“He hit me and it felt like a kiss”: On the Death-Art of Lana Del Ray and Nicholas Winding Refn

by on Jun.25, 2014

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk…
(Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale”)

It seems a lot of people are troubled by Lana Del Ray saying that she wish she were “already dead.” Seems that’s not an “empowering” thing to say. We should all be energetic and as alive as possible. Working for a change in the anthropocene. Something I love about her songs is that she does sound already dead. They all seem written from a haze, from the other side.

It’s in the new one:

But it’s even more in some of the old ones, like “Summertime Sadness” and (duh!) “Born to Die.”

Here’s an interesting article about Del Ray and her detractors from NPR:

What sets her apart from predecessors in provocation like is that she celebrates the bacchanalian excess of peers like while immolating herself in themes of co-dependency that make smart people squirm. Her songs exude the pain her paramours repress through drugs and sport sex, and their implicit subject is addiction.

In other words, unlike so much contemporary poetics for example, this is not poetry that “critiques,” that gives us an ethical position. Unlike Hollywood, pop music etc: it’s not uplifting. Unlike both: it is not “empowering.”

She gets hit by her lover and it feels like a kiss.

This haziness of death is of course the feverish state of art. It is a kiss but it feels like a punch.

It’s an addiction.
(continue reading…)

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“…emerging on the other side with Wet Land”: Marty Cain on Lucas de Lima

by on Jun.24, 2014

[Marty Cain has a very insightful review of Lucas de Limas’s Wet Land up on HTMLGiant. Here’s an excerpt:]

“In her response to Stephen Burt’s recent essay in the Boston Review, the poet Joyelle McSweeney criticizes Burt’s concept of the Nearly Baroque: “forget ‘nearly’ and ‘almost.’ I want to go all the way… All the way and out to the other side, which is this side, but eschatologically inverted.” Wet Land may be a perfect example of what McSweeney seems to be calling for. Rather than hiding behind an aesthetic mask, de Lima fully embraces artifice, deliberately taking ownership of the inherent violence in poetic representation:

(from “KILL SPOT”)

In this invocative moment reminiscent of Frank Stanford, de Lima suggests that the artistic process is complicit in a circle of violence, death, and rebirth. The gator killed Ana Maria, the book symbolically kills Ana Maria again, and de Lima enters the pulsing door of grief, emerging on the other side with Wet Land, a text that inhabits a different world altogether—exhumed from a swamp, winding along a chaotic figure-eight in a cycle of violence and tenderness. It would be too predictable if de Lima chose to vilify the alligator, but fortunately, he resists the easy route. On the first page of the book, de Lima tells us that the alligator’s blood is “so potent it can destroy HIV,” and that he feels he has an “alliance” with the creature. The alligator becomes evocative of a transcendent presence, embodying both life and death, eros and violence.”

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Gurlesque-ing Bergman: More on “Persona Peep Show”

by on Jun.16, 2014

I want to follow up on James’s great post about Persona Peep Show with a post about the most obvious topic relating to the film: that is “fan-fictions” or “kitsches” Ingmar Bergman’s supposed Masterpiece Persona (a lot of the text is in fact from Bergman’s movie). What Mark Efrik Hammarberg and Sara Tuss Efrik picks up on in their remake of Bergman’s movie as “peepshow” is exactly the scandal of the image that James talks about in his post, the “peep-show-ness” of Bergman’s movie. And like many fan fictions (this is why I’m drawn to this para-genre) it takes this elements and blows it up, pushes it out of balance, find the excess, the ghosts, the pornography in the masterpiece.

Their peepshow fan fiction was first shown as part of the gurlesque-themed 2013 Stockholm Poetry Festival, and it revels exactly in the kind of mask-playing, superficiality and viscerality that has caused so many people to be troubled by the gurlesque.


Like James, I think Steven Shaviro’s a wonderful reveling in cinematic fascination. Shaviro points out that what troubles people about cinema is often this flatness of the image, which has no interiority but which nevertheless is tend to cause fascination, a strong bodily response (which as he points out is often seen as apolitical but which can be highly political).

