Archive for April, 2015

New edition of The Journal Petra

by on Apr.20, 2015

There’s an excellent new edition of The Journal Petra out now.

Work by such Montevidayo favorites as Kim Hyesoon and Lucas de Lima can be found there, along with many other great poems.

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Johnny Payne reviews The Sugar Book

by on Apr.17, 2015

Over at Cleaver Magazine, Johnny Payne has written a very thoughtful review of The Sugar Book. In particular, I appreciate the way he – like Carleen Tibbetts in her review in American Microreviews- thinks through the kind of “barrage” that gave Publisher’s Weekly such issues with Haute Surveillance. Payne acknowledges that he felt the urge to cut out some of the stuff from the book but instead of this leading him to knee-jerk attack/dismiss the way Publisher’s Weekly did, he actually thinks about his reaction.

Here’s an excerpt:

This is exactly what Kant meant when he described the sublime as a rapid alternation between the fear of the overwhelming and the peculiar pleasure of seeing that overwhelming overwhelmed: a raging storm that “takes our breath away.” This book is full of a genetic hybrid of Billie Holiday’s strange fruit—as a song that became an ekphrastic poem—the ugly philosophical object of contemplation transmuted, by its very violence, into something lyrical.

Pablo Neruda played with this idea back in 1925, with feismo, the art of the ugly:

el perfume de las ciruelas que rodando a tierra
se pudren en el tiempo, infinitamente verdes.

the perfume of plums that rolling to the ground
rot in time, infinitely green.

The Sugar Book is a full-on assault on the senses, the sharp point of a blunt instrument. I don’t think anyone would accuse this book of subtlety. Its virtue is precisely its overkill. Excess, at its best, becomes a form of complexity. The outrage, while often smirking, runs deep, forcing a core of sincerity into what might easily have become a flippant, cynical take on urban ennui, as I feared when facing such crackling ironic titles as “At the Shrine for the Dead Starlet,” or “ The Heart of Glamour.”

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Erica Bernheim’s review of The Fassbinder Diaries

by on Apr.17, 2015

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I’ve been meaning to post this for a while…Erica Bernheim has a fascinating review of The Fassbinder Diaries over at Verse. Here’s the first part:

Growing up in Italy before the internet, my sister and I maintained meticulous lists of the most ridiculous translations we encountered, translations that were neither literally correct literally nor entirely phonetic. Often, we noticed, there was a food element, something decadent, decaying, or simply just off: the local movie theater showing “Ratty and Ham” (instead of U2’s “Rattle and Hum”), “Porky Coolness” (a strange rendering of salsiccia dolce, or sweet sausage). Coincidentally, the pig—both as animal and symbol and consumable object—features heavily throughout The Fassbinder Diaries, James Pate’s 2013 collection of “filmic poetry.” Upon its publication, The Fassbinder Diaries received well-deserved attention from a number of readers and critics who praised the wide scope of Pate’s lens as well as the generosity of his allusiveness, the pop culture references made both familiar and ominous throughout the text. In a Montevidayo post, Johannes Goransson alludes to Pate’s formative years in Memphis, a city which evokes crime and decay and a specific type of Southern grittiness replacing the more straightforward gothic tropes. In this instance, as in Fassbinder’s oeuvre, realism can become much more horrifying than the imagined.

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Carleen Tibbetts on The Sugar Book

by on Apr.16, 2015

Carleen Tibbetts has a great review of The Subar Book on the website American Micro Reviews, focusing on the sugary, decayed substance of artifice. Here’s the final paragraph:

The Sugar Book is vile and violent, but also asphyxiatingly sweet, choking while gorging on its aloof, artful persona. It unsettles. It takes the reader far beyond their comfort zone, as poetry should. Just like Los Angeles herself, the poems inhabit that glittering/grotesque duality of Kardashian Family and Manson Family. They have that eerie Chinatown feel. They are the disarticlated woman in the Black Dahlia murder. They are Richard Ramirez in all his night-stalking terror. The Sugar Book asks, when any structure decays, when the sugar decays, what do we do with the remains?

For the rest, go here.

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The Sugar Book review at Entropy

by on Apr.13, 2015

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Entropy Magazine recently put up my review of Johannes’ excellent new The Sugar Book. The cover and design of the book reminds me of what a reviewer once said about Brett Easton Ellis’ Less than Zero — it’s like a “piece of black candy.”

Here’s the first part:

1. Poetry of the Planet

In his book on “cosmic pessimism” entitled In The Dust of This Planet, Eugene Thacker lays out what he sees as the three concepts that constitute our sense of reality.

