Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Future is Glad We're Here

My presence from this blog disappeared just as soon as it seemed to get going. However, I am back and with me I have brought scans of the first issue of Fuzz Against Junk as well as sample work. Check the previous entry for all the details. Order a copy if you see something you like.

I will begin the submission process for the second issue in January and start figuring things out a little bit after that. As of right now I need the following:
  • A printing press
  • Someone that knows how to use that printing press
  • Cover Art

If you're in the NYC area or have some general advice, please send me an email at

Though this blog hasn't been active, I certainly have. I've been reading Apollinaire's Calligrammes and Ron Padgett's translation of Cendrars. I've also been re-reading the current Daredevil series and my personal favorite at the moment, Cowboy Ninja Viking. However, now that the second issue looms on the horizon of the New Year, my leisure time will rapidly be disappearing. I probably won't have much time to post before then, as I leave this Thursday for New Hampshire and then I have friends coming to stay with me the following week. Rest assured, January will bring a flood of updates and information.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fuzz Against Junk Issue 1

To order an issue, email me at Issues are $4, shipping included. Click one of the links below to read some sample work:

Hands by Mark White

On Darkness by Elizabeth Robinson

Belated Impulsiveness by Jonathan Bowman

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Soleil cou coupé

Wesleyan University has announced a new, unexpurgated version of this book. Go here for more information.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Howl: A Review

I first heard they were making a movie about "Howl" sometime last year. I was sitting in a classroom at Naropa. Everyone kind of laughed at the idea and thought it wouldn't be any good. Then I saw the trailer. I wasn't sure what to make of it. James Franco seemed a good fit for Ginsberg, but the animation and the scene of Allen and Peter howling were a little off-putting. Still, I was interested.

My introduction to poetry was not Allen Ginsberg, but Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I had just discovered Beat literature and began devouring books as quickly as possible, but I remember being somewhat hesitant about exploring the world of poetry. My only experiences with it were in high school English class, which I (and pretty much everyone else) hated. It was something like a revelation to read A Coney Island of the Mind, to see the plain-spoken language, the lines that ran all over the page, and the humor.

Not long after, I read "Howl", learned about the Six Gallery reading, the obscenity trial and the question was: how would they handle all of this?

The movie cycles between five different kinds of scenes: the "interviews" with Ginsberg, where Franco talks to an interviewer that is never shown, giving us the sense he's talking directly to the audience; brief flashbacks to key moments in Ginsberg's life; the animation, which is based on Erik Drooker's work in Ginsberg's Illuminated poems; the Six Gallery reading; and the trial.

This sequencing is a nice way to handle so much varied material, but one of the most immediately striking things about this movie is how little interaction there is between the characters on the screen. Ferlinghetti never speaks. Neither does Kerouac or Orlovsky. This lets the audience know the focus is on the poem, not the characters and experiences who inspired it.

However, this does minimize the impact that the flashbacks have on the audience. Unless you already know the history behind the poem (I assume most people who attended this movie did), they are not likely to feel significant. Howl tries to make up for this through Franco's interviews, which certainly provide context to these scenes, but this does not make the characters or their relationship to Ginsberg feel real.

Then there's the animation. At best, it is adequate. I think the movie would certainly be missing something were it not to be included, but Drooker's style works better in a book than a movie. This, I think, is more of a problem with the transition between mediums than anything else. Were Blake's illuminated books to be turned into a film, I believe a lot of their charm would also be lost.

Of all the scenes, the most effective were the Six Gallery reading. Franco's delivery of the poem shows he has listened to Ginsberg's performances, that he has read and studied the poem. they show a great deal of the poem, allowing for every section, even the footnote, to be read aloud. One thing I was surprised about, though, was that explication of the line "listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox", was strangely absent from the film. Not only does it reflect the post-war era, it was also one of the key phrases that Ginsberg thought represented the compositional breakthrough in "Howl."

Leaving the theater I didn't feel like I had gained any new insights into the poem. It was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon, but unless you're a devotee to Beat literature, or you don't know anything about it (but would like to), I'm not sure this movie will be worth your while. By far the most fascinating part about Howl, is the fact that it exists. This is not The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg, nor is it an adaptation of one of Kerouac's novels--it is a movie about a poem. In a world where poetry is practically invisible in mainstream culture, a movie like Howl could attract more readership and interest, which is always a good thing.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Erasing the Divide

It's nearly impossible to read Silliman's blog for any length of time without finding mention of "The School of Quietude." Nobody seems to be sure exactly what it means (though plenty have tried to define it). It is often contrasted by what Silliman has deemed the "post-avant." My question has nothing to do with what these terms mean but rather why they exist. Is making such a binary opposition between two "schools" of poetry useful anymore? Isn't it a bit reductive? Doesn't it create a false sense of community on both sides?

This isn't the cliched "why can't we all just get along" populist plea for a meeting place in the center, but cutting the world of poetry in half doesn't serve any other purpose besides creating an arena for political debate and marketing. Yet nearly every artist in the last one hundred years has sworn allegiance to one side or the other (whatever they may have been). I'm just surprised that someone like Silliman, who is obviously capable of thinking beyond the either/or systems we grapple with everyday, would resort playing this game.

I think, if I may pull up my soapbox on this issue, that anything that reduces what is thought to be possible in poetry is not conducive to pushing at the boundaries of the art form. One of the tenants of postmodernism, if such a nebulously-defined word could be said to have any, is that everything has been done. Indeed, a lot of things have happened, but everything? Gertrude Stein said that the only thing that changes with each generation is composition. Composition, more than anything else, is affected by technology. Consider the leap from the 19th century to the 20th century. New technologies became available that did not exist previously and the writing from the early 20th century is marked by them. Most immediately, e.e. cummings' experiments come to mind. There is also the photomontage technique of the Surrealists. With all of the radical changes that the early 20th century saw, can one say that the writers living in the 21st century aren't being changed by new technologies?

