Author Archive

Believe the Hype: Mother was a Tragic Girl by Sandra Simonds

by on Mar.01, 2013


Have you heard the hype about Sandra Simonds’s Mother was a Tragic Girl? It’s tragic, to be sure, and it’s tragedies are tragedies of domesticity, of history, of animal hybridity, of motherhood, of childbirth, of the body and its flexibilities and deteriorations, and CVS. As I write about this book, I don’t want to read it closely. I want to hold it at a distance, to see how it’s shaped, how it makes things happen: this is a book that on the one hand insists upon the dignity of poetry while on the other hand it seems dedicated to writing poems about the impossibility of writing poetry, like “The Battle of Horseshoe Bend”:

I was going to write a poem about giving birth/about meconium, vernix/the cubic zirconium/scattered on the floor tiles of the hospital room./It would have been about false/windows that face false/walls, about/the tiny hamburger I ate afterward/—the mustard too yellow and sweet—the flushed/cheek of labor, ho hard it is/to piss afterwards…

This is, says the narrator, a “poem that erases itself as it is written,” and “that will never exist.” But it exists, and in existing it suggests, communally, that for the poem to be a poem it “would have had to murder the landowner/in the name of personal property.”

Mother is a Tragic Girl is a book in which the nipples of a stray wife “leak titanium,” where squirrels die from drinking water laced with antidepressants. The natural world is poisoned by psychiatry, and DNA is woven from lasers in the jungle; this is a book where characters must decide whether to piss or to write poems.
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Believe the Hype: “The Doll Incident” by Sergej Timofejev. Translated by Keven M.F. Platt, Julia Bloch, Maya Vinokour, Sergej Timofejev. Fence. Winter 2012-2013

by on Feb.26, 2013

I too dislike it. But every once in awhile a poet you’ve never heard of, whose work you know nothing about, comes along and demolishes you. Such was my experience last night when flipping through the new issue of Fence, and stumbling on Sergej Timofejev’s “The Doll Incident,” which is part of a larger section of Russian poetry that translator Kevin M.F. Platt, in his introduction to the work, describes as coming together through first a virtual and then a real-life gathering of Russian and American poets and translators. The entire Russian poetry dossier in Fence is worth checking out, but this poem by Timofejev just blew me away. It begins:

“I see 25,000 defective Chinese dolls/Scattering, like energized peas, from several/Trains they seized at the border. They/Occupy cafés, bazaars, and supermarkets. And then/They set up field kitchens on the streets and start/Distributing broth made out of genetically modified soya and plastic packets.”

The “Incident” with the dolls is in reality an international war. The dolls “can’t be injured,” and their plastic flesh regenerates and when they are struck by bullets they resurrect. NATO forces seal the borders and isolate the territories, in which the dolls “impose a harsh regime,” broadcasting on TV “only black-and-white puppet-animation from the 60s,” driving the nation to the “brink of extinction.” NATO jets drop stoves over the occupied nation, and the dolls are shoved into the stoves.  And then everything ends happily ever after as “all local racial and ethnic/Conflicts are forgotten, and a new era of handicrafts and ecological thinking dawns.”

Kevin Platt, in his introduction to the Russian dossier, provides an appropriate transnational/translational frame through which to approach the writing, suggesting that the poems in the symposium can each be read as “a commentary or critique of national and political borders and identities.” And yes “The Doll Incident” provides a literal puppetization of nation-states and of the ideologies that suggest that the shit on one side of an invisible smells better than the shit on another.

The Doll Incident” does all of this, to be sure, but the poem’s voice, brought to us through the team of translators that includes the author, is perfectly performed: a journalistic/documentary/historical voice that presents World War Doll as if it were utterly human and normal. Shklovsky and Kharms come to mind here, but so does Patrik Ouředník’s brilliant novel Europeana: A Brief Hisory of the Twentieth Century.  And so does my favorite Caryl Churchill play, Far Away ,which presents its own obliteration of national identities through a climactic final scene in which there is an apocalyptic war that is as local as the characters’ bodies and as distant as the mews of the cats who ‘have come in on the side of the French.’

“The Bolivians are working with gravity,” writes Churchill, “that’s a secret so as not to spread alarm. But we’re getting further with noise and there’s thousands dead of light in Madagascar. Who’s going to mobilise darkness and silence? That’s what I wondered in the night.”
Thanks to Fence and Keven M.F. Platt, Julia Bloch, Maya Vinokour, Sergej Timofejev for bringing us this stunning work.


