Literarisches Events (in and around Lawrence KS)

  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Thursday, September 11, 7:00 p.m., Spooner Hall, KU Campus.
  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Friday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. Lawrence Public Library. Sponsored by Raven Bookstore.
  • DENNIS ETZEL, JR. & RACHEL CROSS. Lawrence. Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • TONY TRIGILIO. Lawrence. Thursday, Oct. 2, 4:00 p.m., English Room, Kansas Union, KU Campus. FREE.
  • CALEB PUCKETT & JUSTIN RUNGE. Lawrence. Thursday, October 16, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • BEN LERNER. Kansas City, MO. Thursday, October 23, 7:00 p.m., Epperson Auditorium, Vanderslice Hall on the KCAI campus, 4415 Warwick Blvd.
  • KRISTIN LOCKRIDGE & ROBERT DAY. Lawrence. Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Silence as Subversion

See, the reason I haven't been posting lately is not b/c I'm busy dutifully fulfilling my jobly functions as a petty functionary in the ISA cash-nexus etc., but rather as an act of subversion. If you refuse to talk, you are engaging in a negative critique of all those who do - who merely rehash an ideology into which they are always already interpellated. Or was it interpolated? Anyway, if you shut up, you refuse participation in the info economy, and thereby muck up the wheels of whatever it is that runs us.

But then again, it may be that the most subversive act is to write long blog posts about how fucked up and deluded everyone else is - and how I can see that b/c I am a Bad Subject writing on WordPress or Blogger. See - I'm using the master's tools to dismantle the master's net - while not even dismantling it!

Community is subversion of atomistic individualist neoliberal society. (this is where growing your own veggies comes in) But then, so is divisiveness, b/c what's a community w/o someone to define itself over-against? (this is where the automatic weapons come in)

Being in a shit job is subversive in and of itself, of course, b/c your very existence makes clear the inequality of the system. To whom? Well . . . to the other people in the system. Which is everybody, I guess. Which means we're all subverting each other. Right? Sol!

In any case, we're sure not going to go knocking on doors or calling people on the telephone who we don't know, b/c hey, the community organizing thing? that's so 60s - pre-post-apocalypse. Or 20s, as in what you do when you're in your. Sure, organizers have their place (they're minding their business and doing their job just like me), but I'm a culture worker - it's not my job, man. I'm going to stop flapping my jaws, and take a stand and make a Statement!

Thank god for the internet - it makes community-formation so much more convenient.

Now that I think of it, maybe being a trust-fund artiste is subversive, since you're using daddy's money to fight the very source of it. And being a big-ass stockbroker is definitely subversive, since you're helping destroy the system as we speak.

(OK - let's review - who are we subverting?)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inaugural Poetry as it Ought to Be

Even representational, personal, narrative poets were gagging, as it turns out.

In workshops, I do an exercise on the first day. Everyone free-writes (incl. me) for 10-15 min. Then, we count the number of words we've written. Then, we underline the words, phrases, sentences we like most, and cross out those we like least. The goal is to arrive at one half (or fewer) of the number of words of the original free-write.

Then I have them go home and make a poem out of what's left, and bring it to class. When they do, I have them count the number of words and - you guessed it - cut out half.

It seemed to me that Elizabeth Alexander could have benefited from this exercise.

In any case, I thought there were some sort of interesting phrases & lines in the poem, but that about half of it was pretty boring.

So, I rewrote it. [ahem.]

Praise the Day

We walk past, catching each other’s
eyes, or not, about to speak –

All about us is

noise and bramble, thorn and din.

Someone is repairing things that need it.

Someone makes music:

a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

We encounter each other in words

spiny or smooth, whispered, declaimed,
words to re-consider.

We want to find a place

where we will be safe.
Say it plain: many died for this day:
Sing the names of them that brought us here,

picked the cotton, or lettuce –

praise for every hand-lettered sign
under widening light at kitchen tables.

In today’s sharp sparkling winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun,
on the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

When We Are All Unemployed

- or underemployed - will we have time to write even longer blog posts?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

This Just In: Barack Obama a POLITICIAN!

On Blog of Myself, I almost always stick to talking about either poetry & poetics or blogs. But all the obamania right now brings out the skeptic in me - the one who's worked for and observed too many pols since the Reagan era to expect much of any of them. Don't get me wrong - I voted for the guy and will celebrate his inauguration Tuesday night. But here's what I believe: once you elect your candidate - that's when your work begins.

If you don't know about, it's time you made their acquaintance. Everything you need to know about who gave how much to whom. They report that Obama's campaign "relied on bigger donors and smaller donors nearly equally." Now, that's an up statistic - there were a lot of small donors, compared to recent presidential campaigns. But I was curious about those "bigger donors" (that is, those firms that "encourage" their employees to contribute - a practice known evocatively as "bundling"). Among them were the following:

Goldman Sachs - $955,223
JPMorgan Chase & Co - $642,958
Citigroup Inc - $633,418
UBS AG - $505,017
Morgan Stanley - $483,523

Now, I realize I'm not Getting With the Program by pointing this out, but the fact that the Congress is currently raiding the Treasury and giving the loot to the banks and stockbrokers has got me a little miffed, esp. since the bailouts (and those two wars) are bankrupting the country. So naturally I was miffed at Bo for going along with it (nay, widening the damage). And naturally, I think that the figures above are damn good investments, given the payouts.

