Archive for June, 2012

Reviews of Percussion Grenade

by on Jun.22, 2012

There’s been some really insightful reviews of Joyelle’s new book Percussion Grenade.

Here’s from j/j hastain’s review on big other:

As a non-whole whole I feel like Percussion Grenade performs as asymptotic-alembic–a continual drawing (so, intended action instead of the mere falling together of) of a line (within a curve) that approaches zero as it tends toward infinity. Percussion Grenade is a form of alchemical betweeness, is a non-dueling relation that persists, while dense and deserving quantities are “shaking the map out”.

And here’s from T Fleischmann’s fine review in The Rumpus:

The violence we throw on the human body and the shame we expect of one another are all endlessly reflecting in language. McSweeney asks us to inhabit the conflicting edges of that reality, mouthing the power and joy that come with degeneracy. She does not let us read for beauty or lyricism, but makes us active participants, tongue-tied by our own culture. It’s a whirlwind of a book, and it leaves you grateful that the images keep crashing into your walls, never quite settling or letting you acquiesce.

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by on Jun.21, 2012

By Carina Finn

My final academic experience before leaving for New York was to give a talk from my Theory of the Ingénue at a conference on Opera and Performance Theory at Notre Dame. I showed up to give the talk in the middle of the afternoon, right before my final thesis reading, in a pretty typical outfit: red-orange lace babydoll dress, white thigh-high fishnets with giant bows, black over-the-knee-boots, a blue satin ribbon from a poet-friend worn as a belt. When I stood at the podium in this room full of old white men and literally one woman and talked about Judith Butler and kind of talked smack about Freud, people actually shook their heads. They refused to make eye contact. No one would ask me questions or even talk to me after I finished. I took a Notre Dame-emblazoned napkin full of M&Ms and went on my way.

I wonder whether my ideas would have been received differently had I worn a black suit, or even a dress that was not bright red, or had eschewed the fishnets and boots in favor of some sensible heels or ballet flats. But, as is always the case when I read or speak in public, my outfit was a major component of my performance. A director wouldn’t send a Violetta onstage to sing Sempre Libera in sweatpants, and I wouldn’t throw myself into a hostile intellectual environment without my fishnets & bows.

In a lot of ways, a costume is the most direct way to convey sincerity. (continue reading…)

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Inflation Poetry: Melodrama, Interiority and Kitsch in Dear Ra

by on Jun.20, 2012

It’s interesting that Danielle mentioned my book DEAR RA in her last post because I’ve been thinking about this book quite a bit for the first time in a long while. In part because of AD Jamesons’ discussions about “sincerity” and in part because of Carina’s discussion of melodrama.This book has everything to do with those topics, and the way they depend on various concept of mediumicity and interiority.

I wrote Dear RA at the end of my MFA stay in Iowa, a few months in Seattle and then a few months up in Spanish Harlem – 2000-2001 (but it wasn’t published until years later). I was inspired by the letters of lunatics and serial killers, by the indie rock mixed tapes various girls had made for me (including notably Neutral Milk Hotel, which is why I was interested in reading Jameson’s interpretation of them on HTML Giant the other day, though I didn’t realize that until now).

I wanted to be sincere. I started writing letters to my exgirlfriend, but my feelings were not correct. I didn’t have an interiority, I had a contagion. I didn’t have agency, I had a plastic doll.
(continue reading…)

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Fake-ish Memoir Totes Sincere, Unusually Embodied Affect Performance

by on Jun.19, 2012

The excellent new issue of PANK Magazine has some excerpts from The Book of Scab, my fake-ish memoir epistolary novel ‘under the sign of poetry’ (a phrase I borrow from our brilliant friend Kate Zambreno). This includes MP3s of me reading the excerpts wherein you cannot hear my teenaged neighbor playing a warbly, tripped-out electric guitar version of the melody to Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” but rest assured I could. The first excerpt is ars poetica re: beauty & sincerity:

Dear Mom and Dad,

I wanted to make something clean. Don’t you know? I wanted to make something that was not porous, no matter how closely you looked—and not you, but your machine, lens exponential in its uncompromising pronouncement. Something without fleck or pore, without texture. I wanted to make a surface that exceeded all classical efforts in its commitment to beauty. I did, then. Like everyone.


Did I lose my taste for beauty, or did I just cross into the room where its mask was worn?

(The second is all crush-abduction–maybe a hint of Johannes’s Dear Ra Shirley Temple gender-inverted–and the third has psychic powers, FYI. Includes melodramatic sincerity & brattiness. No sadcore tigers, yet, unless you count Mötley Crüe.)

