Archive for August, 2013

Swedish Gurlesque

by on Aug.30, 2013

My last post for the Poetry Foundation is now up. It’s about teh use of the concept/word “Gurlesque” in Sweden and some poets that I think the term does a good job of providing a framework for, Sara Tuss Efrik and Stina Kajaso.

Here’s an excerpt:

“The book has stirred a powerful reception in Sweden, generating a lot more high-profile discussion of the word “Gurlesque” than happened in the U.S. (while in the U.S. there has been a lot of blog discussions, it seems the gatekeepers of high culture have done a good job of keeping it out). There have been articles in pretty much all the major Swedish newspapers as well as a bunch of web journals and blogs. The prominent web journal Ett lysand namn recently published a special issue devoted to the Gurlesque (an essay by me appears in this volume, in English).

In an extensive essay on the gurlesque in Dagens Nyheter (what might be called The New York Times of Sweden), which partially responds to Österholm’s book and partially to new books by the writers like Lidija Praizovic, Lina Hagelbäck and Sara Tuss Efrik, the prominent Swedish poet Anna Hallberg writes: “But what happens when the doll game flips out? If it takes over? If the roles it stages are not pedagogical or constructive, but grotesque, perverse and violent? In feminist theory, this form of artistic expression is called Gurlesque.” She concludes: “When Aylin Bloch Boynukisa writes in ‘The Geneology of the Girl Organ’: ‘I change course with my porcelain eye/my blinking gigantic doll eye,’ it’s a change of course I can believe in.””

It is interesting to see how the word/concept has had a much different reception in Sweden than in the US, where I think it’s been incredibly influential even as scholars and editors have pretty much kept it out of official discussions of “the field” of contemporary poetry. There are many reasons for this: the fact that Sweden tends to be more interested in feminism (it is as Julian Assange pointed out, “the Saudi Arabia of feminism”), the fact that many of Sweden’s leading poets and writers (Aase Berg, Ann Jäderlund, Johan Jönson, Katarina Frostensson etc) were working in the realm of the grotesque and gothic while the US critical establishment has done everything it can to erase such tendencies. But most important I think is that in Sweden, the mass media and the “high culture” establishments tend to be more receptive to popular changes. They don’t see themselves controlling the discourse, like American leading critics and editors, but responsible to report on it. The result is in many ways a more dynamic discourse around contemporary poetry. On the positive side for the US, this controlled discourse has led to the proliferation of small presses. Something that has, incidentally, only recently started to happen in Sweden, but interestingly, two powerful instances of Swedish small press presses are the gurlesque-friendly feminist presses Dockhaveri and Rosenlarv.

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Tales from the Crypt V: Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle on Le Comte de Lautrémont

by on Aug.21, 2013

Tales from the Crypt V (black beach reading) by Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle
The Chants of Maldoror by Isidore Ducasse/Le Comte de Lautréamont

“My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me. Tell me where did you sleep last night.“
“In the pines, in the pines, where the cold wind blows . . .”


Many the inroads made on evil, its constituency, continuance and crepuscular constitution. Baudelaire stacked up big wins. Dennis Cooper, in The Marble Swarm, to shop close and current. Poe, posies, poesy. None outdo Maldoror. This is the pit, art of darkness, full-on damnation to its gory core. †

“Death rained down like rags in Paris/Like an ugly vampire, like the wings of an umbrella . . .”* †

I read sick and twisted texts to free my mind from banal bourgeois domination! (continue reading…)

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Paul Celan, "Memory of France"

by on Aug.21, 2013

It’s been a long time since I read Paul Celan. Read some of the early poems in Swedish translation by Lars-Inge Nilsson today. Just can’t get over how beautiful “Memory of France” is. So I’m “translating” it here from Swedish to English:

Memory of France

You, remember with me: the skies of Paris, the large autumn crocus…
We bought hearts from the flower girls:
they were blue and blossomed out in water.
it started to rain in our room
and our neighbor came, Monseiur Le Songe, a ragged little man.
We played cards, I lost the irises of my eyes;
you lent me your hair, I lost it, he struck us down.
He left through the door, the rain followed him.
We were dead and could breathe.