Consider translation. No matter how crude they come out, one can now translate from one langauge to another just by clicking a button. As an experiment, take one of your poems and run it through a translator a few times. You'll likely find something has changed when it is returned to English. you may even find a whole new poem.

Of all the new technologies to change the world, the internet has had the most impact. It has made the world smaller by closing the gaps in communication that used to exist when we relied on face-to-face contact, letters, and telephones. Though we have acknowledged the existence of what has come to be known as the global village, I'm not sure we totally understand it. Someone, commenting on the barbarism of World War I, observed that it was being fought with modern weapons and medieval tactics. Similarly, I believe the allegiances we have to things like countries are based on an outdated perception of the world when a border couldn't be crossed from the comfort of your living room. If something so complex as identity can no longer be defined in a two-dimensional way, then why would poetry be any different?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Peter Orlovsky Memorial Reading

Poetry readings have always been very hit or miss for me. They're great for getting your work out there, meeting other writers, and probably some other things I'm unable to think of at the present moment. But, I began reading poetry in books, I write all of my poetry in books, and this is likely to continue, despite my intention to begin reading more.

However, last night something was made clear at the Peter Orlovsky Memorial Reading at St. Mark's Church about the function of a poetry reading: to make you remember a poem. In this case, Ginsberg's "On Cremation of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche," read by Patti Smith with Piano accompaniment with Philip Glass. If I can track down the recording of it that my friend took (and it's of good quality), I'll upload it. However, a collaboration between the two exist on YouTube, so, enjoy:

Monday, September 20, 2010

David Orr and Why Poets Quote

"When a contemporary poet [uses] quotes...It tells us less about whom a poet hopes to equal and more about where he’d like to hang out."

The above statement, edited slightly, is from David Orr's op-ed piece in yesterday's NY Times Book Review (which you can read in its entirety here) on why contemporary poets use epigrams and citations so much. This topic is of immense interest to me, as I spent an entire year writing poems from nothing but found language--overheard conversations, lines from poems, novels, comic books, fortune cookies--anything I found of interest, really, and, I never once cited my sources. I don't intend to use this piece as a launch pad to espouse my own theories on why contemporary poets quote, mostly because I'm still figuring out what's happening today in poetry and can really only speak for myself. What I do intend to highlight is what David Orr is really talking about: ownership and "originality".

The above quote from Orr, though it is clearly the main argument he is making, does not come at the beginning of the article. Rather, it begins as follows:

Imagine that this essay began not with the sentence you’re reading, but with the following observation, attributed to Wittgenstein: “A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.” A little oblique for an opening gambit, you might think, but presumably it will pay off shortly. Imagine further, however, that the Wittgenstein quotation was immediately followed by quotes from Simone Weil, the Upanishads and the Hungarian poet Gyorgy Petri. At this point, you might find yourself wondering, “O.K., when is the actual author going to actually give me something he actually wrote?”

Imagine that David Orr had written a poem and, rather than citing Wittgenstein, Simone Weil, the Upanishads, and Gyorgi Petri, he just strung the quotes together. Wouldn't that completely bypass the question he posed in the final sentence of this paragraph? It seems the act of citing your sources (a necessity in criticism, a nice gesture in anything creative) is what makes this an issue. Wouldn't it also solve the problem of "where the writer would like to hang out" if no point of reference was given?

Of course, to so would be stealing--but didn't T.S. Eliot, who Orr both praises a great poet and blames for the state of the citation in contemporary poetry, say, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal"? (It should be noted that when The Waste Land was published, many critics dismissed it saying something to the effect of, "Eliot has quoted a lot and alluded a lot, but what he has actually written is far too insubstantial").

So then why is Eliot so highly regarded and these others written off as mere followers? Is it because he is the "original thief?" (I'd like to remind everyone that he later published his own notes to The Waste Land with annotations). Whatever Eliot truly meant, I believe his intention with the quotation was that someone already said it better and best to steal what is well said than regurgitate and water it down.

One author this article doesn't mention is Louis Zukofsky, whose Poem Beginning 'The' is far more radical in its approach to quotations. He prefaces his poem with the notes, arranged alphabetically, but lets the quotations sit within in the poem, undisturbed by the original author's name. Since each line is numbered, it serves the dual purpose of giving the illusion of a linear progression (though in actuality it reminds us of the stitched-together nature of the poem) as well as provides for easy reference to these notes. However, these notes do nothing to show respect to Zukofsky's predecessors. This is evident by the presence of citations to The Sun, Zukofsky himself, and to "anyone and anything [he] has unjustifiably forgotten."

So who owns this work then? I think this is a big part of what Zukofsky was trying to highlight by bringing so much disparate material together--not only the nature of a poem, but the nature of identity. One cannot draw a line and say, "This is what I have created and this is what I have taken from someone else," because at some point, it becomes impossible to tell the difference, or where one begins and one ends. Of course, nobody wants to be accused of plagiarism, so we're basically stuck where we were nearly one hundred years ago, when Eliot was written off as someone with an impressive ability to quote, but not a lot to say.

Ironically, in that same quote I began this post with, Orr asserts that most poets today quote to be like T.S. Eliot. Really? Though Eliot certainly popularized the use of numerous quotations, he didn't invent it. I'd be interested in asking the poets he mentions in his article if they are particularly influenced by Eliot or where they got the idea to use quotations from. It seems a little presumptuous to say that Eliot's shadow is still that big over the world of poetry. I mean, since I began this post with a quotation, does that mean I'd like to be Eliot? Since it was a quote by David Orr, does that mean I want to "hang out" with him? Or was it merely the starting point for this post?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ashbery at the Brooklyn Book Festival

Though it hasn't been publicly announced, apparently John Ashbery is translating Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations. I'm kind of a late-comer to this bit of information, since it looks like some mention of it has been on the web for about a year now, but, having just re-read Illuminations and enjoyed it immensely, this is quite exciting. No word on the publisher yet, though the Library of America has its bets on Ecco.

