Aase Berg read here last night. Thanks to Coleen Hoover, who filmed the event, you can now watch it here (complete with my incomprehensible introduction):
We’re reading at the Myopic Bookstore tonight (Saturday, April 6) at 7.
Recently a lot of people – a lot of them younger, a lot of them people with a fiction background who apparently used to think poetry was boring and a lot of Swedish and foreign poets – have asked me to tell them what contemporary poetry I read or I think they should read. Well, people often ask me to talk about contemporary US poetry, but so much that I love is in translation and I prefer to see US poetry in connection to other places. So here are some books of contemporary poetry I feel you need to read. I’ve excluded all Action Books and books that I have translated (all of which it goes without saying, you should read and read and read until you vomit!), but these are the books that really matter in contemporary poetry in my opinion:
The Drug of Art by Ivan Blatny (Ugly Duckling) – selection from a Czech poet, whose work ranges from Eastern European modernist poetry to the great late stuff, a glorious interlingual mish-mash. Read some poems here.
Raul Zurita, Dreams for Kurosawa – amazing visionary dream poems by one of the world’s great living poets. I love all his books: Prugatory, Songs for his Disappeared Love, Anti-Paradise etc. Here he is reading at Notre Dame.
Percussion Grenade by Joyelle McSweeney – Seth Oelbaum recently called Joyelle one of the three greatest living US poets, and that’s probably right. This is Joyelle’s best, most rambunctious, radical and necropastoral jam. (Also check out her new prose book Salamandrine: 8 Gothics.). Here’s something Joyelle recently wrote about the play, “Contagious Knives,” which is part of the book. Here’s a recent review in HTMLGiant. And another.
Chelsea Minnis, Poemland – Contemporary American poetry who blends fashion and ultra-violence. I love all of her books. This one is didactic in the best possible sense. I think she was also in Seth’s “top three.” It was also Minnis whose work first prompted Arielle Greenberg to coin the phrase “gurlesque,” a controversial and insightful concept that is now being hotly debated all over the Swedish newspapers, journals and webzines (here for example) due to Maria Margareta Österholm’s book of criticism, The Girl Laboratory in Pieces: Swedish Prose 1980-2005 (we published a translation of the intro here).
Alice Notley, Descent of Alette – It’s of course notoriously impossible to say who’s the “top three poets” in any country, but Notley has certainly been one of the best US poets over the past 20+ years. I love most of her books, but for me Alette – a feminist, visionary epic set in the subway of Reagan’s America (thus increasingly realistic, correct) – is probably still the best, the one I teach most often and the one I always recommend to people from other countries who want to know about the best contemporary US poetry.
Ronaldo Wilson’s Poems of the Black Object – African-American poet writes brutal, grotesque, gorgeous poems in prose and in pretty lyrics. I wrote this post about him a while back. This book really moved me.
Maroosa di Giorgio, The History of Violets – Aerie, mysterious necropastorals saturated by art, flowers and violence by the late Uruguayan super star (in the Warhol sense of that word). Swedish readers might see the incredibly close connection to Swedish poet Ann Jäderlund, the superstar of Sweden.
OK, I said I was going to ignore Action Books, but really I can’t talk about contemporary poetry without mentioning Korean poet Kim Hyesoon, who is really one of the greatest living poets. She’s got two books out with Action Books and a few more on the way, and one chapbook from Tinfish, all translated by Don Mee Choi. Here’s something Lisa Flowers wrote about her. She too partakes with some of the gurlesque/necropastoral vibes I’ve mentioned above. THere’s a whole bunch of awesome poets in South Korea right now, though they have not yet been translated to English (we’re working on it).
OK, that’s my quick post for the day. I’ve no doubt missed some great ones but this is a pretty good image of my idea of the greatest “contemporary US” poetry, or at least a start.
I’m writing this from my desk in an office where I have spent the morning watching Al Jazeera videos and reading the New York Times and this is not entirely antithetical to what I’m supposed to be doing at my desk.
