Paul Celan, "Memory of France"

by on Aug.21, 2013

It’s been a long time since I read Paul Celan. Read some of the early poems in Swedish translation by Lars-Inge Nilsson today. Just can’t get over how beautiful “Memory of France” is. So I’m “translating” it here from Swedish to English:

Memory of France

You, remember with me: the skies of Paris, the large autumn crocus…
We bought hearts from the flower girls:
they were blue and blossomed out in water.
it started to rain in our room
and our neighbor came, Monseiur Le Songe, a ragged little man.
We played cards, I lost the irises of my eyes;
you lent me your hair, I lost it, he struck us down.
He left through the door, the rain followed him.
We were dead and could breathe.

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On the Importance of Taking Sides

by on Aug.20, 2013

When Joyelle and I started Action Books one of the first things we did was write some manifestos about poetry and poetics (about translation, deformation, the gothic etc). We wanted to not only generate a discussion that interested us and that dealt with work we loved (work which was not being published or discussed), but we also wanted to be honest. We hated how so many presses would claim to publish “the best of any style,” setting themselves up as neutral observers, as if their evaluation of what was “the best of any style” wasn’t a style, a point of view hidden beneath the cool veneer of rational and discerning judgment.

For all his flaws, one hugely important result of Ron Silliman’s blogging is that he made clear that everybody had an aesthetic, made clear that even that “neutral” aesthetic was an aesthetic.

I was dismayed at a lot of the recent responses to Cal Bedient’s criticism of “Conceptualism” in the Boston Review. Many merely dismissed his article using the same binary rhetoric of “anti-experimentalism” as Silliman has employed. Lots of people would simply this complex article as “Just another old guy attacking the new” etc. Here the rhetoric of experiment-vs-anti-experiment was a way of avoiding having to engage in a discussion, a way of merely blocking out opposing viewpoints.

Even more disturbing were all the people – both pro and con – attacking the idea of writing an essay opposed to a group of poets. “Why doesn’t he write about things he likes?” asked some pro-conceptualists, conveniently ignoring that in large part conceptualism has built its reputation on anti-kitsch rhetoric dismissing the “lyric” poem etc. Why is criticism so bad? I would be very happy if a prominent critic took the time to publish an essay on why he disagreed with my poetics! It doesn’t mean I would automatically shut down the Mutilation-Factory, but it would maybe force me to think about certain elements of my aesthetic from a new direction.

But the worst responses to the Bedient essay that I saw were that some people (on facebook) wrote: “Don’t talk about it, it only bring them more attention.” The way we express disagreement in our contemporary American poetry culture is apparently not by expressing disagreement. It’s by ignoring different views and hoping they will go away. By ignoring the things we disagree with. There can be no better recipe for an anemic and dull literary scene.

I remember reading similar reactions to Seth Oelbaum’s provocative, highly thought-out and magnificently performative posts on HTMLGiant (about the AWP, about Marxism, about gender and violence etc). His posts caught on like wildfire a few months back and immediately people started warning each other (in public places like facebook no less) not the “stoke the fire” or “feed the troll.” “Do not read this post, and please do not talk about it,” one poet wrote on a famous critic’s facebook wall in near hysteria, as if afraid that the critic would be infected with the Oelbaum virus. Some people wrote diatribes attacking Seth for his perpetrating the ultimate sin of “self-promotion” (even though he aligned himself with the most-hated “one percent,” a obviously abject position) and of misreading Marx (even though, again, he aligned himself with the “one percent”!). It appears that the most controversial thing about Oelbaum was that he was controversial in a literary culture that is scared of controversy. Oelbaum became a kind of violence to the status quo.

I was reminded of this when Rauan Klassnik recently wrote a response to my posts on violence and art on the poetry foundation. When announcing this post to his e-friend, one person wrote back:
(continue reading…)

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Kim Hyesoon on "Corean Music"

by on Aug.13, 2013

Kim Hyesoon sent me the following response – via Don Mee Choi – to my posts on “Corean Music” at the Poetry Foundatio Blog:

“Please tell Johannes: I was born into a Christian household, so I grew up hearing my mom singing hymns. Then when I was in elementary and middle school I never heard any traditional Korean music. All the music teachers were teachers who had studied Western music. So I only listened to and sang music composed by Western composers. (Now, the music education in elementary and middles school is not like this anymore. Students listen to traditional Korean music and learn to play Korean instruments.) When I was in college, student protests against the dictatorship were wide-spread. I carried rocks in my skirt and delivered them to the students every time there was a protest. One of the deciding factors that made me to play such a role was that whenever the students marched out to protest, they always played traditional Korean instruments. I will never forget the first time I heard samulnori, traditional Korean music. When I heard the students play samulnori, tears just streamed down my face uncontrollably. It felt as if a “bright festival” was opening after hiding quietly somewhere inside my belly. During exorcism rites, Korean shamans play instruments to call the spirits and also to send the ghosts to another realm. During the Japanese colonial period, shaman rites were banned, and it was because of this colonial influence that I didn’t get to study traditional Korean music at school. There were no teachers who had studied traditional Korean music, so there was nobody to teach us. But now I’m so sick of it. Now that I’ve become a college professor, and because the college I teach at has a Korean music department, I get to listen to it every year on campus. And the creative writing students that I teach also play it often. So now whenever I hear samulnori, I close my eyes and think of something else. Anyway, I wanted to tell you my experience…”

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"I was kitsch": autobiography of an immigrant and a translator

by on Aug.12, 2013

I wrote an autobiographical account of my interest in translation for the poetry foundation:

I wrote a lot of poetry and I read widely (Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Surrealism, Genet, Plath, Ginsberg, etc.). I wrote all the time. Until I got to college. I loved college but I also learned about taste. I learned that my poetry was tasteless. From the quietist workshop I took I learned that I was “Romantic” because I used “too many metaphors,” that I didn’t “earn the images,” that my I wasn’t authentic. I.e. kitsch. We did read language poets in that class. I went out and read more by and about them. And from that reading I learned: I was too “Romantic” because I used an “I,” because I used metaphors, because I was interested in fascination and absorption, not distance and critique.

I stopped writing poetry because I was kitsch. I lacked taste, and poetry was all about having taste. Knowing when to say when. As Daniel Tiffany argues in Silver Planet, his forthcoming book on kitsch, kitsch is mostly not about a lack but about an excess: “excessive beauty.” It’s about not knowing when to stop. I would add, that kitsch brings the violent immersion of art. Art is kitsch in part when it’s so much that you cannot stand back and maintain your critical distance.

But some things brought me back to poetry. I read Vasko Popa in translation, I read Clayton Eshleman’s translations of the late work of Antonin Artaud. A girlfriend who worked for an interior decorating magazine told me that she had seen photos of an artist named Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose canvases of disassembled and re-assembled bodies reminded her of my poems. She showed me the letters from insane people she had collected at work (“Dear Mr. Randolph Hearts, I want to be president of the United States! I just smashes a mosquito!”). Most importantly, I came across the work of the young Swedish poet Aase Berg in a Swedish journal and that immediately inspired me…

Life as an immigrant is also something that inspires my work. Which reminds me, one of my friends is currently in the process of applying for a Green Card. Did you know that foreign nationals seeking permanent residence through employment must first obtain a labor certification through PERM processing? PERM is an acronym that stands for Program Electronic Review Management.

With regards to PERM processing time, the wait can seem tedious. However, if you discover delays to your PERM processing, you might want to consider consulting an immigration attorney with the knowledge and experience to help speed up the employment-based Green Card process

I found a fascinating guide to the Green Card application process on the Nova Credit website so I must remember to pass it on to my friend.

Read the whole thing here.

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"Swallowed Repulsion": Johan Jönson's Soiled Conceptualism

by on Aug.08, 2013

While offering a more nuanced perceptive affect in poetry, Cal Bedient’s recent critique of Conceptual Poetry ultimately seems to fall into a trap set up by the Conceptual rhetoric: that the difference between conceptual poetry and non-conceptual poetry is the difference between “thinking” and “reading,” between the head and the heart. Not only is this –as many people, including pro-conceptual types, pointed out in responses to Bedient’s essay – a false dichotomy, but it also prevents Bedient from putting enough pressure on the word “affect,” a term that has become a convenient catch-all word for various academic discussions. But this criticism is also a bit misplaced because it’s a binary that Conceptualism itself set up: thinkership as the opposite of readership. To read is to be stupid: overwhelmed, absorbed. To “think” is to be clean. You don’t even need to read our texts, says Kenny Goldsmith.

Instead of writing about the very academically accepted and promoted regulars among Conceptual poets, I’d rather talk about one of my favorite poets, the Swedish conceptual poet Johan Jönson, who is not only more extreme in his production than any of the American poets I’ve ever read (or thinked about) but who also really pushes me to consider “affect” very seriously, and very affectedly. Unlike Kenny Goldsmith’s hygienic thinkership model of reading, Swedish conceptual writer Johan Jönson’s work follows James Pate’s words from the other day: “because they are books of action and event, they don’t allow us lounge about on a clean, conceptual hillside, above the muck and dirt and sweat. They plunge us into it.” Jönson’s poetry is often an attack on capitalism, but one that cannot maintain the distanced stance of critique so often advocated by American experimental poetry. The poetry generates a violent ambience that explodes with capitalist urges and fears. Instead of the cool thinkership of American conceptualism, Jönson pulls the reader into an intensive zone where affect violently pulls in self and other, fantasy and reality, masculinity and masquerade.

how can i describe the shame
over my repeated poverty?

it’s hard. Maybe.
it’s possible to compare it to the repulsion.
that follows
one’s own body. that
which has become the swallowed repulsion.