Unfortunately, I could not make the Brooklyn Book Festival last Sunday because I had to work. I became even more disappointed to learn that Ashbery was there, read poems, both original and translations of Rimbaud, as well as spoke about his early experiences in NYC. Part of my bucket list is to see him read before he passes, so here's to hoping. Anyway, a recording of the interview can be found here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Library Day

I ventured through the pouring rain and dried my hair under the hand dryer in the Mid-Manhattan location of the NYPL to get my library card today. Apparently you're not allowed to sit on the floor, as one page informed me. Is this to discourage loitering and vagrancy?

You Must Occupy a Couch or Chair.

While I couldn't get my hands on everything I wanted (especially that copy of Angels of Anarchy, which was available but missing), I did bring home some books I'm sure to enjoy.

  • Flow Chart by John Ashbery
  • Necromance by Rae Armantrout
  • The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest
  • The Collected Poems of Laura Riding
  • The Thief of Strings by Donald Revell

So far, I've only spent some time with Necromance. This is my first book of Armantrout poems and I'm very impressed. At first I found her work incredibly disorienting, which is refreshing since I find that this kind of confusion forces me to read on the poem's terms and not what I expect a poem to give me. Her fondness for the fragment and her ability to manipulate syntax in surprising ways are immediately striking. However, even more astonishing is her ability to link these fragments next to each other merely by juxtaposition, clever word play, and patterning. At the same time, not all of the poems here are dense. Though never obvious, some of the poems are disarming for accessible they are, especially compared to other poems in this book. I'm a little over halfway through it now, and will probably finish it tomorrow.

While riding the subway, I finished Rimbaud's Illuminations. When I first read it years ago, I remember being somewhat unimpressed and considered A Season in Hell to be the superior book. Furthermore, I regarded Baudelaire as an infinitely more talented poet. Now I'm not so sure. I remember Baudelaire being more accessible and immediate, and, since I was very new to to the world of poetry, I gravitated towards that more than Rimbaud's hallucinatory, dream-like style. I think discovering Reverdy's poetry has allowed me to appreciate Rimbaud's more.

Anyway, some major changes are in store for this blog in the coming weeks. I'm going to upload a calendar that lists local (NYC-area) readings, performances, and literary events. Also, I'm going to create a separate page that links to the zine with samples, scans, and much more. In the meantime, I have plenty of great books to occupy myself with.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Gender Balance

A few months ago, a debate erupted on Amy King's blog about the issue of gender balance in litmags and canons. Without going into details (visit her blog if you want those), the debate offered two points on view:

On one hand, there were those who claimed that gender was never a consideration when they made the decision to accept a piece. All of their decisions, they said, were based on whether a piece was well-written.

On the other, people argued that there is a reason why women and other groups who have been marginalized continue to be a minority presence in the publishing world. They encouraged editors to include a wide range of voices and perspectives.
Both of these positions pose problems.

I would ask every editor who operates under the former principle to make a list of favorite authors. Chances are, the majority, if not all, are going to be men. I would then ask them to do the math regarding the background of their contributors. Chances are, the majority will be men. I'm not sure if this represents some sort of unconscious bias, but it certainly shows how patriarchal the world of literature has been and continues to be.

I would ask the editors who prescribe to the latter principle how they take issues like gender or cultural background into consideration. My most pressing question would be, how do you decide when a work represents a particular group? I find it problematic to say that because the author is a woman, then her work is inherently feminine.

Obviously, there is no easy solution to this problem. We can't simply start publishing at a 50/50 rate between men and women and say, "There! Problem solved! (though it would be a start)" To think so reduces this issue to a matter of statistics, which it is not. It is a matter of representation and diversity of voices.

Also, Amy King gave an interview about this subject recently. Read it here (go to August 19).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Difficulty Revisited

A few months ago Justin Cooper, one of my friends from New Hampshire, told me that if a book required a class to be understood then it was a failure. He was talking about Ulysses. Part of me wanted to agree with his position. If any random person walking down the street can't understand or take something away from the experience of reading a particular book, what good is it?

I should mention that Ulysses is one of the greatest books I've ever read. Not because of the plot or the characters, but because it still stands as a manual on how to experiment with language. I should also mention that I took a class my junior year at Naropa in which we read Ulysses, and I loved it.

I'm fairly certain that if I shoved a copy of this book into the hands of anyone walking down Willoughby Avenue, they would a) think I'm crazy for asking them to read on a Friday night and b) think James Joyce is more a lunatic than an author. However, despite the difficulty that Ulysses may pose to any reader, it is still worth the effort. I think it may be more worthwhile if you're interested in experimental literature or becoming a writer, but, if not, it's good to challenge yourself every now and again.

This is an easy claim to make, that X book is valuable. But why is it valuable? This question often puts the person advocating for said book at a loss for words. If you don't care about what conceptual framework that Y unknown and unsuccessful author was writing under and just want a straightforward, no-frills reading experience, why is it important?

Because the best art is that which troubles us. Not in the way that "edgy writers" try to confront us by using shock value; rather, it is the art that we cannot make sense of yet are still drawn to like moths to a streetlight. The second we have everything figured out and the mystique evaporates, it becomes too easy to explain, reduce, or identify, like the image of moths congregating around a streetlight.

