Archive for February, 2012

Feng Chen's Butcher's Tree

by on Feb.13, 2012

Montevidayoan Feng Sun Chen has a new book out.

Buy it here.

Here’s the framing mechanisms:

In the poems of Feng Chen’s darkly spellbinding debut collection, Butcher’s Tree, the page evokes and provokes legendary creatures, kills them and puts on their skin—then cures the meat. This startling and unusual book is a medium that channels damned and contaminated creatures such as Grendel, Wukong, and Prometheus. It reconsiders what it means to construct a myth; to mold around a hollow space a materiality of shape that depends on contours without content. Life that has no life. These are love poems whose monstrous repetition demystifies these once powerful beings while at the same time plunging deeper into insensible consciousness, where the human ceases to retain its proper form.

Praise for Butcher’s Tree:
(continue reading…)

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More Gaudy Possibilities: Gothic Ornaments vs Sincerity

by on Feb.13, 2012

Here’s a quick little idea. Last week, I wrote about Joy Katz’s Pleiades article, arguing in favor of the “realness” and “sentimentality” of a “personal narrative” aesthetic, and against the artificiality of “surrealism.” Her (very pervasive) model of art: The author communicates his/her “emotions” to the reader. The art itself is strangely made into an obstacle of this communication, as if the artifice isn’t in fact highly affective, as if the medium itself wasn’t what drives art.

This morning I remembered how a while back I wrote a bunch about “gothic ornaments” and “wallpapers” and how the charges of the distance/inauthenticity of “surrealism” in many ways connects to another common charge: “excessive ornamentation.” Its the same idea that the medium is something that serves a function, that the medium isn’t affective itself.

Back in one of those posts, I posted the following quote from Wilhelm Worringer’s famous book on Gothic Art from 1908: (continue reading…)

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This Power Point is What We Call Progress

by on Feb.13, 2012

Reading Daniel Borzutzky’s  ‘Book of Interfering Bodies’, I found Benjamin’s Angel of History once again floating before my (mind’s) eyes:

For me, the Angel of History parable (among many other possible readings) is about three things: accumulation, violence and paralysis. The Angel is transfixed before the ever accumulating pile of wreckage and “The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.” But the Angel is actually paralyzed with his wings outspread– “caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them.” The contending forces of violence and accumulation create the paralysis of the transfixed spectator Angel.

I wonder if we can think of these kinds of contending forces as creating the structural dynamics of the Book of Interfering Bodies. Structurally speaking, the book seems torn by violence, accumulation, and stasis. On one level, the book is quite static– it has two different modes– lineated, hyperviolent poems without enjambment, in which we proceed from one picaresque episode to the next; and a block text which discusses a hypothetical book– ‘The Book of Echoes’, ‘The Book of Glass’, etc. These two formats proceed in such largely consistent alternation that when one does break out of its assigned form (p. 48– ‘In Other Words’) the burst of one style of narration into the format of the other actually seems violent, a rupture, a violent breaking through of the pragmatic violence of one world into the hypothetical, parable-like space of the other.

To think of it another way, however, the book is not static. The ultra-violence of the lineated pieces is flat and unenjambed but necessarily accumulates from line to line like the wreckage piling up before the Angel’s gaze. (continue reading…)

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Olivia Cronk's Skin Horse (excerpts)

by on Feb.12, 2012

Kate Durbin, Montevidayo’s friend and sometime resident, asked me where she could read some of Olivia Cronk’s poems online, so I’m posting some here.

from Skin Horse:

I did not think you would find
this forest.
How much have you seen?
My crisp muslin skirt
nursed to chair
at dinner?
The display of burning orange white
when he and I
and the window
your old friends
the naked squids
hung from a tree branch


We saw that the Polish girls saw us
and that they sat on boxes.

What lipstick lights.
Through a branch, one creeped to scream.
The pond was a bad window. A turkey frighted.
The ring pulsed maria
all over
a crystal ball flyer in my bag.
I thought I could find
some Boschists out back.

