C.Dale Young

by on Jul.30, 2012

A while back Lucas and I quoted an interview with C.Dale Young; Young wrote to me and argued that we had not interpreted the quote in the context; so I thought it would only be fair to provide a link to the full interview. Here it is.

This is the quote we quoted:

I return to that quote often because I don’t know exactly what beauty is, and I firmly believe one cannot know it without the juxtaposition of the ordinary. Someone once tried to convince me you could only see the beautiful if you had seen the grotesque, but I disagree. I believe to see beauty one must also see the ordinary out of the corner of one’s eye. (continue reading…)

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"MELODRAMA IS THE NEW NEW SINCERITY": Carina Finn on Lana Del Ray, Chelsey Minnis and Melodrama

by on Jun.18, 2012

MELODRAMA IS THE NEW NEW SINCERITY (why bratty ingénues are better at it than everybody else).
By Carina Finn

There are a couple of things that I love without question or reserve and these things include melodramatic angsty girl-pop, anything that pouts, and the poetry of Chelsey Minnis.

I recently illegally army-crawled onto a roof wearing a brightly colored vintage silk neckerchief as a mask with a bunch of other poets who were also wearing masks. Two of these ladies are considered to be highly intelligent, respected members of various literary/academic communities. Basically what we did was lie on the roof singing Lana del Rey songs until everybody else left. A week earlier I had seen another very smart literary lady do a plainclothes burlesque routine to an acoustic violin rendition of the LDR song, Blue Jeans, and it was one of the best poems I have ever seen.

One of the things I think people who have a problem with CM’s work have a problem with is the fact that her poems are unapologetically melodramatic. Zirconia doesn’t have any blurbs; a very bratty move for a first book. Bad Bad begins with a treatise on why poetry is essentially retarded (as in, literally, the Merriam-Webster definition: slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress). Zirconia very blatantly points out the fundamental structural problems that accompany “being a contemporary poet,” ie., living in POEMLAND, but it does so via a series of baroque mini-arias with costume changes in the middle of every scene, on a stage covered in hot pink faux-fur.
(continue reading…)

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More on "Sincerity": Old, New, Noisy and Perverted

by on Jun.11, 2012

Many good comments to the last sincerity post. In his comment I think Seth Oelbaum nails why it’s actually an interesting word/concept/model to discuss:

JG: “Another thing I dislike about the Sincerity discussions is that they seem to be kind of normative. People are sincere when they write poetry about a certain – acceptable – range of emotions. Ie you’re sincere when you’re kind of sad, or kind of funny, or kind of you know indie rock. But the second you get too intense, perverse, ludicrous etc you become somehow insincere (or worse ‘coercive’!)”

I don’t think it’s sincere to discuss human feelings or to constantly criticize MFA programs or to be self-deprecating. If sincerity is used to denote a down-to-earth, detached milieu then I want nothing to do with it. Whenever people “get real” it seems very phony, like they’re acting like a “person,” a “person” being a role one plays. There’s much more thrilling roles to espouse, like that of a monster.

But sincerity is intriguing when used to mark writers who don’t distance themselves from their work but are immersed in it. Sincerity as a signifier for those who are excited and enthused about their art. I like this definition — one that leads toward extremism. In this context, sincerity can include a whole range writers from Steve Roggenbuck to, as JG mentioned, Reines. Both these poets seem to be entwined with their poetry. Their status is directly related to the status of their work. It envelopes them. Sincerity as a way to discuss authors who allow art to become them.

I think here is where “sincerity” gets interesting: because it refuses to allow the poem to be – as in AD Jameson’s posts – merely about a series of techniques, it refuses to allow the artwork to be distinct from author and context, it challenges the still all-pervasive scholarly model of “persona” as separate from author. In this way, it makes things messy and interesting, and it allow art to overflow both people and the artwork proper.