(continue reading…)

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“Visual Fascination”: More Thoughts on the “Nearly Baroque” and the “Baroque”

by on May.08, 2014

We have had some discussion of Steve Burt’s “Nearly Baroque” article here on Montevidayo. Mostly we have been critical of the article, but I wonder if we cannot use it as a starting point for some more discussions of taste, translation and excess.
I certainly still believe that excluding any discussion of translation, especially translation of Latin American poetry, is at best what Joyelle called “a missed opportunity” and what Lucas said indexed “a certain allergy and attraction to the foreign, a certain anxiety over the loss of canon control.”

As I noted, this is an article that is very much trying to come to terms with a notion of taste, of the value of restraint as a model of taste. I wrote about this matter a few days ago. What is the pedagogical value to warn against “going too far”? Or using a “nearly baroque” to set up against an over-the-top baroque? (continue reading…)

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“I want to write poems that touch something chaotic and messy without destroying myself in the process”: an interview with Sade Murphy

by on May.05, 2014


Paul: Hi Sade. How do you approach writing a new poem? What kind of work do you typically set out to write?

Sade: I feel like when I start something, it’s usually accidentally. Dream Machine began because I wanted to trick myself into a good writing routine during a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. I’d start my day by writing about the previous night’s dreams over breakfast. It eventually replaced the project that I thought I would start there and grew eight legs and several other healthy appendages. So I guess I stumble into new poems while I’m doing something else. But once I have a concept I’m obsessed with it and I have to work it to completion. So I don’t feel like I typically set out to write anything. But even if I don’t have an intention in that regard I do intend for the poetry to be visceral. I want to write something that makes me feel powerful and effective when I read it. I want to write poems that touch something chaotic and messy without destroying myself in the process. I want, at least for the time being, to write poetry that creates questions and discomfort for people, to make them wonder if they’ve underestimated me.

Paul: Could you say something about the structure of Dream Machine? For me, the rapidity and the weight of the poem’s numbers tugged and propelled me through what felt like a filmic dream archive.

Sade: That’s really well put. So Dream Machine is set up in sections of six poems each and each section is titled Dream Machine of the Decade and then subtitled with a certain kind of number. For instance most of the dream machines on Action, Yes are “Sexy Numbers” or “Prime Numbers”. I have this thing about numbers, so the numbering of the poems is fairly intentional. The numbers are the titles for the poems. But it’s disordered too, the numbers aren’t sequential, they aren’t all there, they’re grouped somewhat subjectively. Ultimately the numbers kind of represent this ideal of structure or order within the realm of Dream Machine, in a way that the order is only meaningful to the imposer of said order.

There exists a sole dreamer spawning the Dream Machine. That dreamer is me… which I feel is important to say because I have a particular position and experiences which inform the things that are able to happen in the Dream Machine. There are also a few recurring characters.

Paul: What primarily influences your use of language and wordplay?

Sade: Eleutheromania. I want freedom. I remember growing up and feeling very policed about what I was allowed to write or think or feel. (continue reading…)

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“Let me drown you in milk”: The Narrative Poetry of Gro Dahle and Dolores Dorantes

by on Mar.21, 2014

One of the great cliche conventions of 90s experimentalism was that narratives were inherently conservative. In part this came from the (justified) criticisms of the “narrative poetry” (or “Quietism”) that used to be imposed on students in most poetry writing classes. But the problem with the Quietist poems is not necessarily that they are narrative but rather that they use narrative in a boring way: I look out the window (literally or metaphorically) and see something that makes me remember and based on that memory I have some sensation of transcendence or epiphany.

These Quietist poems depend on a self-righteous sense of interiority and authenticity that allows no interesting language. You have to find your “voice” (interiority) but it’s a voice that sounds like every other quietist voice and anything interesting you might do with language will be a threat to that voice. And the narratives tend to be from behind the “window,” remembering, so it rarely feels that anything is at risk.