For me Jönson’s poetry exists in that zone of “swallowed repulsion” – you have to get rid of it but you can’t. There is no epiphany, no transcendence, no critique, just a violent impossibility. But as readers we cannot make it into an easy cliff-notes “concept,” we have to plow through 1243 pages of; we have to try to spit out the poems but we can’t. Unlike Goldsmith’s books you don’t have to read [supposedly, I actually find them a quite vivid reading experience], Jönson gives us:

An author who cannot read his own text.

A book that cannot be reduced.

A book that has become the day, the days’ days.


This book’s devouring.

(continue reading…)

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Evil is an Author of Beauty: The Selected Works of José Antonio Ramos Sucre, trans. Guillermo Parra

by on Jul.26, 2013

Jose Antonio Ramos Sucre. Now you know.

Jose Antonio Ramos Sucre. Now you know.


Comrades, I have read a book of such maddeningly delightful savour that I must urge you to immediately devour it with all possible haste and candelabra-infused solemnity. Perhaps by the light of a ‘candelabra-app’.

Let us begin with a nice thick slice of this peculiar cake, which tastes hauntingly of velvet curtain, exultation and despair:

I suffer an illustrious degeneration; I love pain, beauty and cruelty, especially the latter, that serves to destroy a world abandoned to evil. I constantly imagine the sensation of physical suffering, of the organic lesion.

So opens ‘Life of the Damned’, a 1925 poem by the Venezuelan poet José Antonio Ramos Sucre [1890-1930], as translated by Guillermo Parra for the recent (and first!) English edition of Ramos Sucre’s Selected WorksIn his own time and for decades thereafter, you will be surprised to learn, Ramos Sucre’s was a decidedly unfashionable flavor, since his robustly decadent,  Symbolism-infused work put him at odds with both traditionalist and modernist trends.  But oh, my foes, and oh, my friends, it gives a lovely light!

I was anxiously fleeing, with sore feet, through the hinterlands. The snow flurry was dampening the black ground.

I was hoping to save myself in the forest of birches, incurved by the squall.

I was able to hide in the antrum caused by the uprooting of a tree. I composed the manifested roots so as to defend myself from the brown bear, and scattered the bats with shouts and hand claps.

I was bewildered by the blow I had received on my head. I was suffering hallucinations and nightmares in the hiding place. I understood I would escape them by running further. […]

From ‘Fugitive’

Ramos Sucre’s work is thick with phrases, sentences as exquisitely arranged as a funeral bouquet. I want to lay down on this lily-bier forever! The logic is somehow olfactory, with one phrase opening into and infusing the next with its odorous stain, like lily-sperm dug deep into a plaque of velvet. And yet there is a momentum to these lines. I feel rapt by the footfalls of the phrases, and as my ankle is snared by the surprising word orders (“incurved by the squall” and, later, “long, amplective reeds”) I feel myself almost transformed into an Ovidian figure, becoming one with the landscape even as I flee into it. Rather than escape, unbearable transfiguration into the vernal embrace of the poem must follow.


Ramos Sucre has enjoyed/endured an almost ludicrously uneven reputation in Venezuela, mocked or ignored for decades before being revived by the mid-century avant-garde. In this fine volume, English-language readers will have the pleasure of grasping Ramos Sucre’s ghostly hand through a nest of competing versions:  the opening preface by Rubi Guerra describes the myriad of fictional Ramos Sucre’s haunting Venezuelan novels and plays, while the Prologue by the great poet-critic Francisco Pérez Perdomo gives a trenchant overview of Ramos Sucre’s avidity, severity and commitment to the decadent and symbolist principles of his art. Pérez Perdomo quotes one of Ramos Sucre’s aphorisms, not collected here: “Evil is an author of beauty. Tragedy, the memory of misfortune, is the superior art. Evil introduces surprise, innovation in this routine world. Without evil, we would reach uniformity, we would succumb to idiocy.” He also offers a practical description of Ramos Sucre’s innovations which will help readers come to their own relationship with Ramos Sucre’s work through Guillermo Parra’s thrilling and scrupulously correct-feeling translations. The tone of Parra’s English seems to me an exact complement to the piercing, uncompromising gaze with which Ramos Sucre charges the reader on the back of the book. Attention, Artists of the Future!:

The assault of a boreal race announces the millennium of the eclipse. I insinuate myself in the throng of the victors and reprimand the uncivil excess and joviality. My intrepidity at the threshold of death and the insistence of Virgil confer upon me the privilege of an immune life.

