Monday, June 2, 2014

Technologies of Expansion: Andrew Zawacki's VIDEOTAPE (Counterpath, 2013) & Julie Carr's RAG (Omnidawn, 2014)

Dear (r),

You are in the midst of Completing A Major Project, & must make use of all your resources, language especially.  For this reason, our recent communication has taken place almost entirely in emojis, or, as we call them in our twee angelology, emojim.  You called on Gertrude Stein's theory of "naming without naming" to explain what and why it means when I send you, always, consistently: a koala.  It is an unnamed name.  & also a reminder that you are (& your work is) high koala-ty.


Back in February, Andrew Zawacki sent us his fabulous VIDEOTAPE (Counterpath, 2013).  I gobbled up the first half over Turkish coffee & then finished the volume while I waited for an oil change, & then I just sort of carried the book around in much the same way we always carry around the outdated technology of modernism, a technology Zawacki gracefully eulogizes.

A lot has been said about VIDEOTAPE.  Will Vincent's capacious review situates the volume within an emerging canon of science fiction poetry.  (& also claims that Frankenstein's monster was the first science fictional poem... Can we discuss this?)  Tom Taff thinks about the volume's filmic form.  Daniel Scott Parker explicates and philosophizes the ways in which Zawacki "touches the hot stove of language."  & so on.  So, OK, we're a little late to the party, but I hope it won't seem opportunistic of me to call our tardiness fitting since, after all, we're discussing a book that works quite hard to make it old.

VIDEOTAPE finds all its dad's modernisms in the attic.

There's scratched Ginsberg:

                the orch
         -id as it arch
-es toward the sun


Williams turned inside out:



Elizabeth Bishop getting photobombed (#nofilter):

[...] a piazza of faces oc-
cluded by point-&-shoot cameras
is a community, every tourist a
backdrop in someone else's shot


mink-lined Kerouac:

          you're a Luftwaffe of star
                                  light, shot
                      thru a subway car
      & I'm nothing
if not all


e. e. cummings' old yearbook quote:

          [...] -- but I'm far a
                    way on Cloudfuckyouland
                                 where the weather
is prefab, pay-by-the-
hour, recycles at
                                                5¢ a pop,
                                  & I'm not coming
down until I'
ve rode a gaffer's zephyr
                                     to the tune of to
the tippy          Tupperware              top


[[[Also re: cummings: "In the frame of a Sony portable cam, I is everything that is not the case"  (106).]]]

[[[& while we're cleaning out these boxes, I'm pretty sure Zawacki's discourse on "I without//I: be grass that/bristles, thistles//to thresh, a thresh/-old of hunger & linger &//thirst" (23) perfectly adapts Robert Browning's "Two in the Campagna" to VIDEOTAPE's technology.]]]

(r), you know me.  I love to linger in refraction & over transhistorical phenomena.  But what surprised & delighted me most about Zawacki's deliberately clunky (post-)modernism was the way in which it offered one synthetic response to a false binary that keeps bubbling up in ecopoetic/ecocritical discourse, that is, the distinction between "nature poetry" and "ecopoetics," or neo-Romantic vs. experimental (but of course you know I think these categories are often one & the same) responses to ecological crisis.  With tremendous, rusty delicacy, Zawacki's VIDEOTAPE offers us a new vision of poetic naturalism in which technology & its debris--mechanical, digital, linguistic & artistic--are constantly overgrown by whatever it is that we would simultaneously mourn and save.

From its very first lines, VIDEOTAPE illustrates the collapse of terrestrial and technological realms, rendering the mechanical and the environmental inseparable: "Grayscale breath on a fluid/field, with lo-fi/rainpatter--petrol blue--,/a 60-watt sun uns/-crewed from the/woebegone sky" (1).  The conflation becomes Orphic almost immediately: "Signal glitch is a cut flower/ghost, aghast/in the A/V cable" (2); "fast/from the meadows, the ex-movie-/plex, each raindrop/a prism/its spectrum/a trick of machine" (3).

In VIDEOTAPE, the story of our consumption (we the consumers, we the consumed) is writ on the landscape: "in post-consumer/Pennsylvania/where snow like a/rose knows no/why" (5); "'faux para-snowfoam'" (95); "earth is a topo-/graphical map & geodetic/survey of itself--/dental floss rivers, parks/in parquet--scaled to the splay/& manicure of a micro-/chip, or a mother/-board" (13).  Mother Earth's a motherboard, the mind in the machine, not only a scientific reality but also a framework we're constantly de- & reconstructing.  "Muzak of the spheres[,]" indeed (40).  Or, "the world exists to end up on DVD" (52).

