Archive for July, 2013

Sea Change: Sound as Force in e.e. cummings, Plath, and Tim Jones-Yelvington

by on Jul.31, 2013

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning


1. Tim Jones-Yelvington and I built a battle-wagon made of sound. It is made of both of our words, Tim’s lungs, trachea, and soft -palate, Tim’s sense of sound as glamorous decor and still more glamorous weaponry, my interest in the vulnerability of Irish epic heroes, my rage and grief for Bradley Manning, my rage at the US governments many crimes and alibis. This is what it sounds like.

tim jones-yelvington

“TimTin” (Tim Jones-Yelvington)


2. This amazing invention made me think more about what Sound is, the force of Sound, what force it may be said to have. I am interested in the mess and muck of sound, its glamorous necro-force, the way it forces itself like the sea that changes through the aperture of the human body and into the soft tissue of the human brain. I see this muck and murk as a not-quite rational fabric, propagating its waves through us, forcing upon us its own occult connections , ie assonance, rhythm, rhyme, hijacking the brain from its finer work of manufacturing such high-grade Cartesian products as self-hood and thought and forcing it instead to go ‘ding-dong’. Sound is violence. It causes its own seachange.

3. Outside realism, rationality, exposition, or depiction, there is something that cannot be named or paraphrased, there is something else. We might provisonally call it Death, or, the Real. Black, flexing, occult, fatal, seductive, violent, forceful, demonic, oozy, performed, as in Shakespeare’s plays, not in soliloquoy but multivocally before dream corpses and trick caskets, capable of forcing change, forcing the future to arrive: this is what sound is to me, and this is why I make my body and my writing a medium for sound. We don’t need to look back to Shakespeare to find these occult wriggling and bizzarre moments, moments which at once calls the nerves and brainstem to attention and demote the higher seats of logical thought:

ee cummings:

Jimmie’s got a goil



Jimmys got a goil and

she coitinly can shimmie


when you see her shake



when you see her shake a

shimmie how you wish that you was jimmie.

I first (and last) read this poem about 25 years ago in middle school and it has stayed with me, intact, for its bumpy burlesque music, its twisting motion. Jimmy’s goil’s shimmy invades the whole poem, making the poem perform dangerous whip curves  and moebius strips and turning continuously perverting the sounds of language—goil to a gutteral ‘gurl’  to by gulpled in the lusty gutter, that ‘i’ gets its own syllable, like foil, a glittery luster. The poem is a gesture and a garment with no body underneath. But it leads us to unclean thoughts—the poet’s thoughts: thoughts of leaving the self, for I to be an other—and finally to fatal thoughts:


talk about your Sal-



talk about your Salo

-mes but gimmie Jimmie’s gal.

Here, although Jimmie’s gal is preferred at the end and Salome supposedly rejected, Salome can’t be divorced from the goil; once she enters the poem, her steps are matched to the goil’s; Sal Sal Sal. Salome stands for sin, for murder and betrayal, as does, after all, Jimmie’s gal.  The twirling shape of the poem now resembles Salome’s veils, thrown off to show the allure, not of a conventional human body, but of fatality and crime underneath. But there is no Salome without her veils; it is her veils, and not her body, that hold allure; the shimmie is the goil; sound in this poem is the shimmie’s fatal (and only!) body.

This poem with its gladsome gal-salome, its wriggly salamandinre form and its blackly occult engine recalls another infamously catchy poem, Plath’s Lady Lazarus. In this poem, the body is a garment—‘the clothes the grave cave ate’—and that garment is made of sound. This Ariel-minded poet first recounts one of her many deaths, one of her many sea-changes, in the language of Ariel’s song: “I rocked shut/As a seashell./ They had to call and call/And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls”. After this alarming claim the poem takes on its ding-dong Seussy swiftness:

Dying/ Is an art,/ like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real./I guess you could say I’ve a call./It’s easy enough to do it in a cell. It’s easy enough to do it and stay put./It’s the theatrical/Comeback in broad day/To the same place, the same face/ the same brute/Amused shout: ‘A miracle!’ That knocks me out. –

