Archive for June, 2013

Francis Bean Cobain, The Death of Riot Porn and the Gurlesque

by on Jun.29, 2013

There’s a fantastic Gurlesque issue out on the great Swedish on-line journal Ett Lysande Namn, full of great writing by people like Viktor Johansson, Aylin Bloch Boynukisa and Sara Tuss Efrik. Most of it is Swedish (but I plan to somehow get it translated) but my essay is in English. The title – “I”m wearing my dad’s pajamas to the suicide party” – is from a Francis Bean Cobain tweet (she’s also in the essay).

Here’s the beginning:

“I’m wearing my dad’s pajamas to the suicide party”: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE GURLESQUE

Dear Justin Bieber,

Who put that mask on your face? Does it hurt? Can you get it off? Can you get it off? Are those your real eyes? Who designed the mask? Did it cost a million dollars? Is it made of wool? Someone had posted the photograph on facebook with the heading: “The death of riot porn?” Do you think this was a reference to Pussy Riot, who wore those masks during their protests? What do you think of Pussy Riot? What do you call that phenomena when a cluster of young girls scream and chase you around? Do they riot against your body? Did they pull that mask over your pretty white face?

I’m not joking. There is something porny about those girls. There’s something deathy about those girls. That must be why they frighten so many people. They are totally “under the influence.” They have no human core, no soul: they are all clothes, make-up. Violence moves through them. Like in all those Japanese horror movies. Young girls are so violent with you, you must be constantly hurting, smarting, aching. Do they hurt you with letter openers? Do they re-enact the French Revolution with your body in Tokyo? Why do I always think of letter openers when I think about you in the bathtub? Why are the girls always leading the French Revolutions?

Why are they always listening to New Order while the revolution is filmed? Why am I so sad? Should I ask Freud? Does it have something to do with the riot porn? With the death of riot porn? Isn’t there always something deathy about riots? About porn?

Have you read that poem “Primrose” by Chelsea Minnis?…

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Three Hot Books for your Cruel Summer: Monica Rinck, Carina Finn, Aime Cesaire

by on Jun.28, 2013

Hola poetry fanboies!

How I spent my summer vacation...

How I spent my summer vacation…



Sitting on my “desk” (laminated folding table) today are three books sure to perk up your whole life/fashion/poetry outlook for this weekend and your life, comparable to when Roseanna Arquette becomes infected by poetry in the form of personal ads in Desperately Seeking Susan, and goes on to become a Madonna impersonator. Get into the groove!

1. Monica Rinck, to refrain from embracing, trans. Nicholas Grindell

Two nights ago our bookcase fell over and this volume flew into my hands! This poetry pops with manic muscular focus, an attempt to topo-map the world in its dismaying linguistic everything-at-once. Nicholas Grindell translates Rinck’s German in such a way that German keeps landing its pervy wallops through the mongrel screen of English:

romantic subzero

that was the height of ice. kudos caspar david.

cathedral carved inside of it, thawing its way

down her wet throat. breathrobbing.

a vertical bottleneck. within it

halls and chambers, beneath it water, black

with cold. very cold, very black. turkey hens

are on the roam, invisible but for their core,

like a coffee bean in motion. but don’t

be deceived, the turky hen’s still there,

it just can’t be seen. the whole thing’s fatal.


I like the jack-knifing of syntax around the slalom of those line breaks, the way the phrases butt against each other and spill out of the line, the way the poem swings around and looks at itself, by turns serious and ludicrous. Slang and philosophical statement try to fit inside the same tube dress of the lyric. This shoving of opposites into the same micromini is of course the sublime. Sublime fatality. The momentum of the carcrash and the strange dispensation of the suspension of time at the moment of Impact.


2. Carina Finn, Lemonworld


One thing I know about Carina Finn, my dear friend and former student: the girl can go on. She has a Stein-like philosophical trajectory of mind and at minimum two millenia of hi-lo-pop culture to back her argufying up. When she philosophizes I see molecular diagrams of sugar rings linking into new and tasty non-nourishing foodstuffs of the future, a map of the future that can hardly called human. So I was surprised to receive Lemonworld and discover not her essayistic mode (which I adore) but these individual lyrics like a sachet of PopRocks– so tiny and tight they could pass through all the boundaries made to protect us:



cherries, ribbons, and rainbows go all to bits b/c

the devil makes us sin where the wild girls live.



velvet-turbaned socialite stuffed with triangle

cobra kryptonite, you’re flagged for deletion on the

cemetary drive &


                everyone’s hoping for hell except me.


To quote Sir Patti Smith: “People say beware. But I don’t care!” I love the jittery compulsion of these poems, the desire to spark, smite and be over.  Could they be more compressed? They could be forced into alexandrines and ridden like a drunken boat. But if that boat was steered by Carina it would include a yukele and be floating in some pond in Central Park being toasted by a thicket of bankers.   This book is basically that.


3. Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to The Native Land NEW TRANSLATION OF THE 1939  ‘PRE-ORIGINAL’!!! by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman


Words can get up and do things, with the persistence and perfidity of roundworms.  Poetry makes things happen, where it matters– in the gut. For me, reading Clayton and Annette Smith’s 2001 translation of Cesaire’s Notebook was a revelation. I think of this as THE masterpiece of Surrrealism, the utmost, utmost example of what this artform can be in its political mode AND its artistic mode. As Arnold’s introduction to this new edition suggests, the traume-poem took many forms during Césaire’s lifetime, edited, expanded, and cut back down to reflect his developing political outlook. The earliest magazine version, translated for this new edition, could be seen as the barest, or the most concentrated version. Those of us who are fanboies for the 2001 translation might miss the crazy frame stanzas, including the opening lines “Beat it, I said to him, you cop, you lousy pig, beat it, I detest the flunkies of order and the cockchafers of hope!”. Some of the 70’s-isms of the earlier translation (“I say right on!” is replaced by “I say hurray!”—a little AA Milne for me) have been sanitized, and the bewitching repiton ‘Au bout du petit matin bourgeonnant’ is now translated not as ‘At the end of daybreak’ but  ‘At the end of first light’ which is less violent, paradoxical, and revolutionary feeling, if a little more lyrical.  Still, the new edition is a dream and a fan-boi must.  The translation is en face; Arnold’s introduction is pellmell and info-packed, like a dazzling confab at the watercooler outside a stuffy seminar room, where the real education goes down; and the whole shape of the thing is a little clearer in this earlier form.  The embarassing Breton introduction, historically important as it may be, is also not included here. You may lose the ‘right-on’ force of the 2001 edition, but you still get all the hits, plenty of knock-out obscure botanical terminology, and the showstopping scene in which a slave-ship self-viscerates, discharging its now liberated undead cargo into an unreal excremental dream-freedom:


Je dis hurrah ! La vielle négritude progressivement se cadavérise

l’horizon se défait, recule et s’élargit

et voici parmi des déchiquètements de nuages la fulgurance d’un signe

le négrier craque de toute part… Son ventre se convulse et résonne…

L’affreux ténia de sa cargaison ronge les boyaux fétides de l’étrange

nourrisson des mers !


I say hurray! The old negritude progressively cadavers itself

the horizon breaks, recoils and expands

and through the shredding of clouds the flashing of a sign

the slave ship cracks from one end to the other… Its belly convulses and resounds…

The ghastly tapeworm of its cargo gnaws the fetid guts of the strange suckling of the sea!


This image changed my life, my thinking about poetry and its political potential. You must change your life. Buy this book.






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Tytti Heikkinen

by on Jun.28, 2013

Since I’m translating some of these Swedish and Finnish essays about the gurlesque, maybe I should also post some poetry. Here’s the first poem from Finnish poet Tytti Heikkinen’s Fatty XL series (which is part of the book The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal, trans. Niina Pollari, which Action Books just published a couple of months ago).



Gonna say one thing just as soon as this vomiting
Went shopping today for cute shoes. !! Everybody is
gross but be and my friends .

Yestrdy I was into this one dude and tried
prolly too hard
to get near him. He said ur not the one Im looking for.
It broke myyy heaaart.
You betrayed my heart, squeezed it empty like
a sponge… Before everything was the same. No more. i
am in love…

I don’t think it’s even possible to not be
crushin. Everybody has to have someone, who
they can dream about, to love forcefully, even if they don’t even
want to. Thats why I wanna love forever… refrain <3: (Some more poems in Brooklyn Rail.)

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"Soiled in Pink": Mia Österlund on Österholm and the Gurlesque

by on Jun.28, 2013

I thought I would include an excerpt from another in the long line of articles that came out earlier this year about the Gurlesque in Sweden, generated to a large extent by Maria Margareta Österholm’s book about the figure of the Girl in modern Swedish-language literature, as well as a new generation of fantastic authors (including Montevidayo’s Aylin Bloch Boynukisa and Sara Tuss Efrik).

This is from Mia Österlund’s essay “Soiled by Pink – About the Girl in Literature” published in Lysmasken, which is a really awesome Finland-Swedish journal.


It’s about short skirts and lipstick mouths that speak back, it’s about pink, glitter and dolls as feminist literary strategy. About the mad woman in the attic, in the girl room, close to you. It’s about how we read femininity in literature. A model of reading. Where girls can be monsters. And at the same time overwhelmingly pink. It contains a number of view of femininity.

Österholm turns the gaze back to the Swedish-language literature of the 1990s and 00s. Monika Fagerholm’s DIVA (1999) is the hub and offers the central reading tool: the doll laboratory, which is where girlhood can be made and tested. The Swedish language literature is full of girls who wrestle with the demand to be Real Girls. The aesthetic is gurlesque, with an exaggerated femininity (militantly pink), burlesque, grotesque, monstrous. Österholm shows that lying, disgust and cuteness can grow side by side.

The term gurlesque was coined by Arielle Greenberg and Laura (sic.) Glenum to describe an aspect of contemporary American poetry. But the gurlesque also involves Swedish language writers like Monika Fagerholm, Mare Kandre, Inger Edelfeldt, Maria Hede och Pirkko Lindberg. That Lindberg gets a new interpretation is refreshing; her latest novel, Hotel Homesickness, is a brick of 600 pages that shows a galopping girlhood intertwined with Finland’s recent history. Österholm also points to authors who are currently depicting queer girlhoods right now: Sara Stridsberg, Sanne Näsling, Aaase Berg and Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo. Literary criticism and literary science has been lacking tools to deal with the pink-fluffy girlhood with fangs. It was viewed as being smeary, gross, provocative. Queer.

The Gurlesque is an aesthetic that doesn’t comply with dominant collective fictions about femininity and respectability. It is literature that makes a spectacle of itself. In Sanne Näsling’s young adult novel Give up immediately or die (2011) it’s about ritually painting seven layers of lipstick around one’s girl-mouth. In The Dream Department: Additions to the Sexual Theory (2006, Valerie Solanas says: “I consider wearing lipstick a political act.” The gurlesque exaggerates, misunderstands girlhood. It creates assemblages of femininity, feminism, disgust and cuteness. It’s a little like fatso-manifestos, where the fat hangs over the edge of the pants in protest. We have learned to read fat as embarrassing, but what if we read it as a protest? The gurlesque aesthetic picks up on the visual and sensual aspects of literature. Girls move around with other girls, flank girls, and their task is to figure out each other’s contours. Girls give a damn in moderation. Of course they provoke. But they are also over-conforming, laying in bed, passive, where the moderation is exaggerrated in a queer way. They perform a cultural rejection of heterosexuality, oh heavens, with the help of the female grotesque.

