Archive for May, 2011

PEE ON WATER, reconsidered

by on May.31, 2011

Last summer, it was really hot in New York City, so I spent a lot of time reading in front of a window unit air conditioner during the midday. I had been given a free copy of Rachel B. Glaser’s Pee on Water with an apparently mis-registered cover (or some other imperfection that I still can’t locate), and I picked it up one afternoon without specific expectation. (I had met Rachel once and eaten Chinese food with her, and was impressed with the fact that she liked the NBA—which I don’t—and, moreover, made paintings of her favorite NBA stars). When I finished the book a week or so later, I believed that I had been given a vibrating and sloppy masterpiece of storytelling. Pee On Water is one of a few books that has recently rekindled this college-freshman warmth I had for “the short story.” These things are really “new” but not “new” like anti-short-stories that we’ve been writing for the last 40-45 years. Last summer, I couldn’t well describe what had impressed me particularly about Pee On Water and I actually felt better not identifying it for fear of dispelling the mystery.

So, it’s hot in New York again—and it’s still May—and I put my window unit in my bedroom yesterday, and used the cool air blowing on my forehead as occasion to take another look at Glaser’s book after a year. I don’t want to define too much about my experience, but this book is funny and singular and lacks precision; I can guarantee all of those things. I think the feeling I can most equate reading Pee on Water to is being about nine years old and hearing my brother listening to The Dead Milkmen and being intrigued and thrilled by these pop songs BECAUSE they didn’t play them right. The imperfections were quickly addictive.

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Will you be a clown with me?

by on May.31, 2011

(I’m so sure Montevidayo’s national (irrational) costume is not t-shirts but clown hats.)

A Users Guide to Demanding the Impossible is a guide and manifesto about art & art actions published by the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination. It is freely downloadable here so I charge you to read it. Then, “Take up residence in the thing you will transform.” Abolish yourself. Become a post-capitalist machine. (Mis)perform.

Costume Change Not Climate Change

Keep the fashion police on their toes.


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Bill Knott Interview

by on May.31, 2011

Here’s an interview with Bill Knott.


So what fucking “identity as a poet”? I don’t have an identity as a human being, much less a poet.

But what the hell, on the other hand, maybe the state insane asylum (I don’t think they use that term anymore now, but that’s what it was called in 1955, as I recall it) at Elgin, Illinois—maybe the state’s incarceration warehouse for nut jobs, where I spent my fifteenth year being abused and beaten and degraded every day, maybe that shit-hole wasn’t any worse really than Exeter or whatever prep-school in which Pinsky and Strand and Bidart and Charles Wright and C.K. Williams and William fucking Matthews were also suffering the traumas of their teen-angst years at the same time as me, back there in 1955….

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"They're selling postcards of the hanging…": Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan

by on May.31, 2011

I’ve been kind of dorking out for a few weeks reading/listening to the 1960s. I read a bunch of memoirs and such by Andy Warhol and this made me re-listen to both the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan. Dylan in particular seems a key figure for Warhol and Warhol seems like a key figure for Dylan, even though they barely met. Dylan showed up for a screen test at the Factory which apparently was tense. Warhol gave him an Elvis which Dylan later traded to Albert Grossman, his manager, for a couch (not a smart business transaction by Dylan).

But I feel that the connection is deeper. In Warhol’s own memoirs he seems quite obsessed with Dylan – horrified by the rumors that Dylan was using his Elvis as a dart board and also very defensive of Dylan’s supposed charge that Warhol had caused the death of Edie Sedgwick.

(continue reading…)

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We the False-Conscious Bombers of Planet Earth, Part 2 (w/ a reprise of Osama bin Laden's death…)

by on May.28, 2011

Reprise of Osama bin Laden’s death…

So, I’ve been absent, AWOL, gone. Beyond a busy and unpredictable patch of life weather (children with head lice, junk-car-buying, a load of freelance work to do, the usual culprits), like many, perhaps, I’ve spent the past several weeks adjusting to the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. Did it really happen? What are we not being told? What does it mean? Does it change anything? Add in the hysterical-tragic-silenced tale of the Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan and the mind can easily be stunned into silence.

I have not been stunned silent, however. My mind is a wanderer, and I let it. Not silent, just gone away. On the smallest whim I embark on journeys of epic discovery, backyard camp-outs. I don’t even leave a sign in the shop window: “Be back in X days.” I can’t help it. I never know when I’ll be back. I wander until I find something back where I started. Distance brings everything closer.

