Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Music of the Spheres

Some things for your poetry: Janna Levin on the sound the universe makes:

Levin has also, of course, written a novel about Gödel & Turing. Meanwhile the world continues to write its own seriocomic Turing Tests & Ray Kurzweil's Cybernetic Poet still trembles with immortal song.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

(Sweet) Potato

There's this to help with your toast, & this to help you digest.

(A little bit of this, a little bit of that.  Then a sliver of this.)

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us here in the oonaverse!  & welcome back to weekly updates.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

O Tempura, O Monkeys

Times & customs indeed! We've linked to Like Starlings since the blog's inception but (unforgivably) never featured them in a post. (Forgive us.) One of our favorite features on the site is their series of collaborative epistolary poems. Start with Jane Yeh & H.L. Hix, then read them all! 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Epistolary Review: The Cento, A Collection of Collage Poems (Red Hen Press 2011)

Dear R.,

Look, our first anthology review!  Somehow, it seems appropriate that The Cento, A Collection of Collage Poems, edited by Theresa Malphrus Welford, should find its way to us. I mean that our current cultural moment seems to me incredibly ripe for a survey of the poetic form called the cento, which (to use the loosest definition possible) is essentially a poem composed out of found text--whether advertisements or bits of other poems or whatever else strikes your fancy. (Pound's Cantos might be retroactively classified under this rubric.) In an age of sampling, remixes, & Flarf, the renaissance of the cento, a form that dates, one way or another, at least to ancient Greece, is oddly apt. The possibilities of this kind of poetic collage are dizzying, which I mean partly as a compliment & partly an expression of misgiving. On one hand, collage poems have the potential to recontextualize the familiar in startling & productive ways (a poet friend of mine considers cento the only responsible way to write political poetry); on the other, they can often come off as a kind of clumsy, involuted pastiche. There are poems of both kinds in The Cento. 

The experience of reading the anthology is rather like listening to the entire canon of Girl Talk albums in succession--you're consistently pleased & astonished by the range of quotations & the kinds of uses to which they're put. & yet, to read the entire thing at once is to experience, by the end, a kind of deadening, a resistance to cleverly repurposed language that each successive poem has to work harder to overcome. (To be fair, any anthology based around a single formal strategy would probably suffer from this problem.) A casual reader--one dipping into the anthology at random rather than reading the whole thing in a sitting--might have the right idea about how to approach this book--as a sampler of the sampled. I rather like the idea that an anthology of centos would require a reading practice that recapitulates, in some way, the process of composition. 

Although the cento is nominally a singular form, what's apparent here is that, within the parameters of "collage," a multitude of variations are possible. Poems like L.N. Allen's "Robot Woman" sample from newspaper advertisements & other perennials from the world of mass print culture: "It cleans. It softens. What's not to love?" (31). Meanwhile, poems like R.S. Gwynn's "Approaching a Significant Birthday, He Peruses The Norton Anthology of Poetry" draw from the work of canonical literary figures: 

Downward to darkness on extended wings,
Break, break, break, on thy cold gray stones, O sea,
And tell sad stories of the death of kings. 
I do not think that they will sing to me. (116)

This anthology gives the impression, too, that the cento is a form surprisingly open to mixture with other more rigid forms like villanelles, sestinas, sonnets, & pantoums, all of which make appearances here. Catherine Chandler-Oliveira's "The Bard," for example, is a sestina entirely composed of lines from Shakespeare ending in "away," "right," "to," "day," "night," & "true." One of the most straightforward remixes in the collection, this poem uses the relative consistency of Shakespeare's meter to advantage. Other poems in the collection also employ conspicuously metered lines--not at all fashionable these days--to give the impression of unity where there is, in fact, multiplicity. There are several poems based on the work of Emily Dickinson--Mary Moore's "Emily, Walking," to name one--that rely on her insistent ballad meters for their effects: 

This Me- that walks and works--must die,
The great exchange of clime--
A darting fear--a pomp--a tear--
And the Surrender--Mine-- (171)

On the whole, The Cento is an excellent place to begin exploring the landscape of collage poetry. However, for all the collection's attempts at inclusion, it is only a beginning--selective & not comprehensive. That is, it cannot be comprehensive. In a climate in which centos of one variety or another seem to be proliferating with unimaginable speed, this anthology cannot (& does not) claim to represent every species & subspecies. It does, however, mark for us a trend; it tells us a little (as any good anthology does) about the kind of poetry we are attracted to just now, about the kind of poetry we think we need. For example, some person or another might find useful the sentiments expressed in Philip Dacey's "Patchwork Sonnet of Friends' Complimentary Closes" (74), which I quote here in its entirety: 

