Monday, May 31, 2004

Kent Johnson solicited my thoughts on his now infamous poem, "Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz, or 'Get the Hood Back On.'" Here they are:
Hi Kent,

I have read the poem. I guess I want to say I'm glad to see you doing that thing you do. But you know, the petty rivalries of American poets look like pretty venial sins compared with the acts at Abu Grahib. And I find your alignment of poets with the soldiers who committed that acts to be a dubious one, since I happen to agree with those who argue that these soldiers were not acting as individual agents but were carrying out an all-but-written mandate from the Defense Department. Poets are as guilty of living off the embers of a dying imperium as any other American, but very very few of us are agents of the state. Even an NEA grant or a job in a public school or university is hardly equivalent to being a soldier in an army. If I or any other poet feels personally indicted by that penultimate paragraph--and sure, I feel indicted, why not admit it?--that probably has more to do with my reflexive willingness to consider my own culpability, aka the much-maligned phenomenon of liberal guilt. But I'm not going to waste a lot time on this emotion; instead I'm going to do my small part in booting the hell out of office those people without any such reflex. That is, those with severe and arbitrary limits on their empathy, which is the real failure of all the personae you present in the poem. Which is not to say that I think a President Kerry is going to make everything hunky-dory or do much of anything to alter the fundamentals of U.S. foreign policy. I'm going to work after he's elected to move him to the leftward; I want to see Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader in his cabinet; in short, I want a better compromise than we've got now. Because what we've got now is fucked. And if I have anything to thank Geo. Bush and company for, it's for raising my awareness of my complicity in evil, and for stimulating my desire to do good. Which may or may not have anything to do with my practice as a poet. It probably does. It has already certainly impacted that other much-maligned phenomenon, the subject matter of my poems. What necessary alignment exists between the form of reproduction I choose for those poems and their form/content is something I'm still actively investigating. For now, I choose to build locality into my practice--to foster community. The geopolitical for now remains confined to that odious cellblock, subject matter. At least it's not longer wearing a hood.

Your friend,

On a Memorial Day when we as a country can't seem to remember a damn thing, it seems particularly appropriate to add Kirsten Kaschock to the blogroll. "You are living on the site of an atrocity."
Quiet rainy Memorial Day spent cleaning the house and watching The Office Series Two on DVD. Heartbreakingly funny, although the order of experience is really more funnily heartbreaking. Is it over now? It seems over. Sad.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Flawless weather today. Bill Clinton gave a pretty okay speech yesterday but it didn't have enough red meat in it for this Democrat with anarchist tendencies. Gimme Al Gore. They say us liberal types are willing to give Kerry a pass right now because we hate Bush so much, and I guess that's true. But even if he's elected—which right now seems like a fair possibility—we are all going to have to work harder for real justice and equity. Clinton said one thing which moved me in his speech: he said that a tiny percentage of our defense budget (he may have said $120 million, which is a droplet in the bucket) would make it possible for the more than 1 billion children who "never darken a schoolhouse door" to go to school. This energized me and made me angry at the same time: why didn't he propose that when he was President? It seems crystal clear to me that the only way to win the war on terror—or more significantly, to break the back of the war metaphor—is to make ourselves more friends in the world. One of the first steps is to stop doing all the bad things we do. But beyond that, a campaign with real financial muscle behind it to build schools, feed the hungry, provide low-interest business loands, and foment genuine self-determination for people would take the wind out of the fundamentalists' sails. Every bomb we drop, every door we kick in creates another terrorist. What is so freaking hard to understand about that.

I didn't even want to talk about politics today, I just wanted to say how terrific the new Magnetic Fields album and Nellie McKay's album are. But of course Nellie's tremendously political. The label on the CD says it all: "a cross between Doris Day and Eminem." Wonderful, funnny, bitterly witty stuff.

It will soon be time for barbecue.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Feeling sleepy. Bill Clinton may be in town: he's giving the Cornell commencement address tomorrow at 9 AM. Emily and I are planning to go to pretend he's still president for an hour or so. Though you can't go home again: my feeling is that Bush & co. have made the egregiousness of American foreign policy in general more visible: they didn't invent it. Which doesn't mean there isn't a qualitative difference between their depredations and those conducted under Clinton: the destruction of any semblance of international cooperation has definitely made us much less safe than we were. Anyway, he's probably being whisked in and out of town an hour before and an hour after the speech, but who knows? Maybe he'll come into the Bookery for a browse after dining at Moosewood. Though he doesn't strike me as a big fan of vegetarian food.

