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.
Some Thoughts About: The Gurlesque, Plath, Olga Ravn, Kim Yideum, Matilda Södergran and Sara Tuss Efrik
I’m supposed to write an essay about the gurlesque for the upcoming issue of the Swedish journal 10-tal. One thing I want to talk about is the importance of Sylvia Plath. Of course not the cleaned-up Plath that various scholars have tried to make into a master craftswoman over the past few decades, but the “problematic” Plath who blurs life and art, mythic suicide with art, the sleazy Plath of b-movies and fashion magazines, the Surrealist-influenced Plath, the ekphrastic Plath, the Plath of holocaust kitsch, the Plath beloved by teenage girls, the Plath quoted by Francis Bean Cobain in a recent tweet. In short, a gurlesque Plath.
Maybe I’ll talk about Judy Grahn’s amazing homage to that kitschy Plath, “I Have Come To Claim Marilyn Monroe’s Body”:
… They wept for you
and also they wanted to stuff you while
you still had a little meat left in useful places
but they were too slow.
Now I shall take them my paper sack
and we shall act out a poem together:
“How would you like to see Marilyn Monroe,
in action, smiling, and without her clothes?”
We shall wait long enough to see them make familiar faces
and then I shall beat them with your skull.
hubba. hubba. hubba. hubba. hubba.
Maybe I’ll talk about my meeting with the scholar who didn’t think Plath had any influence on contemporary poetry. I wrote about this some time ago: how he put all of Oppen’s work on the PhD comps list but had taken Plath off. Didn’t know about the gurlesque, didn’t know about any of the myriad of contemporary poets influenced by Plath. When I told him that’s because the field of contemporary poetic has become – post-lang-po – so narrowly defined that Plath is not part of it, he got upset and accused me of conservative populism a la Poetry Foundation. The truth is of course that the gurlesque is a word that points out the larger move toward maximalism and the grotesque, the kitschy and over-done (“too much”) that I at least find the most interesting poetry going on today.
An important features of this maximalism, this gurlesque is how international it is; how it’s not really a movement (which suggests a center, organization) but incredibly widespread, it’s really part of a kind of maximalist movement (that also is not limited to women). And it’s important to me that we don’t see it as an American thing. Even when Arielle Greenberg coined that word there were things that could be called gurlesque happening all over the place – from my point of view, most notably in Sweden and South Korea with people like Aase Berg and Kim Hyesoon. The word “gurlesque” does not function for me the way say “language poetry” did – it’s not a set America export (where the US is undeniable central) but a way of calling attention to not just an aesthetic but a connection, a conversation across language boundaries and cultures.
As I’ve been transmitting through the ectoplasm, my play, “Dead Youth, or, The Leaks” is being given a staged reading by Fiona Templeton’s performance group, The Relationship, this Monday, Oct 14, at 6:30, at the New Ohio Theatre in the Village. I would love for people to come out, because the event is intended to memorialize Leslie Scalapino, of whose stage-works Templeton is the major interpreter. Of course I am incredibly grateful to Fiona Templeton, E. Tracy Grinell, and Caroline Bergvall for selecting my work for this prize in honor of Leslie Scalapino, and I also feel like a sister-in-arms with the army of 400 women who wrote plays to memorialize Leslie.
I’ve described my play’s relationship to Leslie Scalapino’s body of work, here, but I thought I would include an excerpt from the play to give you some flavor of what’s in store on Monday. This is a little aria delivered by Julian Assange in the second act of the play; it raises the farcical energy to such a level that it becomes an almost tensile material by which Abdi Wali Abdulqadir Muse (the teenage Somalian ‘pirate’) can board the stolen container ship on which the play is set and set the main plot in motion. (The plot involves helping Muse avoid incarceration in Terre Haute, IN. Well, that’s one plot.)
From Dead Youth, or, The Leaks:
JULIAN ASSANGE (patting the shoulder of DEAD YOUTH, calming them, distributing pills, talking a kind of soothing patter).
Hello, I am Julian Assange, I’ve been assassinated by my mother.
My mother was divine. A divine assassination.
She edited and improved me.
She shot me full of gold.
Protected me, gilt me, guided me, hid me, and bought me a Commodore 64
Now I endeavor to be a golden like my mother
to radiate hot pixels of information
to cell-divide forever
to stage a pussy riot, to offer teens of all nations
hot gobblets of information
pus-gold and liberating, the rays of my inflammation.
