Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Words to Live By...

. Money is a rigged game -- you cannot win by trying to buy security. Oh, you can have the illusion of it, but the price is your soul. The entire world architecture of money, beyond basic sustenance, is horribly corrupted -- especially since the advent of the "virtual world economy," a paper and digital racket that sucks away the people's hard earned wealth before they ever see it.

read the rest HERE
No disagreement at all on Joe Bageant's take on our corporate Looter-tacracy... but

... what Joe misses... not all that subtle a distinction, is that 'hope' is open to a more capacious definition. Not that definitions in themselves matter. But the several ideas and realities they point to, do.

The most artificial, least grounded and most vulnerable to exploitation, is the notion of "hope" as a wager on some future outcome, a future, of course... which no one can lay claim to: hence: hope  = delusion.

But 'hope' need not be grounded in abstract propositions about the future. These are always secondary. There is, as Camus understood it... while denying the word... an experiential dimension grounded in the capacity to act, even without that abstract, false assurance of future outcomes.

Who retains the capacity to act, exemplifies hope.

No matter the odds. No matter the FACT that all is lost. Hope is not about the future. It's about the present.

We die. There is no "hope" to erase this fact.

We may well exterminate our own species... and much of the rest of life on our planet. I'm not at all hopeful on that account. And no matter... the sun will encompass the inner planets and all we do and have done will be lost. So from the start... the "hope" thing pinged to futurity is a fantasy of denial.

But that's not what counts. Not for now. What matters... is our capacity to act, and to act in a way that if we should look back upon  what we have done (would that we could) what would we see? What would we think? How would we judge our actions?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Next Step?

I have a work-in-progress. Fiction. Working title: Found Things. Closing in on 100,000 words, so by volume, I guess it’s a novel. Or would be if I could stop rewriting draft after draft and finish it. I began work on it a month or so after finishing my first novel—in 2001. Nine years and counting. My last run at it was going pretty well, but I wanted to get back to poetry. I would start to write and find myself scribbling out notes for poems. The notes began to turn into poems Sometime in November I put the novel aside. Have written almost 100 new poems since—and happy for it. How could I not be? Never been so productive in my life. But I can’t say I’ve stopped looking back, stopped thinking about the unfinished novel.

It’s more than leaving something undone. I’ve abandoned cartloads of stories and poems without a moment’s regret. This is different. it tugs at me, nags; I go to sleep thinking about it and wake up ready to to dive back into it. Then I write another poem, and realize that, as much as I’d like to resolve this, I don’t want to put the poetry aside.

A few days ago I realized that if and when I did get back to it, I would have to do a major revision, right from the beginning. The main character is way too passive. I’ve been holding something back, I thought. As though I was courting sympathy on his behalf, as though I wanted readers to like him! This was a deeply satisfying idea—to make him driven (he already is, but so far, with no clear object or motive). Driven, manipulative, self deceived.

Now I’m thinking that’s still not enough. Yes, I want to finish it. No, I don’t want to write a ‘novel.’

I really don’t.

Not anymore. Not the sort of novel this keeps turning into. And playing with the characters isn’t going to change that.

Why not write it over. As poetry? Something no less radical.

It's how it began

There are chapters now that read like conventional short fiction. I meant them to stand in contrast to their surrounding context. They do, but the difference is not stark enough. The contrasts are superficial, stylistic, fail to penetrate to the level of language itself, fail to push at the boundaries of poetry and prose. most disturbing of all, fail to challenge the hegemonic authority of narrative, its power to harness every other element--space and time itself--to the task of fulfilling the mimetic desires of the reader.

What is the pleasure—or the point—of limiting our efforts to what we know we can do?

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Art and the Remodeling of the Commons"

Exerts from "Art and the Modeling of a Commons,” Thom Donovan, in Critiphoria 2

In this talk I am going to address art and poetry because art and poetry provide us with tools, I believe, for talking about commoning. Personally, for me, they mediate what a commons is. Art and poetry are not removed from our experience (though there are countless ways that art in particular is alienated from us through its becoming commodity), but what gives shape to our lives. How can art and poetry provide us with
tools for addressing, rethinking, and transforming commons?

