Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Art Fear

Novelist and suicide Hubert Aquin in “Occupation: Writer” (Writing Quebec):
. . . if we are to be perfectly honest, the originality of a piece of work is directly proportional to the ignorance of its readers. There is no originality: works of literature are reproductions (which serve a purpose of course in a society with large amounts of spare time to kill and blessed, moreover, with pulp) run off from worn out plates made from other “originals” reproduced from reproductions that are true copies of earlier forgeries that one does not need to have known to understand that they were not archetypes but simply variants. A cruel invariability governs the mass production of those variants that go by the name of original works. History, too, copies itself. Originality is as impossible there as in literature. Originality does not exist; it is a delusion. Fashion alone creates the illusion of difference: fashion in the sense of the filmy veil, the deceptively diaphanous surface, the clothes which permit distinctions where none exist. A few insignificant details are all that differentiate me from a sick Hungarian who might have set out, one evening in May, to write an article in an attempt to exorcize his cephalomanic fatigue. Around 1913 our man would probably have worn a double-breasted jacket and a detachable collar; unable to write in front of a small television screen, he probably blackened his Austrian-made paper while drinking a German beer at the Café Mozart.
Lousy optics: for “originals” I keep seeing “brigands.”

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Cage


Random emphatics out of the eponymous piece of Morton Feldman’s Give My Regards to Eighth Street, (Exact Change) likely the most gratifying book for thinking about art (music, poetry) and what art (music, poetry) does I’ve ever broken the spine of. (The humidity bloats me into such pronouncements, and such metonymy.)
Not long ago I saw the Elgin Marbles. I didn’t faint, as they say Shelley did, but I certainly had to sit down. Nothing knocks us out like this anonymity—the beauty without a biography. The artist himself loves the idea. What artist hasn’t longed to get away from the human effort he puts into his work? What artist doesn’t have the illusion that the Greeks did their work without human effort? Even the “timelessness” of Giacometti seems to us more a reference to a buried civilization that to a buried colleague. [The anonymous redactor here adds: whose art, today, moreso than Giacometti’s, appears rooted irretrievably in a particular “time,” that of the post-war “existential” fifties. It seems inalterably insane to project eternity in G.’s direction from the smug vantage point of these ’thousands, no? And, certes, our own most apt “verities,” eternal-minded or not, will suffer the same tarring by time’s splendid brush . . . and thank God for that.] Nietzsche with his Greeks, John Cage with his Zen—always this need for an idealized, depersonalized art.

. . . The critic’s ideal has always been the process without the artist. If it wasn’t Classicism, it was Expressionism or Cubism—whatever it is, the artist gets in his way. More and more today there is this feeling of “By all means, let’s have art, but no names, please.”

But the fifties in New York have to do with names, names, names. That’s why they’re worth writing about.
And (about John Cage, apparent natural boy-wonder of chance operations):
John and I spent a lot of time playing cards. One afternoon my friend Daniel Stern came over with a pair of dice. John came down immediately, and we told him how the game was played. John made his first throw standing up and just dropping the dice to the floor. We explained the procedure was to bend your knees as far down as possible, then throw the dice. This he did. He also started to shake them (we hadn’t told him to do that), and before letting them go he cried out, to our amazement. “Baby needs a new pair of shoes.”

Saturday, May 27, 2006

“Filthy Wordes”

Question Hook

Another piece out of Amelia Rosselli’s “October Elizabethans”:
Alle I had Thought, in alle my Life, I now Descant;
to be Rid of such Incongruous Decay, as is a Minde,
o’er Filled with Matter. Small Thoughts do I Put
in Note Bookes; Great ones, in Whining Poesy. Yet
I’m not Content; my Minde will not Stop
Out pouring its Stench; it must Continue
Writin ’pon the Lind page, its Abominations.
O that my soul were Empty, clear as Paper, and as True
as that Stampe which does Pronounce its Final mark
upon my Workes! Alle the Dirte in the Worlde be much Fainter
a Load, than That which my Mind Drags; and Vomits;
Profiousely & Continuously; to such Extent
that never does It let me Skip into the Great, White Worlde,
save it keep me chanting & Grinding, and mixing & Turning,
these Filthy Wordes.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Aloof Fool


