Archive for December, 2011

Blog as Theater

by on Dec.09, 2011

Kent Johnson and Jordon Davis

For anyone who missed it, what has to be one of the funniest, strangest round of exchanges in poetry blog history happened recently in the comment stream at John Gallaher’s blog Nothing To Say & Saying It. It’s under the Surrealist post: the one that has 179 comments.

The back-and-forth between Kent Johnson and Jordon Davis about Johnson’s book A Question Mark Above the Sun could be an off-Broadway production starring Alan Alda as Johnson, and Patrick Stewart as Davis. (Or maybe that should be reversed: I can’t decide.)

I’ve been reading Sun, and I have to admit, I don’t understand what the ruckus is about. I find it a surprisingly moving book. Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch have been two of my favorite American poets for decades now, and the portrayal of their relationship in the book seems, to me, the opposite of scandalous.

Taking the whole “conspiracy” part aside, the book paints nothing but a flattering picture of Koch. Here’s a poet channeling his close, late friend, and he ends up creating one of O’Hara’s most beautiful poems. Talk about hauntology!

I’ll admit, I don’t actually buy the theory. And in the book itself, Johnson seems pretty skeptical of it too. But as a kind of re-imagined history, it’s a very beautiful work. And Art is full of re-imagined histories, alternative histories. In Monsieur Pain, Bolano shows us a Vallejo who is hiccupping himself to death, which I’m fairly sure is not accurate (though if Clayton Eshleman reads this, maybe he can help out here…)

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And Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, the Dutchman! What role will you go up for?

by on Dec.08, 2011

Received this call to audition today and it was such a thrill to be reminded that this insane play a) exists and b)has become, against all odds, CANONICAL. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ‘endorsing’ the play’s political message (well, not ALL of it. I don’t think we need to trick seduce and/or knife each other, though perhaps holes have to be made for revolution/Art to remake the body as medium) and it’s corny as hell (is Hell going to be corny? I’ll let you know), but I am totally endorsing its resilient insane potent toxic pageantry,  a resilience that seems in part based on a desire to make a medium so impacted and saturated that it toxifies and intoxifies itself with its own toxic waste (i.e. political potency, Art) supparates, leaks into the audience, engrages as a political mode, makes more of itself. Go BLACK ARTS!

PS, I’m going to go up for the role of ‘Conductor’, who dances the crucial soft shoe in the wreckage. Anybody else want to claim a part? As Drama Club director (until there’s a coup), I’m all for double casting.


From: Etheridge Knight, Inc. []
Sent: Thursday, December 08, 2011 10:43 AM
Subject: Arts Press Release Auditions for Amiri Baraka’s ‘Dutchman’

Etheridge Knight Inc.
P O Box 18043
Indianapolis Indiana  46218
T: (317) 524-6951 F: (317) 524-6988<><>

Audition Press Release

For Immediate Release:                  For more information contact: Eunice Knight-Bowens
December 8, 2011                           (317) 524-6951 or<>

Etheridge Knight Theatre holds auditions for Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman.

A shocking one-act play, which takes place “in the flying underbelly of the city,” in a subway train, is an emotionally charged and highly symbolic version of the Adam
and Eve story in which a naïve bourgeois black man is murdered by an insane and
calculating white seductress. This play is one of mythical proportions, a ritual drama
that has a sociological purpose: to galvanize his audience into revolutionary

The play consists of two primary characters: Lula, a thirty-year old insane, flirtatious, calculating white seductress, and Clay, a twenty-year old naïve bourgeois black man, and an ensemble: riders of coach, white and black; young black man; black conductor; and

Auditions will be held: Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 2-5 pm, Spades Branch Library (Upper Level), 1801 Nowland Ave, Indianapolis, Indiana 46201, and Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 2-5 pm, Irvington Branch Library, 5625 East 25th Street, Indianapolis, Indiana 46219. Call backs will be on Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 2-5 pm, Spades Branch Library (Upper Level), 1801 Nowland Ave, Indianapolis, Indiana 46201.

Please prepare a two minute monologue. This audition is for non-Equity actors only.

For more information call 524-6951 or email<>.

317.524.6988 fax<>

Etheridge Knight, Inc.
PO Box 18043, Indianapolis, IN 46218

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Poems in gobbet mag

by on Dec.08, 2011

Dear Potatoans of Montevidayo,

In case you are curious, I have some poems from my manuscript-in-progress about the bird/alligator/Ana Maria up at gobbet.