These brief lines move like a rickety Coney- Island rollercoaster chuffing us off to the Sublime. As with cumming’s poem, assonantal distortions provide the glamorous vertiginousness. We begin with ‘el’ but that ‘el’ becomes sprained: “else”, “well”, “hell”, “real”.  The long ‘e’ of ‘real’ takes longer in the mouth and represents that little hop before the rhymes start blinkering out, returning, going hectic and haywire: real to ‘call’, call to ‘cell’, ‘cell to ‘theatrical’, and, after a long wait, ‘A miracle’. The ‘c’s (the sea’s!) soften and harden, close and open around a vowel that changes shape like a tiny breathing mouth. There is something uncanny in that undead, mewling vowel and its little valve of opening ‘c’ and ‘l’ sounds. That something is the punctum, the wound, the magnet, the death drive, the ‘knockout in broad daylight’ which we all should  love and ‘beware’. The poem’s speedy virtuosic tercets are its shimmie, its brief body, its fatal veils with nothing as safe as a body underneath: “ I am your opus/I am your valuable/the pure gold baby/that melts to a shriek.”


4. Sound’s effects, sound’s stupid and contagious ‘ding dongs’ are not poetry’s decorations, a matter of dry tradition or technique, or, god forbid, something that must ‘follow’ sense or ‘serve’ the poem in any way. Sound is ART, breaking through the conventions of the poem as commodity, as polite and sanitized exchange, revolting the poem, shimmiing, it, sea changing it, making it spill its black unparaphrasable guts and rework the poem as a black site where the individual-serving-size self with its rationalized self-image doesn’t actually want to go. Sound may seem to give a poem unity but it is also the place where something non-rational, even inhuman takes over the poem, a compulsion, a forcefulness as ready to shake it to death or flip it into the afterlife as stroke it to sleep with dulcet, sinister tones. It would be a mistake, however, to associate Sound’s irrationality, it’s nonsense power with the a-political. For Sound’s irrational force,  its appetites, its drives, its greed, its bloodthirstiness, its pratfalls and its violence are politics itself. In an introduction to his 1926 volume  is 5, e.e. cummings wrote,

At least my theory of technique, if I have one, is very far from original; nor is it complicated.  I can express it in fifteen words, by quoting The Eternal Question And Immortal Answer of burlesk, viz.”Would you hit a woman with a child? – No, I’d hit her with a brick.” Like the burlesk comedian, I am abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement.

Sound’s burlesk action, its precision, is violent; it is violence; it moves through real bodies, touching them all. It calls and responds. It carries with it all the hilarious energy of hitting a pregnant woman, hitting a woman with a brick. Rather than removing us from the exquisite composition of the Shakesperean play, from the political anhendonia of this anthropocenic, teratogenic moment, Sound is the occult black force running through, over, and across all the seemingly sane bodies of the stage or state. Sound amplifies what nice society tries to hide. Sound is hilarity, it is desire, it is revulsion, it is pettiness, lust, vanity, even ill-conceived expenditure and generosity; Sound is Violence’s motion, its machine and its garment, its contact and its diminition, its ‘reply all’ and ‘delete all’, as it saturates the troposphere with its fatal force, its rich, strange toxins, its unbearable climates, its sea-change.

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Evil is an Author of Beauty: The Selected Works of José Antonio Ramos Sucre, trans. Guillermo Parra

by on Jul.26, 2013

Jose Antonio Ramos Sucre. Now you know.

Jose Antonio Ramos Sucre. Now you know.


Comrades, I have read a book of such maddeningly delightful savour that I must urge you to immediately devour it with all possible haste and candelabra-infused solemnity. Perhaps by the light of a ‘candelabra-app’.

Let us begin with a nice thick slice of this peculiar cake, which tastes hauntingly of velvet curtain, exultation and despair:

I suffer an illustrious degeneration; I love pain, beauty and cruelty, especially the latter, that serves to destroy a world abandoned to evil. I constantly imagine the sensation of physical suffering, of the organic lesion.

So opens ‘Life of the Damned’, a 1925 poem by the Venezuelan poet José Antonio Ramos Sucre [1890-1930], as translated by Guillermo Parra for the recent (and first!) English edition of Ramos Sucre’s Selected WorksIn his own time and for decades thereafter, you will be surprised to learn, Ramos Sucre’s was a decidedly unfashionable flavor, since his robustly decadent,  Symbolism-infused work put him at odds with both traditionalist and modernist trends.  But oh, my foes, and oh, my friends, it gives a lovely light!

