Archive for March, 2012
Some might say poetry is behind visual art, but I think it’s more so the case that voguing is light years ahead of everything. Last summer, I wrote a couple of posts about the death drop/shablam move, in which young queers of color collapse on dancefloors in a thrilling, terrifying reenactment of urban violence. Today I’d like to tell you, Montevidayans, about my new favorite phenomenon of NYC black and Latino queer culture and its extreme verbal/visual fluency: Zebra Katz’s “Im a Read” featuring Njena Redd Foxxx. Gather and behold how this video turns the page on big bling beats and delivers, instead, a thousand tiny paper cuts to your eyes and ears. It is nothing short of a primer on cannibalizing your enemies, schooling yourself in their flaws, and dressing them down through sheer minimalist precision:
“Kim” wrote this comment and I thought it was really interesting so I’m putting it up here as an official post (I hope you don’t mind, Kim):
I agree with all points made within the context of that particular polarization but I can’t help to wonder about the polarization itself, that which pits experimental, excessive, gimmicky (those flamboyant howling hyenas) against the earn-your-image “realist” fiction or poetry workshop bunch. In much of the work the latter’s fidelity to realist narrative strike me as limiting as the experimentalist’s distrust of the same. A kind of mutual disregard for narrative as a tool, lifting it up either to the point of (puritan, no doubt) religion or trying to tear it down with dionysian fervor. Both sharing, in a way, an aesthetics of completeness, while the art, or Art, or writing, or other medium, that continually “shatters” me is that which dares to venture into the unknown, where narrative is used, often with the fidelity of that dull realist crowd, though not always, but which is also allowed to crack, fall apart, fail. I love, for instance, how in Bolano, the narrative is temporarily abandoned because a word or topic comes up that needs further exploration, whether poetic or informative, even political. (continue reading…)
Johannes’s recent post (following Lucas’s) reminded me that I had written a note on genre & paraliterature (putting together & introducing a paraliterary anthology) for an independent study with him at Notre Dame a couple of years ago. Thought I would bring it in here.
What is the literary mode we call ‘paraliterature’? The prefix ‘para’ puts it ‘alongside, beyond, altered, contrary’: at any rate, as Samuel Delany asserts, it is a mode of writing most people would describe is “just not ‘literature’.”  An alternative name for paraliterature is ‘genre fiction’, implying that it can only exist inside taxonomic boundaries (and that the principles of taxonomy must be self-evident; that the taxonomy itself must be stable), while literature or ‘fiction’ neither requires a label/prefix (implying that it must be ‘original’, ‘natural’ and ‘true’), nor does it need to be contained.
The latter assumption indicates that something bigger than ‘literature’ itself is making sure it remains clean of everything ‘para-’. What could this technology be? Moreover, ‘genre fiction’ implies a dependence on generic rules and frameworks, while ‘fiction’, you would think, has no fixations. Why then is it so bent on representing and serving reality?
Jean Kinnard argues that contemporary fiction since the 1960s has been characterized by non-realistic  techniques (Olsen 276), but even after a number of attempts to question the lines dividing the literary from the paraliterary, these lines have still not vanished. It is no wonder that Kate Bernheimer is skeptical of “Artists Formerly Known as Realists” (52): their appropriating non-realistic techniques has not turned them into canon-busting iconoclasts, nor has it made them excited about examining the ideologies that lead to one aesthetic being valued more than the other.
Me acuerdo del atardecer y de tu alcoba abierta ya, por donde ya penetreban los vecinos y los ángeles. Y las nubes— de las tardes de noviembre—que giraban por el suelo, que rodaban. Los arbolitos argados de jazmines, de palomas y gotas de agua. Aquel repiqueteo, aquel gorjeo, en al atardecer.
Y la mañana siguiente, con angelillas muertas por todos lados, parecidas a pájaros de papel, a bellísimas cáscaras de huevo.
Te deslumbrador fallecimiento.
