Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Journal Entry

The wide expanse of Girard all but deserted when I step out of the bar's sonic embrace glistens under curling wisps of fog a light rain cools my face waking me from the sorcerer's fire. The fire that only burns believers. No el this time of morning. How will I get home? I stand there for some time in the early AM mist before I remember: the shuttle bus--its purgatorial run under the tracks up Frankford and Kensington's corridor of desolation. How many times have I made this journey? How many times notebook on my lap have I described the scene? Drunk and exhausted the illusion of singularity burned away: a journey suitable to my condition.

Across from me on the shuttle a man with stars tattooed on his cheekbones deep scars on his chin talking to a younger man in sleeveless shirt weight-lifter arms. They appear to be escorting a girl. Can't be more than thirteen or fourteen skin tight shorts halter top a ragged sweater over her shoulders huddles between them shivering bare feet pulled under her to keep warm a pair of high heels on the floor under her seat. A man with pocked face. Thin gangly indeterminate age hair long down the back of his neck. Transport of the possessed... and dispossessed. By what natural laws had all this been arranged? Follow the signs, he said, or lose your way.

Waiting at Margaret-Orthodox for the #59 air fumed with burning pitch and lumber. Street lights haloed in smoke. Man outside the bar on the corner of Arrott and Griscomb urinates against the building the rivulet running between his legs on the sidewalk to the curb to the street. On the back of his jacket an Eagle wings spread wide. Sirens begin to wail in the distance. Omens of my life... my new lives. Whose name will the oracle whisper into being tonight?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Time Memory Dreams and Poetry


There is no present in a dream, and no presence. What is a dream if not the experience of memory itself? Not of things remembered--not the stuff of dreams, which are but the playthings of memory and not what constitutes memory itself. The felt substantiality of a dream belongs then to the substance of memory, of past, and not of anything remembered. In dreams things remembered have no substance but only the borrowed susbstance of memory. We are not present in our dreams but past presence, past tense, bathed in the substance of memory.

A poem is memory actualized as presence.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Interview with Sylvia Beach

HERE     From The Greta Shiller Documentary Paris Was A Woman

It isn't just the style of actors in the 30's and 40's, was it? This 'standard' American English pronunciation seems to have become extinct.

This is a great video and multi-interview.

What Matter ?

What matters in a poem is beyond reach. What remains (language, cultural associations, representational content etc etc... ) is interesting to talk and think about--more than just interesting: may or may not lead (by exhausting the compulsion to classify argue establish hierarchies and judge to ... to what? where?

A transformational encounter. That might leave us for a few seconds free of the need to talk about it, the need to kill what has happened by turning it into a traceable abstraction... trade-able... an aesthetic commodity. A tool of politics and culture. A mirror we pretend has power to reflect our invisible face.

What lives in a poem is not fixed in place. It is generative. It is of nature. A return to nature (as though it were possible to leave -- as though there is anything 'outside' of nature, that is not at most, nature, by looking back at itself, imagining that it is other than what it beholds).

What matters is what happens, all of it. Mind. Affect. Idea. The generative event. The encounter. The trace that remains.

Must we then remain silent? The irrepressible urge to think, speak, write--impossible to resist. And there's no need to do so. But let what is living in the poem speak--a continuation of the generative voice--using and breaking through, as the poem itself both uses and shatters the cumulative shells of culture and convention. We can't pass judgment on a poem any more than we can pass judgment on the wind or a mountain. The poem is nature's judgment of its own artifice--which is the artifice of our multiple identities... political, sexual, personal, national, species. The sound of laughter--of what we are laughing at what we think we have become.

Practiced Writing Isn't Writing Practiced


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

poetry + artways + local spirits

at Molly's Bookstore on second Sundays


Sunday, May 9th
7:00 pm
Molly's Bookstore (1010 S. 9th St. Phila, PA 19147 in the Italian Market)
$4 suggested donation (includes wine)
Open reading to follow


