Monday, July 04, 2011

Other than some tinkering around the edges and the addition of one or two poems I may finish in the interim, the erros manuscript is done and making the rounds. In the meantime, Tony and Sommer over at Flying Guillotine Press have graciously offered to add (as vanish, unespecially)—the chapbook that was supposed to come out on Spork Press—to their upcoming line-up of chaps. Tony thinks sometime in September. More as things develop.

Splitscreen: A Love Story from JW Griffiths on Vimeo. This was made with cell phones.

Some reading—this & this & this & this & this & this & this & this

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Spork Chapbook Update

Due to creative differences that still aren't entirely clear to me, Spork Press will not be publishing my chapbook (as vanish, unespecially).

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Hot Damn

Good news...

Greying Ghost Press has just put out a new pamphlet of poems, one which includes my poem "Becoming Regardless." Everything GGP does is gorgeous, so buy a chapbook and get the pamphlet free.

Also, I'm thrilled to announce my third chapbook, (As Vanish, Unespecially), has been accepted for publication by Jamison Crabtree and Jake Levine, the good people over at Spork Press. Sounds like a May / June release.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A new Harp & Altar

A review of the reissue of Lisa Jarnot's Some Other Kind of Mission

On Ted Berrigan's Sonnets

Timothy Donnelly's The Cloud Corporation

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Forthcoming In March 2011

Katherine Larson is the winner of the 2010 Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition. With Radial Symmetry, she has created a transcendent body of poems that flourish in the liminal spaces that separate scientific inquiry from empathic knowledge, astute observation from sublime witness. Larson's inventive lyrics lead the reader through vertiginous landscapes—geographical, phenomenological, psychological—while always remaining attendant to the speaker's own fragile, creaturely self. An experienced research scientist and field ecologist, Larson dazzles with these sensuous and sophisticated poems, grappling with the powers of poetic imagination as well as the frightful realization of the human capacity for ecological destruction. The result is a profoundly moving collection: eloquent in its lament and celebration.

This is going to be a gorgeous book.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A review of Dean Young's artful Recklessness

Kiki Petrosino's "Ragweed"

Interesting reviews and essays at HTMLGiant

Jacket 40 is coming together and features a section on Celan.

A review of Heather McHugh's Upgraded to Serious

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Anagramming America in Kevin McFadden's Hardscrabble

Kevin McFadden’s debut collection, the diligent, turvey, hyper-lexic Hardscrabble (University of Georgia Press 2008), opens unassumingly, with a short proem—an ars typographica of sorts—on that most emphatic of conjugates, “Is”:

written this way

to almost resemble



half sinuous.

It’s a clever start, if a reflexive one, suggesting, as it does, a playfulness always already latent in physical typography, while also anticipating the 100 pages of poetry and prose that follow. Often rollicking and always witty, McFadden’s poems take Heather McHugh’s pathology of the punster—someone not “merely resigned to accident” but “committed to it”—and makes of it a poetic imperative. In anagrams, puns, and all manner of homophonic and homonymic wordplay, McFadden (like Harryette Mullen, Liz Waldner, Kristi Maxwell, and McHugh herself) thralls in what other writers merely lament, or too often ignore altogether: the inadequacy of language to mean in any stable, transparent way. Indeed, in Hardscrabble, language’s unpredictability and, by extension, its dynamism are not unlike the public, private, mythological America,—that "great wordplay of democracy," that embarrassment of linguistic richness—on which so many of McFadden’s poems fixate.

Nowhere is this exuberance for the American idiom more on display than in what McFadden has published elsewhere as his “variations,” poems that, in the book at least, typically borrow a line of literary Americana—the plaintive vision of a Ginsberg (“America when will you be angelic?”); or the stoic monumentalism of a Lowell (“History has to live with what was here”); or the carnal voracity of a Plath (“And I eat men like air.”); or the folksy nativism of a Frost (“The land was ours before we were the land’s”)—and riff on it, sometimes exhaustively, always audaciously, each subsequent line a perfect anagrammatical re-arrangement of the line preceding it. Sometimes the poem builds toward its borrowed line; sometimes the lifted portion appears mid-way through the poem; sometimes the poem departs from the appropriated line. In the eight variations that appear sporadically throughout Hardscrabble, such arrangements and re-arrangements challenge, ironize, or otherwise re-contextualize the original line's aura of meaning.