Olivia’s book Skin Horse has just been published by Action Books and can be bought on the Action web site or at SPD.
(continue reading…)

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Oracular Burn: Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle on George Whitman

by on Feb.10, 2012

Oracular Burn

You’ve heard that George Whitman died this past December in Paris. He’s buried at Pere Lachaise, on the lawns among our literary lions, somewhere between Apollinaire and Unica Zurn. He was 98. I knew him for a decade. Never reaching Paris late and catching the last Metro to its brass dead center marker Kilometer Zero, set outside his bookstore, a crow’s flight across the wash from Notre Dame, sneaking through locked doors with a secret hinge to push books off one scarred wooden display table then sleep on that like royalty—argues a wasted life. We were always welcome. On his steps, George had “Live for Humanity” carved in stone.

Now, you will find innumerable memorials to George, especially recounting his wild young years with Ferlinghetti or Corso. But that was child’s play. For his wild years never ended. Which means a lot around here. At 93 he was still going at it hard when he invited me up to watch him “trim” his hair. Defining nonchalant, George torched his long white mane with a lit twist of newspaper, smiling cryptically, patting out the char with both hands bare.

Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle, George Whitman (RIP Dec. 13, 2011), Shakespeare & Co., Paris, France. Photo credit: Alexander Nouvel, 2005

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Princess Hijab! (or, Pageantry as Code Scrambler)

by on Feb.10, 2012

Awhile ago, I think while we were chatting about Zurita, I mentioned the teenage protestors in Ciudad Juarez who’ve begun showing up at crime scenes dressed as angels. They are really, really young:

For some time now, I’ve been meaning to share my love of Princess Hijab, a graffiti artist who works in the Paris metro “hijabizing,” well, everyone:

(continue reading…)

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Pussy Riot in Russia!

by on Feb.09, 2012

Montevidayans, who could not love the anti-Putin protestors now going by the name of Pussy Riot? I love how how they’re all weird day-glo doubles of each other, the awesome hand-knit face masks (with pompoms), the total excess of performers.  Also, the kooky blue smoke mid-song and colossal headbanging!

Click here to watch the “girls” in action!

Inspiring headwear!


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Uruguyan Poet of the Day: Eduardo Milán (courtesy of Hotel Lautréamont)

by on Feb.08, 2012

It is only fitting that we Montevidayans immerse ourselves in the writings of our brilliant semblables, our Uruguayan brothers and sisters, and to our very good luck Shearsman has recently published Hotel Lautréamont, a volume of contemporary Uruguayan poets edited by Kent Johnson and Robert Echavarren. I’m thrilled by this work and plan to write a few features on poets from this volume to help get the word out.I’ll start with Eduardo Milán, a poet I’ve wanted to know more about for a long time.

I became a fan of Eduardo Milán (a Uruguayan living in political exile in Mexico City since 1979) from the selection in his work in the most excellent anthology Reversible Monuments: Contemporary Mexican Poets, edited by Monica de la Torre and Michael Weigers. I found his brief, untitled lyrics irresistable, tensile, snare-like, poised to plummet through a jewelescent slim channel into the abyssal whiteness of the page.  I am so grateful to discover the selection of his work in Hotel Lautréamont, translated by John Oliver Simon.


As a miserable and very repentant Anglophone, I can’t read Spanish, but even I can hear the heartstopping, heartsnaring rhythms and rhyme that impel the untitled poem (are all of Milán’s poems untitled?) which begins:


Alegría gustería

ahora, necessaria, incluida

en todo, entera, hímnica,

de los grandes momentos con esferas

celestiales, dale al alma.  […]


Simon’s translation reads “Joy would be nice,/ now, necessary, included/in everything, entire, without beings/that special grace, hymn to/those great moments with celestial/spheres, give it to the soul.” I am grateful for the translation, but I am equally grateful for the pulsing musicality of the Spanish, the words which seem to rock sonically forwards, to rock just slightly back on their commas and thrust forward again like an electrifiying current.  Another great passage in this short poem reads


[…] Ruiseñores con, cántaros con,

ausencia con, aun carencia, omnipresente

en el mundo, en la palabra, alegría.


