30 June, 2013

Waterloo Sunset


It is a sick masterpiece of a song. Lachrymose, sure—  the dirty old river flowing into the night— all settled from a window.

I hate you, Ray!

And the small napoleons wept when they counted the bodies.

A new colour raptured into the silky frocks of the English countree side: the blue blush before mort blood
meets air and soaks into cow pasture; it is lost now— merely abstraction, a fucked smear stranded on singing the wine dark epos, or secreted in the range between red and green;

For a time the smart sapphire hue at the quadrille matched the eyes of that bright, victorious tint the English fashionistas called ‘Waterloo blue’…

Ray gazed at that dizzy sunset and said as much as any could ask. Here he was, was a clock without hands.  

Byron sd to Moore, “It is a Waterloo of an Alphabet.” Here he was, was a cock with a fan.
Sherlock sd, “We have not yet met our Waterloo, Watson, but this is our Marengo.”  He was, was a.
Julie sd, “That’s so optimistic. That’s still a Paradise.” Was, was.

Terry sd, “Waterloo sunset’s fine.” Was.

I’m turning it up, the pigeons are cooing in the junipers, and it’s the same sound!

29 March, 2013

Super Community (3.13.13 - 3.29.13)

Artist Jamie Grill's painting of antibiotic-resistant super gonorrhea


the concept
the word

Is one fortunate enough to find oneself in dialogue with others who speak the same language, which is to say, who share "values"?


Primary: that the presumed goal of community is wrong and probably cannot be attained. The latter because individual vision challenges what has previously existed as a factor (agreed upon image) for unity.


Is one fortunate enough to find oneself in dialogue with those who are "open" to the language of one?

Open does not mean persuadable. Openness is a kind of hearing with enthusiasm.


 Individual vision, when it's first presented, must be perceived as a threat, actually as something promoting disunity.


With hairlike structures that extend from the cell surface, [super gonorrhea] scavenges DNA that has been cast loose by the death or dissolution of other microbes, and incorporates them into its own DNA.


How much of community is a consequence of chance and intersection, and how much of it has one built?

If one has little agency in building community, and community does not speak one's language, nor is community open to enthusiastically hearing (and not necessarily being persuaded but open to being influenced or happily defining itself against one's language), then what is one's relationship to such a community?

It is exhausting to speak one's language to those who are not open.

One does not want to proselytize.

It is exhausting to audit resistance.

Middle ground is simply the encounter and not the exchange.  Never confuse contact or encounter as exchange. These are very different activities.

And then it becomes clear that one is better expressed as you.


Yes, you don't want to be angry or disillusioned. You thank Scott for saying to hang in there.To hang in there is to be suspended above the fray.


Agamben, in The Coming Community, sees community as linguistic. In Agamben, you learn Dante classifies human languages by their way of saying yes.


One bottle of "Nice!" Spring Water says "Source": 

Sugar Pine Spring (Sugar Pine, CA), White Meadow Spring (Pacific House, CA), Baxter Natural Spring Water (Baxter, CA)


Sections 2 and 4: John Taggart, "Code of Signals: 12.31.82" from Code of Signals: Recent Writings in Poetics, ed. Michael Palmer

Section 5: Jerome Groopman, "Sex and the Superbug: The Rise of Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea." The New Yorker, Oct. 1, 2012.

08 March, 2013

Apostrophe Books Still Accepting Manuscripts!

The clock is ticking down folks.... three more weeks of accepting manuscripts for 2013!

03 March, 2013

Michael Cross's Blog

Received an email from the Berkeley Ecopoetics Conference people (the BECP) today. I've been planning on writing a posting about my experiences there, but I don't have the time now. However, Michael Cross, who I knew back in the day, has a blog where he has posted some information about some of the panels.


Michael, sorry I didn't cross paths with you... but I love your blog, and I'll be following it from now on... 

08 October, 2012

O, the Blog

It's always in the state of the un-actualized. I resent you, blog, for reminding me of what I have not made time for. This has been a case of disconnect from self as well as giving too much time to other endeavors that matter. But honestly, Ive made mistakes in what I have committed time toward. I want it to be more, always.