Browsing through some poetry books tonight: Drew's book Sugar Pill reads like a witty attempt to comprehend the world by an anthropologist who just woke from a deep sleep: "I guess the ground used to be a more formidable barrier", he muses. I love the procedure of the first section of Eric Baus' The To sound: surrealist prose poems grasping (literally) at birds and sisters are periodically broken down into their constituent phrases in a page-as-field arrangement. I will keep reading. Also, I'm finally breaking down and buying the store's copy of In the American Tree. It really is a useful and comprehensive survey of what I can't help but call the most important movement in American poetry since the New Americans. We can't understand our present moment (which is not quite the moment of this book) without them. I'd love to teach a seminar on Language poetry; maybe I'll do it someday. "What Was Language Poetry?"--a question that pushes us toward asking the more urgent question, "What Is Poetry For Now?"

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Reading Bürger's Theory of the Avant-Garde again today. The artwork, or in my case the poem, provides a space in which an otherwise unavailable fullness of being for both writer and reader is realized in the imagination. One is heard; one is appreciated. The individualistic mode of production/reception is one of the guarantees of the imaginary nature of this satisfaction. The desire for a more complete satisfaction manifests not as an attempt to break through this wall but through a repetition compulsion. One more poem, one more book.... The glamor of the author (celebrity) is the fantasy of readers: you will be the representative of our dreams (specialness that is an exaggerated form of dignity, basic personhood). The dream matters more than its representative, of course. How difficult it is for the artist to remain conscious of this, and to refuse the fatal imaginary glamor. Celebrity in its purest sense reflects the division of labor: bearing the image of libidinal satisfaction is the celebrity's sole function. But fame is tempting because it reactivates the sociality that writers in particular feel estranged and insulated from. At the same time, the unknown isolato has an inverse glamor of her own: the emptiness and partialness of satisfaction that all people are subject to under advanced capitalism is projected upon this figure. Who is not secretly laboring unappreciated and underfed in the garrett of what we used to call the soul?

And when I post this on my blog I'll be looking for confirmation of my own personhood through the highly mediated sociality of the Web. Which has reduced somewhat my sense of lonelienss; but which has also made my sensitivity to the imaginary nature of my libidinal satisfactions (Bürger lists these succinctly: "humanity, joy, truth, solidarity") more acute, and made poetry-as-usual seem increasingly insufficient. I may not be avant-garde, or "post-avant" either (a parenthetical in this regard: is choosing to be published by a commercial press, assuming one is given that option, choosing glamor or simply hoping for a wider readership, and is there a difference?). But my dissatisfactions are similar to those of the historical avant-garde. And like them, my dissatisfaction is predicated by a period of aestheticism—a personal period that has not yet come to an end—taking aestheticism to mean a rejection of the means-ends world we were born into in favor of homemade satisfactions, from the crude (yet highly social) fantasies of Dungeons & Dragons to the savoring of lyric individuation (an insistence on the auratics of style not too far off from glamor, from fetishizing the author and authorship). This romanticism lingers in me, though I have become altogether disillusioned with lyric experiences distilled too obviously through a given class and/or commodified as sweet-and-sour slices of the life no one is actually allowed to lead. (I am thinking here in particular of the working class tragicomedy I associated with Richard Hugo and James Wright as well as the deflated middle class yearnings of Robert Hass and Billy Collins.) Which is not to say my experience of lyric is classless; far from it. Rather, I'm drawn toward poetry that expressly and reflectively manifests its filiation with a group or class that I sympathize with or belong to: leftist intellectuals, feminists, ironic humanists. These groups share a sense of estrangement from the praxis of life under capitalism and produce poetry implicitly or explicitly critical of that praxis. In the experience of collectivity (real but fleeting) flickers the possibility of a new life praxis not built around competition or the accumulation of capital, cultural or otherwise. But that praxis remains entombed in the artistic autonomy of authorship that I am as yet loath to sacrifice, for fear of discovering I've given up my imaginary satisfactions with no real ones materializing to take their place. Without putting too much pressure on the concept of the blogosphere, I do feel that its capacity for non-hierarchical voluntary association offers me something like an oppositional poetic praxis worthy of the name, realized in and through a living community.