This type of “sincerity” can of course be contrasted with “the old sincerity,” poetry that seeks to contain the affect, the art within a very normative idea of selfhood. FOr example, C.Dale Young’s quote that Lucas found in connection with “Beautygate”:
(continue reading…)

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Sincerity – New? Old? Normative?

by on Jun.08, 2012

Over at HTML Giant, AD Jameson has been blogging about “Sincerity” and “New Sincerity”:

Why sincerity? What is its present value? My broad and still developing belief is that “sincere” writing is one means of breaking with the aesthetics of postmodernism and self-referentiality: invocation of Continental Theory, metatextuality, excessive cleverness, hyper-allusion, &c. What makes writing “sincerely” even more delicious when perceived against postmodernism 1960–2000 is that it proposes to offer precisely what PoMo said didn’t matter or couldn’t exist: direct communion with another coherent, expressive self, even truth by means of language.

I’ve always felt very sincere about my approach to poetry, but I’ve always felt dismayed at the kinds of discussions “sincerity” seems to generate, so I thought I’d offer a few replies to Jameson’s post.

I think his discussion makes for a broader terrain of talking about art and poetry. In Poetry, it’s obviously a move away from Language poetry and “elliptical poetry”, but it’s not a simple rejection of experimentalism, since folks like Dodie Bellamy and Ariana Reines could be said to be participants in this aesthetic. “Experimentalism” is also part of the “new sincerity.”

One of Jameson’s examples is Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In an Aeroplane Over the Sea”. This suggests to me the unstable terrain of this term “sincerity.” Here we have a record that – as far as I remember it, it’s been years since I listened to it – is loaded with occult symbolism, baroque lyrics, pataphysics and a central story about ouiji-boarding Anne Frank back in the songs. In that way, the occult seems to be almost a parody of sincerity: to actually have a dead girls talk through one’s own microphone:

(As for long titles, I’ve written a book called Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate. It was very sincere and autobiographical, but it was also a pageant. I also have a book – Dear Ra – consisting of letters to an ex-girlfriend, but unfortunately I misremember indie rock lyrics in it.)
(continue reading…)

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On Beauty, Excess, and the Limits of Identity Politics in Lambda and Beyond

by on May.26, 2012

Trans poet/rapper Mykki Blanco reacting to all the brouhaha.

If you haven’t been following the queer poetry blogosphere the past couple of days, a provocative conversation has arisen about beauty, style, race, and privilege in contemporary American poetry.  Over at Lambda, a piece by Jameson Fitzpatrick has come under fire for championing the self-presentation of NYC poet Alex Dimitrov, the organizer of a much-talked about poetry salon called Wilde Boys.  Fitzpatrick’s article is itself in response to a comment made by Eduardo C. Corral about his feelings of exclusion in the queer NYC poetry scene.  Here’s Corral followed by Fitzpatrick’s take:

“The queer poetry community in New York City is full of beautiful people, which makes me an outsider…I’m disappointed in many of my queer peers. So many of them want to be part of the hipster crowd. So many of them value looks over talent. The cool kids form clubs, become gatekeepers. So many of my peers are clamoring to be let in.”

Though I’m impressed by Corral’s candor, and lament his experience of exclusion because of his appearance, I bristled when I read this. I found myself worrying that this sort of attitude, taken a bit further, could lead to the devaluation of something important to me—namely, fashion and beauty. Moreover, I’m afraid such an attitude sets up a false dichotomy: looks or talent, style or substance. I refuse to settle for one or the other. Silly as it might sound, I want to be beautiful and I want to write beautiful poems.

As many on the comments thread and other blogs point out, Fitzpatrick’s argument overlooks the role of race, class, and other power dynamics rampant not just in queer poetry circles but the LGBTQ community at large.  By contrasting Dimitrov’s emphasis on aesthetics with Corral’s words, the article fails to account for the politics behind ‘beauty’, a concept all-too-often synonymous among gay men with being white, thin/muscular, affluent, and stylish.  As Corral, a Latino poet, says in his interview, “One young man told me, ‘You don’t look like the rest of us.'”

