Archive for September, 2012
It’s been awhile since I posted on Montevidayo. Since then I’ve left Brooklyn for the mountains and fires of Colorado. Most of my critical and poetic faculties are applied these days to the materials of sustainability (water, fire, sorcery) and inter-species communication (pets, wildlife, aliens). The Earth rules. The Universe blows my mind.
Not that I have forgotten our old nemesis: the World that ruins everything.
Here, for example, are the latest (last?) words of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who plays the role of a kind of sound-biting court jester within the media apparatus:
[from his address to the U.N. General Assembly earlier today:]
I have talked in the past seven years about the current challenges, solutions and prospects of the future world. Today I want to raise and discuss such issues from a different perspective.
Thousands of years has passed since children of Adam (peace be upon Him) started to settle down in various parts of Earth.
Peoples of different colors, tastes, languages, customs and traditions pursued persistently to fulfill their aspirations to build a noble society for a more beautiful life blessed with lasting peace, security and happiness.
Despite all efforts made by righteous people and justice seekers, and the sufferings and pains endured by masses of people in the quest to achieve happiness and victory, the history of mankind, except in rare cases, is marked with unfulfilled dreams and failures.
After many technological, mental and wardrobe malfunctions and infections, Montevidayo is now as sound and healthy as a 1980s party, and we will “relaunch” the site next week.
With special posts on Bessie Smith, the semen of Roberto Bolano, the true account of Kent Johnson Talking to Frank O’Hara, Confessionalism and Beastiality, The Sorrows of Young Lucas De Lima, and more…
“The pink gladiolus opened up in our house.
But scare it, tell it to go.
That crazy lily is going to kill us.”
- Marosa di Giorgio (trans. Jeannine Marie Pitas)
Since there’s been a lull in content, I thought I’d step in to promote a call for submissions (x7). You may have heard of Birkensnake, the great (and now free) fiction journal edited by Joanna Ruocco and Brian Conn. You may have heard of their Birkensnake 6 project, in which the editors selected six (now seven) teams of co-editors to collaborate on a Birkensnake 6 of their design, with all seven issues to be released simultaneously next summer. Most of the calls for submissions have now been posted — take a look.
I’m excited to be involved in this project as an editor, and pleased to have been paired up with Canadian-Serbian writer/teacher/translater/etc Miodrag Kojadinović. We’ve come up with what we hope is a tantalizing CFS for an issue themed Neverending Tales. Here it is - consider submitting!:
NEVERENDING TALES: MEGAN MILKS AND MIODRAG KOJADINOVIC, EDITORS
We seek short fiction for a Birkensnake 6 devoted to endlessness. That is, we seek fiction that doesn’t end — for instance, cyclical and/or recursive stories, narratives formed after fractals or the ouroboros, whatever neverending forms you can come up with; as well as fiction that explores that which has no end — for instance, stories involving outer space, reincarnation, hauntings, the horoscope, a subway system without end, the experience of neverending displacement, Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, Dino Buzzati’s Seven Messengers, the US War in Iraq, the North Atlantic Garbage Patch … basically anything dealing with the infinite, the immortal, the recurring, the asymptotic, the nomadic, the circuitous, and the moebian.
VICE: You write early on in How Music Works that “Making music is like constructing a machine whose function is to dredge up emotions in performer and listener alike.” Do you think of yourself as channeling something when you are writing a song?
David Byrne: Well, lots of people use that metaphor that they’re channeling something, or that they’re a conduit and they don’t know where the inspiration comes from and they’re just a pen that writes it down or whatever. That’s pretty common. And yeah, there’s definitely something to it. I guess what I’m also saying is that it is usually presumed that the emotion is something that’s put into a song, that it comes from the person and goes into the song. And there’s probably a lot of truth to that, but I’m saying that just as much as that happens, I think it happens in the exact reverse way, where a person makes a song and the song makes the writer feel emotional. The song brings out the emotions in the writer. You realize that this chord changing and singing this melody and these words, it takes you to a place. As a writer as well as a listener. I mean, we all share that in common. And so the song becomes the thing that does it. It’s not that the writer necessarily channels the emotions or the ideas or whatever and puts them down on paper. What got put down on paper is also a thing that reaches inside the writer or the person listening and brings that stuff out of them.
This seems a really true way of speaking about the way making art feels to me. Not the “emotion” that pre-exist the poem and is then conveyed (as is implicit in the “sincerity” and “accessibility” models of writing), but something more like a feedback loop between the writer and artwork.
Lately I have been reading a lot of poems, at least compared to the number of poems I read immediately after graduating from MFA, which was zero, almost. I felt nauseous from poems in the way that it took me six years to be able to drink Chambord again after losing a drinking game in college involving Chambord, Godiva Liquor, Aristocrat Vodka, and Natty Light.
