Necro –

The Actuary: On Seth Oelbaum, The Necropastoral and "Accessibility"

by on May.30, 2013

Things have been pretty sleepy here in Montevidayo, but The Actuary has been posting several great posts.

For example, Drew Kalbach applies some recent media theory to Joyelle’s concepts of “bug-time” and The Necropastoral.


This space of urban-meets-nature-mingles-death is a space of failure, decay, and mutation, a space that proliferates more than it moves forward. It’s a model of time that is uninterested in a nice linear gesture, but wants a swarming thrust. It is very much this hypertrophic image of counterprotocol Galloway and Thacker begin to map out. McSweeney’s necropastoral is itself a shape, a site, for these potential exploits to take place, or maybe it is an exploit in itself. It takes advantage of a networked system’s ability to replicate quickly and efficiently by going through massive amounts of data, of creation, of artworks, many failures and successes and deaths, uninterested in posterity or futurity, in order to create something pushed beyond the confines of typical artistic practices. The necropastoral is a space of art, death, politics, mutation.

Go here for the full thing.

And Evan Bryson has an incredibly thoughtful post on Seth Oelbaum, the prince of darkness and fashion who has been terrorizing so many people on HTMLGiant over the past month or two:

His collapse of all hope to a point of bitter dismissal is, in its way, a thrilling move, and its trajectory is defined no more starkly than in the history of queer writing itself. (Only looking at the spines to my right, I see American Sympathy by Caleb Crain, Policing Public Sex edited by Dangerous Bedfellows, Samuel R. Delaney’s The Motion of Light on Water, and Tiresias: The Collected Poems by Leland Hickman. Each volume has that Cepheid pulse of gay agony and gay ecstasy.) Snuffling in this abyss, Karlie Kloss‘s editor is a kind of martyr, a cutthroat priss, freighting his stigmata. He is a disgrace without shame, a boy who trespasses to be caught; he acts out his misguided zealotry before an audience he hopes will punish him. “[The stigmatized] is generally warned against fully accepting as his own the negative attitude of others toward him,” notes Erving Goffman in Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. “He is likely to be warned against ‘minstrelization,’ whereby the stigmatized person ingratiatingly acts out before normals the full dance of bad qualities imputed to his kind, thereby consolidating a life situation into a clownish role.” Karlie Kloss‘s minstrelsy is the absurd consolidation of gay bad press.

But his discussion also makes some apt observations about the Gurlesque and Artaud:
(continue reading…)

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"Why Shut Down Enjoyment?" On Drew Kalbach, Zizek, Ange Mlinko and Postmodern American Poetry

by on May.03, 2013

Over at The Actuary, Drew Kalbach has written an excellent post on response to Ange Mlinko’s review of the new Norton Anthology of postmodern poetry, finding in her rhetoric a desire to “shut down enjoyment”:

Mlinko’s review genuinely confuses me. Really, this type of rhetoric confuses me in general. Its only goal seems to be to not allow people to enjoy something. She seems to suggest, in the first paragraph, that students who are forced to purchase this book (leaving aside the agency all students have, and the availability of inexpensive used texts, etc etc) are somehow being done a disservice. But she assumes that these students will get nothing from these poems, will not enjoy these poems, because she does not enjoy these poems. More than that, she assumes these students can’t choose for themselves whether or not these poems are worthwhile; they need to be taught proper taste.

His post makes me think about another thing I recently read in Zizek’s book Violence (which I quoted a couple of days ago on a related topic):

What Nietzsche and Freud share is the idea that justice as equality is founded on envy – on the envy of the Other who has what we do not have, and who enjoys it. The demand for justice is thus ultimately the demand that the excessive enjoyment of the Other should be curtailed so that everyone’s access to jouissance is equal. The necessary outcome of this demand , of course, is asceticism. Since it is not possible to impose equal jouissance, what is imposed instead to be equally shared is prohibition.

So far, Zizek’s analysis seems to follow Kalbach’s: especially in an age of “glut,” when there’s “too much” poetry, “too much” poetry that is – inherently in the quantity – tasteless, we more than ever need prohibitions. It seems the only acceptable form of criticism in the poetry world is to stage prohibitions. Witness for example Tony Hoagland who has made a career it seems of attacking poetry that does too much (too “skittery,” too political, too extravagant etc).