* A gritty Philadelphian lineup featuring: *
the poetry of Ryan Eckes

Jeffrey Stockbridge and Liz Moore's collaborative photo essay on Kensington: While photographing abandoned houses in various neighborhoods of Philadelphia, Jeffrey Stockbridge began to meet and photograph residents of Kensington. His initial focus was on a group of women who struggle with addiction and support their habits through prostitution; since then he has broadened his interest to include other people, places, and features of the neighborhood. In the fall of 2009 he invited writer Liz Moore to accompany him on his visits to Kensington. She is working on a related, long-form piece of creative nonfiction.
....and two lovely springlike wines from Penns Woods Winery in Chadds Ford, PA: their 2008 Traminette and 2006 White Merlot

RYAN ECKES lives in South Philadelphia. His poetry can be read in Scythe, XConnect, Fanzine, the ixnay reader 4, Elective Affinities, and on his blog, Old News. He's got a chapbook called when i come here (Plan B Press, 2007). He teaches at Temple University and other places.

LIZ MOORE wrote most of her first novel, The Words of Every Song (Broadway, 2007), while an undergrad at Barnard College. The book, which centers on a fictional record company in New York City, draws partly on Liz's own experiences as a musician (Liz released her first album Backyards in 2007 as well). Liz obtained her MFA in Fiction from Hunter College, where she studied with Peter Carey, Colum McCann, and Nathan Englander. In the fall she'll be teaching Creative Writing and Composition at Holy Family University in Philadelphia. She still performs regularly, and has just completed her second novel. You can find her on the web at

Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, JEFFREY STOCKBRIDGE is a photographer who explores subject matter pertaining to the urban environment. His recent projects have focused on such subjects as abandoned houses, drugs, and prostitution. Jeffrey’s work has been exhibited at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania and the Delaware Art Museum. Jeffrey is a recent recipient of a 2009 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Grant, an Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts Grant and The Center For Emerging Visual Artists Fellowship. Jeffrey is currently working on a new series, tentatively titled No Where But Here, and is
scheduled to have a solo show at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art in 2011.

2008 PENNS WOODS TRAMINETTE: "I thought this hybrid white wine was delightful. It is not meant to be deep and ageworthy, but it probably exceeds its initial goals. Fruity and spicy, it is charming, distinctive and easy going. This probably charmed me more than it should have, but it is a pleasure to sip. Drink it young." (Mark Squires, The Wine Advocate)

2006 PENNS WOODS WHITE MERLOT: This unique rosé wine was made by the saignée method, where grape juice is “bled” off from the skins of the red grapes after only a few hours of contact. This wine simply bursts with flavor – although “simply” is inaccurate, as this wine has a complex profile of cassis, black raspberry and hints of mocha and an underlying minerality. It is indeed a serious wine that can make its statement in any surrounding. This wine is meant to be enjoyed now.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Poetry as an Act of Meditation/Mediation

Following up on an EARLIER POST: I read my poem at a more populated location today: Broad Street near Snyder. As far as I could tell, no one paid the least attention--but then, I was too involved in the reading to notice.

Today's reading left me with two impressions. The first was a reflection on how much time we spend each day (those of us who live in a city)... alone in a crowd. I was struck by what a peculiarly unnatrual state this is--how truely strange to be in such intimate proximity with so many people with no significant interaction whatsoever. I thought of the recent Flashmobs in the news--and they seemed a perfectly natural reaction to the anxious, studied indifference--the iPod/cellphone insularity--which seems almost to beg for violence--anything to break the shells of indifference.

The second reflection came out of the poem I happened to be reading... which named the Morris-Tasker Broad Street station. What was I doing at Broad and Synder, I thought? And from that, an idea for this exercise in the coming days.

I'm giving myself the following instructions:

Take your poem and read it aloud in any location you have named, described or invoked in a poem you've written. Do this alone. Not as performance--but as meditation. Especially if there are people around... an alternative to violence and indifference, transforming the everyday experience of being alone in a crowd into a transitory ACT of ART.

Benjamin Kunkel on Fredric Jameson

As Tweeted by Stephen Mitchelmore, Benjamin Kunkel reviews
Fredric Jameson's

Valences of the Dialectic in the London Review of Books

... could spend a leisurly afternoon on this one...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Defeating the Collective Shame Machine

The rooftop reading Sunday... and something about William Blake and CA Conrad's (Soma)tic exercises... restless yesterday afternoon. I had an impulse to walk out on the street and start reading poems. Just to do it. ... so I took a few printed pages and sat on a bench on Passyunk Ave.... and read them out loud. No matter who is or isn't there, I thought, I'm going to do this-- and I did. 

