Archive for October, 2013

Some Comfortable Thoughts: Inger Christensen’s Alphabet as Kill List

by on Oct.17, 2013

This new Kill List poem by Josef Kaplan is easily the best work of conceptual poetry I’ve seen in a long time. I’m an expressionist, not a conceptualist. But let’s face it, conceptualism, as Inger Christensen would say, ‘exists’. This particular conceptualist poem works for me because it invites us to consider an idea, and invites us to turn that idea over and over for as long as the idea interests us. Then it invites us to delete the idea. This is a great poem for FaceBook, for conversations heatedly engaged upon and then abandoned because other pressures such as the need to sleep or shop or nuke a burrito became more compelling. The deleting is part of the ‘reading’. This concept will self-destruct. Unlike a drone.

A Multipoint Array

As for the concept: we are introduced to the phrase Kill List, which for most nice liberal American poetry readers will conjure ideas of drone warfare or revolutionary violence or the opposite of a no-kill shelter or some kind of fatal indexing. Then the poem presents us with 68 pages of alphabetized poets’ names, grouped in sets of four, each identified as ‘rich’ or ‘comfortable’.  Like, ‘Caroline Bergvall is rich’ and ‘Jim Behrle is comfortable’.

One senses that this ranking of the poets into the dubious bourgeois or ultra-bourgeois categories is the bait we’re supposed to gobble up. And yet. I just read Inger Christensen’s Alphabet, in Susana Nied’s translation, last week with some students, and I can’t help but focus on that ‘is’.

‘Kill List’ could be read as a litany, it could be reading off a library shelf. The indexical adjustments of ‘comfortable’ and ‘rich’ have a nice, well, ‘comfortable’ sixties feel to them, a now- out-of-touchness, a vagueness. Like ‘don’t trust anyone over thirty’– as expressions of acute political crisis, kind of sweet. In our current context, these could be financial terms or refer to perceived social assets or even how interested the author feels in these poets–or it could be random. As 2 goes into four (ie the binary of rich/comfortable into the 4 line stanza), there is also the alphabetical order itself. Sweet old alphabetical order. Humans made you, and humans love you. But nothing humans make is innocent. Not even orders of knowledge.  Moreover we are invited to read these 68 pages as a computer would, scanning for names (names are the only element that changes), data mining an index for names we recognize. Like a drone-operator or a drone. Attention or recognition here is itself weaponized.

This is where I link Kill List to Inger Christensen. Re-reading Alphabet, I was very taken by the poem’s smoothness. It has the smoothness of a big fat bomber high up in the strangelove sky. As it glides, we glide, we can see the whole horizon line of the earth, cities and species and chemicals all becoming visual in the reading-scape of the poem. [nb, I think Kill List is a very retinal poem, since consuming its well-designed pages, its nicely serifed, landscaped font, is so very easy. It’s so easy to consume this book, to be an early adaptor of the predator’s visual viewpoint. After all, computers as we know them were developed in the 20th c. for work on the H-Bomb, for calculating shock waves. The Internet, as we know, is a military installation]. As each noun in Christensen’s poem comes into view, the poem remarks it ‘exists’. But I also felt this word ‘exists’ could function as meaning the opposite– each of these things ‘exists’ at the exact moment it leaves the planet. Alphabet is as much a cold war poem, ‘existing’ in the split second between the dropping of a nuclear bomb and its impact, as Kill List is a drone war poem. Both invite us to think about how poetry ‘exists’ under the aeriel penumbra of war.  Both make us realize how puny ‘existence’ is, how puny ‘is’ is.  The incommensurateness between the title’s reference to the supposed ‘inhumanity’ of drone warfare (I think drone warfare is humanity itself) and the poem itself might be the point of this poem.

No order of knowledge is neutral because it is tainted with human’s killer instinct. We like to call ourselves ‘sapiens’ because we draw up the very best kill lists and the very best robots or enlistees or acolytes to carry them out. As the very smart J. Robert Oppenheimer remarked, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Or, nuclear bombs exist. I myself am drone.