11 May, 2012

Les Lesbiennes vs. Les Limbes vs. Les Fleurs du Mal

Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal was originally intended to be titled Les Lesbiennes, when he conceived of the book as engaged with Sappho and female grosteques. Allegorical figures in the book include feminized death, beauty, pain, madness, and night. The book features the prevalence of many women literary and mythological figures, including Circe, Diana, Echo, Eurydice, Venus, Cybele, Proserpine, Delphine, Hippolyta, Lethee, Elvira, and Lady Macbeth. The “damned women” of Lesbos in particular seem appropriate for Baudelaire’s ideas of societal repression, but he also characterizes dandyism as a kind of permission granted by his mother and Jeanne Duval. Later, he announced the title of the book would be Les Limbes, which would have contextualized these poems much more overtly with Dante's The Inferno. While there may be an argument that the women are really a secondary level to the book, and that the book shifted over time to one emphasizing a moral slippage toward evil itself, learning this recently about the three titles, I can't help but think Baudelaire had other possibilities in mind: Limbo (the edge of hell) is where virtuous atheists and agnostics go when they die. Here exists an eternal "salon" of poets and philosophers (Homer, Ovid, Lucan, Virgil, Aristotle, Socrates) welcoming Baudelaire to their number, as they had welcomed Dante before him. Baudelaire expected to be exiled in "hell" by a moral Christian audience for publishing the book. Hippolyte Babou convinced Baudelaire that Les Fleurs du Mal captured a "submlime" quality of "blooming evil." The constantly shifting titles reflects how the book (and the author's attitudes toward it) changed over time. In the frontispiece above, Baudelaire has written some interesting notes, including a disingenuous comment about his "shock" to see the word "poesies" attributed to the work.

03 July, 2011


Merced, California: abandoned Riverstone housing development. From http://johnsville.blogspot.com/2008_08_01_archive.html

Growth used to be growth before it ate itself. The names do not matter— it never had roots. These are skeletal frames—the hammers stopped midswing—the crash. Plywood paneling bakes in the sun, garages gaping empty, septic tanks unburied, unpremeditated, backhoe toothmarks in the dirt unfinished rooms, unliving. No day is named. Striated clouds pass over. The wind scissors through the toothpick houses. Someone once hallucinated through the treated slats toward the murmuring, unfazed crickets whose reverie supercedes again. Nothing projects from human mouths. But the human is amplified here. A campfire ring—some older habitation—in the scrub south of the ruin. Permanence is vanity. But there is insecurity in the indefinite. It will last, but for how long? 

(From a prose poem in process)


29 June, 2011


To draw blisters. E. Chieranthodes L. (WORM-SEED MUSTARD.) Grew along the branching banks of the river, a blanched yellow, along coarse ditch rocks. Streams of grey water diverged away and back into the mass stream. Often flowers came in July or August, their leaves lancing out angled low, last of the spring to show, mustard and minutely, and came its narrow annual run of pods opened perennially in pedicels, beeports, roughish places, erect, resembling many things I supposed but caught in the S sound, slender scarce small short ascending from the sterile soil with a stem of simple thickness obtusely toothed in the entirety, far from the sea, very.

06 April, 2011

Pyramid of Capitalism

Found on Thomas Pynchon's Hideyhole (Aaron McCollough). Who knows where he found it...

05 April, 2011

Green Fields

Recently, I encountered this piece by the German visual artist Matthias Blitzer through an RSS feed that I had long ago subscribed to. I found coincidence in the title "Green Fields" and that it presents a "poem" and that it features the word "trace." It led me to look up other work by the artist, and so far, I like this work very much. According to the Georg Kargl Fine Arts Gallery in Vienna, Matthias Blitzer's

works emerge in the play between the media of painting, sculpture, and drawing. The core is the engagement with the formal and thematic contrasts of abstract and figurative representation. Taking a new perspective on classical modernism, the artist combines portraits and geometric constructions and often takes recourse to the formal language, stories, and intellectual historical contexts of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His works refer often to historical biographies, somewhat outside history, whose displacements and uniqueness he condenses to form a magically-mystically charged visual cosmos. Interested in the relationship between the invisible and the real, he layers symbolic fragments and formal splittings on top of one another like quotes, and divorces them from their original cultural spatial and temporal context. In this reversal of principles of modernism, at issue for Mathias [sic] Bitzer is the existential question of the construction of identity.
One point of reference in the piece, the phrase "explore infinite exile," may have something to do with a series the artist worked on called "The Seasick Sailor" which has as its focus Joseph Conrad. He did another series focused on Emmy Ball-Hennings. I looked at a few Ball-Hennings poems translated into English, and I suspected she might be the source of the poem, but I couldn't confirm it. It certainly doesn't sound like Conrad. A monograph by Gregor Jansen only adds to the ambiguity:

The combination of the invisible and the real is a theme of symbolism. In a new look at classical modernism, Matthias Bitzer combines portraits and geometric constructions in drawings, paintings, and sculptures; seemingly befallen by a melancholic reverie, these works actually illustrate the transition of object and space as painting and furthermore serve as an interface between the decoration of the constructive, an ornamental aspect, and a broken stringency vis-à-vis the formal aspect of the material. The artist himself once referred to a "decoded reality."

