Archive for May, 2012

Red Queen/White Queen: A belated defense of Burton's Alice

by on May.29, 2012

I didn’t get around to see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland until yesterday, partly, I think, because I didn’t care too much for Sweeny Todd, but partly because of the overwhelming bad critique it received when it first came out. It quickly fell out of view. I never actively sought it out. Luckily, in a home where many kids roam, these things tend to correct themselves.

In short, I thought it was awesome. I’m glad my daughter got to witness a female lead in an adventure pic hopscotch on severed heads and without much anguish and tribulations decapitate the top-beast-monster, the grimly jabberwocky, voiced by the always evil baritone Christopher Lee. (Is he even a bariton? It sounds nice to say though.)

What the critics I’ve read seem to agree on is that Alice sucks because the characters are flat, too much craziness going on and not enough substance, repetitive, the simplistic division of good and evil etc. It is also predictable. Alice’s arranged husband to-be in the beginning of the movie is a total dumbass, flat, a caricature like the rest of the aristocracy undone by their own formal gesturing, and of course Alice is not going to marry him. So what? Alice is quirky, goth-pale and doesn’t belong. She prefers to chase rabbits. She says weird things. Why would you want “realism” in Alice in Wonderland? Come on.

I was expecting a hallucinatory dream, which might have been its own awesome, but found the story surprisingly straight forward. However great Fantasia is, there’s no way my daughter would sit through it. We’ve tried. She sat through all of Alice and giggled. She’s almost 5. Her standard response when we ask her if something is scary (like when the little mouse pops out the bandersnatch’s eye with a needle) is “yes”, but when we ask if she’s scared, she’ll say “duh, no.”  (continue reading…)

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Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson will read in Hadley, Massachusetts tomorrow night

by on May.28, 2012

Joyelle and I will read at the Flying Objects in Hadley, Mass., tomorrow (Tuesday) at 8. Here’s more info.

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Talking about Swedish poetry, translations, literary culture etc

by on May.28, 2012

Here’s an interview Peter Connors (a scholar of Bataille, translation theory, modern French literature) conducted with me the other weekend when I visited Barnard for a panel with the Swedish poetry Jörgen Gassilewski and Anna Hallberg. I can’t remember what I said and I hate listening to the sound of my own voice so I’m not going to listen to it, but you can! If you want to!

Gassilewski and Hallberg talked about their new anthology 32 Poets from 2011, which consists of 32 poets who either had their first books published in the 00s or came to more prominence (as in the case of Johan Jönson). It is part of a tradition of similar anthologies in Sweden – anthologies that deal with poets from the 90s or 80s etc. Like its predecessor, 15 Poets from the 90s (which included Aase Berg, Helena Eriksson, Eva Stina Byggmästar etc), this is a really fine anthology. Full of great stuff – some of which I knew, some of which I didn’t, some of which I knew extremely well from having translated it for various projects (Viktor Johnson and others).
(continue reading…)

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I'm reading The Buddhist by Dodie Bellamy

by on May.28, 2012

I remember reading Jackie Wang’s epistolary response to Dodie’s book, The Buddhist, on a blog and wanting to read it, and also being envious of the both of them, who seemed/seem strong, wise, and bonded through kinds of radical vulnerability (a phrase I got from Kristen Stone from somewhere else I can’t remember). I am reading The Buddhist after recently devouring I Love Dick by Chris Kraus, and it seems like they are building on a giant chaotic mass of an energy that I miss (or don’t have) in my life, a kind of active relating to feelings.
I’m only a few pages in and I feel like I have to talk to the book by writing through myself and my dirty navel. The place I had to stop first was at the description of the hungry ghosts. “The hungry ghost is ravenously hungry, but its neck is too skinny to swallow any food. it represents deep-seated longings that can never be satiated.” So far, the Buddhist is like a fleshy, massive plant sprouting from a dense mass of pain that cannot be grasped. A woman is ridiculed for her vulnerability and desire by a Buddhist and she writes about it and her feelings, and it’s a blog, and it’s public. The relationship/affair with The Buddhist could be a “frame” I suppose but I don’t know. I can’t say “broken frame” without then implying that there was a frame to be broken. Relationships/bodies have never been easy to frame (to me)…because bodies rupture each other. Thinking about the word “capture” and how close to “rupture” it is phonetically. I love that other relationships pour through the text, recollections of conversations with other writers, poets, people I admire, who “nurse” the plant.
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On Beauty, Excess, and the Limits of Identity Politics in Lambda and Beyond

by on May.26, 2012

Trans poet/rapper Mykki Blanco reacting to all the brouhaha.