Maybe Adam’s MFA thesis in the garden of Eden, naming all the animals, was the first Kill List in western culture. Everything that can be brought into the order of human knowledge is also on the demolition list.

6 Comments more...

Some Thoughts About: The Gurlesque, Plath, Olga Ravn, Kim Yideum, Matilda Södergran and Sara Tuss Efrik

by on Oct.16, 2013

I’m supposed to write an essay about the gurlesque for the upcoming issue of the Swedish journal 10-tal. One thing I want to talk about is the importance of Sylvia Plath. Of course not the cleaned-up Plath that various scholars have tried to make into a master craftswoman over the past few decades, but the “problematic” Plath who blurs life and art, mythic suicide with art, the sleazy Plath of b-movies and fashion magazines, the Surrealist-influenced Plath, the ekphrastic Plath, the Plath of holocaust kitsch, the Plath beloved by teenage girls, the Plath quoted by Francis Bean Cobain in a recent tweet. In short, a gurlesque Plath.
Maybe I’ll talk about Judy Grahn’s amazing homage to that kitschy Plath, “I Have Come To Claim Marilyn Monroe’s Body”:

… They wept for you
and also they wanted to stuff you while
you still had a little meat left in useful places
but they were too slow.

Now I shall take them my paper sack
and we shall act out a poem together:
“How would you like to see Marilyn Monroe,
in action, smiling, and without her clothes?”
We shall wait long enough to see them make familiar faces
and then I shall beat them with your skull.
hubba. hubba. hubba. hubba. hubba.

Maybe I’ll talk about my meeting with the scholar who didn’t think Plath had any influence on contemporary poetry. I wrote about this some time ago: how he put all of Oppen’s work on the PhD comps list but had taken Plath off. Didn’t know about the gurlesque, didn’t know about any of the myriad of contemporary poets influenced by Plath. When I told him that’s because the field of contemporary poetic has become – post-lang-po – so narrowly defined that Plath is not part of it, he got upset and accused me of conservative populism a la Poetry Foundation. The truth is of course that the gurlesque is a word that points out the larger move toward maximalism and the grotesque, the kitschy and over-done (“too much”) that I at least find the most interesting poetry going on today.

An important features of this maximalism, this gurlesque is how international it is; how it’s not really a movement (which suggests a center, organization) but incredibly widespread, it’s really part of a kind of maximalist movement (that also is not limited to women). And it’s important to me that we don’t see it as an American thing. Even when Arielle Greenberg coined that word there were things that could be called gurlesque happening all over the place – from my point of view, most notably in Sweden and South Korea with people like Aase Berg and Kim Hyesoon. The word “gurlesque” does not function for me the way say “language poetry” did – it’s not a set America export (where the US is undeniable central) but a way of calling attention to not just an aesthetic but a connection, a conversation across language boundaries and cultures.
(continue reading…)

4 Comments more...

“Dead Youth, or, The Leaks”. COMING TO YOU LIVE MONDAY, OCT 14!

by on Oct.11, 2013

As I’ve been transmitting through the ectoplasm, my play, “Dead Youth, or, The Leaks” is being given a staged reading by Fiona Templeton’s performance group, The Relationship, this Monday, Oct 14, at 6:30, at the New Ohio Theatre in the Village. I would love for people to come out, because the event is intended to memorialize Leslie Scalapino, of whose stage-works Templeton is the major interpreter.  Of course I am incredibly grateful to Fiona Templeton, E. Tracy Grinell, and Caroline Bergvall for selecting my work for this prize in honor of Leslie Scalapino, and I also feel like a sister-in-arms with the army of 400 women who wrote plays to memorialize Leslie.

Mama Julian

Mama Julian

I’ve described my play’s relationship to Leslie Scalapino’s body of work, here, but I thought I would include an excerpt from the play to give you some flavor of what’s in store on Monday. This is a little aria delivered by Julian Assange in the second act of the play; it raises the farcical energy to such a level that it becomes an almost tensile material by which Abdi Wali Abdulqadir Muse (the teenage Somalian ‘pirate’) can board the stolen container ship on which the play is set and set the main plot in motion. (The plot involves helping Muse avoid incarceration in Terre Haute, IN. Well, that’s one plot.)