But I think it’s important to be clear that those prohibitions come not just from Poetry Magazine, but also of course from “experimental poetry,” which is full of prohibitions – against “the lyric I”, against images, against this and that, against “expression,” against the poetic, against poetry itself (in the case of Conceptual Poetry) – and full of anti-kitsch rhetoric – against the “too much”, the flood of “soft surrealism”, of excess of “MFA poets” etc. Even Flarf in its jokey embrace of “bad poetry” is of course re-confirming the insistence of Taste (you just have to have enough good taste to imitate the bad taste, to know that it’s bad). In many ways, the rhetoric of experimental poetry often reminds me of Zizek’s notion of “hedonistic asceticism.”

Instead of all this prohibition (including the most famous one, to “ENJOY!”), in this plague ground age, I suggest bug time:

2. What model of literary time is provided by this mutating field time, this bug time, this spasming, chemically induced, methed up mutating, death time, this model of proliferant, buggered, buggy, moist, mutating, selecting, chitinous, gooey, bloated, dying time, a time defined by a spasming change of forms, by generational die-offs, by mutation, by poisoning, a dynamic challenge to continuity, and by sheer proliferation of alternatives, rather than linear succession? How would T.S. Eliot’s golden lineup of genius allstars, constantly reordering itself but still male- and human- and capital-assets- shaped, be affected by this swarm of ravening pissed-off mutant bugs out-futuring them by dying six times a summer, by having no human-shaped future at all?

(From Joyelle’s “Bug Time”)

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What is Contemporary Poetry?

by on Apr.05, 2013

Recently a lot of people – a lot of them younger, a lot of them people with a fiction background who apparently used to think poetry was boring and a lot of Swedish and foreign poets – have asked me to tell them what contemporary poetry I read or I think they should read. Well, people often ask me to talk about contemporary US poetry, but so much that I love is in translation and I prefer to see US poetry in connection to other places. So here are some books of contemporary poetry I feel you need to read. I’ve excluded all Action Books and books that I have translated (all of which it goes without saying, you should read and read and read until you vomit!), but these are the books that really matter in contemporary poetry in my opinion:

The Drug of Art by Ivan Blatny (Ugly Duckling) – selection from a Czech poet, whose work ranges from Eastern European modernist poetry to the great late stuff, a glorious interlingual mish-mash. Read some poems here.

Raul Zurita, Dreams for Kurosawa – amazing visionary dream poems by one of the world’s great living poets. I love all his books: Prugatory, Songs for his Disappeared Love, Anti-Paradise etc. Here he is reading at Notre Dame.

Percussion Grenade by Joyelle McSweeney – Seth Oelbaum recently called Joyelle one of the three greatest living US poets, and that’s probably right. This is Joyelle’s best, most rambunctious, radical and necropastoral jam. (Also check out her new prose book Salamandrine: 8 Gothics.). Here’s something Joyelle recently wrote about the play, “Contagious Knives,” which is part of the book. Here’s a recent review in HTMLGiant. And another.

Chelsea Minnis, Poemland – Contemporary American poetry who blends fashion and ultra-violence. I love all of her books. This one is didactic in the best possible sense. I think she was also in Seth’s “top three.” It was also Minnis whose work first prompted Arielle Greenberg to coin the phrase “gurlesque,” a controversial and insightful concept that is now being hotly debated all over the Swedish newspapers, journals and webzines (here for example) due to Maria Margareta Österholm’s book of criticism, The Girl Laboratory in Pieces: Swedish Prose 1980-2005 (we published a translation of the intro here).

Alice Notley, Descent of Alette – It’s of course notoriously impossible to say who’s the “top three poets” in any country, but Notley has certainly been one of the best US poets over the past 20+ years. I love most of her books, but for me Alette – a feminist, visionary epic set in the subway of Reagan’s America (thus increasingly realistic, correct) – is probably still the best, the one I teach most often and the one I always recommend to people from other countries who want to know about the best contemporary US poetry.