(I often quote that essay by Robert MnRuhr where he uses disability theory to critique the epiphany as an ableist model of coming back together, becoming whole.)

But narrative is not the problem. Narratives are often fascinating. I remember when I was a child, my grandmother telling me stories about Swedish kings poisoning each other. Years later, I found a photograph of my grandmother dated to “Berlin, 1933” and my uncle told me that she had had dubious political sympathies back in the day. Narrative can be mysterious. “She’s full of secrets,” the little man says of Laura Palmer’s ghost in that famous Twin Peaks dream sequence (Of course in Quietism there are not supposed to be any secrets, that would be too thrilling.).
Some of the most interesting poetry books of the past few years have been explicitly narrative: Think of Chelsey Minnis’s poems with fashionable killers in Zirconia (“… uh… I want to wear hot pants… and rest my boot on the back of a man’s neck…”) or Bad Bad; or Ronaldo Wilson’s Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man and how those two get muddled up in Poems of the Black Object (“So tonight, when you saw this white man, in glasses, mid-30s with an early grey mullet, lift up his Alpaca sweater to reveal the slit in his abs beneath the bloody curtain of his shirt, you said “Welcome to Brooklyn.””).

I love detective/crime novels, but I only like the first half. (continue reading…)

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The The Kristen Stewart Debates: Poetry, Taste and Mass Culture!

by on Feb.20, 2014

I’ve meant to write down a few thoughts about Kristen Stewart’s poem published in (or recited for) Marie Clarie Magazine a couple of weeks back and the ensuing controversy. I think this discussion says a lot about taste, mass culture and poetry.


* I don’t know Kristen Stewart’s acting career very well but I saw her in a movie in which she was wonderfully paralyzed in the face. I also know that she was in the vampire movies, Twilight (which later turned into that S&M novel fan fiction).

* It’s interesting to see what kinds of people said what about KS’s poem. Marie Claire and the celebrity, mass culture magazine all seemed to repeat the line that KS herself used to introduce the poem: she said it was “embarrassing.” A celebrity sites seemed to merely repeat that word “embarrassing”. We can take that as a sign of their laziness, sure, but I think it says something else: Poetry – even though it’s supposedly “high culture” is – seen from the point of view of “mass culture” – embarrassing. Always embarrassing.
(continue reading…)

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The Violence and Invisibility of Translations

by on Jan.25, 2014

I just wrote this on my facebook update:

Seems like a lot of issues of translation has come up recently: Don Mee Choi’s not that she – the translator – wasn’t mentioned in the review of Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage; the Lucas Klein post I linked to below; C. Dale Young discussion about the claim that American writers are insular and don’t read work in translation (judging from the commentary to that link, they’re not only not reading works in translation but also totally unwilling to have a discussion about them not reading things in translation); and Coldfront Magazine’s “top 40 poetry books of 2014” which didn’t include a *single* work in translation (there’s no ethical responsibility to read works in translation, but lets think about what it means that you think all 40 best books of 2013 were by Americans!). I guess I’ll have to write something about this… Just when I thought Lawrence Venuti was outdated…

Where to go from there? I’ve been writing about translation so long now that I don’t even know what to say anymore… To begin with, I don’t think all Americans want to ignore things in translation. America has a really rich history of engaging with works in translation (Pound etc). As I noted in this post I wrote for the Poetry Foundation, there is quite a bit of interest in translation, but it’s mostly in the small-press universe. Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage of the World Unite! (in Don Mee’s translation!) has received an incredibly amount of positive feedback. Overall, the two Kim Hyesoon books have probably received some 20 substantial write-ups and her work is not being translated into a whole bunch of languages. So not all people hate works in translation…

So who does hate translation? (continue reading…)

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Poets in The New York Daily News Article Respond: ANA BOZICEVIC

by on Jan.04, 2014

[I asked the women featured in the New York Daily News article if I could interview them about the public response to the article. I asked them each the same set of five questions. Some of the women preferred to answer specific questions; others chose to write their own essays. I’ll be posting their responses here serially over the next 24 hours.]