Yours in the skeletal wetland,
the Potato Bird

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Cult films vs. the avant-garde

by on Dec.07, 2011

Capote's masked ball: middlebrowism at its sickening worst

A few years ago, James Shea asked me to come to a class he was teaching at Columbia College to talk about the political grotesque, the gurlesque, and other recent poetry movements I had written about on various blogs. Near the end of the class, one of his students asked me if I believed the avant-garde still existed in the modern-day poetry world.

My clumsy, not-very-thought-out response was that it didn’t, and that at a time when poetry readership was relatively small the idea that poetry could shock the masses seemed, to me at least, odd. Not even the American “bourgeoisie” read much poetry anymore. Or many novels. So in a sense there was no bourgeoisie to shock.

I don’t see anything wrong with this: how many people like a particular book or film or painting isn’t indicative of its power. I love the films of Jack Smith, and Flaming Creatures and Normal Love are two of my favorite movies of all time, and the fact that millions of people (arguably not even thousands) have even heard about these films doesn’t take away from my own enjoyment for a moment. In fact, I like that his movies are called “cult” films, as if they attracted a small but hardcore group of admirers.

But the difference, I think, (continue reading…)

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New Review of Helsinki

by on Dec.07, 2011

David Rivard has a very insightful review of Peter Richards’ Helsinki:

No form would seem more at odds with the ellipticism and fragmentations of our current period style than the epic poem. An aesthetic whose primary effect is that of simultaneity, and whose pleasures are those of chance and receptivity, makes an unlikely vehicle for story. The audacity of Peter Richards’ Helsinki is that it subverts the accepted wisdom that narrative is either unnecessary or impossible when composing with methods that are “indeterminate.”

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Puke Silk: Rihanna and Kim Hyesoon

by on Dec.07, 2011

As readers of this blog may know, one of my favorite poets is Kim Hyesoon and one of my favorite pop singers is Rihanna. They are very different, but they also have some things in common – the way the body seems traversed by media, causing vomiting and inhaling, singing and eating of a kind of volatile mediumicity. Instead of interiority, you have this media that traverses the body.

This post is an ars poetica written while wearing green earphones and tracing burn marks on my skin.

For me the key moment in Rihanna’s new video comes at 4:03:

There she vomits out some kind of purple foam. This comes as the culmination of the nauseating montage of drug-taking and nauseating euro dance music. It seems genre conventions are driven to a point where the video convulses the medium out of itself, out of the “medium’s” (Rihanna’s) mouth. One of the things I like about Rihanna’s videos is the way they way her body seems constantly “corrupted” by media, never self-contained, always shot through by colors, by drugs, by special effects. Things move through her.

She is a “loser” in that she can’t even shoplift correctly (she starts to fuck and waste the products) -she’s wasteful, all expenditure. But she’s also a very powerful loser: she throws a dart at the wall and a house collapses, an atom bomb goes off.

This all remind me of Joyelle’s post from a long time ago about a “body possessed by media” in discussing Fi Jae Lee’s work:

The Korean artist Fi Jae Lee’s work operates in this zone of contamination, inflammation and metasization. Her work is multimedia, but with none of the technophilic, flow-chartish nicety and expertise that term has begun to imply. There are too many media here, too many, even, for the multimedia environment of the Internet—her website has too many images to get a sense of the whole body of work; so much text crowds the text window that the scrollbars must be constantly manipulated to bring more into view; on my screen the crucial scrollbars are occluded. As for her art work itself, it involves sculpture, painting, installation, monologues, her own body and hair, the performance of rituals. As much as they are brimming over with color, texture, scale, activity and sensation, they are also lousy with text, text which is a bad fit for the artwork, in that it seems to occupy a testy, inflamed adjacency.

(continue reading…)

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Of A Swan Pallid In Cider Wastes (guest post by Clayton Eshleman)

by on Dec.06, 2011

[Clayton Eshleman wrote this poem/post:]


Unsure of where I am, unplucked,
redolent with mortal caraway,
I steep in my own vaselinal integrity,
awaiting Popeye.
Why not? Who does death look like to you,
non-existent feeder?
Bitter pharmacological August
of a weird December,
December without spider,
June without loam. Am I saying I am radiant with hopelessness
for the first time in my life?
What a lucky Palooka I was in Japan,
featured with myth and the huge
interior coliseum of
the Blakean outlay. But I do not want to be back in Kyoto, I want
to be where, meaning,
in the otherwise: the rootstock of my mind

Right now it is ambient rhinos pecking new-born
cleats, the no-one-home starkness
of a swan pallid in cider wastes. I feed this swan
an acorn taken from my sperm. It ignites
exploding its own brothel of reserves.

What is it time to not do?

Should I dial Janis Joplin? Has she learned anything in death?

Or Lincoln? Or cousin Orville
still pecking kissyface onto his girlfriend on my mother’s sofa?