Someone once told me poems don't have arguments, but if VIDEOTAPE has an argument, then it's this one: "There is another world & it/is this one" (57).  In that world, the "sun [is] a disco ball, a bulb,/clouds a lean-to with least to lean/against" (63); poetry is one of many technologies "that turn in the wind/& turn the wind" (74).  If poetry has anything to offer in the face of ecological crisis, it's this aesthetics of debris, this technological memory, this flattening.  "What is the world.  What isn't" (103).


The re/up-cycling of literary history to address major social issues takes a radical and radically different form in Julie Carr's brilliant new book, RAG (Omnidawn, 2014), which renders overspilling ache in another register.  Ambitious and expansive, RAG conjures and creates an (anti-)Whitmanic, feminine figure in the midst of familial intimacy and in the shrapnel of tragedy encountered every day: "A city is an efficient way of carrying./And if I beg here, a cry pens itself toward the prying sun.  A target.  A wretch./The cars parked each morning like lines from a poem always the same and always/misremembered.  Each night the cars renew themselves like sleeping children [...] every participant has his hand to his mouth.  To find a place of rest, a place not/busy with men, I walk" (22-3).


A woman might be a kind of postproduction medium, or a filter through which
the desires of the ground are felt

Buried to her chin in dirt, the dirt made out of her own skin, does she play the
waves of her spit on her tongue, spit mixed into that dirt?


In RAG, embodied, formal and philosophical expansion allow the poem(s) to weave the world into a dark mythology, a mythology in which that "Hair in the grass///Looks like smoke, like tomorrow's//Problem" (47-8).  Or, rather, the body electric exposes itself as "body slum" (66).  Along with its multiplications and additions, the book is full of erasures, names & stories mentioned & then never revisited, never concluded.  Long-line paragraphs end with absence ("Lunch over, nothing to throw away, no crumbs/to wipe off the table, no table/////Where is Carolyn?" (55)).  Echoes of Oppen, here, & of Oppen's Whitman, reimagined.

Part of all of this is to assert a sort of auto-elegaic poetess in the Victorian tradition: "Happily I type:///Dear Daughter/Here is your gift: a piece of cloth/To wrap me in" (57); "--my own body / not myself--" (81).  But in 2014, the poetess is political: "The nine-year-old shot in Arizona is not///Mine she is mine" (82).  & thus a radical feminine anti-Whitmanic voice envelopes us in a world without any closure save the deadbolt lock.

Nota bene, dear (r): if you read RAG on the train, you'll start overhearing people.

Carr explicates RAG's poetics in this expansive iteration/capsule poem:

But this is a vibratory nation poem--and it refers to the law
that dictates hair grow more thickly on the left side of the face than the right
(a universal truth).  Prepubescent girls give off terrible smells from their soles
The "emotional body" and the "aural body" experience a huge thirst
forcing the shoulders too far forward.  I'm speaking about the fertility
of Wisconsin's girls.  Her mouth doubles.  Her skin
a functioning product.  Feeling is space slipped into time.


There's a discomfort associated with being in a woman's body in the world, a painful newness, a gentle monstrosity.  But RAG's praxis also insists on a "she" that's capacious, holding, endless:

[...] --lively on earth, a rag on earth--

--and she is the genre of infinite call--


One way to understand the title, then--a slip of paper, a bandage, feminized--is to focus on absorption.  RAG almost but never quite deifies--and certainly mythologizes--its dark but empathic imagining of the absorptive woman navigating the leaky boundaries between fact and story, mother and daughter, space and time.  And space slipped into time is, we remember, feeling (69).  So RAG mobilizes and rides against a Whitmanic technology in order to activate a mode of mourning, in order to write space for sentiment.  Make it old, dear (r), make it old.

The universe contracts and expands, or so, at least, they say.  You are a ray of light journeying through a pinhole & I'll see you on the other side.

Until then, my friend:



Tuesday, April 29, 2014

oonavent: Symposium on Experiment, New Brunswick NJ

ex • per • i • ment


1.  a procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a fact.

2.  a deviation from accepted norms, forms, and methods.

3.  a question or category of style.

4.  a historical and/or trans-historical formation in art, literature, and culture.

5.  an under-theorized site of evaluation, debate, and surveillance.