Riches, poverty, solitude, friendship.
Gold and potatoes. Visitations. Wings.
Peace, power, love, luck, cheers, and a safe trip.
May a thousand flowers bloom! All good things.
Salubrious catastrophes. Clarity.
Luego. Zdravo. Sayonara. Shalom.
Health, rage, and macadamia nuts. Let it be.
Yours till Reaganomics works. Hurry home.
Cherish folly. Seize that carp. Unscrew
the inscrutable. Hugs and slugs. Keep on. Adieu.
Hoka hey. Tra la. Adios. Hidee ho.
Mutter spiffy. Write. Tell me what you know.
Salt in your blood and wine in your glass. Ciao.
Take it easy but take it. Bye for now [,]



Dear (r),

Your virtual letter has languished on my proverbial shelf for weeks!  You see, although I quite admire this anthology--its timeliness, its commitment to light verse, its dual senses of purpose and play--I've always found myself a bit uncomfortable around the cento, rather like a cat person who pats the mastiff's head too gingerly, or a labrador aficionado who, in good humor, shakes the cat.

Recently, one of my students gave a presentation about the cento.  Having received permission to cite the ensuing discussion here, I listened in as my students characterized the form, on the one hand, as "lazy," and, on the other, as holding "huge potential for meaning," kind of like a poetic Swiss Army Knife folding the possibilities of twenty poems into one.  Like you, dear (r), my students referenced mashup music even as they discussed the form's ancient origins, wondering aloud whether it wouldn't be more fun to write a poem "not from concentrate."

There are forms, dear (r), of comfort and discomfort.  The cento is a form of comfort, the lifted text like a borrowed scarf.  Perhaps in this way it both is and is not about the fun of invention.  

Yours having faced my fear of the cento, and yours in less triumphant moments also,

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Night of Radiant Sun

In honor of his Nobel Prize, a selection of poems by Tomas Tranströmer to infuse your Thursday morning with a little clarity.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

We Will Imitate a Lyre Bird; Or, Mirov & Lawless & You

Over at HTMLGIANT, some gchat poetry reviews by Ben Mirov & Amy Lawless. Apparently we are not alone in the genre! (Perhaps we never were.) Could this be the harbinger of a collaborative poetry-reviewing groundswell? We can only (ever) hope!

Here, where we write from, it is crisp & a little chilly, a day like the inside of a cucumber, the perfect weather for Clogs:  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Skunk & Armadillo Are Friends

Via a history of Lowell’s reception, an essay by Tony Roberts in the PN Review explores the links between scholarly fashion & literary-historical narrative, reputation & canonicity, a writer’s status & a reader’s identity.  Along the way, Roberts interrogates the peculiar critical economy fostered by collaboration, epistolary writing, and friendship—a set of concerns never far from our thoughts here in the oonaverse.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Envelope Please

R:  Dear (r), I have a multiple original for you, & it's true, too!

(r):  Say on.  Oh, do say on, dear R.


21 East 2nd

I dreamt I wrote an article:

"Lighting My Windowless

Our supper was very warm,
& we are very wonderful.

That's a poem on a scrap of paper--perhaps it was a postcard--in Ted Berrigan's hand, dedicated to Helena Hughes and signed Ted Berrigan/James Schuyler/Tom Carey.  I found it a few years ago, when I was looking around the TAP archives at the University of Michigan.  I took a photo and made some copies, and gave one to Alice Notley when I saw her that summer at the Kerouac School.  "Oh, I remember this!" she said.  Was that another multiple original?

(r):  What a marvelous story!  Maybe we ought to explain what the TAP archives are for those who might not be familiar.  Then we can talk more about these mysterious "multiple originals!"

R:  Indeed, dear (r).  Sometimes I forget that we are being "overheard."  Care to introduce today's topic of discussion?

(r):  (Eavesdropping is an old art.)  I would be pleased to.  TAP stands for "The Alternative Press" and was a project of the Detroit Artists' Workshop, a group of artists of all kinds--language workers and otherwise--active in Detroit in the 1960s. A very unusual periodical to say the least, TAP was a kind of magazine in the form of quotidian objects--subscribers would receive mailings of postcards, bumper stickers, bookmarks, and other items that, when examined, proved to be delicate letterpress poems and works of art.  Emily Warn gives a wonderful, succinct summary of the project in her recent blog post.

R:  Indeed, she does!  But beyond a summary, the article is a bit of a call to arms, is it not?

(r):  In its way, very much so.  Warn is particularly concerned with a subset of the TAP project that we've already mentioned: “the Multiple Originals project, a poetry and visual art postcard project that was a brilliant, all-but-forgotten subset of the TAP endeavor. It began in 1971 when Ken Mikolowski and his friend Gordon Newton, a Detroit visual artist, were kicking around ideas for another way that the writers and visual artists of the Artists’ Workshop could collaborate. The idea seemed simple enough: Poets were asked to write 500 original poems, one on each of a numbered set of 500 postcards. The postcards were blank except for a poet or artist’s name, which the Mikolowskis stamped on the back—they were like 500 three-by-five-inch canvases. Poets could collaborate with anyone they wanted to, or work solo. When poets finished a batch, they sent them back to the Mikolowskis, who would let them pile up until they’d printed a bunch of the other stuff—ever more fanciful, elegant letterpress and offset poetry in all types of formats (bumper stickers, tea bags, bookmarks, broadsides, calendars). From the two piles, they divvied up the poetry for their subscribers, slipping a handful of printed poems and original poetry postcards—each written by a different poet—into a manila envelope. TAP published three or four of these “issues” every year. The playful genius of Mikolowski and Newton’s idea cartwheeled from Detroit outward, shaking something loose in American poetry during the doldrums of the 1970s. Soon several dozen poets affiliated with many different schools—the Beats, Black Mountain, the New York School, and Cass Corridor poets—began sending packets of postcards back and forth across the country, sometimes in collaboration with visual artists.”