In these new works on Les visages de la Mademoiselle Demimonde a transcendence in the application of paint leads to a subjective veiling of the abstractly concrete. The works in this exhibition, intended as a series (and perhaps as a trilogy), refer to Emmy Ball-Hennings (1885-1948), actress, poet, prostitute, muse, model, and co-founder of Dadaism. This interplay secures a reconsideration of modernity in the present view on the future as an incomplete process. The mixing of fiction and reality as impressively expressed in Ball Henning's often autobiographical writings, interwoven with inventions and additions, is given a visual equivalent. All the same, the multiple identity, the multiplicity of her person is more a psychological matter that is removed from time, by no means serving to present a biography. Bitzer often refers in his works to historical persons who find themselves in an outsider position; he grants them an iconic presence, keeping the psychology of these protagonists ambivalent on the surface and allowing something magical-mystical to become manifest between things. The splittings, cuts, curvatures, layerings, and threadbare quality, as in a sculpture made of shellac, emphasize this in exchange with the decorporealized angel or ghost like presence of Emmy Ball-Hennings. A sometimes imperfect execution and use of raw canvas is latently evident as a human dimension and a corrective to a conceptual approach.

For Matthias Bitzer, this reversal of the principles of modernism – the decay of old forms in the sense of iconoclasm – revolves around the existential question of the construction of identity. What constitutes an identity? What happens when a person lives the biography of someone else, when one uses various masks? Les visages de la Mademoiselle Demimonde, the wife of Hugo Balls, attest in this exhibition to the fascination with abstract and figurative representation in art, society, and nature. By removing and recombining components, the cultural organization of space and time is dissolved.

The origin of the geometric formal language lies in the radical currents of Italian futurism, in particular Giacomo Balla. The role of the woman in futurism before the backdrop of emotionality is a recurring theme in Bitzer's work. "What is the essence of the image?," Emmy seems to be asking. In the flowers of the rare cactus that only blooms once in its life as a "queen of the night," we recognize death, not its own, but that of art, that with Adorno hopes in this way to survive. Needless to say, this cactus does not exist. The indefinite indeed, but this usually looks usually quite different, less fictive and less beautiful, in the words of Matthias Bitzer – in a geometric realm: I used her skin as my skin to walk through the fire!

Such is where the procession took me.

09 March, 2011

Duck River Latitudes

I had some new poems recently published at the journal Common-Place, which is sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society. Poet Robert Strong (of Lewiston, Maine) curates a feature (among all of that interesting historical research on Antinomians!) called "Poetic Research" which publishes work by poets who are using historical sources in their work. I'm excited by a new piece in the feature by Sarah Messer, particularly a poem titled "Flower of the Standard Talking Machine," which is a collage poem of titles from a 1910 record catalogue.

My own poems are an excerpt from a larger series titled "Duck River Latitudes" which follows hundreds of miles of the Duck River in central Tennessee. Particularly, I am interested in a section of the river known as "Greenfield Bend," which was where my ancestors had developed three very large plantations from about 1812-1903. I discuss my interests in the project as well as the process of writing this series (among others sources, I have used Google Maps, a canoeist's map, records of floods, and a local field guide). For a time, I was obsessed with the manuscript for these poems. I traveled to the location three different times to gather documents and sources. I have accumulated more material than I've had time to read or to think about. Indeed, I need to transcribe over 100 pages of correspondence that was microfiched before it was destroyed by the county. The original paper was very thin, so I can see the tiny immaculate cursive handwriting slanting both ways (the camera caught the writing on the back of each sheet). Stunning as image--and as palimpsest--the pages are difficult to read. I have not attempted yet to start the transcription. Perhaps there is graduate student in history at NMSU who would want to do it for the (no pay) experience. The fact I'm not thinking of doing it myself is an indicator of how disinterested I've become in the project. I'm at the point where I need to be able to write a poem without thinking of its role within a larger concept, so I just write poems, and the Duck River series is on hold for now. My other concern has been: is it just scenery? Yes, there is a way in which I feel compelled by my relation to the place. But is it enough? For a while now I've been reading in connection to this project: C.S. Giscombe, Williams (Paterson), W.G. Sebald, James Agee (Let Us Praise Famous Men); Eleni Sikelianos (The California Poem); Charles Olson (of course, Maximus);  A.R. Ammons (especially Garbage); Brenda Coultas ("A Bowery Project"); Brenda Ijima's Eco-Language Reader; Lisa Robertson's Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture; and a stack too tall to list now. The point is, I've lost interest suddenly, but I feel good about it because I can simply write again. 