A few weeks ago I was getting ready to go to New Jersey for a visit home, which I’ve done more in the past six months than I ever have. There has been literal disaster after disaster. Anyway I was getting ready to go home. My uncle was posting North Korean propaganda videos on his Facebook page and I was watching them the way I read a really good poem – over and over again, trying to assess its balance of irony and sincerity.
The video is dubbed in English in a way that makes it feel like farce, except it’s not. The script in English feels like it must have been written by a contemporary experimental poet with a solid sense of fun, like maybe Amy Lawless wrote it in a fit of black humor. I was just getting into My Dead when I watched the video for the first time and I was thinking about mourning and rituals and pre-emptive strikes, how one must convince oneself both of the seriousness of tragedy and its ephemeral nature in order to engage in the act of grief.
A few weeks later I was having brunch with my best friend and I think we were talking about Amy’s book and I was reminded of a novel I’d read in college called Ways of Dying by Zakes Mda. The main character in the novel, which is set in South Africa, is a man named Toloki who is a Professional Mourner. The day I was having brunch was Easter Sunday and the day before we had gone to see a lecture and reading at the New Museum where Ariana Reines dressed up as Margery Kempe and talked about public grief.
The night before that I was trying to find a bar that didn’t ID so I could take my little sister there and we ended up at a comedy show that was so abject it was a kind of public self-grieving and my friend and I talked about how the responsibilities of Poets, Comedians, and Lawyers are essentially the same – to be observant and self-aware and make public texts of our knowledge. The next morning we added Professional Mourners to that list.
Professional Grief is an epic responsibility requiring a great deal of strength and physical endurance – the endurance literally to cry for many hours or to stand in front of people and say something – in addition to a measured amount of weakness, pliability. There has to be something in the instrument that moves.
My whole entire life I have been aware of my place as an American Girl in relation to War. (continue reading…)
“Why is the poem such an insult to this evil life?”: on Sandy Hook, Blake Butler, Aase Berg and Disaster Aesthetics
A few weeks ago, in the wake of the school massacre at Sandy Hook Blake Butler and I wrote a play of sorts called “Sandy” about the massacre – about the shooting, the reporting on the shooting, the relationship of the shooting to the steady stream of murders of young black people that goes un-reported in the media and to all those drone-killed people elsewhere in the world, all those people saying, “you can’t understand a thing like this, you just have to go to church” (a cop-out for sure), all thes people who want an easy explanation of it, all the people who want such a complex explanation of it that the whole thing becomes diffuse, and the relationship of violence to art, to media. In short, it was a work of art that ate and was eaten by a proliferations of images and rhetorics.
Blake and I were very pleased with it after a few weeks of going back and forth, so Blake started to send it out to various journals that had solicited his work. It soon became apparent, that when they solicited Blake’s work, they did not think he would send them something about Sandy Hook because it was roundly rejected by all kinds of journals. The editors seemed to agree that it was “offensive.”
Why was it offensive? It was unclear to me. We had made an artwork in response to a terrible event, trying to respond fully to its violence, its absurdity, the proliferation of responses, its horror, its ridiculous sideshows.
Why? I will hazard to guess that it was precisely because it contained “too much” art: too many scene changes, too many characters, too many references to Katie Perry, too many dead black youths, too many dialogues with the killer, too many dance performances by his dead mother trying instruct children how to flee from drone attacks. Unlike all those other acceptable responses – responses that replayed the murder act and scene and background endlessly, ours was an artwork that placed art in the violent center.
People are squemish about art about violence and suffering that remains art-sy. Art about disasters should be transparent; to foreground the art, the pageantry is somehow offensive. You are accused of “aestheticizing” suffering, violence, torture etc – as if that is an inherently negative thing, as if that makes it flippant, as if that is not pious enough. As if the art itself is a crime.
This is the subject matter of a brilliant essay by Aase Berg called “Tsunami from Solaris.” (continue reading…)
Joyelle McSweeney’s play “The Contagious Knives” will be performed by The Medicine Show Theater on April 19 and 20:
The Medicine Show Theatre Company presents the magical Joyelle McSweeney’s necro-pastoral farce of tremendous importance, “Contagious Knives.” Louis Braille, the Devil, Bradley Manning, Lynndie England, and a wedding chorus come together to smash your facebones with this verse play in Purgatoree.