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by on Nov.29, 2011

This is the first post for all the posts that I would write if I had time to write what I actually wanted to write. I don’t have time to write what I actually want to write which is really about all these things I am reading and also about the collapsing world and writing and writing about time and now and history and economies and money. There’s lots to say about all these things I’m reading but I’m not going to say that much I’ll just say first that I was really struck by a statement a really nice guy in a warehouse in Berkeley recently said to me. Speaking of the General Strike in Oakland at the beginning of November he said something like: “it felt so good, physically, to shut down the port. Just imagine how good an actual revolution would feel.” He said something like this and I was struck by the connection he made between physical, sensual pleasure and political revolt. Which gets me to:

Cecilia Vicuña’s Saborami!  Holy hell! Holy hell! Just published by Chain Links, this gem, this historical gem, this amazing document of life and poetry and art and history and of what it means to be alive at the most dramatic and hopeful and horrid moments and of what it means to write under and through and in response to and because of oppressive governments that destroy individuals and communities and imaginations. There’s a history to this book. It’s a re-issue of a book that was published in England in 1973 by Felipe Ehrenberg’s Beau-Geste Press; they made 250 artists books and as Vicuña writes in the afterword “the work you now have in your hands is a distant relative, a semi-facsimile of that first fragile SABORAMI which was constructed with the poorest materials.” And in it’s new form it’s really a beautifully constructed publication with some full-color reproductions of the collages and drawings that were in the original. I am supposed to write a full essay on this this book for another publication so stop me now. Stop me now. Okay. I’ll go on, (continue reading…)

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Genocide in the Neighborhood

by on Oct.07, 2011


In 2010, Genocide in the Neighborhood, a book about militant Argentinean community activism, was published by the awesome Chain Links press.

As you’ll see, I helped to translate the book, but really my role was minimal. The hero of this project was Brian Whitener, who edited the book, wrote the rockin’ introduction, and who spent a lot of time working with the groups discussed in this book. I’m guessing readers of this blog generally don’t know about this book, and in this moment of global and local protest I thought it’d be helpful to bring it to y’alls attention.
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Community Poetry Centers in Chicago! Prizes! What Would you do with 100 Million Dollars?

by on Oct.02, 2011

One aspect of the recent paying-homage-to-Zurita-in-order-to-protest-Zurita-saga (which is frankly much better on the internet than it was in ‘real life’, which should be reassuring to all of us internet addicts) that has not received any attention in the heated comment threads of the past few days is the “demand” from the protesters, as stated in Brooks’ letter, that the Poetry Foundation create two new poetry centers in impoverished communities in Chicago. It’s unclear to me what the history of this demand is, and whether or not there was any kind of a conversation about this that took place prior to the combined protest/homage (which Zizek must surely have a word for). In other words, prior to Zurigate, were there ever requests or proposals asking that the Poetry Foundation fund these poetry centers ? If there were, it might be helpful if the Croaton folks would articulate this history. Cause right now it seems like it’s gone directly to the “demand” phase.

But rhetoric aside, I think there’s something promising and worth exploring in this demand/proposal. Writers in Chicago have been mumbling to each other for a long time about how the Poetry Foundation doesn’t support much in the local community, and that it is instead more focused on its national {and perhaps international} ambitions.
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Pablo de Rokha IN ENGLISH – the Inteverview with his translator – URAYOÁN NOEL!

by on Sep.26, 2011

Pablo de Rokha photographed with his friend Salvador Allende

Urayoán Noel, stateless poet, professor, polemicist and performer, has recently translated a  terrific, fabulous, historically important, and wondrous book entitled U by the great Chilean poet Pablo de Rokha, whom it appears has yet to have a book translated into English.  And it doesn’t appear that there are many translations of individual poems by de Rokha out there as well.  There are a few in The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry (translated by Molly Weigel), but I can’t find much else that’s currently available.

This (U!) is an exciting, momentous event, and to mark the occasion I thought I’d ask Urayoán some questions about his work with de Rokha, and in the process it’s my hope to draw some attention to Urá ‘s great project and to get some folks here in US poetry land aware of and interested in this great Chilean writer.  It’s also important to mention that Pablo de Rokha’s wife/collaborator/co-conspirator–Winétt de Rokha is also a fascinating writer whose work is badly in need of some translating.  So hopefully some of her work will soon appear in English as well.  We dream big here on Montevidayo.
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Juan Carlos Flores and Georges Perec in the Ruins of the Imagination

by on Sep.17, 2011

I.  “We live in space, in these spaces, these towns, this countryside, these corridors, these parks. That seems obvious to us. Perhaps indeed it should be obvious. But it isn’t obvious, not just as a matter of course. It’s real, obviously, and as a consequence most likely rational. We can touch. We can even allow ourselves to dream.”

These lines are from the foreword to Georges Perec’s great essay (though that’s not the right word for it) “Species of Space,” which is divided into: The Page, The Bed, The Bedroom, The Apartment, The Apartment Building, The Street, The Neighborhood, The Town, The Country, Countries, Europe, Old Continent, New Continent, The World, Space.” From small to the impossibly large Perec sets out to document spaces “of every kind and every size, diversified.” The spaces then get subdivided – The Apartment, for example, into “Walls” and “Staircases” and “Doors”.

Before we had a name for documentary poetics, Perec had a practice for it, and if there’s an argument in “Species of Space”, it’s that we are formed by spaces we don’t even recognize and which we mostly don’t pay attention to. This is about architecture and urban planning and global politics and local politics and communities and memory and mis-memories and decay and abandonment and utilization and birth and death and shoes.
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