Here is an excerpt:

Mile 99
087° 15’ 51” W

End of Shelby Bend/Old Church’s Bend
  and I went
sucking into the patchwork
    birds, crested while they
sung in the beeches
    hung over the river
no one remembers
  the rationale of the names
  of these places, I was finally
    in the sun-honeyed detour
  of the last twenty miles of history 
    on the aerial map
faint wagon tracks
    ended at the shores
  shores. What can be said
about this analogy? I see
  the cobble of my life
the loud welcome of the future?
  I want to ping solemnly into
the sixpenny leaves
  with the northern flickers
unable to dust out the mites?

this is the sum—
at the known sturgeon hole
  dropping bait
into a black green window
into the current
  where you reflected
a combination of happy and sad
  sublime is
a delicately braided explanation
      in the genes
to tackle it
  to demand more from it
be the outsider
  you needed to un-bend 
  a bethlehem cloud formed far away (thunder behind its threat)
your stomach was speaking its own needs
  you wanted to slay every impulse
    you hesitated
      you insisted

To read more, click here

04 December, 2010

Eucalyptus Carvers

If you're in the Los Angeles area, or within driving distance tomorrow, think about visiting Eucalyptus Carvers, a poetic happening at Elysian Park, which provacateurs Matthew Hebert, Jared Stanley, and Gabie Strong describe as "a walk-through poem, a labyrinth, a chorus of eucalyptus nymphs." The site engages with "California’s ubiquitous, troubling, and iconic invasive trees, the Eucalyptus." The event happens from 11-1 pm. They recommend good footwear. For more information, go to http://www.epmoa.org/.

19 September, 2010

Joshua McKinney's The Novice Mourner

The Novice MournerThe Novice Mourner by Joshua McKinney

Published by Bear Star Press in 2005, this is a book of elegiac and self-aware poems, often about childhood, but particularly focused on the relationship between son and father. I say "self-aware" because these poems tend to signal the awareness on the speaker's part that he is constructing his story and his territory of past. The first poem, "Quick," instructs, "To tell it correctly,/ one must give/ all the information at once.// A boy sits sick in a poem..." Or from later in the book: "I am not arguing the recollected/ sun is warm. The center/ and circumference of memory opens/ a small door..." or, later: "The first concerns discomfort at finding/ my father (a decade dead) in poems." But for all of this overt commentary on the act of writing, the poems are restrained, subtle, and smart. There are archetypal moments connected to logic-- as in the movement from "What the body knows is its convenience/ and the abolished is betrayal of its house" to "In my brain's bare tree/ my dead cat clambers." Lastly, there is a strangely dissonant section in the middle of the book, a series of third-person prose vignettes ("Gun") that remind me of the kind of writing Hemingway did in the Nick Adams stories. They feel very story-driven-- concise, scaled, and of a different potential than the poems. Given how overt the poems can be about the act of writing, it is not difficult to imagine that this enacts another route the book might have gone. Its raw placement at the center of the book resonates against McKinney's refined lyric.

View all my reviews

12 September, 2010

Reading at Poets House--New York--Fri Oct 1

I'll be reading in New York on Friday Oct. 1. Here is the press release from Omnidawn:

Please join us for
Omnidawn’s Celebration/Reading
at Poets House, New York,
Friday, October 1st, 6-9pm
(Readings will begin by 6:15pm)
The evening will include readings by these Omnidawn authors:
George Albon
Norma Cole
Gillian Conoley
Justin Courter
Richard Greenfield
Alice Jones
Myung Mi Kim
Paul Legault
Laura Moriarty
Anna Rabinowitz
Elizabeth Robinson
Michelle Taransky
Tyrone Williams
Plus time to mingle and to celebrate.
Omnidawn’s books by these authors will be sold at a
50% discount at this event.
Omidawn will provide wine, sparkling water, hors d'oeuvres, and sweets.
The event is free.
Please come and please invite your friends!
Poets House
10 River Terrace, at Murray Street
New York City
Closest subways: 1,2, 3, A, C, E to Chambers Street
Detailed directions: www.poetshouse.org or 212-431-7920

06 September, 2010

Mina 1998-2010

My beloved cat Mina passed away on Friday night. She had the later stages of lymphoma. I adopted her in Denver in 2004. She had broken teeth and a bad hip--BBs lodged in her rear--so there was some abuse in her past. She had stunning bright green eyes, soft black fur, and a funny short tail. She never stopped purring-- sounding a bit like a cooing pigeon. She slept on my head most night. She was very affectionate, and followed me around the house. I'm devastated she is gone. Thank you Mina for being in my life.

01 June, 2010

Apostrophe Books Now Accepting Manuscripts

The editors at Apostrophe Books are pleased to announce our second open reading period. We will accept manuscript submissions between June 1, 2010 and August 31, 2010. If you are interested in submitting, go here.

If you are unfamiliar with our books, please go to our website, apostrophebooks.org to find more information. All of our books are available through SPD and Amazon as well as through our website.

Feel free to contact me with any questions.