Take, as just one example, McFadden's poem “Meditate Sea to Sea,” which borrows its first line from the title of the Langston Hughes poem, “Let America Be America Again”:

Let America be America again.

Ice-age ambiance. Later a mira-

cle air: a meat mania, ice-barge,

ice-amble. A tie. Agrarian came

later, Inca came, a bare image I

bear. An Eric came, agile at aim

(let America be a maniac, I rage).

Italian came----macabre, I agree.

Came Iberia, came Angle, a rat I

Rate, a marine bilge. Came a CIA

angelic era, a tame iambic ear.

Bacteria came in a mire, algae

era. Militia came, began a race,

a crime, eager aim, Cain at Abel.

At Abe L. Imagine a ceramic era,

ceramic ear: I am it. A lab. A gene

I age. A meme trace. A bicranial

air age, a bicameral cinema, et

cetera, a manic beige malaria,

a carnage. American I let be. I am

a cameraman, I create a big lie

(let America be a camera I gain),

I am a cabaret emcee, a girl in a

Miami tribe, an eagle, a car, ace

Airman. Elegaic America, a bet:

let America be a magic arena I

anagram. I bet I care (came a lie,

a clear image), I bet America an

animal acreage, I bet America

beer I can amalgamate air, ice-

berg. An ale. Ace-at-ear, I mimic a

man (bare me) I glaciate Americana----

I’m a rain. Let America be a cage;

I remain a gate, a Mecca. I blare

Niagra, I accelerate, maim, be

a beam, I emanate a grail, Circe

mirage. America, a neat cable I

tie in. America, a gala embrace.

Let America be America: a gain.

The technical virtuosity required to keep a poem like this one moving—without ceding tonal variety, without sacrificing comprehensibility to constraint—goes without saying. Indeed, the poem must—and, I think, does—strike a balance between the strictures of McFadden’s self-imposed process and the freedoms such limitations can afford. The poem churns. It obsesses. It chews over Hughes' original, transposing the same twenty-four constituent letters and repurposing them into a poem that evokes seemingly incompatible formal literary antecedents (insistent Whitmanesque cataloging; Dickinson's compacted, epigrammatic phrasing; the procedural strictures of OULIPO), while simultaneously re-engaging and recalibrating Hughes' spirit of indignation and defiance.

Indeed, if Hughes' original is a direct address to—and indictment of—the hypocrisies and paradoxes at the heart of America's founding idealisms ("the dream that's almost dead today"); if Hughes' original has been a rallying cry to the dispossessed and disenfranchised ("Who made America / Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, / Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, / Must bring back our mighty dream again . . ."); then McFadden's poem, born as it is from the nearly 75 intervening years of political and poetical advancements (or lack thereof), is both a reaffirmation of America's ostensible egalitarian vision ("American never was America to me, / And yet I swear this oath— / America will be.") and a kind of 21st century coda. It's the aspirational spirit of Hughes' final word ("again") around which McFadden's poem pivots the most, punning on the potential white space separating the "a" (now an indefinite article seeking definite progress) from "gain" ("Let America be America: a gain."), such that each of McFadden's lines becomes a "gain," but a gain that is first among equals, and therefore "again," a literalization of e pluribus unum, many-in-one.

And yet it's the destabilizing nature of the anagram and not the rhetoric for which it's used that draws attention to one of the great paradoxes of McFadden's process—progress. With each recombinant line, each coalescence and re-coalescence of letters on the poem's surface, the idea of America deepens, becoming (and just as soon un-becoming) a “maniac,” an “angelic era,” a “cage,” a “grail,” a “mirage." The poem collapses the American mythos into a brisk, schizophrenic progression through the ages, from "Ice-age ambiance" to our current hyper-mediated, hyper-surveilled, po-mo culture (“I am a cameraman, I create a big lie”). And there's depth to the critique of America's contradictory—and often sordid—histories. By turns hostile ("let America be a maniac, I rage.”), violent (Militia came, began a race, a crime, eager aim"), wistful ("I remain a gate, a Mecca"), America, sometimes scaled-down to a single line or phrase—another paradox!—becomes not some grand narrative but a plurality of contradicting, contravening narratives (“I accelerate, maim, be a beam”), the collective concatenations of language itself (“let America be a magic arena I / anagram"), without which the America ideal—whatever it is, whenever it is—would be inarticulate.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Michael Schiavo's The Equalizer