Anyway this is a really good article, so if you can read Swedish, or want to translate it in some way, head over and read it.

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"When the doll-game flips out": Anna Hallberg on the Gurlesque

by on Jun.27, 2013

Maria Margareta Österholm published a book called A Girl Laboratory in Selected Pieces a while back (we published this summary), in which she wrote about, among other things, the gurlesque. The book has had a huge impact on Swedish literary and cultural discussions, having been reviewed in all the major papers and on countless blogs. I was over in Stockholm a few weeks and participated in a panel with Maria Margareta and sometime Montevidayo contributor Aylin Bloch Boynukisa.

I thought I would just translate/link to some of these articles.

In her essay “In the Darkness of the Girl-Room Grows the Gurlesque” in Dagens Nyheter (something like the New York Times of Sweden), Anna Hallberg discusses Maria Margareta’s book, as well as Aylin (and the awesome press that publishes her, Dockhaveri) and another sometime Montevidayo-an, Sara Tuss Efrik, whose novel Mumieland was also recently published to a lot of acclaim. Hallberg writes (I’m just excerpting):

…The social rules stream in through doll games and doll cabinets. The representation and the roles. The imitation and copying. The National Encyclopedia writes: “Doll games have a pedagogical purpose. Through the games, the girl is taught her future role as mother and wife.”

But what happens when the doll-game flips out? When it takes over? If the roles it stages are pedagogical and sound, but grotesque , perverse and violent?

In Feminist theory this form of artistic expression is called the gurlesque.

The large number of dolls and doll games in contemporary Swedish literature may frighten some readers. The gurlesque aesthetics are both sugar-sweet and aggressive, volatile and clever. But most of all it’s full of power. An energy that makes the text dynamic and forces the reader to react. It creates the feeling of continental plates put in motion. The game rules change and a new order becomes possible. When Aylin Bloch Boynukisa writes in “The Girl Organ’s Genealogy”, “I change course with my porcelain eye/my blinking gigantic doll eye,” it’s a change of course I can believe in.

When I searched for Anna’s article, I found an interesting discussion (also in DN) of “Spring Breakers” and “Bling Ring”, “Disney Princesses Become Armed Rebels,”in which Kristoffer Ahlström refers to Aase Berg’s articles on the gurlesque, noting “The gurlesque woman is always threatening.”

There is a lot of interesting dynamics at play in this discussion. For me, it’s important that the Swedish authors didn’t just import and American canon of authors. Rather the word/concept gave them a way to discuss a whole host of young (mostly women) writers and poets, as well as a way to “recover” a lot of great writing from the 90s that was at that time dismissed as “anorexic literature.” Normally American poetry tends to export itself abroad in a more imperialistic fashion. Also, it’s interesting to me to see a literary culture that is still part of a kind of mass culture. So that the Swedish papers cannot simply ignore the phenomena – as most American tastemakers, journals and professors have done – but are forced to recon with it.

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Accessibility vs Allure (Kalbach, Shaviro, Vanessa Place, James Pate)

by on Jun.26, 2013

My bookshelf fell over Howards-End-style and when I was picking through the books, I started to read Steven Shaviro’s Post Cinematic Affect. This made me think of the continually so pervasive “accessibility” debates.
A while back Drew Kalbach wrote a post on The Actuary that argued against the model of accessibility:

As we have talked about before on this blog, the issue with accessibility is the paternalistic, condescending tone its backers typically take. There is the assumption that the “common man” would not understand poetry readings, let alone enjoy contemporary poetry. They need to be initiated and taught how to properly read these things if they are going to even begin to enjoy it. I’ve made this point elsewhere, but I’ll say it again: there is no such thing as accessibility, and to continue to argue for or against it simply creates more barriers for those that desire to really get involved with poetry.

I think he’s right to criticize the paternalism of the entire model of the “accessible” and “difficult” poem. Both models partake in the same economy in which the reader, imbued with agency, goes out and finds the meaning of the poem – either through a lot of work or a little. Self-styled populists claim that for poetry to be popular it has to be easy to access this meaning (ignoring the fact that people need to be intrigued in order to read the work to begin with!); experimentalists often argue that the poem should be difficult because the process of gaining access teaches people to be better people (more discerning, more critical or something like that). Both are wrong.

To begin with, we are not in control.
Sold: the Warhol portrait of Elizabeth Taylor owned by Hugh Grant.
But I also don’t entirely agree with Drew when he says there is no hidden thing in the poem. There is to me always an excess in the poem; that is part of its allure, its fascination. The poem is too much. That’s part of what I love about art.

Anyway, I think Shaviro does a good job of explaining this “allure” of the artwork when he discusses Celebrities:

What Harman calls allure is the way in which an object does not just display certain particular qualities to me, but also insinuates the presence of a hidden, deeper level of existence. The alluring object explicitly calls attention to the fact that it is something more than, and other than, the bundle of qualities that it present to me. I experience allure whenever I am intimate with someone, or when I am obsessed with someone or something. But allure is not just my own projections. For any object that I encounter really is deeper than, and other than, what I am able to grasp of it. And the object becomes alluring, precisely to the extent that it forces me to acknowledge this hidden depth, instead of ignoring it. Indeed, allure may well be strongest when I experience it vicariously: in relation to an object, person, or thing that I do not actually know, or otherwise care about. Vicarious allure is the ground of aesthetics: a mode of involvement that is, at the same time, heightened and yet (as Kant puts it) “disinterested.” The inner, surplus existence of the alluring object is something that I cannot reach – but that I also cannot forget about or ignore, as I do in my everyday, utilitarian interactions with objects and other people. The alluring object insistently displays the fact that it is separate from, and more than, its qualities – which means that it exceeds everything that I feel of it, and know about it. That is why what Kant calls a judgment of beauty is non-conceptual and non-cognitive. The alluring object draws me beyond anything that I am actually able to experience. And yet this ‘beyond’ is not in any sense otherworldly or transcendent; it is situated in the here and now, in the very flows and encounters of everyday existence.