R:  Let's linger on that title for a moment, shall we?  What might it mean for a set of 500 distinct poems to count as multiple originals?

(r):  I imagine the tension inherent in the phrase is part of the appeal. If something is original, can it be multiple?

R:  Might this go back to our invocation of overhearing and eavesdropping?  Might each original be multiple?  Or does this simply mean: original art that multiplies?  Multiples of art that are each original?

(r):  One persistent problem of epistolary work of any kind--critical, personal, poetic--seems to be the problem of overhearing. In thinking about what "multiple originals" might mean, we're also putting our own critical practice under the microscope.

R:  And so is Warn!

(r):  Shall we sum up her take on the multiple originals project in brief?

 R:  I think so.  It seems to me that Warn presents the project as having had an energizing and community-building effect on 20th-century poetry.  Writers from different "schools" engaged in the project collaboratively, communally, and competitively.  The project caused the production of new poetry and cross-genre work, some of which is still undiscovered.

(r):  Indeed. & the energy of the endeavor, which, as you point out, Warn emphasizes, seems somehow inextricable from the possibilities of the form: what the space of the postcard allowed.

R:  Allowed and implied--as tiny blank canvas, and as mode of direct communication.

(r):  I'm thinking of Warn's citation of Alice Notley, who thought of the postcards as “small pristine white spaces.”  There's also, of course, the difficulty of reproducing objects like this.  The material features of correspondence as art.  Epistolary aesthetics seem to privilege the auratic, the "original" quality.  These postcards seem to be strange two-headed creatures, part of a public campaign on one hand, intensely private and irreproducible on the other.  The problems of reading, cataloguing, or archiving this kind of poetry, which is so bound up in its physical format, seem intimately tied to the problems of how you read it.

 R:  Yes, something would be lost if you reproduced these in a coffee table book.  And there's something formal to the moment of discovery, I think--they're designed to fall out of an envelope, to mimic falling out of a mailbox by falling out of an envelope.

(r):  Oh, I do like that image.

R:  Remember the issue of McSweeney's that was designed to look like a bunch of stuff that just arrived in your mailbox?

(r):  I do! I almost threw it away! (Which is what I was supposed to do? Probably my greatest pleasure in that issue was the moment I realized what it was and saved it from certain destruction. Not to say it was a bad issue, merely that the pleasure of saving anything from certain destruction is quite powerful. Is this what they call a "white knight complex?”)  In any case, another aspect to consider with the Multiple Originals is their relationship to the ephemeral.  Warn's piece compliments a public exhibit by the Poetry Foundation of many of the Multiple Originals.  I wonder how it's different to see them in a curated context as opposed to, as you said, "falling out of the envelope."

R:  The latter is curated too, though, right?  That's something Warn articulates beautifully: the aesthetics of the ephemeral and the affect of the archival encounter: "Looking through the Multiple Originals postcards at the library, I realized I was holding fragments of an artistic project, the whole of which can never be collected or studied. These poems had escaped the museum of literature. Many of those that remain are like charcoal smudges on a nearly completed portrait, or the hint of a form emerging in repeated sketches of a single idea. Scrawled mishaps. Such early attempts are commonly displayed at major retrospectives. Some of them are works of art in their own right. In them, we can see talent working against the pressure of time and the flux of everyday life. The sense of art being made and the presence of the person in these artifacts can be more fascinating than the finished piece hanging labeled on the wall."  After all, can something really have escaped the museum of literature if it is preserved in a special collections library & curated by the Poetry Foundation?

(r):  Yes, it's a claim that's worth putting pressure on (She's wonderfully eloquent, isn't she?).   For instance, I'm not sure that incompleteness guarantees that something can "never be studied."  Incompleteness is, rather, a kind of aphrodisiac to study. We love fantasizing about missing pieces far too much to resist a project like this. I love that she ends with poet & critic John Yau's contention that "[t]he Multiple Originals project opened a new vein for poetry that literary and art critics have yet to learn about or grapple with.”  So those are some good questions for us.  Why, as readers of contemporary poetry, should we try to deal with the implications of this project?  How, if we agree it's important to study this work, should we go about doing it?  