The inimitable Mr. Gass:
There is the fool who is foolish from the weaknesses of a mad mind; who honestly knows not what he does, and is ignorant of consequences. There is God’s fool, who is foolish because he is indifferent to material concerns, and pursues virtue in a world that has no real regard for righteousness and seldom rewards it . . . There is the fool of meaningless feats: the fool who has written more zeros than anyone alive; who has leaped out of unbuttoned pants; who construes one couplet per academic year, and has carried commas over distances of forty miles. There is the fool of diet, of drink, of dalliance, dice, high jinks, and derring-do; the fool who accepts like Hugo’s Hunchback the humiliation of a king’s crown and pretends to rule, during the besotted hours of a single day, a rabble who dance like tops and swap their venereal diseases. And there is the fool who plays the fool to save his wisdom from calumny and himself from the gibbet, since if a fool be mad, what he does and says can be excused as merely madness and the devil’s inspiration, while if he be a jester and mad only for the moment, still his madness may amuse as his madness is paid to do, so he is protected from complaint and reprisal by becoming a witless hireling; yet because his witlessness has wit, he’s attended to, and his riddles turned as a spitted bird is turned till done on all sides.
Oh, there is no shortage of fools and foolery here in Nowheresville, and its sad perennial mimic-kingdom, all overlay and quagmire, the blog-spectacle of “buff” American poetry, all rescind and retrenchment, all slop-recitativos and pomp-smarm, all “gettin’ what’s mine” and damn your old purblind blinkers . . .

Is it in Dickens, that line about “one hundred pairs of optics”? Following the moves of who knows who? Carrying a camera puts a box around everything, sorts the liable landscape into inter-availables, pluckables, whatever is singular in the dross and smear, no? Shuts down the ardent ongoingness, distills and kills. As Hokushi writes:
saya bashirishi o yagate tomekeri
sword running out of its scabbard stopped in a moment

Wednesday, May 24, 2006



“How I could trace my steps back to some anonymity without sacrificing radiance.” Is that a reckless binary? Isn’t anonymity the only remaining possible, the sine qua non for radiance. There, in (another reckless binary) in the société anonyme is exactly where one drifts, lit within. (I want to say “gathering broken chips of sky.” I want to say “night speckled with stars, moon spackled on, rough-edged.”) There is too little anonymity.

The blog-monkeys know it. Missionaries for a paltrified hackdom. In lieu of the honest dollar for lettered fodder, the jostle now is for “cultural capital,” a thing expendable nowhere anybody but a trinket would go. Anonymity is not a necessity for veracity, veracity comes with its swat of bravado, or comes not at all. Anonymity is a necessity for the society of one’s unfettered romp: that hamster dash inside a wire wheel.

That Silliman would reduce Olson’s “project” in “Projective Verse” to a statement “antithetical to the traditional rules of exposition” is either weep-worthy or chortle-canny. The most pedestrian writer in Blogville, Silliman has been “crafting” clunky five-paragraph themes for years now. Just “the sort of thing that could be crafted into an outline, converted into a series of topic sentences, then laid out in an orderly, but definitely hierarchical structure.” “It is no accident.”

Iain Sinclair, in White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings:
Dictation at this speed takes the scribe, often under pressure of work or disease, so fast and so deep that he writes it before it happens, and by writing it he causes it to happen, a fate game that allows the unconscious no release. He cannot escape his devils by describing them. The medium does not choose who he will serve . . . Our narrative starts everywhere. We want to assemble all the incomplete movements, like cubists, until the point is reached where the crime can commit itself.
We’ve all got to find ways to distance ourselves from our own inventions.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Gilbert Sorrentino, 1929-2006


How still. How still.
Dusk ever. The rosy bridge
Everything is almost perfect
In its name.
A snatched quatrain out of one of Gilbert Sorrentino’s “Orange Sonnets”—one labeled In Memoriam P. B., Paul Blackburn I’d wager—and it rings elegiac and perfect the way Archibald Macleish’s line in “Epistle to be Left in the Earth” does:
Voices are crying an unknown name in the sky.
Startling to recall how Splendide-Hôtel (“A prolonged scream in the wastes” under that long line of up-ended E’s.) first jimmied open the possibility of the alphabet as prose-engine, a conflagrational sequence. Sorrentino’s scorn of the minimal:
I know a writer who wished his prose to be transparent so that only the movement and growth of his story would be in evidence. What I mean by “story” I leave up to you.
A sassy way of saying “it’s all words, hombre.”

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Blue Cat

Thinking about condensare, and thrift, and Niedecker. That wobble (in one’s writing) between excessive, unfurling the words to the winds, and incisive, cut to the bone. How capture the Chiclets-colored lozenge that marks the wing of the black-throated blue warbler without hauling in the whole ineffable surround, brushy and scant though it be? Niedecker: “For me, when it comes to birds, animals and plants, I’d like the facts because the facts are wonderful in themselves.” Meaning, out with that “Chiclets,” one must admit. Dilemma is, what makes frisson equal to the white mark itself (there flitty in the scrub) is the gummy overlay, that sudden recognition of relation, similarity. To cut that, makes a starker thing. (I think to add: “denying a whole wilderness of history, and subjectivity . . .”)

In some notes regarding haiku, Bill Knott refers to Toho’s Sanzoshi (Three Booklets) wherein, presumably, is found a kind of philosophical definition of haiku, that is, recording “the mind that goes off and returns.” Obliging, thus, history, the self, and the beyond in one impacted moment, or motion? Justifying my peevishness (sense of lack) in confronting the skinned-down thing, that object?