These pets you see gathered around me are little runts
I’ve collected from the NICU ward in Memorial Hospital in South Bend
Indiana. Poor things were born
addicted to oxycodone, oxycontin, valium and other narcotics.
Born like princesses with lotus feet. Only things fit them
are Nikes and IV’s. Poor things are asleep.
I had to save them from the cuddler army of 54 retiree
church organists, an invasive species.
I carry in this box a little code to feed them on.
sorry a little comb, they’re bees.
Please help yourself before helping others, little species
little protégées. It’s on demand!
It’s all you can eat on repeat forever.
in the event of two similar die-offs, the greater of two die-offs is
still similar. Infinity resembles infinity to the dead.
That’s why they need a mom like me
and how I can be one: resemblance
is a magick power. I copy my mother
& live here in drag like a mortal.
I just don’t have a normal mortal motor.
I’m an abnormal mater!
But unlike cancer, I have a motive.
It’s to keep these teens alive on the Internet.
I feed them like roses, I feed them privacee.
My motive is indetectible to you
because you don’t want to see it.
But my moralitee is a rare and strong growth.
It configures a colonee.
It grows in night vision.
It thrives on unnatural light.
Kofi Awoonor(13 March 1935-21 September 2013) was grounded in the exploration of the Ewe oral epic as a resource for poetic renewal. Through song and chant and story he relived the cultural identity of his people from their ancient days to the present. Both in utilitarian and aesthetic terms, his atmospheric poetry was an ongoing life-long restoration project. Yet there is a massive wattage of modernity in his poems: in subject and technique.
Though form-minded, the elegiac traffic of his verses seems unappeasable. In “Song of Sorrow,” he writes:
” I have wandered on the wilderness
The great wilderness men call life
The rain has beaten me,
And the sharp stumps cut as keen as knives
I shall go beyond and rest.
I have no kin and no brother,
Death has made war upon our house-”
Buoyant eclectic constructions: sharp and brown and dusty and snowy. The sea and all the other bodies of water that permeate his tense stanzas never cease pounding their fists across the page and stage and doorsteps. Ancestral energy connecting with contemporary frenzy. Primes and cracks a reader with fury, vulnerability, heart’s toast. The resources of sagacity convoking history. A certain kind of political tension that need not preclude a wild party. (continue reading…)
Yes, we’re having a discussion/reading tonight at Rönnels in Stockholm. The activities will start at 6:30 pm. We’ll talk about porn, kitsch, the aesthetics of embarrassment, grotesequeries, and we’ll read from our books.
I’m thinking about this today in a cloudy Stockholm attic room: The way that academic discussions of literature (and poetry in particular) often veer into morality, some kind of justification for poetry, for style, or – its opposite – a rejection of it (usually as kitsch, immoral, schlocky).
I’m also thinking about how this relates to Lars Norén. As I wrote in my last post about Norén’s corpse, there’s this violence that permeates his work, from his early lyrics to his – almost up-to-date – diaries. There’s this sense of struggle: the desire to eradicate the poetic, the kitsch, but also the sense that poetic pulls you back in, damages you right back. I suppose this has something to do with Romanticism. In his diaries, I just read him reminiscing about reading Hölderlin, Novalis, Celan.
Aside I turn to the holy, unspeakable, mysterious Night. Afar lies the world — sunk in a deep grave — waste and lonely is its place. In the chords of the bosom blows a deep sadness. I am ready to sink away in drops of dew, and mingle with the ashes. — The distances of memory, the wishes of youth, the dreams of childhood, the brief joys and vain hopes of a whole long life, arise in gray garments, like an evening vapor after the sunset. In other regions the light has pitched its joyous tents. What if it should never return to its children, who wait for it with the faith of innocence?
[It's worth noting that Aase Berg's Dark Matter begins with a Novalis quote.]
Noren’s constantly caught in a battle with his art, and his art is caught in a battle with Auschwitz (“Auschwitz is the capitol of the 20th century,” he notes.), with American imperialism, with the Israeli attacks on Palestine. Is he aestheticizing politics? Is he playing “ruin porn,” “empire porn”? Is he immoral? Is he a vampire? Is Romanticism Norén’s downfall?