And any residua of self-consciousness I had vanished with the first sound that came out of my mouth.

That residua... the collective JUDGE, the INHIBITOR. It isn't about making a scene in public--not about anything 'out there.' It's about confronting the internalized COLLECTIVE SHAME MACHINE and breaking free.

I walked up and down Passyunk, east and west on side streets... thinking about where I might read these poems... and was immediately aware of how the differences one place and another. Public Space is not one thing, but a multiplicity, as multifaceted as the individuals who have created them.  It would not do to read outside B2 Cafe. People there were people already involved in their own work: reading, drawing, writing... and I would be an intrusion, invading space others had staked out for themselves.  should I begin speaking Other places were more or less welcoming, but in quite different ways. Almost every corner, every doorway, every open space revealed a different character, a different feel to how they would receive uses they were not designed for.   
We are each of a city, a world--to be a poet means re-writing that internalized world. Such a perfect title--CA Conrad and Frank Sherlock's book--the City Real and Imagined.

Today I read my scroll poem in the middle of the parking lot on Passyunk. There was no one around to hear. But as I was reading the last few lines a man in a convertible pulled into the lot. Didn't seem to notice me, or didn't let it show--but as I was leaving I saw him looking around--not at me, but at the parking lot, the other cars... as though reassuring himself he was in the right place. Yes, it was still a parking lot... but a parking lot where someone comes to read poetry. I was doing the same thing... re-examining interior spaces to see how they had changed.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Whose City?

Whose City? A Juried Multi-Media Exhibition. Now Taking Submissions

Artists who are accepted will have the opportunity to sell and promote their work and participants will share in the proceeds from ticket sales.
--> HERE

The Arts and Culture Collective of the Media Mobilizing Project is looking for:

Performers, Poets, and Visual artists of all media
To submit work for a Fringe Festival Show

What is the show about?
Whose City is Philadelphia? Is it the downtown or the neighborhoods, the corporations in skyscrapers or the families in row homes?

Whose needs, whose desires, whose dreams matter?

We are a city of many lives, many voices. Out of a shifting collage of performance, music, visual arts and poetry, we will gather stories that weave together our multiplicity and our common dreams.
Under the banner of this theme, artists will offer multimedia presentations reflecting the reality of our city, its life and its people, the achievements we celebrate and the problems that beset us.

How to be in the show:
Submit what you'd like to display or perform in the form below. It can be in .jpg, audio, video, or written format. We will jury your submission and notify you by June 1.

Deadline for submissions: Jun 1

When is the show?
The Philadelphia Fringe Festival is held September 3-18, 2010.

Who Is Organizing the Show?
The Arts and Culture Collective of the Media Mobilizing Project (MMP), seeks to support and encourage a synthesis of art, social action and politics.

MMP aims to utilize independent media making as an organizing tool to build a broad vibrant network of social movement in Philadelphia, while developing capacities for communities to create their own media.

For more information contact:
Pat Grugan -
Bryan Mercer -
May 15, 2010. We'll notify you by June 1.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Elective Affinities

Visit Elective Affinities!
In Argentina, the poet Alejandro Méndez took on a similar collaboration based on a visual arts project already underway by Roberto Jacoby with Ramona magazine. We take on this task alongside neighboring countries in an effort to chart our own literary map where affinities, differences, and unexpected connections coexist in an ongoing, collective construction.
Thanks to Carlos Ramon Soto for his work on this project! (and Carlos--where is your web page?!)

Photos, poetics, affinites and sampling of poems linked on site for each poet.

Recently added: Kim Gek Lin Short,  Samantha Giles,  Jason Zusga,  Dana Ward

List of poets to date (April 12, 2010)
Lauren Ireland
Jen Benka
Ryan Eckes
Rodrigo Toscano
Magdalena Zurawski
Julian T. Brolaski
Jamie Townsend
Laura Jaramillo
Tyrone Williams
Brandon Holmquest
David Wolach
Frank Sherlock
Hailey Higdon
Marion Bell
Laura Sims
Thom Donovan
Julia Bloch