When I started reading poems again I had to go very close but very far away. I read The Good Morrow several times a day. Donne is important to me because for a long time I was very devoted to his work, and in the midst of this long period of my life was the first summer I ever fell in love, I was living in Oxford and studying metaphysical poetry and spent two hours every morning in the cinematic vintage tub in my hall reading Joyce and smoking miniature cuban cigars out the bathroom window. That same summer I met for the first time a poet my own age outside of the context of a classroom workshop and we spent a lot of time at pubs drinking too many drinks and arguing, and that is the summer I learned how to read poems.
For a long time this summer I didn’t have any books at all except the third Hunger Games book which I lost before I finished. When I got my books back the first book I decided to read was The Commandrine and Other Poems because I have it but I had never read it. I have actually been reading it very slowly for most of the summer because I read it on the bus and now the train to or from work, or sometimes when I am outside smoking a cigarette and not writing a poem.
The lyrics in this book are odd and otherly precisely because they are lyrics; they present themselves as just other poems, just little pieces of form. Like topographic maps, what they do is illusory; if it cannot be intuited it can only be glossed.
What I learned from both Donne and drinking-about-poetry is that for argument to be productive it must first begin and then progress; progress should stop only at the point of surprise, which should exist for the sake of further initiation.
“Innitiation” has an immediate fault – the double-“n,” probably invisible to some readers, the obvious and purposeful error that is not, actually, an error at all, but a sign. The poem assumes immediate intimacy, “strolling on the petite meadow of your ass”. The frat-boy’s coupling of violence and admiration ease the reader into the factory, which makes form. Form sees its own beauty and makes more of itself and gets stuck in its own iterations. It drives itself crazy on purpose with thirst. The lovers that emerge mid-poem are awkward and dour because they are faulty; doubles.
Eventually they realize they’re just doing strange math, making infinite fractals that consume themselves to make more of themselves; it’s bulimic; it’s the way smoke rises in a swirling column from a lit cigarette, cancer; narcissus.
By the time one learns a lesson one is generally just this side of too jaded and reckless to benefit from it.
11 September 1973 and the Atacama Desert: Human, In-human, non-human temporalities and Nostalgia for the Light
On this anniversary of the Pinochet coup, I’ve been thinking about Zurita, the Atacama Desert and the recent film, Nostalgia for the Light (which is available on Netflix streaming).
In this lyric documentary, three human endeavors are juxtaposed in the non-human vastness of the Atacama Desert: astronomers studying the Big Bang, archeologists exhuming bodies of 19th century mine workers (whose camps and mining-towns were converted to concentration camps during the Pinochet regime) and Mothers of the Disappeared combing the desert for the minutest possible bone shards which will give clues to the disappearance (and, hopefully, current gravesite) of their loved ones.
This is harrowing stuff. There is no removing yourself from the affect of this film. I found myself wondering: is affect always human? Is it in- or non-human or is it the stuff of humanness? To me it feels non-human. It grips me from the outside like a thing, not a person. It doesn’t want anything but to spread.
I also began thinking about human/inhuman/nonhuman temporal scales. The astronomers see the non-human scale of the universe as a kind of relief from human/political temporalities. The mineralized bone shards in the desert are made up of calcium created in the Big Bang, and these bone shards seem to be in secret non-human communication with both the desert and the stars. But the Mothers want desperately to tug these bits of mineral back into historical human time, to be able to locate and reassemble the bodies of their murdered family members. Their action is clearly heroic, and clearly ultra human in the humanist sense of the word. But it is also powered and fueled and impelled by grief- by affect. The force of grief. These women are in the desert, combing the desert with little spades. Are they superhuman (and therefor, non- or beyond- human?) Or merely human?
Then there’s the archelogist who points out that we are contemporary humans are not even cognizant of the 19th century as part of our human history. He works to exhume the bodies of laborers who built and toiled in the mines and mining towns which were so easily converted to concentration camps by the Pinochet regime. The implicit inhuman and erasing nature of capitalism which converts so easily to the inhumanity of the military regime and perhaps also to our contemporary inhuman forgetting of even recent political history all seem to belong to a register which is inhuman, which to my thinking might be just humanity to the ‘nth’ degree, in its most mendacious form. Meanwhile the ultra or superhumanity of the Mothers counter this inhumanity like the inverted double, yin and yang.
Finally there is the post-humanity of the Disappeared themselves. They are Disappeared, and disappeared, but wink back into presence so easily and yet so dissatisfactorily as photographs, bones, shoes, exposed marrow. What about this shredded post-humanity– minerals plus a spectral mediumicity plus a nothingness- a cipher that will not make an account of itself or be entered into the account books as a final resting place, a final figure?
These competing and paradoxical models of humanity and in humanity and non-humanity and post-humanity with their arcing and oscillating temporal scales are piercing and debilitating and with me today as I navigate the 39th anniversary of 11 September.