Picks of the Week

John Beer reads

Johannes Göransson discusses exoticism and REO Speedwagon

A new
Tomaz Salamun poem

Scott Stanfield discusses D.A. Powell's Chronic

Joe Milutis rewrites "Red Wheelbarrow"

Heather Christle makes a poem into a film

Josh Corey listens to flute rock

29 May, 2010

Leslie Scalapino

I'm very sad to hear of Leslie Scalapino's death today. When I read about this, I reached for a copy of The Front Matter, Dead Souls, a book that has always been important to me. The cover, done by Scalapino herself, was a collage she'd made of a piece by Ukiyo-e artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. It's lyric essay, or it's a novel in verse, or it's poetry maximalized against the containment of the line--spilling over. It's poetry. The idea of Ukiyo-e (the "floating world") plays a large role in the book. This is the record (as she conceived that the book is a record, is news, to be printed in newspapers, billboards, and murals, especially in an election year) of the experience of ecstatic poetic astral/aerial/empathic projection of free floating incorporeal selfhood into the world and past it into the underworld or into purgatorial space, sometimes heavenly, sometimes hellish, sometimes Los Angeles, sometimes Venice Beach, and it moves through a (often literary) community of the living and the dead. The book both haunts and celebrates, operates in the shadow of death without fear.

Honestly, as I read this book again this afternoon, the weight of its sublimity and the presence of the knowledge of her death, and subsequently the book's seeming prescience, was crushing.

I met Leslie Scalapino in 1999 when I worked at Diesel Bookstore on College Avenue in Oakland, and she came in frequently. She was teaching classes at CCA down the street. I talked to her a few times about her work, and asked her about the classes she was teaching, and she was very gracious to me. I didn't know her well, but her poetry has been important to me. And I always respected what she was doing with O Books, especially the Enough anthologies.

Here is the unsentimental end of The Front Matter, Dead Souls, the last vision of the projected self, this active dreamer with eyes closed and iris open, seeing people recently (and long ago, for there is no real passage of time here) arrive to the (an) afterlife:
...People are helpless in life.
Crowds are in a dirge for a man who having been ill is dying.

The crowd in the dusk crying has only empty retinas.
In the blazing blue they cry for infants.

There's an inflammation, an iris, between them

Amerigo Vespucci couples a deer. Collaboration is calm.
The flickering tongue of the blind woman on the visible Red Sea, the water's red, is in the visual reality -- for her.
The flaps of the iris are in her within blind flicking her tongue outside.
Some are naked as in being ferried on Lethé and an iris is between them here and there now in the water.

26 May, 2010

A New Book Coming Soon from Apostrophe Books

Apostrophe Books is pleased to announce the forthcoming publication of Remains To Be Used by Jessica Baran. Like bizarre and often intense conversations, each poem in this collection is ekphrastic. The poet responds to and engages with works by artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers as diverse as Sergio Leone, Joy Williams, Robert Altman, Raymond Roussel, Lewis Carrol, Robert Grober, Sigmund Freud, Jacque Derrida, Luis Buñuel, Alfred Hitchcock, Gertrude Stein, Hank Williams and many more. Baran challenges the reader to rethink the way in which we view, create, represent and recreate human experience through various mediums. The reading experience is strangely voyeuristic in that Baran provides a kind of heuristic glimpse into these different aesthetic experiences. You’ll feel as though you are peeking in on a mind tangling and untangling the complexities of a performance by Jan Bas Ader, a poem by Wallace Stevens, or a video installation by Eija-Liisa Ahtila. Baran seems equally adept investigating a film like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as she is at exploring Specters of Marx by Derrida. The book will be available this summer from Apostrophe Books, SPD, Amazon, or to order from your local bookstore. For a preview of Baran’s work, click here.

23 May, 2010

A Child's Garden of Verses

When I was a child, this book was magic. It reflected the truths of the world: in summer it was too light to go to sleep; the holes dug at the beach filled with the sea; armies marched to war; pirates followed the shores of Africa; cherry trees were climbed; the wind was a man. Stevenson suffered from tuberculosis as a child, and loneliness prevails in much of the imagery of games to play while in bed or when alone. There is an elaborate poem about an invisible friend who takes the side of the French in a game of toy soldiers so you don't have to. The poems are so clearly from the perspective of an adult speaking to a child, and knowing the biography, are conversations between Stevenson's adult self and his childhood (the picture here is of Stevenson as a child). The book was published when he was 35 years old. "The Lamplighter," especially the second stanza, with its innocuous hint of being bedridden:
Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,
And my papa's a banker and as rich as he can be;
But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I'm to do,

O Leerie, I'll go round at night and light the lamps with you!
His family were lighthouse designers--several generations of his family had designed and overseen the building of 20 lighthouses along the Scottish coast. That informs my reading of "The Lamplighter." He also famously resisted electrical lighting in favor of gas lighting.

But I like the short, gnomic poems, his (often dark) poetic maxims that provide moral instruction yet point toward a kind of openness of interpretation and slipperiness of application. He is never really sentimental-- there is a subtly ironic stance toward nostalgia in these poems.

