy, Philip K. Dick, James Ellroy) I can’t help but suspect that he meant, at least partially, that poetry would start to gain some new energy from genre (and, I would argue, not in the condescending aren’t-we-so-much-smarter-than-the-average-genre-reader tone that all too frequently mars experiments with hybrid fiction in experimental writing, but rather approaching crime fiction and sci-fi and mysteries with the same passion we’d bring to “literary” writing).
And 3: The recognition of Parra in the essay as a whole, who really is one of the great unsung heroes of twentieth-century poetry, a badly needed modern day Petronious laughing in the midnight graveyard.
Montevidayans, I am very distressed to share with you the news of the death of Seyhan Erözçelik, who died yesterday at the shocking age of 49.
Although I had just begun to read his work, his dazzling, rupturing talent and his keen, bouyant mysticism has shaken me and I have been carrying around his book, Rosestrikes and Coffee Grinds, for weeks.I can only hope his friend and translator Murat Nemet-Nejat will continue the heroic work of bringing Erözçelik’s extant body of work into English, despite this great loss.
Here’s a typically gorgeous poem byErözçelik, links to his work. Please read a few of his poems this morning and think of Seyhan Erözçelik.
Magpie in my larynx,
marten in my heart…
right & left,
but now I’m hoarse.
Rosedusts escaped to my throat.
A thorn pricked my heel…
At my most delicate spot
Magpie in my larynx,
marten in my throat…
I looked at the moon, hit at the heel
This pain has no relief.
No one likes the moonstruck…
if it’s getting light.
That is, if it’s getting light.
Now my larynx a magpie,
marten my throat,
rose petals pricked my veins.
While the marten’s squinting
petals swim in my blood.
The marten’s pumping blood to its thighs,
to my eyes.
And my heartflesh dry like a rose.
It’s beautiful rose.
—Translated from the Turkish by Murat Nemet-Nejat
(from Gül ve Telve, 1997)
It seems that Fence (the journal, the press) has reached a kind of iconic status where it’s being used as a short-hand with all kinds of associations.
Most recently, Tony Hoagland uses it to mean the counterfeit inheritors of O’Hara, the fake poets who are insincere and unclear and possibly degenerate. But at the same time, Hoagland argues that they are the zeitgeist; while he, and the heroic few true poets (true descendants of O’Hara), are genuine as opposed to this nameless mass of poets (they are both numerous and strangely coterie-ish in Hoagland’s paradigm).
That is to say, “Fence” replaces the names of the degenerate poets (he only names them in the footnotes). Fence is kitsch because it’s influential, because it is zeitgeist; while the true poets necessarily go against the zeitgeist. It is the non-conformity that gives prestige, and poetry is very much subject to prestige.
Elsewhere I’ve seen Fence be treated as the opposite: they are the establishment, they have prestige. But in that context, the establishment is a negative. In fact in both cases it is rejected using some version of anti-kitsch rhetoric: it’s fake, counterfeit. (And as I keep repeating: so is Art.)
Of course the name itself suggests a kind of “hybrid”, a kind of compromise, a sitting on the fence and not being able to decide which way to go. But to me Fence was been anything but a fence-sitter; it has published a lot of the most provocative, un-compromising books of the past ten years (not just Montevidayo’s own Joyelle McSweeney, but Cathy Wagner, Chelsea Minnis, Aaron Kunin, Ariana Reines etc), books that don’t seem to have all that much to do with the two cold-war poles that supposedly make up US poetry (the reductive ‘langpo vs quietists’ model).
It’s interesting that when I wrote the post about “plague stages,” and quoted PJ Harvey expressing a certain ambivalence about the period in the mid-90s when she went “kabuki” or “drag” or “Joan Crawford on acid,” ie when she was saturated by Art, I thought of an earlier post I had written about the Swedish 80s band Imperiet. In that post I quoted Thåström the lead singer and songwriter as saying he felt embarrassed about everything he’d done in the 80s – ie the decadent synth-cabaret of Imperiet, not the “authentic,” more direct politics of his 70s punk band Ebba Grön (ie “The Haters”, except that by the end of that band, it was pretty Joan Crawford Kabuki as well) – basically because it was too “poetic.” (See previous posts about poetic, kitsch, “excessively beautiful.”)
And certainly his lyrics with Imperiet were incredibly “poetic.” The song “Holländskt Porslin” begins: “Through the rain of your tears/I will send you a letter/ten thousand wild roses/and a song I never wrote.” Wow. Talk about kitsch. It’s like a guidebook in kitsch!