One thing that comes to mind is the novelty of the distribution process.  We're used to poetry that comes to us through certain approved channels--journals, contests, books put out by well-reputed presses.  This project certainly seems like one way of getting around these traditional routes.  (Though, of course, you could argue that an exhibit at the Poetry Foundation is about as traditional as it gets.)  I'm reminded of something I once heard Kenneth Goldsmith say: one condition of contemporary life is that we've become much more fascinated by how information moves than by what the content of the information is.

R:  It's an excellent point, & there's also a question of content here, I think.  There's an alternate creation myth to the project--a new answer to the question of where poetry comes from.

(r):  I'm listening.

R:  There's the idea of poetry produced frivolously--like cardio aerobics--in haste, in competition--Ted & Alice get the flu, so spend the time cranking out as many new poems as possible.  The project implies a cottage industry, of sorts.  So perhaps this is precisely the historical moment--our moment, I mean--when the Multiple Originals project might be most appealing to critics, artists, and readers alike.

(r):  Say more about that.

R:  Well, did you see the cover of Newsweek this week?

(r):  I didn't.

R:  There's an eagle holding a wrench flying in front of the sun, surrounded by red and blue stars and the words "Let's just fix it!”  I think that kind of desire for industriousness might find its poetic counterpoint in the Multiple Originals project: Let's just make lots of art!

(r): Yes, maker culture in general--it's certainly a moment for it--the rise of Etsy, guerilla gardening and knitting.  Urban agriculture.  DIY versifying seems to fit right in.  I am not, by the way, disparaging any of these endeavors.  I think the existence of maker culture an incredibly encouraging phenomenon.

R:  Oh, not at all!  I am not even disparaging Newsweek.  I am writing you a Newsweek sonnet on a postcard as we speak.

(r):  I look forward to it. Epistolary exchange is another thing I find perpetually encouraging.

R:  As is its shadow art--archival research.

(r):  ...when we glory in digging through other peoples' correspondence...

R:  & when we ask them to dig around for us.  Or most of all.  When we ask our audience what might be discovered in their correspondence--or, by extension, in the correspondence of someone else.

(r):  By which you express a common wish to know.  Do you, dear readers, have Multiple Originals of your own?  Would you ever make them publically available?  If so, how would you like to see them displayed or accessed?

R:  After all, we are very wonderful.  Wondering & full of wonder.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

To Each Her Clinamen

Some good things in the latest issue of Wave Composition, a relatively new journal dedicated to experimental writing & writing about experimental writing & probably experimental writing about experimental writing. We could go on like this a long time, no?

We're also pretty crushed out on Poet as Radio--in theory but also in practice, which is to say in praxis, which is to say we can keep this rhetorical plate spinning a good long time too but won't so you may admire instead our remarkable tact & restraint. Look at all the pretty copper gears!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chat Review: Elaine Equi, Click And Clone (Coffee House Press 2011)

(r): Hallo, R.

R: Greets, (r)! Are you ready to click & clone?

(r): Ever. The title of Elaine Equi's new book does a lot of work, doesn't it?

R: Indeed it does. I'm trying to remember where she discusses the title--perhaps in the end notes? Ah yes, here we are. In the notes concluding the volume, Equi thanks the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah for the title, which she borrowed from their website. She writes, "To my mind, it captures our Zeitgeist in a way that is both witty & succinct" (108).

(r): I think that's a really important acknowledgment--& at least a partial statement of poetics! We can definitely tell from this collection that Equi values the succinct & the witty. One impulse I loved in this collection was its conviction that, perspectivally speaking, we do live in a multiverse. Figuring out how to acknowledge intersubjectivity, not merely subjectivity in the singular, is one of Equi’s recurring preoccupations."When you sleep together,/go all the way!" she writes, perhaps a bit too deliciously.

But what intrigues me most here is that this book--unlike many other books of contemporary poetry--has an argument. Perhaps even an Argument.

R: Yes, & an Argument that believes in a Zeitgeist. I was wondering about that, since I read this collection in sprints. I was baking pita bread one at a time, & my reading was syncopated with that very quick baking. I guess that, unlike Equi, I don't "know better/than to go punching holes/in the universe" (1). I mention this because I wasn't feeling particularly plugged in to contemporary culture at the moment of reading.

(r): Maybe that's the best way to read this book, in a sense.

 R: Yes. The reading practice itself is a kind of plugging in--to a zeitgeist, to an argument...

(r): Let's talk a bit about argument, perhaps? I'm not opposed to poetry with an argument in principle--there's a rather impressive English language tradition of argumentative verse, after all--sonneteers & Metaphysicals being, perhaps, its most powerful exponents. So, in a way, one of this collection's gutsiest moves is to revive the not-at-all-fashionable practice of taking a position & defending it at all costs. I can appreciate that without, I think, agreeing with or even very much liking the argument itself. That is, what I take the argument to be:

1) We live in an age of fallen language in which language & history are increasingly estranged & increasingly conformable & insipid: "Destroy. Dismantle. Delete. It remakes itself without/missing--no time anymore for the old farewells” (98).

