So last night I was sitting in a very date-y bar with two girl poets, which made three of us girl poets in the cozy booth at the date-y bar except I was wearing Converse sneakers and pants and a jacket so maybe I was in that moment the boy or at least the mustach’d girl.
A few nights ago I watched the Le Tigre documentary “Who Took The Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour” with my roommate with whom I have recently formed an electrofolk dancepunk pop rock girl group. Then the next night we watched it again with the third member of our trio.
There are a lot of things to take away from the Le Tigre documentary: the open-space approach to feminism with a rider that includes not being worried about making people (feminists & otherwise) uncomfortable or pissed off, the Supremes-esque choreography, the subtleties of what my roommate called “Bush-era New York music” (because no one’s writing bitch-punk about Obama), and excellent use of neon spandex, among others, but what I would like to focus on is the concept of Mastery.
In the documentary, Kathleen Hanna says that she feels there aren’t more women starting/in bands because there’s this concept that if one is a woman there will be ruthless criticism and therefore it is necessary to become technically masterful with one’s instruments. Not so, says she, for men in bands, particularly punk bands. They can perform on balls, pure nerve. The obvious end to this story is that Le Tigre says screw it and does their thing regardless of whether or not any one of them could shred on Stairway to Heaven.
Let’s backtrack: I recently stopped caring about poetry. I mean this thing that had totally consumed my life for literal years slowly started to atrophy and die, the way the love for an awful ex does. I have spoken often and in many venues of my idyllic and classical upbringing as a poet, how I was reared on the model of Apprentice/Journeyman/Master. It’s a comfort; there’s a road, you walk down it. It doesn’t have to be the one you were walked down when you finally walk by yourself, but it’s nice to know someone’s walked a road before – they’ve shown you some tools and how to use them, told stories about getting mauled by bear cubs or otherworldly encounters with albino deer.
In this situation the Master isn’t trying to dominate the Apprentice or Journeyman, they’re just trying to shepherd them in some productive direction. That is when it’s good, when it’s PURE. Purity is an exceptionally problematic term and it’s one I use a lot because I believe in Purity as I believe in Truth and Sincerity. They’re zero-sum phenomena, relevant only in relation to themselves. Where the self is a concept the substance becomes at once hollow and over-filled, gives in to a weirdly inert sense of transience.
Merely agreeing to set foot on the road, to look at someone who’s done something about which you are curious, implicitly buying into the contract makes you an Apprentice and gives you power. How does a Journeyman become a Master? By passing the knowledge along. You have to be hollowed out at least a little. You have to become totally self-referential in order to best illustrate to your Apprentice how a sort of life might be lived. The Master stands to lose very much; the Apprentice could gain everything.
So last night at the date-y bar we were talking about dominance and Mastery, the sex-/class-/colonial-ist implications of saying “I know how to do this so let me show you.” The other girls thought Mastery was definitively bad, implied a power imbalance impossible to right except maybe in the case of the dominant sexual submissive, and that situation is obviously fraught. The problem, we discussed, might be the terminology. We could say “I am a fount!” or “I am a tissue box!” and mean that we have a sense of proficiency with a given set of tools, but if we say “I am a master of poetry!” or “I am a master of tissues!” skill is no longer the issue – it’s just power.
The Agony of Power.
I read this book all winter. I did and do not think Mastery is bad. I do think there is something agonizing about extreme technical proficiency and what it requires of a person to wield. This is the beauty of something like the kind of art that Le Tigre was making a decade ago – the weight was lifted by the concept of “fuck it.” Not that they were not megastars in the biggest sense that feminist separatists can be megastars, which is to say, howevermuch they want, because everyone is a little afraid of feminist separatists and lesbians with mustaches (See: everything ever written by Kristeva, the general reaction to Gertrude Stein). The combination of apathy and passion makes the hollow/Pure. The apathetic is thusly made Master over care.
Action Books recently published Molly Weigel’s translation of Oliverio Girondo’s legendary book En la masmedula (In the Moremarrow). I’ve been obsessed by this book since I first heard Molly read an excerpt at a reading of Latin American poetry with Cecilia Vicuna (who called masmedula “a milestone in the history of poetry in Spanish”) at an AWP a few years ago. I’ve been searching for essays on it – turns out there are a ton of them but they are all in Spanish. However, I managed to find this elegy by Pablo Neruda from the journal Salmagundi from 1974.