Memory is fracture, not the braking, but the lifting up
of cuts crisscrossing, dead-ending into view. I have so much
blank in my hold, so much
interstice, so much life lacunae, rain and fields of rats
listing, as if ships, in the pour of my
nightwrecked files.

Let’s go, night companion, Yorunomado, dead head hunter
from a region known only to Blake, Let’s go,
man I cannot talk to, let’s whistle
to explain.

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South Bend, Indiana as anachronistic 'vanguard', non-cognitive site

by on Dec.06, 2011

Daniel Borzutzky had an interesting comment about this catastrophe, and the fact that Johannes and I, who drove by this building every day, couldn’t remember what the building had been when we came upon its smoking, jumbled ruins floating in the middle of this irrational five way intersection.  Daniel writes, “the photograph as a sign of not just the life that was destroyed but of the destruction of a type of collective memory of the live that was destroyed ”

Thinking about Daniel’s comment and the webs of erasure and not-knowing that are revealed by this catastrophe, I did a little web research. It turns out this was a ‘vacant’ building, as in non-occupied, (and non-Occupied). I guess that’s why it made our gazes vacant as well. It vacated our gaze. We ‘couldn’t’ see this building. Double blindness. Then, it turns out this used to be a bar called ‘Corby’s’. When they made the film Rudy (an important completely artificial ‘memorial’ medium/mnemonic for this town), they built a fake bar and called it Corby’s, to serve as the set for the movie. That simulacra of a bar was bought by alumni and is now operated as a real bar, prenom ‘Corby’s’ . The ‘original’ Corby’s doesn’t exist except as this simulacrum of a simulacrum which is now inhabited as the real thing. but this building in the photo above is/was Corby’s. Until Saturday, it lived in the town as its own ghost, its own vacant yet filled space, until some kid hit it with a pickup truck and ran off. This accident is being described as a ‘hit and run’– as if the building were a person.

So all in all, in addition to the point Daniel makes, there’s this inflorating unstable web of non presence, non memory, naming, ghosting, copying, mediating, inhabiting and abandoning, hitting and running, that flex and dissipate from this site.

It makes me think that South Bend is truly an anachronistically ‘vanguard’ location (a place, to paraphrase and gently bend Evan Calder Williams’ thinking on salvagepunk, where the apocalyptic future which was here all along becomes visible–). This spot is unrecognizable, non-cognitive, irrational, unmemorable although a supposed ‘site’ of memory, razed, more visible in ruins than it was whole, because the ‘ruins’ are its ‘real’ form. As ruins, it occupies site and sight.

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by on Dec.06, 2011

The great Brazilian soccer superstar Socrates, famous for leading the greatest team not to win the world cup (the 1982 Brazil team, a team far more talented than most teams that have won it), died on Sunday.

So here’s a tribute I found on youtube:

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Everyday Catastrophes: South Bend, Indiana

by on Dec.05, 2011

We drive by this little building that hovered on an island in a completely irrational five-way intersection just south of the Notre Dame campus, and for the life of us neither of us can remember what the business was. Water softner? Payday loan? But sometime over the weekend a pinpoint catastrophe happened here, an eruption of the catastrophe that is so pervasively yet erratically distributed across this catastrophic landmass. But what rough beast smote this payday loan/water softner joint? By what god was it fracked?

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Saenz's The Night

by on Dec.05, 2011

Jaime Saenz

There is a house whose people sit in darkness; dust is their food and clay their meat. They are clothed like birds with wings for covering, they see no light, they sit in darkness…

– from The Epic of Gilgamesh ( translated by N.K. Sanders)

One of my favorite passages from The Epic of Gilgamesh is the scene where Gilgamesh’s rival/friend/possible lover Enkidu has a nightmare about a house of darkness shortly before he dies. In the house is a goddess reading from the book of the dead, and rulers and princes have lost all power, and now act as servants. What I find interesting in the passage is how bleak this vision of the afterlife is, circa 2500-1500 B.C. No wonder Gilgamesh goes through a violent existential crisis after Enkidu’s death. This is death at its most material: dust, clay, feathers, and darkness. No light, no air, no Platonic salvation, nothing ethereal.

Thousands of years later, Beckett would use similar imagery to convey dissolution. His characters sit in darkness, or are sometimes only mouths speaking from out of an immense darkness. It’s another example of the way Art is an installation piece playing on a constant loop, feverishly re-imagining its own dreams and nightmares, despite the wishes of certain avant-gardists for it to march gloriously into some freeze-dried future.