I have noticed two emergent forms for art: reenactment and the parade. Seeing Arto Lindsay’s art parade in Times Square during this past Performa, the parade reminded me of the importance of bodies coming
together in actual space. Does the art parade not express a desideratum for collective action, demonstration, and protest? Following the parade as it danced/marched down 7th avenue, one could not help but witness and interact with countless side events and attractions. While the parade itself was rather bland—consisting of a line of about fifty marchers in tan trench coats—witnessing random passersby interact with the marchers
was not. If art expresses a desideratum for being together eventally, how to reappropriate art’s appropriation of the parade for communing? Occupying space, and witnessing the fruits of being with numerous others in space, one observes what develops, what becomes, from bodies being in space in semi-organized ways. Art is good at organizing things in this way. It is a means of organization—so why not use it more to this end?
If I take anything away from Peter Linebaugh’s brilliant book on the history of The Magna Carta and accompanying Charter of the Forest, The Magna Carta Manifesto, it is that commons must be struggled for both within the realm of culture and within the realm of the law. While the Magna Carta is currently eroded by violations of Habeas Corpus, the Charter of the Forest’s demand for usufuct—the lawful enjoyment and use of the land by all—is threatened by land expropriation practices which began in the 15th century and continue ubiquitously to this day. These practices, which created an urban proletarian for the first time in history, happened through the deliberate efforts of proto-capitalists to erode feudal law and grant new powers to landlords over feudal lords. At the beginnings of our modernism are the seeds of two global crises which have nearly played out their course: ecological unsustainability and the expropriation of labor                     Read the rest HERE

Not unrelated... the kids at the end of this video, the ones applauding while everyone else pretends this isn't happening... they are the fucking
Hope of this World !

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Poetry, Myth, Philosophy: The Haunted House of Our Childhood

Levi Bryant on Larval Subjects takes up narrative and narrativity: in the de-privileging of narrative characteristic of the disjunctive strategies that run through the best and most interesting contemporary poetry and fiction, another intersection of Object Oriented Ontology and literature, . (For posts touching on this, see HERE and HERE. Even a work like CA Conrad’s Book of Frank, which uses or suggests a conventional biographical framework (if only as parody), goes well beyond attacking one suffocating (straight/male/family) narrative, only to replacing it with another (equally restrictive) Queer narrative. This is the “Book,”not the “Life” of Frank—the text is no transparent window to a ‘content’ somehow untouched by the mediation of language. This foregrounding of language in the poems, with its many disjunctive strategies, leaving no possibility for the exclusive (and excluding) force of narrative closure--doesn’t eliminate narrative so much as radically equalizes it. In the language of the post linked here: refuses to reduce the ontological significance to a single element (the narrative as God, in which all else derives its Being), the difference alone which makes a difference.

All narratives, including the meta-narratives of philosophy: and narrative itself, has its genesis in myth, with its totalizing cosmic/human maps, locating the human in shifting intersections of nature and culture, implicitly and explicitly privileging the human, if not denying ontological status to the non-human, declaring it unknowable, or reducing it to a construct of mind.

We cannot free ourselves from the gods without leaving the house we have built for them. May philosophy and poetry lead us, hand in hand, out of the haunted house of our childhood to take our place beside, not above, the things of the universe.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Observation Exercises.

The previous post (Walk in Morris Park ) is an example of what I call observation exercises, a more open variation of the "camera's eye" assignment I would give to my students the first day of class. I sit on my porch or take a walk or ride the el and take notes of anything that registers on my senses, making space for associations and thought, but trying not to let these intrude too much, so not to distract my attention from the physical world around me.

I use these notes as a source for poems. More often than not, what was missed, what I left out but later remember, will figure more in the poem than what I wrote. My poems are more and more about ellipses, about the spaces between things. See "Three Views from my Front Porch (scroll down to page 5), HERE
Sometimes, as with this piece, the notes themselves resist further editing, satisfying in themselves whatever need I had to write them

March 25, 2010: A Walk in Morris Park

Two cop cars angle parked jut onto Broad Street in front of the South Philly Free Library. See only the feet of the cops other side of car. Who they are talking to I cannot see. Down steps out of the sunlight, over stained concrete, crumpled Marlboro box... man on horse in western garb dead of AIDS, through the gate and down again to the platform of the Morris-Tasker stop, Broad Street Subway. Young man on bench face terribly scarred, disfigured. Burns? Tumors post- surgery? Surgical scars on scalp under short cropped hair. Our eyes meet. I am his mirror. What does he see? Life of the mind and life of the body go their own ways. I am not as you see me. You are not what I see. Train roars into the station, rush of air from the tunnel. Inside, a woman. My eyes drawn to her beautiful face, her dark eyes. See in her youth my age. Possibilities that once would have plucked on the strings of my mind, no more. What does she see in the mirror of my face?

Off at City Hall. Up the narrow stairs, line of passengers rush past, shoulder me out of the way. My heavy Morris Park cane left on the porch. Would it be enough to defend against a flash mob? I see it twisted out of my hand, I am beaten to the ground. Who would come to may aid? Tall black man on the platform, 15th Street station. Painfully thin. Stick figure beneath his clothes. Long, delicate hands, fingers a cigarette. A white guy in a Phillies cap sees the smoke. Got a cigarette? Shakes head no. White guy walks past me, mumbles—for me to hear ? --faggot he says. I shake my head...contempt … for who to see? Cannot recognize myself in his mirror. Disappears into the crowd.