TIME, a chess-piece marker...

And so I’m back with a roll of reflections under one arm and nightmares in my back pocket. As one who has followed the “War on Terror” with chagrined interest, bin Laden’s death has been a startling development. To say otherwise would be to lessen the significance of the moment, and I’m not into that. Biting back the bitter bile, swallowing and claiming it doesn’t rankle the taste buds or burn the throat the whole way down, only lessens the radical moment of refusing to vomit.

Yes, I refuse to vomit, though it burns like hell. (continue reading…)

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The Lyric Poet as Power Bottom

by on May.21, 2011

Robert Lowell: Power Bottom

I’ve been thinking about how the lyric poet is like the power bottom of gay male culture.  As everyone on Facebook knows, this amazing article at ChristWire gives us a useful gloss on the power bottom’s role:

Experts have noted that the power bottom has changed the traditional submissive/dominant dynamic of the homosexual copulation ritual. In this new environment, the bottom takes on the role of the aggressor/hunter, prowling leather bars and anonymous websites for a most vigorous backside invasion possible. The top penetrator is submissive in this delicate game, letting the “bossy bottom” purchase him expensive cocktails and pay carfare.

What I find pertinent about the power bottom is that he gets around the deadlock of prescription—the identity of a ‘total’ top or bottom—by submitting himself to a penetration that he nevertheless invites and mediates. I believe this is what the lyric poet does, at least ideally, when he/she chooses to use the first-person pronoun in an act of irreducibility and volatility. The lyric’s inward turn, far from ensuring predictability, mastery, and control through some imagined psychic space, instead courts a contact that might set the poet up for pleasure and/or self-annihilation:  pillow-biting, viral transmission, or just really dull pain. (continue reading…)

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"We’re here to give metaphors for your poetry."

by on May.20, 2011

If we accept Hannah Weiner’s claim that she was clairvoyant, that she indeed saw words (“I started to see words in August 1972. And I saw them for a year and they were all over the place, coming out of my hair and my toenails, and god-knowswhat.”), then she was in contact with the paranormal.

[*Clairvoyance: Direct nonsensory awareness of (or response to) physical events. – from Stephen Braude’s glossary in The Gold Leaf Lady]

…. I was difflong list erent    I was

anybody else    I was    terrific    I also drunken too    I was

insolete    I was obtained    I was original copy    I was

insistant    who am signa     I   ture    I was also indifferent

And why not believe her words over the overwrought claims put forward by a global mental health industry bent on manufacturing ‘psychiatric conditions’ and ‘mental illnesses’?

Para + normal. Alongside, beyond, contrary to, or altering the normal. But is there a normal? (Whose normal? Why normal? How normal? I just remembered Joyelle McSweeney’s amazing essay about Hannah Weiner’s texts as “disabled texts”.) “There is no difference between a real perception and a hallucination, taken in themselves,” writes Charles Sanders Peirce. The difference is “in respect to the relations of the two cases to other perceptions” (quoted in Stephen Braude, “Peirce on the Paranormal”).

In a fantastic interview Jeffrey Kripal, when asked What does writing about the paranormal require, replies:

A truly open mind. An attempt to think in terms of paradox rather than binary logic. A willingness to entertain the possibility that materialism, objectivism, constructivism, and naïve realism may not have a total purchase on all of cosmic reality, including, and especially, the human form. And, most of all, an impish delight in the weird and wonderful. It also requires a willingness to be tricked from time to time and an understanding that the truth can be hidden in the trick, that the two are not always mutually exclusive, as with a placebo. The paranormal, after all, is a trickster through and through.

Oh wait is the necropastoral paranormal? Is there a difference between writing about the necropastoral and writing a necropastoral? What does writing the paranormal require?

: An openness to instructions, to signals, to Bataillean “raw phenomena”. A refusal to be embarrassed (“Oh, Charles, I don’t have time to be embarrassed! I’m always seeing words!”). UFOs, aka the damned. (“Here we have an impossible stew of fraud, propaganda, secret military projects, paranoia, science fiction, a modern technological angelology and demonology, mystical illuminations, psychical experiences, out-of-body experiences of various kinds, and occasionally some very convincing sightings by multiple reliable witnesses.”) Paranormal forms, maybe a spider or spit (“I bought a typewriter. And I looked at the words all over the place, and said you have three choices: caps, italics, and regular type, and that settled it, that’s all.) and paranormalizing genres. Para-genres which would seek to instantaneously, insistently, intensely, repeatedly expand the genres that comprise “paraliterature” (Samuel Delany: “those texts which the most uncritical literary reader would describe as just not ‘literature'”). Ghostly genres. Mystic genres. Becoming-genres. Sensational genres. Shadowy doubles. Leaky things and animal, flower, stone. Faux folk tales and burlesqued classics.