Sunday, April 11, 2010

On Being Numerous: Reading George Oppen on a Rooftop at 15th and Sansom

Thanks to Lillian Dunn for photo. Left to right: Jack Krick Jamie Townsend Jacob Russell CA Conrad... seated back to camera ?
It was two o’clock in mind but the man on the corner of Broad and Walnut with suitcase open for coins and the trumpet playing Stormy Weather had something else in mind, the weather of another day. Something from another time, though we were both there, the trumpet player, myself, the all flowing crowd... each together and single in mind where the clock on City Hall told us it was 1:43, an analog approximation itself arranged from the mechanics of another century.
There were no visible storms (a warning?) but bright sun a few hazy traces of clouds--traces where clouds had been and then moved on. It was two o’clock I was looking forward to, waiting for, moving towards--even as I remained on the corner motionless amid passersby and city traffic. Another illusion, of course, as the earth was spinning, clutching me to the warp of its mass in space that the trumpet player and me and all we could see and hear, busses, cars buildings pigeons countless shoppers Sunday pleasure seekers and the blue air itself—lest all that is less than firmly rooted in the rockbed of earth be hurled into nothingness or the invisible matter and energy out there past the appearance of blue that passes as nothing and around the sun and the rim of the great galactic wheel—time and motion interlocked moving us no matter will or what, moved us (past tense now), all that surrounded me--myself, my single self, and with me—closer to two o’clock and there was Conrad now crossing the street and on we went to the entrance of the parking garage where we would look out on an orange steel crane near ten stories high (think: stories of their toppling, death in the street below) and shy lovers on a rooftop in the spring sun, and four tiny squares far below two filled with dots of apple red and two of orange on the sidewalk in front of a produce store that was in another time when the earth was at another point in the whirligig of space a ShopRite that drew trucks like bees to flowers Conrad told me (but much louder than bees and less bucolic) and the neighbors waken by their predawn buzz (or roar) flexed their political muscle and waved their political wand and transformed Shop to Aide transposed… and then there were three and six and ten of us and two o’clock came and went.

Ten poets reading words from a book that became (what wonder this life when we pause (though we cannot stop) to listen!... became the voice of George Oppen who our pedestrian minds knew and know perfectly well is dead and silent but wasn’t, because we heard him… not as one, but numerous… his words, leaving…leading us with him out of Emerson’s transcendental house ...

We have chosen the meaning
Of being numerous
... out of the shipwreck of the singular

and we heard that because we were… not one, but numerous even as each single voice-- preceeding and succeeding another, each of us knowing ourselves to be as we read one of his dialects  ... making poetry, leaving, by reading as poetry is meant to be read-- together—reshaping, repairing what was salvaged out of

The absolute singular

The unearthly bonds
Of the singular

Which is the bright light of shipwreck

and somewhere else… back there in two o’clock with the trumpet playing stormy weather (a warning ?) but not on the roof of the garage where poetry remade us out of the shipwreck and thought became as concrete under the massive whine and whir from the organ pipes of the air-conditioner flowing over us, and the machinry of presence, silent no more—back from exile in Mexico, from the silence of death that we too will soon visit, alive in the air we shared with the passing helicopter and the sirens on the street below and the heartbeats one and one and one times ten plus one plus all that breathes or ever breathed or will-- gathered compressed into a single afternoon—eleven poets (you were with us, George—not one of us would deny it for one second no matter what our well-trained knowing smart ass brains have to say about it… this afternoon we were… as we always are in truth…


Friday, April 9, 2010

What Publishers Really Want...

I've been entering journal entries from 2001 when I first started working on the novel I've begun to re-write. Interesting to revisit my thoughts at the time. Then came across an email from an agent that I'd pasted into the journal--reply to a query for my first novel. 

It's so mindless, so laughably inane--such a perfect example of what publishing is really about.

... nice of her to give me useful advice. Kinda like painting by the numbers... 