#beautiful #ugly #women #feelings

Having become distressed by Things in Life, I came to the conclusion that I needed wholly to change up my imaginarium. The picture book Myself that had become unbearable to me had to be replaced with something other, perhaps its opposite. But behold: the stranger I wished to become was me; I had so alienated myself from my history that the strangest person I could now become was myself.

This sense of integration with the other of oneself – the state in which one perceives one’s changing physical characteristics, remembers the societies of people and the microcultures which passed through one’s life, to make an impact and/or never to be seen again – the smell of pigeon-grey ozone on a Zagreb morning in 1982 and NYC air on New Year’s Eve 2014 – is an experience often denied women in particular, because of the systems of control, the taboos and vetoes attached to their perception and self-perception. We can agree that a great bulk of the bodily-aesthetic dimension of contemporary American culture is filtered through women. How women do and should look in their youth and as they age is, in the style of the film They Live, the consistent theme of so much TV and other media content. The “alternative” art culture and queer culture are no more exempt from this focus on bodily appearance – or the persona aura – than the mainstream.

A poet’s work and performance may manifest this burden in any number of ways. Maybe she enables it, fully plays along, and reaps the benefits and censure of being the submissive in a mainstream script; maybe she ignores it, rejects it, focusing instead on form, materials, technique, or embracing an alternative aesthetic of queerness or ugliness. Maybe she performs it indifferently, or as drag, and maybe through performance ends up playing it off against itself. Such analysis often comes after the art is performed, in the sphere of reaction, because I’d like to think the freedom of engaging in art renders us at least partly unconscious of the effect we, and our work, will have. A didactic poetics is a yawn..

It is this last approach – the performance of femininity, the engagement of its inherent performativity – that provokes perhaps the most ambiguous response, specifically in otherwomen. At its most effective, it can trigger awe or horror, because performing something implies implication, an awareness of the taint, a potency tinged with the ridiculous and the compromised. Picture a man who sees his wife and mistress online at the same time, and his moment of discomfort: are they talking to each other right now? This suggestion that the superego and the id might be in touch directly, provokes more terror than a scenario in which their communication is coded and filtered through the ego.

When poets like Monica McClure and Trisha Low engage with things like fashion, the propaganda of glamour, the drama of the teen (that fulcrum of idic energy that must especially be controlled so that it may be sexualized on someone else’s terms), they promote discomfort; when their practice is promoted by the New York Daily News, in an article written in the language of a fairground crier – the distress, for some women in the audience, deepens. Moreso, perhaps, if they’re artists themselves. They demand an explanation:

You mean to say these poets acknowledge openly, via playing with its code (which is after all a language), the terror imposed on women by a culture that demands women mirror its desires, sculpting them back into pre-transformation Galateas, often with the use of what could be art materials, like silicone? That they claim awareness without seeming fully to reject the dominant by fully embracing an alternative aesthetic? Are they collaborators?

The largely correct assessment of the Daily News as an unlikely (and do we ask why?) and somehow funny venue for such a piece, the caveats of “supporting the poets but being disturbed by the context/treatment” already indicate that we all know what is going on: cultural propaganda that still opens up a genuine window for these poets’ work and performance to be viewed. So what is really beautiful or ugly in this picture: the culture, the poets or the feelings? The response of some of the incensed commenters verges on sexual terror: because by appearing to collaborate (while maybe subverting – or maybe not), provocative, implicatory poetics – and that includes performance – tugs at the umbilical cord that ties women of all ages, including women artists, together to the culture’s aesthetic and libidinal economy. The terror stems from the sense of implication: of course this tug hurts. The performances, the press, the selfies, the online and public personae we all navigate; the promise-threat of attention or the lack of it; the praise, violence or indifference we can increasingly hardly imagine our“selves” without, wherein I’m a currency, therefore I am… Quel horreur – but also – quelle réalité, and what a game. Whether you’re a young woman poet thinking of how to dress for a reading, or a mature artist considering your legacy as icon or iconic abstainer from iconography – the struggle is real, la lutte continue.