(And if you really think both of these wars are going to end completely in the next four years, you really need to read the memoir Secrets, by Daniel Ellsberg.)

Meantime, if you're interested in the follow-up to the 500 + promises Bo made during the campaign (remember raising taxes on those making more than 250 grand? That one went south in a hurry), then bookmark and check out their "Obameter" from time to time.

And lest you think I'm not giving him a chance, know this: If he returns taxation rates and the tax code to their pre-1980 status, then I really will declare him the Second Coming.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cole Swensen's Utopoetics

The intro to the new anthology American Hybrid has a lot to recommend it. But in the section entitled "The Current Landscape," I must say that I'm not living in the same landscape Swensen is. For instance:

". . . serious students are often exposed to both the conventional and the experimental, but unlike their elders, they don't necessarily feel that they have to choose between them. Instead, they see both presented as viable approaches and sanctioned by the same institutions."

Some people say the world is round, some people say the world is flat, but I think the truth is somewhere in between.

Seriously, folks, this is all well and good if money is no object. But when it is - esp. in the throes of Great Depression II - it's gonna be a fight - for space in journals and books lists, for faculty hires, for teaching assistantships, for awards and fellowships, etc. There's only so much to go around, and scarcity tends to breed polarization. Even if Swensen's statement were true (and I think a lot of younger writers - esp. in CW programs - would beg to differ), when push comes to shove, the literati tend to regroup into camps - very naturally, considering that there is safety (even power) in numbers. And it seems to me that it's a matter of aesthetics, too. There are certainly conventional poets who feel the need to "weird up" their conventional verse. And I'm sure there are less conventional poets who feel the need to explain themselves to the establishment. But throw a golden apple on the floor, and see how fast people take sides.

"The rhizome is an appropriate model, not only for the new Internet publications, but also for the current world of contemporary poetry as a whole. The two-camp model, with its parallel hierarchies, is increasingly giving way to a more laterally-ordered extensive networlk composed of intersections, or hubs, that branch outward toward smaller hubs, which themselves branch outward in an intricate and ever-changing structure of exchange and influence. Some hubs may be extremely experimental, and some extremely conservative, but many of them are true intersections of these extremes . . . " etc. etc.

Aside from the obvious conflation of "world of contemporary poetry" with "American poetry," (not to mention the characterization of Langpo as "academic poetry," earlier in the piece - !), this statement is not altogether accurate, in my view. It is a useful description of Internet publications (and blogs - often one and the same), and that's exciting. But not the Institutions of Poetry (i.e., those with at least some money). For instance, how many of the poems in the actual anthology will have been published in one of those "hubs" at the margins? How many will be by poets you've never heard of? Indeed, how many poems written after 1980 will have been authored by poets working outside the academy? Which brings us back to turf wars.

I appreciate the utopian vision expressed here - provided one keeps in mind that it is "ought," rather than is.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

William Zanzinger, Hattie Carroll, H.L. Hix, and G.W. Bush

Last week, William Zanzinger died in Richmond, Virginia. Who, you may ask, was William Zanzinger? Well, William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll, as Bob Dylan sang, and got off with 6 months - b/c, the ballad explains, he was rich and white, and she was a poor black servant woman. This is one form of historic commemoration - or commemoration of "current events" - the way the news traveled and the way legends were preserved, back in the day. If you couldn't read, you listened to someone who could. If you could read and not sing, you read it to someone who could (to the tune of . . .). And the broadsides which the ballads were printed on cost a penny, ha'penny, or less.

Another form of poetic commemoration is on view in the poems of God Bless, by H.L. Hix (Etruscan Press, 2007), which "are constructed entirely of passages from speeches, executive orders, and other public statements of George W. Bush" - or, in some cases, Osama bin Laden. So sure, there are some juicy bushisms. But, by and large, Hix has done a yeomanlike job of making poems (sonnets, sestinas, villanelles, no less) out of what must be some of the most incredibly boring discourse ever devised by the mind of man (or lack thereof). For instance, the title is a phrase that was repeated obsessively by the President, in multiple variants - not to mention other tedious iterations of every conceivable reference to an already overworked Deity:

We honor their service to America and we pray
their families will receive God's comfort and God's grace.

We pray for their speedy and safe return.
May God bless our country and all who defend her.

We pray for those families who mourn the loss of life.
We believe freedom is - is a gift from the Almighty God.

And so on. There is something about staying "on message" that seems inherently inimical to poetry (interesting poetry, anyway), and Hix has done about as well as I could imagine anyone doing in trying to turn this stuff into something resembling art. The stuff from bin Laden is also predictable, but it's such a nice break. When you go into the next Bush poem, you think, O - him again!