By Pablo Neruda
(translated by Ben Belitt)
But under the carpeting,
on the otherside of the pavement,
between two immovable waves
a man’s been divided
and I’ve got to go down and see
for myself who’s been lost:
meanwhile- hands off, all of you:
here’s a line,a bite in a plate,
here’s a pressed flower in a book,
a transparent skeleton.
Oliverio,all of a piece,now
comes together again under my eyes,
definite as cut-crystal:
but however closely I come, whatever I
wring from the silence or keep to myself,
what looms large in my memory,
death’s little keepsake to me
will be only a stingy reminder,
a silhouette scissored in paper.
The man I remember and sing of
glittered with mutinous life;
I shared in the bursting explosions,
his comings and goings and backtrackings,
his horseplay, his wisdom:
elbow to elbow we greeted the sunrise
smashing the glass of the sky,
climbing the terraces
of mildewing palaces,
taking trains that never existed,
raucous with health
in the early hours of the milkman.
I was a sea-going yokel
( one could see the peninsular
cloud in my clothing)
while Oliverio walked
up and walked over the crowds,
the outsmarting customs-inspectors,
keeping cool on the crossings
( his big tie askew
in the wardrobeof autumn)
tossing down beer after beer in the thick
of the smoke, wraithlike in Valparaiso.
In the web of my boyhood
Oliverio Girondo is what happens. (continue reading…)
Drew Kalbach has written a fine response to my last post over at the Actuary, drawing the connection between Joyelle’s “Bug Time” and media theory:
I can’t help but read this as a network analogy. Instead of the progressive picture of literary linearity, it’s a networked image, where each node is independent but constantly interacting with any other node. And more than that, there are viruses all over this system, causing glitchy new nodes to spring up, older nodes to blue screen and disappear, etc.
It’s apt that Joyelle uses the bug metaphor; there is nothing more inhuman than the network. Alexander Galloway says in The Exploit:
“Human subjects constitute and construct networks, but always in a highly distributed and unequal fashion. Human subjects thrive on network interaction . . . yet the moments where the network logic takes over — in the mob or the swarm, in contagion or infection — are the moment that are the most disorienting, the most threatening to the integrity of the human ego.”
This swarm is essentially the “plague ground” Johannes Goransson brings up in a different post, and which is very much related to Joyelle’s post: it is the swarming, bug-like, highly distributed and highly interconnected network of poetry being created today on a massive scale. It proliferates, uninterested in ‘posterity’ or any concept of futurity, with only the desire to reproduce itself in the moment. Joyelle’s bug time wants to revel in this swarm, in the shaky ego. And since it’s so distributed and connected, there is no longer single ‘taste-maker’ acting as the arbiter for quality. Instead, everything mashes into the hive and slimes along each other, replicating. This is a large part of the current anxiety over contemporary poetry. With all this proliferation and connectivity, how can we know whats good from bad! Which I think is an absurd fear, and is really more of a nostalgia for modernist hierarchical control models.
Over at The Actuary, Drew Kalbach has written an excellent post on response to Ange Mlinko’s review of the new Norton Anthology of postmodern poetry, finding in her rhetoric a desire to “shut down enjoyment”:
Mlinko’s review genuinely confuses me. Really, this type of rhetoric confuses me in general. Its only goal seems to be to not allow people to enjoy something. She seems to suggest, in the first paragraph, that students who are forced to purchase this book (leaving aside the agency all students have, and the availability of inexpensive used texts, etc etc) are somehow being done a disservice. But she assumes that these students will get nothing from these poems, will not enjoy these poems, because she does not enjoy these poems. More than that, she assumes these students can’t choose for themselves whether or not these poems are worthwhile; they need to be taught proper taste.
His post makes me think about another thing I recently read in Zizek’s book Violence (which I quoted a couple of days ago on a related topic):
What Nietzsche and Freud share is the idea that justice as equality is founded on envy – on the envy of the Other who has what we do not have, and who enjoys it. The demand for justice is thus ultimately the demand that the excessive enjoyment of the Other should be curtailed so that everyone’s access to jouissance is equal. The necessary outcome of this demand , of course, is asceticism. Since it is not possible to impose equal jouissance, what is imposed instead to be equally shared is prohibition.