Terrorized, uncomfortable readers and poets in the audience look to the featured poets themselves for the source of own discomfort by microanalysing their appearance, weighing it against the context, etcetera, as though lodging a complaint will produce a solution to the insoluble problem. But after this probably unavoidable and not wholly unjustified gestalt plays itself out, the place to look for a way is one’s own practice, where the aesthetic meets aesthetics.

If it’s true that I’m split by the demands and expectations made on me as a woman-within-culture, do I care? Do I practice abjection by fetishizing and writing a fractured self/split subject? Do I ape the culture back at itself indifferently or subversively? Do I occlude or reject self altogether and let in other selves through appropriative techniques? Do I obstinately continue to write down the words in my head? How does my practice integrate me, when practice is the only power many of us have at our disposal for this task? Do I give a fuck about cultures, dominant or alternative, that expect me to be this way or that – do I reject personal integration vis a vis culture altogether? Why focus only on the appearance of the poets, on the journalist, the photographer, rather than on the culture(s) we share, and the way these poets’ work and our own interacts with culture? Only the work can inquire deeply and answer questions – and the work will hopefully do so through its own medium rather than some didactic explanation, which, let’s admit it, never satisfies, and is really the fucking death of art.

We want the questions of our desire and others’ desire (or lack thereof) for us and our work to be explained to us in the language of public discussion: but to understand what’s going on, and remain in that realm, is not enough. The language that does not explain but does one better – offers the only avenue to freedom through its processes of mirroring, transposing or transforming – is that of art. *


* I respond specifically to the nature of public discussion and reactions to the New York Daily News piece, because the controversy is why I understand we are discussing the piece now. In the interest of simplicity I refuse to drop any names other than the poets’ own, though clearly I use some psychoanalytic terms, because I find these tools fun. So few of the discussions on this piece engaged the actual work printed; few commented on the less-controversial photos (including my own, which interests me insofar as I look unlike I do now). I would like to take an in-depth look at the performative practices of all the other poets featured – Lisa Marie Basile, Alina Gregorian, and Camille Rankine – and perhaps that’s a piece for the future.

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A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong story

by on Dec.13, 2013


It’s cold in the Rust Belt. The children have disappeared, but they have littered the house with their alt manifestations:  Mumins—white, gelatinous manifestations of cold. Mylings, half baby, half breast.  Parasites and hosts. Mamifestations. Cold, mammary, scandinavian breath-collects in the fairy hollows, lumpy fairy cairns. Carrion comfort. The mumins are not wraithlike but plump. They look like spores and lungs. They will ludicrously digest you through the lung.




At the end of the year, stumped in snow, I want to write about an exhibit I did not see, an exhibit which ran in Hong Kong this summer.  It was curated by Cosmin Costinas and Inti Guerrero and based at their gallery, Para Site.  It featured 27 artists, mostly based in Hong Kong. The title of this exhibit reads like it was scraped up in the future as a specimen from the inside of my cranium when I am a dead human 6,000 years ago:

“A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong story”



As the lengthy millipedinous title with its jointed, segmented abdomen suggests, this exhibit was many things, but it could be summarized as a portrait of Hong Kong in the plague year of 2003: the year of the invasion of Iraq was eclipsed by the the SARS epidemic which was then trancepted by mutable superstar Leslie Cheung’s leap from the 23rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Participants, with their heads sticking out from holes of a large white fabric, perform during a performance, "Divisor" during an exhibition, "A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, Ghosts, Rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong Story," in Central business district of Hong Kong

Recreation of Brazilian artist Lygia Pape’s 1968 ‘Divsor’ performance at the opening of A Journal of the Plague Year