YES! Read the heroically assembled and translated Selected Works of José Antonio Ramos Sucre and experience a re-dedication to the diabolical Art-life we have all grasped so desperately amid the tear-gas and tasings of the victors, the idiocy of the prosperity gospel.  Let the remains of 2013 ignite in a crepuscular monument to José Antonio Ramos Sucre, to Guillermo Parra, to Bill Lavender and the apparently defunct ( O slain! Slain by capitalist administrators!) University of New Orleans Press for publishing this vital and necessary work. This is success in life.

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Autistic Cuneiforms: Styx Förlag, CM Lundberg and Mattias Forshage

by on Jul.24, 2013

One of the most inspiring books I’ve been reading over the past few months has been the Swedish publisher Styx Förlag’s anthology Autistisk Kilskrift. It’s somewhat oriented around the work of Mattias Forshage, one of the original members of the Surrealist Group of Stockholm, which readers of this blog might know from my discussions of Aase Berg, who got her start there in the 80s.For example, together Forshage and Berg wrote the manifesto Surrealism in Ulterior times, which can be found in translation here.

Anyway this anthology is marvelous and strange, eclectic. One of my favorite writers in here is CM Lundberg, for example (in my hasty translation):

Rat Song (slow mentally ill music):

Something new that kind of got the thought to go askance and
never successfully reached the destination, it was enemies, she with the small
fetuses (with glitter on) plus somebody else.
One was not allowed to talk about one’s obsessions. Some built houses.
It was more exciting to see.
My contact with catholocism:
I called around 11 from the mushroom. Needed to be cleansed. A good
representative received me at his office and listened to my story.
The non.river was black. non sat and rested on the river bed.
The strangely slow poisoning process had its own sound.
A spot light.
Afterward I understood that it was hard to get a hold of him.
There was one hour left.

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War Spasm Gristle Day: Joyelle McSweeney on Aase Berg, Translation and Cúchulainn

by on Jul.18, 2013

[I forgot to link to Joyelle’s essay on “War Spasm” now up on The Volta:]

1)I write in contaminated, rampant, ill, struggling, fetid and fatal forms because that is where I exist and what life is. I exist as a spasm, a plasmodial wiggle, and I live in an impossible state—the and/or. The and/or is not quite two things, it is not quite one, it is more than two and less than one, at once. It’s devastating, debilitating, and a little bit great. The and/or is a paradoxical and volatile and impossible material. You can make it in a pressure cooker, set it to cook while you’re on shift, a hot dinner for the kids, a home-cooked meal. Or cook it up in an industrial plant in West, Texas. You can collapse a stacked-up garment factory in Dhaka, or just work there, or just buy clothes, munch labor like a weevil or spirochete. It will grow within you, without you. It will wrap its tough fungal strands around your spinal chord where it cannot be removed. Column, columbia, dove of peace, fatal phalanx. The and/or pours irrationality down into the would-be technically assessable, economically appraisable pre-fab units of literary form and blows them apart. To high heaven. To kingdom come. Or to the rehab ward, where your life will be saved thanks to battlefield medicine. Thanks to a decade of war, now in syndication. Thanks to Bellona’s many corporate syndicates. The and/or is really an ‘or.’ The and/or is an ‘or’ which means ‘and.’ It is an or which will not let you alone. An occult ampersand. A bitch to watch out for. Trouble every day.

For more go here.

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Three Hot Books for your Cruel Summer: Monica Rinck, Carina Finn, Aime Cesaire

by on Jun.28, 2013

Hola poetry fanboies!

How I spent my summer vacation...

How I spent my summer vacation…



Sitting on my “desk” (laminated folding table) today are three books sure to perk up your whole life/fashion/poetry outlook for this weekend and your life, comparable to when Roseanna Arquette becomes infected by poetry in the form of personal ads in Desperately Seeking Susan, and goes on to become a Madonna impersonator. Get into the groove!