69th Street. 65 bus. Young man with a white folding cane, eyes turned inward. I am no mirror to him but he is mine. No classes waiting for me on campus this time. Not this time. Not for more than a year now. The buds of the magnolia by the library swell. I do not see them, but tell myself, the buds of the magnolia are swollen. Soon they will bloom, I tell myself, and in the mirror of my mind I see them in sunlight and rain. A man, huge, dark, takes the seat beside me… two seats. I slide into the corner, his thighs press against mine. Once I would have been able to easily outrun a man of such girth. Could I now? Sandals loose on my feet, this leg held in place by pins and screws. Why do I imagine a need to run? Why would I want to? Why would he want to harm me? He looms mountainous beside me. I am small. Mouse to elephant. Less than small in his eyes. Not even small. Not even that. He doesn’t see me at all, here, sitting beside him waiting. Waiting for my stop.

The grass of the golf course is full green. Almost April. A few trees in flower. Pink blossoms. Trees. Branches touched with green, buds, new leaves waiting to open. Saplings planted last fall, staked and tied. Prisoners. Dead leaves. They seem not to have survived the winter. How many winters left for me? How many springs? Passing Visions now. Spelled VIZIONS. Once McNamme's. Bar where I played pool. Beer and conversation. There, across the street, a man was shot. In front of the Chinese take-out. Man or boy. The wreaths, plastic crosses, rain-wet cards stuffed animals under the snow and sun when spring came—gone. All sign of them gone.

On the way to the park, forsythia and hyacinth. Yellow and violet. Mourning dove white trimmed tail flashing. In the woods, bloodroot in bloom, umbrella leaves folded. A few ranuculus. Soon a yellow carpet. More ranuculus than I remember on the lower path. Crowding out the spring beauty, delicate pink and white petals. Water rushing over rocks. Murmuring rapids, fallen leaves circling in eddies. Indian Creek. We the invaders crowded them out. Name for what was and no more. Not here. Not in these woods. Witch hazel in new leaf. Low shrubs I cannot name. Crows I hear but cannot see. Canes of raspberry. Strips of white plastic hanging from branches, caught between rocks in the stream. Mottled leaves of trout lily, tiny spears. Skunk cabbage. Japanese honeysuckle… more invasives. A flicker flickers past. Many robins still in flock… migrating further north. A puddle on the trail reflects a passing cloud, a tiny pale blue butterfly, my image on the water. I gaze into this shimmering mirror--whose face I see I do not know.

Litlove does Thornbirds

Vintage Litlove on The Thornbirds.
... essentially, Meggie’s story is one of suffering, interrupted by a brief interlude of forbidden love, which in turn must be ‘paid for’ with grief. This is Catholicism acting like a mafia loan shark; happiness comes on credit and must be settled by excessive interest payments.

Thank you, Litlove, for writing delicious reviews of books I will never ever be tempted to read myself.

Shouts from the Wall: Political Prints, Paintings, Posters

Exhibit in Philadelphia:

Three Just Seeds members have an exhibit opening this week in Philadelphia, if you're in town, join us! The exhibit features 50 posters and prints that document the world as we see it.

Opening Saturday March 27
6:00pm - 7:30pm
Leeway Foundation Office
1315 Walnut Street, Suite 832

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Philadelphia Weekly on CA Conrad

Philly's a great place for poetry, and Conrad is a BIG part of what's made it happen.



I have a beautiful Smith-Corona manual--portable with case. Need to replace the ribbon. Can't wait to take it to the B-2 Cafe where everyone is plugged into a laptop. Put my typewriter on a table, order coffee, and click and clack away!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Basic Fallacy of Conspiracy Theories

Short version: Sean Carroll on COSMIC VARIANCE

"What we see is not what there is. The wave function really exists, but we don’t see it when we look; we see things as if they were in particular ordinary classical configurations."

Conspiracy arguments amount to an accumulation of the observed: never questioning the relationship between observation and reality in itself, merely shuffling the observational deck and drawing conclusions from a rearranged, but equally flawed set of "facts."

The mistrust of the conspiracy theorists is superficial. They work with naively childish notions of both 'reason' and how to test (and to distinguish) received notions from reality--merely offering alternative versions for those received notions... by default, no more creative than looking at a mirror image and thinking the spacial or sequential reversal amounts to a reimagining of the origninal...when it is but a reorginization of the same. A profound failure of imagination, not it's confirmation.

Tried to post this on SAugisntine's Bunker... but got a comments closed at the end, and couldn't find where this was still open. So come join me here. I'm open comments too.

Mistrust as the Beginning of Thought

The following is a re-post of an earlier entry: (original Title "Silence Our Only Hope..." I wanted to add a few words explain my use of the word 'mistrust.'