I was anxiously fleeing, with sore feet, through the hinterlands. The snow flurry was dampening the black ground.

I was hoping to save myself in the forest of birches, incurved by the squall.

I was able to hide in the antrum caused by the uprooting of a tree. I composed the manifested roots so as to defend myself from the brown bear, and scattered the bats with shouts and hand claps.

I was bewildered by the blow I had received on my head. I was suffering hallucinations and nightmares in the hiding place. I understood I would escape them by running further. […]

From ‘Fugitive’

Ramos Sucre’s work is thick with phrases, sentences as exquisitely arranged as a funeral bouquet. I want to lay down on this lily-bier forever! The logic is somehow olfactory, with one phrase opening into and infusing the next with its odorous stain, like lily-sperm dug deep into a plaque of velvet. And yet there is a momentum to these lines. I feel rapt by the footfalls of the phrases, and as my ankle is snared by the surprising word orders (“incurved by the squall” and, later, “long, amplective reeds”) I feel myself almost transformed into an Ovidian figure, becoming one with the landscape even as I flee into it. Rather than escape, unbearable transfiguration into the vernal embrace of the poem must follow.


Ramos Sucre has enjoyed/endured an almost ludicrously uneven reputation in Venezuela, mocked or ignored for decades before being revived by the mid-century avant-garde. In this fine volume, English-language readers will have the pleasure of grasping Ramos Sucre’s ghostly hand through a nest of competing versions:  the opening preface by Rubi Guerra describes the myriad of fictional Ramos Sucre’s haunting Venezuelan novels and plays, while the Prologue by the great poet-critic Francisco Pérez Perdomo gives a trenchant overview of Ramos Sucre’s avidity, severity and commitment to the decadent and symbolist principles of his art. Pérez Perdomo quotes one of Ramos Sucre’s aphorisms, not collected here: “Evil is an author of beauty. Tragedy, the memory of misfortune, is the superior art. Evil introduces surprise, innovation in this routine world. Without evil, we would reach uniformity, we would succumb to idiocy.” He also offers a practical description of Ramos Sucre’s innovations which will help readers come to their own relationship with Ramos Sucre’s work through Guillermo Parra’s thrilling and scrupulously correct-feeling translations. The tone of Parra’s English seems to me an exact complement to the piercing, uncompromising gaze with which Ramos Sucre charges the reader on the back of the book. Attention, Artists of the Future!:

The assault of a boreal race announces the millennium of the eclipse. I insinuate myself in the throng of the victors and reprimand the uncivil excess and joviality. My intrepidity at the threshold of death and the insistence of Virgil confer upon me the privilege of an immune life.

YES! Read the heroically assembled and translated Selected Works of José Antonio Ramos Sucre and experience a re-dedication to the diabolical Art-life we have all grasped so desperately amid the tear-gas and tasings of the victors, the idiocy of the prosperity gospel.  Let the remains of 2013 ignite in a crepuscular monument to José Antonio Ramos Sucre, to Guillermo Parra, to Bill Lavender and the apparently defunct ( O slain! Slain by capitalist administrators!) University of New Orleans Press for publishing this vital and necessary work. This is success in life.

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Autistic Cuneiforms: Styx Förlag, CM Lundberg and Mattias Forshage

by on Jul.24, 2013

One of the most inspiring books I’ve been reading over the past few months has been the Swedish publisher Styx Förlag’s anthology Autistisk Kilskrift. It’s somewhat oriented around the work of Mattias Forshage, one of the original members of the Surrealist Group of Stockholm, which readers of this blog might know from my discussions of Aase Berg, who got her start there in the 80s.For example, together Forshage and Berg wrote the manifesto Surrealism in Ulterior times, which can be found in translation here.