Carina Finn’s throwdown “MELODRAMA IS THE NEW SINCERITY” reminds us that in order to convince the normate (see Rosmarie Garland-Thomson) of one’s sincerity, a feminine subject must do things like widen her eyes, tear up (real or with irritants; see America’s Next Top Model crying photo shoots), dilate her pupils with physical effort-conjuring-special drops (movies often use the drops; pupil dilation also conveys sexy feelings and possible anime conversion!), tilt her head (trust; exposed jugular; etc.), spread her hands out in front of her (see “The Girl Without Hands” Grimm 031), and show restraint in the face (on the face!) of overwhelming emotion (see Boris Kachka on Joan Didion in the recent New York Magazine: “Both The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights are recognizably memoirs of grief, but they’re rendered in Didion’s familiar remote voice. It’s an oddly effective fit: Her coolness plays against the genre’s sentimental excesses but still allows her to avoid argument and indulge in open-ended reveries built from repetitions of painful facts.”).

It’s not surprising. Identity studies has long demonstrated that if marginalized subjects wish to communicate sincerity, trustworthiness, honesty, and the like to those in power, they must early on learn to properly perform humble and subjugated gestures. & since none of us is a performance-bot, these embodiments become complex messaging systems (see, for instance, George Yancy Black Bodies, White Gazes). Like any other, the learned sincerity-performance may be internalized, may become a central component of the subject’s experience of essential self. When I meet your eye, widen my eyes, when I blink back the tears, am I revealing myself or my construction? I’m sure I don’t know. (continue reading…)

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Percussion Grenade: Or, Persephone: Suicide Bomber; Or, Sound as Violence

by on Jun.19, 2012


Dzhanet Abdurakhmanova, 17. Teenage widow and suicide bomber.

The Argument:

My late book, Percussion Grenade, is a book of poems-for-performance, which is to say that they are supposed to have a very overt sound structure to either thump the listener on her head (anaphora) or tangle her up in knots of sound (assonance/alliteration) so that she becomes totally ensnared in the poem’s sonic loops and suspended in its time signature.

Sound is a kind of violence– it touches and changes the air.

Police in Chicago were equipped with acoustic or ultrasonic weapons which damage or rupture the eardrum and incapacitate the target.

Hearing damage is the No. 1 disability in the war on terror, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The word for ‘grenade’ comes from the Old French for ‘pomegranate.’

‘Pomegranate’ is also the fruit of the underworld; when Persephone ate six pomegranate seeds, she had to stay in Hades six months of the year.

Now Persephone is the percussion grenade, she has the pomegranate seeds inside her.

Persephone as suicide bomber, whose body, per Jasbir Puar, is a costume and a weapon. She goes up to earth in Springtime to ruin the spring– to ruin Ceres, to strafe the land with sound, to make it hybrid, to ruin sincerity.

Persphone, from, person: a bomb: a mask:

Person: early 13c., from O.Fr. persone “human being” (12c., Fr. personne), from L. persona “human being,” originally “character in a drama, mask,” possibly borrowed from Etruscan phersu “mask

Persephone, a bomb dressed in sound.


The Poem:

Here’s what passes for a ‘narrative’ poem for me- it’s a Persephone poem. The Chechnyan teenage widow suicide bomber ( that’s her in the photograph above). She comes up to the city, brings spring and her body-as-bomb. It’s also a necropastoral. It’s a bomb exploding in CGI– slowly. The first stanza ends with four line misquote from Sarah Palin (Per NYT: “So you,” she told a young woman who risked her life to save a stranger, “having a kind of a downer day being in a valley, to then have been at this peak now, Angelica, because of your selfless action.” “So kudos to you and thank you so much.”}– a typically garbled transmission.


Arcadia (Post-Caucasia) For the Caucasian Dead

(continue reading…)

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"MELODRAMA IS THE NEW NEW SINCERITY": Carina Finn on Lana Del Ray, Chelsey Minnis and Melodrama

by on Jun.18, 2012

MELODRAMA IS THE NEW NEW SINCERITY (why bratty ingénues are better at it than everybody else).
By Carina Finn

There are a couple of things that I love without question or reserve and these things include melodramatic angsty girl-pop, anything that pouts, and the poetry of Chelsey Minnis.