I bring this up as a roundabout way to approach Jaime Saenz’s The Night, a book that reminds me a great deal of Enkidu’s dream. (I should mention Kent Johnson was the one who recommended the book to me. He and Forrest Gander did a translation of The Night that came out in 2007.) In this book, Saenz takes us through another dream of darkness, a place where night and body inhabit one another without becoming entirely merged, and where self and darkness inhabit one another, with only the thinnest line of distinction between them. In one of my favorite passages, he writes:

 What is the nature of night’s other side?

                     To put it bluntly, it is the nature of the night’s other side

                     To sink into your spine and colonize your eyes, to see

                      Through them what it can’t see on its own.

The night, or rather the night’s other side, invades us, possesses us, and looks through our eyes to see the human world, the world it would otherwise not be able to see. But of course in the process we are infected by this other night. If it can see through our eyes, can it taste with our tongue? Can it feel with our fingertips?

I also like how the gaze here is double. We look through our eyes but so is the night. Whatever attracts our eyes will attract the night’s eyes. And the eye itself takes on a monstrous element here: what would somebody staring into our eyes at that moment see? Would they sense the night’s presence in our gaze? Would they be aware that the night was staring at them too?

The passage reminds me of other disturbing images of The Eye: the eyeball that is slit in Un Chien Andalou, and Bataille’s obsession with the eye rolling upward in orgasmic ecstasy or in death. And the eyes in 2001 that looks out at the edges of the universe but also into the darkened theater, at us.


What is the other side of the night? Saenz writes:

  the other side of night is a night without night, without

                        earth, without shelter, without rooms, without furniture,


A few lines later he adds about the night:

      —it’s the dock at the very side of your body

                                         and, at the same time, it’s inconceivably remote.

As with much mystical writing, and in a manner reminiscent of Vallejo too, Saenz likes to define things (an event, a sensation, a feeling, a time/place) through negation and paradox. The night is the dock near your body, yet remote, even “inconceivably” so, as if this night is a far away country that existed thousands of years before you were born. Also, the other side of night is not day, but instead this “night without night.”

“A night without night”: it suggests an inhuman night, a night that no longer keeps human time, and a night that no longer adheres to any human definition of night. Not the Platonic Form of night (which would be humanly intelligible), but rather “night” without form. Night beyond the first night and last night.

In section three, Saenz goes into more detail about “night’s other side.” He writes:

Not anyone can pass to the other side of the night;

 The other side of the night is a forbidden dominion, and

                                    Only the condemned enter there.

He goes on to describe these condemned as being alcoholics. (Kent and Forrest Gander mention that Saenz was a massive drinker in their introduction.) He tells us the night’s other side will be revealed only to “those whose eyes go white at the thought of being / blown apart by alcohol. // With those. // Only on those will alcohol confer the grace of everlasting / baptism on the other side of the night.”

These lines remind me of several things: the Christian ritual of turning wine into sacred blood (“the grace of everlasting / baptism on the other side of the night”), Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano with its exploration of the dark sublime achieved through the means of alcoholic excess (“blown apart by alcohol”), and Deleuze’s discussion of alcohol in The Logic of Sense, where he compares it to madness, saying that in both we see the dissolution of the ego in favor of a split between the about-to-be and the already-was, that paradoxical no-space where “I” is already someone and somewhere else (though he also says there were other less drastic roads toward that end, and that he means his examples of madness and drink to be descriptive not proscriptive).


Night, drink, the self, the invasion of the night into the self, into our eyes, the night that looks through our eyes, the alcohol that blows us apart, the other side of the night.

In Poe, there is a recurring scenario: a charater, or a group of characters, sit in the dark, thinking. The curtains are closed against the sun. No lamps are lit. But something about this artificial night allows them to think in ways that would be impossible in the daylight. And once night arrives, they open the door, and they go out into the street. In other words, night never leaves them. Night becomes not a moment in time, but a condition.

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A Poem Is A Skin That Ruptures

by on Dec.01, 2011

My piece, “A Poem is a Skin That Ruptures,” is up over at Evening Will Come, along with pieces by Brandon Shimoda and Jennifer Scappettone:

The ha ha albino sky is rotting like meat in the poem’s throat. Sink yr fingers
in2 the creamo dreamo seal meat. Ensorcel yrself 4-evah in loaves of hottie

The poem arranges suitable animals 4 yr maxi yum. Chew until u r reeling
around in yr blubs. Yr bones dripping out.

I am rubbing one out on the horny techno body of the poem. In the middle
of the crime pageant. This is gross retail.

Everyone wants to engage in fancy looking. Yr eyes erupt into horns & u
gore the language matrix. To cheerily participate in wound culture. This is
what it means to write a poem.

Read more!

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