Every word an individual believes to have originated out of his/her self is a vehicle of delusion, for what issues forth has equally... almost surely more than equally.. been ingested and regurgitated from a linguistic and cultural pool as broad and deep as the history of our babbling species, the effects of which return to that pool in the form of consequences, almost all unforeseen and beyond the control of the speaker.

Like Blake with his Muse--language will serve us... rather than we it, in a degree strictly proportionate to our mistrust of its powers, a mistrust that follows our recognition that it is never an instrument we can claim to own or control or bend to what we believe (deluded creatures that we are) to be our purpose and will. We speak, and others speak through us; they are numberless, and we do not know who they are or to what end we are being used.

I have relatively greater trust in the language of art precisely because it is a scam, and doesn't require me to believe otherwise to grant me the pleasure of  being lifted from the stream and redeposited more deeply disturbed than I was before the encounter.

What I've written here stands as demonstration of the depth of my disease, of the pathologically seductive power of language and my own helplessness in the grip of its powers... so much so that I find I'm in thrall of the sound of the words in my head and will, against all reason, likely copy and paste them--or some variant thereof--onto the back of the Dog.

Because language is always inadequate to its task, there is no end to the need to explain ourselves... or rather, what we have said. We respond with mistrust, not to dismiss, but to generate new language acts (speaking, writing, thinking).  Writing that lulls the reader to complacency, to a false sense of completion and closure, stifles this generative continuity. Better to let the seams and fissures of our arguments remain visible than to smooth them over. Poetry and philosophy, which must go beyond the given, are both weakened by a style so refined that they take on themselves the appearance of the given, lulling the reader to settled complacency. The kinds of disjunctive strategies I described HERE are more than stylistic devices; they are the structural fundaments of poetry's thinking-with-others.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Noam Chomsky: Health Care Bill

Sahil Kapur on The Raw Story

On the public option:

"It didn't have 'political support,' just the support of the majority of the population," Chomsky quipped, "which apparently is not political support in our dysfunctional democracy."

The provision has consistently polled well, garnering the support of sixty percent of Americans across the nation in a CBS/New York Times poll released in December, days after it was eliminated from the reform package. Democratic leaders deemed it politically untenable.

"There should be headlines explaining why, for decades, what's been called politically impossible is what most of the public has wanted," Chomsky said. "There should be headlines explaining what that means about the political system and the media."


Read the rest HERE

Silence is Our Only Hope: Silence, Impossible

Every word an individual believes to have originated out of his/her self is a vehicle of delusion, for what issues forth has equally... almost surely more than equally.. been ingested and regurgitated from a linguistic and cultural pool as broad and deep as the history of our babbling species, the effects of which return to that pool in the form of consequences, almost all unforeseen and beyond the control of the speaker.

Like Blake with his Muse--language will serve us... rather than we it, in a degree strictly proportionate to our mistrust of its powers, a mistrust that follows our recognition that it is never an instrument we can claim to own or control or bend to what we believe (deluded creatures that we are) to be our purpose and will. We speak, and others speak through us; they are numberless, and we do not know who they are or to what end we are being used.

I have relatively greater trust in the language of art precisely because it is a scam, and doesn't require me to believe otherwise to grant me the pleasure of  being lifted from the stream and redeposited more deeply disturbed than I was before the encounter.

What I've written here stands as demonstration of the depth of my disease, of the pathologically seductive power of language and my own helplessness in the grip of its powers... so much so that I find I'm in thrall of the sound of the words in my head and will, against all reason, likely copy and paste them--or some variant thereof--onto the back of the Dog.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Disjunctive Stratagies: Journal Notes Morning After a Reading

Last night’s reading at Brickbat Books: Stan Mir. Voice over.. or voice-under—poetics as a running associative commentary on objects-ideas-events passing through the mind-field, tripping off little explosions on the page: syntax only partly disjunctive. Sentences: declarative, interrogative, occasional fragments, sometimes clusters of fragments.

Disjunctions located between phrasal units.

Beginning to note and classify disjunctive strategies as I listen to poets read—simply because it’s often so much more difficult to follow at a reading than on the page. Certain features begin to stand out—how is this poet different than that one?

Poetic taxonomy.

Sarah Dowling's  syntactical amputations ( ). Resist internal closures, holding structures open at a grammatical level, inviting reader/audience to complete the interrupted sentence, phrase, ‘idea.’

For CA Conrad, there are parallel disjunctions: associational (the surrealist heritage, with free association primarily on the macro-level, creating structural coherence (his Somatic Exercises)on a second level with breaks in explicit and implied narrative/thought lines—maintained through transformative variations—lines spliced sutured resectioned around suggested ellipses.

Ryan Eckes and Brandon Holquest both draw on conversational disjunction—structures developed as internally evolving generative dialog.

So many forms of this—so many kinds of fault-lines: the disjuncture of qualification (“we don’t misunderstand hours but don’t misunderstand them” (Keven Varrone : Passyunk Lost) , or reversal, or figurative re-assignment: metaphor and simile as layered dissimulation—comparative incommensurates.