A collection of poets and critics, among them your (r) & R, convened a symposium at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey in order to interrogate the category of literary/artistic experiment in relation to methodological innovations, formal deviations, and questions of style and history.

Captured: Stephen Burt and Charles Bernstein discuss controlled & experiential experiments (moderated by Margaret Ronda).

We hope you enjoy listening in, & look forward to continuing the conversation!

Yours ever,
(r) & R

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Applbaum
Thanks to Curtis Dunn at the Center for Cultural Analysis for facilitating this recording.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hand to Mouth: Kristy Bowen's the shared properties of water and stars (Noctuary Press, 2013) & Rodney Gomez's Mouth Filled with Night (Northwestern University Press, 2014)

Dear (r),

Is it thawing out where you are?  Our snow is finally melting, revealing, once again, the autumn leaves.

This past Halloween, a lot of things happened (nothing happened).  I tried to make a stir fry and did not "wok" it, to say the least.  A group of trick-or-treaters in suits declared that they were dressed up as pharmaceutical business owners.  And I read Kristy Bowen's gorgeous prose-poetic collection of interlocking fairy tales, the shared properties of water and stars (Noctuary Press, 2013).  I would've written you, but there's something about the book that resists interpretation, the way other people's dreams resist interpretation:

AUTUMN works every angle.  Kills every
angel.  The blonde girl skips class, hangs out
in the bathroom and smokes cigarettes,
presses her lips against the mirror.  Her life
eddies and pools in the hollows of her
bedroom.  The bears make too much noise at
night, tipping garbage cans and lowing in the 
dark.  She dreams a lake at the bottom of a
staircase.  Dreams a door at the bottom of a
lake.  The rabbit man stands in his window
silently and watches her as she hangs the wash
on the line.  She sighs and places her hand on
the damp back of her neck.


The collection inverts itself, angle to angel and back again.  The internal manifests in and as and through the world of dreams, beasts, archetypes: "Every shoebox marked open me" (10); "Hundreds of bears lumber outside her/windows.  Her mouth like an open seam" (11); "She keeps track of the bears that/clamor through each of their houses each/night.  The big bear and the little bear in the/sky" (14); "the bears inside her begin shuffling/their way into the cavity of her chest" (15).  & that's just the bears.

the shared properties of water and stars was running through my mind today when I opened up Rodney Gomez's Mouth Filled with Night (Northwestern University Press, 2014).  In addition to the rich cross-cultural exchange & intricate neo-mythology detailed by Ed Roberson in his forward to the chapbook, Gomez writes the landscape on the body in poems at once starkly contemporary & brilliantly neo-Romantic: "no allegiances/cutting the river root/with the tip of my folded tongue" (6); "All that was left was a/desert, dense with thirst.  This is what happens when you unravel a/thing already unraveled--the body finds another body to cover/the void" (7); "When we lurch & run//our hands along the warmth/of fire and neck,/we almost forget//how metal scrapes/against the tongue" (12); "So what are you?/And there is silence.//Notice how nothing that matters has a mouth" (34).  

My favorite of all was the chapbook's refraction of Keats's This living hand:

The Hand

Midnight some time ago, I severed my hand & let it loose in the sugar
cane fields outside my home.  The next morning, being so drenched
with want, I remembered how much a good hand is worth & went to
find it.  It was panting at a nearby well, next to a neat row of baskets
filled with cane.  Thinking it would easily reattach, I pressed it against
my wrist--but strangely the hand didn't fit.  It scuttled away & I 
followed, arriving at a city of cardboard in the brush where a highway
of hands flowed, swollen & tired.  My true hand was there, struggling
to pull a time clock into a tattered shoebox.  Under the lid was a 
bleeding pinpoint--glowing hot, too bright for my eyes--accepting
into itself all our loveless works.


Dear (r), can you blame me if I read this as a statement of poetics, a poetics at once brutal and intimate, worthwhile and loveless, historicist and dissevered, embodied and collective?

Happy spring thaw, my friend.  Tell me what you find.

Yours ever,

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

I kept finding pearls (faux) on the ground

Happy New Year, dear Reader!  We hope these first days of 2014 are full of good conversations.  For example, Alice Notley interviewed by Claudia Keelan (see Image I).  Or Claude Royet-Journoud interviewed by Jacqueline Pluet.  And we're still not over this conversation between Susan Howe and Maureen McLane from a couple winters back.

We can't wait to read the best poetry of 2014 with you!  Until then,

stay warm,
R & (r)