1. Monica Rinck, to refrain from embracing, trans. Nicholas Grindell

Two nights ago our bookcase fell over and this volume flew into my hands! This poetry pops with manic muscular focus, an attempt to topo-map the world in its dismaying linguistic everything-at-once. Nicholas Grindell translates Rinck’s German in such a way that German keeps landing its pervy wallops through the mongrel screen of English:

romantic subzero

that was the height of ice. kudos caspar david.

cathedral carved inside of it, thawing its way

down her wet throat. breathrobbing.

a vertical bottleneck. within it

halls and chambers, beneath it water, black

with cold. very cold, very black. turkey hens

are on the roam, invisible but for their core,

like a coffee bean in motion. but don’t

be deceived, the turky hen’s still there,

it just can’t be seen. the whole thing’s fatal.


I like the jack-knifing of syntax around the slalom of those line breaks, the way the phrases butt against each other and spill out of the line, the way the poem swings around and looks at itself, by turns serious and ludicrous. Slang and philosophical statement try to fit inside the same tube dress of the lyric. This shoving of opposites into the same micromini is of course the sublime. Sublime fatality. The momentum of the carcrash and the strange dispensation of the suspension of time at the moment of Impact.


2. Carina Finn, Lemonworld


One thing I know about Carina Finn, my dear friend and former student: the girl can go on. She has a Stein-like philosophical trajectory of mind and at minimum two millenia of hi-lo-pop culture to back her argufying up. When she philosophizes I see molecular diagrams of sugar rings linking into new and tasty non-nourishing foodstuffs of the future, a map of the future that can hardly called human. So I was surprised to receive Lemonworld and discover not her essayistic mode (which I adore) but these individual lyrics like a sachet of PopRocks– so tiny and tight they could pass through all the boundaries made to protect us:



cherries, ribbons, and rainbows go all to bits b/c

the devil makes us sin where the wild girls live.



velvet-turbaned socialite stuffed with triangle

cobra kryptonite, you’re flagged for deletion on the

cemetary drive &


                everyone’s hoping for hell except me.


To quote Sir Patti Smith: “People say beware. But I don’t care!” I love the jittery compulsion of these poems, the desire to spark, smite and be over.  Could they be more compressed? They could be forced into alexandrines and ridden like a drunken boat. But if that boat was steered by Carina it would include a yukele and be floating in some pond in Central Park being toasted by a thicket of bankers.   This book is basically that.


3. Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to The Native Land NEW TRANSLATION OF THE 1939  ‘PRE-ORIGINAL’!!! by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman


Words can get up and do things, with the persistence and perfidity of roundworms.  Poetry makes things happen, where it matters– in the gut. For me, reading Clayton and Annette Smith’s 2001 translation of Cesaire’s Notebook was a revelation. I think of this as THE masterpiece of Surrrealism, the utmost, utmost example of what this artform can be in its political mode AND its artistic mode. As Arnold’s introduction to this new edition suggests, the traume-poem took many forms during Césaire’s lifetime, edited, expanded, and cut back down to reflect his developing political outlook. The earliest magazine version, translated for this new edition, could be seen as the barest, or the most concentrated version. Those of us who are fanboies for the 2001 translation might miss the crazy frame stanzas, including the opening lines “Beat it, I said to him, you cop, you lousy pig, beat it, I detest the flunkies of order and the cockchafers of hope!”. Some of the 70’s-isms of the earlier translation (“I say right on!” is replaced by “I say hurray!”—a little AA Milne for me) have been sanitized, and the bewitching repiton ‘Au bout du petit matin bourgeonnant’ is now translated not as ‘At the end of daybreak’ but  ‘At the end of first light’ which is less violent, paradoxical, and revolutionary feeling, if a little more lyrical.  Still, the new edition is a dream and a fan-boi must.  The translation is en face; Arnold’s introduction is pellmell and info-packed, like a dazzling confab at the watercooler outside a stuffy seminar room, where the real education goes down; and the whole shape of the thing is a little clearer in this earlier form.  The embarassing Breton introduction, historically important as it may be, is also not included here. You may lose the ‘right-on’ force of the 2001 edition, but you still get all the hits, plenty of knock-out obscure botanical terminology, and the showstopping scene in which a slave-ship self-viscerates, discharging its now liberated undead cargo into an unreal excremental dream-freedom:


Je dis hurrah ! La vielle négritude progressivement se cadavérise

l’horizon se défait, recule et s’élargit

et voici parmi des déchiquètements de nuages la fulgurance d’un signe

le négrier craque de toute part… Son ventre se convulse et résonne…

L’affreux ténia de sa cargaison ronge les boyaux fétides de l’étrange

nourrisson des mers !


I say hurray! The old negritude progressively cadavers itself

the horizon breaks, recoils and expands

and through the shredding of clouds the flashing of a sign

the slave ship cracks from one end to the other… Its belly convulses and resounds…

The ghastly tapeworm of its cargo gnaws the fetid guts of the strange suckling of the sea!