2) This "click & clone" zeitgeist is always in danger of overwhelming & appropriating any response we might make to it, whether welcoming or hostile: "Go, clone--tell them I tried, but not enough," Equi writes in a poem called "Envoi," "that I was overly fond of lingering, unable to adapt." Here, the imagined interlocutor is, itself, a clone. The poem asks this interlocutor to "Confirm for me the rumor/that somewhere difference still exists" (99).

But is this a thing that can ever be successfully demanded of a clone? If so, what does it mean to be a clone in this collection? To read or write as a clone? Should we be embracing our clonehood or rejecting it utterly?

R: Yes, & building on (2), (3), that art itself is inherently cloning: "Art is not an object, but a way of looking at an object" (57).  In other words, art is both essentially secondary & essentially argumentative.

(r): Absolutely.

 R: Equi pushes this third point perhaps to its limit in "Transport," a piece of literary criticism (examining Murakami's affect) presented as a prose poem (85).
Along these lines, we can consider the second poem in the collection, a post-surrealist "Manifesto" that urges, "Work to abolish/the most abject poverty of all//that of knowing/only one world" (2). It's almost as if art has an active, a political, & thereby a critical stake in the world. Art is diagnostic.

(r): & at times even indexical!

R: & when art is culturally diagnostic, to some extent it has to take a zeitgeist as axiomatic. & whether or not we agree with the diagnosis--or even with the idea of the diagnosis--this is a pretty powerful statement of poetics. For something so new school, it's seriously old-school!

Yes, the oldest new school on the block! How would you feel about taking a look at the way these issues play out in the title poem?

R: Let's. My favorite moment in the title poem comes when Equi writes, "Love--//I have put on/this ape suit for you" (13). It seems so delightfully reminiscent of Jack Spicer's repeating refrain--that love shows through the ridiculous, & the absurdly constructed, particularly in the space of the poem.

(r): Those are my favorite lines too.

R: I love it when we're on the same (literal/figurative) page.

(r): But I think that you might just as easily read them as a mockery.
That is--there are kinds of love that require disguises, semblances, grotesquerie, "aping." Kinds of love that need these devices rather than existing in spite of them. It's interesting to think about how putting on an ape suit might be a kind of formal choice. For instance, the collagist ethic of many of Equi's poems seems to invite questions about performativity & play. I'm thinking in special of the "Reading . . . Over Someone's Shoulder on the Subway" poems.

R: Yes, I thought about those a lot--both for the ways in which they function as a sort of instant mash-up between criticism & poetry (though Equi refers to them as found poems in the book's notes) & for the ways in which they articulate a reading practice that seems to be cultivated/incubated over the course of the text. Which goes back to pita pockets--the extent to which this book invites or activates a sort of dipping in & out of a broader set of sustained themes/multifaceted arguments.

 (r): Yes! I wonder if, in a way, this is what a clonish reading practice really looks like?


Syncopations, excerpts, & elisions.

 R: I baked so many! I don't even know what to do with them all.

Repetitions, imitations, dedications.

 (r): Invite all your friends to break bread! Clone some if you don't have enough.
As "Reading Sandra Brown's Exclusive Over Someone's Shoulder on the Subway" tells us: "I don't buy this 'seclusion' nonsense for a moment." (47).

R: But then how can I embrace the life of a contemporary poet? "I teach somewhere./I'm lost" (23). That is what Equi is sending up in "( )[,]" is it not?

 (r): Seclusion or the sensus communis?

R: "My tattoo reads: Whatever you think I'm doing, I'm not doing it" (57).

(r): I'll see you that & raise you this: "Use your powers for good,/and one day they'll name a robot/in a theme park after you" (80).

R: I've had enough of your "ex-cardinals/ex-pigeons/ex-robins/ex-finches//ex-starlings/ex-sparrows//expatriate birds [...] ex-nightingales" (61). The poetic tropes are falling from the sky, dear (r), & you & I & Equi are left to pick up the pieces. To stake what claims we can. To make what arguments suffice. In poetry as (in) criticism.

(r): I should never plague you with such an aviary. Not without great provocation! Is it time for concluding remarks?

R: It is difficult to conclude in Equi's temporality, in which "Maybe birds never existed/or only in ancient times like Homer's" (60). In her poem for Barbara Guest, "the Collected," Equi writes: "I like the feeling of incompleteness,//the icy unresolve/(some would say lack of closure)/in your poems" (36). This collection's penultimate verse offers two such clever rejections: "Used to be every poet signed off as Orpheus" (104) & "How dare you answer me as if I were an email" (105). Perhaps it is this tension between the argumentative & the undecided that makes Equi's collection so compelling. It's a conundrum & a paradox & an exploration of form. &, after all, it's not about agreement.