Whole Duty of Children

A child should always say what's true
And speak when he is spoken to,
And behave mannerly at table;
At least as far as he is able.

Looking Forward

When I am grown to man's estate
I shall be very proud and great,
And tell the other girls and boys
Not to meddle with my toys.

Happy Thought

The world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Time to Rise

A birdie with a yellow bill
Hopped upon my window sill,
Cocked his shining eye and said:
"Ain't you 'shamed, you sleepy-head!"

22 May, 2010

Edwin Muir's "The Horses"

When I was a teenager, I read Orcadian poet Edwin Muir's "The Horses" during the height of Cold War paranoia, in the decade leading up to
Perestroika. In popular culture of the decade, there was much imagination about The End: Mad Max films, The Day After tv show, Sting's "Russians" that features the sound of a clock ticking down to Armageddon, or that Genesis video for "Land of Confusion" with a puppet of Ronald Reagan pushing the Button. I even played a role-playing game called Gamma World. I read Sterling Lanier's Hiero's Journey and The Unforsaken Hiero-- post-apocalyptic mutant animal narratives. Hiero had telepathic abilities to speak to a bear with a human brain, and he carried an old school muzzle-loading rifle and rode a morse, a mutant cross between a horse and a moose. Basically, I was of two minds about The End. First, I was terrified of The End. It's hard now to imagine the kind of nuclear hysteria of the time (though we should still be concerned about nuclear proliferation now). Just read this summary of the reception to the tv movie The Day After (thanks, Wikipedia):
On the night of its television broadcast (Sunday, November 20, 1983), ABC and many of its local TV stations opened several 1-800 hotlines with counselors standing by to calm jittery viewers. During the original broadcast, there were no commercial breaks after the nuclear attack. ABC also aired a live and very heated debate, hosted by Nightline's Ted Koppel, featuring scientist Carl Sagan, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Elie Wiesel, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, General Brent Scowcroft and conservative writer William F. Buckley, Jr.. Sagan argued against nuclear proliferation, while Buckley promoted the concept of nuclear deterrence. During the debate, Sagan discussed the concept of nuclear winter and made his famous analogy, describing the arms race in the following terms: "Imagine a room awash in gasoline, and there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has nine thousand matches, the other seven thousand matches. Each of them is concerned about who's ahead, who's stronger."
On the other hand, The End seemed fun: movies, books, and games. The poem tapped into both sides for me. I found Muir's mythopoetic end-of-the-world appealing.
I liked the poem because of its subject matter; I admit it didn't occur to me to consider the language or the form of the poem. I wrote a paper that followed a thesis about the logistical facts of the poem--how the nuclear war had leveled us back to the beginning of technology, and how the statement of optimism at the end of the poem was actually understatement suggesting The End was beginning again--with the harnessing of the horse as a technology. The harnessing of nature would lead to the harnessing of the atom again. It didn't matter it was a poem, per se; it only mattered that I connected with a poem, and that I was having a positive experience with a poem.

The Horses

Barely a twelvemonth after
The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
Late in the evening the strange horses came.
By then we had made our covenant with silence,
But in the first few days it was so still
We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day
The radios failed; we turned the knobs, no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, headed north,
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
Nothing. The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listen, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.
The tractors lie about our fields; at evening
They look like dank sea-monsters crouched and waiting.
We leave them where they are and let them rust:
"They'll molder away and be like other loam."
We make our oxen drag our rusty plows,
Long laid aside. We have gone back
Far past our fathers' land.
And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.
We heard a distant tapping on the road,
A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
We saw the heads
Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.
We had sold our horses in our fathers' time
To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us
As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield
Or illustrations in a book of knights.
We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited,
Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent
By an old command to find our whereabouts
And that long-lost archaic companionship.
In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.
Among them were some half a dozen colts
Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,
Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.
Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads,
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