All of this is a result of me toying with the idea of reading The Cantos. After reading the first canto the other night, I realized it's going to take me a year or longer to finish, and a significant portion of that time is going to be spent researching allusions, identifying patterns, and generally trying to piece together one of the most notoriously difficult pieces of Modernist literature. The question I asked myself was: will it be worth it?

I think so, but I know that I won't convince anyone who doesn't already believe that there is a virtue in reading dense or difficult material. We'll see if I have the stomach to do this without the aid of a class.

PS: I found out that New Directions is releasing a new edition of Louis Zukofsky's 800+ page poem, "A". This is another piece of difficult literature I've been interested in reading. Now that a dog-eared copy won't run me $80, I'll finally be able to check it out. That is, of course, after I finish The Cantos.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Been a long time gone...

It's been several months since I've posted, but that doesn't mean I've been lazy--just negligent to maintaining this blog. My life has changed a lot in the last few months. Currently, I'm laying on my new leather couch in my new Brooklyn apartment. I've been here since Monday and have done little else besides unpack boxes and rearrange furniture in the last few days. Now that the place looks more like an apartment than a storage shed, I finally have some time to relax.

The first issue of Fuzz Against Junk has been printed, published, and bound. This isn't really current news though, since I finished it back in May. I read at Astroland in Boulder for the "Drunk Poet's Society" and sold some copies. Currently, I have less than half left, so if you're interested in snagging a copy ($4, includes shipping), send me a message and we'll work out the details.

Before NYC, I moved back to New Hampshire. That's not the exciting part. What's exciting is that I drove back to New Hampshire. In twelve days I visited New Mexico, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and pretty much every state on the east coast. The last day of the trip was a non-stop 24-hour drive from Smoky Mountain National Park to my house in rural Sanbornton, New Hampshire. Here are some thing I learned:
  • West Texas looks like the Moon, if the Moon grew cacti that looked they originated from a Doctor Seuss book
  • There are no rest stops in Louisiana. We drove for nearly four hours before pulling into a gas station and enquiring about the nearest rest stop. She told us to head back towards Houston
  • You can get cocktails to-go in New Orleans
  • West Virginians have a thicker accent than most Texans

Now that my life has begun to settle, I should be posting semi-frequently again. Until next time.

Friday, April 16, 2010

What does "Confessional" mean?

An interesting discussion unfolded in my Surrealism and Dada class yesterday. We're currently reading Claude Cahun's Disavowals. Some of my classmates called it confessional or journal-esque in nature. The discussion veered away from the text and what exactly is meant by the term "confessional."

One of the frustrations Elizabeth Robinson expressed about what are traditionally known as "Confessional" poets is the underlying assumption in their work: if I have felt or experienced something, it must be true. While they may doubt or make fun of this assumption at times, their work ultimately is a testament to it.

I asked, in order for something to be confessional, if it must be grounded in reality. Many people disagreed with this idea and I'm not sure I believe it 100% myself. There are plenty of fictionalized accounts of actual events that include supernatural phenomena or otherworldly happenings. These can always be contextualized by their historical origins. A good example of a book that we read in Surrealism that challenges this question is Leonora Carrington's The Hearing Trumpet, a surrealist memoir that could be read as a fictionalized account of Carrington's mental breakdown that resulted from Max Ernst's arrest during the Nazi occupation of France.

Those who said Disavowals was confessional argued that the erratic nature of the sections, lack of central plot, and no apparent glue to link each section together was representative of the unstable nature of Cahun's personality. I think this is ultimately a dangerous position, as it makes no distinction between thoughts and events. It is precisely this belief that leads to thoughtcrime in 1984 and a situation like Minority Report.

However, I don't want to minimize the reality of the mind. Poetry, the art of language, is often engaged with the tangible and intangible qualities of thought. It shows how ideas are formed, where they break down, and what an idea does to how we view the world, language, and ourselves. Even if it records your actual thoughts, there is nothing inherently confessional about it. That is, of course, unless you make it known to the reader, as Charles Bernstein does in "Thank You for Saying Thank You":

It fully expresses
the feelings of the
author: my feelings,
the person speaking
to you now.

and you, the reader, believe it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I Survived AWP

About a week out from AWP and I have finally recovered. I definitely tried to do too much.

On Thursday, I attended panels from 9:00 a.m. until 5 p.m., went to my favorite bar in the world, and then attended two readings back to back. I didn't get home until somewhere around 3 a.m., didn't fall asleep until four, and then woke up at 7:30 to do it all over again. Friday was an early day. I stayed in panels until about 4:30 and then just hopped a bus back to Boulder to get some rest. I took it easy Saturday. I attended some panels and mostly walked around the book fair talking to people. Anyway, here are the highlights:

  • Donald Revell. This man is incredible. He led my favorite panel of the entire event, "Poetry After the 00's." The panel handed some poems out to everyone for discussion (Oppen, Ashbery, and Auden were included). Basically, Donald and the other moderator offered differing points of view on each to show a more traditional and a more forward looking interpretation. Very funny. My favorite quote from Revell was, "If you want to put your suffering down on paper, well anybody can do that. But I know nobody that can write the new poem, and given a choice between anybody and nobody, I would choose neither." Revell also did translations of Rimbaud's Illuminations and A Season in Hell, both of which appear to be superior to the New Directions editions.

  • The Bloof Books reading. I had to wander into a somewhat sketchy part of Denver to find this nearly unmarked door in Green Spaces Colorado, but once I got there it was well worth it. Jennifer L. Knox and Peter Davis were the two reasons I was there and they did not disappoint. Bought some copies of Poetry!Poetry!Poetry!, drank free beer from a keg they had so graciously provided.