Romanticism still seems to play such a large part in how we view poetry: there’s something inherently Romantic about poetry, something we have to discipline because it is also of questionable morality. There was that movie the other year about Keats: how his pale body was covered in butterflies drawn by the smell of rotten fruit (butterflies which I then lured to my room for The Sugar Book).
But obviously also everything from “Berlin”:
I’m thinking back to when I was in college, when I was in a supposedly “quietist” grad workshop: the teacher brought in Language poetry and essays about language poetry and everybody thought that was all good. They were perfectly acceptable. But in discussions of poetry the “Romantic” was always what had to be rejected. This also went by the phrase “too much.” There are too many metaphors in this poem, this speaker is megalomaniacal, seems fake etc.
At the same time I read a lot of postmodern criticism: it was all about the rejection of the “Romantic I.” Supposedly this was what the Quietists practiced: but they too were rejecting the “Romantic.” I smelled a rat. But I couldn’t tell where. I still can’t.
Just that it’s stinking worse than ever.
(Or has the rat already been found? Did my generation of poets devour it without knowing it? Am I puking up something I’ve already eaten a million times? When I come across so many of the 20-something poets they seem unencumbered by all of this, free to write awesome poetry.)
I think of Saul Friedlander’s description of kitsch as “debased Romanticism,” and his whole link of Romanticism, Nazism, stunted-ness and death. It all starts to sound vaguely Frankenstein-ey.
I don’t know all that much about Romanticism even though it was largely the stuff that got me into poetry as a teenager. There’s something teenagery about Romanticism. “I love Shelley” written in a bathroom stall (oh, that Shelley). Or, this morning on the official sign that read “This Area Is Under Surveillance” somebody had slapped a sticker that said “MY HEART IS A BOMB!”
[Here is another excerpt from the memoir/criticism book I've been working on lately. Like the other things I've posted on the blog, it has to do with Lars Norén's work, especially his massive diaries that have been published in two volumes over the past few years. In many ways I feel very close to Norén's work - both his writing and his diaries - and I'm trying to work through that here. So if it seems at times as if I'm writing about myself or my own work (as Lara noted on Facebook), maybe that's true.]
On the train I read Lars Norén’s diaries. The more I actually read these diaries, the more interesting Greider’s claim that Norén (or his work) is a kind of corpse gets; and I sense my own thinking about not just Norén’s writing but my own writing start to shift. To begin with, around December 2001, at the same time as he’s going through a divorce and starting a new relationship, Norén goes through incredible physical ailments. He starts having diarrhea and vomiting constantly. He can’t keep anything down, as he repeatedly notes. It seems that everything just runs through him; his physical body cannot maintain its integrity, its completeness. So when Greider imagines Norén bleeding on a dissection table, he is in some sense describing this leaky, grotesque body that Norén himself describes.
This leakiness impedes a lot of his social interactions. For example, he has to hurry from dinners (with his family, colleagues); he wakes up vomiting in the middle the night. And importantly, it prevents him from fucking his new girlfriend: He says he’s too sick to “tränga in” himself in her. It’s a peculiar word for sex, “tränga” meaning to penetrate but also to push or force, and also to crowd (a “trängsel” means a crowd). The sick body prevents sociality and sexuality. It destabilizes his body and life, but it also stabilizes it as he is forced to stay indoors, kept from going out to shop, and kept inside to read and write, and he seems to get creatively going, working on four plays at the same time. The writing seems to take the place of the fucking.
And then things go from bad to worse. He has to have a jaw surgery – a part of the jaw is apparently cut off – that involves shutting his mouth with some kind of plastic prosthesis, that not only forces him to go on an all-fluid diet but which makes all the soups he’s forced to drink (he tries all kinds of fancy flavors, such as lobster bisque etc) taste like plastic. This seems the ultimate insult to a sensualist who spend much of his diary discussing the food he eats, often fancy meals (lobsters, sushi etc), someone for whom food – as much as art and clothes – takes up a large part of the diary.
Perhaps even worse, his face swells us horrifically, so that he can’t recognize himself in the mirror. He compares himself to “Francis Bacon,” a comparison that doesn’t just invoke what his face looks like, but also conveys the horror of not recognizing one’s own visage. I had an experience like that when I was about 10 or 11. I had a sinus infection that somehow got out of hand, and the sinuses around one eye swelled up so that I couldn’t even look out of that eye. That horror came back to me when I read about Norén’s experience of losing his own face in his own diary.