Anyway this anthology is marvelous and strange, eclectic. One of my favorite writers in here is CM Lundberg, for example (in my hasty translation):

Rat Song (slow mentally ill music):

Something new that kind of got the thought to go askance and
never successfully reached the destination, it was enemies, she with the small
fetuses (with glitter on) plus somebody else.
One was not allowed to talk about one’s obsessions. Some built houses.
It was more exciting to see.
My contact with catholocism:
I called around 11 from the mushroom. Needed to be cleansed. A good
representative received me at his office and listened to my story.
The non.river was black. non sat and rested on the river bed.
The strangely slow poisoning process had its own sound.
A spot light.
Afterward I understood that it was hard to get a hold of him.
There was one hour left.

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“Power Emanates from the People," or Political Allure in Brazil

by on Jul.20, 2013

There are unexpected parallels in Johannes’/Shaviro’s definition of allure from a few weeks ago to the protests still happening throughout Brazil.  Just as the secrecy of poetry rouses anxiety—leading to the benchmarks of accessibility or distance as critical antidotes—the unruliness of demonstrations continues to perplex politicians and journalists.  Few seem able to grasp an uprising with no leaders or packagable program beyond the demand for better public services.  As if to check off this blog’s keywords, the protests are often criticized for being contagious, violent, and disorderly versions of what happens in more developed nations.  The TV news cycle has been pretty much the same every night, following a “peaceful” or “festive” march with endless footage of looting and vandalism by masked youth.  When left-leaning commentators, including the President, denounce protestors’ rejection of party affiliation (and, in many cases, the entire party system), they’re likewise targeting a kind of civic disobedience and immaturity.  Yet, as in other countries, the protests grow with no end in sight precisely because they defy established politics.  Their allure has even eclipsed the spectacle of soccer, that opium of the masses, as hundreds of thousands march against exorbitant spending on the World Cup.

A phrase in the Brazilian Constitution, of all things, might shed light on the protests’ allure:  “Power emanates from the people” (“O poder emana do povo”).  If Shaviro thus argues that allure spreads “in the very flows and encounters of everyday existence,” the etymology of “emanate” as that which “flows out” hints at the extent to which Brazilians’ unrest is as seductive and enigmatic as art.  As everyone likes to point out, social media has revitalized this emanation, allowing anyone to physically invoke the masses.  But there’s no denying the power—and, more importantly, the mystification of power—in the congregation of bodies themselves.

Takeover of the National Congress in Brasilia

(continue reading…)

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Blake Butler on The Fassbinder Diaries

by on Jul.19, 2013


Blake Butler has written a really interesting review of The Fassbinder Diaries over at Vice Magazine.

Here’s an excerpt:

Page by page the book continues to open and pile on itself, building as it goes a kind of catalog of cryptic films and sound, all of it laced together by the body of the book and coming open in odd places, with sudden images from nowhere like: “A pig can vibrate upon birth.” And “A red smear in an empty house, an isle covered with bird shit.” From jump to jump there builds a strange, hypnotic music, one which by the end has seemed to wrap around the reader like a film that never ends, insisting you stay in it alongside all the other images its captured. By the end, it is an experience more immediate and thrilling than one expects in such a small place, and lingers thereafter like a video you flipped to late one night on some shitty TV in a strange house and felt infatuated with or hypnotized by and never saw again. 



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War Spasm Gristle Day: Joyelle McSweeney on Aase Berg, Translation and Cúchulainn

by on Jul.18, 2013

[I forgot to link to Joyelle’s essay on “War Spasm” now up on The Volta:]

1)I write in contaminated, rampant, ill, struggling, fetid and fatal forms because that is where I exist and what life is. I exist as a spasm, a plasmodial wiggle, and I live in an impossible state—the and/or. The and/or is not quite two things, it is not quite one, it is more than two and less than one, at once. It’s devastating, debilitating, and a little bit great. The and/or is a paradoxical and volatile and impossible material. You can make it in a pressure cooker, set it to cook while you’re on shift, a hot dinner for the kids, a home-cooked meal. Or cook it up in an industrial plant in West, Texas. You can collapse a stacked-up garment factory in Dhaka, or just work there, or just buy clothes, munch labor like a weevil or spirochete. It will grow within you, without you. It will wrap its tough fungal strands around your spinal chord where it cannot be removed. Column, columbia, dove of peace, fatal phalanx. The and/or pours irrationality down into the would-be technically assessable, economically appraisable pre-fab units of literary form and blows them apart. To high heaven. To kingdom come. Or to the rehab ward, where your life will be saved thanks to battlefield medicine. Thanks to a decade of war, now in syndication. Thanks to Bellona’s many corporate syndicates. The and/or is really an ‘or.’ The and/or is an ‘or’ which means ‘and.’ It is an or which will not let you alone. An occult ampersand. A bitch to watch out for. Trouble every day.