From Dead Youth, or, The Leaks:

JULIAN ASSANGE (patting the shoulder of DEAD YOUTH, calming them, distributing pills, talking a kind of soothing patter).

Hello, I am Julian Assange, I’ve been assassinated by my mother.

My mother was divine. A divine assassination.

She edited and improved me.

She shot me full of gold.

Protected me, gilt me, guided me, hid me, and bought me a Commodore 64

Now I endeavor to be a golden like my mother

to radiate hot pixels of information

to cell-divide forever

to stage a pussy riot, to offer teens of all nations

hot gobblets of information

pus-gold and liberating, the rays of my inflammation.

These pets you see gathered around me are little runts

I’ve collected from the NICU ward in Memorial Hospital in South Bend

Indiana. Poor things were born

addicted to oxycodone, oxycontin, valium and other narcotics.

Born like princesses with lotus feet. Only things fit them

are Nikes and IV’s. Poor things are asleep.

I had to save them from the cuddler army of 54  retiree

church organists, an invasive species.

I carry in this box a little code to feed them on.

sorry a little comb, they’re bees.

Please help yourself before helping others, little species

little protégées. It’s on demand!

It’s all you can eat on repeat forever.

in the event of two similar die-offs, the greater of two die-offs is

still similar. Infinity resembles infinity to the dead.

That’s why they need a mom like me

and how I can be one: resemblance

is a magick power. I copy my mother

& live here in drag like a mortal.

I just don’t have  a normal mortal motor.

I’m an abnormal mater!

                Abnormal matter!

But unlike cancer, I  have a motive.

It’s to keep these teens alive on the Internet.

I feed them like roses, I feed them privacee.

My motive is indetectible to you

because you don’t want to see it.

But my moralitee is a rare and strong growth.

It configures a colonee.

It grows in night vision.

It thrives on unnatural light.

Comments Off on “Dead Youth, or, The Leaks”. COMING TO YOU LIVE MONDAY, OCT 14! more...

Kofi Awoonor: Wingings

by on Oct.02, 2013

Kofi Awoonor

Kofi Awoonor(13 March 1935-21 September 2013) was grounded in the exploration of the Ewe oral epic as a resource for poetic renewal. Through song and chant and story he relived the cultural identity of his people from their ancient days to the present. Both in utilitarian and aesthetic terms, his atmospheric poetry was an ongoing life-long restoration project. Yet there is a massive wattage of modernity in his poems: in subject and technique.

Though form-minded, the elegiac traffic of his verses seems unappeasable. In “Song of Sorrow,” he writes:

” I have wandered on the wilderness
The great wilderness men call life
The rain has beaten me,
And the sharp stumps cut as keen as knives
I shall go beyond and rest.
I have no kin and no brother,
Death has made war upon our house-“

Buoyant eclectic constructions: sharp and brown and dusty and snowy. The sea and all the other bodies of water that permeate his tense stanzas never cease pounding their fists across the page and stage and doorsteps. Ancestral energy connecting with contemporary frenzy. Primes and cracks a reader with fury, vulnerability, heart’s toast. The resources of sagacity convoking history. A certain kind of political tension that need not preclude a wild party. (continue reading…)

Comments Off on Kofi Awoonor: Wingings more...

Tonight! In Stockholm! Aase Berg, Johannes Göransson and Carl-Michael Edenborg!

by on Oct.01, 2013

Yes, we’re having a discussion/reading tonight at Rönnels in Stockholm. The activities will start at 6:30 pm. We’ll talk about porn, kitsch, the aesthetics of embarrassment, grotesequeries, and we’ll read from our books.


Comments Off on Tonight! In Stockholm! Aase Berg, Johannes Göransson and Carl-Michael Edenborg! more...