There is the World, which is the zone where we act and interpret and perceive, “a human-centric mode of being.”

There is the Earth, which is “the world as an object” and encompasses “geology, archaeology, paleontology,” etc.

Lastly, there is the Planet, which is the “world-without-us.”

Planet is difficult to grasp, being non-human and against our humanist assumptions about history, meaning, consciousness (as Thacker points out, consciousness itself is simply a roll of the evolutionary dice). In fact, he argues, some of the best attempts to deal with the idea of Planet come not from philosophers themselves, but from what he calls “dark mysticism” and from the horror genre. Horror, in both literature and film, has often challenged the humanist World with various emanations of Planet, “expressing them not in abstract concepts but in a whole bestiary of impossible life forms — mists, ooze, blobs, slime, clouds, and muck.”

I bring this up because Johannes Göransson is one of the major poets of this concept of Planet, and also because he often uses genre (horror, but noir too) to help convey this sense of the non-human. Poetry, of course, has long dealt with the nonhuman, going all the way back to the Epic of Gilgamesh, and some of the best contemporary poetry addresses these non-humanist realms. Lara Glenum, Joyelle McSweeney, Arda Collins, Feng Sun Chen, Rauan Klassnik, Ariana Reines, and Lucas de Lima all write powerful poems relating to Planet. Göransson’s particular focus is the intersection of the nonhuman with masquerade, or how the undermining of human-centric assumptions leads to a sort of ontological/political masquerade.

In Göransson’s poetry, there is no self-congratulation about being on “the right side of history.” History, having no human face, no Mind, and no anthropomorphic Hegelian Spirit, has no sides. There are only events. There’s only Los Angeles.

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“… orgiastic barrage of smut”: On Taste, Sensationalism and Haute Surveillance

by on Apr.13, 2015

The other day I discovered an interesting review of Haute Surveillance on Publisher’s Weekly. Often negative reviews are very revealing – especially when it’s such a negative review as this, especially in a magazine that like to present itself as a “journal of record” that is supposed to be a guide to things published with an air of “objectivity.” If an “objective” record has to abject my book in this way, has to warn instead of merely take note of my book, what does it say about my book’s relationship to “objective” American poetry?
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I am particularly interested in the contradictions of this rhetoric: It is both “underwhelming” and “orgiastic,” both “pornography” and “disinteret[ed],” a morass” that “drowns” the reader and “vacuous.” The review repeatedly presents my book as both too much and not enough. This is the hallmark of when people who perceive themselves as having refined taste tries to shield others from work that challenges that taste.

How can a text both be a barrage that drowns the reader and be “exhaustive critique”? The critique suggest a stable place from which to view one’s culture; and that’s a place I’ve never found for myself, and it’s not a stance I’ve found convincing in other writers. (I’ve written quite a bit about my dissatisfaction with this pervasive paradigm of the writer-as-critic, for example here.)
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It seem this person is unable to read the text and has to fall back on a number of cliches (that contradict each other): it’s about “spectatorship” (which it certainly is), so it must be a “critique”. If it’s pornographic and masochism, then it cannot be “boundary-pushing” (ie “experimental”). When you stumble into this many contradictions, I think it’s important to ask oneself as a critic if one is actually reviewing a book or flailing wildly?

The review is correct in many ways (perhaps in spite of itself). I think my book mostly certainly is a “morass” and “masochistic”, and it most certainly doesn’t provide a way out, a way forward, a progressive worldview. It is most certainly meant to be a “barrage.” But again, if I were the critic, I might ask myself: Why is this author creating a barrage, a morass? Why would someone want to subject himself or his reader to such “smut”? Can there be any other way than the “critique” of engaging with US culture (and its splendid images, its barrage, its violence)?

The smut is particularly interesting to me of course. The falling back on the rhetoric of “pornography” is common these days. I have written extensively about this (for example here, about “ruin porn”). At the heart, I think this line of criticism goes back to the fundamental rhetoric of high taste: high taste is anxious about art that traffics in sensational images. I have also written about Jacques Ranciere’s “The Emancipation of the Spectator”:

It was in this context that a rumour began to be heard: too many stimuli have been unleashed on all sides; too many thoughts and images are invading brains that have not been prepared for mastering this abundance; too many images of possible pleasures are held out to the sight of the poor in big towns; too many new pieces of knowledge are being thrust into the feeble skulls of the children of the common people…

This also goes back to my last post, which treated the charges that Action Books represented a “sensationalistic” – and therefore immoral, ignorant – aesthetic.

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Here’s the review:
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