[…]Nightgales with, pouring-out with,

absence with, even lacking, omnipresent

in the world, in the word, joy.

(continue reading…)

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"Gender is now just the decaying excess of culture revealed on the body.": On Danielle Pafunda's "'Massacre/Mascara: On Johannes Goransson's _Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate_"

by on Feb.07, 2012

The new Denver Quarterly (Vol.46, No 2, 2012) features a remarkable piece of writing, Danielle Pafunda’s “Massacre/Mascara”, which is a review of Johannes Goransson’s Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate.

Johannes Goransson, dressed for his entrance

In addition to providing an intimate and inflamed reading of Goransson’s text, Pafunda’s review is gory with beautiful language about the goriness of beauty. Referring to the pageant which comprises Goransson’s book, Pafunda writes:

“In this state-sponsored, state-devouring pageant, contestants suffer beauty to its furthest extreme. They are the anorexic, the surgically eradicated, “That girl dressed up like a little girl dressd up like  a big girl,” the diseased, the corpses. Beauty isn’t an aesthetic so much as a condition. It is programmed for its own destruction, and it will make you sick. It will killyou. This is why the contestants must perform in poems.”

Danielle’s review is also welcome because it puts paid to the idea that a male writer writing about violence and the beauty-industrial-military-gender complex is somehow ’employing’   sexism or misogyny or ‘enjoying’ privilege. As Pafunda notes,

“In this pageant, men have so much gender it hurts. Women murder. Do we get it? We get it! Or, there are no discreet men and discreet women. Male, female, and intersex contestants perform hysterically, refuting the gender binary as their cultural relationships to biological sex unravel. Gender is now just the decaying excess of culture revealed on the body.”

I’m grateful for Pafunda’s review not just because it discusses with brilliance and flair a book itself riddled (that is, shotgunned) with brilliance and flares, but because she clarified for me an important idea: that it’s contradictory to go about deconstructing gender in texts while at the same time evaluating authors themselves according to fixed gender and cultural binaries (i.e.  Mr X. is (apparently) male,  (apparently)white, and (apparently) straight, and thus falls on the ‘bad side’ of every binary, and thus is just exhibiting and reinforcing his privilege every time he writes.) To me, Pafunda’s review suggests that gender is fraying and  also unexpectedly piling up all out of whack throughout across and at all poles and vectors of the text, and that this process of fraying build-up and snagging doesn’t not-infect the author ‘himself’ and the writing process ‘itself’.



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Sentimentality and Sincerity: Morrissey vs Henry Rollins

by on Feb.06, 2012

To give yet another spin on the sincerity/sentimentality rhetoric I discuss below, here are two interesting cases:

Rollins reaction to the Morrissey video is pretty extreme (horrific, xenophobic, homophobic, stupid, yes that too): it seems the intensive vulnerability, intensive artifice (polyester shirt, English), intensive “sentimentality” of Morrissey “inspires” this horrific fantasies in Rollins, who is supposed to be such a sincere and intensive guy, but here proves to be totally taken in by Morrissey’s “orbit.”

In difference to the article I discuss in the last post, here sincerity is masculine and supposedly anti-sentimental, while artifice and its netshirts and makeup is sentimental, and by being sentimental inspires a kind of violence, but a kind of violence that exposes the charade of Henry Rollins’ macho persona. Maybe this complicates the framework of sentimentality and intensity a bit. Or maybe it’s just fun to look at youtube clips from the 90s.

(I should admit that I’ve been a Morrissey fan since I was like 11, but I’ve never liked Rollins.)