21 May, 2010

Architecture and Morality

In high school, I won a prize for poetry/art in something that was called "The Columbia Arts Festival" in Vancouver, Washington. I think a teacher in high school had encouraged me to enter the poem. Perhaps the instructions for entering were vague enough that I thought it required a kind of "exhibit," or I had conveniently conflated the guidelines for entering a work of visual art with that of a poem. I wrote a poem about a moody young man's unrequited love. In the poem it's always raining. I was prone to the kind of self-romance that made John Cusack holding a radio over his head the grandest gesture of courage possible. The speaker of the poem stands in the pouring rain at a fountain (this is my memory of the poem, so I could be totally wrong about all of this). He stands there for hours. Then he sees a homeless man crouched beneath an eave. And he thinks, "Hey, I don't have it so bad" (such is the superficiality of adolescence). Next, I drew an image of the homeless man obscured by falling rain. Then I put a record on by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (yes, OMD). The record was Architecture and Morality (a masterpiece of British New Romanticism) and the song was "Sealand." If you click on the title and watch the video, you get how atmospheric the song is). I recorded the song onto a cassette tape. Then I mounted my drawing and my poem onto posterboard. I remember riding the bus and trying to keep the posterboard from getting wet at the bus stop as it rained. With a boombox, I set up my poem/art posterboard on an easel (except the others here were all painters). We stood with our art waiting for the judges to walk past. It was more like a science fair or poster exhibit than an arts festival. The judges asked questions about inspiration or technique or materials, and I started getting nervous I'd done everything wrong. When they approached me, they saw a boombox on the floor of the gym beneath the easel, but the art and the poem were turned so they couldn't see it. I pushed play on the boombox, and they listened (thoughtfully?) to the song. Finally, at about 5 minutes and 30 seconds (according to the youtube video), I turned over the art and poem to be viewed. I think I thought of this moment in the song as a kind of quickening of heartbeat. I don't remember how they reacted. I probably stared at the floor, hiding my eyes behind bangs.

20 May, 2010


You look out the classroom window, in a tree are many, and they tilt their heads (not always at you, but you imagine so). You're nine years old. You write something about the birds that rhymes because the teacher has just taught you to rhyme, and rhyming is physically, tonguefully, fun. You bring it home and it goes on a wall, or into a scrapbook, or into a box, or it just disappears.

Birds are always showing in my poems, so much so that I had to do a moratorium on birds. When my friend Karla Kelsey wrote the stunningly beautiful and philosophical Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary (Ahsahta, 2006), I remembered the desire to write of birdness.

18 May, 2010

A Postcard from the Volcano

...with our bones
We left much more, left what still is
The look of things, left what we felt.

This picture was taken on Sunday morning, May 18, 1980. 30 years ago today. Most people who were living in the Pacific NW on this day can't forget this date. It's the alliteration in the date. This morning I saw the date and I immediately realized that I knew exactly where I was on this day. We (my mother, brother, and I) are smiling in the picture because something exciting--something extraordinary-- is happening: Mt. St. Helens is erupting. There is another picture of me, perhaps now lost (my father destroyed many of the family photos in a rage several years later) on a banana-seat bike with a 35mm camera strapped around my neck and Mt. St. Helens erupting a vast plume of ash into the clear blue sky behind me. I'm wearing the same striped shirt as this one. I always loved the picture because of the erupting mountain, but also because I was proud to be holding the camera. I had hopped on my bike that morning and immediately saw it in the sky. I pedaled fast to get past the buildings to the cow field. The camera belonged to a neighbor who was standing at the edge of a field of cows, before an electric barbed-wire fence, when I rode up to get as a view of the mountain without trees blocking the view. Then I rode back to the apartment complex to wake my mother. At the time we were living in a semi-rural community in southwestern Washington called Hazel Dell. My father was just about to be released from prison, where he was serving a sentence for burglary and possession of illegal firearms. The lack of my father seems to be important to my memory of the day. The neighbor later took this picture.

Everyone stood in front of the plume to get a picture. There were lots of pictures--all of them gone now. In all of them there was a distortion of perspective--as if the volcano were very close.

I imagine posting one of these pictures here:

The definition in the rolling of the smoke is extreme, towering upward and almost curving into space.

A few days later the winds would shift and bury us with several inches of ash--and the ash would stay around for years after.

In 1994, I climbed to the top of the volcano with some friends. I sat at the edge of the crater, and I wonder if I had this moment of looking southwest and imagining myself looking back at the mountain in 1980.


According to some preliminary research into the matter (though I doubt I will go further into the idea after this!), the word tantalum is derived from the Greek mythological Tantalus. Tantalus is punished in hell, eternally condemned to stand in water with perfect fruit growing above his head. He thirsts and hungers, but if he bends to drink, the water moves beyond his reach, and if he reaches for the fruit, the branches pull away.

Tantalize comes from this, and this was apparently in the mind of the man who discovered the element tantalum. Apparently the metal cannot absorb acid. In 1801, Charles Hatchett had discovered the element columbium. The element now known as tantalum was discovered in 1802 by Anders Ekeberg. In 1809, a chemist compared columbium and tantalum and found they were identical. He decided to keep the name tantalum. This conclusion was later disputed in 1846 by a chemist who found that there were two additional new elements in the tantalum sample used by the previous chemist, and he named them after the children of Tantalus. Then someone noticed this last chemist was wrong again--that one of the new elements was actually columbium (discovered, as noted above, in 1801). Every time someone tested the element, they found different results based on density and oxidization. The tantalizing desire to discover new elements led yet again to two more elements being "discovered" and "named"-- only again to be refuted. Tantalum seems to have been aptly named.