  • The Book Fair. I've kind of ignored the world of contemporary poetry for the simple lack of finding a good place to start. It's only in the last few months I've found contemporary poets that are writing the kind of poetry I want to read. However, the problem seems to be finding good magazines. I've scanned the internet several times for a litmag that I would want to read and contribute to, but never with any real luck. Getting to see hundreds of magazines and their editors definitely gave me a starting point. Also, free books! I got around 30 new books while there, most of which I didn't pay for. Free subscription to Fence? Check. Free issues of Poetry? Check. Free broadsides and books of poetry? Check.

  • Getting invited to contribute to Coldfront magazine.

I intend to finish the magazine in the next week, now that I've recovered from the AWP. Before I can get to that though, is the more pressing issue of my thesis.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Covers Are Pressed and Folded, the Magazine Needs to Be Formatted

A bit of a hiatus from this blog and the magazine due to Spring break. I did little else besides what I wanted, which included reading five books, going on two beer tour in one day, eating at extravagant restaurants, and just taking it easy.

Also did some things I didn't want to do, like get into my first car accident. The car was completely unharmed and so were the people. It felt a lot slower than I imagined it would. I remember looking at everyone's face as we spun into the ditch.

That aside, I got the covers yesterday and they have all been folded neatly. Now, to get a proof of the magazine to the printer.

Friday, March 12, 2010

It's Really Happening!

So I received the final magazine submission the other day, which means I'm moving onto the most tedious process of all: formatting and editing. The exciting part is that tomorrow I'm going to buy the paper supplies for printing (2000+ sheets). Next week I'm working out some cover details (typeface, image) and I should be on schedule to have it printed and bound by the end of March.

Unless those few stragglers who haven't sent me their biography take a month to do so.

Unless the print shop burns down.

Unless there's a global catastrophe that makes all paper and ink a luxury.

It also occurs to me I may want to invest in a Paypal account to facilitate digital transactions. I'm also going to post some samples on a separate page for your reading pleasure. Now, to begin organizing a reading.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Place of Difficulty in Reading

Lately, I've been reading a lot of books reviews for experimental literature and I've noticed one thing: nearly every negative review centers on the difficulty of the book in question. The reviewer usually says that -insert difficult book- did not make any sense and that they must not be smart enough to understand it. Often, those reviewers claim that those who do like it are only trying to appear "smart" or "cultured." Sometimes the book is outright dismissed as an elaborate joke orchestrated by the author.

I don't want to espouse a "difficult-for-the-sake-of-being-difficult" kind of argument, because I think that position is largely responsible for the reactionary attitude those reviewers take. However, I do think that most readers who dismiss books for being too difficult are forgetting how they learned to read in the first place: by challenging themselves. By challenging yourself as a reader, in whatever form (content, style, concept), your capacity to understand will grow. The entire art of communication, of which books are a part, is about understanding. Not all ideas are as easily communicable as others, which is why some books are more difficult than others. One example: Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons.

I can think of few other books that have frustrated readers as much as this one. Anyone who's read any of it can attest to its difficulty; it's non-normative use of syntax and confusion of parts of speech completely defamiliarize the language. The result is a book that forces you to pay attention, to consider how meaning is made, and to look for relationships when they're not obvious. In short, it's an instruction manual on learning how to read again.

Critics might try to argue that they already know how to read, but this is exactly the kind of complicity Stein was fighting against. They might try to argue that they don't care what her intention is, but Tender Buttons is one of the few books in the last century to completely empower the reader. Admittedly, it is difficult, but it has to be; Stein could not write a book that forces you to question (and understand) how meaning and relationships are formed by adhering to the normal hierarchies and rules of the language. To do so would be contradictory to the book's entire premise.

The challenge this book presents is offset by the insight that is given to the reader. If the reader can make it to the other side and actively engage with the material they will be forever changed. If not, well, I'm not interested in creating a heirarchy of readers. I think the aversion to difficulty that many readers express on sites such as Goodreads or Amazon is the direct result of such mindless entertainment as daytime television programming. However, since the reading public is a minority compared to the TV watching public, I would encourage anyone with that still has an appetite for books to try and read at least one book a year that's outside of their normal interests. I think those who do will find the time that they spend more rewarding than usual.

Monday, March 1, 2010

It's March and I've Been Diligent.

So I just started a Goodreads page today and will probably review most if not all of the books and media I read. There will be links, going both ways. Anyway, to kick off my reviews, I will post everything I watched or read in February, with commentary:


Tokyo Drifter (1966)

This is probably my least favorite Seijun Suzuki Film. It's not bad, but nowhere near as exciting or innovative as his other films. Still worth watching.

Branded to Kill (1967)

This is considered Suzuki's best film. It's also the film that got him fired from Nikkatsu. The studio told Suzuki that "[his] films make no sense, and therefore no money." It's easy to see why this was not popular with them. Suzuki's eccentric directing style was on full display in this film and it might be worth watching twice to better understand the narrative. Highly recommended.

Youth of the Beast (1963)

What an awful translation of the title. Wild Youth would be just as accurate and far less clunky. This gripe aside, maybe my favorite Suzuki film. The plot is fairly straightforward: an ex-cop infiltrates the Yakuza and avenges a friend's death. However, his dialogue and directing elevate this Japanese gangster film into something more. Harder to find than his other films, but worth the search.

Shoot the Piano Player (1960)

I'll be honest, I rented this title because of the title. It's only after the fact that I learned François Roland Truffaut, the director, was part of the French New Wave and wrote the screenplay for Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless. A must see for anyone interested in noir mixed with highly stylized, realistic directing.

The Big Sleep (1946)

I watched this because they didn't have Chandler's novel at the library. A great example of the hard-boiled detective story, even if it's never clear how the story fits together.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Two words: Humphrey Bogart.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

There's nothing I can say about this that hasn't been said. Pure entertainment.

Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

Jim Jarmusch may be my new favorite director. I'd call him the American Samuel Beckett. I thought I recognized Richard Edson's character. After the movie I picked through my vinyl collection and found Sonic Youth's first album. Turns out, Richard Edson was their original drummer. Makes sense, considering the crowd Jarmusch ran with (CBGBs No Wave Lower East Side, late 70s early 80s). Another plus, Jarmusch studied poetry under Kenneth Koch, one of my favorite poets.

Pierrot Le Fou (1965)

My favorite Godard film. A perfect blend of experimental film making with narrative. Funny and shocking, all the time.


Daredevil #504

A pretty tame ending to Andy Diggle's premiere story arc on the series. I do have to say I was pretty underwhelmed, but I did just read all 125 issues back-to-back. The series seems to have lost some of its subtlety that Ed Brubaker and Brian Michael Bendis employed so well.

Daredevil #505

The opening issue of Diggle's second arc. Fairly repetitious, a lot of flat dialogue. Gorgeous art though. I'm curious to see where Diggle takes my favorite comic/series.

Criminal #3

Ed Brubaker is probably my favorite comic book writer. It's great that he's still doing noir, and every single issue has been a perfect mixture of dialogue and action. Also, the guide to international in the back of every issue is a huge plus, as is the ad-free format.

Criminal #4


Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller Volume 1

Frank Miller only draws these issues, so the storytelling is typical 1970s fare. However, Miller shows how a good artist can take a fairly flat storyline and make it exciting by controlling how the reader interacts with the panels.

Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller Volume 2

This is the entire reason why Daredevil has become such an iconic character. The series was on the verge of cancellation, but because of Miller's writing and drawing, it became one of the best selling Marvel books. The art is executed with perfect control and the storytelling is still fresh even today.

Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller Volume 3

I was very excited to read this after the spectacular second volume. However, this installment was kind of a letdown and I think Miller had exhausted his ideas for the character toward the end of the series. It might also be due to the fact that Miller only wrote these issues, so much of the subtlety of the earlier volumes was lost. Still, it does collect the best single issue of his entire run, "Roulette".


The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

I was very excited to read this at the beginning. Excellent dialogue, vivid scenes, and very surprising, violent action. Toward the middle I began wanting just a little more description. I feel that this basically reads like a screenplay without stage directions and by the time I reached the end I just wanted to finish it.

Savage Night by Jim Thompson

My first foray into straight-forward, genre fiction in years. Very spare prose and masterful dialogue. I'm still scratching my head over the ending.

Hebdomeros by Giorgio De Chirico

In a way, this felt like an extended John Ashbery poem. The scenes are reminiscent of the aura of De Chirico's paintings. My favorite "Surrealist" prose work.

The Memoirs of Giorgio De Chirico

I read this for a paper and and presentation I did on Chirico. While some of the moments are fascinating, I found De Chirico's egocentricity to be unbearable. Seriously, his head was as big as Andre Breton's.


Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip

My favorite book of poetry I've read this year. Gertrude Stein and Susan Howe intersect to show the reader what happens when words fail and the story that can't be told must be.

Notebook of a Return to the Native Land*

Why haven't I read this guy before? Seriously, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Mallarme, and Lautremont have nothing on Cesaire. The oscillation between haunting prose and rhapsodic poetry creates a breathtaking reading experience. I'll definitely be revisiting this book in the near future. On a side note, I found a political flyer from the French elections in my used copy. It has a picture of Cesaire on it and I'm led to believe that the previous owner of this book was in France when Cesaire was running. I searched the Internet for it, but nothing came up.

Solar Throat Slashed*

Not as as good as Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, but still enjoyable. My favorite new poet.

*From the Collected Poetry of Aime Cesaire.

Currently reading: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, The Double Dream of Springe by John Ashbery, and Personae by Ezra Pound.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pixels and Paper

I was looking over some of my old notebooks this morning—in particular the large collection of writing prompts I've outlined for myself—when I noticed I couldn't find one of my notebooks. There was some immediate panic because that notebook was my only record of several poems, translations, and writing prompts. A month's worth of writing gone.

Luckily, I did find it, but this mini-crisis highlighted the issue of the digital versus the printed. Until recently, I've been fairly resistant to the digital world of writing. It was one thing to read the news, reviews, and articles online, but when it came to poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, I wanted to be able to hold it. Or so I thought.

Part of this stemmed from me favoring a tangible object (a book) over an intangible idea (the internet). While I still prefer to read books over web pages, digital copies aren't quite as fragile. I can't drop this blog in a puddle, nor can I accidentally leave it on a bus. Unless the server crashes, it will be here.

There's also the difference of audience: a book will never have as big of a potential audience as a website does. This is what makes the world of digital publishing the best thing that ever happened to writing: the free dissemination of ideas. More people can exchange information than ever before.

Of course, there's still something desirable about the tangible book. It's why I've chosen to print Fuzz Against Junk rather than just post everything online. But I do take comfort in knowing that my ideas have a potential audience beyond the people I know.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Association of Writers & Writing Programs

Yesterday my boss told me I was going to receive a free pass to the AWP conference. Basically, it's going to be 7,000 writers, teachers, and publishers converging for four days of seminars, readings, and workshops. There'll also be a bookfair, with hundreds of small press tables and booths. The AWP conference only comes to Denver once every twenty years. I was going to list some of what I was looking forward to, but that's way too long. Instead, a link:

Monday, February 15, 2010

Captain America Tea Bags Libs Before He Tea Bags You

In what has to be one of the most surreal controversies about comics ever, a recent issue of Captain America has enraged the Tea Party Movement for its depiction of anti-tax protesters as white supremacists. While it never explicitly names the Tea Party (the protesters in Captain America No. 602 belong to a group known as "The Watchdogs"), someone noticed the signs in the comic were strikingly similar to those seen at Tea Party protests. Since then, Marvel Comics has apologized and explained that they used signs from anti-tax protests not to draw a parallel between The Watchdogs and the Tea Party Movement, but to add a sense of realism to the comic book. I'm not going to discuss whether or not these answers are genuine or not, as there are plenty of other blogs out there that have already done so; rather, I'm going to underline the absurdity of this entire situation.

