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.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

More Narrative Issues

I’m not going to stuff the story of Lib's life into a meta-narrative or over-arching trope (that would be both cynical and flat, since I don’t believe in such things). In fact, I have an ambivalent relationship to narrative in general; in the US narrative is typically conceived of as the "other" of poetry, and I'm fond of poetry. But I do want this work to have a framework – an angle.

I think it has something to do with the time warp that any kind of creative life-writing or memoir involves. It has to do with a dialogue of the past and present – “hello from the future!” And the past people who can’t shut up – whom we are joining – who are as dead as our own childhoods. Since my mother died when I was barely 12 years old, most of my life I’ve imagined her as a rather static image – and part of the appeal of this project was to discover (i.e., assemble) her narrative self. But since I did know her (and her family) some, and since there is some documentary evidence as well as memory, it’s really as much a dialogue with past-me and present-me – or 1930s Lib with 1960s Lib.

Roland Barthes comment, re: the photo of the condemned anarchist assassin, from the 1880s: “He is dead and he is going to die.”

We know the ending, but only of the past.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Narrative "Issues"

I have a book coming out early next year, called Things Come On. It covers the period from autumn of 1972 to summer of 1974, during which (a.) the Watergate scandal was “unfolding” and (b.) my mother was dying. That concurance provided a ready-made structure.

Now I’m writing the rest of my mother’s life and times – and there is no obvious narrative structure waiting for me. Instead, I have to pull one out of my – brain.

In part, this is because I’m dealing with 50 + years instead of 2. Also, I’m working on the part that covers her childhood and teens, during which not much extraordinary happened. I’m hoping that once I get her to Washington and onto Capitol Hill, the content will buoy me up and carry me along.

This is not to say that her childhood and teen years (1920-1939) are not interesting. I find them very interesting – not just b/c they involve people I knew later in life, but because, well, I’m a sucker for particularity. I can get immersed in the minutiae of anyone’s life, esp. if it’s new to me, esp. if it’s from a bygone era. And I think that the minutiae, the seemingly random and haphazard memories, quotations, and factoids, form a lot of what we take to be life.

But not everyone feels that way, alas. So, how to make it interesting to others? Isn’t that always the question?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

2 By Rachel Zolf

I’ve been meaning for some time to write something about Rachel Zolf’s book Masque (Mercury Press 2004), and now she’s come out with another one, Neighbour Procedure (Coach House 2010). The first is a “masked” memoir in the form of verse dialogue. The second deals with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; it was occasioned by a trip to “Israel-Palestine” and contains “some of the journey’s mad affects.”

Masque is large – 10x8” pages – and the verse is spread out over the pages. It is “spoken” by various characters – The Media Man (who is also The Father, the egomaniacal reporter/TV personality, Benny Z-d); The Daughter; The Philosopher (who is mostly Marshall McLuhan); The Censor (who “redacts” certain words); The Whisper (which says things like “you fucking screaming idiot”), and so on. At first some of the voices occur on separate pages, then in consecutive dialogue. But finally, they mostly are all talking at the same time, by way of interlined stanzas; the names in the right and left margins alert the reader to the first line of the character’s speech, but the parts are written in alternating lines. Sometimes there are just a few short lines crouching in the upper left-hand corner of the page; sometimes there is one column of text that is left-justified, one that is right-justified, and one coming down the center. There are even drawings and extended etymologies. I’m not going to try to reproduce this method on Blogger. Suffice it to say that Zolf depicts a very complex set of relationships within and beyond a family in a few (colloquial) words. Much of the material is taken from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation footage, as well as newspapers which her father – who just happens to be a Media Man, too – wrote for.

Neighbour Procedure is rather different. The title refers to the practice by the Israeli army of using residents of Palestinian neighborhoods as de facto human shields. Again, much of the material comes from “found” sources: newscasts, web sites, commercials, the Qur’an, Judith Butler, etc. The first section reminds me of the ghazal form – that is, the juxtaposing of lines of verse that do not follow one from the other, but which have a lot to do with each other. (In this respect, it reminds me of Susan Tichy’s Gallowglass, except that there it is the American-Iraqui conflict that is the source). Other poems are lists of numbers and names, or a mosaic of the words “car [mule, belt, bike] bomb” with musical notations added. The middle section is composed of white-out poems from Ibn Barun’s 11th c. “Book of Comparisons” of Arabic and Hebrew words, as a method of glossing the Torah (mixed in with the poet-speaker’s own stutterings). The rest are various mash-ups and docupoems – one section is composed of “word maps.” And the notes at the end are well worth reading.

The barber

One soldier danced into the shop, 'Nice, nice'

Whose faces were painted certain images don't appear

Cutting in random lines the machine touched my scalp

Can you be gentle I'm not an expert open your mouth

A group of children stones his weapon on my shoulder

Intolerable eruption patting his chest, 'Now I'll tell you my name'

Sometimes staccato sometimes continuous

The soldier left the barbershop with the scissors

The soldier left the hair on my lips

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Memory, History, Poetry, and the Nature of Nature

A couple of weeks ago, I heard Lawrence Buell, ecocritc extraordinaire, give a talk on what he calls “environmental memory” in literature. The argument is still developing (unlike some “big names,” he didn’t just read from an already-published book), and is sort of perspectival and descriptive, rather than anaylitical and critical. In any event, it seemed to me that “memory” was being used as a kind of ahistorical, psychologized category – an individualized version of history.

That’s a consummately American approach. Europeans can see history for the succession of tragedies that it is (b/c it has been more so, over there). Americans need to boil history down for their own personal use. If Europeans philosophize, Americans psychologize. This tendency is especially problematic for environmental discourse, as there is already a penchant for organicist tropes (and essentialist thinking).

I asked what to me was the obvious question: What is history? He was obviously quite tired (halfway through a two-week intensive graduate seminar), and the response kind of rambled, but I think he understood what I was getting at. I do hope that he thinks some more re: the relation of history to memory (and how each gets represented). That’s crucial.

I also hope that he branches out generically. “Literature” meant “novels.” This conflation is typical, esp. amongst Americanists. Moreover, he did not talk about the form or structure of novels – that is, how the shape and texture of the text might interact with the way it represents memory or the environment.

The grand theories of American literature from the 50s and 60s dealt with motifs in novels. Those were the days of structuralism and psychologistic readings. Nowadays, not many people presume to account for all of American lit – and increasingly, monographs limit themselves to one or two genres (in the titles, even). But Buell is the generation just after the Theories of American Literature (Novel) crowd, and while he has branched out in dramatically new directions, this basic assumption – and approach – remains in place. It is a criticism that takes “content” for granted.

It is a pivotal assumption, since, it seems to me, the nature of representations of nature is what is at stake – not simply the semantic, hypotactic meanings, but the syntactic, material nature of the text as well.

I recommend that Prof. Buell read poets who deal with memory and history: Susan Howe, Adrienne Rich, Charles Olson, Nathaniel Mackey, et al. They may or may not deal with the environment as well. But one needs to think about the medium in order to understand the message. And to do that, one cannot accept genres as natural phenomena. To do so means to misunderstand “nature.”