[I remember nightfall and your room’s open door, the door through which neighbors and angels came in. And the clouds—november evening clouds, drifting in circles over the land. The little trees burdened with jasmine, with doves and droplets of water. That joyous pealing, endless chirping—every evening the same.
And then the next morning, with its tiny dead angels strewn everywhere like paper birds, or the most exquisite of eggshells.
Your dazzling death. – trans. Jeannine Marie Pitas]
Marosa DiGiorgio’s booklength sequence, Historial de Las Violetas (published in Jeannine Marie Pitas’s English translations as The History of Violets), begins with a dazzling death – or does it? The event of the death is not portrayed in this opening salvo, but is somehow folded up into the dazzling white cloth, the white space that separates the first and second stanza. We don’t see Death’s entrance, but, arriving at that killer last line, we read the entire spray of langauge that has proceeded it as Death’s array, Death’s radical penetration into every crevice, leaf and shell of the conventionally enclosed spaces of both childhood memory and the childhood garden. Rather than seclusion, penetration is everywhere, the door is open, the neighbors and angels come and go, the trees are “burdened with jasmine, doves, and droplets of water,” and the tiny dead angels are strewn around. In the Spanish, Death’s lilting ‘l’ sounds are planted everywhere like poison lilies. Death’s implacable, impalpable spectre comes into the space of the poem and turns all intimacy, domesticity and nature to its spectacular ends. It makes a dazzling body for itself through spectacle.
In some ways, Di Giorgio’s speaker, penetrating the scene everywhere with her memory,and thereby constructing it, is Death’s novitiate, copying and producing Death’s spectacles with the same domestic materials, producing/reproducing Death’s porous and delicate and terrible and dazzling scenes.
I learned of Marosa Di Giorgio through the excellent and diverse selection in Hotel Lautremont: Contemporary Poetry from Uruguay, translated by Pitas, Susan Briante, and Anna Deeny (continue reading…)
Lucas’s post about the “grief police” – how the grants board objected to his spectacular engagement with the death of a friend seemed “inappropriate” or perhaps “inhuman”, and even of mass culture, even immoral – made me think about something I’ve noticed in discussions about contemporary writing: a lot of writers argue that any stylstic or formal deviance from conventions (or “experimentation” as some people call it) must be “motivated” by the story/poem itself, or else it’s just a “gimick.”
If the story is, to use the most cliche example, fragmented, that should be because the narrator is feeling very fragmented. Or if the story uses very simple sentences it should be because the narrator is a simpleton. Etc. By “motivated,” they seem to mostly motivated by the narrative, and often the interiority of the narrator/characters. Implied is – again – the danger of a kind of excess, an art that is not properly in the service of a model of interiority. It’s like the old poetry workshop mantra: Did you “earn that image”? The danger is that the economy of earning, the economy of the poem/story as motivated by an interiority (or creating an idea of interiority) should give way to another economy – one presumably not based on “earning” or working but on stealing, giving away, which somehow would wreck our idea of interiority.
Ugly Duckling Presse has just put out a double chapbook featuring two essays on translation, one each by Johannes and myself. The title takes its inspiration from the poem Deformationszon by Aase Berg:
Viltstängslet har upphört
fladdermusar fittar sig
Vårt pösmunkfetto slaggar
I sin goda ro,
somo stötdämpad av svallningar
[Deformation Zone (trans. Johannes Goransson)
The wilderness fence has ceased
around the grub
Our doughnut-fatso slops
in peace and quiet,
as if shock-muffled
in the plump.]
If you’re curious about a theory of translation which takes this poem as its zeropoint and cascades out into two inverted mirror twinning metastases/theories of translation, then please scoot over to Ugly Duckling Presse and buy a copy.
[Hello, this is the "afterwords" to my translation of Aase Berg's Fosla fett/Transfer Fat just out from Ugly Duckling. Probably nothing here will surprise the regular readers of this blog, but I hope to have some time in the near future to build into more discussions about translations.]