If poetry itself is (the) paranormal – and art (think Spicer’s dictation, Surrealists’ automatic writing of Surrealists, Rimbaud’s Je est un autre) – but wait – did you say writing comes from the subconscious? I say it’s UFOs, stupid. In any case, does it have to be either/or? Inside/outside? desire/death? – so, anyway, what does that make poetry? A kind of super-intelligent, super-conscious force, perhaps – which wants to do or say what? Are poems messages? Assuming we are getting these messages in time (on time)? I’m not saying they are revelations. Maybe poems are just intelligent in a way that eats normal intelligence, or intelligence you would normally consider intelligent. Maybe their intelligence can neither be explained not believed. “Explanation and belief, after all, represent the epistemologies of the previous Dominants of Science and Religion.”

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Lars von Trier's Nazi Comments

by on May.19, 2011

Nothing like a Jew (especially a Jew-turned-Catholic who also happens to be the greatest filmmaker in the world) sympathizing with Adolf Hitler:

“The only thing I can tell you is that I thought I was a Jew for a long time and was very happy being a Jew … but it turned out that I was not a Jew. If I’d been a Jew, then I would be a second-wave Jew, a kind of a new-wave Jew, but anyway, I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out that I was really a Nazi, because my family is German,” Von Trier said to a stunned audience on Wednesday, with Dunst sitting silently by his side. “And that also gave me some pleasure. So, I, what can I say? I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things but I can see him sitting in his bunker. I’m saying that I think I understand the man. He is not what we could call a good guy, but yeah, I understand much about him and I sympathize with him.”

Apparently these comments got Lars von Trier booted from the Cannes Film Festival.

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Josh Corey on Necropastoral, Timothy Morton and Ecological Writing

by on May.19, 2011

Josh Corey has an interesting response to the essay Timothy Morton left a link to on this blog a while back (I’ve been reading it and hopefully I’ll gather up some thoughts as well), dividing provisionally American poets into relational and uncanny writers:

He presents the choice starkly: “Here’s the deal: do you want a detailed advertorial, a network dense with relations? Or do you need a shocking encounter with an alien entity, opaque yet vivid, illusory yet real, already there?”
(continue reading…)

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Review of Borzutzky's Interfering Bodies

by on May.19, 2011

Now that summer is here, and I have a bit more free time, I plan on reviewing a few books I’ve been reading recently. I’m starting with Daniel Borzutzky’s The Book of Interfering Bodies, a collection that Johannes and others have brought up on recent posts the past few weeks.


The first poem I ever read by Daniel Borzutzky was “Failure in the Imagination;” it appeared several years ago in Action Yes. I was struck first by its subtle blend of the deadpan comic with the macabre: the poem is incredibly dark, involving terrorism and class warfare and violent acts of “poetry” that echo various performances carried out by the Viennese Actionists, and yet the poem is buoyed by lines such as “A poet I know says he has a long penis which he attributes to his village whose poets all have long penises.” It had a sense of play and invention that reminded me of the French Surrealists and the more antic side of the New York School. The piece wore its rage and grotesqueness lightly.

The second aspect to the poem I noticed was the way it de-mystified the American poetry scene. While some parts of that scene would have us believe that poets and poetry readers are part of a special and privileged community that challenges the current “late capitalist” moment, Borzutzky again and again reveals how “poetry” is as shot through with the capital, envy, and thirst for status that colors so much of contemporary American life. “A poet in New York City, he wants to get rid of all the other poets in New York City, and he hopes a terrorist will do this for him,” Borzutzky writes in “Failure in the Imagination.” And such lines dissolve the American poetry community into the larger world around it.

Borzutzky’s new book, entitled The Book of Interfering Bodies, furthers his ambition to situate both Poetry (that long-cherished ideal/activity) and poetry (the actual acts of writing/publishing created by actual individuals with competing career interests) in a vigorously materialist context. In poems such as “Failure in the Imagination,” “State Poetry,” and “The Relevance of Poetry in our Current Climate,” Borzutzky, in a sense, gives the Word Flesh. Or, to put it another way: in these poems the Spirit of Poesy looks less like Ariel or a cherub and more like one of Beckett’s decrepit figures, decomposing before our eyes.