(continue reading…)

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What is "The Prose Poem"?

by on Jun.25, 2013

I was thinking… in my past two posts, I have referred to but not really discussed the “Prose Poem.” Does anybody talk about this form/term anymore? Is this important to anybody?

It seems like there was a lot of talk about it in the 90s and early 00s. I remember reading the journal “The Prose Poem” (edited by Peter Johnson) back in the 90s because it was engaged with a certain surrealist sensibility which I obviously also was interested in. And it provided a kind of “hybrid” space that was neither the official quietist aesthetic of MFA programs or the official/Language aesthetic of PhD study. The big influences in this journal were James Tate, Russell Edson and Charles Simic. But it would also publish, say Maxine Chernoff, who’s kind of an odd poet that doesn’t really fit in with schools and lineages.

I think it was probably very influential – and by “it” I might mean this notion of the prose poem or the official journal itself – creating not only a space where prose and poetry could interact but also a space where translation was valued. Afterall, this prose poem was largely derived from Max Jacob and other foreign writers. It seems to have generated a whole host of writers from my generation (Zach Schomburg, Mathias Svalina and others).

I occasionally read this journal back in the day but I felt put off by a certain goofiness that struck me as moderating. Edson was a big influence, but many influenced by Edson lost something really important about Edson: the utter lack of interiority, the saturating violence, the merciless absurdity. In many prose poem writers it seemed Edson’s move was coupled with an indie-rock emotional register (goofy, wistful, whimsical).

My own interest/emotional register doesn’t really fit in with that zone; and also the formal movement within the poems seemed too set. For example, I was interested/inspired by Basquiat – and I wanted to bring that mania, that horror vacui to the poems. That’s in part what drew me to the prose poem (and does still I guess on some level) – it allowed me to see the page as a near-canvas, which might consist of a discarded door or box.


It’s interesting (if only to myself) that my distinction here is what other genres/media the prose poems “bring into” poetry – indie rock vs painting.

But as far as writing goes, I first started writing poetry in large part from reading Rimbaud’s prose poems and Lautremont’s Maldoror, Burroughs and the Beats, and Genet’s baroque theatricality, and that kind of convulsiveness has always stuck with me. By the time I came across the Prose Poem journal I was also reading Aase Berg’s guinea pigs and Ann Jaderlund’s necropastorals:

The big valley is a vast mother-of-pearl mirror. There walks the large dead swan in her dead shroud. And there walks the mother-of-pearl children. Or the fragile foundling clumps. That grow out of the virgin mother’s throat. They led the swan into a forest and placed beautiful white stones of mother-of-pearl on her back. Go now and eat that which you have taken from the swans. Then one ran up and cut a branch from the tree and grabbed a burning branch and stuck it into her throat. And scrubbed her both up top and down below. Until the swan’s flesh fell off in beautiful heavy clumps. For some time the swan lay in the bushes and slept. And black merchants came riding on black mother-of-pearl horses. Then they took the swan and carried her away.

(from Jaderlund’s Soon Into the Summer I Will Walk Out, published in Typo 7)

Jaderlund’s suite is actually a kind of montage of biblical tales written down in the 15th century, a kind of proto-prose-poetry based on Swedish translations of foreign materials (Christianity being of course a foreign text itself).

Fast forward a little bit: In 2006, Peter Connors published the anthology PP/FF. The abbreviations are for Prose Poem and Flash Fiction. Peter didn’t want to come up with a term like “hybrid” to actually bring them into unison, but wanted to allow them to be unsynthesized, and I liked that. Because this anthology includes not so much “prose poetry” but poetry in prose, and poetic prose etc.

Peter writes this in his intro:

In 2006, it is fair to say that prose poetry is a vital Amreican genre: there are prose poetry journals, anthologies, university courses, and attendant experts. Perhaps classifying it as a stale genre is too harsh, however, in compiling this anthology it became obvious that many writers have felt shunned from traditional communities of poetry and prose – including prose poetry – for consciously resisting genre expectations. To wit, prose poetry should not contain too much narrative or it becomes fiction; flash fiction should follow a narrative arc or it risks fragmentation to the point of becomign prose poetry; flash fiction should stay within specific, albeit arbitrary word counts; prose poetry must not utilize line break; surrealism and humor is acceptable, but topicality is not…

Here Connor’s point is similar to my own – that a genre that was born out of dissatisfaction with genre expectations had generated its own conventions.

Before that anthology, Peter edited Double Room with Mark Tursi, which published some section of my book Dear Ra back in 2003 (I wrote the book in 2000-2001 while going crazy). In this book I used the epistolary form – which I got from letters of serial killers and crazy consumers – with a kind of surrealism and also Ted Berrigan (b/c I loved his manic energy).