So far, Zizek’s analysis seems to follow Kalbach’s: especially in an age of “glut,” when there’s “too much” poetry, “too much” poetry that is – inherently in the quantity – tasteless, we more than ever need prohibitions. It seems the only acceptable form of criticism in the poetry world is to stage prohibitions. Witness for example Tony Hoagland who has made a career it seems of attacking poetry that does too much (too “skittery,” too political, too extravagant etc).
But I think it’s important to be clear that those prohibitions come not just from Poetry Magazine, but also of course from “experimental poetry,” which is full of prohibitions – against “the lyric I”, against images, against this and that, against “expression,” against the poetic, against poetry itself (in the case of Conceptual Poetry) – and full of anti-kitsch rhetoric – against the “too much”, the flood of “soft surrealism”, of excess of “MFA poets” etc. Even Flarf in its jokey embrace of “bad poetry” is of course re-confirming the insistence of Taste (you just have to have enough good taste to imitate the bad taste, to know that it’s bad). In many ways, the rhetoric of experimental poetry often reminds me of Zizek’s notion of “hedonistic asceticism.”
2. What model of literary time is provided by this mutating field time, this bug time, this spasming, chemically induced, methed up mutating, death time, this model of proliferant, buggered, buggy, moist, mutating, selecting, chitinous, gooey, bloated, dying time, a time defined by a spasming change of forms, by generational die-offs, by mutation, by poisoning, a dynamic challenge to continuity, and by sheer proliferation of alternatives, rather than linear succession? How would T.S. Eliot’s golden lineup of genius allstars, constantly reordering itself but still male- and human- and capital-assets- shaped, be affected by this swarm of ravening pissed-off mutant bugs out-futuring them by dying six times a summer, by having no human-shaped future at all?
In the early 90’s, Hilda Hilst, like many other Latin American writers, regularly penned a newspaper column. Published as the collection Cascos e Carícias (Crusts and Caresses), her cronicas are as visionary, scathing, and hilarious as her books. Hilst’s fiction, poetry, and drama might seem hermetic at first glance, so it’s interesting how often she reflects on politics at a time when Brazil was plagued by national debt, inflation, and corruption scandals. I’m especially intrigued by the connection this example (my translation) makes between sexual/colonial aggression, submission, and marginalization:
System, Form and Cucumber
When Plato was asked which existing governments and systems were most conducive and useful for our knowledge, he responded: “None of the present ones.” I, a mere poet, would say the same today. But the poet doesn’t exist. That last phrase reminds me of a story: Queen Victoria—angry because the Bolivian dictator Mariano Melgarejo not only forced the ambassador of Britan to drink a barrel of chocolate as punishment for refusing a glass of chicha (an alcoholic drink), but also made the ambassador ride a donkey backwards on the main street of La Paz—Queen Victoria, as I was saying, asked for a map of Latin America, drew a line over Bolivia, and prophesied: Bolivia doesn’t exist. I would also say: poets and Latin Americans don’t exist. Yes, they exist to be ransacked. Under any form of government, presidentialism, parliamentarism, or (!?!) monarchism, we, Brazilians, Latin Americans, will always be ransacked.
Ah… how sadly truthful is the fragment from the book Tu não te moves de ti, whose author is this modest writer of cronicas in her spare time, yes, myself, the one who’s been stoned (pooooor thing!). Cut out the following (purchasing the book would be too much to ask!) and, please, don’t forget it this time:
“…I’m a man, I trip up, I lie on my belly, on my belly, ready to be used, ransacked, adjusted to my Latinness, yes this one real, this one on my belly, the countless infinite cosmic fornications in all my Brazilianess, me on my belly, vilified, a thousand bucks in my acosmic hole, handing over everything, my rich depths from within, my soul, ah, much like Mr. Silva, so thick, kicking the ball, singing, rich people abroad call you a bum, oh Mr. Silva the Brazilian,
Mr. Macho Silva, hoho hoho, while you fornicate asslike your women singing, kicking the ball, what a big cucumber, Mr. Silva, on your turntable, your poor junctures breaking, handing over your iron, your blood, your head, hidden, by the touch, half-blind, conceding, always conceding, ah, Great Ransacked One, great poor ransacked macho, on your belly, on your knees, how long conceding and pretending, green-yellow victim, loved macho entirely on your belly flexing, on all fours, multiplied in emptinesses, in ais, in multi-irrationals, mouth of misery, I exteriorize myself stuck to my History, she swallowing me, me swallowed by all chimeras.”