The plague year: 2003. The plague year, 1894, the year the plague bacillus was isolated in Hong Kong, like ghost gold in the bank, ‘confirming’ racist hyopthesis and funding the bad currency of the ‘yellow peril’ for a century to come[i]. Isolates and contamination. Alien exclusions. Mutations and killer apps.  The plague year, 1665, when the Great Plague struck london.  Daniel Defoe was 5 during the plague, which did not stop him from publishing his ‘Journal of the Plague Year’ in 1722, a fradulent first-person account culled, probably, from the diary of his Uncle Foe. The fake is the real. The fraud is vicious and virulent. Counterfeit money costs more. The black market’s steepness reveals the real cost of death and life.  The value of a star explodes and cannot be zero’d-out. On the heart-scale. On the black market.

Leslie Cheung.

cheung sars



The magnitude of Leslie Cheung’s life and death probably cannot be grasped by one who did not exist in Asia in the gilt penumbra of his stardom, soaked in his nutritive Cantopop. For this American cinephile, his incredible beauty, his tenderness and violence, his mutability, this way he IS image. The strange, greeny, gelatinous light-eating corpse-garment, Film, seems to have evolved for him, for his image, for his cheekbone, his hairline, his face.  His suicide contaminated Hong Kong with a viscera and drove Hongkongers to disobey the quarantine to congregate in grief. A grief congress, drenched in fame. A drought of fame. A  plague of fame. A counterepedimiology. A group show. Unparaphrasable. It must be spelled out, term by term, in spirit writing. A journaloftheplagueyear: fearghostrebels. SARSleslieandthestoryofhongkong.


In the elevation and evisceration of Cheung;  in the condemnation and quarantining of Hong Kong, in the caricatured visage of the Asian male, at once weak and viscious, whose swarm-body can barely be individuated from the hyperinstrumental group body of the ‘yellow peril’; in the historical identity of Hong Kong as a valuable disputed territory and a conduit for capital; in the role of Asian bodies as specimens and contaminants in the Western imaginary in recent centuries—all these themes are animated, pierced, denatured, re-mounted in the various works which made up this exhibit.  Gender becomes denatured in the title of Ai Wei Wei’s ‘with milk’,  a kind of black fathermilk involving 65 tons of milk and 15 tons of coffee, produced by this very male artist. ‘with milk’ more directly references the milk-powder scandal, involving the contamination of baby formula with melamine in 2008, and the resulting fallout, whereby a crackdown on formula-exportation through and from Hong Kong created a blackmarket favoring very wealthy and/or connected Chinese families. As always, the obscene father Ai Wei Wei provides/fails to provide nourishment through an act of Bataillean expenditure. (continue reading…)

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What’s a “negative review”? – On Smarm and Snark

by on Dec.10, 2013

Read a somewhat interesting little piece on “Smarm” at the Gawker, in which the writer, Tom Scocca, identifies “smarm” as a feature of contemporary literary culture:

Stand against snark, and you are standing with everything decent. And who doesn’t want to be decent? The snarkers don’t, it seems. Or at least they (let’s be honest: we) don’t want to be decent on those terms.

Over time, it has become clear that anti-negativity is a worldview of its own, a particular mode of thinking and argument, no matter how evasively or vapidly it chooses to express itself. For a guiding principle of 21st century literary criticism, BuzzFeed’s Fitzgerald turned to the moral and intellectual teachings of Walt Disney, in the movie Bambi: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

I think this guy makes a good argument. In the past on this very web site I have talked about how anybody with an other point of view is immediately identified with “hate” or even violence (for example, see my discussion of the reaction to Seth Oelbaum as the extreme example of this). And that’s why I keep quoting this little nugget of wisdom from everybody’s favorite troll, Zizek:

Today’s liberal tolerance towards others, the respect of otherness and openness towards it, is counterpointed by an obsessive fear of harassment. In short, the Other is just fine, but only insofar as his presence is not intrusive, insofar as this other is not really other… In a strict homology with the paradoxical structure of the previous chapter’s chocolate laxative, tolerance coincides with its opposite. My duty to be tolerant towards the Other effectively means that I should not get too close to him, intrude on his space. In other words, I should respect his intolerance of my over-proximity. What increasingly emerges as the central human right in late-capitalist society is the right not to be harassed, which is a right to remain at a safe distance from others.