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Corean Music #5: The Violent Excess of Rebecca Loudon, Kim Hyesoon and Marosa di Giorgio

by on Aug.21, 2013

The new installment of my “Corean Music” series is up at the Poetry Foundation:

“This is why I take issue with Steve Burt’s notion (expressed in a Facebook comment thread in response to my last post) that we can discern and celebrate a non-violent “excess” in contemporary poetry (and, by implication, construct a hygienic barrier around it, cordoning off and out of the conversation of those poets who don’t see violence as optional). Following my own ideas about ambient violence and those of Morton, I would argue that if excess isn’t violence, it’s not excess. That ‘ex-’ means something. It means coming out of, going beyond. Excess is something that is continually coming through itself, becoming an ‘Aeolian event,’ re- and hyper-medializing itself, splitting itself apart to pour more of itself through. If it doesn’t perform this ‘ex-’ it’s not excess. Excess is violence.”

I go on to talk about the work of Rebecca Loudon, Kim Hyesoon and Marosa di Giorgio.

Read the whole thing here.

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On the Importance of Taking Sides

by on Aug.20, 2013

When Joyelle and I started Action Books one of the first things we did was write some manifestos about poetry and poetics (about translation, deformation, the gothic etc). We wanted to not only generate a discussion that interested us and that dealt with work we loved (work which was not being published or discussed), but we also wanted to be honest. We hated how so many presses would claim to publish “the best of any style,” setting themselves up as neutral observers, as if their evaluation of what was “the best of any style” wasn’t a style, a point of view hidden beneath the cool veneer of rational and discerning judgment.

For all his flaws, one hugely important result of Ron Silliman’s blogging is that he made clear that everybody had an aesthetic, made clear that even that “neutral” aesthetic was an aesthetic.

I was dismayed at a lot of the recent responses to Cal Bedient’s criticism of “Conceptualism” in the Boston Review. Many merely dismissed his article using the same binary rhetoric of “anti-experimentalism” as Silliman has employed. Lots of people would simply this complex article as “Just another old guy attacking the new” etc. Here the rhetoric of experiment-vs-anti-experiment was a way of avoiding having to engage in a discussion, a way of merely blocking out opposing viewpoints.

Even more disturbing were all the people – both pro and con – attacking the idea of writing an essay opposed to a group of poets. “Why doesn’t he write about things he likes?” asked some pro-conceptualists, conveniently ignoring that in large part conceptualism has built its reputation on anti-kitsch rhetoric dismissing the “lyric” poem etc. Why is criticism so bad? I would be very happy if a prominent critic took the time to publish an essay on why he disagreed with my poetics! It doesn’t mean I would automatically shut down the Mutilation-Factory, but it would maybe force me to think about certain elements of my aesthetic from a new direction.

But the worst responses to the Bedient essay that I saw were that some people (on facebook) wrote: “Don’t talk about it, it only bring them more attention.” The way we express disagreement in our contemporary American poetry culture is apparently not by expressing disagreement. It’s by ignoring different views and hoping they will go away. By ignoring the things we disagree with. There can be no better recipe for an anemic and dull literary scene.

I remember reading similar reactions to Seth Oelbaum’s provocative, highly thought-out and magnificently performative posts on HTMLGiant (about the AWP, about Marxism, about gender and violence etc). His posts caught on like wildfire a few months back and immediately people started warning each other (in public places like facebook no less) not the “stoke the fire” or “feed the troll.” “Do not read this post, and please do not talk about it,” one poet wrote on a famous critic’s facebook wall in near hysteria, as if afraid that the critic would be infected with the Oelbaum virus. Some people wrote diatribes attacking Seth for his perpetrating the ultimate sin of “self-promotion” (even though he aligned himself with the most-hated “one percent,” a obviously abject position) and of misreading Marx (even though, again, he aligned himself with the “one percent”!). It appears that the most controversial thing about Oelbaum was that he was controversial in a literary culture that is scared of controversy. Oelbaum became a kind of violence to the status quo.