Did you hurt yourself, reader? Did you scandalize yourself, reader? (pooooor thing!)
Hilst’s sign-off—an acknowledgment of the degradation that literature, too, can inflict—reminds me once again of poetry’s ability to turn its own negligibility into a space of permissiveness, of potency, beyond the mandates of preconceived systems and forms. By taunting the “hurt” or “scandalized” reader, Hilst deftly undermines a potentially imperialist ethics of reading based on the prowess of enlightened states such as ‘thinkership’. Instead, the reader, like the poet, becomes a vessel—a “pooooor thing”—used and abused as a passive orifice to the phallic fruit (cucumber) of those higher up in the power structure.
The cronica thus illustrates the reversal of the power bottom—a writer whose submissiveness within the culture is the very thing that permits and spreads her voracity, her agility, her “multi-irrational” contagion and disease. Her mouths and holes multiply in me, forcing leaps of an imagination whose violation only gives it more reach.
I sometimes think about this passage from Zizek’s book Violence (and other places, he does famously repeat himself…):
Today’s liberal tolerance towards others, the respect of otherness and openness towards it, is counterpointed by an obsessive fear of harassment. In short, the Other is just fine, but only insofar as his presence is not intrusive, insofar as this other is not really other… In a strict homology with the paradoxical structure of the previous chapter’s chocolate laxative, tolerance coincides with its opposite. My duty to be tolerant towards the Other effectively means that I should not get too close to him, intrude on his space. In other words, I should respect his intolerance of my over-proximity. What increasingly emerges as the central human right in late-capitalist society is the right not to be harassed, which is a right to remain at a safe distance from others.
I am frequently reminded of this quotes in discussion in American poetry. It seems frequently that having a difference of opinion (no matter now meekly expressed) amounts to a gave offense, that there’s something “aggressive” or rude about expressing opinions. One becomes a “troll” by expressing one’s opinion.
I remember an angry email I received from a poet for disagreeing with her on a public blog; she wrote “this isn’t about you” and “you are from somewhere else” – as if I was being a megalomaniac foreigner (which of course might be true) by disagreeing with her on a public forum. I was hurt by that; I still think about it.
Of course, there are also these “trolls” that are repetitive and insulting in comment sections, and I find they often tend to be inherently normative (attacking people who express unconventional opinions). I used to have an “open” comment section to my last blog but stopped because I would just get tons of these hateful, thoughtless comments, so that’s why I have to approve comments to this blog (even though I seldom decline comments, and the few times I have I probably shouldn’t have). When does someone with different views become a “troll”? (Troll is of course not human, and that seems important here.)
Recently I noticed somebody wrote that Seth Oelbaum was a “troll” because he had expressed his views (in a highly performative fashion, as always) about poets he liked and didn’t like (as well as disagreeing with my ideas about “the glut”). You may disagree with him, but is he a “troll” for having strong opinions? For being too performative in the way he expresses them? Or for quite simply having opinions that differ from the common consensus?
Can we imagine a version of poetry discourse that is based on exchange or engagement with different opinions, and not on ‘tolerance’ or its phantom twin, shunning (i.e. don’t feed the troll…)?
(For the record: I totally agree with Oelbaum that Joyelle and Chelsea Minnis are two of the “top poets” in the US. But I also really like Aaron Kunin!)
(And now for something utterly original . . .)
Furniture without Rest by Thomas Evans
“Can feast on the real thing” (Cat Power)
Oblivion as They Rose Shrank like a Thing Reproved
Grounded in so great a project’s percept, you might just move through this book, its every page contentious. Hence that completed form of all completeness: don’t spell it at all just write it down.