It struck me that in my past two entries I dealt with “prose poetry” – but these are great examples of prose poetry that is not so much part of this convention as poems that form a space where various media and genre convulse without definitely being synthesized into Prose Poetry. For example, Joyelle’s Salamandrine is categorized as “Fiction”, but her virtuosic sentences are charged with the kind of texture one might expect from the most saturated poetry. In James’s Fassbinder Diaries, the “prose poem” seems like it is constantly being harassed not just by film but the narrative urge/push of novels. This seems true of a lot of things I’ve been reading recently: Aylin Bloch Boynukisa’s My mouth is full of teeth and time, Under Siege: Four African Cities (Documenta 11;Plathform4), Sara Shamloo’s Gloria, Emma Lundmark’s Hans Fru Judith, Uche Nduka’s Ijele, or Moldovian comic book artist Neurotrip’s work:


But at the same time, what makes Negroni’s Mouth of Hell and di Giorgio’s History of Violets so amazing is in part a kind of “return” to the prose poem at its purest form – Baudelaire, Rimbaud etc.


So to sum things up: I wonder if “prose poetry” has any value anymore – As a form? As a context? As an idea? As a lineage?

As usual I’m suddenly drawn to it because it seems dead, anachronistic – and the opposite of the notion of “American Hybrid” that is so powerful these days.

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Book of the Year: James Pate's The Fassbinder Diaries

by on Jun.24, 2013

James Pate’s The Fassbinder Diaries is definiely one of the best books of this ludicrous year. I have waited for this book to be published for many years, as long as I’ve been reading James’s writing. It’s not strange that this book doesn’t read like a first book – that it reads like someone who has definitely found his stride, is working in a beligerent zone – because James has been writing amazing stuff for years. In the perfect literary world, he would have had several books published by now.
silly pastel boy
I’ve been reading his work for many years. I met him when we went to grad school together in Iowa. He’d come from Memphis and I had come from NYC (Queens!), we both loved blues music and Wu-Tang Clan, Basquiat, b-movies and Godard (In fact used to be so obsessed with old-school blues music that I wanted to move to Memphis). James was already incredibly well-read and he introduced me to a lot of work I still love: for example Jack Smith, early Don Delillo (Running Dog, Great Jones Street, I hate the later stuff) and Twin Peaks. So we became friends. We watched movies until we fell asleep. I remember/don’t remember one particular night when we Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising stoned and exhausted.

I love the way James talks about art: a pornographic experience. “My hands started shaking,” I remember James saying about the first time he read Bataille’s Blue of Noon. But he has a similar attitude towards less obviously pornographic books, for example some mystic from the middle ages or Foucault.

When asked what his religion was, James would always answer “fallen catholic,” and “fallen” here is very instructive: fallen as in the tenor of the allegory is lost, we have been plunged into the saturative textures and gleaming fabrics of a ritual whose God is dead.
Cannibalism, pornography, b-movies and, most importantly, the physicality, the materiality of the artistic experience are key ingredients of James’s work.You can already see it in “12 Resolutions to a New Year,” a story he wrote while we were in grad school, and which I later published in Action, Yes. It’s one of my all-time favorite stories. The series of poems or piece of film (many of James’s poems/stories have the feeling of being a part of a film where we only get a glimpse of the overall film, or the feeling of two films roughly sutured) are held together by the figure of Fatty Arbuckle who seemingly murders the two lovers who come to see his movies in some dank Memphis theater.
Fatty Arbuckle is the perfect figure for James’s work because of his obesity (James’s characters love to eat or are starving or are desperately trying to stuff themselves, conditions that stand in for his vision of art), his sordid biography (accused of having killed a prostitute by giving her an illegal abortion) and because of the obscurity of his later career:

There are twelve stories about Fatty Arbuckle, and this might be the final one. We know how he spent (wasted, drank through, destroyed loved ones, burnt beds, to be seen in nickelodeons nodding off on junk and gorging pig-like on duck and busting heads and breaking hearts) his final decades. Because of the underground nature of his later years (basements and brothels and dank laboratories and warehouses and seashells) we can only hope certain makeshift records (napkin poems, restroom wall sketches, carvings in trunks, nails through voodoo dolls, digits sent to ex-lovers, whispers floating back off ocean breeze, legends from El Salvador, French myths, personally performed porno in blurred film stock, corpses in floor boards, postcards to cousins, a jam session on tape with Fatty on tenor) appear from the rivers of far drums. We wish ourselves luck.

Particularly because of this obscurity. Unlike the common “accessibility” debates, the obscurity doesn’t interfere with the communication of a meaning, but enhances the affectivity of the textures, the art. In this James’s writing is a close relative of Roberto Bolano’s stories. And like Roberto Bolano’s stories, James’s writings are on one level always about art. And the art is simultaneously physically overwhelming and obscure/apocryphal. In fact the two do no contradict each other but enhance each other: the obscurity is part of the materially overwhelming aspect of art. The Fassbinder Diaries are full of this. In fact the entire book starts out with:

The first scenes are silent. The footage is grainy, as if the world being shown has gone through a storm of broken glass shards.

And ends:

The entire factory or bedroom or meadow dripping light from its lips. Or maybe delicate drops of acid have eaten the scene. There are figures on the ground, silently squirming. But it’s impossible to tell if they are silent because they are silent or if they are silent because this is a silent film. We are watching them in the dark. It is a black-and-white dark. Outside, it is a black-and-white dark.

There’s the sense the materiality of the movies – the graininess, the wear and tear – is part of the viewing experience, enhances and intensifies the experience, and that the physical setting of the film might be part of the movie.
And there’s this great love of the apocryphal, the rumored, unofficial artworks that create a kind of “invisible republic” (to quote Greil Marcus, another lover of this occult space) that feels both incredibly intimate and absolutely convulsed with politics. For example, Franz and Mieze from Fassbinder’s “Alexanderplatz, Berlin” appear as characters in James’s book, but they not only act out scenes not in Fassbinder’s original (or the novel on which his piece is based), but they also watch a whole host of strange films:

Franz said bite me here, and Mieze bit him there, and Mieze said bite me here, and Franz bit her there. The curtains were closed. They were the color of gray snakeskin. Outside, a war developed in Berlin. A gun fired at Dillinger on a movie screen in Chicago. They were someplace else. The seconds were already ahead of them, waiting with their guns pulled. An alley with no escape.