I was reminded of this when Rauan Klassnik recently wrote a response to my posts on violence and art on the poetry foundation. When announcing this post to his e-friend, one person wrote back:
(continue reading…)

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Ross Brighton on Guyotat

by on Aug.18, 2013



[Here’s the first part of an excellent essay by Ross Brighton about the the great French writer Pierre Guyotat. I think it relates quite a bit to the recent discussion about Johan Jonsson…]

Pierre Guyotat’s Eden Eden Eden as Deleuzian War Machine

Pierre Guyotat is the quintessential outsider, profoundly other to the conventional idea of the writer or novelist. His progenitors are Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade and Jean Genet – De Sade’s dispassionate, literal descriptions of sexual depravity; Genet’s ambiguous morality and dream-like traversals of places with real names, yet which seem to be no place at all. Both of these precursors were also outsiders, who spent large periods of time incarcerated, and Guyotat’s experience mirrors this in his experience during the Algerian War, where, after inciting Algerian conscripts to desert, he was imprisoned in a hole in the ground for three months, during which he survived on scraps and scribbled on an illicit piece of paper he managed to hide. As Roger Clarke says, “the link with De Sade, scribbling away in the Bastille, is unavoidable”. Clarke also points out the African connection with Genet and Arthur Rimbaud.

The network produced by and containing both Guyotat and his writing can be conceptualised (though not territorialised) using the framework of Deleuze and Guattari. Guyotat is (as are all bodies) a desiring machine, and a writing machine, but also a war machine operating outside of and in opposition to ‘the state of the novel’, utilising writing as a weapon for the production of radical affective experience. The flows that pass between writer and text, through its production, and from text to reader can be mapped. The parts of this assemblage can be characterised as machines, and described in terms of functionality, culminating in the reader as textual consumer and thus affective machine.

Everything is machines. (continue reading…)

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Corean Music Part 4: It's "too much" (for some)

by on Aug.15, 2013

I have a new post (number 4) of “Corean Music” up at the poetry foundation. It’s about how critics and scholars (from Steve Burt to Marjorie Perloff and Kenny Goldsmith) love to use the economic rhetoric of austerity and standards: there’s too much poetry, they argue. Too much for whom? What is “too much”? What is “too much” is really an interesting, Bataillean space of excess?


All of these rhetorical strains are based on an economic model: “Too much” is inherently bad, is inflation. Each one sets up a kind of “gold standard”: the work of art cannot be gratuitous, must follow the standard. The problem is of course that poetry is not a “thing”—It’s all masquerade, all pageantry, all inflation. All gratuitous. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Daniel Tiffany’s forthcoming book on kitsch shows its strong connections to poetry and to the sense of an “excessive beauty.” Poetry is kitsch, poetry is inherently too much. Poetry is inflationary. Even Plato knew that! It’s why he got rid of the poets!

I think the recent post by Christian and Lucas, as well as the comment discussion to Christian’s posts are important and related topics in this debate. I hope to try to tie these things together over the next few days and I hope the rest of you will help me.

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Claudio Willer on the Romantic Rebellion

by on Aug.15, 2013

One of my living heroes is the Brazilian surrealist Claudio Willer, a poet, scholar, and translator of Artaud, Lautreamont, and Ginsberg.  In 1995 Willer offered the following thoughts for the magazine Azogue.  Check out how, in contrast with the anti-romanticism of U.S. experimental poetry, Willer prophesizes a way of steering our digitized lives toward insanity and immersion rather than rationality and restraint:

As for new paths, I think we’re still left with romantic rebellion.  And a possible rebellion is the transformation of language.  Socialism, I think, won’t be possible for a long time.  Just the way counterculture was the end of a cycle.  It had its importance as a break from values and customs, but 1968 was its peak and its end.  In the 70’s there were still echoes, but [counterculture] was no longer a movement.  And what came after—punk, goth, etc—are urban tribes, important as a way of conquering a cultural identity but not as a permeable and collective movement.  I think metropolises are inevitable, and what we need to do is learn to work on them in a poetic mode, create a poetic relationship with them.  We must transform language, and in this sense I think technological advancement is interesting.  […] It’s necessary to find a new language that is autonomous and doesn’t originate in drugs, as was the case with psychedelics.  I think this language can come from an absorption in the madness and poetry of our lives, in a liberated manner, and I think data is one way, among others, of doing this.  Technological advancement has two sides.  One is democratizing and the other—which I find weaker—is massifying.  But Burroughs’ response to massification is the fragmentation of language.  It’s necessary to learn how to deal with data the way Buñuel dealt with cinema.  Buñuel’s great merit was to make films only with poetic language, without narrative structure.  I think romantic rebellion is the only form of rebellion possible.