I consider the possibility of developing this as a thesis with supporting examples, then quickly dismiss the idea. It’s about fine tuning my ear. Becoming a more attentive and discriminating listener. Theory and thesis seriously stated demand defense, revision, reconfiguration—all of which cling to the same idea. Prefer to trash an idea before it fossilizes. An imprint is wax tossed into the fire to make room for another. Let both poetry and criticism remain uncommital… or rather, committed only to the next poem, the next idea. Prefer to leave the academics to arrange the bones of the dead.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Beyond the Exceptional: the proper subject for poetry.

We remember the exceptional, and because that’s what we remember, we come to believe it’s the exceptional that matters, the exceptional that changes our lives. Perhaps this is so—that the course of daily habits and beliefs are from time to time, altered by exceptional events (June 21, 2004 certainly did change my life), but change from what… to what? To answer that question through the lens of “life-changing” events, conflates everything in between to a cipher lost to memory, leaves the influence and importance of most of the days and hours of our lives, unaccounted for.

We skim over the surface as though untouched—mind-bubbles floating over reality—until the bubble pops and we feel ourselves again prisoners of gravity. How many of those exceptional events are but the cumulative consequence of forgotten moments? Half unconscious habits of indulgence and neglect? The numberless cigarettes, not one of which we can remember lighting. The spot on the lung that follows

Popular novels, films, advertisements—most of what passes as news, depends on and reinforces belief in the importance of the exceptional. No poet, no artist of consequence can afford to be so blind, so unmindful of our momentary, day to day reality—if for no other reason, because nothing provides material so suitable for propaganda, ready-made to fashion collective insanity. If we think that attention to the quotidian minutia of life, that attending to otherwise forgotten moments is boring, it’s so only because we’ve failed to engage those moments with mind and imagination, because we’ve not paid sufficient attention.

Last night I was thumbing through a book on Cézanne. The reproductions included, not only the familiar still-lifes and landscapes, but many of his earlier paintings: attempts to achieve the gravity and force of classical paintings by using culturally important subjects: Christ in Limbo, Leda and the Swan. These paintings are now of interest largely as failures that indicate to greater or lesser degree what he was later to achieve. His goal must have been clear to him, but the subjects failed to achieve their purpose. What was missing, if not the fullness of engagement so visible in those paintings of pears and apples and rather humble landscapes? He had not yet discovered that a painting of fruit on a table, if one but paid sufficient attention, was no less profound than a figure from classical mythology or an image of a Madonna and child, or that every hour of every day, Mt. Saint-Victoire was created anew.

A poet may write of the horrors of war, of the aberrations of political corruption and brutality, but observations of life on a city street, of the intricacies of language or the peculiarities of popular speech, the foibles of everyday life--are no less relevant or important, and we may be more likely to find the root causes of war and suffering and visions of a better future there than in what passes as the great events in the history of our time.

I’m reminded of a poem by Christopher Seid ( Death of Cézanne), published in The Beloit Poetry Journal, 1990.  I've not been able to find an address for Mr. Seid. If he finds his way here and objects to my printing his poem, I will remove it.

Death of Cézanne
Pressing his palms to one
of the elders' houses -- cliff side,
anemic terra-cotta cracking
in summer's kiln -- he stands

in the garden surrounded by irises
nodding like skulls on flimsy
spines, under pears burning
in their darkened palatial trees.

One cloud steers slowly
as a freighter off the sun.
Pitch pines teeter like old women
into his view of Mt. Saint-Victoire.

Returning to his easel from a day
of wandering the foothills alone,
he carries what he's gathered,
the familiar objects of waking:

Peaches in a wooden bowl, blue
as the day-old dead. A worm

blossoms from an apple -- its crowned head
devouring the globe-world territory.

A tar-dense Burgundy, uncorked
in the porch sun, sours in oriental glass.

As Provençal tapestries dissolve
into evening ash, peppermint oil spills
from a cracked Majolica pitcher.
Oranges levitate among lemons.

Standing at his easel in the cold,
he awaits the first fires of daylight
to spring from dark's smoky fleece.

Last night, he says, they came for him
as bathers; stepping from the lake,
they baptized him in trees. Sprinkling

fig sap over his beard, they fed him
from the ram's horn: the marrow
of slaughtered evenings, azalea's

purple eye-grass, the bone-white ruins
on the terraced slopes. Fed him
crushed tubers of cobalt, the path

cobbled with acorns and shale,
blackbirds and small goats gathered
in pasture. Fed him the blizzard

of pear blossoms, rain of mayflies,
those farmhouses like sailboats
stranded on the horizon. Fed him,

stone by stone, Mt. Saint-Victoire

Friday, March 19, 2010

Comments on Edmond Caldwell's Return to the Chateau

On Harp & Alter
The hill on which the hotel stood was like an island, except instead of the sea it was surrounded by tarmac. There was the little tarmac of the motorways and the big tarmac of the runways of the Charles de Gaulle Airport, and like the sea there was hissing and roaring, audible from this distance, among the hotels on the hill. If he shut the window he couldn’t hear the hissing and roaring because the windows were treble-paned, probably for just this purpose, he reasoned. The small hotel room felt entirely self-contained, like a pressurized cabin.