Ronaldo Wilson’s Poems of the Black Object – African-American poet writes brutal, grotesque, gorgeous poems in prose and in pretty lyrics. I wrote this post about him a while back. This book really moved me.

Maroosa di Giorgio, The History of Violets – Aerie, mysterious necropastorals saturated by art, flowers and violence by the late Uruguayan super star (in the Warhol sense of that word). Swedish readers might see the incredibly close connection to Swedish poet Ann Jäderlund, the superstar of Sweden.

OK, I said I was going to ignore Action Books, but really I can’t talk about contemporary poetry without mentioning Korean poet Kim Hyesoon, who is really one of the greatest living poets. She’s got two books out with Action Books and a few more on the way, and one chapbook from Tinfish, all translated by Don Mee Choi. Here’s something Lisa Flowers wrote about her. She too partakes with some of the gurlesque/necropastoral vibes I’ve mentioned above. THere’s a whole bunch of awesome poets in South Korea right now, though they have not yet been translated to English (we’re working on it).

OK, that’s my quick post for the day. I’ve no doubt missed some great ones but this is a pretty good image of my idea of the greatest “contemporary US” poetry, or at least a start.

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Joyelle McSweeney: "The Contagious Knives," Percussion Grenade

by on Apr.01, 2013

Joyelle McSweeney’s play “The Contagious Knives” will be performed by The Medicine Show Theater on April 19 and 20:


The Medicine Show Theatre Company presents the magical Joyelle McSweeney’s necro-pastoral farce of tremendous importance, “Contagious Knives.” Louis Braille, the Devil, Bradley Manning, Lynndie England, and a wedding chorus come together to smash your facebones with this verse play in Purgatoree.

April 19 & 20 @ 7:30 PM
Tix: $10, $7 for students + seniors

Call 212.262.4126 or e-mail for reservations.


In response to Poetry Society, Joyelle explains the play in typically virtuosic manner.


Inception: I found myself writing “The Contagious Knives” in a fury of contagion; a corrosive tide of rage and frustration at the state of the world, its steady state of exploitation, coercion, misery, metals, charisma. Everything comes out in the river, as Steve Jobs, now dead, said at TED: first time as industrial waste, second time as carcinogen. This is why the language of this play (as in life!) is itself toxic, tidal, runs headlong in riptides, loops in eddies, and piles up in scurfy little pools, reversing and resaying itself in the space of a single line or run of lines, rising in little violent crests. I hope it is rocking, and you can hear it ticking like bad news. TheMerchant of Venice with its accesses of violence and vengeance and its revolting figure of Cruelty-Masked-as-Justice (ie Portia) runs behind this text, as does Sophocles and the glitchy sceneastics of Ryan Trecartin.

Also has also been some recent reviews of Joyelle’s brilliant book Percussion Grenade, which includes “The Contagious Knives.” (continue reading…)

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Art's Materialism: A Letter to the Mulleavey Sisters (Rodarte)

by on Feb.12, 2013

Dear Kate and Laura Mulleavy,

When you speak, I can’t tell whether you are talking about yourself or your clothes. Are you the weird girls or are your clothes about weird girls from horror movies. Do the shoes bind up the collection, or do they bind up the body of the models? Is the hair-covered face your own hair-covered face, or is it the children of Japanese horror. Are you interested in their eyes or the hair? This show should take place in a velvet underground, or did you sell all the records to buy fabric?

It’s not that I want to find the answer to these questions. I’m inspired by the way your statements seem to function like and-also: tying together contradictions. Mohair-surrealism. Or rather introducing time into an image: first she has eyes then they are covered with hair. You go into the kitchen to get some sugar. There’s sugar on my lips and in my eyes.

Art animates the body, so it’s no wonder, the animated corpse is the most poetical topic in the world. It’s no wonder the clothes are the “pure” red of blood, as if the body was already in the same realm as art, as if it consisted of an “organic matter” like hair. Or slashed fabric. Or things that looked like they could be debris. But might be mohair or hair-hair. Or hare-hair.