If our culture today seems to favor a kind of urban, Internet-savvy depletion of poetry’s powers (“I killed poetry”/“Is poetry dead?”), Willer provides an alternative vision.  He exalts precisely a ‘poetic relationship’ with the city, technology, and modernity—a perceptual proximity whose effect might very well be the sliced eye of Buñuel and Dalí’s Un chien andalous.  Or, incidentally, the guerrilla journalism of the collective Mídia Ninja.  Because the group’s livestream of the protests in Brazil requires their full participation, often leading to members’ arrests, it also uncannily turns the eyewitness into an immersed eye ready to discharge.


An hour ago in Rio

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Ross Brighton responds to "Corean Music"

by on Aug.15, 2013

[Ross Brighton wrote these comments on Facebook in response to the second “Corean Music” post I wrote for the Poetry Foundation.]

Also the idea of violence as ambient is really, really …. acute (I don’t know why but that seems like the appropriate word).
I’ve been talking a lot about violence with several friends of mine, because we all have PTSD, which is a result of violence. In a way, PTSD is like being infected with the ambience of violence, it’s omnipresence. It becomes present even through it’s absence and as violence seems always somehow gendered (even/especially male-on-male violence), violence latches onto gender. I was talking with my friend the other night about violent intimate relationships, and that Rihanna and Eminem song, and how Rihanna was vilified for it in a really fucked up way (I mean she was basically demonstrating what such relationships are like, and they’re hyper-aestheticised, as they’re kind of like addictive behaviour, there’s a rush, all the power-play is like… obscene pantomime)… but also how I couldn’t listen to that song because it reminds me of the omnipresence (ambience) of violence…. the fat that the male body is already coded as a potential weapon (which ties back to your post about Hysterical masculinity, and Kim’s post about Sports). And how ‘good’, ‘proper’ masculinity is kind of enacted as a “being able to be violence, but restraining it”. Not an absence of violence, but a not-committing it. I’m not sure that phrasing works properly, but I hope you can get what I mean there.

I should quickly note before my big spiel that my experience of PTSD is probably really, really different for how soldiers experience it, I know a guy who’s got PTSD from seeing active combat, and while the… mechanics are probably similar the way we cope is really, really different, as are the experiences of trauma, and … yeah I can’t speak to that kind of experience, nor really understand it in anything other than a really cursory way. I just thought that needed saying. But anyway, here goes.

I think the big thing for me is … well there’s the tying of violence to masculinity which I think is a really big thing, especially as it relates to both economic depression and sports cultures and the excessive drinking that is particularly associated with the former. (continue reading…)

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"… a relentless campaign against the human imagination": David Graeber on Neo-Liberalism and Potential Revolutions

by on Aug.14, 2013

Here’s an interesting article about revolutions and neo-liberalism by David Graeber.


It does often seem that, whenever there is a choice between one option that makes capitalism seem the only possible economic system, and another that would actually make capitalism a more viable economic system, neoliberalism means always choosing the former. The combined result is a relentless campaign against the human imagination. Or, to be more precise: imagination, desire, individual creativity, all those things that were to be liberated in the last great world revolution, were to be contained strictly in the domain of consumerism, or perhaps in the virtual realities of the Internet. In all other realms they were to be strictly banished. We are talking about the murdering of dreams, the imposition of an apparatus of hopelessness, designed to squelch any sense of an alternative future. Yet as a result of putting virtually all their efforts in one political basket, we are left in the bizarre situation of watching the capitalist system crumbling before our very eyes, at just the moment everyone had finally concluded no other system would be possible.

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"Uncontrollable Leakage" v. "Hygienic Barrier"

by on Aug.13, 2013

In recent essays posted at Harriet, the Poetry Foundation blog, Johannes discusses art and violence in ways that interest me for a variety of reasons as a writer who was once able to write fiction and poetry; also in my present incarnation as “crime writer”; also in my capacity as publisher of at least a few violent books — notably Johannes’s and Joyelle’s work, of course, along with Gordon Massman and Kim Gek Lin Short (to say nothing of Tarpaulin Sky magazine’s past contributors and editors, Rebecca Brown, Blake Butler, Selah Saterstrom, et al). I have a lot of things to say in response to Johannes’s essays, but am a terribly slow writer: with any luck, I’ll add a “part two” to this post in the next week or so.