Comics have long used current events as the basis for their plots and story lines. In the 1950s, Superman revealed his secret identity to McCarthy to dispel doubts that he and the Justice League were really a Communist group seeking world domination. Though the paranoia and absurdity of that situation certainly parallel the political climate during McCarthyism, it could hardly be called realistic; this is, after all, the same medium where getting bit by a radioactive spider or covered in toxic waste leads to superpowers instead of cancer.

This is not to say that comic books haven't portrayed certain groups of people in a negative way; plenty of books have been written on how comics perpetuate gender and racial stereotypes, and many of those comics are still on the market. For example, in one of the issues collected in Showcase Presents: Justice League of America Volume 1, Aquaman states, "While we don't have a permanent chairman--when it comes to cleaning time, we all agree Wonder Woman is the boss." Still, this isn't as much of a blatant attempt at misrepresenting women as it is a reflection of the sexism of that era, just as Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil's Green Lantern/Green Arrow run reflects the political conscience of the 1970s by addressing topics such as environmentalism, the American Indian Movement, and drug abuse. Likewise, the protesters in Captain America No. 602 represent the disillusionment with the United States Government that so many have felt in the last decade; namely, how it spends its tax money.

The Tea Party's claim that they're being misrepresented hinges on the ability to identify the slogans in Captain America No. 602 as belonging to the Tea Party Movement. If the reader can't do so, then the audience is reading a comic book where Captain America clashes with white supremacist, anti-tax protesters. Even if you can identify them, you have to believe this is a conscious, subliminal attempt to defame the Tea Party Movement. Since we live in a era where accuracy in the news is less important than pushing a political agenda, it seems more plausible that Marvel would outright identify the group if they wanted to push anti-Tea Party propaganda

The only thing that even makes this comparison between the Tea Party and The Watchdogs possible is Marvel's admittance that they borrowed political slogans from actual Tea Party protests. Other than that, The Watchdogs have about as much in common with the Tea Party as Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds does with World War II. The people who are seriously enraged by this comic are of the same mentality as those who boycotted Tarantino's movie because it didn't accurately represent history. In both cases, that was never the intention; the author picked a historical event and then deviated from the facts to tell a story. To take such obvious fiction seriously is as absurd as trying to interview some protesters you saw in a comic book.




Washington Times


note: It's interesting that the Fox story uses this as a launchpad to attack Captain America writer Ed Brubaker's politics, since he's not the one who made the decision to include the Tea Party signs.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Letter to the Contributors

A few weeks ago I made a chapbook for my friend's birthday. Until then I didn't realize how easy it was to print, bind, and distribute printed material. Of course, this was a very modest project; only a handful were made, but it was still very exciting to see how immediate this kind of DIY process was. I don't remember if there was any delay or if the idea came soon after, but I remember deciding: I'm going to print a magazine. This is how Fuzz Against Junk was conceived.

I made that decision before I knew who I would publish or how I would handle submissions; it just seemed too easy and too good of an idea not to do it. In trying to answer who I would publish, I thought about my time at Naropa. When I first transferred into the writing program last Fall, I didn't know anybody. After spending the last two years in small writing workshops and lit. seminars, I can say I know a lot of incredibly talented writers. One thing I noticed was that very few of them were actively trying to publish. Basically, if you weren't in those classes, you missed out on some of the best writing being done today.

I decided Fuzz Against Junk would publish those writers, the ones you've never heard of that are just as talented as some of the ones you have. I also wanted to illustrate the richness and diversity of Naropa's writing community. My only submission guidelines were that I had to know them personally and like their work; otherwise, they were free to submit whatever they wanted.

I currently have about 20-30 pages of accepted material. As I near the halfway mark on this project, I want to thank those who made the last two years great. I hope you're looking forward to the first issue of Fuzz Against Junk as much as I am.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Fuzz Against Junk Issue 1

by Mark White


I’m in a fight but no one else knows. I’m angry at my hands. Other hands can draw thin, perfect circles. Other hands can cut thick construction paper into long, straight strips and weave those strips into baskets. Other hands can flash out letters, numbers, and words; other hands can speak. My hands are mute, which makes them easy to hate.

I keep vigilant watch on my hands. They are clumsy and heavy, as if they’re waiting for something, have been waiting for a long time. I am suspicious that they are waiting to catch me at some unguarded moment and close over my mouth and nose. I start biting my nails to keep them short, dull, and tender. I attempt to sharpen my teeth, but they are still too soft, and their dust makes my eyes water.

Fear turns spiteful, and I start playing tricks on my hands. Just mischievous at first, I quickly turn cruel and stupid in my pranks. Oh, you were outside all last night? I thought you were staying at Andrew’s again. I’m sorry; I don’t even remember locking the door, and no, you know, it is strange I didn’t hear you knocking at all.


I have gotten rid of my hands. They are gone. Lost. Deserted. I think of them now as long dead pets or lovers. There are moments, usually in early morning, when, turning over in bed, I can still smell them faintly. The smell is different every time: sometimes bacon cooked over a woodfire, sometimes the mineral smell of cave water.

I want to learn to conduct music, but I am afraid to try. I think sadly that all disappointment stems from my own clumsy, absent hands. I invent a new way of conducting music by dilating my nostrils wide and open, then small and tight. After several weeks of diligent practice, I can competently conduct music in 2/4, ¾, and 4/4 time. Soon, however, I realize that I am the only person capable of understanding this method of music steersmanship, and so I abandon it to learn how to play piano.