As a queer, light-skinned Latino poet, I have many feelings about this discussion not because I’m familiar with either Dimitrov’s or Corral’s work (I’ve only read a few poems by each) but because the rhetoric on both sides of the debate seems worth questioning.  While I think Fitzpatrick’s article is problematic, I wonder if much of the dissenting response isn’t guilty of its own brand of normativity and policing about what queer writing is and does. (continue reading…)

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Shame Is An Autoimmune Disorder

by on Apr.15, 2012


I’ve been thinking about Julie Carr’s lovely meditation at Poetry Foundation for National Poetry Month “Shame and the Shape of the I.” I’m missing the Shape of the ‘I’ conference that Julie and her colleague John-Michael Rivera are hosting in Boulder this weekend. It looks amazing, important, but I’m missing it because I’m too sick. When I called Friday morning to explain that I was too sick to participate, I burst into tears, which is something I rarely do in public and only in acute moments of shame. My baroque leaky-vessel impulses take over and it’s mascara to my chin. I’m surprised I don’t purposefully pee myself in some sort of Jacobean-drama-meets-early-Wes-Craven freak out. Maybe I’m just working up to it.

The conference organizers didn’t make me cry; that was my own doing. They were kind and understanding, and respectful. Sometimes people speak to those of us in what Susan Sontag calls “the kingdom of illness” as though we’re naughty children in need of indulgence. I’ve been called a delicate flower, no kidding. Perfectly thoughtful people might not get that bodies have different registers and reactions to sick, that some bodies have different stakes, and that some of us are more than willing (or all too often required) to work at the far end of our material limitations whenever it’s possible, so if we’re saying we can’t, we really can’t. Rarer times, like yesterday, people are aware and thoughtful. And that’s an immense relief.

In her Poetry Foundation post, Julie says:

[W]hen I think about shame, which Sedgwick called “the affect that most defines the space where a sense of self will develop,” I think how the need to protect the self (against attacks or rejections real or imagined) creates boundaries, helps us to distinguish (as Sedgwick puts it) between figure and ground.

(continue reading…)

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Aira Book Club Part 4: Baroque Folds/Gay Ghosts

by on Apr.13, 2012

I’m struck by how much Ghosts fits the description of the Baroque as per Deleuze’s The Fold, not least of all because of how the apartment building of the former finds an architectural equivalent in the allegorical baroque house of the latter text.  If Aira’s ghosts hang out on rooftops and invite suicides, Deleuze reserves the top floor of Leibniz’s Baroque structure strictly for the soul, leaving materiality below it in the first floor:

A “closed private room, decorated with a drapery diversified by folds” is thus elevated over “common rooms, with several small openings” symbolic of the five senses.  As perceptual faculties, these openings allow “a correspondence and even a communication between the two levels, between the two labyrinths, between the pleats of matter and the folds in the soul.”  Here Deleuze poses a question that we might also ask of the mediating intensities roused in Ghosts:  “A fold between the two folds?”  That is, what are the ghosts if not vehicles of pure sensation, the zone of inseparability that folds souls and bodies into each other, that makes death visible and otherwise perceivable to living humans:

Absorbed by the sight of the ghosts, Patri had come almost too close to the edge.  When she realized this, she took a step back.  She observed them in the half-light, although they were a little too high, relative to her line of sight, for her to study them in detail.  She could tell that they were the same as ever; what had changed was the light.  She had never seen them so late in the day, not in summer.  The unreal look they had in the saturated light of siesta-time, at once so shocking and so reassuring, like idiotic bobbing toys, had evaporated in the dramatic half-light of evening.  They rose up in front of her quite slowly; but, given her previous experiences, Patri had reason to believe that their slowness was swarming with a variety of otherworldly speeds.  Seen from a right distance, what seemed almost as slow as the movement of a clock’s hand could turn out to be something more than mere high velocity; it could be the very flow of light or vision. (continue reading…)

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In the Manner of the Modern: From Utopia to Style

by on Apr.01, 2012

On my visit to the MoMA PS1 gallery last spring, I had a chance to see the work of the Berlin-based Danish artist Sergej Jensen.