I recently illegally army-crawled onto a roof wearing a brightly colored vintage silk neckerchief as a mask with a bunch of other poets who were also wearing masks. Two of these ladies are considered to be highly intelligent, respected members of various literary/academic communities. Basically what we did was lie on the roof singing Lana del Rey songs until everybody else left. A week earlier I had seen another very smart literary lady do a plainclothes burlesque routine to an acoustic violin rendition of the LDR song, Blue Jeans, and it was one of the best poems I have ever seen.

One of the things I think people who have a problem with CM’s work have a problem with is the fact that her poems are unapologetically melodramatic. Zirconia doesn’t have any blurbs; a very bratty move for a first book. Bad Bad begins with a treatise on why poetry is essentially retarded (as in, literally, the Merriam-Webster definition: slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress). Zirconia very blatantly points out the fundamental structural problems that accompany “being a contemporary poet,” ie., living in POEMLAND, but it does so via a series of baroque mini-arias with costume changes in the middle of every scene, on a stage covered in hot pink faux-fur.
(continue reading…)

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Henry Parland's novel Sönder

by on Jun.17, 2012

Henry Parland is best known for his poems, Idealrealisation (which I translated as Ideals Clearance, published by Ugly Duckling a couple of years ago), but he also wrote a novel, Sönder, which has enjoyed cult status for decades. Part of its cult-ness is probably due to the fact that Parland never finished it, dying in Scarlet Fever at the age of 22 in 1930. It’s a story about doomed love, but what makes it interesting is its meta-use use of photography as a kind of frame for the narrative.

Parland wrote the novel while living in Kaunas, having been sent there by his parents to live with his uncle in order to get him away from Gunnar Björling and the bohemian scene of Helsinki. If Björling and Dadaism was the biggest influence on Idealrealisation (Björling didn’t like Sönder), then certainly one of the biggest influences on Sönder was Proust. Parland read Proust together with his fiance, a Jewish ballet dancer from Moscow (I can’t remember her name, but shortly after Parland’s death she fled to the US, and ended up living in Chicago until she died in the earl 1970s) who taught him French and introduced him to a lot of French literature, ballet and other cosmopolitan endeavors (also: the Jewish theater of Kaunas, which seems to have really inspired Parland.)

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that the English translator Dinah Canell has translated Sönder as To Pieces, now available from Norvik Press. (Or Highly recommended!

Here’s a link to a good, short biography of Parland.

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The Eurovision Contest and Hannah Weiner's THE FAST

by on Jun.15, 2012


What could possibly link a Turkish boy band impersonating not just pirates but a pirate ship, and the swashbuckling and nautically inclined Hannah Weiner, other than my own mealy neural matter? Perhaps you will follow this link to a little questionnaire I filled out for the Rescue Press blog regarding one of my favorite books, Hannah Weiner’s The Fast. Here’s a teaser:

The recent Eurovision Song of the Year contest in Baku might be a good analog for my ideas about Art: live, scrambled, loud, long, spectacular, kitschy, polyglot, ridiculous, rife with expenditure, pouring out streamers, twins, costumes, applause, wasting money, running on occult currents of politics and violence which sometimes push through the surface, rupturing the torso of some pirate-styled Turkish boy-band member with its bloody head to address the audience in writhing semaphore.

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"The Landscape's Gaze": Dougal McNeill on Kim Hyesoon's Holes

by on Jun.14, 2012

Here’s a link to Australian writer Dougal McNeill’s insightful reading of Kim Hyesoon’s amazing book All the Garbage of the World, Unite!

Excerpt from review:

This, at any rate, is how I read the abrupt shift that occurs in ‘Seoul, Korea’:

The mountain gives birth
The mountain licks a mountain
The moutain’s litter sucks on its nipples
The mountain cold-heartedly discards all of its litter
The young mountains copulate in broad daylight, the stench
The mountain roams like the pack of dogs inside a maze

This same mountain, all of a sudden, transforms itself into a much more challenging pile of historical remnants and suppressed trauma:

The mountain eats shit, eats a corpse
The mountain, the rash-covered mountain attacks me with its flaming eyes
The mountain, the snow-topped mountain cries
The mountain without a single tree laments with its head flung back
towards the sky

There’s good reason for official culture in the United States, Australia and New Zealand to want to keep the Korean War as a ‘forgotten’ war. It was, after all, a time when, in the words of historian Bruce Cumings, virtual wastelands were produced in the name of containment. Plenty of representational raw material for an aesthetic of holes here…

Like I’ve been saying for years: Kim Hyesoon is one of the most important living poets. As Aase Berg wrote about it: “your world will be changed!”

Buy it at SPD.
Or at the Action Books web site.