For more go here.

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Some more discussion about Beth Towle's "Affected Folk" post

by on Jul.17, 2013

[There was some good discussion on Facebook about the Beth Towle’ post I linked to yesterday, so I thought I would post some of it here:]

Kim Göransson great article. reading an interview with mumford in rolling stone it was interesting how he was mostly just inspired by the brother where are thou soundtrack. there’s like this idea of genuine roots music that disqualifies too much awareness, not to mention dressing up in borrowed full bluegrass getup!
21 hours ago · Like

Johannes Göransson There’s a great quote in the Greil Marcus book I mention in my post – where Bob Dylan says he can’t understand why people distinguish between his surrealistish songs and his folk songs because folk music is full of this weird shit.
21 hours ago · Like · 2

Kim Göransson ballad of a thin man’s got nothing on ancient mythology, hello
21 hours ago · Unlike · 2

Daniel Tiffany a poetics of “affectation” inevitably raises questions, as it does in this essay, about fakery and fraudulence. These questions go all the way back to the beginning of elite appropriation of folk poetry (archaic ballads) in the 18th century. Rather than trying to run from the question of fakery, let’s try to think about it as the key to a crucial, but still reviled and misunderstood, aesthetic category: KITSCH. Modern authenticity (of which “affected folk” is a variant) is always counterfeit (or cunterfeit)–in thrilling ways! *My Silver Planet: A Secret History of Poetry and Kitsch* (due out from Johns Hopkins University Press this fall) looks hard at the beginning of folk poetry in the 18th century, its relation to forgery, and how important these issues are to many kinds of poetry since.

Kim Göransson the blues album im writing recording sort of treats blues as kitsch, zoning in on specific blues elements, like say, a loved one drowning in a river, or using familiar blues phrases and words. a lot of these old blues songs are pretty fragmented and obsessed, endlessly stolen rewritten variated to point of little discernible ownership, like the words don’t even matter, they’re just there so you can wail because shit is fucked

Daniel Tiffany the language of a blues lyric written by a Black poet is just as artificial (a matrix for ornamentation and performance) as it is for any white poet that covers it. For both poets, it’s a synthetic vernacular–with different motives and effects–a symptom of kitsch from the start.
19 hours ago · Edited · Unlike · 1

Johannes Göransson Also, Kim Göransson, Swedish poetry is a really interesting case study for this because of all the modernist poets who wrote ballads, and all the folk singers who are considered poets etc:
(continue reading…)

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Beth Towle on Abe Smith, Maurice Manning and "Affected Folk"

by on Jul.16, 2013

At The Actuary, Beth Towle begins to consider the role of “folk” in Abe Smit and Maurice Manning’s work:

Abe Smith’s rant-like paeans to rural life, Maurice Manning’s twangy, plain-spoken sonnets, the Punch Brother’s banjo-heavy love songs: these are all forms of affected folk. Affected folk is interesting not because it plays WITH our traditional knowledge or ideas of what folk “is.” Rather, it plays WITHIN those expectations. Folk art is meant to be democratic, is meant to be true to its name. Folk wants to pretend that it is for the people. Affected folk understands that folk is not about democracy but about the allure of democracy and the inevitable unfulfilling of such a claim that a certain register of art can ever hope to be “for” anyone, let alone lots of anyones. Affected folk is always conscious of what it’s doing but not because it is trying to play towards a specific crowd. Instead, affected folk simultaneously loves and questions its forms and tools. And the readers and listeners of affected folk cannot simply sit back and enjoy the art they consume; they are instead complicit in also loving and understanding what it is that is appealing or unsettling, beautiful or painful about folk art.