Here’s an excerpt from the gallery’s description of his work:

Constructed from a wide range of found textiles, Jensen’s paintings recall elements of classic modern abstraction. The linens, silks, cashmeres, burlaps, wools and canvases that he employs have all been exposed to a range of conditions, activities and owners, and Jensen—who once described his work as ‘painting without paint’—often adopts as pictorial elements the traces of wear and prior use that mark his fabrics. … Combining the purposeful with the accidental, Jensen’s work gives shape to recent reconsiderations of modernism’s utopias; his paintings remind us that those myths survive today only as style.

I wonder what “recent reconsiderations of modernism’s utopias” the curator had in mind. I also wonder how Jensen’s work relates to those utopian “myths.” Jensen’s refashioning of “classic modern abstraction” using the detritus of the global commodity trade strikes me as explicitly political. I sense a critique of “classic” modernism but not at all of the sort the curator suggested.

It’s the last phrase that really caught my eye, though. What does it mean for an art movement to “survive today only as style”? Not as period style, one to be studied as a testament to the culture, society, and politics of a bygone era, but as style that “survives:” a surreptitiously pervasive presence. Moreover, a style that survives “only as style:” a corrupted, self-absorbed version of its former, loftier self.

Style: a way of doing things. “A manner of expression,” as one contested but popular definition goes. Thence, mannerism: more of manner and less of expression; “only … style,” nothing but style, too much style. An excess and a lack, decadence and deformity, ornament.

Ironically, the baroque, typically characterized in the above terms, is really a moment of consolidation in which rampant “style” is once again coupled with a purpose, a drive toward some sort of conversion or transformation.

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"The Adrenaline Blooms": Gaudy Possibilities #2 (The Patti Smith Orbit)

by on Jan.31, 2012

In his last post, Lucas invoked my previous post on “The Andy Warhol Orbit” and I responded with an anecdote about Patti Smith, which I had just heard on Swedish Radio. I heard this report about Patti Smith and how she had inspired a generation of female Swedish punk singers. In the show, this one woman recalls seeing Patti Smith in Stockholm in the late 1970s and talked about how it had inspired her. But what she talked about was not necessarily her music so much as what she wore, how she moved: the image she presented of herself. This inspired the Swedish woman to start her own punk band, imitating Smith’s image and imagery, the total effect of her image.

One thing that stuck out to me was that she said she had emulated Patti Smith in every way except her hairstyle, which she had taken from Mick Jagger. In context of my orbit post, this makes total sense: Having entered Andy Warhol’s orbit, Jagger developed the image of a kind of transvestite, something this Swedish musician picked up on.
(continue reading…)

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"Strange Circus": Horror Movies, Surrealism, Trauma and Art

by on Jan.09, 2012

In a comment to Lucas’s post, Lara wrote about Trauma:

Johannka, you asked me how I think trauma functions on MV? My sense is that we’re collectively pretty traumatized by the horrific state of things, what Joyelle calls “this present hellish universe.” We are all very hungry for pleasure, despite this. Or maybe, to spite this.

We often feel crushingly trapped/threatened. We are collectively trying to tunnel a way out through art that makes us “susceptible, vulnerable, exhilarated, chagrined, obliterated, changed into Art” (again, Joyelle’s words).

Sometimes I’m able to locate pleasure in my own debasement. Sometimes I’m not. I’m not often able to locate pleasure in the debasement/humiliation of others, even if it’s clearly staged. In fact, it totally repulses me. I don’t feel “intrigued but chagrined.” This is a visceral reaction, not a moral one.

My intestines are my morals. I am a limited creature. Only one of my six legs actually works.