More than any other writer I know, James revels in the apocryphal, the sense of the fan fiction as a perversion of the official account of things. (continue reading…)

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"I Play with Death": The Gothic Prose Poetry of Negroni, Di Giorgio, Berg and McSweeney

by on Jun.21, 2013

It’s interesting to hear again and again various people complain that poetry is dead or take credit for finally killing off poetry, or try to defend poetry, try to revive it (or do all of these things as once, as the Conceptualists). Capitalism killed poetry a long time ago, just as it is killing us. Poetry is a plague ground, and we are its bugs. Colorful bugs that make a crackling sound when you step on them.

Most poets out there it seems want to be “innovative” and “experimental.” They want to be the future, to be progressive, to lead the way to a robust future by teaching themselves “critical thinking,” “critical distance.” They want to demystify, reveal, uncover, subvert. They think they can critique themselves out of this slaughterhouse. They want to be strong and rigorous like Ron Silliman, not “soft” or “candy” or kitsch or decadent.

Too bad, because that’s where poetry’s at. We’ve always worn the shitty ghost costumes and the glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth.
It’s also not unreasonable that so many poets these days seem to want to distance themselves from violence and ornaments. Afterall we have drones and torture. So it’s nice to think of the artwork as “democratic” – the reader and the writer make it together, instead of like the governments and CEOs that act alone and dictatorially.

But art is inextricably bound up in violence.
It does violence to the reader and the reader does violence to the text.

So it both is and is not a paradox that a bunch of books and texts that have come out recently that have revived that now-fairly-dull genre of the PROSE POEM not by unmasking the art, by becoming anaesthetic, but precisely by becoming decadent, theatrical, pathologically manneristic, extravagantly 19TH CENTURY – as in Baudelaire and Poe, Lautremont and Rimbaud – and, yes, more GOTHIC.
(continue reading…)

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A Blood-Shot Ruby: The Disappeared & “Mouth of Hell” by María Negroni, translated by Michelle Gil-Montero

by on Jun.20, 2013

[…]In these wastelands of intimacy and exile, I find nothing, not even the blood-shot ruby I swiped as a child from my father’s icy dream. Wide terrain between two blue oceans: my biography and my park of monsters, who I’ve despised, envied, admired, and loved, deep down, terribly.

[Nada veo en esos páramos de intimidad y destierro. Ni siquiera el rubí sangriento que robé en la infancia al sueño helado de mi padre. Largo territorio que insiste entre dos mares azules: mi biografía, mi parque de monstruos que odié, envidié, admiré, amé, en el fondo, tanto.]


María Negroni’s Mouth of Hell is well emblematized by that ‘blood-shot ruby’, not worshipped but ‘swiped’. This little volume is like a decadent novella, an intake of breath before a heroine’s death-aria, a continuously restaged opening scene. It burns with Pater’s infamous “gem-like flame”, an intensity stoked by infernal paradox, throwing a mysterious, self-consuming light.  The series is made of extremely brief prose poems, set in little vitrine-like boxes. The poems themselves seem to have plucked words out of the blank air and to arrange them in strange tableaux in which language itself acts paradoxically (or insanely). In Negroni’s hand, language may lounge and rage, collapse and expand, at once languid and acute:

Strange impatience of horses. Jumbled crossbows, arquebusses. Some sort of luxurious circus or royal company. It’s always like this, the beginning of a new militia: the hardest men, the most virile and beautiful, the best disposed to sexual combat, to wrestling one-on-one with death. Often a hand bedecked with rings. Short in the way of chivalry. Conclaves drag on, and that deft sadness of acrobats.

Such acrobatics among the syllables, and the larger acrobatic of replacing  a long winding sentence with a sudden, opaque emblem (“Often a hand bedecked with rings.”) is even more astonishing when one recalls that this is a work of translation; Michelle Gil-Montero is in fact, invisibly and before your lying eyes, double-looping this Latinate reverie into a bewitched, bewitching English.

Mouth of Hell is a book about a place, but that place is both singular and several, actual and allusive. To put it briefly, this book, which seems hovering on the precipice of an event about to occur, is actually tremulous with retrospection: it re-inhabits a roguish mid-twentieth century [Argentinian] novel, Bomarzo by Manuel Mujica Láinez, which itself reimagines a 16th century [Italian] duke who built himself a park-of-monsters or grotesqueries. Translator Gil-Montero informs us that Negroni’s entire sequence takes place at the moment of the literary character’s death. But the tremulous temporal coordinates of this work– stretched across time and occurring in an instant, looking radically back to earlier works while occupying a fast-elapsing present tense– also enact trauma, and, particularly, the temporal trauma of Latin America’s lost generations, and specifically, of course, Argentina’s disappeared.

The disappeared are both a living memory and a non-thought, an erased generation whose death and gravesites may, in many cases, never be known. The subtraction of this generation makes all subsequent time aberrant, non-linear, glitched, abhorrent. In this sense their loss is truly traumatic, an event which can  never be over because its exact parameters and coordinates can never be known. This is an event whose magnitude can never be bounded, not only because there is in many cases no historical record but because the loss is of a magnitude beyond accounting. There can also, of course, be no retribution, no redemption or reparation of this loss, no way of assuaging or lessening its unthinkable magnitude.