I think about Greil Marcus’s brilliant book Invisible Republic (I think it was retitled Weird Old America in later editions) where he gets at the gothic and curious ways that a certain “weird old America” gets configured and reconfigured occultly (the last time it appears according to Marcus is in Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes but Greil probably never read Abe Smith).

Abe Smith is a brilliant writer, whose work is really unique, coming out of folk music and a rural working class background, by way of slam poetry, he has developed this totally unorthodox, almost Celan-ish style of word play (all the while retaining that “folksiness” that Beth talks about). It seems people have had a hard time considering his work critically, even as he’s been an obvious influence on a number of writers.

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Donald Dunbar on the State of Poetry

by on Jul.11, 2013

Ron Klassnik has posted a good essay by Donald Dunbar on the state of poetry over on HTML Giant.

Among other good points:

A bunch of people have taken issue with Edmundson’s scolding of poets for a lack of aesthetic ambition–”blah blah private hermetic blah timid etc.,” says Edmundson, truly. Most of the people who have taken most issue with this have Ph.D.’s. Ph.D.’s are wonderful things and I wish I had one, but a Ph.D.-ed poet who doesn’t think that their degree might give them special access to plenty of poetry today does not have much faith in their degree, and, given that, a Ph.D. who doesn’t acknowledge that some dedicated, smart people sometimes feel left out of the greater conversation of poetry–for lack of half-a-decade of time and specialized training, as well as a host of other things–seems kinda hegemonic. I also don’t understand, though I’ve heard the argument before, that four-ish years of intense study in a very specific environment (i.e. small-town mid-west) doing a very specific job (teaching comp to freshmen) does not seriously affect one’s poetry in a very specific way. It’s unfair to say that living that life and ceaselessly engaging in those dialogues makes one’s poetry hermetic, but does it make poetry more likely to be considered hermetic by those outside that lifestyle? I say maybe.

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Humiliation and "Spoiled Identity": McSweeney, Koestenbaum and Glenum

by on Jul.11, 2013

“One must be nervous.” – Nijinsky

“I danced badly because I kept falling on the floor when I did not have to. The audience did not care, because I danced beautifully.” – Nijinsky

The other day I was talking to Joyelle about the highly ornamental, perversely poetic aesthetic of her work, and in particular the play “Contagious Knives” and she said, she feels the excessive aesthetics to be a form of humiliation – of the language and of herself as the author.

You can sense that in the very beginning of the play, in stage directions that are crowded with both props and language: from “panties” to “Harajuko cum Cracker Jack look,” from “liquid eyeliner” to “kiddie Oedipus.” When I talk about “kitsch”, this is the kind of thick, poetic language I talk about. What is more kitsch than poetry and its trinkets? Poetry Magazine (beacon of taste) recently published Vanessa Place’s manifesto of taste: it said “no more metaphors… no more retinal poetry.” This is fundamentally the guiding high culture taste of our age: the poetic is kitsch. Well, Joyelle’s poetry says: More ultra-retinal, so much more trinkets that it humiliates.
But, in keeping with a post from a couple of weeks ago, it’s also language that is highly alluring; a poetics of excess that fascinates.

Here’s Louis Braille’s opening monologue:

Louis Braille: Hi whores. I know you too my cell phone in gym class, but, whatever.
Looking for what, pictures of your boyfriends’ jocks?
Whores, you have no idea. I’m a very special cunt.
A very special fucking cunt. That’s what Daddy always said (wink wink).
You’ll never get the goods on me. I keep
two laptops, two accounts, a mirror site,
a snake ski encryption device: me
and then another me. I double down,
and then I double up. It’s in the footage you’ll never see.
For God’s eyes, sweeties. All my lines run to red, red, red.
That’s debt. A sinking balance, a fast declining line.
I get it from your daddies, and I spend it like endrhyme
or eyerhyme
like a run in one’s stocking or one’ arrow-stock-rah-cee
or in one’s eye.
I shot an arrow into the air, it split my eye, it doubled my vision
it made my stock sore, sigh high
and from that height I did espye
fallen to earth among a heep of polo ponies
Nazi costume parties fancy creeps and aging queens.

I think this is a kind of poetics statement: everything proliferates in art, creating a kind of “debt.” (continue reading…)

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