It’s this seeming tension between pleasure and debasement, horror and beauty, trauma and trauma, resolution and compulsion, marked out by both Joyelle and Lara, that I would like to think a little bit about.


Matthias Forshage, one of the founding members of the Surrealist Group of Stockholm, who wrote “Surrealism in Ulterior Times” with Aase Berg (a document frequently quoted on Montevidayo, it’s where Joyelle and I get the phrase “meet us with the lemurs”), has written an interesting article about the surrealism of horror movies (in fact the entire blog is well worth reading):

It is one of the main points of surrealism to not deny the unusual phenomena and their dynamism, but still reject all these more or less religious poor explanations, avoid succumbing to premature rationalisations. In the movies, let them go on with their fairytale concepts, they’re not fooling us, we know that the dynamism of weird happenings, chance and significant casual events is an aspect of life itself, and such a dynamism can be remarkably effectively simulated and savoured in the particular fiction of the horror movie. It contributes to teaching us to see. It orchestrates and emphasises those poetic atmospheres where everything is hanging in suspense and anything seems possible, the moments of the surreal. On the most simple level this is obvious in films of hauntings; all these haunted houses, the poltergeists, the insistent messages and the chaotic disturbances. It’s partly very banal, still often very effective, sometimes orchestrating a liberation of the anti-utilitarian, fetishistic or just poetic surrealist sense of the object, sometimes luminous juxtapositions, constellations of things, true poetic images, classic surrealist assemblage. A literally convulsive beauty is sometimes achieved in the very “over-the-top” absurdness of many stories; where strange events and convergences, personal tragedies and emotions are so densely accumulated together with the unfettered expressionism of blood and gore (for this particular line, Re-animator (1985) remains a centerpiece). In a way this is the old formula of Walpolian Gothic, plausible human reactions to implausible courses of events, the mechanics of the mind encountering the world of inclusiveness where anything is possible, the so-called paranormal or maybe the surreal. Yes, on an aesthetical level, this is clearly a kind of expressionism, but since surrealism is not an aesthetic it doesn’t mind employing other aesthetics for its purposes…

It is the ambience that I love in horror movies, before all the weirdness has been explained away, usually through some idea of the traumatic: ghosts and hallucinations were caused by a child dying or child abuse or some such tragedy. Often it involves the child because the child represents the future; horror movies are often about the tragedy of stalling the future, the descent into anachronism or children who will never grow up, distorted families etc. I get bored with these explanations, but the build up always feels the most tumultuous to me, the most affecting.

It seems perhaps that there are two models of the traumatic at work here: (continue reading…)

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My Attention Span list of best books of 2011

by on Oct.22, 2011

[Here’s the list I sent in to Steve Evans’ “Attention Span” list of the best books of the year. Obviously my aesthetic is quite different from most people who participate in this survey, but hopefully somebody will find something interesting in my list. And hopefully I’ll find something interesting from somebody else’s list (which I tend to do).]

Jenny Boully | not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them | Tarpaulin Sky | 2011

A poetic novel that inhabits J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, or perhaps a novel that is haunted by the older book, or that haunts it. Much like Sara Stridsberg’s novel (see below) inhabits and is haunted by Nabokov’s text. And like Stridsberg, it’s deeply lyrical and beautiful, as well as disturbing.

Blake Butler| There is No Year | Harper Perennial | 2011

Another hallucinatory poem-as-novel, much like the Lonely Christopher (see below), as well as David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” in its striking images and scenes; and like Lynch’s movie, it’s explores the gothic trope of the “haunted house” in an age of media saturation.

Daniel Borzutzky | The Book of Interfering Bodies | Nightboat | 2011

This book begins with an epigraph from the 9/11 Commission Report: “It is therefore crucial to find a way of routinizing, even bureaucratiizing, the exercise of the imagination.” One response to this might be to write poems as far away from bureaucracies as possible (an escape into nature or some such), but Borzutzky decides to go through the giant bureaucracy of the “war on terror,” pushing the clinical, euphemistic discourses of a patriot-act government into beautiful, disturbing hallucinations.