I don't know with certainty if any of this played some role in the naming of the print journal Tantalum, but I like to think it did. According to the website, "Tantalum presents the many possibilities of prose that redefine the fictive." The difficulty in pinning down the genres here--prose poetry, micro fictions, lyric mini essays, short stories, and the many structural analogues--seems to be analogous to the quest to define and to unravel new elements out of the whole of the element, but also analogous to the tantalizing between. Those structural analogues I'm talking about are short pieces that make a nod to the novel or longer prose forms while evincing brevity--but never fully committing to only one idea of form.

For example, in issue 2, Eileen Myles is here with two "Rosie" excerpts (Rosie is the speaker's dog) from The Inferno/a poet's novel. Dante (and the ghost of epic) only further complicates the notion. The speaker refers to herself, in a 12-step meeting, as Poet Eileen. Within this excerpt from the novel the narrator suggests that the performed and staged unfolding that is the epic has been subsumed into the everyday, where poems are what happens as one speaks to others--"in bedrooms and parking lots," but without the audience, and unlinked (we only get the excerpt). Each of the "paragraphs" seems to move along the line of the associative break. This is epos, the idea behind a series of poems not united, though their theme is conventionally epic. I think the best example of epos is Byron's Don Juan. It is so digressive--each numbered ottava rima stanza section seems to me to stand alone as well as contribute to the whole mock-epic theme. I like to open the poem randomly and select one section to read as a small stand-alone poem. The digressions are so modern and radical compared to his contemporaries (The Excursion surely could have been more pleasurable and less focused around the greater themes for Wordsworth).

Paul La Farge's "Very Short Stories" is also very self-reflexive about genre and form: "Some people were talking. It was like the Decameron, only they weren't telling stories." Boccaccio's 100 narratives collectively handle similar themes, but each stands alone, too. La Farge's piece works by negation of Boccaccio: "Also, no one was sick. Also, they were all in an office. Also, it was at a meeting."

Many of these pieces, like Myles', are excerpts from longer works that stand alone (Donald Breckenridge, Mina Pam Dick, Cynthia Nelson, Filip Marinovich, and Johannah Rogers). This is not left-to-right reading; in the imagined whole of all of these sequences, the reader ideally "drops" in and creates, actively, his own reading path (I'm doing this with Evan Lavender-Smith's recent From Old Notebooks with a sense that a whole is forming though I am unsure of where I've already read). Cynthia Nelson's structural analogue in her "from Learning Bergamot: Summer on the Fence" is the self-examination-- a Q & A process that digs deeper into the psyche, as in, for example, the "Heroin Q & A" section:

I was trying to write the dream about heroin. Why were you trying to write it? I have to go to the bathroom. Why are you being evasive? I am in conversation with myself. Why are you anxious about that in a notebook? Excuse me for a second...

Another structural analogue of Nelson's writing seems to be the notebook (and seems yet another connection to Evan Lavender-Smith). I imagine that what I am reading is from the original notebook--that after the self-examination, we get a series of poems that have been written, while the speaker/narrator sits in the grass in a pastoral setting (many of the sections of the piece are focused on what happens/happened in/on the grass, and there is I think some punning with grass and associative movement from the word itself-- "What a crass wine"). The poems within the prose do seem to be an extension of that landscape, such as in some lines from one titled "The Squirrel of Not Focusing (No Focus)":

The chipmunk of not focusing

The big green tree of not focusing...

The hot sun of focusing...

The sunburn of focus...

Other highlights: I also really enjoyed Rosmarie Waldrop's "School"-- I kept recalling images of people biking through evening streets--and I felt somehow this was the primary image of the entire piece. I like the Donald Breckenridge piece as it mutually arcs between a narrator who is writing a story and that story's narrator, blurring (without transitions) the boundaries between these worlds. And Stacey Levine has always been one of my favorite writers (I recommend Frances Johnson and My Horse and Other Stories). Here she offers "Alia," a story where married people speak and don't speak to each other, directly but indirectly, passive-aggressive-- and there is a sort of distraction and focal point in the figure of a bird named Alia, the sublimated "bride" of the husband. Levine does her characteristic "jump cut without indication"--as if we were missing scenes from a linear film--where we get the effect without the cause, the action without its agenda. I also was impressed by Dorothy Albertini's "Proportion," in how it compares the speaker's world with that of (imagined? real?) prisoners'--especially in the rules of eating. It was interesting to imagine a vegetarian in a prison-- an idea that is surely true but I have never seen represented in classic Brubaker prison cafeteria scenes (I highly recommend Animal Factory, directed by Steve Buscemi).

The materiality of writing itself seems to be one of the main concerns of the journal. Overall, this handsome letterpress journal, edited by Yasmine Alwan, is impressive. The selections do seem to be living up to "redefining the fictive." This is the second volume I've been able to get my hands on, and I'm looking forward to future volumes.