Thursday, November 10, 2011

Everyone loves a classic who-dunnit

For those who haven't seen the news, Little, Brown & company have pulled a book from the shelves that they recently published as a result of several pages being copied from classics and modern spy novels. Full story here.

No statement has been from the author as of yet. However, this article from the New Yorker sums everything up quite nicely.

"If Rowan is trying to comment upon the spy genre—on how it is both tired and endlessly renewable, on how we as readers of the genre want nothing but to be astonished again and again by the same old thing—then he has done a bang-up job. If he wants to comment on our current notions of discovery, to turn us all into armchair detectives, Googling here and there and everywhere to solve the puzzle, he is a genius."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Happy Birthday!

John Ashbery is 84 today.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Found Poetry Review

Were there ever a poetry magazine dedicated to my way of operating, this is it. I've yet to even read anything from its current, first issue, but their submission guidelines begin with this:

"Give us your poems made up of lines from newspaper articles, instruction booklets, dictionaries, toothpaste boxes, biographies, Craigslist posts, speeches, other poems and any other text-based source. Only found poems will be considered for publication; original poems, regardless of quality, will not be accepted."

What's great is that they have an entire list of writing prompts for those of us who've never done this, or a need a new source.

See for yourself here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

3by3by3 Poem

Honest Seekers In

The incestuous trains
of politicians, the relentless
pitchfork outside the gates.

Newspapers admitted they
had no information. The public
took comfort in bars, in mourning,

until earthquake, tsunami, and
nuclear meltdown, until dignity
chanted its name.,0,243061.story


The above poem was written using the language from the first three paragraphs of the linked news stories above. Lance Newman, a poet I am completely unfamiliar with, runs this operation over at his blog.

Read, participate, submit.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ashes on Saturday Afternoon

The banal machines are exposing themselves
on nearby hillocks of arrested color: why
if we are the anthropologists canopé
should this upset the autumn afternoon?

It is because you are silent. Speak, if
speech is not embarrassed by your attention
to the scenery! in languages more livid than
vomit on Sunday after wafer and prayer.

What is the poet for, if not to scream
himself into a hernia of admiration for all
paradoxical integuments: the kiss, the
bomb, cathedrals and the zeppelin anchored

to the hill of dreams? Oh be not silent
on this distressing holiday whose week
has been a chute of sand down which no
factories or castles tumbled: only my

petulant two-fisted heart. You, dear poet,
who addressed yourself to flowers, Electra,
and photographs on less painful occasions,
must save me from the void's eternal noise.

Friday, July 15, 2011

More of Yesterday

Maybe it wasn't clear from yesterday's post, but I like Conceptual Poetry. I like how inventive and uninhibited it can be. What I have trouble with is the notion that the framework is better than the product. For all of its ingenuity, it seems the only thing it can't do is produce a book worth reading.

Of course, I'm kidding. Kind of. I can think of plenty of books that would be classified as Conceptual Poetry that are thoroughly enjoyable reads. I'm highlighting this point because it's not the first time I've seen someone from the inside of Conceptual Poetry claim that the work is inherently inferior to the idea. If one takes serious Goldsmith's claim that one doesn't have to read these books (and that even if you wanted to, you can't), why produce them?

Let me change the subject for a moment. When you go see a movie you want it to be successful at whatever it's setting out to achieve. In spite of that hope, we all have any number of experiences where we felt the idea of the film was better than its execution. This doesn't make them bad by default, but we generally don't bandy them around as these important, cutting edge works.

There are any number of reasons why that analogy isn't applicable to the situation in poetry, but the most relevant is that these books aren't the poetic equivalent of a Hollywood action movie. They are pushing issues of ownership to the foreground, they are asking the readers consider the limit of poetry. I'm just convinced it's possible to do so while producing a book that even Kenneth Goldsmith would want to read.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Original Thief

There's an interview with Kenneth Goldsmith called "Against Expression" up at The Academy of American Poets. It is all here.

His opening response to the question, "How would you explain conceptual poetry to a younger audience unfamiliar with the tenets of conceptual art?" sets the stage for things:

"The best thing about conceptual poetry is that it doesn’t need to be read. You don’t have to read it. As a matter of fact, you can write books, and you don’t even have to read them. My books, for example, are unreadable."