It’s like Teemu’s observation about Cark Ashton Smith’s “literal-minded,” “nearsighted” “misreadings” of 19th Century French poetry: the literalizing translation. Thinking Baudelaire’s fabric. You say it’s the “idea of the color red…. the idea of blood-soaked cloth… a real pure color red.” The scandal of art is the scandal of an idea that is a color. The infamous “Piss Christ” (by Andres Serrano) is suspended in that sugary yellowish color. Color as an idea. Sugar as method.

In Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in my Belly,” the ants crawl over Christ’s body, searing its orifices for sugar to bring back to the nest, to make honey in the dry Mexican earth. The sugar asks us to consume Jesus’s body in an extreme form of worship: art’s transubstantiation, art’s “misreading.” It asks us to look at his beautiful body. Look at him. He is made of art. I am made in a video.

I am the passenger.
I ride and I ride through the streets of Los Angeles.
I look out the window and what do I see?
A city saturated with sugar.
A Jesus with pearls on his body.
A Juarez where women wait for the busy at night
with lipstick smeared on their lips and tar
streaking their cheeks.
(continue reading…)

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"That is not your mother but her body": The Corpse Aesthetics of Plath, Hughes and Murder Mysteries

by on Jan.22, 2013

PlathForever-2012-single-duo-v1I was reading Ted Hughes’ poem “The Dogs Are Eating Your Mother” this morning and I started thinking about the Corpse as an icon of art, art’s violence, and the unsettling itneriority-less-ness of the image. This is of course made really obvious in Plath’s own work. “Arrival of the Bee Box” with its horror and fascination with the locked up foreign (African, Roman) mob which she plans to let out to let it devour her is a kind of model for art’s affect (it swarms, it bites, it kills)[1]. “Fever 103” is in many ways about that state of being enswarmed – she becomes artificial (acetylene virgin, a flickering Japanese lantern, ie kitsch). And most famously the kitsch-crowded (atrocity kitsch, freakshow kitsch, shell kitsch) “Lady Lazarus” where she is displayed for the “peanut crunching crowd,” a swarming entity whose “crunching” for me always felt like a “bone-crunching” (ie they’re eating the speaker).

This crunching and devouring of the corpse leads me to think about Ted Hughes’ poem about Plath, “The Dogs are Eating Your Mother”:

The Dogs Are Eating Your Mother
by Ted Hughes

That is not your mother but her body.
She leaped from our window
And fell there. Those are not dogs
That seem to be dogs
Pulling at her. Remember the lean hound
Running up the lane holding high
The dangling raw windpipe and lungs
Of a fox? Now see who
Will drop on all fours at the end of the street
And come romping towards your mother,
Pulling her remains, with their lips
Lifted like a dog’s lips
Into new positions. Protect her (continue reading…)

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Everything was Sublime: The Black Nature of Hilma af Klint (and Marie Curie and Kim Hyesoon)

by on Jan.03, 2013

“The fern craze opened as men’s clothes turned black.”— The Victorian Fern Craze: A History of Pteridomania, by Daniel Allen Elliston


We may have missed the future in which Hilma af Klint’s work could have been received.  Perhaps we encounter it now in its permanent quiescence, a ruin of the former future. Her work is occult, runic, enclosed and split open, some works 11 feet tall, others closed in 150 secret notebooks, secret leaves conjuring to each, awaiting a dead/future reader. Her day job was painting flowers, producing the autokitsch of Swedish naturalism; her black work was drawing occult diagrams, geometric forms and colors which seek to understand the life force or ‘astral guidelines’ in these very flowers, songbirds, lichen. Her work thus unites the strictures of Malevich with the necrotic knowledge that life is an uncanny thing which must make its way fields of black matter by scavenging for various forms; her spirit teachers told her, “Your mission is to open their eyes to a life that lasts for eternity.”


She wrote in her notebooks in 1917,

“Everything is contained within the black cube: The greenery of the earth is the bottom of the cube, the blue air is its roof, and the water-filled part is situated at that section of the cube that I rest my back against.” Her own body is a measuring stick for the totality; she turns her back on the black cube to draw it again and again; she knows it intimately, by heart, as if it has been transferred through the bones of her back.