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Jig and Gap

Red Cat

What rescues Wallace Stevens’s unrelenting earnest ‘philosophizing’ (up until, that is, near the very aurora-ed end) is sheer giddiness: ‘Here I have been sitting for an hour writing “The Book of Doubts and Fears.” Bang! I’m not a philosopher . . . —Pooh! Dear Two-and-Twenty, what solemn creatures we are! Here’s a list of Pleasant Things to drive dull care away, my lass, oh, to drive dull care away—and a jig, and a jig, and a jig, jig, jig:
    crocks of milk
    pumpkin custards
    young chickens
    My dearest, dearest Elsie—please do stop having doubts about me or yourself or anything . . . and learn as much as you can about pumpkin custards.’ (Written in early December 1908. That latter about pumpkin custards probably not offered up in the polymathic Olsonian rig of “Find out for yourself.”)

Unassembled materials for investigating arrangement, materiality, relation, and gap:
Nietzsche’s aphorism about how separating things shows “how much they belong together.”

Fourier’s (in Davenport) remark on form and relation.

Not gap, overlay. (Picasso’s bull of bicycle seat and handlebars.) Metaphor as simultaneity. Problem of objectivism—a girder in rubble (plain, expected) is an insufficiency against, say, a girdle in rubble (meretricious, assertive, new).

Cézanne’s painting is less about “gap” than about solidity. Competing solidities. To rephrase Ernest Fenollosa’s “No nouns in Nature”—No lines in Nature.

Thomas Basbøll: “(Wittgenstein's) refusal to assert the intangibility of the relation and instead simply arrange (in a perspicuous or surveyable presentation) the tangible materials involved.”

Tuesday, May 16, 2006



Wallace Stevens, in 1948, responding to a Partisan Review questionnaire on the state of American writing:
. . . experiment in form is one of the constants of the spirit . . . There is, however, a usage with respect to form as if form in poetry was a derivative of plastic shape. The tendency to visualize form is illustrated by the way a reference to form becomes a reference to the appearance of the poem on the page as in the case of a poem in the shape of a pear, say, or a poem without any shape at all. Such trivialities show that the record of a man’s experience in the modern world is not a derivative of plastic shape. Modern poetry is not a privilege of heteroclites. Poetic form in its proper sense is a question of what appears within the poem itself. It seems worth while to isolate this because it is always form in its inimical senses that destroys poetry. By inimical senses one means the trivialities.
And, in a lecture titled “Two or Three Ideas” (“My first proposition is that the style of a poem and the poem itself are one.”), delivered at Mount Holyoke University, April 28, 1951:
To see the gods dispelled in mid-air and dissolve like clouds is one of the great human experiences. It is not as if they had gone over the horizon to disappear for a time; not as if they had been overcome by other gods of greater power and profounder knowledge. It is simply that they came to nothing.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Detroit Hobo

Stephen Wright, in Going Native: “. . . what do we get? This comic book sex you Americans seem to wallow in. It is your charm, I suppose, the ground for your material success, the reason you are inundated with immigrants. Who does not love a good fairy story? But you want to make a cartoon of everything: your movies, your clothes, your furniture, your books, your food, but especially your sex. Everything bright and tasty. But this is a dirty game you are playing with yourselves. This ideal of honesty and openness is a pathetic fraud. You pretend to be so innocent when none of you are and it is this charade that is genuinely pornographic.”

Missing off the list: “your poetry.”

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Jeans on a Line

Sap city. Rearrangements of “voice drivel.” No. Hilarious rearrangements of voice scrapings. Remember: that intensifier hilarious is generally a surefire indicator of pablum. A pre-cooked cereal for infants. Part of the dumbing down of everything.

               after Paul Hannigan

All text is autonomous.

Pozzo: They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

And (later) Vladimir: Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave-digger puts on the forceps.

Everything in that “lingeringly.”

Wednesday, May 10, 2006



Out of Amelia Rosselli’s “October Elizabethans” (Primi Scritti, 1952-1963):
I have with a Pin
fastened this Letter,
that Ye may prick your Finger at it;
and I be revenged, for Your so scorching me
withYour disdaine.
So you did love me, you Say! I believe It not,
and Fain would have You Burn’t
’pon a Strong Fire; for so Playing at me; were it not I once again Forgive,
and do Continue sending you Missiles;
Plunging my Prick into your Heart like a Bee,
that dost pay with Death its owne, Blinde, Voracitee.
O God, I am of too Violent a nature, I knowe,
and do Beset myself with Commands, & Freins,
all week Long; yet Sunday be my Worst day of alle:
then do I skamper, then do I throw off all Chains,
Run out into the Country, bother meek Friends with my Insistent joy;
Bang through Obstacles, Throw Chairs Flying, and Cause
such general Unrest, that Friends much Glader come visit
once I be totally exhausted, and do Rest
till next Ferial Day.

Monday, May 08, 2006



—A Poet should be fear’d
When angry, like a Comet’s flaming Beard.