Aase Berg’s Forsla fett is an interlingually dynamic and charged text. It is, as Berg writes in her next book Uppland, a “deformation zone,” an ambient space where the Swedish language goes through all kinds of permutations: words, connotations, meanings, letters are put into flux, combining and recombining continually. Berg “translates” a host of foreign texts—English-language articles about string theory, physics, and science fiction—into her poems, in the process deforming the Swedish language and rendering her own text a permeable, möbius strip of a book. To translate such a book makes impossible the common illusion of bringing over a pristine “original” into a necessarily flawed “translation.” Rather, it forces the translator to be a kind of conductor of interactions between languages, a “transfer-er” of “fat” into the English language, an ambient translator.
The Minnesota State Arts Board recently rejected a grant proposal I wrote for the manuscript I’m finishing about the alligator attack that led to the death of a close friend of mine (I’ve written about this project here). The offensive yet illuminating thing about this rejection is that I got to hear an audio file of the judges discussing my work. I was offended not because the judges questioned my abilities as a poet. Aside from my ego suffering a few bruises, I could’ve probably handled a standard critique given that I’m a lowly MFA student still fresh from the workshop. What the judges mostly assessed, instead, was the moral status of my project. They objected to various aspects of the poetry—including its violence, melodrama, and “cartoonish[ness]”—and accused me of appropriating my friend’s death the way corporate media did. They wanted a “cooler treatment” of the subject matter.
What bothered the judges above all was my focus on the spectacular circumstances of my friend’s death, and the fact that the manuscript thematically orbits around the attack itself. One panelist called my “energetic” relationship with the gator outright “inappropriate.” Another suggested that the poems, by failing to adequately acquaint the reader with my friend, lacked a sense of grief:
It’s not just the science that’s lacking, the grief is lacking. And I think he’s being mastered a bit by his own subject. Maybe a little bit by ambition, although maybe that’s a dangerous supposition to make, but yeah, let’s hear about this woman, the relationship, and the grief, and then you can tell me about alligators.
At first I took this criticism to be simply another example of the extreme bias in US literary culture toward humanist authenticity and interiority; the judges made no mention of a “speaker” performed by the poet, as if there were no room in elegies for the use of a persona. I’ve been thinking, though, that the judges’ criticisms have broader implications. Without dwelling too much on my manuscript, I want to highlight the politics of grief that inform prescriptive comments like the ones above, a politics Judith Butler writes about beautifully in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence : (continue reading…)
If you’re anywhere near Baton Rouge, scurry to Delta Mouth! LSU welcomes the fabulicious Douglas Kearney, Kate Durbin, Selah Saterstrom, Christian Bok, Lily Hoang, Jennifer Tamayo, Lonely Christopher, Paul Killebrew, Lilian-Yvonne Bertram & Chris Shipman!
Come out & feed! It’s a 3-day extravaganza!
Quickly I just wanted to alert you to the fact that Montevidayo’s Feng Sun Chen not only has her new Butcher’s Tree out; She also has a wonderful new book called blud out from the amazing Spork Press.
rabbits are capable of tenderness especially when pounded.
love makes you curl up into the earth fetus… your organs melt…
the gas of love assaults you… and the nox origin barely holds its oracular shape, teh soft apple lodges between the armor plate of the gregor body… neither sub nor superhuman suffering, the huge verminous body does not know it has wings.
the wings lie folded and hot
inside the hard lips.
Another book I’m reading right now with great delight is Gina Abelkop’s Darling Beastlettes.
Greta dreamed a bird.
Woke and reached for scissors.
(This is an excerpt from a 19th-century-Wuthering-Heights-type-of-”novel” at the end of the book.)
Also, one more thing: Apostrophe Books and I have decided not to keep my first book, A New Quarantine Will Take My Place in print. You can buy the last few copies at SPD. In a couple of years we’ll put out a new remixed version.
Sometimes there is a beautiful world inside the world of poetry. Sometimes the children
have nosebleed inside my ornithologies and sometimes the cheerleaders are naked inside
interrogations I keep holding (continue reading…)