Aimé Césaire, trans. A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman | Solar Throat Slashed | Wesleyan | 2011

This is a new translation of the 1948 unexpurgated edition of this book by the legendary Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, maybe the greatest poet of the 20th century. This was Cesaire’s second book, following the legendary Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, and it extend the disturbing, grotesque, beautiful visions of that book. I’m eternally grateful to Eshleman for not only writing his own fine poems but also for his translations of some of the greatest poets of the 20th century: Césaire, Artaud, Vallejo.

Feng Sun Chen | Ugly Fish | Radioactive Moat | 2011
(continue reading…)

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Swedish queer writing: Eli Levén

by on Oct.21, 2011

In response to Megan Milk’s call for queer fiction below, I thought I would direct people with an interest in such writings to Eli Levén’s piece in the most recent Action, Yes:

Here’s the beginning:

Sebastian dances like a butterfly through his mother’s living room, dressed in one of her dresses. The choral music from the radio trickles out of the speakers like razorblades against his skin; he splits open. The dress shines just like the summer flowers that will soon bloom pink, orange, and red; it smells of her, lipstick and flowery perfume, something else, fleshy, rotting, something from within.

Here’s another excerpt:

The blue tits sing a melody that makes Sebastian dream. Everything seems to stop for a while; the park and the group of people revolve around an axis that is these strangely beautiful birds. His fake eyelashes want to grow and become a branch for the birds to sit on. They’re a rip in reality, a portal that extends far beyond the hell that this sexless maiden has ended up in. He is the smell of bubblegum, sloppily painted fingernails, and armpits like open graves. He hears a voice inside himself, which must belong to God or something, talking to him:

“Because you are not lovable, Sebastian, no one loves your awkwardly swinging hips, your greasy hair and short skirts, you look like a whore.

You must be cut back like a tree that has run too wild, you are entirely too much, you don’t have room in your starving body, your lungs can’t breathe properly, you can’t get air into them no matter how much you breathe and suck cock as if there were oxygen in their balls. You must cut yourself back and rise again.

Then you will finally realize that you are a!

Then you will finally understand that you are a…seal woman, a seal girl, a seal chick born in the winter, you must jump up out of yourself dressed in full armor, always close to the knives, your never-ending schizo-laugh; you are a black shining sun.”

He feels a hand slip into his underwear, up into his ass; it is the cock-sucking man’s boyfriend. A bottle of poppers runs down into Sebastian’s nose and burns holes in his mucus membranes; he is thrown forward onto the cold grass. Mascara runs down his cheeks; he’s crying like he’s puking, with a wish for mercy.

I love this obscene/baroque style.

Oh, I missed that it was supposed to be poetry. Oh well, I’ll just call your attention to this piece anyway….

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I got your emotional cocktail right here: Bortzutzky's Interfering Bodies, Ponyo, and feelings

by on Aug.01, 2011

[Caution, y’all, it’s a spill!]

I read Daniel Borzutzky’s The Book of Interfering Bodies (of which you can find some great reviews online; this is not a review) over the past couple of nights. Lying in bed on my side with the book tucked under the lamp, shooing midges, sometimes the baby, not really a baby anymore, he’s a toddler, doing his sweet/irksome starfish routine against my back, partner shuddering the bed with restless sleep because he’s overworked and underslept, dog snoring, it’s warm nights in Wyoming so that it feels like some other country. Daniel’s book worked like a ghost on me. Like an otherworldly visitation of something I thought perhaps was dead and gone, or someone I expected never to meet, or something I didn’t know could be. It was psychic. It knew what I wanted and gave it to me, or else it was mindmelding, or else I was able to tell via a series of complex gestural articulations what was next and to arrange myself into the ideal receptive position. (continue reading…)

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