If you haven’t been following the queer poetry blogosphere the past couple of days, a provocative conversation has arisen about beauty, style, race, and privilege in contemporary American poetry.  Over at Lambda, a piece by Jameson Fitzpatrick has come under fire for championing the self-presentation of NYC poet Alex Dimitrov, the organizer of a much-talked about poetry salon called Wilde Boys.  Fitzpatrick’s article is itself in response to a comment made by Eduardo C. Corral about his feelings of exclusion in the queer NYC poetry scene.  Here’s Corral followed by Fitzpatrick’s take:

“The queer poetry community in New York City is full of beautiful people, which makes me an outsider…I’m disappointed in many of my queer peers. So many of them want to be part of the hipster crowd. So many of them value looks over talent. The cool kids form clubs, become gatekeepers. So many of my peers are clamoring to be let in.”

Though I’m impressed by Corral’s candor, and lament his experience of exclusion because of his appearance, I bristled when I read this. I found myself worrying that this sort of attitude, taken a bit further, could lead to the devaluation of something important to me—namely, fashion and beauty. Moreover, I’m afraid such an attitude sets up a false dichotomy: looks or talent, style or substance. I refuse to settle for one or the other. Silly as it might sound, I want to be beautiful and I want to write beautiful poems.

As many on the comments thread and other blogs point out, Fitzpatrick’s argument overlooks the role of race, class, and other power dynamics rampant not just in queer poetry circles but the LGBTQ community at large.  By contrasting Dimitrov’s emphasis on aesthetics with Corral’s words, the article fails to account for the politics behind ‘beauty’, a concept all-too-often synonymous among gay men with being white, thin/muscular, affluent, and stylish.  As Corral, a Latino poet, says in his interview, “One young man told me, ‘You don’t look like the rest of us.'”

As a queer, light-skinned Latino poet, I have many feelings about this discussion not because I’m familiar with either Dimitrov’s or Corral’s work (I’ve only read a few poems by each) but because the rhetoric on both sides of the debate seems worth questioning.  While I think Fitzpatrick’s article is problematic, I wonder if much of the dissenting response isn’t guilty of its own brand of normativity and policing about what queer writing is and does. (continue reading…)

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"… a kind of looping movement": Bersani, Aase Berg, Karl Smuts and Torture/Art

by on May.24, 2012

I’ve been reading Leo Bersani’s more recent writings, where he moves from the more anti-social idea of art to the idea that art – and by art he means something pretty Montevidayian, something very crossmedial, very wide-ranigng, not something isolated in the proper “artwork” – as creating these “correspondences”, not just between people but between people and the world. At the heart of his thinking about art is still the “shattering” experience,” art generates a kind of excess that is impossible for a traditional notion of identity to contain. It is not

“… a subject-object dualism nor a fusion of subject and object; there is rather a kind of looping movement between the two. The world finds itself in the subject and the subject finds itself in the world.” (from “Psychoanalysis and the Aesthetic Subject)

This made me think about my recent post about “The Girl and the Raven (or Crow)”. In this song the violence – the convulsive spasms of the bleeding crow – creates for me what I called a “blurred anatomy.” This is Art. It creates a kind of movement by which the identities of the three four people involved in the song are connected: girl, crow, dreamer/speaker and singer (Mikael Wiehe) are all the same. Wiehe over-interprets his dream, repeatedly emphasizing that “the child” represents him and that the crow is his “hope.” He tries really hard to assign identities to all of the characters, but it seems to me that he fails and that his over-attempt suggests this failure. The characters enter into a “looping movement” where “the subject” is profoundly troubled by the excess of art, art which “blurs” with its shattering violence. The crow has been shot it seems before the song/dream starts; we’re just supposed to assumed that there are hunters or whoever running around; but isn’t it really the song that shoots the raven? The song is a kind of wounding, of which the crow is both emblem and medium.

This sense of looping movement reminds me of Aase Berg’s infamous guinea pig poems: (continue reading…)

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Saints of S&M, or the Art of Torture and its Contagions (featuring Potatoes, Abu Ghraib, and Derek Jarman's Sebastiane)

by on May.23, 2012

At some point in our ongoing study of the potatoesque, Feng Sun Chen and I learned about the alarming existence of potato torture chambers.  The electrocution of a potato in these chambers, as scientists have discovered, ends up nearly doubling its production of antioxidants.  As this article puts it, “Antioxidant levels rose in a natural reaction usually used to survive stressful events such as droughts.”

If the potato, as we have argued, is the model par excellence for the ‘mushy body of the contemporary’ (a phrase I’m stealing from this blog’s ‘About’ page!) what are we to make of its material self-conversion under such extreme duress?  What might the potato torture chamber tell us about the shocks and convulsions we, as a culture, both suffer and inflict?

(continue reading…)

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Come to our Nato reading in Chicago tonight: John Wilkinson, Johannes Göransson and Joyelle McSweeney

by on May.19, 2012

May 19 (tonight!)
7:00pm until 10:00pm
3265 S. Archer Ave, Apt 2A. Chicago, IL 60608 (Enter on Wood St.)