The Equalizer 1.1 Summer Block, Jim Behrle, Macgregor Card, Mark Bibbins, Emily Anderson, Aaron Belz, Don Share, Cody Walker, Christopher Salerno, Amick Boone, Adam Clay, Buck Downs, Stephanie Anderson, Owen Barker, and CAConrad. (HTMLGiant and Maureen Thorson)

The Equalizer 1.2 Matt Hart's "Write This Today While You Were." (HTMLGiant and Maureen Thorson)

The Equalizer 1.3 Joshua Corey, Stephanie Anderson, Buck Downs, Shanna Compton, Laura Carter, Peter Davis, Alana Dagen, Reb Livingston, Cody Walker, John Cotter, Craig Santos Perez, and Chris Martin. (HTMLGiant and Maureen Thorson)

The Equalizer 1.4 A selection from John Gallaher's Guidebooks. (HTMLGiant and Maureen Thorson)

The Equalizer 1.5 Cynthia Cruz, Reb Livingston, Allison Gauss, Jill Alexander Essbaum, Cody Walker, Buck Downs, Barbara Cully, Peter Davis, Lucas Farrell, Stephanie Anderson, Noah Falck, Carol Fink, Corrine Fitzpatrick, Matt Hart, Maureen Thorson, Amy King, and Chris Martin. (HTMLGiant and Maureen Thorson)

The Equalizer 1.6 Lucas Farrell's "The Dual-Shade of Six-Prong." (HTMLGiant and Maureen Thorson)

The Equalizer 1.7 Whit Griffin, Shafer Hall, Stephanie Anderson, Brian Henry, Amy King, Richard Deming, Chris Martin, Buck Downs, Christopher Salerno, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Matthew Henriksen, Evan Kennedy, James Meetze, Matt Hart, Cody Walker, and Douglas Kearney. (HTMLGiant and Maureen Thorson)

The Equalizer 1.8 Sonnets & sonnots from Nathan Austin, Jo Turner, Ernest Hilbert, Kevin Shea, Samantha Caan, Matt Hart, and Curtis Jensen. (HTMLGiant and Maureen Thorson)

The Equalizer 1.9 Mike Hauser's Samples. (HTMLGiant and Maureen Thorson)

The Equalizer 1.10 Mike Hauser, Buck Downs, Stephanie Anderson, Katherine Factor, Maureen Thorson, James Meetze, Mark Lamoureux, Katy Lederer, Alexis Orgera, Ada Limón, Kristi Maxwell, Cate Peebles, Richard Deming, Carmen Giménez Smith, Matt Hart, and Cody Walker. (HTMLGiant and Maureen Thorson)

The Equalizer 1.11 Evie Shockley's "the cold" (HTMLGiant and Maureen Thorson)

The Equalizer 1.12 Andrew Hughes, Chris Martin, Stephanie Anderson, Buck Downs, Jason Myers, Richard Deming, Morgan Lucas Schuldt, Carmen Giménez Smith, Cody Walker, Christopher Rizzo, Travis Macdonald, Matt Hart, Ravi Shankar, and James Meetze. (HTMLGiant and Maureen Thorson)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Mullen Part I

This piece once had a home over at Fascicle, Tony Tost's now-defunct on-line journal of poetry and poetics. I think it's worth having out in the world, so I'm considering this an archival posting.

Scatting the Visionary: Jazz, Jouissance and Identity

in Harryette Mullen’s Muse & Drudge

...on her own jive

player and instrument

all the way live...

Harryette Mullen’s Muse & Drudge is an eighty-page book-length poem composed in un-punctuated quatrains, four to a page. Borrowing from the jazz tradition which often encourages spontaneity on the part of the performer, Mullen conceives each page of her poem as a unit unto itself, with a seemingly infinite number of variations among them: “I think I just tried to feel, intuit, how the quatrains might be ordered. In some cases, there’s a local order that may continue for a page, usually not longer than a page.” Because the relations among the parts of the text are manifold, because narrative structure itself has been intentionally destabilized and delimited, the reader is expected to undertake both diachronic and synchronic readings–a strategy Mullen herself undertakes at readings, shuffling the order of pages entirely, sometimes commencing with those that appear at the back of the book, then perhaps reading pages which appear towards the middle, or elsewhere. On any given night, some passages may play together in loosely connected narrative sprints, others might associate as historical or thematic bundles, while still for others nothing at all coheres. And no doubt the arrangement will change on each subsequent reading because in Muse & Drudge, beyond the typographical linearity that the book and page format dictate, there are multiple beginnings and multiple endings; there is no reading of the poem which cannot be reversed, no fixed hierarchy of meaning which cannot be made more or less significant.