In this sense the paradoxical dimensionality of los desaparecidos forms the flexing, vertiginous field of this book. Their paradoxically present absence is both superimposed on the sequences and seems to occur as its outer limit, the non-place of blackness and erasure the sequence is driving towards. Thus the speaker is at times  bereft, marooned, expressing an adjacency to an action that seems to be happening elsewhere, and at times occupies a position of conviviality with a ghost-like “She”. Often these contradictions happen on facing pages. On page 60,

The rush of words comes unannounced: all at once, jacked into flight like a heraldic bird, mystery feathered in shadow. In this pandemonium of pomp and poverty, as if these past could pardon us, a silver presence : a fistful of cantos to measure the span from sword to soul. All lined up, indelible geometry like lightsome ships set for the great journey.

Across the gutter on page 61, “Surrounded by deep night, after hurrying through the earthly day, they falter. Place and date have fallen back quietly. Place and date have fallen back quietly. Of their private fictions, nothing remains but an almost-island, the saga of a labyrinth with no outcome.”

Yet even in this latter vision, hope finds a way to spark, in however inverted a proportion: “The enamored splinter refuses to surrender.” And so we feel weirdly hopeful, as if we have come into a flickering gathering place of the lost—even if this means joining the lost in the grave.

Mouth of Hell has been designed by Andrew Shuta in a slim, compact edition with a startling blood-red ruby cover and with the complete English and Spanish texts arranged in separate series within. It is as transporting, contradictory, beautiful and troubling as any journey toward this most infernal of thresholds should be.


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Poem of the Day: My Girlfriend Italia Eats Flowers by Miguel James

by on Jun.19, 2013

Everyone should head over to Typo Magazine, where Guillermo Parra has put together an amazing special issue of Venezuelan writing. I’ve been reading it since it was posted.

I love this poem by Miguel James:

(trans. Anne Boyer)

My girlfriend appeared trembling in a bookstore
She showed me lonely street papers and slashed whores
She gave me lovely stones and seashells
An old engraving of untied horses
My girlfriend was on her way from the sun and looked like a gypsy
She told strange stories about twin souls
My girlfriend had a blue dress
She fell in love with me and my sandals
My girlfriend would read Boris Vian
She took a shower bleeding and gave me a body that smelled like nothing
I fell in love with my girlfriend
I braided my hair and took her to the movies
My girlfriend had an ugly blonde child
We would inhabit the city of fog or beyond the seas
My girlfriend became my girlfriend
My girlfriend pashira and ficus colony of herbs graft of flower-eating doves
I loved my girlfriend
My broke girlfriend sold earrings in the markets
She would bring me mandarins when I was in solitary confinement
She would undress in front of bored old men
I was my girlfriend
She adored Fabio and had a balcony to jump from
And it’s just that my sad girlfriend looked like a desolate Maga
My girlfriend was a star
I would have died without my girlfriend
One day my girlfriend said we were looking like open wounds under the sky
That she’d take up the lab books again
That she’d stop sleeping at the foot of the bridge
I didn’t pay attention to my girlfriend
I let her mix Pelusa rock and biology texts
Víctor’s punctual visits and kitchen habits
Johnny’s accurate punches
And it’s just that my girlfriend didn’t wanna eat flowers any more
So then I thought about giving her what she deserves
I’d take her to the mountain top
I’d bathe her in the trail’s creek
Then I’d bombard her with bougainvillea petals from above
I’d spray her with French perfumes
And knowing she was in ecstasy I’d cover her with baby poo
So she wouldn’t stop being my girlfriend
So she wouldn’t get sick of eating flowers
And it’s just that sometimes I don’t feel like being my girlfriend’s boyfriend
Sometimes I don’t feel like being anyone’s boyfriend
But yesterday I saw my girlfriend
She had ripped shoes and she gave me a glass pearl
We looked at a strange dress that cost as much as two hundred cigarette boxes
We talked about banquet fruits with bread and jelly
Because you really start to get sick of eating flowers
But I told my girlfriend that we’d always eat flowers
And I understood my girlfriend
And my girlfriend understood me
But sometimes I worry about my girlfriend
Because my furious girlfriend is capable of hoisting the boy and hitting him like a piñata
She’d shoot her mom on a holiday
She’d blow up the lab with sodium
Because my girlfriend is a beast
She’s a chill she’s a star
And I love my girlfriend
And I know she’ll appear on the avenue singing
She’ll scream absurdities only I understand
She’ll put a knife to my belly button
She’ll say: “Man, take off your pants”
Because my girlfriend’s my girlfriend
Because I know my girlfriend
My eternal girlfriend my girlfriend Ítala
My crazy girlfriend
Ganja plant
And spring.

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SOLUBLE PERSONHOOD: On (and In) Julian Assange, Leslie Scalapino, and Lucas De Lima

by on Jun.14, 2013


A few weeks ago I wrote a play called “Dead Youth, or, the Leaks”, which is basically a knifed-up (in/per)version of The Tempest. It features characters that may or may not be Julian Assange, Henrietta Lacks, teenage Somalian ‘pirate’ Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, and a female Antoine de Saint-Exupery, all  adrift on a hijacked container ship, pulled toward Magnetic Island by mysterious currents of dark energy. But as I imagine my play, the critical factors of identity-stabilization—gender, race, aliveness or deadness, whether one is in fact a ‘real person’—are all soluble. In fact the titular character, Dead Youth, is elastically posthumous, multinational, decomposing, erotic,  multibodied, plural.