Archer Poetry part deux brings together some of the actionest poets of the near Midwest, crawling out from under their ivory towers to grace the basest defunct ballroom of South Archer Avenue. Come with your drinks, friends, children. If you’re allergic to cats, beware. Please arrive by 7:30 to hear:

Johannes Göransson
Joyelle McSweeney
John Wilkinson

Directions: The Ashland Orange Line is two blocks to the east, and the Archer/62 bus lets off at Wood Street. There is plenty of street parking.

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Action Books: Art and Other Fluids

by on May.18, 2012

[We launched a new and improved Action Books web site. And for the occasion we wrote a new press manifesto:]


Action Books is transnational.

Action Books is interlingual.

Action Books is Futurist.

Action Books is No Future.

Action Books is feminist.

Action Books is political.

Action Books is for noisies.

Action Books believes in historical avant-gardes.

& unknowable dys-contemporary discontinuous occultly continuous anachronistic avant-gardes.

Art, Genre, Voice, Prophecy, Theatricality, Materials, the Bodies, Foreign Tongues, and Other Foreign Objects and Substances, if taken internally, may break apart societal forms.

“In an Emergency, Break Forms.”

Action Books: Art and Other Fluids

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Joyelle's Glock Chorus

by on May.18, 2012

Reverie reverie and the last marine was Avarinne
when the last marine climbed from the scene
her flanks were gilt with avarinne
her cheeks were cut with avarinne
she checks were cut from avarinne

For the rest go here.

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Paul Cunningham on Blurred Anatomies, Batman and Pablo González-Trejo

by on May.17, 2012

[Paul sent me the following message in response to the recent discussion of his book Foamghast:]

I thought I’d revisit a recent article Johannes posted exploring a synesthesia of violence and imagery evoked from a childhood memory of Mikael Wiehe’s “The Girl and the Raven” song. Johannes likens this simultaneity of violence/imagery to a “blurring” of the body—a defacing of the whole that elicits thoughts of violence. The blurring in the Bacon painting provokes similar thoughts of violence and I found myself recalling a humorous scene from Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) in which The Joker (a violent symbol of the defaced and anarchic) disfigures nearly every work of art in Gotham’s museum. The darkly comical villain makes only “Figure With Meat” exempt from such defacement—a Bacon painting that depicts a blurry-faced figure seated on a throne of meat-husks. If Bacon intends his paint to do violence to the body then there is no point in defacing the already self-defaced. This is something the defaced villain realizes.
(continue reading…)

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Johan Jönson's slaughterhouse

by on May.17, 2012

In case you didn’t see it, UK poet Michael Peverett (who by the way helped me a great deal with the translation of Transfer Fat) wrote a comment to the previous post about Johan Jönson with a link to his translation of a part of Jönson’s book Restaktivitet (Residual Activity). Here’s an excerpt:

139. The second feed was at one. You went with a large feed wagon in the corridors between the sties and dispensed pig feed, mixed with antibiotics and vitamins, into the feed-chutes. Your mouth and throat went dry from the dust that whirled up. It stuck a little in the eyes. You sweated. The dust-mask itched. Through the protectors you heard pigs’ noises when they ate and drank.

140. She says: What did it sound like?

141. I say: Like beings. Like animals. That crawl about. That emit sounds: gurgling, swallowing.

142. She says: Are they so helpless?

143. Well, they are looking forward!

144. There is no way back!

145. There is no way forward, either.

This part made me think of Ariana Reines’s The Cow, the way she uses appropriative techniques but with a keen interest in affect. In some ways, I think Reines is the American poet most like Jönson (though he’s of course older, more acclaimed, has written a great deal more): the interest in the grotesque, the use of appropriation as well as kind of “plain-spoken” editorializing, and perhaps most of all the challenging of easy division between author/speaker.

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"Tonårs Jesus": Blurry X-Ray Bodies of Paul Cunningham, Francis Bacon, Pablo Gonzales Trejo

by on May.16, 2012

In response to my last post (about the blurry CROW), Paul Cunningham sent me the following image by Pablo Gonzales Trejo:

[This remind me of The Ring’s crossed-out faces and the “swarm media” of those movies: replication of pale bodies, of dying horses, with insects coming out of the video tape. But that will be the next post, about Brandi Wells’ Poisonhorse.]

Paul has just published a wonderful Internet-book called Foamghast, which is teeming with swarmy, blurry bodies:

“…an x-rayed wound in an x-rayed mouth:
salted gasp, bloodestablished
a meat of violent plum

an x-rayed wound in an
an x-rayed cavernous mouth:
one of those tastes you’re
forced to taste”

The first thing I thought about when I read this was Francis Bacon’s paintings of his lover, George Dyer, one of which was based on X-rays of the lover’s skull (I don’t know if this is it):

(continue reading…)

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