As it begins so it continues. Notice the meticulous attention to physical detail, the mediating and disassociative use of comparative similes ("like an island, except instead of the sea..."), and the minimal, repeated phrase "he reasoned" used to reference the surrogate POV channeled by the observer/narrator (who is rendered more visible later in the piece). Three elements, which Stephen Augustine aptly compares to thematic jazz riffs or contrapuntal voices of a fugue, their shifting relationship and interdependence being the essential subject rather than the things described or the action of the narrative.

For the past few months I've been preoccupied with similar concerns--ideas which have become central to my recent poems. As in the March 18 poem HERE, I will begin with a direct observation--in this case,  the rooftops... immediately altered in mind to a geometric figure of parallel lines receding toward their vanishing point, and from there, the recollection of Plato's description of Socrates drawing a geometric figure in sand to illustrate a point about the relationship between an Idea and its manifestation (though his toe replaced the stick he's said to have used because of other references to his habit of going barefoot); the generative force here being the tension created by an effort to stick to the physical--description of 'things,' and the intrusion of mind--as in Caldwell's story, in the form of suggested comparisons, which begin as spontaneous associations ("like an island"), and are then developed ('reasoned') into figurative conceits (from island to sea to the sounds of the sea to the sounds of traffic), and 'reason' as the compulsion to 'explain' what one has observed. In my poem, this latter reasoning is confined to a single line... a conjecture as to why the sparrows have broken their winter silence. Caldwell's story holds both figuration and reasoning to a disciplined subjection to physical detail, where my poem loses it... drifting off into chains of daydreaming associations. In each case, the controlling aesthetic idea takes the impossibility of unmediated perception as a given, and goes about generating structures around the interwoven elements: perceived object/action, associative context, and explanation.

New Philadelphia Poets: Spring Schedule

New Philadelphia Poets
Spring 2010 Lineup!

Friday, March 19 9 pm - Mostly Books Inaugural Reading! Featuring Marion Bell, Bela Shayevich, Leeann Thomas & The Neo-Baroque Variety Hour at Mostly Books (529 Bainbridge St, between 5th and 6th). Free. BYOB.

Saturday, March 27 11:30 am - 5 pm - Poet’s Salon at the Rainbow Book Fair, CUNY Graduate Center, 5th Avenue and 34th Street, NYC. Hosted/Coordinated by Nathaniel Siegel and Regie Cabico. Featuring poetry readings by Debrah Morkun, Ana Bozicevic, Amy King, Bill Kushner, Gregory Laynor, Timothy Liu, Douglas A. Martin, Moonshine Shorey, Emanuel Xavier, Rachel Zolf, and many others.

Sunday, March 28 7 pm - NPP benefit/dinner party/open mic for Molly’s Bookstore at Molly’s Bookstore featuring Joe Roarty from Philadelphia and Luis Humberto Valadez from Chicago. FREE DINNER! $10.00 suggested donation for bookstore renovations. BYOB and poems to share. More details here.

Thursday, April 8 7:30 pm - Debrah Morkun and Brandon Holmquest read at Blend at the Blue Banana Cafe. Further details TBA.

Thursday, April 15 7:00 pm - Come celebrate Poetry Month with a grand poetry party at a warehouse full of books! Readers include: Robert Snyderman, Christopher Sweeney, Gregory Bem, Brandon Holmquest...more TBA. Come to BookSpace (formerly Philadelphia Book Company), 1113 Frankford Avenue in Fishtown!
Friday, April 16 9 pm - Patrick Lucy and Debrah Morkun read at Mostly Books, 529 Bainbridge Street. Further details TBA.

Friday, April 23 NPP Presents readings by Zachary Schomburg, Cynthia Arrieu-King, & Sasha Fletcher + Poem-films by Schomburg. Details TBA.

Saturday, May 1 NPP Presents Sueyeun Juliette Lee & Erica Kaufman. Details TBA.

Saturday, May 8 NPP Presents Eric Ekstrand, Hannah Gamble & Sean Bishop. Details TBA.

Sunday, May 23 NPP Presents Jamie Townsend, Catherine Theis, Jared Stanley, and Lauren Levin. Details TBA.

Tuesday, June 15 NPP Presents Andrew Schelling ,Tyler Doherty and Sarah Heady. Details TBA.

Plus, there's more in the works--check our events page for the most up-to-date information!