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Karl Larsson on "Sincerity" and "insincerity"

by on Jun.14, 2012

[Swedish artist, writer and editor Karl Larsson sent me the following essay which he wrote for his exhibition “The Double of the Object is that I Desire it”, Corner College, Zurich, October 2011:]


For something to become a cliché, it has to have been true once. Not too long ago I was at a talk, listening to a young artist declaring that his work was made with deepest sincerity. At first, I could not hear what he was saying, so I repeated: sincerity? The young artist slyly noded back at me, but did I not also hint a sudden rage in his eyes?

Salvador Dalí once said: “The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.” At the artist talk I felt like we were engaged in a similar equation. I just couldn’t figure out who was playing which part. In either case it was clear that here was something that could be confirmed once, but not repeated without a certain sense of unease.

In 1964, Marcel Broodthaers used these, now very famous lines, to present his first gallery exhibition:

“I, too, wondered whether I could not sell something and succeed in life. For some time I had been no good at anything. I am forty years old… Finally the idea of inventing something insincere crossed my mind and I set to work straightaway. At the end of three months I showed what I had produced to Philippe Edouard Toussaint, the owner of the Galerie St Laurent. ‘But it is art’ he said ‘and I will willingly exhibit all of it.’ ‘Agreed’ I replied. If I sell something, he takes 30%. It seems these are the usual conditions, some galleries take 75%. What is it? In fact it is objects.”

(continue reading…)

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Susceptibility (as Opposed to Sincerity): Ariel Goldberg on Kay Ryan

by on Jun.13, 2012

Mykki Blanco, back for more beauty.

Since the model of sincerity (Johannes’ redefinition aside) honestly makes me want to crawl back into the closet, I’d like to explore an alternative concept.  If “sincerity” tends to enforce agency and selfhood in a way that many right-wingers might approve of (while we’re tracing this movement back to 9/11, how about the war-mongering cowboy sincerity of Dubya Bush?), I think “susceptibility” does the opposite.  As the “capability of receiving, being affected by, or undergoing something,” susceptibility unravels the harmful ideology of self-determination that promotes values as stifling as enlightenment, individualism, and restraint.  To be susceptible, in this sense, is to risk and even court one’s undoing; it is to sustain a heightened capacity to be split open and transformed by, as well as with, all bodies and things.

Because I think this is a totally queer capacity, it only makes sense for me to pick up where I left off in my thoughts about Beauty-gate.  I was lucky after the discussion to find an interlocutor in Ariel Goldberg, whose chapbook-length essay “The Estrangement Principle” is the smartest thing I’ve read on the supposedly earnest mainstreaming of queer art.  Here’s Ariel on her sense of estrangement in regard to Kay Ryan:

But then a question began to haunt me:  how does a dyke get to be the Poet Laureate?  The obvious answer:  she keeps her mouth shut.  I am confused about Kay Ryan being government funded, in the sense that I feel there are a ton of artists who are queer with supposedly radical work who may be removed from this type of funding.  Her insistence of her personal life’s separateness from her work is too close to a history of antagonizing straight culture discreetly closeting a gay.

I turn to The Library of Congress’ description of Ryan on their profile page:

Unlike many poets writing today, [Kay Ryan] seldom writes in the first person.  Ryan says:  I don’t use ‘I’ because the personal is too hot and sticky for me to work with.  I like the cooling properties of the impersonal.  In her poem “Hide and Seek,” for instance, she describes the feelings of the person hiding without ever saying, “I am hiding.” (continue reading…)

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by on Jun.13, 2012

Montevidayans, this is mandatory reading and will be on the exam. It’s some kind of lyrically explosive fashion blog from Hungary: Runwayward. Here’s a typically ravishing excerpt chosen at random from the January 30 entry.


“So still so dark all over Europe.” An issue lost and found. While my order was cancelled after an address mistake by Luisaviaroma I had to find a way back to my true beliefes, to Rad by Rad Houranism. Everything he represents the true ideology of androgyny. By building a living cult around himself. “For his kingdom come for the Black world!” Crepe trousers found place on me from the RAD BY RAD HOURANI #2 collection. Nowadays there is something disturbing in my mind. These pieces are far above from the other clothes. How can a wearer of mass production can even talk about fashion? Maybe seeing is believeing but you can really achive fashion wisdom only by experience. Thats why I was born out form a high admirer to buyer. Even if I am starting with a small dose. Be avare Rad is so addictive. I am gonna rock his Crepe trousers. “Black world out of my mind!”

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