Thu. 7 Jun 2001 21:38 EDT
From: ....
To: ...
Subject: RE: Query

Dear Mr. Russell:

While I find you to be a talented writer, the style of writing that is
salable today has dialogue almost solely moving along the plot and the
action, and for revealing the characterization. All this is important
as well as building some degree of excitement and/or suspense immediately.
Since your novel seems largely introspective, I feel I cannot market your
work successfully at this time. Should you decide to rework your 
novel with dialogue carrying the narrative, I'd be pleased to look at it


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On Sontag's Against Interpretation

Text "Against Interpretation"
Interpretation, for Sontag, is grounded in the distinction between form and content, which she traces back to the Greek idea of art as an imitation of reality, and to Plato’s theory of ideas, which explained even material things as an imitation of a transcendent reality, reducing art to an imitation of an imitation. This places art in need of a defense.
Its truth value fatally compromised (imitation of an imitation), Aristotle looks for justification in use—as therapy: the purgation of unhealthy emotions. One doesn’t have to search far for upticks on this old chestnut.

The problem begins with the idea of mimesis—art as representation, which persists (for Sontag) even with non-representational art in the form of the distinction between form and content. Abstract expressionist painting posed a direct challenge to this; denying ‘content’ to its critics, limiting them to describing form—and thus acknowledging the work of art as it “is,” without reduction or translation to a meaning external to itself. Nonetheless, while a work of art
“… may now be less figurative, less lucidly realistic. But it is still assumed that a work of art is its content. Or, as it’s usually put today, that a work of art by definition says something. (“What X is saying is . . . ,” “What X is trying to say is . . .,” “What X said is . . .”
thus, locating the ‘meaning’ outside the work. Leaving us, as she says, “stuck with the task of defending art,” such that “We can only quarrel with one or another means of defense.” From there—a conclusion I applaud, but attained by a logical elipsis that leaves me near breathless:
Indeed, we have an obligation to overthrow any means of defending and justifying art which becomes particularly obtuse or onerous or insensitive to contemporary needs and practice. This is the case, today, with the very idea of content itself. Whatever it may have been in the past, the idea of content is today mainly a hindrance, a nuisance, a subtle or not so subtle philistinism

For me, that’s the heart of this essay—it’s whole point, but left on a foundation in serious need of additional support.
The problem, as I understand it, lies in her accepting—or at least, not challenging Plato’s idea of representation. She ignores it, while accepting the grounds for the troubling distinction between form and content—not Plato’s ideal forms, but the notion that there is a ‘reality’ that constitutes the world outside the work of art, in which interpretation wrongly wants to ground the ‘meaning’ of the work. In this case, a more naïve take on ‘reality’ by far than Plato’s.
What she would hope for, is a less impoverished take on this world, that “… we [may] again experience more immediately what we have.”
Now I have to interject—interrupt with my own thoughts. No one experiences a ‘world,’ that is, a semi-coherent, cohering pattern made up of the kaleidoscopic fragments of particular perceptual encounters. The coherence is already mediated, already an interpretation. The ‘meaning’ relocated by interpretive translation from the work of art… from the text… is then some sort of reification, using the text (art work) to establish the authority of conventionally accepted (narrative) patterns. The fault of Sontag’s analysis is in locating the “content” of the response ‘in’ the texts (granted, as a misreading or projection)… but then failing to identify what generated that ‘content’ and the purpose it served.
Here the analysis become seriously muddled. She wants to claim that
Most American novelists and playwrights are really either journalists or gentlemen sociologists and psychologists. They are writing the literary equivalent of program music. And so rudimentary, uninspired, and stagnant has been the sense of what might be done with form in fiction and drama that even when the content isn’t simply information, news, it is still peculiarly visible, handier, more exposed. To the extent that novels and plays (in America), unlike poetry and painting and music, don’t reflect any interesting concern with changes in their form, these arts remain prone to assault by interpretation.

Why? Let me quote an earlier passage.
The old style of interpretation was insistent, but respectful; it erected another meaning on top of the literal one. The modern style of interpretation excavates, and as it excavates, destroys; it digs “behind” the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one. The most celebrated and influential modern doctrines, those of Marx and Freud, actually amount to elaborate systems of hermeneutics, aggressive and impious theories of interpretation. All observable phenomena are bracketed, in Freud’s phrase, as manifest content. This manifest content must be probed and pushed aside to find the true meaning - the latent content - beneath. For Marx, social events like revolutions and wars; for Freud, the events of individual lives (like neurotic symptoms and slips of the tongue) as well as texts (like a dream or a work of art) - all are treated as occasions for interpretation. According to Marx and Freud, these events only seem to be intelligible. Actually, they have no meaning without interpretation. To understand is to interpret. And to interpret is to restate the phenomenon, in effect to find an equivalent for it.