Long have critics and poets talked about the uselessness of poetry, but this is different. This is the first instance of a writer I can remember proclaiming that not only do his books not need to be read, those who wish to will be physically incapable of doing so. It's an interesting form of marketing.

Above content, style, or even the writing itself, Goldsmith foregrounds, unsurprisingly, the concept. What's important is how it's framed. Accordingly, the books Goldsmith has written consist of all of his bodily movements in a short period of time, a year's worth of weather reports, and every word he spoke within a week. He explains further, "It's not about inventing anything new; it's about finding things that exist and reframing them and representing them as original texts."

As great a conversation starter as this interview is, Goldsmith does get some things wrong. For example, "...we've never had the concept of lifting something that you didn't write and moving it over five inches, saying that it's yours, and claiming that it's a newly authored text," is simply not true. John Giorno, for example, added line breaks to the constitution and called it his poem back in 1964.

There's also the tension between his admission that this is not about doing anything new and his claim that this has never been done before. Theft, as a compositional tool, is as old as poetry itself. What's new is how prevalent and how willing we are to flaunt it.

This is sure to raise the ire of many (and it does, across the spectrum, as Goldsmith notes). Whatever your reaction, he is touching on important questions. Who owns the words they write? Can found objects be claimed as originals? What are the limits of what is called poetry?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Wave Your Thumbs, Sing a Jingle About the Stars

Michael Dirda has an essay over at book forum about the negative impact of bestseller lists. He suggests limiting the number of times an author can appear on the list: once. This, he argues, would allow other authors, whom can't compete with literary franchises like Tom Clancy and John Grisham, to still get exposure and introduce the general reading populace to a wider range of books.

It's a good suggestion, but one that isn't likely to happen. Our entire culture of reviews and marketing is based on numbers. Still, I'd like to see things go even further: remove the grading scales from reviews.

In book culture, this isn't too much of a problem. The NY Times has assigns no grades to their reviews. One of my favorite online magazines for poetry, Coldfront, however, does. We see this more in film and music. I can't think of a single venue that doesn't rate an album or movie with stars, numbers, or letters. Aside from advertising, what good does this do?

Stars, numbers, and letters don't communicate any of the things a well written review do, but how often does someone see a movie because of how many thumbs Ebert pointed at the sky or buy and album because it got a 9.0 on Pitchfork? These numbers reflect, more than anything, the editorial bias these venues operate under.

There's also the problem of expectations. If a trusted critic praises something, it sets your expectations somewhere. This is true regardless of the presence of numbers, but at least, were they to disappear, the expectations would be based on the content of a review and not the number assigned to it.

Of course, like Dirda's suggestion, this will never happen. The larger institutions who produce reviews are integral to marketing campaigns, but how many times have critics been wrong, how often have you found your taste at odds with what the prevailing attitudes of the mainstream are?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lest we forget:

Writing is a form of technology.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Atrophied Bicycle Chain

I've been quiet these last few months, not only here (where I've never been particularly loud), but just in regards to writing in general. These last weeks, of reading Roberto Bolano, hearing news of acceptance for some of my poems, and the usual sense that I could always be doing more than I am have propelled me to write at nearly every free moment.

I've been kicking around some ideas on how to get Fuzz Against Junk 2 (which is not done) out. I really want to make it a print issue. I like to read on the subway and the eBook revolution has not been kind to poetry. Then again, with my girlfriend studying abroad in Spain, leaving me behind to the pay the rent, scarping together $300 will be pretty hard. So the online option is on the table.

I received my second package from Ugly Duckling Presse in the last few weeks and am just now getting around to looking at it. Even though I don't like everything they release, they are certainly a very inclusive press, which is something I can appreciate.

Anticipating: Ashbery's Rimbaud, Animal Collective in Prospect Park, tomorrow's poem.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Ashbery talks about translating Rimbaud's Illuminations here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How Did I Miss This?

Though I have not posted, I thought I was still paying attention. More here.