This kind of dynamic comes up in discussion for/against what people call “negative reviewing”. It seems nobody wants to write anything critical in poetry reviews; the instance you do, it becomes a “negative review”.

I would much prefer to be negatively reviewed than not to be reviewed at all! In fact reviews that dares to be critical or negative are often very provocative and interesting. I remember when someone at Coldfront wrote a negative review of my book A New Quarantine Will Take My Place: it spawned a lot of good discussion on this blog, including the blog post in which Joyelle coined the phrase “ambience violence”

There’s something far worse going on when reviewers or editors make value judgments but do cloaks them in some positivity schtick. When they choose not to review, or not to mention, writers they don’t like, editors and reviewers are not being critical but also erasing different perspectives. The result is not just the erasure of different views but also a literary discussion that is boring and stranglingly conflict-less and calm.

This is why I am always urging people to write reviews that includes writers they don’t like or perspectives they feel are wrong. I’m really tired but I wanted to point this out today or I think I may never get around to it.

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We Must Be Decadent, Again

by on Nov.20, 2013

I am in a strange position because while I am certainly ‘avant garde’ in terms of my affinities with the historical avant garde I feel I cannot be avant-garde because my affinities are historical.



That is, I am a Futurist, but I am a Futurist of 1909 rather than a Futurist who believes or anticipates a Future as envisioned by, say, TED talk panelists or believers in the progressive motion of literature as a reinforcement of political/capitalist bona fides.

My favorite part of the Futurist Manifesto is where they imagine themselves benighted and about to be consumed by cannibal teens.

They will find us at last one winter’s night in the depths of the country in a sad hangar echoing with the notes of the monotonous rain, crouched near our trembling aeroplanes, warming our hands at the wretched fire which our books of today will make when they flame gaily beneath the glittering flight of their pictures.

They will crowd around us, panting with anguish and disappointment, and exasperated by our proud indefatigable courage, will hurl themselves forward to kill us, with all the more hatred as their hearts will be drunk with love and admiration for us. And strong healthy Injustice will shine radiantly from their eyes. For art can only be violence, cruelty, injustice.

Futurism set itself up against decadence, but to be Futurist in 2013 is to be decadent, moving backwards. It is indeed strange to feel time folding, to be in 2013 thinking like 1913.  Why has time folded. Why is it no longer moving forward.  Why am I not a avant-garde. Why am I not avant.  Am I a rear-gardist or just an asynchronous, a bad soldier.

After her reading last night, the brilliant Sylvia Guerra shared that me that she is working on a new book based on Lautreamont, one which ‘writes around’ Lautreamont.

Why is she asynchronous not looking forward to a neatly progressing time why is time folding why do we need Decadence again.

I believe it’s because after the horrors of the 20th century Decadence is the deeper vision. It is no longer ‘escapist’ or ‘merely shocking’. After the horrors of the 20th century constantly re-reeling in media and repeating themselves in new depredations across the globe, Decadence takes on the work of truth, truth’s firey destructiveness. Everything is burning. Man’s default mode is cruelty and exploitation, outrageous depredation and deprivation. We have to go backwards to find an art form that does not hide this truth under ideologies of progress or purity. The TED-talkathon, which infects every part of our political and cultural environ, amounts to a new Victorianism, the imperialistic export of progress. We must be Decadent again.