New Philadelphia Poets

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Democracy: Antithesis of American Post-Capatilist Corpratocracy

Worth quoting: . I've run across this quite a lot lately, an often implied, sometimes explicit assumption that democracy and the American political system are synonymous. I hope Levi Bryant's brief post over at Larval Subjects will be followed by a serious discussion.

In discussions of French inflected Marxist political theory I often get the sense that democracy is treated as a dirty word or the contrary of Marxism. The subtext seems to be that somehow neoliberalism and democracy are one and the same thing, or that the concept of democracy is identical to the actually existing system of something like American “democracy”. I find this idea very odd. For me Marxism and communism are synonyms for democracy, and the issues that motivate Marxist activists arise from the fact that our actually existing governmental systems aren’t democratic enough. Equating democracy with American “democracy” is like equating socialism with Stalinist socialism. In both cases we have an utter perversion of the political concept and the precise opposite of what these things are supposed to be. What am I missing?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Language and Myth

One day, the literary critic Roland Barthes went into the barber’s and was given a copy of the magazine Paris-Match to read while he waited. It was the 1950s and France was involved in a bitter war of independence with Algeria, a country it had colonized in the 19th century. On the front cover of the magazine was a picture of a young black boy wearing French uniform and making a smart, fierce salute. Barthes found himself profoundly discomforted; he knew he was in the presence of a certain way of reading that was prevalent in society, exploited ruthlessly by the media, but false, unethical and plain wrong. He realized that the magazine was trying to tell him something: that both black and white served equally under the French flag, that the nation was a proud empire, not an oppressive colonizing power, and that the detractors who said so were not to be trusted. Here, in this young boy’s salute, was there not the proof of racial harmony?

So begins a Post by litlove on Tales from the Reading Room. Read the rest HERE

Were I still teaching, I’d give copies of this to my Eng. comp students end of the fall term: final assignment: a paper examining the myth of the American Xmas.

I never fail to be appalled at the infantile images and symbols of the season and what they imply about our notions of childhood–-how the erasure of real memory of what it was like to be a child fosters a need for a mythical substitute, which adults than impose on their children in a form impossible for them to resist. It’s this need to reinforce this erasure that itself underlies and is primary to the more obvious commercial exploitation. A moment’s reflection is enough to recognize the irrational messages in ads, but the sources of the anxiety, the fears, the need these irrational messages exploit is not so easy to unpack. Never just one thing–-loose threads on the knitted hologram. Keep pulling and the whole social, political cultural structure comes tumbling down, exposed for what we have become: poor howling suicidal animals squatting on the garbage heap of history.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Why do I keep thinking about silence--a word we can know nothing about, or know only as we know death: as metaphor, surmise, the nothingness that frames the span of our life, the before and after beyond experience, experience that is always filled with signs, signs that may not speak but are never silent. I think of the silence of the woman pouring milk. It is hers, in that room before that window, in the light that caresses her, in the shadows that surround her, but it is not ours. Vermeer doesn't give us silence. He reminds us of the presence of something we cannot know. The silence is in the painting, not in us; we know it only as an absence that draws us out of ourselves, like the silence that frames the lines of a poem. We read the words, read to the end of the line, to the end of the poem and encounter there that same absence. We call it silence, but the silence is on the page, in the white spaces between the words, it is not in us. It is never ours. Never. We say that we have come from silence, as we will return to silence. But our saying this is an admission that between birth and death there is no silence. Not for single second. Look into the eyes of an animal and you will see it--the impenetrable silence we are not permitted to enter, and if we were, if we could (perhaps again, as in dreamless sleep) we would emerge (again) with no trace, no memory of where we had been, no knowledge that we had been there. Is it possible, then, that we do enter into this silence, which we neither experience, nor know nor remember; is silence the dark matter of our being--dark energy that does not interact, or only weakly with our voluble lives? We are left always with this intimation that there is something more, but we can never know or name what lies beyond it. How many times have I fallen through without knowing, into the silence, losing everything? Erased from the lives of others. Not even alone. Remembering nothing...  

Thursday, March 4, 2010


I was asked to do an on-line 'interview" (a series of rather broad questions... more of an "inter-type," HERE. These exercises, besides appealing to one's narcissistic side, can be useful; they do invite the type-ee to reflection (in this case, on why I spend so much time on the Barking Dog, which garners me neither fame nor fortune... not that I've ever gone out of my way to earn either.
There is apparently a vote/popularity/promotional aspect to this, which might or might not interest visiting bloggers. I have no idea how one gets invited to do one of these.
A second look at this site--while it doesn't scam you for money, sets up your interview with links to cheesy wannabe writers ads--using the post for promoting stuff I would never choose to associate with.
I suggested they should make an effort to match the promos to the individual... why not independent small publishers, for instance...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Philly Poetry