April 19 & 20 @ 7:30 PM
Tix: $10, $7 for students + seniors
Call 212.262.4126 or e-mail email@example.com for reservations.
Inception: I found myself writing “The Contagious Knives” in a fury of contagion; a corrosive tide of rage and frustration at the state of the world, its steady state of exploitation, coercion, misery, metals, charisma. Everything comes out in the river, as Steve Jobs, now dead, said at TED: first time as industrial waste, second time as carcinogen. This is why the language of this play (as in life!) is itself toxic, tidal, runs headlong in riptides, loops in eddies, and piles up in scurfy little pools, reversing and resaying itself in the space of a single line or run of lines, rising in little violent crests. I hope it is rocking, and you can hear it ticking like bad news. TheMerchant of Venice with its accesses of violence and vengeance and its revolting figure of Cruelty-Masked-as-Justice (ie Portia) runs behind this text, as does Sophocles and the glitchy sceneastics of Ryan Trecartin.
Also has also been some recent reviews of Joyelle’s brilliant book Percussion Grenade, which includes “The Contagious Knives.” (continue reading…)
[Matt Miller conducted the following interview with Mark Tursi. Matt is a poet and scholar, author of the book Collage of Myself: Walt Whitman and the Making of Leaves of Grass and professor at Stern College in Yeshiva University.]
Like many of us, Mark Tursi wears many hats. In addition to being a poet, he is the co-founder and editor of the online journal Double Room: A Journal of Prose Poetry and Flash Fiction, as well co-editor as of Apostrophe Books, a press focusing on “poetry intersecting theory, philosophy, cultural studies, and pataphysics.” He has published two full-length collections of poetry, The Impossible Picnic (BlazeVOX Books, 2007) and most recently, Brutal Synecdoche (Astrophil Press, 2012), as well as a chapbook, Shiftless Days (Noemi Press, 2007). Tursi teaches at New Jersey City University and at MoMA in Manhattan. He lives in Jersey City with his wife Sunya Ganbold and their daughter, Dari. This interview was conducted via correspondence in early 2013. As a disclaimer, I would note that Mark is a longtime friend. – Matt Miller
Miller: With a new book out and your online journal, Double Room, about to make a comeback, we have much to discuss with respect to you personally, but I would like to start with a more general topic and work our way back to your work. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on where you think poetry is at right now. How would you describe the current scene, and what are some of the specific assumptions and challenges you see for poetry in the twenty-first century?
Tursi: Describing the current poetry scene isn’t easy. I think this is largely because one of the distinguishing characteristics of the contemporary situation involves excess. That is, it is marked by profusion, overabundance and multiplicity. But I don’t see this as a crisis. It makes some people uncomfortable because it complicates the scene and presents many challenges. Such variety and diversity threatens easy categorization and dismantles many established lineages or paradigms or schools of thought. This is a good thing. Poetry should make people uncomfortable.
But, it does mean sometimes wading through a lot of work that you might not find personally compelling or interesting. Though I would prefer this situation over scarcity any day. Such a profusion of publishing forces our hand as writers and editors. The publishing and reading possibilities are numerous—and in the American scene at least—almost anything is permissible. Generic distinctions are being dismantled and multiple aesthetic and stylistic potentials are explored. So, how does one find an innovative poetry, a unique language that is compelling, noteworthy and remarkable? That seems to be the greatest challenge. (continue reading…)
[Hi all rejects and deviants. I meant to write this a while ago but somehow didn't, then reading Christian Peet's post yesterday and rereading Johannes and Joyelle's previous posts on the Memphis three reminded me of it.]
Some Thoughts on Masculinity (Or Whatever)
A couple of weeks ago I had a vivid dream in which I was writing a manifesto. It was one of those dreams when you wake up and feel terribly regretful and disappointed because you were doing something awesome. Writing the manifesto was coming very easy and it was full of exciting hyperbole and many different fonts and exclamation marks. Something about a “thin veneer”? I could see the text but it was blurry. I’m pretty sure it was a manifesto about masculinity. I don’t remember if it was for or against.