It makes me think of Marie Curie, knowledge of radium learned as isotopes passed through the hands, writing out their own semiotics in fatigue, burns and and leukemia–

marie curie

and also of Kim Hyesoon’s entire ouevre, any poem, in which forms contain, die, give birth, give way to more forms, and the end of eternity can never be found. Creatures keep consuming each other, shitting, tearing, pushing through each other, and the significance of any given form or container is that it marks a boundary which can be pushed through, though one which always might reconstitute itself:

From “Sublime Kitchen” (trans. Don Mee Choi)
I caught a glimpse of her kitchen once
The rain cloud of flour mushroomed (continue reading…)

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It's too much… (pt 2): Zambreno, Glut, Theatricality, Lolita and Fan Fiction

by on Dec.11, 2012

I haven’t read Kate Zambreno’s Heroines, but I’ve read excerpts from it and I’ve read her blog and other things she’s written, so forgive me if I start to babble about something I might be getting totally wrong; but Megan’s review really made me think about a few things we’ve been talking about on this blog lately (and not so lately): the “glut” of poetry (there’s too much, there’s no proper hierarchy etc), Teemu’s analysis of Clark Ashton Smith’s flawed “translations” of Baudelaire and the French 19th century, and James Pate’s recent defense of operatic theatricality (versus the pervasive critiques of the authentic/inauthentic, the truly great vs the counterfeiter).

What became apparent to me from reading Megan’s review is this crucial notion, the “vampirism” or “cannibalism” or “channeling” of art: it’s art that makes more art, that feeds off other art to make it immortal, to pass on fluids from one art to the next artwork. The class critique of Zambreno’s book might be most of all interesting in that it echoes Marx’s famous gothic metaphor of capital as a vampire on the working class.

And this for me ties into all the anxious attacks on “the hipster,” that glamorous figure of art that somehow stands in for all kinds of excess, luxury etc. Without ascribing motives to various critiques of Zambreno’s work, isn’t it true that all the cases of vampirism she cites in fact echo her own fan-girl vampiring of certain literary figures. In this sense in her scholarship she performs as vampire, that necroglamorous figure of art standing in as another kind of “hipster” figure, a representative of Art as Luxury, and Privilege. It is the hipster-scholar-artist-art-lover’s privilege to be useless, vampirical, inseminating and inseminated, not dutifully redeeming our society’s ills, as being privileged just to be itself, a blood-sucker.

Lets not forget that Andy Warhol was nicknamed Drella (Dracula + Cinderella):

(continue reading…)

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It's STILL "TOO MUCH" – The Plague Ground of Poetry in the Age of Internets (Part 1)

by on Dec.06, 2012

Those of you who have read this blog for some time, and/or read my last blog, Exoskeleton, knows that one of my interests is the use of anti-kitsch rhetoric in modern poetry (and by modern I mean from Wordsworth through Pound up to Perloff and beyond). The most dominant strain these days seem to be the “there’s too much” argument: there’s too much poetry being published, and too much bad poetry, so we can’t keep up, we can’t read it all, and most importantly (the subtext sometimes, sometimes just the text) we can’t police what’s good and bad.

Basically, it’s the anti-kitsch critique. Modern technology has brought poetry to the masses, now how do we make sure that they have taste? How do we keep this, what Joyelle has called the “plague ground” of contemporary poetry-writers/readers from forsaking our Taste, our narratives, our ideas about what poetry should be.

I kind of feel like I ‘ve written a lot about this… But this topic keeps popping up. Recently, there was recently a really great discussion over at Boston Review between Jed Rasual (my PhD thesis advisor) and the scholar Mike Chasar. And it’s really in response to that interview that I write this.

In particular, I think Chasar’s statements are some of the most insightful I’ve read (especially coming from an academic). In the discussion Jed, who is generally pretty suspicious of mass culture (his book “American Poetry Wax Museum” is both one of the best books about contemporary American poetry and a massive brick of anti-kitsch rhetoric) keeps expressing doubt about the proliferation of contemporary poetry, making it a symptom of capitalism etc.