One of the cliches of contemporary poetry is to talk about “the white space” of the page that surrounds the poem’s words as a kind of “silence.” I thought about this for the first time in forever when I re-read Olivia Cronk’s Skin Horse last night.
In Olivia’s book, there are a lot of poems with “you” erased:
Is there a worm in [blank] wound? When [blank] bring it up to [blank] mouth, it is so natural. It slips so nicely in. It is now
some aways off
in some town
[Note: I put in "[blank]“to show where there’s a blank space, but in the book there are just plain blank spaces.]
I love how the blanked out yous bleed into the linebreaks, so that I get this vertigo of “you” all over the page. Suddenly that “white space” is incredibly loudly “you.” Everywhere. The erased becomes overpowering, hidden behind every part of the page.
It is something similar to what happens in Finland Swedish modernist Gunnar Björling’s erasure-based poems.
From the second section of “Where I know that you” (from 1935!) (for the whole thing go here):
O sure there are,
and every human.
and have a face.
I – and until I lie down
I – that one word
I – that with your features.
Never saw I
as in the morning
Here I have always been amazed at the way “saw” becomes transformed into white space, as if seeing become this act that totally eradicated the possibility of language, as if the I-you relationship has to be represented by “I/you.” But more importantly, how the blank looking then kind of goes all over the page, as in Cronk’s poem, looking looks back at us in some way.
1. What is Purgatory but a zone constantly eating itself, digesting itself, shitting itself out, spreading out, making more of itself, accepting and ejecting material, but never (as a zone) moving closer to God? An in-between place, a non-site. Something which may be transcended, but which does not transcend itself. An im-mediacy. A non-transcendent zone.
2. Inside ‘composition’ is a ‘campo’, a field. Purgatory is a flexing, spasming field, and so is composition. Zurita’s Purgatory, a revolutionary book written in the immediate aftermath of his torture and imprisonment in the first few months of Pinochet’s regime in 1973, is full of grazing animals, dumb animals, saints and chattel ready to be broken down (decomposed) and slaughtered for their useful parts or made to render fluids (including sound), even (especially) in their dreams of power.
Today I dreamed that I was King
they were dressing me in black-and-white spotted pelts
Today I moo with my head about to fall
as the church bells’ mournful clanging
says that milk goes to market
–Purgatory, Zurita.(Anna Deeny, translation)
4. In this field of Purgatory, power spasms between its two poles of the absolute despot and the sovereign victim. One can go clad as the other, one can be slaughtered like the other. The slaughter of the despot happens in the future in a dream that is already over but also always “Today”. The paradox of purgatory’s campo is in its oscillating anachronistic state: immediate/aftermath.
Composition, a decomposition. (continue reading…)
Asking for a Drag Show, or Notes on Mutation in She-Ra, He-Man, Feng Sun Chen, Clarice Lispector, Pedro Almodóvar, and Other Princesses of Power to Come
As I haven’t read Paul Legault’s book, I’m using the recent discussion only as a springboard. It’s the concern about the book’s gender politics, specifically, that got me thinking again about my favorite topic of the year—mutation!
In my chapbook Ghostlines, I dress up in drag before mutating into a bird. This happens in “MARIAS,” a poem about the anonymity of that most common Latin American name. Anonymity tends to be brutal—the poem mentions the endless murders of Ciudad Juarez, for instance—and I believe its brutality can lead to a kind of contagious sympathy. Most of us can sympathize with, and have experienced, the plight of the anonymous. When someone is stripped of their name, they are marginal beyond speech, as if deemed too monstrous and unrecognizable to deserve linguistic agency or representation. As writers, we react to this plight in different ways. Some try to speak on behalf of those who are silenced, and critique the conditions that have led to such oppression. Other writers are compelled to transform themselves as well as the world, becoming something entirely unforeseen in the face of marginalization.
I want to say that these writers become bad copies of the monster. To borrow Johannes’ term, they speak in something like an ‘ambient translation’ of the other. Instead of trying to represent the conditions of monstrosity, the writers I’m thinking of proliferate the affects of otherness by making themselves susceptible to all manner of suffering. This is what Kate Schapira calls the ‘dirty energy’ of the potatoesque, that most soil-ridden and torturous aesthetic.
I think in her post about Paul Legault, Lara raises some interesting points about Emily Dickinson and the act of translation, the act of homage, the reading act, the writing act. I would like to reach back to my previous post on the “Parapornographic” to read not just Dickinson but also her many suitors, including Legault (and Lara!).
First of all: what set Lara off on considering the violence and gender dynamics was Paul’s statement that ED was “asking for it,” which certainly evokes all kinds of rape-ish associations. On Facebook Paul said he was beign sloppy and even I rejected the association. But I think we should keep it – even if we have to say that Lara (and I, now) are as much “authors” of that statement as Paul.
I want to know: What is Emily Dickison “asking for”? What is this obscenely obscure “IT”?