The artist only seems to have direct control over the conditions of intent and production (Bürger 50-51), though surrealist and Oulipian techniques do offer an indirect attack on the means of reception, potentially turning readers into writers (I have always thought that turning readers into writers was the Holy Grail of poetry: imagine a writing that actually created or expanded Negative Capability in the reader! But generally writers have influence over reception through activities other than writing: teaching, curating reading series, etc.) The emphasis on collectivity I see happening through poetry blogs suggests that production is the most accessible site for avant-garde activity: any gesture toward abandoning one's rights and demands as an individual author still seems to have radical potential in an artform designed to expand the rights of subjectivity. Taking part in a group or circle or school, however provisional (the more provisional the better, perhaps) diminishes the “lone genius” expectation we as a culture still seem to have of artists, and redistributes glamor (from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs?). The stronger alternative, as Bürger relates, is “the radical negation of the category of individual creation.” The practice of hyperauthorship is thus the most prominent avant-garde practice that I am aware of still in circulation today. But even as dedicated a practitioner as Kent Johnson risks being re-absorbed into the institution of poetry—he can’t count on idiotic and out-of-touch literary reactionaries to keep him fresh forever. Our vociferous defense of his practice only goes to show how hyperauthorship is becoming one more tool for the poet's toolbox that we don't wish to be denied access to. Perhaps I overstate the case. I honestly don't know if I'm prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to be avant-garde—and I do think it's more a matter of being than doing (or rather, of writing by itself alone). The sacrifices are real. The sacrifices anyone makes to be a poet are already considerable. Whatever I do, it can't be for the sake of "street cred" or in support of any sort of claim for authenticity. That's just inverse glamor once again. How to get out of glamor and into personhood? How to kick the aura habit? How much of it is the writing, and how much the parawriting? Yes Roy Batty said musingly, amusingly. Questions.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Here's my response to the Iraq survey:
In most respects I sympathize with those Iraqis who have said in so many words, "Just get out and let us deal with the possibility of civil war." And I am suspicious of our leaders' motivations: decades of U.S. foreign policy show that we are more interested in so-called "stability" in the Middle East (which largely translates to stability of the oil supply) than in democracy. I fear that those Democrats who talk about U.S. troop increases--such as Hillary Clinton and yes, John Kerry--may themselves be more interested in the oil supply's stability (a keystone of American hegemony) than in the safety of our troops--though they are certainly under tremendous stress because of the decisions made by Rumsfeld's Pentagon. At the same time, to simply leave the china shop in a shattered condition strikes me as immoral. I support--and I hope Kerry will support--a plan similar to that outlined in Peter W. Galbraith's article "How to Get Out of Iraq" in the May 13, 2004 issue of THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS ( Establishing a loosely federal government in Iraq (with the support of the United Nations) would enable us to withdraw our troops in the most timely fashion. This seems like the only way to ensure a reasonable amount of self-determination for the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shi'a. Will it transform the Middle East according to the dreams of Wolfowitz and the other neocons? Of course not. But anyone who dreams that the so-called war on terror can be won through military force, through a Westmoreland-esque war of attrition, is not dreaming of peace, or even of victory. It is a dream of perpetual war for war's own sake. We must awaken from it, now.
Very sad news at lime tree. Our thoughts are with you, Kasey.

Monday, May 24, 2004

For Nada and Gary

Epithalamion: how to say it?
Belted beside a player piano?
Or quired behind a file of hired sea nymphs?
Where to stand? Hip-deep in the loving cup
where two lovers' lips make the leaps?
Pleding Troth, Truth's downstairs neighbor
whose broken English belies sad eyes?
Lovers of this little world, unite! You have much to gain by chain.
Queen of clank, King of clink, kiss and make up
a republic in which we all someday can live.
Give yourselves away, be brides,
be merry and multiply, square roots
of our song. How to sing it? Alone
with us, in this company, swear nothing, love long.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Heading to New Jersey tomorrow to see my dad and NYC the following day for more relatives, Emily's friends, and my tri-monthly pilgrimage to the St. Marks Bookshop. On Sunday, it's the wedding reception for Gary and Nada! Yay! Will I see you there?