(r): Yes, for all her fascination with rhetoric, there's a real attraction to pastiche, inconclusiveness, the strange alchemy of high culture & low, quotidian & extraordinary. You can see this in the brevity of her lines (when she lineates), the chatty expansiveness of her prose poems (when she does not), the playful mining of a vast swathe of intellectual territory that, nonetheless, can't help but point out its limits--all that it is not & cannot account for--the plight of the fool on the hill: "Nothing is his buried treasure/A goose egg is his perfect score./Zero is his favorite hour./Zero the revolving door" (11).

Do you feel like a clone, dear R.? Do I? What ought a clone to feel, anyway? Will you say?

R: Is "The Fool On The Hill" a lyrical ballad mashed with a Radiohead b-side? Is the collection's household god Nietzsche or Kim Kardashian?
Read it & bleep, dear (r). For all its punctuated pleasure & rhythmic mockery & high thought, the text--so critical in & of itself! so anti-critical of every thing!--resists review. & maybe that's its beauty/my recommendation. We cannot answer it as if it were an email.

(r): Hélas. But we can sign off as Orpheus if the fancy strikes us. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It Is the Dawn

Your head: every so often it might as well be in the clouds (as anywhere else).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Summer in the City

In Psychology Today, Susan K. Perry recalls an epistolary exchange with our recession-proof US Poet Laureate.  Philip Levine writes about poetry & horse racing, dismissing the concepts of "muse" and "flow" in favor of the "presence of the total self."  His economical words on the subject of bootstraps poetics may offer a bit of refreshment to one who has spent too many hours this summer contemplating the poetics of the debt ceiling.  And indeed, Levine's staple verse might represent not only our current socioeconomic moment but also the aesthetics (artistic, commercial & pop-cultural) of that moment--an aesthetics that may be, at least in the poetic case, imported from Detroit.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When You're Lost in a Forest & You Don't Know Which Way to Go

Via PennSound & Poets & Critics @ Paris Est, a rather charming conversation with David Antin. Touches on, well, a lot of things but (among others) creative criticism, a topic very dear to our hearts here in the oonaverse. Best paired with some kind of meditative domestic task. We recommend doing the dishes & lazing about afterwards with a tall glass of iced tea, just being ornamental.

Yes, it is very hot. Courage. Maybe Florence + the Machine are right:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Things We Do & Are


Welcome to the oonaverse.  We're delighted you're here.

We spend most of our time in other centuries.  Other centuries are, of course, a nice place to visit but this blog was born in part out of our conviction that you really wouldn't want to live there. Here, you will find an idiosyncratic survey of contemporary poetry & poetics as we meander our way through the switchbacks & roadside attractions of the landscape.  

Our provisions include a compass, a kettle, & the ability to subsist solely on root vegetables.  Our tools of choice are collaborative reviews, genuine questions, & ampersands.  Our values are generosity, curiosity, & luminosity. We make good traveling companions.  One of us has strange dreams about bioluminescent animals. The other has a pit bull. 

This blog will feature collaborative reviews, meditations, & interviews, among other things.  (Please do suggest other things!)  You can read more about the primary contributors (us) 
here & here. You can follow us on social media, and (of course) you can comment here. We're genuinely excited to hear about new & innovative poetry & blogs & phenomena. We're always on the lookout for more things to like (see sidebar). 

Until soon,

R & (r)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Chat Review: Chris Martin, Becoming Weather (Coffee House Press 2011)

Chris Martin’s new volume of poetry (Coffee House Press, 2011) may be called Becoming Weather, but its cover depicts a cloud-like smattering of paper and paste.  Intrigued, (r) & R took to online chat—for all they know, a new medium for discussion-based critique—to see if they could review the volume via written conversation.  On a Wednesday afternoon, hiding from adjacent rainstorms, they tucked in with a cup of tea for a chat…

R: Dear (r)!

(r): Dear R! Do you ever feel as if you are becoming weather?

R: Often. Particularly in mid-summer. Yourself?

(r): On this point we are agreed. If I disappear before we've finished speaking, assume I've deliquesced like a mushroom!

R: Either that or a faulty internet connection..."An affinity for visions//implicates a structure//of permeability" (45).

(r): I couldn't have said it better myself! In keeping with our commitments to collaboration and generosity, perhaps we should start by saying what we like best about Chris Martin's recent collection. You may go first!

R: Well I adore anything that feels even a tiny bit Naropa-style, so I was somewhat sold after I glanced at the back-of-book blurbs and epigraphs/invocations. On this point, I wasn't disappointed. Martin navigates a loaded form--casual verse--without ever quite giving up on meaning, even if his poems veer to "avoid//the mistake of closure" (28). The book pays affectionate tribute to its resident deities--Ted Berrigan, Jack Kerouac--yet manages to offer a collection of brief, assertive, quotidian lyrics that are brusque but never vacant. What did you like best?

(r): Well, you've already hit on at least one thing, which is that line about "avoid[ing]/the mistake of closure." I think it sums up so much about Martin's poetics: his commitment to processes over ends, the sense of movement that animates his short lines and the sprays of white space that divide them, his feeling for the gerundive and the present progressive (BECOMING weather). Heidegger, as Martin openly admits, is all over this one.