This image changed my life, my thinking about poetry and its political potential. You must change your life. Buy this book.






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Tytti Heikkinen

by on Jun.28, 2013

Since I’m translating some of these Swedish and Finnish essays about the gurlesque, maybe I should also post some poetry. Here’s the first poem from Finnish poet Tytti Heikkinen’s Fatty XL series (which is part of the book The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal, trans. Niina Pollari, which Action Books just published a couple of months ago).



Gonna say one thing just as soon as this vomiting
Went shopping today for cute shoes. !! Everybody is
gross but be and my friends .

Yestrdy I was into this one dude and tried
prolly too hard
to get near him. He said ur not the one Im looking for.
It broke myyy heaaart.
You betrayed my heart, squeezed it empty like
a sponge… Before everything was the same. No more. i
am in love…

I don’t think it’s even possible to not be
crushin. Everybody has to have someone, who
they can dream about, to love forcefully, even if they don’t even
want to. Thats why I wanna love forever… refrain <3: (Some more poems in Brooklyn Rail.)

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What is "The Prose Poem"?

by on Jun.25, 2013

I was thinking… in my past two posts, I have referred to but not really discussed the “Prose Poem.” Does anybody talk about this form/term anymore? Is this important to anybody?

It seems like there was a lot of talk about it in the 90s and early 00s. I remember reading the journal “The Prose Poem” (edited by Peter Johnson) back in the 90s because it was engaged with a certain surrealist sensibility which I obviously also was interested in. And it provided a kind of “hybrid” space that was neither the official quietist aesthetic of MFA programs or the official/Language aesthetic of PhD study. The big influences in this journal were James Tate, Russell Edson and Charles Simic. But it would also publish, say Maxine Chernoff, who’s kind of an odd poet that doesn’t really fit in with schools and lineages.

I think it was probably very influential – and by “it” I might mean this notion of the prose poem or the official journal itself – creating not only a space where prose and poetry could interact but also a space where translation was valued. Afterall, this prose poem was largely derived from Max Jacob and other foreign writers. It seems to have generated a whole host of writers from my generation (Zach Schomburg, Mathias Svalina and others).

I occasionally read this journal back in the day but I felt put off by a certain goofiness that struck me as moderating. Edson was a big influence, but many influenced by Edson lost something really important about Edson: the utter lack of interiority, the saturating violence, the merciless absurdity. In many prose poem writers it seemed Edson’s move was coupled with an indie-rock emotional register (goofy, wistful, whimsical).

My own interest/emotional register doesn’t really fit in with that zone; and also the formal movement within the poems seemed too set. For example, I was interested/inspired by Basquiat – and I wanted to bring that mania, that horror vacui to the poems. That’s in part what drew me to the prose poem (and does still I guess on some level) – it allowed me to see the page as a near-canvas, which might consist of a discarded door or box.


It’s interesting (if only to myself) that my distinction here is what other genres/media the prose poems “bring into” poetry – indie rock vs painting.

But as far as writing goes, I first started writing poetry in large part from reading Rimbaud’s prose poems and Lautremont’s Maldoror, Burroughs and the Beats, and Genet’s baroque theatricality, and that kind of convulsiveness has always stuck with me. By the time I came across the Prose Poem journal I was also reading Aase Berg’s guinea pigs and Ann Jaderlund’s necropastorals:

The big valley is a vast mother-of-pearl mirror. There walks the large dead swan in her dead shroud. And there walks the mother-of-pearl children. Or the fragile foundling clumps. That grow out of the virgin mother’s throat. They led the swan into a forest and placed beautiful white stones of mother-of-pearl on her back. Go now and eat that which you have taken from the swans. Then one ran up and cut a branch from the tree and grabbed a burning branch and stuck it into her throat. And scrubbed her both up top and down below. Until the swan’s flesh fell off in beautiful heavy clumps. For some time the swan lay in the bushes and slept. And black merchants came riding on black mother-of-pearl horses. Then they took the swan and carried her away.

(from Jaderlund’s Soon Into the Summer I Will Walk Out, published in Typo 7)

Jaderlund’s suite is actually a kind of montage of biblical tales written down in the 15th century, a kind of proto-prose-poetry based on Swedish translations of foreign materials (Christianity being of course a foreign text itself).

Fast forward a little bit: In 2006, Peter Connors published the anthology PP/FF. The abbreviations are for Prose Poem and Flash Fiction. Peter didn’t want to come up with a term like “hybrid” to actually bring them into unison, but wanted to allow them to be unsynthesized, and I liked that. Because this anthology includes not so much “prose poetry” but poetry in prose, and poetic prose etc.