I think Jed makes very good observations, but I think Chasar totally re-directs this conversation (by which I mean the larger conversation about “too much-ness”, not just the discussion with Jed) brilliantly:

My gut reaction (you could maybe call it my glut reaction) is to say that questions like “Is it a glut?” or “Is it a problem?” aren’t nearly as interesting as questions like “Who is it a problem for?” and “Why do those people think it’s a problem?” For critics like Burt, it’s a problem because it challenges what it means to be an “expert” in American poetry. Whenever someone’s status as expert is predicated on knowing everything—all the good poems (i.e., a canon), what everyone is saying, etc.—a glut is going to be a problem because, as Burt puts it, “I just can’t keep trying and failing to get myself to read everything,” and thus the governing paradigm for what it means to be a poetry expert is put into crisis; how can you be an arbiter of taste if you can’t read everything to pass judgment on it? Insofar as the centrality of Official Verse Culture is affected by a period of glut—where there is no longer an official center—then Official Verse Culture has a stake in the matter.

(continue reading…)

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"Loaded": Undead Romanticism

by on Nov.29, 2012

[I first wrote this as a response to Teemu’s post about Clark Ashton Smith, but since it’s pretty long I decided just to post it as a separate post.]

This is such a rich post… It seems to really speak to issues of kitsch and modernism in intriguing and new ways.

I love the idea of the heuristic imitation, a kind of anachronistic translation (of course translations are often anachronistic, as Benjamin makes clear in his famous essay). But I’m not so sure that he gets it all wrong so to speak. To some extent Smith is in fact doing what the Romantics and – as you note – Symbolists did. So much of that poetry is totally b-movie stuff (Keats and Baudelaire write about vampire women etc etc). And of course Poe is such an essential poet for both American and European symbolists. As Daniel Tiffany shows in his new book, the origins of kitsch has to do with the poetic, with romanticism, more than anything else.

(From our favorite blog, Runwayward)
(continue reading…)

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"The Anxiety of Necromancy": Teemu Manninen on Clark Ashton Smith

by on Nov.26, 2012

[This post was written by Teemu Manninen. Teemu was born in 1977 and is a poet, a literary critic, an editor for the co-op publishing house Poesia, a translator of comic books and an all round cultural activist who in his spare time produces the annual Helsinki Poetics Conference. Here’s a gallery of art inspired by Smith’s work.]

The Anxiety of Necromancy

Clark Ashton Smith, “the Keats of California”, can, for a good reason, be called an impossible poet: he is one of the first, if not the only poet in the history of (at least Western) poetry to be able to write genre poetry — horror, fantasy, science fiction — that successfully integrates this low-brow, non-Canonical material in an intimate and internally logical way with the Great Tradition.

Born in 1893 in Long Valley, California, Smith was home-schooled. His family was poor, and so was Smith for most of his life. He started writing at the age of 11, and sold his first short stories to pulp magazines at the age of 17. When he was 19 years old, the decadent San Francisco poet George Sterling became his mentor (Sterling himself had been the pupil of the famous horror writer Ambrose Bierce).

Even though he was first and foremost a poet, Smith – who also worked as an illustrator and a sculptor – is better known for his connections with the weird fiction movement gathering around such pulp magazines as Weird Tales, Wonder Stories, and Amazing Stories. Among his fantasy cycles are the far future Earth stories situated on the continent of Zothique, and the stories about the medieval Averoigne. Smith also collaborated with R.E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft; among his lovecraftian inventions are the cursed book of Eidon and the frog god Tsathoggua.

But what was Smith like as a poet? In a word, supernatural: his subjects are the laments of necromancers and wizards, the wisps of lotus mists, dream visions, far stars and the horror of the gulfs between galaxies, the atmospheres of weird planets and the pale, demonic nymphs who inhabit them.

But for all his breathless invention it can, perhaps a little paradoxically, be said that there is nothing original in Smith’s poetry. His work is entirely composed of pastiche. What more, this pastiche itself is a product of a kind of misreading, a literal-mindedness which amounts to a historical nearsightedness. For Smith developed his own poetic style out of imitating — not directly, but “through” his own pulp and genre context — the poets of the French decadent movement and the early surrealism and fantasism of writers such as Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Isidore Ducasse, Théophile Gautier and Gérard de Nerval.