Do you begin to see the problem? What were the texts Marx and Freud claimed to be interpreting? And here, I would say Marx was more independent of actual previous texts than Freud—having rendered their contents more rigorously to discrete elements of data which he then re-ordered, than Freud—who was far more an interpreter of acual texts than of direct observations than he would ever acknowledge.
Sontag charges the artist with the task of disarming the interpreter—by implication, blaming the victim for his/her exploitation. The work should aim to a pure formality that vitiates the possibility of interpretation—that is, reductive translation to a ‘meaning’ outside itself.
cannot be described or paraphrased. They can be. The question is how. What would criticism look like that would serve the work of art, not usurp its place?

What is needed, first, is more attention to form in art. If excessive stress on content provokes the arrogance of interpretation, more extended and more thorough descriptions of form would silence. What is needed is a vocabulary - a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, vocabulary - for forms.

So far so good… but then
Once upon a time (say, for Dante), it must have been a revolutionary and creative move to design works of art so that they might be experienced on several levels. Now it is not. It reinforces the principle of redundancy that is the principal affliction of modern life.
Once upon a time (a time when high art was scarce), it must have been a revolutionary and creative move to interpret works of art. Now it is not. What we decidedly do not need now is further to assimilate Art into Thought, or (worse yet) Art into Culture.

… hence, the artist is responsible for denying the possibility of assimilating work into thought
Marx and Freud treated (or claimed to) perceived/received reality as manifest content in need of explanation, exposure. Sontag (in this essay, conflates what they were attempting with interpretations of art—looking for latent ‘meaning’ in the manifest content. She ignores the extraordinary irony of treating the ‘reality’ (assumed subject for Freud and Marx) with the subject texts of her interpreters… how did this ‘reality’ become a text? On this, she has nothing to say.
The problem as I see it (after Marx and Freud), is that what needs interpreting is the hologram of ‘reality’… all the ways we put the parts together to construct alternative views/narratives of the ‘real.’
Let me cut to the chase… apply the ‘problem’ of interpretation in reverse—what needs interpreting, what needs exposure—manifest to latent content—is received reality. The hermeneutics of interpretation apply, not to literary texts, but to the ‘cultural texts’ we use to make sense of the world. “Reality” is the artifice that needs to be interpreted, the artifice that pretends to be the world. Yes, learn to read the text as form… that we may learn, not lessons about content about the real world, but about how to dismantle the hologram and anchor every particle of the constructed world in actual experience.
As suggested in my previous post, what I need to add is the idea of the 'encounter,' and the grounding of authoritative texts  in myths of origin. That's another post ...

Critical Reading and Interpretation

To grant the biblical texts authority, they had to be interpreted. The 1500 year enterprise from an assemblage of oral traditions and literary fragments through midrash, mishnah, gamara-- to Joseph Caro’s codification in the Shulkhan Arukh (which itself, must be continually interpreted) while claiming the text as authority, does so by first silencing it, fixing it as a mute idea whose voice can only be heard as resurrected through its interpretations, where it regains multiplicity in the new texts that have been generated. Christian history follows a parallel course.

Texts are inherently unstable, and hence, without authority. Power, whether exercised by religious institutions or secular, faced with the need to legitimize their authority, have to resort to interpretation. Interpretation, whether literary, legal or religious, is about one thing, and one thing only: locating authority for power.

Interpretation identifies ‘meaning,’ by relocating it outside the text, granting it independence as something that can be comprehended in itself, by itself. Free standing--with the ghost of the text as 'idea' hovering over it. This ‘meaning’ is only a mask for the operative relocation of authority, making it available for use--to legitimize power.

A critical response, to remain open to the text, rejects interpretation. A critical response is just that: a response--a multifaceted encounter with text and at the same time, with the imaginative, productive subject involved in the encounter. A critical response has no authority and claims none.

A critical response doesn’t say, this is what I found, offering up bones and tools like an archeologist with artifacts from an excavation; a critical response reports what happened in the encounter, and what is happening in the act of reporting it, a map of a journey and a process that echoes, but does not reiterate or claim to reproduce the journey and the process that generated the text. It is a continuation of that which generated the text, not an end point.