But what I liked best, perhaps, are the poems that (respectively) end the "Disequilibrium" section and the section called "The Small Dance." These prose poems, the first entitled "A Short History of Order," the second "Toward Corporeal Order," seem to function as a linked set. Together, they wrestle with the hard problem of how the impulse to order might be related to embodiment--and also how bodies seem to buck that impulse. "The first act against the body was to fashion a first" (56), Martin writes. And then: "In this abundance, this dance of answers, one answer was the form from which the others emerged. This answer, of course, was the body. And the body, of course, is full of answers. We called it corporeal order: that which speaks volume in overspill, excess, slip, and surprise; that which will not be still" (92). These poems seem both to set out some of the major concerns of the collection and also to be the points at which the dialectical process to which Martin is committed finds its fullest expression.

R: Yes also, "I still want to be real/as a hamburger" (23).

(r): Who could forget?

R: Because that's another expression of Heidegger or maybe just Modernism tucked away in here too, right? Thing-iness.

(r): Yes--though I'd qualify by saying Martin's relationship to thinginess is pretty vexed. He's always becoming, it seems to me, & never quite arriving. The hamburger's an ideal.

R: I couldn't agree more. Consider the section "This False Peace," which we must also read as "This False Piece." At one point, Martin writes, "I wanted to leave a testament to the real to things/verily happening above truth punching voices /to always go sincere to always go sincere in the blur" (109). Isn't this Spicer's lemon and what we can never seem to stop wishing was WCW's wheelbarrow?

(r): I like that very much. Spicer's lemon is one of the few that doesn't give you lemonade when squeezed (though I'd argue it maybe gives you something just as good). The way objects drift in and out of this collection seems to hark back to all sorts of modernist debates about how to balance abstract and concrete. And this is a question that feels very alive in Martin's verse: "the fixture of the man that sits/ huffing glue beneath the Psychic's eave/ clutches a crumpled brown paper/ bag to his heart/ can this here still be a nature poem?" (74)

R: Precisely, or this inverse of that thematic composition: "I was out interviewing clouds amassing/the notes of a sky pornographer" (83).

(r): I love clouds.

R: Not as much as Chris Martin. Has it rained there yet, (r)?

(r): It's just beginning. There?

R: Thrice already. "probably the world is too/sure about its things" (72).

(r): You're ahead of your time. "The poor own the clouds/and we love them for it" (82).

R: The storm defies expression. "Do you explain/ice by acting/slippery?" (65).

(r): I don't, as it happens. Look, speaking of slippery, what did you think about the relationships between sections in this collection? Did any section receive your particular favor or censure? What about the arc of the collection as a whole?

R: Well let me see. Poem 9 of the first section proclaims, "It is abhorrent/to me to know/beforehand what a thing is//to become" (15). To me these lines say something about form and momentum.

(r): Oh good.

R: I confess I didn't pay much attention to the sections, finding the whole volume fairly cohesive, or at least consistently anti-cohesive. Your thoughts on the matter, (r)?

(r): Well, formally, they all seem to be doing something (slightly) different. "Disequilibrium" begins the collection--it's composed of short, lineated stanzas.

R: Slant-ly different? And presided over by Nietzche's rejection of ultimate stability.

(r): "The Small Dance" makes much more use of white space, which often seems to take the place of standard punctuation. By the time we get to "This False Peace," lineation gets muted in favor of prose form, though the white space introduced in the previous section remains active. And then "Coda" returns to the short lineated form of the first section. It seems to me like there are probably reasons behind those formal divisions.

R: Perhaps those reasons are related to "A Short History of Order," the extended prose piece separating the first and second sections. (Of which, of course, you spoke earlier.)
"The body was flayed and became words. The body was weighed and became money. And money, like language, is for burning. So no one was surprised when the body went up in smoke" (57).

How might the volume's guiding form--its textual body--go up in spoke, to return to its starting point? Free verse becomes free verse under erasure becomes prose-like becomes free this too big a stretch? Can you offer a competing theory of form?

(r): You're convincing me. (I enjoy your "go up in spoke" especially.) I think your phrase "under erasure" is the most revealing. I say that because this is a book that begins and ends in abstraction: From "Not that what/ is is" (1) to "only to return from there/to air, to/being of" (123). I think Greek tragedy is actually a rather useful analogy, given that the last bit of text is a "Chorus" that cites some of Martin's presiding spirits: figures like Bergson, Hejinian, Deleuze and (of course) Heidegger. Martin's playing with the idea of a drama of being--"being of" and, of course, not being at all. He's also interested in how effective a poem can be merely by being barely there...

R: I'm with you. Did you try to picture the chorus actually chanting something? From Creeley to Clover...

(r): I am now...

R: Yes, there is the idea of the poem doing by being, or by being only to a certain degree, which offers a sort of appealing rejection of the premise that poetry can or should act. (P.S. How much did you love the fact that Jeff Tweedy was in the chorus?)