I think what made me think about masculinity more than usual was watching an episode of 20/20 a couple of months back and this interview they were doing with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o which made me write the following (grammatically suspect, but impassioned) post on facebook:
(yes, I’m officially using my own facebook post as a reference)
“so i finally got caught up on this manti te’o thing. the crime seem to be two-fold. 1) to as a man (and football player, a symbol of masculinity and violence) be duped and otherwise victimized (how come you didn’t suspect anything?) not just by a woman but another (lesser) man. it’s an interesting conflict of interest, confess to involvement and retain your masculinity. consider last weeks brief mention of crabtree’s suspected sexual assault and many others, violent crimes don’t contradict the story line of masculinity. if the culprit had been a woman it could possibly had been explained by women’s general devious nature and offered some relief, instead there are creepy gay undertones (“she sounded like a woman”) leading to 2) the suspected use of a dead girlfriend to further own “overcome” story-line, an overcoming that is quickly adapted by media as an integral part of character building. the hoax then doesn’t just reduce manti’s masculinity index which corresponds directly to his drafting number but threaten to turn a digestible success story into a collective gorging on dead bodies. phew. did i get close?”
Thinking about masculinity in this way reminded me of a Swedish poet that made his debut a number of years ago when I still lived in Sweden and it was widely written about at the time (or so I recall) mainly because he was something so weird as a hockey player who turned to poetry, writing poems about what goes on in those testosterone-packed towel-slapping don’t-be-a-pussy locker rooms.
I had to google for a while to find out that his name is Tom Malmquist and the book fittingly called “Sudden Death”. Here is a blurb (translated) that I like (for the writer, not the book:)
“He’s written about hockey as oppression-mechanism and about men who breast-feed, is a country singer, have dental trolls rather than groupies and like to root around masculinity’s hole.” (See)
Apparently his second collection is called Fadersmjölken (“Fathersmilk”, if you allow the merger). There is a poem from it at that link but I couldn’t decide how to translate words like “uppdragna” and “sugreflexen” so I got frustrated and didn’t.
Also, one of his country songs is called “Van Gogh’s Ear”, which I wanted to like more than I did.
It’s on youtube somewhere.
I’ve always loved both poetry and sports. I don’t really see the contradiction. It’s costumage, it’s beautiful, a spectacle of nothing but its own spectacle.
I posted that quote about Lovecraft earlier today and since then I’ve been thinking about his work and what it means by going “overboard.” In Lovecraft it most certainly has to do with the monsters. The fact that they actually come along. They are too much there. In the classic “The Call of Cthulhu” for example, there is all of this frame-narrative build-up, but then the actual Cthulhu actually shows up, floats out of his under-sea sleep.
This is the essence of bad taste, of going overboard, in a modernist paradigm based on absence. Perhaps the paradigmatic work of modernism in this regard is Waiting for Godot, in which obviously Godot never comes. I read so many poems about absence, what never shows up, poems as build up. These poems know that it would be crass to actually have Godot show up the way Cthulhu shows up.
(When I said this to Joyelle, she pointed out that while Godot doesn’t show up, those other two figures show up with the dog-and-pony show, and I think that’s why Beckets’ play is awesome. Perhaps also the way Godot is so absent his presence becomes overwhelming. Maybe Godot is a bad example, but it’s all I can think of right now.)
I remember in a workshop I was in more than 10 years ago, one student (continue reading…)
What opposes Lovecraft to the representatives of good taste is more than a question of details, HPL would probably have considered a story a failure, if in writing it he did not have a chance to go overboard once at least. This can be proven a contrario by his pronouncement regarding the work of a peer: “[Henry] James is perhaps too diffuse, too unctuously urbane, and too much addicted to subtleties of speech to realise [sic] fully all the wild and devastating horror in his situations…”
- Michel Houellebecq, from H.P. Lovecraft: against the World, Against Life