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.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"A" to Z.

Well, the "A" Team has done it's work: I mean the reading group I participated in this summer that read "A," by Louis Zukofsky. (Some of us more than others, but hey, you do what you can.)

It's interesting to me that poets who claim Zukofsky as an influence typically point to his methods, rather than to his works. That is, they will cite homophonic or homolinguistic translations, or word-count lines, or the use of found material; but I have yet to hear anyone say "'A' is a fucking great book, dude" - let alone "a fucking great poem."

That may be the influence of the hoary chestnut of "process over product" in pomo pomes. And the book is certainly a treasure-house of possibility for anyone open to innovative poetics. But the question it raises for me is: Do we need this much of it?

It took me a while to figure out that the books by Language poets were so long because, if you resist closure, you can't stop writing. And with them, as with their predecessor Zukofsky, much of that length has to do with arbitrary/aleatory constraints.

But the length also raises the same question as conceptual poetry: do you have to read it (all)? I mean, the Oulipo people did an experiment, then moved on. LZ does, too - from one "movement" to another. It reads more like a miscellany, more than a poem. But do each of the individual movements need to be as long as they are? This is the point I wonder about. I often found myself saying, "OK, OK - I get it. Enough already." Is 80 Flowers more influential than "A" or ALL? If so, the length thing might be part of it.

During the group, I found myself in the odd position of defending Zukofsky's poetics - odd, b/c I don't write in a particularly Zukofskian manner (well, usually). But then, his influence is so pervasive as to make me wonder: who doesn't? (at least to one degree or another - the methods and forms he championed are par for the course nowadays)


- rough music: materiality of language - amazing sense of sonic and thematic recurrence and simultaneity.
- pioneering use of constraints. incl. word-count lines
- leftist docupo - but registering "history" w/o sacrificing attention to phonemes (which is what history is composed of, after all)
- willingness to leave disparate, incongruous, or contradictory elements in the poem (i.e., the "miscellany" thing) - you get a sense of a writer who is changing and not disowning any of his past selves - and the inclusion of multiple genres in the same "poem."
- mixing of the personal (even confessional) and historical.
- "raw" material or "found" material (i.e., use of stuff he didn't author - or use of Celia's setting of his poems composed largely of stuff he didn't author)
- willingness to incorporate his daily reading, events, ideas, overheard conversation - life.
- fearlessness (and later disdain for Po Biz)
- Jewishness. If you don't like it, fuck you. Also, the emphasis on letters, numerology, etc. And wow what amazing variations on a cultural theme.


- Length - a little full of himself, perhaps? Dare I say it?
- The cloying - even suffocating - sense of the nuclear family (too close to home?)
- Macho epic ambition. It's as though any male poet of a certain age has to write a Long Poem. And my poem is longer than your poem, etc.: the obligatory covering of all of human (and natural) history. Pre-Poundianism. 
- post-McCarthy quietism (Spinoza enlisted to the cause) - but who am I to judge
- the fugue - this metaphor for the poem (b/c that's what it is) eventually became so attenuated as to seem a distraction. What's wrong with cacophony as a musical principle?
- Paul.


- "A"-24. I love the idea and the ambition of it, but it doesn't work for me (by the same token) - I don't hear the fugal consonances between the words. Too many voices to be able to perceive (nervous system-wise).

But then I'm a notorious Philistine.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Five Reasons I Like Charles Alexander's _Pushing Water_

1. It is not a LONG long poem – it is 213 pages, as opposed to, say, 800. It is that rarest of animals: a non-arrogant long poem by a male writer. He manages to be serious (even representing his own experience -- !) without being sententious. There is a questioning, open observing that is confident without being overbearing. Sometimes this stance results in humor:

begin again
to undo
the beginning
not a fugue
but a fudge

This is not “A” – that seemingly interminable “fugue” – it is a poem that begins again and again, sometimes muddling along, that makes modest claims for itself: “the colloquial uncertainty / as always.”

2. Pushing Water flows. That is, through a combination of headlong syntax and cascading enjambments, this poem MOVES like few others. If Stein disliked commas, Alexander dislikes (or doesn’t believe in) periods:

and air lives (with a short

vowel) and air lives (with a

long vowel) we are all

shortened and elongated

according to our wishes and

desires in a changed but not

yet ended world or arena of

. . . and of course it goes on – that’s part of the point – the ongoingness of things – the flow of air, water, life, thought. The air lives short, lives are short, vowels live as and in air. We are all long vowels, changed but not yet ended. We’re pushing with and against the water at once.

3. There is a delightful variety in the form – which is open form (unreproducible by a technical idiot, in a program like Blogger), using the vertical space of the page via line-length, indentation, spacing (vertical and horizontal). Sometimes in stanzas (numbered, even), sometimes in run-on double-spaced sections. And the form rarely seems unmotivated. The verse usually revolves back to itself, using the form as poetics:

they come     to come

by the water in a place

that invents every thing

again                     a new line

4. The book contains memorable passages like the ones above that, nonetheless, do not overwhelm the rest of the writing. Neat trick. There are lines like this: “When she wrote her life why didn’t she leave it alone?” – that seem to be just another point along the way, but end up saying more than they seem to say. Alexander is “remaining ever in the company of small / words like of and around” – lively words and lines that aren’t weighted down by nouns.

5. I just keep coming back to it. It’s playful without the deadly serious playfulness of some American ironists. Maybe Pushing Water reminds me a bit of Larry Eigner – not so much in form as in tone. I like typing out the lines:

the words are distant, abstract, bloodless,
except for the singing of the lullaby tonight
after the poem my daughter came
and asked for a lullaby – the poem ends and the lullaby begins
or the poem never ends, the war never ends, the lullaby never ends
the light goes into the air
the water goes into the light and the air
I ask my friends where the words end
they don’t have the same answers that I don’t have
they don’t have the same questions that I don’t have
in all the places I have been
in the words have gone
they all are taken
the water pushes as far as it can
the light is out
the light is out