(r): (So much! Also Will Oldham!) You make me think of Martin's observation about Newton, that he "died a virgin no wonder everyone thinks the planets remain apart to have loved without resorting to gravity to touch that which touches through the color" (116). Martin always seems to be playing with whether the ordering impulse can be an unvirginal one--that is not ideal but real, not sterile or abstract but embodied, wrapped in all the messy matter we can't get out of. What kind of ordering impulse is the poem? he seems to say... (I'm not sure he ever decides one way or the other.)

R: What kind, indeed. In a poem that meditates on a pun (middle-medium), Martin writes that "We disclose so much simply/by beginning again" (75). Perhaps we return here to the question of momentum. Poems seem to stop in the middle, as if the conclusion is artificial--the synthesis is synthetic, to return to your invocation of the dialectic--and as if the really important thing is that another poem will be dashed off, for...what was it Martin said, about the sword becoming a pen once it's inside the body?

(r) Yes, yes! This. The way a wound tells a story about its own happening.

R: "to want these things to thing for us" (99)... as if their independence is dependent on our desires. The cleft between cause and effect. Better: "Being a thing it bursts/into events" (84).

(r): Yes. And, as always with Martin, the uncertainty about whether it's nouns yearning to be verbs or verbs yearning to be nouns. Is it better to be a process or a product? Or is the line not so easily drawn as we might wish?

R: "Do I suffer only/from abundance?" (21). So many ways to read that line. To flit over to one of the most direct references to Kerouac...Martin writes in poem 10 of the first section that "[...]a transient/serenades himself with Sam/Cooke in the keyed/gleam of an advertisement/for a European-produced compact/disc promising NOW!/as if the satori of hundreds/of bodies rushing together//wasn't enough" (16). What might we make, dear (r), of the mix-tape made commodity? And what might this have to do with satori--what Kerouac translated as "'sudden illumination,' 'sudden awakening,' or simply 'kick in the eye'--and what does it mean for this kick in the eye to come from, or happen to, "hundreds/of bodies rushing together[?]"

(r): Well, a good mix-tape does that ideally, doesn't it? You juxtapose a number of disparate things in the desperate hope that together they will be--sudden illumination--a kick in the eye--satori. I wonder if, in a way, Martin's poems don't reflect that mixological impulse.

R: Martin's Mixology. I dig it. What if we call that the structuring impulse? Not-being-while-also-being-mixed-up. No wonder Oppen made the chorus.

(r): Well, he would, wouldn't he? And yes, let's definitely call it--mixology--the structuring impulse.

R: Can we talk about nature, then, just for a second? Why "Becoming Weather?" Why not "Becoming Whether?" Is it weather as noun, as verb, as pun? But how can it not also be just plain weather, just plain sheer natural force?

(r): Do we have to decide? I'm invoking negative capability on this one.

R: Touché. But no, there is a strange closeted spirituality here, there has to be "a flock of strangers/outside the movie theater--There/is nothing arbitrary about this"

(r): Interesting. I guess I see that less as a spiritual impulse and more (in this context) as a preoccupation with emergence--pattern--the way weather has patterns.

R: Okay. I can give you that.

(r): I see where you're coming from with "nothing arbitrary," though.

R: Because patterns can still be arbitrary, right?

(r): I'm going to have to think hard about that one!

R: I know, me too! It's not a question for a rainy day. "Today is wrought by a lingering/thingishnessless" (66)

(r): Chris Martin! Why do you have to bring philosophy into this? Why? Never mind. Just answered my own (existential) question.

R: To sum up, will you glance with me at page 68--poem 6 in "The Small Dance?"

(r): Sure will. Oh good, a visit to the underworld!

R: The poem begins, "Then having forgone the rectangle/of tamed light for a structure that is itself/rhythm hymn-like" Here we have pattern as substitution and structure, as untamed, as rhythmic, as spiritual or at least spirited, or spirited-like. Then...we go to space. Tell me what you see.

(r): "galaxies . . . so big they run/right into one another and never/ even touch" Distance is a constant concern for Martin. What you do with the distance between stars and clouds. But also what you do with the distance between people.

R: Precisely.

(r): It's the ending, though, that delineates the problem: "afraid/ the dead will see/ I'm not very brave/ or worse that/ I am[.]" In that moment, the poem's the place where the Classical hero opens a vein for the dead to drink, where Orpheus looks back and sees Eurydice dwindling behind him. For Martin, becoming weather means becoming nothing as often as it means becoming something. And it's that view of becoming--as unbecoming--that seems to me the place where all his impulses concentrate.

R: We're on the same page, then.

(r): Quite literally.

R: "It's said one's either/poet or assassin/but we've grown/conspiratorial being both" (66).

(r): Oh yes we are.

R: Perhaps these poems do so much by/as doing little. How to sign off then, now I've led you to the underworld?

(r): We say farewell. Til next time. We say: I am with you. Don't look back.

R: ...for "I am becoming weather/and/I don't/plan on doing/it alone" (83).