Mullen also destabilizes linguistic structures at the level of the stanza, doing so not only through disjunctive syntactical formations and vague operative relationships among parts of speech (nouns substituting for verbs and vice-versa), but also through the sheer preponderance of her word-play, which continuously permutates familiar words and phrases. Homophonic puns, anagrams, oronyms, palindromes, double (and sometimes triple) entendres–each enacts a polysemic playfulness which demands from the reader a comprehension of language on two, three, four levels at once. This is particularly true when we consider how such gaming is funneled through any number of vocal registers, including black vernacular, contemporary slang, diasporic idiom, colloquialism, Spanish, and pidgin. Moreover there is the ever-present bric-a-brac of cultural, literary and historic allusion with which to contend. The poem is, as Mullen herself admits, “a book of echoes," a hyper-literate, hyper-lexic “recyclopedia” of languages.

Most overlooked among critics, however, is the non-sensical strain running through Muse & Drudge, those passages “hooked on phonemes imbued with exuberance” in which mimetic representation of the world breaks down entirely, and in which Mullen’s radically destabilized language functions on the level of phonemes as an improvised form of textual scatting that Mullen disseminates over themes of kinship and identity. Mullen’s sprints of sound, which blur the spoken word with the written one, improvise a joyful nonsense–or jouissance in Barthes’ sense in The Pleasure of the Text–that offers an abrupt form of free play set loose above Mullen’s open-ended, allusive word-play. As in jazz, where the excitement comes from being present at the moment of creation, so too does Mullen’s “mix of wiggle” create a slippery, unpredictable, spontaneous composition that attempts to outrun, however fleetingly, those normative linguistic processes determined to contain it. Such scatting, I would suggest, is a gesture towards the visionary: an ideal semiotic state, a “writing aloud” wherein “the grain of the throat” revels in being an instrument unto itself (and without practical purpose); wherein even pluralized categories of gender, race, and identity are momentarily transcended; and wherein a heretofore undiscussed visionary aim emerges–one that not only signals a departure from the symbolic function of language, but also a concurrent sliding of the poem into a more archaic relation between vocal production and the body.

If accessibility to word-play and allusion (still operating at both the denotative and connotative levels) represents the pheno-text of Muse & Drudge, that level of the poem which, according to Julia Kristeva, “serves to communicate . . . ‘competence’”, then such breathless (and punctuation-less) flows of words (“mutter patter simper blubber / murmur prattle smatter blather / mumble chatter whisper bubble / mumbo-jumbo palaver gibber blunder”), places locution in the realm of what Kristeva associates with “the transfers of drive energy that can be detected in phonematic devices”; devices such as “the accumulation of rhythm,” “intonation or rhythm” as well as the sonic textures produced by sonic textures like consonance, assonance and alliteration. It follows then that Mullen’s drift into phonemic improvisations, her “runs’‘ in language (“Nary hep male rose sullen / let alley roam, yell melon / dull normal fellow hammers omelette” constitute a disruptive, pre-verbalized, pre-lingual state. Mullen’s scatting, then, is a kind of somatic impulse “below the surface” of her speaking being.

What should interest us most here is the motility of this energy; that is its spontaneity. The chora as a “rhythmic space, which has no thesis and no position” is “rhythm, a sequence of linked instants . . . prior to any signified spaciousness” where “rhythm, space and time coexist." Kristeva’s notion of a mobile rhythm preceding “signified spaciousness,” as well as the collapsing together of time and space get at the improvisational aspect of Muse & Drudge. Scatting emphasizes the spontaneous over the formulaic, happy coincidence over premeditation. Gerald L. Bruns posits the generative nature of extemporaneous linguistic performance this way:

From a mildly etymological point of view an improvisation is a species of unforseen discourse. One cannot predict anything about it. It is discourse that makes no provision for a future, not in a readers mind nor, certainly, in the writer’s; its teleology is entirely in the present. It is discourse whose beginning is what matters, because to improvise is to begin without a second thought, and under the rules there is no turning back. It is discourse that is governed by no provisos, and so differs from nearly every other discourse one can imagine: it is ungeneric almost by definition; it is a close semblance of free speech.