In “State Poetry,” one of the best pieces in the collection, the poem we are reading (repeatedly called “this poem”) is taken through several stages, with each stage marking the poem in a profoundly material manner. We see the poem as commodity: “This poem institutionalizes poets by granting them immediate tenure as state universities they will never be able to leave.” The poem as object of loathing: “Poets shit on this poem.” The poem as an “object” circulating through academic and literary discourse: “This poem is rhythmically unappealing.” By the end of the poem, “this poem” has evaporated: only residue remains.
(continue reading…)

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On Maximalism 2: It is Engender'd in the Eye; or, Why Shakespeare is Divine!

by on May.18, 2011

This is from my favorite snuff film, The Merchant of Venice. I pretty much have this song in my head all the time, because one summer when I was at the beach asleep in the sand, it crawled in there and laid eggs, and when I tried to get up my head caved in instead. And then a lot of sand got in my hair and neural matter!

(This is a photograph of me from that sweet summer)

Similarly, as you will no doubt remember from undergrad, this song is sung by the major asshole Portia and her servants to the major asshole,Bassanio, so that he will choose her image from a lead casket (!), where her dead father put it to control her from beyond the grave:

Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
All: Reply, reply.
It is engender’d in the eyes,
With gazing fed; and fancy dies
In the cradle, where it lies.
Let us all ring fancy’s knell;
I’ll begin it – Ding, dong, bell.

All: Ding, dong, bell.

WTF, Shakespeare! Conception (that is, fucking, that is, engenderment) via the eye, gestation of a baby (Fancy! Baby Precious!) in the eye, where it feasts on gazing, then it is by implication excreted from the eyes, then dies “in the cradle/where it lies” after birth, and then we ding dong bell her, or ring her knell, a kind of necrophilic/pedophilic-flavored mourning via-onomotopoetic ejaculation which repeats and multiplies. Ding dong bell, indeed! And of course this infanticidal pointless pupation is also Art’s lifecycle– engendered in teh eye, fattened, excreted, torn apart to make new shit-art, in this case onomatapoesis.

Or, as Shylock postulates (pustulates): “Hath not a Jew eyes?” To which Portia more or less says: I’m the law, and those are my eyes, Jew! So in other words, nope!

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The Gothic Body

by on May.18, 2011

Today I’m reading a book called Gothic Bodies: The Politics of Pain in Romantic Fiction by Steven Bruhm:

“Thus what I am calling the “Gothic body” is that which is put on excessive display, and whose violent, vulnerable immediacy gives both the Delacroix painting and Gothic fiction their beautiful barbarity, their troublesome power. Sardanapalus contemplates pain, and has the luxury of doing so because he is not feeling it… Pain for Sardanapalus is filtered through spectacle: it has that curiously fascinating quality that inflicters of pain have exploited in different ways from the Roman Coliseum to the contemporary slasher film… In Radcliffe and Wordsworth, imagined pain isolates the the imaginer; in the Romantic drama, however, that isolated spectator risks being infected by the violence he or she contemplates. If, as Blake said in Jerusalem, we become what we behold, then the effects of imagined violence – like those of stage violence – become much more difficult to control. The imagination itself risks becoming the stage for the playing out of Gothic violences.”

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Evenson on Maximalism

by on May.18, 2011

In The Collagist, Brian Evenson comes out in favor of minimalism against maximalism (though what he means by that term is probably slightly different from what Joyelle means):

We now live in a world inherently and banally maximal: the world of Gaggle™ and Facespace,™ a world where it takes me now four or five seconds to pin down the name of a song whose half-remembered lyrics have been floating unidentified through my head since I was twelve, a world in which I can track down a literary reference in minutes that two decades ago it would have taken a team of librarians a week to discover, a world in which I now employ the internet as my ancillary memory. In such a world maximalism and encyclopedism, erudite puzzle solving, simply feel like more of the same, and the last thing we need is more of the same. We need less, much less: we don’t need fiction that cultivates the general noise in a slightly more erudite way but still plays by the same rules; we need fiction that strips its way down to our nerves and fibers, simulations that are willing to cut enough of our context away to let us step outside of our own increasingly simulated experience and to see it afresh, from without.

Any thoughts?

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