An illustrative example is provided by Smith’s sonnet “On Re-Reading Baudelaire”, which is of course itself a riff on Keat’s “On Reading Chapman’s Homer”: (continue reading…)

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Shanna Compton on Joyce Mansour

by on Nov.14, 2012

Shanna Compton wrote a very good introduction to another of my favorite poets, Joyce Mansour.

Shanna even connects Mansour to this very blog:

So she comes after Mina Loy, before Harryette Mullen, and is of the same generation as Sylvia Plath sans the early exit. She anticipates and perhaps influences (haven’t asked) some of the grotesquer corners of the Gurlesque as in work by Ariana Reines, Danielle Pafunda, Lara Glenum, and others; the Necropastoral as explored by Joyelle McSweeney, Johannes Göransson, and others; and the flamboyantly femme Flarf of Nada Gordon and Sharon Mesmer. I see her in Sandra Simonds’ work too. I see her, accidentally and by way of these others, in some of mine. It’d be interesting to read Kim Hyesoon’s Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers alongside Mansour’s Phallus & Mommies. I’m planning to spend a lot more time with her work, figuring out what she’s done (to me, to us, to poetry).

I talk about Mansour in this post from a while back.

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Locked up in the Necropastoral: Michal Chelbin's Sailboats and Swans

by on Nov.02, 2012

“Two inmates sentenced for violence and theft, Juvenile Prison for Girls, 2008”

“Yana sentenced for theft. Juvenile Prison for girls, Ukraine, 2009” Michal Chelbin

Depending on the havoc struck by Sandy, the Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York will be displaying Michal Chelbin’s striking photography show “Sailboats and Swans” until December 22. The title refers to the pastoral and fantastic fabrics and wallpapers which clothe the bodies and prisons in which Chelbin’s subjects, juvenile and female offenders, are incarcerated.  In the irrational pastoralia of these cellblocks, boys sleep in military barracks under bucolic murals; girls convicted for assault pose in flowered dresses.  The press release suggests,

These contradictions of life in prison abound in girls’ flowery dress prison uniforms, murderers working as nannies to other women’s babies in the new mothers’ prison, young girls serving time alongside grandmothers – perhaps witness to their own futures, and the mesmerizing human blend of fear and cruelty in the boys’ and mens’ prison – where big tattooed bodies are now zombie-like, worn down by the daily travails of trying to survive being locked up in a world devoid of hope.

With Sandy’s necropastoral proliferation bringing its damage to Manhattan, I’m sure none of our New York Montevidayans can take in this show for me and report back. But many images from this show are available on- line, and I find them extremely moving. In the ‘noplace’ of prison these incredibly youthful bodies are suspended from temporal linearity. The prisoners are “witness to their own futures” randomly removed from and reassigned new biological roles (murderers minding the babies of other mothers), locked up in kitsch landscapes in which fabrics and wallpaper have as much (or as little) agency as the human bodies themselves. The faces of the models are impassive yet something sears from these photographs, a force of life and/or death which, in the no-time of prison, can find no natural body but courses from surface to surface, form to form, looking for an egress but only finding the picture plane. As Artaud notes, “A little dead girl says: I am the one convulsed with horror in the live woman’s lungs. Get me out of here at once. ” The pain entrapped in these photos cannot exit through a punctum but saturates every object, frond, fabric, and form within the photo itself, everything trapped in its pane, like the bubble in Bishop’s Sonnet who can only find egress from the poem in that final exclamation point:

Caught – the bubble
in the spirit-level,
a creature divided;
and the compass needle
wobbling and wavering,
Freed – the broken
thermometer’s mercury
running away;
and the rainbow-bird
from the narrow bevel
of the empty mirror,
flying wherever
it feels like, gay!

Perhaps pain is like this frantic bubble, trying to push out of the photo via a Barthian punctum, yet finding its level always cruelly replenished, its impossible economy never reduced.

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