“Means or doesn’t mean means nothing.” (Jean Genet)
Fashion perceives the rights of the corpse in the living, vanquishing both dissonance and gloom.
There’s only one good system, and that’s the Splendid System. Raven, evil seer at dusk, if the child is father to the man, man is father to the corpse . . .
When it gets too hot for comfort
And you can’t buy an ice cream cone
T’aint no sin to take off your skin
And dance around in your bones
T E quote: 3/6/13
G C-H misquote: 3/7/13
John Keats: Endymion
John Cage: An Alphabet
Jean Genet: The Screens
Walter Benjamin: The Arcades Project
Percy Bysshe Shelley: Adonais
Unica Zurn: Hexentexte
Francis Picabia: Eunuch Unique
Philip K Dick: Clans of the Alphane Moon
Wm. Burroughs, Robt. Wilson, Tom Waits: The Black Rider
In a Montevidayo super coup The Crypt Keeper obtained the following exclusive/effusive mission statement from the artist currently known as Thomas Evans.
The Pedestrian Thought Theatre is a theatre composed of individual stages [platforms], upon which thoughts and ideas are arranged as walks. Each thought is realized as an object of mental furniture *. These furniture objects attach to individual stages [stations] that, when arranged in a sequence, form the walk. (continue reading…)
I’ve got a short piece up at the City Lights Blog on SF poet Elaine Kahn:
There’s a thread of disfiguring throughout that’s benign enough to be ominous — “I am cutting myself / out of a piece of paper”, “when I am cutting your hair in my mind” — but all of it comes back to time, which in Kahn’s work becomes the material and subject of human life: “Time is a mouth.” “It happens on you”, she says, referring to puberty and her indoctrination into the global system of lascivious, gendered control (“& the whole world stares / how the world does stare”), but she’s also referring to time as a condition from which we all suffer. As she sardonically puts it elsewhere, “You think beauty / is a good thing / to forgive,” with beauty reduced here to a cruel reminder (remainder) of what time does to it. But it’s also a reminder that human beings are defined on Earth by their intrinsic timeness — not just in their mortality but in their technology of language, which above all else is a means of communicating with the future. No other creature has access to history as a kind of virtual genetic code on which to build empires.
I am slain, felled, sweetened up and served by Latasha N. Nevada Diggs’ TwERK. It’s like an almanac-zodiac-aphrodesiac-cum-emetic: it’s going to make the language come out of you, and the knowledge, too. At the bargain price of 15 dollahs, this book, fetchingly wrapped in a crunk doily designed by Doug Kearney, delivers page after page of astounding and invigorating rhymes, rhythms, inflections, infections, connections, inventions, allusions and sluices. It’s freaky-deaky, freaking alluvial. It’s brainy and broad and plays its own killer jingle and drives up in its own truck. Watch, children!
TwERK hollas at you from the very first page, opens up by inviting you into a profane dialogue, Elizabethan in its innovation, its linguistic voracity, virtuosity, swift pace, killer instinct and bawdy humor (please be aware: this is not the correct spacing/layout for this poem– only as close as I could get on blog interface):
Mista Popo said: oh bodacious Zwarte Piet,
How does the butterfly thrive
for my big ole kettle belly?
An extra scoot never too robust for my flying carpet.
holla at me Jynx, holla at me Jynx,
holla at me Jynx w/some soba on the side.
Let’s fly away!
Mista Popo want that corn husky hair.
What inmate of the twenty-first century, what language-loving carbon based life form could not rejoice in the presence of such a pliant, flexible virtuosity as LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs’s? In the above passage, a zesty and ribald momentum opens its throat for a wash of dubious figures from global culture, and the page is both a party and a scrum: Zwarte Piet, the blackface figure and holdover from colonialism who accompanies Santa Claus in Dutch culture; Jynx and Mr. (here ‘Mista’) Popo, literally cartoonish icons of blackness from Japanese anime culture who in their ‘Mista’-ness also call up the history of such images in Western culture; the iconic ‘flying carpet’, the fetish of Orientalism which hovers over and behind Western obsession with ‘Arab’ cultures and bodies ; even the casual imperialism and race politics of the 50’s Rat Pack tucked into that lyric from Sinatra’s ‘Come Fly with Me’. This poem is racy; this poem is rapier; this poem is sick and sic; this poem is fun! To me it suggests that the vicious vivacity of racist thinking is both the signature of our contemporary global imperialist culture and also its weakness, a circuit back through which lawless bursts of energy may possibly be made to reverse, amplify, over-dub, loop and surge, not unwriting the damage of globalism but defibrillating it, re-animating it, converting the damage to something else entirely: something next.
LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs has a lot of language at her disposal, more, I would guess, than most other North American humans. This book speaks Japanese, Spanish, English, Hindi, Urdu, Maori, Hawaiian, Samoan, Swahili, Runa Simi (Quechua), Yoruba, Portuguese, Cherokee (Tsa’lagi), Tagalog, Chamorro, Papiamentu. Some poems are written in an English so alive with Diggs’s ingenuity it feels like a new fabric (“Sunspot”); others mobilize Caribbean-inflected dialects; others are in multiple languages which incorporate translation, change, and doubleness into their very format, so that the reader can feel the languages touching and making out and mutating in ‘real-time’—that is, in the art-time of Diggs’s voice and brain– into an irresistible scintillating new element which is as valuable as a smart-metal but which can be enjoyed without being mined, bought, fought for, bled for, or sold. Something virtual:
knee deep as I speak, kino body rock.
lehelehe wit the glock
of menehune. freak of the week. you’s a pua‛a at a lû’au.
my hand lima blazes like Ka‛ahupahua.
make dope-a-delic like Redman in a hula
let me tell it:
I’m taking cheek papālina,
poli breast feedin’ malihini dust schemas.
In charming, generous endnotes which really read like rich and plentiful poems of their own, Diggs informs the reader that this poem was an experiment in scoring rap form for the page, and also that it makes use of Hawaiian language for various body parts with the translation of the body part “literally beside it (either before or after the word).” Just that explanation is an example of Diggs’s brainy, breezy brilliance; to be ‘literally beside it’ is to be in ecstasy; to have one body part ‘literally beside it’ on the page is for the two languages to ‘literally touch’ through a ‘literal’ double body. The circuit happens in and as a surplus, and so much life and energy and language pours through this light relay that it the entire current is transferred to and through the reader as joy.
I cannot shout loud enough about Latasha N. Nevada Diggs’s TWeRK. Language is not a neutral tool, and the history of the peoples who belong to these language and the hegemonic forces that would distress, suppress or obliterate both the languages and their peoples is what makes these poems so fierce, fraught, bladey and mobile. The showiness and flaunt of these poems are like the fierceness of the drag balls Diggs’ salutes in one poem: a visible weapon, a tactic simultaneously offensive and defensive, a wargame for the whole body. Diggs’s poems truly work the whole body of the poem, the whole body of sound, the whole body of history, the whole body of voice and ear, the whole body of language and the ability of the page to be its own sonic syntax; they articulate and rotate joints that seemed fixed; they are bawdy and triumphant and they more than work. They TwERK.
SHAKING THE HABITUAL SHOW
April 22nd, 2013
We just have to go faster we mean breakneck we mean “like crazy”2
We are never faceless, not even in the most grey anonymous streets of the city. We will never stop being responsible, being extensions, of one another. We will never stop longing for each other, and for something else.3
We, The Knife, will be performing live. We will be there, on stage, all seven of us, sometimes all ten of us, or even more. We have worked hard, together. Things, ideas, concepts have been tried, tested, discarded, evolved, perfected and discarded again.
We know of the performative parts of power (Hegemony! Hi!), the on-going upholdance of everything through the performance of everyone. The habitual dance of the ordinary, the narratives of the normal. We know how the norm functions. But this is not every day. We have put on our glitter, we are ready to sparkle. This is special, if we were birds, (maybe we are) our feathers would shine (they do). We are building a place, a scene, a moment. But the blocks aren’t set, the pieces move. We slipper and slide around it, under it, above. Shaking our habitat.
With raging lungs we breathe, exhausted but enthralled. We sweat and smile and frown, laughing at the future, crying at the past, holding on. Legs astride, one foot yours, one foot ours.