But it certainly gets the message across - or rather the distilled and concentrated flavor of those days of officialdom from the beginning of 2001 through 2004. The repetition (NOT insistence) is the rhetoric of running in circles - not inappropriate prosody for the war of terror.

Another, subsidiary question, this volume raises is: can this kind of found poetry be "political" by itself, without commentary? And if so, how? Hix follows the poems by a series of interviews that deal with both his poems and other people's books that deal with similar themes. This is perhaps the same issue Benjamin deals with in the "Matter-of-Fact" school of photography. In "The Artist as Producer," he comes to the conclusion that, without the caption, the image is open to appropriation by any political tendency - not least of all "apolitical" art. For much experimental poetry of the last 200+ years, prefaces, manifestos, interviews, etc., have functioned as "captions" - alleviating the burden of Art to convey the Message. That is why Lyrical Ballads had to be explained first, in 1800, but Dylan's ballad lyrics do not, in the 1960s or 2000s.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ideological Face Apparatus

The weird thing about Facebook (and probably My Space, tho it isn't my space) is that it's a kind of self-profiling. I mean, people are holding demos and filing lawsuits to avoid being profiled, but here I am doing it to myself. How stupid is that? No wonder the NSA and marketeers of all sorts dip into this tasty database.

O well as long as I spell the name right . . .

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

History, Poem, Story, Lyric (Shimoda and Perez)

I read a couple of books recently that take substantially different approaches to this business of telling history in poetry. And, once again, it has to do with how much narration there is and how much of the narration pertains to the past.

The books are The Inland Sea, by Brandon Shimoda (Tarpaulin Sky 2008) and from Unincorporated Territory, by Craig Santos Perez (Tinfish 2008). In Perez’ book there is both narrative and lyric – a pretty good balance, in my view. In the Shimoda, whatever narrative there is must be inferred.

To be fair, Perez’ book is 90+ pages, and Shimoda’s is less than half that – more of a chapbook. Right off the bat, here’s one of the problems: if you tell the story, you’re going to take up more pages. So one has to decide how much of the story is enough – and by what criteria. So Perez starts us off with a preface, in which we learn that “Guahan [Guam] has always been captured (and thus defined) for its strategic position in the Pacific (as a stopping post on the Spanish Galleon Trade Route, as a significant advancement for the Japanese Army during World War II, and as a continuing military colony of the U.S.).” The poet’s hope is that the island will emerge from these dominations “into further uprisings of meaning.” All of this orients one for the lyric poems that follow, not unlike Susan Howe’s miniature historical essays at the beginning of many of her books.

In the body of the text, we learn about the rebellion of Mata’pang, the terror of the Japanese occupation, and the ravages of the brown tree snake, as well as memories of Perez’ grandparents and the local culture they taught him. But most of the book is taken up with dispersed series of lyrics, interwoven with one another (not unlike Robert Duncan’s Passages, Uprisings, etc.). For instance, the first installment of “from Tidelands” goes:


closer to the illegible

borders - "let this cast open [hale']*

into razed “temporal fields and


“these tidal” palimpsests

* ed. note: this line is indented about eight spaces in the original. I still haven't figured this out.

Clearly the poem refers to the troubled history of Guahan – its insularity, vulnerability, the uprootedness of people and culture under the pressure of colonization [hale’ = root, in Chamoru], as well as the erasure and recovery of its history. If one saw the poem in an anthology (without a footnote), however, all of that would be, well, illegible. The lyrics function as both elegies and meditations on space (on the page, the ocean, etc.). But the history must be told – including with maps, diagrams and URLs. Though Perez lives on the mainland now, to do less would be to dishonor the memory of the people back home, living and dead.

One gets a very different vibe from Inland Sea. It’s clear, from allusions to the Heike Monogatari and the atomic bomb, that the book contains allusions to Japanese history and culture (and there are a few very concise notes at the end):

is it injurious to wear one’s self around one’s waist

in radiation first is flash

burn, second


The poem “Crucian Carp” contains several such allusions to the bomb blasts and their aftermath. But at other points, there are snippets of narrative that are tossed out and left behind:

a single cloud holding

in the liquid


to my father

the afternoon after the morning of

the day he said that he liked men

or was it he said ‘boys’


unbinding from years of rigid fence

you felt not a thing for

Now, I can infer (or construct) a story from all this, and indeed, the form of it encourages me to do so. But much of it – most of it – is elided, redacted, unspoken. Clearly, that’s part of the point. But what does that do to the past? The people – mere characters – where are the ethical edges? I’m not saying I know. But I do think the book succeeds without the gestures toward biography and specific histories:




reach by yonder fast

the reeds of the paradise boat

In any event, both are very good books that speak to the difficulty of telling history (and the problems with information) and feeling it at the same time. I sure haven’t figured it out!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Saturday, January 3, 2009


From Larissa Shmailo - check it out here.