Peter writes this in his intro:

In 2006, it is fair to say that prose poetry is a vital Amreican genre: there are prose poetry journals, anthologies, university courses, and attendant experts. Perhaps classifying it as a stale genre is too harsh, however, in compiling this anthology it became obvious that many writers have felt shunned from traditional communities of poetry and prose – including prose poetry – for consciously resisting genre expectations. To wit, prose poetry should not contain too much narrative or it becomes fiction; flash fiction should follow a narrative arc or it risks fragmentation to the point of becomign prose poetry; flash fiction should stay within specific, albeit arbitrary word counts; prose poetry must not utilize line break; surrealism and humor is acceptable, but topicality is not…

Here Connor’s point is similar to my own – that a genre that was born out of dissatisfaction with genre expectations had generated its own conventions.

Before that anthology, Peter edited Double Room with Mark Tursi, which published some section of my book Dear Ra back in 2003 (I wrote the book in 2000-2001 while going crazy). In this book I used the epistolary form – which I got from letters of serial killers and crazy consumers – with a kind of surrealism and also Ted Berrigan (b/c I loved his manic energy).


It struck me that in my past two entries I dealt with “prose poetry” – but these are great examples of prose poetry that is not so much part of this convention as poems that form a space where various media and genre convulse without definitely being synthesized into Prose Poetry. For example, Joyelle’s Salamandrine is categorized as “Fiction”, but her virtuosic sentences are charged with the kind of texture one might expect from the most saturated poetry. In James’s Fassbinder Diaries, the “prose poem” seems like it is constantly being harassed not just by film but the narrative urge/push of novels. This seems true of a lot of things I’ve been reading recently: Aylin Bloch Boynukisa’s My mouth is full of teeth and time, Under Siege: Four African Cities (Documenta 11;Plathform4), Sara Shamloo’s Gloria, Emma Lundmark’s Hans Fru Judith, Uche Nduka’s Ijele, or Moldovian comic book artist Neurotrip’s work:


But at the same time, what makes Negroni’s Mouth of Hell and di Giorgio’s History of Violets so amazing is in part a kind of “return” to the prose poem at its purest form – Baudelaire, Rimbaud etc.


So to sum things up: I wonder if “prose poetry” has any value anymore – As a form? As a context? As an idea? As a lineage?

As usual I’m suddenly drawn to it because it seems dead, anachronistic – and the opposite of the notion of “American Hybrid” that is so powerful these days.

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"I Play with Death": The Gothic Prose Poetry of Negroni, Di Giorgio, Berg and McSweeney

by on Jun.21, 2013

It’s interesting to hear again and again various people complain that poetry is dead or take credit for finally killing off poetry, or try to defend poetry, try to revive it (or do all of these things as once, as the Conceptualists). Capitalism killed poetry a long time ago, just as it is killing us. Poetry is a plague ground, and we are its bugs. Colorful bugs that make a crackling sound when you step on them.

Most poets out there it seems want to be “innovative” and “experimental.” They want to be the future, to be progressive, to lead the way to a robust future by teaching themselves “critical thinking,” “critical distance.” They want to demystify, reveal, uncover, subvert. They think they can critique themselves out of this slaughterhouse. They want to be strong and rigorous like Ron Silliman, not “soft” or “candy” or kitsch or decadent.

Too bad, because that’s where poetry’s at. We’ve always worn the shitty ghost costumes and the glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth.
It’s also not unreasonable that so many poets these days seem to want to distance themselves from violence and ornaments. Afterall we have drones and torture. So it’s nice to think of the artwork as “democratic” – the reader and the writer make it together, instead of like the governments and CEOs that act alone and dictatorially.

But art is inextricably bound up in violence.
It does violence to the reader and the reader does violence to the text.

So it both is and is not a paradox that a bunch of books and texts that have come out recently that have revived that now-fairly-dull genre of the PROSE POEM not by unmasking the art, by becoming anaesthetic, but precisely by becoming decadent, theatrical, pathologically manneristic, extravagantly 19TH CENTURY – as in Baudelaire and Poe, Lautremont and Rimbaud – and, yes, more GOTHIC.
(continue reading…)

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A Blood-Shot Ruby: The Disappeared & “Mouth of Hell” by María Negroni, translated by Michelle Gil-Montero

by on Jun.20, 2013

[…]In these wastelands of intimacy and exile, I find nothing, not even the blood-shot ruby I swiped as a child from my father’s icy dream. Wide terrain between two blue oceans: my biography and my park of monsters, who I’ve despised, envied, admired, and loved, deep down, terribly.