Monday, February 28, 2011

And if you don't go crazy I'll meet you here tomorrow

Two Fridays back I received my first package from Ugly Duckling Presse. My family and friends chipped in and got me the full subscription, meaning I'll get everything they publish this year (about 30 books in total). It was nice surprise to come to a mailbox full of books. The title of this post is taken from the first I've read of the bunch, a kind of post-beat/NY school collection by Filip Marinovich.

I also finished Calligrammes by Guillame Apollinaire. All in all, it's been a fruitful few weeks of reading. I'm currently reading The Return of the Native by Kate Colby.

A few more submissions have trickled in for the second issue. At this point, I think the issue will be more of a late summer/early fall affair due to my plan to switch apartment in July.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Treachery of Images

Against my better judgement, I picked up Charles Simic's Master of Disguises (I should have gone for The World Doesn't End). Having never read Mr. Simic's work, I'm not sure what I expected but it certainly wasn't this. For all of his deftness with the technical apparatus of the English language and the lucidity of his images, there's something lacking.

Specifically, mystery.

In fact, these poems seem to do everything within their power to make sure the reader is never left guessing. While some readers may delight in their directness, I find it completely boring. Thankfully he has a sense of humor ("On the use of murder to improve the world"), but even this cannot save his book from being the first really underwhelming book of poetry I've read in 2011.

That's not to say that reading it hasn't been a valuable experience for me. It made me explicitly aware of how important mystery is to me when involved in reading/writing. As a reader, it brings me back for a second look or, long after I've closed the book, it teases my thoughts to assemble the puzzle. As a writer, that uncertainty pushes me forward as I try to figure out a way to say the ineffable. Either way, mystery is generative.

This brings us to the title of this post, named after the famous painting of a pipe by Magritte. Recently I stumbled upon this quote, out of context, by the painter:

"People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image. No doubt they sense this mystery, but they wish to get rid of it. They are afraid. By asking, 'what does this mean?' they express a wish that everything is understandable. But if one does not reject the mystery, one has quite a different response. One asks other things."

It's those other things that I'm interested in experiencing, which is why Simic's book fails to impress me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Notes on Faith and Skepticism

Someone in the 20th Century drew a line in the sand of literary history. On one side was Modernism; on the other, everything else.

Okay, that didn't actually happen, but the way some people talk about it you could swear it did. These attempts at defining the avant-garde(s) as a cohesive movement or style (it is not) make me wonder: is there any single characteristic they all share?

If there is, it is skepticism. Skepticism of language. Skepticism about the legitmacy of any body of authority. Skepticism that our social and political realities will improve in the future. Skepticism that they can improve. Skepticism of narrative.

I could go on.

On the other side(s) of things, there seems to be an underlying sense of faith. Above all, a faith in the ability of language to deliver an experience. Faith our narratives will have an ending that, if not happy, will at least provide closure. Faith that our experiences are meaningful.

How can we be sure?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

It feels like it should today

On February 15th, Sonic Youth is re-pressing the vinyl of Bad Moon Rising. This will make all of their early work (Sonic Youth, Confusion is Sex, EVOL, and Sister) freely available on wax for the first time in a long time. While I doubt I'll be snagging the bundle, I will at the very least snag Sister, my favorite album of theirs to date. Go get your copies here.

These reissues have got me thinking about the trajectory of their career, from the Can and Glenn Branca-inspired beginnings to their current position as a cultural institution. The 1980s, when they began, were much more violently experimental. Punk rock had come and gone, and for all of those bands flirting with Anarchy, most proved to be interested in playing no-bullshit rock and roll, which wasn't a bad thing.

From the begining, Sonic Youth had a different idea in mind. Their first effort, by comparison to their No Wave peers, sounds relatively tame. For all of its atonality and dissonance, the songs on their first EP still sounded like songs. Their follow-up, Confusion is Sex, is much louder, abrasive, and adventurous. Imagine going to a concert in 1983 and hearing this:

Now compare that with this:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why not merely the despaired of occasion of wordshed

The first batch of invitations has been sent for the second issue of the magazine. It's a slow start, but once I get some work, I'll begin scoping out reams of paper and shopping around for cover art and a plate block to be made.

I'm still in recovery mode from the new year, as I had friends visit for a long weekend, one that we spent running around the city trying pack as much possible into three days.

Other than that, reading Bolano's The Savage Detectives and tapping out occasional poems on my typewriter.