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Some Comfortable Thoughts: Inger Christensen’s Alphabet as Kill List

by on Oct.17, 2013

This new Kill List poem by Josef Kaplan is easily the best work of conceptual poetry I’ve seen in a long time. I’m an expressionist, not a conceptualist. But let’s face it, conceptualism, as Inger Christensen would say, ‘exists’. This particular conceptualist poem works for me because it invites us to consider an idea, and invites us to turn that idea over and over for as long as the idea interests us. Then it invites us to delete the idea. This is a great poem for FaceBook, for conversations heatedly engaged upon and then abandoned because other pressures such as the need to sleep or shop or nuke a burrito became more compelling. The deleting is part of the ‘reading’. This concept will self-destruct. Unlike a drone.

A Multipoint Array

As for the concept: we are introduced to the phrase Kill List, which for most nice liberal American poetry readers will conjure ideas of drone warfare or revolutionary violence or the opposite of a no-kill shelter or some kind of fatal indexing. Then the poem presents us with 68 pages of alphabetized poets’ names, grouped in sets of four, each identified as ‘rich’ or ‘comfortable’.  Like, ‘Caroline Bergvall is rich’ and ‘Jim Behrle is comfortable’.

One senses that this ranking of the poets into the dubious bourgeois or ultra-bourgeois categories is the bait we’re supposed to gobble up. And yet. I just read Inger Christensen’s Alphabet, in Susana Nied’s translation, last week with some students, and I can’t help but focus on that ‘is’.

‘Kill List’ could be read as a litany, it could be reading off a library shelf. The indexical adjustments of ‘comfortable’ and ‘rich’ have a nice, well, ‘comfortable’ sixties feel to them, a now- out-of-touchness, a vagueness. Like ‘don’t trust anyone over thirty’– as expressions of acute political crisis, kind of sweet. In our current context, these could be financial terms or refer to perceived social assets or even how interested the author feels in these poets–or it could be random. As 2 goes into four (ie the binary of rich/comfortable into the 4 line stanza), there is also the alphabetical order itself. Sweet old alphabetical order. Humans made you, and humans love you. But nothing humans make is innocent. Not even orders of knowledge.  Moreover we are invited to read these 68 pages as a computer would, scanning for names (names are the only element that changes), data mining an index for names we recognize. Like a drone-operator or a drone. Attention or recognition here is itself weaponized.

This is where I link Kill List to Inger Christensen. Re-reading Alphabet, I was very taken by the poem’s smoothness. It has the smoothness of a big fat bomber high up in the strangelove sky. As it glides, we glide, we can see the whole horizon line of the earth, cities and species and chemicals all becoming visual in the reading-scape of the poem. [nb, I think Kill List is a very retinal poem, since consuming its well-designed pages, its nicely serifed, landscaped font, is so very easy. It’s so easy to consume this book, to be an early adaptor of the predator’s visual viewpoint. After all, computers as we know them were developed in the 20th c. for work on the H-Bomb, for calculating shock waves. The Internet, as we know, is a military installation]. As each noun in Christensen’s poem comes into view, the poem remarks it ‘exists’. But I also felt this word ‘exists’ could function as meaning the opposite– each of these things ‘exists’ at the exact moment it leaves the planet. Alphabet is as much a cold war poem, ‘existing’ in the split second between the dropping of a nuclear bomb and its impact, as Kill List is a drone war poem. Both invite us to think about how poetry ‘exists’ under the aeriel penumbra of war.  Both make us realize how puny ‘existence’ is, how puny ‘is’ is.  The incommensurateness between the title’s reference to the supposed ‘inhumanity’ of drone warfare (I think drone warfare is humanity itself) and the poem itself might be the point of this poem.

No order of knowledge is neutral because it is tainted with human’s killer instinct. We like to call ourselves ‘sapiens’ because we draw up the very best kill lists and the very best robots or enlistees or acolytes to carry them out. As the very smart J. Robert Oppenheimer remarked, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Or, nuclear bombs exist. I myself am drone.

Maybe Adam’s MFA thesis in the garden of Eden, naming all the animals, was the first Kill List in western culture. Everything that can be brought into the order of human knowledge is also on the demolition list.

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