[Nada veo en esos páramos de intimidad y destierro. Ni siquiera el rubí sangriento que robé en la infancia al sueño helado de mi padre. Largo territorio que insiste entre dos mares azules: mi biografía, mi parque de monstruos que odié, envidié, admiré, amé, en el fondo, tanto.]


María Negroni’s Mouth of Hell is well emblematized by that ‘blood-shot ruby’, not worshipped but ‘swiped’. This little volume is like a decadent novella, an intake of breath before a heroine’s death-aria, a continuously restaged opening scene. It burns with Pater’s infamous “gem-like flame”, an intensity stoked by infernal paradox, throwing a mysterious, self-consuming light.  The series is made of extremely brief prose poems, set in little vitrine-like boxes. The poems themselves seem to have plucked words out of the blank air and to arrange them in strange tableaux in which language itself acts paradoxically (or insanely). In Negroni’s hand, language may lounge and rage, collapse and expand, at once languid and acute:

Strange impatience of horses. Jumbled crossbows, arquebusses. Some sort of luxurious circus or royal company. It’s always like this, the beginning of a new militia: the hardest men, the most virile and beautiful, the best disposed to sexual combat, to wrestling one-on-one with death. Often a hand bedecked with rings. Short in the way of chivalry. Conclaves drag on, and that deft sadness of acrobats.

Such acrobatics among the syllables, and the larger acrobatic of replacing  a long winding sentence with a sudden, opaque emblem (“Often a hand bedecked with rings.”) is even more astonishing when one recalls that this is a work of translation; Michelle Gil-Montero is in fact, invisibly and before your lying eyes, double-looping this Latinate reverie into a bewitched, bewitching English.

Mouth of Hell is a book about a place, but that place is both singular and several, actual and allusive. To put it briefly, this book, which seems hovering on the precipice of an event about to occur, is actually tremulous with retrospection: it re-inhabits a roguish mid-twentieth century [Argentinian] novel, Bomarzo by Manuel Mujica Láinez, which itself reimagines a 16th century [Italian] duke who built himself a park-of-monsters or grotesqueries. Translator Gil-Montero informs us that Negroni’s entire sequence takes place at the moment of the literary character’s death. But the tremulous temporal coordinates of this work– stretched across time and occurring in an instant, looking radically back to earlier works while occupying a fast-elapsing present tense– also enact trauma, and, particularly, the temporal trauma of Latin America’s lost generations, and specifically, of course, Argentina’s disappeared.

The disappeared are both a living memory and a non-thought, an erased generation whose death and gravesites may, in many cases, never be known. The subtraction of this generation makes all subsequent time aberrant, non-linear, glitched, abhorrent. In this sense their loss is truly traumatic, an event which can  never be over because its exact parameters and coordinates can never be known. This is an event whose magnitude can never be bounded, not only because there is in many cases no historical record but because the loss is of a magnitude beyond accounting. There can also, of course, be no retribution, no redemption or reparation of this loss, no way of assuaging or lessening its unthinkable magnitude.

In this sense the paradoxical dimensionality of los desaparecidos forms the flexing, vertiginous field of this book. Their paradoxically present absence is both superimposed on the sequences and seems to occur as its outer limit, the non-place of blackness and erasure the sequence is driving towards. Thus the speaker is at times  bereft, marooned, expressing an adjacency to an action that seems to be happening elsewhere, and at times occupies a position of conviviality with a ghost-like “She”. Often these contradictions happen on facing pages. On page 60,

The rush of words comes unannounced: all at once, jacked into flight like a heraldic bird, mystery feathered in shadow. In this pandemonium of pomp and poverty, as if these past could pardon us, a silver presence : a fistful of cantos to measure the span from sword to soul. All lined up, indelible geometry like lightsome ships set for the great journey.

Across the gutter on page 61, “Surrounded by deep night, after hurrying through the earthly day, they falter. Place and date have fallen back quietly. Place and date have fallen back quietly. Of their private fictions, nothing remains but an almost-island, the saga of a labyrinth with no outcome.”

Yet even in this latter vision, hope finds a way to spark, in however inverted a proportion: “The enamored splinter refuses to surrender.” And so we feel weirdly hopeful, as if we have come into a flickering gathering place of the lost—even if this means joining the lost in the grave.

Mouth of Hell has been designed by Andrew Shuta in a slim, compact edition with a startling blood-red ruby cover and with the complete English and Spanish texts arranged in separate series within. It is as transporting, contradictory, beautiful and troubling as any journey toward this most infernal of thresholds should be.


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