That improvisation situates itself “entirely in the present” suggests the temporal provisionality to utterance. Take, for example, this stanza from Mullen’s poem: “rough, dirty, a little bit hard / broken blossom poke a possum / park your quark in a hard aardvark." Disjunctive syntax, illogical verbal constructions, unannounced operative relationships among parts of speech (how nouns, adjectives and verbs as qualities and abstractions are freely substitutable)—such impulsive derangements of the verbal practice are always beginning. And yet for readers acquainted with her interview with Calvin Bedient, Mullen (in the line “park your quark in a hard aardvark”) admits to having played with her mother’s Boston accent, punning on the phrase “park the car in Harvard yard." Where allusion and oronymical play depend on the reader’s coincidental recognition of cultural signs and speech patterns, Mullen’s “scattings” also depend on a complete and coincidental mis-comprehension of language. That is to say, because interpretation is provisional to a particular reader in a particular moment in time (and thus mobile across any number of audiences), and because complete mis-comprehension of lines and stanzas is always a potentiality for the poem (thus abjuring any sense of finality to the process), scatting in Muse & Drudge could–at least potentially–occur everywhere and nowhere. Indeed, Mullen’s scattings end not when they have attained a necessary formal or thematic completeness, but rather when they re-emerge again into the symbolic order of an individual reader or audience member.

Mullen’s extemporaneous sprints of nonsensical sound suggest a verbal state that precedes emergence into the social order. Her runs of language (“spaginzy spagades / splibby splabibs”, “jig-rig nitty-gritty”) slide straight out of bodily desires, aligning them with both an asocial linguistic state and with a highly individualized bodily presence. Indeed, the semiotic would appear to fulfill Mullen’s own vision of “the body as instrument." With its intertwining of symbolic and somatic energies, scatting suggests a reverse anthropomorphizing and conjures the fierce independence of the female jazz vocalist whose voice, Mullen suggests, “she can enjoy because so many people have tried to define and limit and imprison her body and her sexuality. The idea is that she can be in charge: she can play her own instrument, and she can play the tune that she wants on the instrument."

To extend the implications of Mullen’s poetry, I would here suggest that her improvisations (“chenille feely zeroes / fuzzy nooky fumble”) represent Barthes’ utopian notion of “writing aloud,” that is “the art of guiding one’s body” in a “language lined with flesh” where we can hear “the grain of the throat, the patina of consonants, the volumptuousness of voweles, a whole carnal stereophony: the articulation of the body, of the tongue, not that of meaning." Indeed, Mullen’s linguistic improvisations–played over and around the rule-bound domain of allusive word-play–place her back in the corporeal body; they individualize her (and the reader) in a body, yet place that body beyond articulated strictures of race, ideology, and socio-economical status. Indeed, scatting posits a heretofore undiscussed visionary strain within Muse & Drudge, a strain wherein verbal production and material being conjoin, wherein materiality, sensuality, “the breath, the gutterals, the fleshiness of the lips, the whole presence of the human muzzle” are realized in the transitory surfaces of the text. In short, scatting is a realization–by more extemporaneous means–of the body of bliss, the pleasure of jouissance that is “individual–not personal” (62). Mullen the African-American, Mullen the woman, Mullen the professor and childhood product of a segregated Texas border town has dispersed into the rise and fall and push and pull of vowel sounds, into the nonsensical whelter of phonemes, and the bursts and sprints and timbres of accents and inflections. As Barthes would say, text, however fleetingly, has generated into tissue. Having succeeded in shifting the signifieds of identity a great distance, Mullen (and by extension, the reader) has everywhere and nowhere become an “anonymous body." She has gone into our ear.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nelson Interview

Christopher Nelson interviews Stephanie Balzer on the prose poem, satire, and her new chapbook, faster, faster (CUE Editions 2010).

Monday, September 27, 2010

I'm currently renovating the blog and will be back at it full-time soon. Expect more sustained pieces, including reviews, essays, etc. on poetry and poetics.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mark Horosky's More Frisk Than Risk

Mark Horosky reading from his latest chapbook, More Frisk Than Risk, which has now dropped over at Flying Guillotine Press.

There are still 15 copies of Mark's first chapbook, Let It Be Nearby, available from CUE Editions.