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Just read over the whole Fence brou-ha-ha in Ron's comment boxes. What a remarkable capacity they have for attracting ire, though I do understand how some people might see their responses to criticisms (albeit anonymous and cowardly criticisms) as high-handed. The Fence editors have not always been the best defenders of themselves, as the Evans controversy showed—on the other hand, it's difficult to keep your cool in the face of attack. People are mighty pissed off at the thought of wasting their $20 fees. Who knows—maybe the money I've sent (and will probably continue to send) to the Fence Modern Poets Prize constitutes a donation that won't ever result in my publishing one of those beautiful French-flapped books. But as should be obvious, I'm the last person now to complain about the unfairness of contests: I've won two without any previously existing relationship with the judges and editors. It does increase my faith in the process. Plus, I feel confident enough now to spend my money supporting publishing projects that I like, even if I will not be directly included in them. The books Ron has been discussing by Wagner, Sharma, and Corless-Smith are all wonderful books; I'm happy if my $60 (three years of entry fees) helped make them possible. I'm going to try and let that be my guide as to where I spend contest money in the future. Though truth be told, it would be nice to bypass the whole thing for my next book. As I've said before, I'm attracted to the model of something like the New California Poetry series, where there's a reading period and no fee. I actually prefer the activist intervention/tastemaking of an editor or team of editors to being anonymously anointed by a judge you're liable never to meet. Why do any of this if not to build relationships—what else could "wanting to be read" mean? Even if you only want to be read by posterity—especially then.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Jason Stuart, Geof Huth, and Michael The Unruly Servant are on board with delicious aubergine poems, bringing us to twenty-six, one for each letter of the alphabet. Perhaps we should stop there. But I'll consider additional contributions if people go to the trouble of writing them.

In the word of Stan Lee, Excelsior!
Jonathan reminds me of his asterisked contribution. That makes twenty-three!
Noah has thrown another poem onto the fire. It's called "Poem."
Whoops! How could I forget Reen's sublimely "eeny" contribution, "The aubergine libertine in his green limousine"? So that's twenty-one poems. Of course I realize now I don't know (Mau)reen's last name. Perhaps she'll fill me in.
Okay, I've collected no fewer than twenty poems for the Aubergine prankthology—first copy gets sent Priority Mail to Mr. J.D. McClatchy. I suspect I'm missing a few. If you wrote an aubergine poem and don't see your name and poem title on the list below, please send me the poem in an e-mail. And if you do see your name there, and you want a copy of the chapbook I'm putting together, send me an e-mail with your mailing address.

The Auberginians thus far are:

Tim Botta, "Fried Flowers of Aubergine"
James Collins, "In Defense of Aubergine"
Shanna Compton, "For J.D. McClatchy"
---, "Purple Heart"
Nicole Cordrey, "The Effort of Living"
Joshua Corey, "[Subcutaneous, interstitial: two rules]"
Alan DeNiro, "Siege Mentality"
*Julie Dill, "Audrey Ostriker Loves Luther Vandross"
Paul Guest, "Summer Ending In"
Shafer Hall, "A Catalan Atlas"
Michael Helsem, "[the Lord of Dark did of huge]"
Mark Lamoureux, "Aubergine"
Scott McDonald, "[Old hatchling Tanning]"
Catherine Meng, "DOCUMENT 19 one riff short"
K. Silem Mohammed, "Truck Waffles"
Daniel Nester, "I'll Have You (Club Mix)"
Katey Nicosia, "Mad Apple"
Matthew Shindell, "Aubergine"
Laurel Snyder, "Poem which can end in no ending but this ending"
*Tim Yu, "Poem: To Americans Abroad"

The asterisked (*) folks wrote poems that don't end in the word aubergine, but I'm including 'em anyway.
Pretty spiffy.
Congratulations Nada and Gary!

Monday, May 17, 2004

Drew may have the right read on our inability to process American wrongdoing—he suggests that decades of repressing the guilt for the evil done in the name of "America" (c.f. slavery, American Indian genocide) have made denial the most powerful reflex we've got. Nevertheless, I continue to believe against evidence to the contrary that truth is powerful and impossible to suppress permanently. This Slate article suggests that we're only at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to trouble for the administration and its supremely arrogant, cruel, and despicable actions and policies. This story ain't going away. And I'm not Michael Moore's biggest fan, but I think Fahrenheit 9/11 is going to have an impact. Now, if Kerry would only step up to the plate that the Bushies have obligingly dusted off for him. If you haven't already, head on over to and send him that "Go Big" message. He needs to hear it.