In thinking about my play, the phrase ‘soluble personhood’ came to mind… I realized that I was thinking about the possibility that what we normally demarcate as a ‘person’ might be in fact be less securely bounded. That rather than a homeland security of the self,  there might be a soluble personhood—a black-lit spectrum of ways in which one supposed ‘person’ might occupy another’s literal and spectral space, become imbricated, a coefficient, a parasite or a saint… On the most conventionally acceptable ethical pole this might be called ‘empathy’, on the most conventionally unacceptable a kind of possession or military/imperial occupation. I have been thinking about this as a model for thinking about both living in the world and the act of writing, the radical act of co-identification that is not always benign, benevolent, ethical, but which radically re-situates the space of ‘event’  in an occult, contradictory, irreal “dark” space… dark in the physics sense of that term…a site we don’t have the coordinates of, an anticause which might issue radical effects…

For me there is an (imperfect, and therefore energy-shedding) analogy for this somewhere in the matter of privacy vs secrecy as it pertains to leaks and drones. The drone is the supposed non-cause which only has effects. It moves around the planet like a leak, and then, like a dream deferred, it explodes.  Only once it has its effect is it deduced as a cause. Relatedly, the TOR-encryption system utilized by Manning and Assange is an elaborate strategy of movement and envelopment. Importantly, the encryption doesn’t encrypt the ‘secret content’ of the leak; instead, the successive onion-like layers of encryption wrap around the content and direct how the content is moved around the Internet through so many nodes and portals that its journey can’t be recreated to find the source of the leak.( Indeed, the very verb hidden in the noun ‘leak’ gestures towards this shadowy/shameful/obscene action, this movement.)

TOR-encryption is interesting to me because the content of the message is of no interest to the hackers that built this system; only the motion is, the jackets of code that distend and obscure the event of transmission and make it irreal; then, once it arrives, it lyses its content, sheds effects so, so real that it’s reality-changing. Analogously, the much vaunted territory of ‘interiority’, so important to conventional personhood and its handmaiden, literature, becomes chimerical when reconceived from a framework of solubility. One idea, one body, one gender, one ethnicity, one language contains another, another which may also be, a la Heisenberg, a nothing, until it can’t survive it anymore.

I realize one keystone for my thinking about soluble personhood is Leslie Scalapino’s Dahlia’s Iris: Secret Autobiography + Fiction¸the over-nomination of the title accurately forecasting the oversaturation of the book itself with genres, persons, plots.  A lot goes on in this busy brain of a book, including a detective plot, but I was stopped in my tracks by what happens on page 27 when the reader is suddenly given some irreal information about one of the protagonists, the Detective Grace Abe:

Grace had changed. Four years earlier a meeting of occurrences had precipitated, or suddenly there was a man who had been a marine dead who was in her. She would be running out, it would be him running. But she would never leave her body or her own mind when he was there.  He’d been Special Forces, an assassin when he was alive; she hadn’t known him but she would feel the presence of his activities, ‘ghosts of actions she had done’ which were apparently his, or hers. Though she hadn’t acted (when he had killed someone, before entering her).

First addicted to Ibogaine, a drug used by Indian hunters, causing illness of vomiting followed by elation and an utter lucidity in hunting, she’d spiraled with the marine being there erratically. Then addicted to a Peruvian drug derived from frogs, the secretion applied to burn marks on one’s chest or arms […] She changed. The marine who really was a particular unknown person, did not return.

Yet there were still flickers as if she’d known people before, whom she was now seeing. […]


As in the entire oeuvre of Alice Notley, here one figure is a medium for the dead but the effect is neither consistently revelatory nor tolerable, neither stable nor totally eradicable. Is Grace ‘hosting’ the marine or at war with him? She does violence to her ‘self’ in an effort to burn him out, or maybe in an effort to mimic his own drug addictions or chemical warfare in Vietnam. Thus she might be most fully ‘embodying’ the marine and accepting his occupation when she is mimicking him and using her own body to stage the event of violence against him. Scalapino’s typically charming and frustrating prose flickers across the lines, the graceful comma or the unexpected ‘or’ often doing the linking of two quite disparate or unbearable thoughts. “She would be running out, it would be him running.” As this sentence suggests, solubility and fluidity is not a lovely thing; one entity is drained, another filled, both poisoned, both killed. Everything is adulterated. Although the ‘marine’ supposedly does not return, he does somehow return as after-effects, irreal re-cognitions.

And yet, I find this passage incredibly liberating; I feel a self-re-cognition everytime I re-turn to it. This is what it feels like to be in the world, to be a figure at once perpetrating an occupation and suffering one, to be bearing in one’s ‘self’ the virtual violence of everyplace. What I buy, eat, wear, use is a violence on myself and others.  I cannot think of exceptions. Meanwhile I host a radical array of others, of ideas, images, griefs, fantasies, disappointments, which seem to occupy the part of ‘me’ that other people think of as their ‘selves’. So I’m carrying all this violence around, doing it to my ‘self’, all the time. I wish I didn’t have a self and could just be passed out in the puddle like Narcissus. It’s debriding and decomposing and sad this solubility, but sometimes often spectacular, a drug. I think of Lucas De Lima’s lucidly surreal elegy on the death of his friend, Ana Maria, by alligator attack, an irreal project of solubility which requires of occupation of the poet-space by many spectral and real and irreal bodies and species. Lucas enfigures this co-habitation when he writes:

My beak returns to Ana Maria’s throat. Feeding.

On cloudy nights when she dies again I have to perform such dives—



It is not a hacker we pursue

Or a wireless connection to bathe in

We want a waterfall in the Space we digitize together

I maximize windows when Ana Maria throws a seed at me

Keep MySpace blank for her


This occupation may be a consensual one on the part of the poet but it is a painful one, a grief-engorged one, an intolerable one, an unsurvivable one, as one death is transferred into the body of another, what Lucas might call ‘conviviality’, or I might call co-morbidity. We might call solubility a survival strategy for life in the Anthropocene if survival itself weren’t such a debatable goal, and if we weren’t already dead.


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