My hands returned two years ago, but I didn’t notice. They are entirely unremarkable. I have trouble understanding their purposes and intentions, but this results more from my own lack of interest than any aura of mystery on their part.

What worries me is that the left side of my body smells differently than the right side. It’s the sweat, I think. The sweat under my left arm smells thick and sweet, like mouthfoam, but the sweat under my right arm is acidic and brittle, like venom. My body may be trying to grow into two different people.

But I am not wholly convinced. I stick my hands under my arms, and hold them there for hours, till they are moist and wrinkled in my sweat. I smell each hand carefully and without bias. They are different. I want to ask someone else to verify my findings, but I can’t. What would people do if they knew I was growing in two?

I try to fix the difference: I make sure to chew all my food evenly on both sides of my mouth; I carefully document the different layers of flavor in my sweat resulting from various stimuli (e.g., Humid heat-sweat from under my right arm tastes like wasps; sweat from exercise makes my left armpit taste like flat champagne). Eventually I give in and buy two different kinds of deodorant.


I am walking by myself but he won’t talk to me. Every time I try to start a conversation (Hey, look, is that a Robin?; Aren’t you glad its fall again?), I just nod and make a small noise in the back of my throat that sounds almost like a soft oh. I try to tell myself that I am not disinterested, that, really, I am just deep in thought, and don’t mean to be so distant. I reach across and grab my hand. I hold it lightly, for a few steps, but then let it drop casually away.

I am exhausted. It is so hard to keep myself entertained. Every time I start to tell a story, it turns out I already know the ending; Every time I tell a joke, I already know the punch line. I try to surprise myself with small gifts, but it ends up feeling empty, false, and contrived. I stay up most nights listening to myself pace the corridor from my small, clean kitchen to my bedroom.

I decide to sew myself back together. I practice first on small animals I catch in string traps in my yard. I slice them in two and then stitch them back whole with coarse string. My hands are uncertain at first, but they catch on quickly, threading together dirty, matted fur.

I try to trap myself in the garage. I think that if I jump out from behind my Jeep unexpectedly and grab hold of something tender, like my ears or nose, then I can keep myself still long enough to start sewing. But I am expecting it, every time, and I am always able to escape my needle and thread. I decide to try and split in two again. I focus my thoughts and I pull and I tug, but this time nothing happens. I remain whole. Or half. I can’t decide which.

Sometimes, on nights when I can’t see past myself, my hands leave their pockets and travel up and down my body giving warmth and comfort. They whisper gentle placations against my skin, and they turn up the corners of my mouth when it starts to slip and droop.


Mark White will be graduating with a BA from Naropa University in May 2010. He almost won the school spelling bee in 7th grade, but lost to his younger sister. As a teenager, he was the Youth Leader of his Mormon congregation until he was caught viewing homosexual pornography. After graduation, Mark plans on avoiding his loan repayments until December 21st, 2012.

Fuzz Against Junk Issue 1

On Darkness
by Elizabeth Robinson

The darkness reveals this

little nick

in the thumb knuckle
a burden
to be carried on the back
of the hand.


the dark
was a gesture, now

it blushes, tiny
of the
descent, slits

of snow fingering



Elizabeth Robinson is the author, most recently, of Also Known As (Apogee Press) and The Orphan & its Relations (Fence Books). Three Novels (a poetry collection) will be out from Omnidawn Press in 2011. Robinson lives in Boulder and co-edits EtherDome Chapbooks and Instance Press.

Fuzz Against Junk Issue 1

Belated Impulsiveness
by Jonathan Bowman

Look poets can be happy too, not just bitch and shit.
I swear some nights the dishwasher's growl perfects
a purring Persian arch-back masterpiece
without loneliness or grief. But it's walking
to and from the beach that's hard, not a matter
of creation, but of opening one's eyes.

The world has certain ugly mirrors with gaunt eyes
when turned upon such angles, scared as shit:
the cold gesture eats itself, hardly matters
as its howls echo, disdained, perfect.
Yet when one denotes this hopeless part of walking,
they crowd around like crows, yelling masterpiece

or taking your temperature. Madmen make masterpieces
and everyone is frightened of your shapeless eyes.
What have you seen, they wonder, in your walking?
That they missed when they slept and loved and took their shits
in invisible tethered lusts which ended up being perfectly
comfortable, and baiting the night to sing moons a small matter

now? What remains of it, or will? When such matter
as makes our throat reforms without us? Masterpieces
they say, may last some years longer than the body, perfect
in the sense of their time, yet no more than I
do they resist the final gong which sings without us, shits
a final period on the song, its reverberation walking

into empty space with no one to hear it. Walking
and carelessly disappearing. The old koan: does it matter
the sound a falling tree makes or doesn't make? Just shits
and giggles then: in one's walking as one's apathy, masterpiece
might be a million things, just to do what sounds perfectly
agreeable instead of merely poetic. But how to stop the eye

from seeing all disfigured stars? What if I
want to dwell here, in this pulsing half-thought, walking
only to and from the beach, sad, yet with the perfect
moon in my pocket, the inexpressible matters
nibbled and hinted at, my own idea of a masterpiece
in the known crinkles of my hands, even if it's bullshit?

Look, just as easily, I can shit or be perfect,
but nothing describes the masterpiece quite like walking
away. And how could it matter, anyway? I am an eye.


Jonathan Bowman is about to graduate from Naropa with a BA in Writing & Poetics. What's next? He has no idea. But he does know that he was born and raised in Austin, Texas and would like to take this chance to acknowledge the support of his family, without whom such an impractical career would be quite a bit more difficult. Also, he feels writing a miniature autobiography in 3rd person is very strange, like being a spy in the facts of his life.