(It’s strange for me to write that because I’m sitting in this little hotel room in Göteborg and right in front of my little desk is a mirror so that whenever I pause I look up at my own face: my balding head, the wrinkles in my skin, the graying beard, the weird little random straws that stick out of my eye brows.)
When Norén compares his face to Bacon’s painting, it’s worthwhile thinking about the vehicle as well as the tenor of that metaphor (that’s generally true) – the sick body is like a work of art. And it seems sickness, love and art are all things that destroy Norén. At one very vulnerable moment he says: “I can’t defend myself. I don’t have any tools for defending myself.” [Jag kan inte värja mig. jag har inga redskap för att värja mig.”]. There is a naked vulnerability with which he approaches his life that makes him incapable maintaining control.
From poetry-mourners/killers to Argentine novelists, it seems like everyone is panicking over the ontology of literature these days. I think one of the freshest takes on how and why we read comes from Marília Librandi Rocha’s essay “Maranhão-Manhattan“:
There is a sense of urgency to this proposal. My thesis is that, unlike the Indian tribes and the fear and respect that the shamans require, we ignore what poets tell us because we think that what they write is only literature; in spite of all that has been written, we do not take them seriously, for real; we do not take literature seriously as an existential, social, psychological, ecological production. From my point of view, we need to re-think the magical value of fiction without characterizing it as exoteric or exotic. We need to re-think the usefulness of poetry without limiting it to business. The problem is: how do we do this?
For example, experience seeing our world through the eyes of literature – as if we were a character inside a book watching the world that exists outside our own fiction, placing ourselves in its body/under its point of view. It is a type of borgean experiment. Maybe we need to invent a policy of imagination. That means considering what fiction tells us at the same level of what nature sciences tell us; at the same level of what philosophy tells us, granting it the same rights. Maybe we need to re-think the famous expression ‘suspension of disbelief’: suspend the disbelief of the moderns and sustain the literality (not only the literariety) of what the fiction writers themselves say.
The times we live in today are times of vertiginous changes. Like Bruno Latour says (this incredible philosopher of modern sciences):” We can’t yet measure this change, but there is big change” (interview to V. Castro). This new philosophy, which questions the idea that we “have never been modern”, is in fact questioning Disenchantment (Entzauberung). We need to hallucinate, as Sloterdijk says. This Amerindian thought opens amazing possibilities of finding alternatives for what Gotthard Gunther synthesized as our 25 centuries of European metaphysics and technology, which are based on a monovalent ontology and a bivalent logic.
Regarding the former, it affirms that the being is and the non-being isn’t; bivalent logic states that what is true isn’t false, and what is false isn’t true, tertium non datur. According to Sloterdijk, this classic metaphysics is not capable of describing cultural phenomena such as tools, signs, works of art, machines, books, and all kinds of artifacts that are, he says, “by its own constitution, hybrid, with a spiritual component and a material component”. He explains that our way of separating body and soul, spirit and matter, subject and object is not capable of really perceiving these things; it cannot really explain what they are.
In my last post about Göran Greider’s review of Lars Norén’s second diary, I talked a bit bout Greider comparing Norén to a dictator (or even Hitler). I thought that was strange and interesting, but there is some basis for it perhaps in the aesthetic views Norén expresses in these diaries.
“Soon I will start writing harder, more nakedly, briefer. Beyond the fog. Scenes like overexposed photographs. Dialogues that could be caught on a surveillance camera. Movement, anatomy, behaviorism. I long for the light that could be called merciless. That people say is merciless. I am on my way there. When all is over…”
A few pages he returns to this mercilessness when he’s (of all things) cleaning out his apartment:
“It’s a miracle that the earth can have space for all of us in our smallness tearing each other apart, as well as the quiet saints, the quietly working guest workers, the polish children whose eyes created darkness. I have started the great final sorting, the one that comes before the end and that will last until then. I will be merciless. This will be true of objects and thoughts and plans. I will choose mercilessly. I will talk about sheep go there, and the goats stay there. I can’t stand it. I will have a hard time selecting the sheep from that goats. And it’s the same with the wheat… I will not save that which I think of as lies and unnecessary…”
I love it when the diary becomes strange like this, and it does seem like some old testament god or dictator in this case (complete with photographs and surveillance).