David Alpaugh ( New Math of Poetry The Chronicle Review of Higher Education) goes over what’s become all too familiar in both print and the blogosphere —another end-of-the-world-of-poetry-as-we’ve-known-it article. To his credit, Alpaugh goes into considerably more detail than is the norm, and while he avoids lamentations for the fallen hierarchy, doesn't cry for a new order of gatekeepers, he still locates contemporary poets as dislocated exiles from a world that no longer exists, which—even though he doesn't particularly hanker for its return, leaves him without a sense of what has happened or what it means. Not surprising, absent a secure idea to guide him (or maybe more important--without the kind of vibrant community we have in Philly), so he turns to statistics… and is dismayed. By the sheer numbers. An inundation of Biblical Proportions… Billions and Billions of poets, god help us!

I’m not going to summarize. If you're interested, I recommend you read the article. What Alpaugh shares with the more pessimistic and deprecating commentators is an implied assumption that poets are helpless ninnies quite unable to sort matters out and define our proper literary role without the aid of our Betters, who can be almost anyone as long as they are not themselves afflicted with the lamentable condition of being poets.

The broadest category of fixers are all those people who don’t read poetry… or read at all (you see, I wasn't exaggerating... any and everyone). If only, the argument goes, if only you poets would write stuff that anybody could understand and enjoy—you would be saved! Poetry would be saved!  As though people who don't like to read aren't swamped with opportunities for entertainment. How raising a few poets to Rock Star celebrity status is going to save anyone, I have no idea. Celebrity sure hasn't helped Britney Spears be a better singer—or Lindsey Lohan an actor, or saved either drama or the musical arts by opening a pipeline from artists to the masses.

The other, only marginally more sophisticated complaint (though favored by the relatively well educated) is the Lost Gatekeeper Lament. What you poets need are Cotton Mather critics—to sort out the wheat from the chaff (god knows, poets can’t tell trash from treasure!), to chastise the wastrels, drive the sinners from the fold—till only the Pure and Righteous Laborers in the Hallowed Fields of Litrashur are left to lay the Golden Eggs of Everlasting Poetic Merit. As religion masks for class, so too the Gatekeepers, who,  claiming their sole concern is aesthetics, ignore how closely their tastes define class fault lines.

Then there’s those damn MFA programs churning out poets like … I don't know, metaphors fail me.I can work up my share of indignation on this one, for different reasons--but I won't. Cause that's not where I see the real action. Alpaugh has quite a bit to say on this in his essay, The Professionalization of Poetry.
Here in Philly I view this from a different perspective. There are a lot of poets in Philly—but ya know what? Most aren't MFA grads. Many weren't even English majors, and those who were—the best of them—the ones who are serious—not about being poets—but writing poetry, hang out at the same readings with poets who found their way to poetry from anyplace but academia—and it doesn’t matter. Where you came from, I mean. Where or whether you have a degree or a teaching position. There are overlapping circles of poets in Philly—it would take a multi-ringed Venn diagram to map them all out. In the last year alone I’ve heard more than 40 poets at readings (not counting the 56 who read at the MLA Offsite event)—I can name dozens off the top of my head, and not one has ever mentioned how worried they are about this really scary lack of gatekeepers, or how lost they are without Cotton Mather Critics to show them who counts and who don’t.
What do we do? We listen to one another. In public readings and private gatherings. We read poetry, search out our contemporaries, search for voices and critical ideas that excite us to write, that challenge us to emulate the best, to go beyond what we were doing last year and the year before. There is a process here of self-winnowing that the Woeful Lamentors don’t see, don’t get. Isn't this what poets have always done—judged themselves, sometimes alone, often together, where the one goal that matters most everyone holds in common, no matter how diverse our voices and styles: where is the next poem coming from? What have we done lately and where are we going, and how can we help each other to get there? Yes, there’s competition—but there’s no point system, no measure but the needle of that internal compass that each poet must read alone.

Maybe years from now people will talk about a Philadelphia School, or movement—a Philly Renaissance—who knows. If so, it will likely be defined by a select few of the many poets who are part of this moment, and the Gatekeepers of the dead will hold them up and ask—why oh why aren’t there real poets like that now! What we need, they’ll cry, are ideals, standards, rules to cut the bad poets from the heard! But the living poets will know better. They will listen. They will read. They will challenge and inspire one another—and if there are more poets than can ever be published or rise to fame—so be it!

You say, (counting and counting), what are we to do? There are too many poets!

I say, with William Blake: Bring out number, weight and measure in a year of dearth.

In the year 2010, in the City of William Penn and Ben Franklin and Louis Kahn and Thomas Eakins and Philly Jo Jones and CA Conrad and Frank Sherlock and Rachel Blau DuPlessis and… and…and… and… and… and …

Ain’t no fucking dearth in sight!

Monday, March 1, 2010