Johannes notes that many poets are “hesitant about involving art and violence. If they do engage with violence, poets tend to seek to create a distance from the violence, erecting a hygienic barrier between the art and the violence.” This “hygienic barrier” may be found not only in work that seeks to avoid violence, but in the critique of work that employs violence. This “critical distance” appears “the hallmark of most academic writing about poetry for quite some time (and especially the kind of “experimental poetry” favored in the academy).” Johannes also discusses, by contrast, the unfiltered, unprocessed, experience of the “murderous impact” of violent art — i.e, the experience of violence before “learning to appreciate the artwork, before gaining that distance from the music that is the most intense.” This, writes Johannes, is the “best example of how art affects me.”[1]

I am reminded of a chapter in Selah Saterstrom’s novel, The Meat & Spirit Plan: “And Suddenly I Thought: This Is What It Means to Make a Movie in Sweden,” in which a young woman from the U.S. (the South), who is narrator and protagonist, receives a grant for promising ex-reform-school girls, allowing her to study abroad in Scotland. After shacking up with a local ex-con, she spends much of her free time making a study of meat — standing before the butcher at the open-air market, or sitting in the museum before Rembrandt’s “Slaughtered Ox,” when she is not incapacitated from inexplicable and excruciating illness. (continue reading…)

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Kim Hyesoon on "Corean Music"

by on Aug.13, 2013

Kim Hyesoon sent me the following response – via Don Mee Choi – to my posts on “Corean Music” at the Poetry Foundatio Blog:

“Please tell Johannes: I was born into a Christian household, so I grew up hearing my mom singing hymns. Then when I was in elementary and middle school I never heard any traditional Korean music. All the music teachers were teachers who had studied Western music. So I only listened to and sang music composed by Western composers. (Now, the music education in elementary and middles school is not like this anymore. Students listen to traditional Korean music and learn to play Korean instruments.) When I was in college, student protests against the dictatorship were wide-spread. I carried rocks in my skirt and delivered them to the students every time there was a protest. One of the deciding factors that made me to play such a role was that whenever the students marched out to protest, they always played traditional Korean instruments. I will never forget the first time I heard samulnori, traditional Korean music. When I heard the students play samulnori, tears just streamed down my face uncontrollably. It felt as if a “bright festival” was opening after hiding quietly somewhere inside my belly. During exorcism rites, Korean shamans play instruments to call the spirits and also to send the ghosts to another realm. During the Japanese colonial period, shaman rites were banned, and it was because of this colonial influence that I didn’t get to study traditional Korean music at school. There were no teachers who had studied traditional Korean music, so there was nobody to teach us. But now I’m so sick of it. Now that I’ve become a college professor, and because the college I teach at has a Korean music department, I get to listen to it every year on campus. And the creative writing students that I teach also play it often. So now whenever I hear samulnori, I close my eyes and think of something else. Anyway, I wanted to tell you my experience…”

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"I was kitsch": autobiography of an immigrant and a translator

by on Aug.12, 2013

I wrote an autobiographical account of my interest in translation for the poetry foundation:

I wrote a lot of poetry and I read widely (Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Surrealism, Genet, Plath, Ginsberg, etc.). I wrote all the time. Until I got to college. I loved college but I also learned about taste. I learned that my poetry was tasteless. From the quietist workshop I took I learned that I was “Romantic” because I used “too many metaphors,” that I didn’t “earn the images,” that my I wasn’t authentic. I.e. kitsch. We did read language poets in that class. I went out and read more by and about them. And from that reading I learned: I was too “Romantic” because I used an “I,” because I used metaphors, because I was interested in fascination and absorption, not distance and critique.

I stopped writing poetry because I was kitsch. I lacked taste, and poetry was all about having taste. Knowing when to say when. As Daniel Tiffany argues in Silver Planet, his forthcoming book on kitsch, kitsch is mostly not about a lack but about an excess: “excessive beauty.” It’s about not knowing when to stop. I would add, that kitsch brings the violent immersion of art. Art is kitsch in part when it’s so much that you cannot stand back and maintain your critical distance.

But some things brought me back to poetry. I read Vasko Popa in translation, I read Clayton Eshleman’s translations of the late work of Antonin Artaud. A girlfriend who worked for an interior decorating magazine told me that she had seen photos of an artist named Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose canvases of disassembled and re-assembled bodies reminded her of my poems. She showed me the letters from insane people she had collected at work (“Dear Mr. Randolph Hearts, I want to be president of the United States! I just smashes a mosquito!”). Most importantly, I came across the work of the young Swedish poet Aase Berg in a Swedish journal and that immediately inspired me…

Read the whole thing here.

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