I haven’t read Sontag’s, “Against Interpretation.” I don’t know if I’m thinking along the same lines, or have something entirely different in mind, but I see I will have to read her 1964 essay now and compare.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Poetry as Comfort Food

There is poetry, and there is poetry.

Went to a reading at Kelly Writer's House. I was curious--had only heard of one of these poets. A group, mostly women, who have been meeting and writing poetry together since 1992. Must have been long graduated and established in their respective careers by then, cause they were all well into their 50's and 60's, and those who came to hear them were older than me on average.

I kept wondering why I felt so out of place. Not in general. I mean, name the specifics. There was the poetry first off. Not bad... not that good. Unadventurous, personal... like little personal essays. Conventionally grammatical sentences logically strung together with a coherent argument from opening line to closure.... and always closure. Neatly zipped and packaged.

I thought of the usual no-nothing accusations leveled at 'modern' poetry by people who haven't read a poem since their last English class, and couldn't explain the difference between 'poetry' and 'verse' for the life of them.. how it's just prose with funny line breaks.

In this case, that pretty much covered it.

Suburban New Jersey, Main Line Career-Lady poetry. Okay... Career-Person, cause they admitted to having had a couple of men in their group at one time. I suspect I would break out in hives in any one of their living rooms. Am I confusing person with poetry? Well, yeah. Hard to pry the poems from the person... cause it was all overwhelmingly about them... confessional, but polite. Everyone remained properly clothed, and where sex was hinted at--it was always with conventionally approved partners... with benefit of clergy. One poet ventured beyond the breakwater, but intoned every poem, every line -- the same, so hearing it became a kind of white noise.
There was some evidence of adventure... prose narratives followed by haiku response. That was nice.

But still... the rest of the of world mostly didn't exist--other than in a theme-parkish sort of way (references to 'travels', that sort of thing. A kind of Retirement Community version of reality. I mean, there were deaths, a divorce... but those are staples of Retirement Communities too. A world without war, devastating poverty, pedophile priests. Not the absence of these things in subject matter--but in consciousness. Could not imagine such things existing in the mental world of those poems (though I'd guess the poets were probably all nice liberals and voted for Obama and are appalled at Sarah Palin).

Poetry as Comfort Food... good Home Cooking (but of course, with well thumbed Julia on the shelf).

Then there was the laughter. That really did puzzle me. What were they laughing at, I asked myself each time the room would ripple with titters? Never did connect. Not once. But came up with a theory. The titter lines were like in-jokes. They touched on incidents and emotions that everyone assumed everyone else felt and experienced--not as any kind of sudden realization--the blinders pulled off, that kind of thing... but familiar, known, known collectively and collectively affirmed ...with titters.

More Cosby than George Carlin. Sure as shit no Lenny Bruce.

More Comfort Food.

What was most disconcerting, is that the poems weren't AWFUL. Well constructed. Not simple minded greeting card shit. They weren't trying to write sonnets, Fred forbid.

That, and my being right up there with them in age. Why don't I have more friends my own age, I asked myself.

But it wasn't age... it was class. (Sarah Palin appalls (and appeals) more vicerally because of class than the idiocy she espouses). No, it wasn't age... it was what a life-time immersion in the mentality and world view of a certain segment of more or less comfortable middling-intellectiual bourgeois life can do to the human spirit.

It sure as hell is Death to poetry.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

LateBloom'n Geezer Poet Award Goes to... ?!?

All those "YOUNG" this n' that awards and publishing prizes and scholarships and summer camps on Lake Hoochee Koochee.. .where the damn LateBloom'n Geezer Poet Prizes, huh?!?

Like I told a woman in the bar the other night: NO, I am NOT 'young at heart!' Like there's something wrong with being OLD!

When you're young, celebrate youth! When you're old, celebrate all the accidents of fate that got you that far. All or nothin! The whole way, start to finish, womb to the grave. And if at the end the only thing left that moves is your little toe,--do a damn toe dance that'll make people stand up n' shout n' clap!

... as for that award: money's overrated. But I'll let you stand me for a glass of wine! And if you want to publish this MS of poems and my novel, lets talk!

Interviews with CA Conrad


... and as Conrad points out, POETRY is king, not Conrad--who has his own ideas about who's
THE King!