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More Gaudy Possibilities: Sentimentality vs Intensity

by on Feb.06, 2012

Stick the antennae into the poem!
I can hear the radio!
I sew up the body needles with needles and thread
It’s become a sagging yellow Yankee bag
Almost ready
I’m going to fire this body as a bullet!
(Hagiwara Kyojiro, “Morning*Noon*Night*Robot, Burning City)

I thought I would continue my response to Gene Tanta’s questions of whether my ideas about poetry could be reduced to a kind “fun.” In my last post, I talked about how my own experiences with art (such as Patti Smith, Aase Berg) don’t jive with the prevailing idea that art, and mechanical reproduction, “compromises” the materiality of experience; how art in fact strikes me as incredibly physically intensive.

In the latest issue of Pleiades (which, as I’ve said before, is a very excellent journal of reviews of books; a few issues back it had a review of Gunnar Björling that is one of the best things I’ve ever read about him, including essays by Swedish/Finnish critics), a poet named Joy Katz has curated some essays about “sentimentality.” In several of these essays, particularly in Katz’s own essays, art is modeled as a kind of mask, something that interferes with the communication of emotions. This might be the “quietist” version of the lefty critique I discussed in the Patti Smith post. Katz is in favor of “sentiment,” which she equates with “sincerity” and “emotions.”
(continue reading…)

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Artaud's Cruelty and Reines and Eshleman

by on Feb.05, 2012

Ariana Reines’ Mercury and Clayton Eshleman’s An Anatomy of the Night might seem to have little to do with one another. Reines, whose book The Cow is, to my mind, one of the most striking and original books of poetry in the past decade or so, has written a new book that has a Warholian and Joycean inclination to throw in the floating debris of everyday life. In contrast, Eshleman’s An Anatomy is more focused (like much of his work) on threading Experience through the Mythic in a manner reminiscent of Blake. In other words, one book seems to thrive on letting in the scattered, quotidian world, while the other is more invested in selecting certain crucial experiences (particular dreams, memories) that act as doors into the murkier corridors of perception.

But I can’t help but see the similarities too. And it is not the first time I’ve thought there is a correspondence between the two poets. To put it simply: both are Artaud’s heirs in the most extreme sense, the cruelest sense. Mercury and An Anatomy of the Night are dangerous brews in which oblivion and sex, shit and clouds, animals and magic, nightmares and fever dreams flit by, flickering odd bits of light out at the reader. Artaud’s cruelty: which is not petty or sadistic or dominating but rather the cruelty of having a vision without the safety net of allegory or alienation effects, a worldview that does not allow writer or reader to remain safely on shore, watching ships wreck at sea.

Eshleman’s cruelty can be traced, at least in part, to his obsession with finding the fissures that separate the animal from the human. (continue reading…)

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Forsla Fett/Transfer Fat – by Aase Berg

by on Feb.03, 2012

If you go to the Ugly Duckling website you can now buy my translation of Aase Berg’s 2002 book Forsla fett (Transfer Fat). I have written quite a bit about this book in the past, in part because’s it’s a great book and in part because translating it really led me to develop my ideas about translation more than any other text. It’s in some ways about translation (transferring fat so to speak). Though I remember when Aase first sent me the book, she told me that it was probably impossible to translate. And whenever I talk to Swedes, they express skepticism about translating such a dense, loaded text with such an unstable, slippery, punny, interlingual use of language. For the book, I wrote an afterword on “an ambient theory of transation” that I developed as part of the process (over years!) of translating the text. I’ll post that in the future.

[I also want to note that I should have – but forgot to – acknowledge in the book that British poet Michael Peverett was a great help to me in this process, reading through various drafts and making invaluable comments.]

For now, a few contextual sentences. This book was published in 2002 originally. It was quite a break from her past books (Hos Rådjur 1996, published by Black Ocean in 2009 in my translation as With Deer; and Mörk materia 1999, to be published this fall as Dark Matter by Black Ocean). (continue reading…)

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