In poetry news I found a copy of Ashbery's Hotel Lautreamont on our bargain shelf for $3.98 and I'm trying to remember if I have it already. It seems like every time I see an Ashbery book remaindered (it happens often) I'm convinced I already own it. Maybe I should write down what I have on a notecard and carry it around with me. For me a little late Ashbery can go a long way, but he sure does come up with great titles: "Not Now But in Forty-Five Minutes," "Private Syntax," "The Great Bridge Game of Life," "A Stifled Notation," "From Palookaville." He really does just riff, doesn't he? Somebody ought to do a study of casual poetry, if they could find a way to go about it. It's not just him and O'Hara—I'm convinced many poets, including myself, simply dash off a fair amount of stuff, and it's just as good or better than what gets labored on for hours and weeks and years. "If it doesn't come easy it doesn't come at all"—who said that? Might be a line from Augie March, which has bogged down a bit since its hero ran off to Mexico with the heiress to practice falconry. (Seriously, that's what he does.)

Slow night at the Bookery. Should read poems but I'd rather finish this Henning Mankell mystery. They're like candy. Poisonous candy.
Making a few exciting changes and additions to Fourier Series, inspired by some helpful comments by G.C. Waldrep, who was kind enough to read the manuscript. I'm also enjoying new work from him, a suite of poems titled Archicembalo. Making this kind of exchange possible is the whole reason I began blogging. Hell, it's the whole reason I write poetry.

Sending a big batch of Severance Songs off to magazines. When will this book be finished? I'm waiting for it to tell me. Speaking of finished books, hats off to the human verb for winning the Sawtooth Prize. There's some good karma at loose in our particular hemi-circle of the blogosphere.

Friday, May 14, 2004

As far as Cremaster goes, I hope people will take the widest possible approach to engaging it. Not simply reacting to the films as films, but to the media and marketing extravaganza that surrounded them: the hype, the backlash, the framing of art as institution (the man is seen climbing the Guggenheim: is there a more naked portrayal of artistic ambition anywhere), and so on. Individual sculptures; the soundtrack; events, people, and organizations alluded to by the films; sports (we've got football and some kind of motorcycle racing, not to mention all the climbing: the films foreground acts of endurance across distances, which is reflected in the experience of watching them). It's all fair game.
Sticky and hot today. Enjoying a romp through the somewhat diffidently titled An Anthology of New (American) Poets, edited by Lisa Jarnot, Leonard Schwartz, and Chris Stroffolino. In some ways it already feels a bit dated, only because in the present emergency I find myself searching for poems that speak to it. But any war residue in the book must belong to Gulf War Vol. 1, as it was published in 1998. Still, vital poetry here by poets both already familiar to me (Lee Ann Brown, Brenda Coultas, Jordan Davis, Drew Gardner, Peter Gizzi, Renee Gladman, Jennifer Moxley, Hoa Nguyen, Eleni Sikelianos, Juliana Spahr (her great "spiderwasp" poem/essay), Chris Stroffolino, and Elizabeth Willis) as well as some poets who I've only encountered glancingly and a few I've never heard of at all. Particularly struck by the free translations of Sappho and other Greeks by Bill Luoma; "The New Gate" by Garrett Kalleberg (of The Transcendental Friend), a poem of inaugural substance whose movement reminds me of a darker "Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow"; Renee Gladman's "Arlem," which reads like a brief, oblique novel; the seriously silly poems of Jeffrey McDaniel, a poet new to me; Kimberly Lyons' wonderful longish "Eon"; and many other delights. Favorite title, by another poet I'm reading for the first time, Candace Kaucher: "There Is Only So Much Space in Time or Oh Boy! Transference". It's like a really good issue of some magazine or other, with all of the poets happening to be more or less under forty at the time it was published.

Reading this in part for guidance on an anthology I've been thinking of editing; I still haven't gotten over the baroque, absurdist, blankly mythological imagery of Barney's Cremaster Cycle, and I think an anthology of poems responding to or in some way interacting with his vision would constitute an exciting occasion. I already know of a few folks, most notably Deborah, have already written poems inspired by the films. Some of the Severance Songs I've been producing have a Barney-esque quality to them, particularly a series-within-the-series I've been doing of songs that use the end-words from Keats' sonnets. In some ways my model for this project would inevitably be Involuntary Visions, though I haven't actually read that anthology; nor am I interested in coalescing the poems around a particularly region, school, or movement. Bigger, odder, and certainly funnier than Kurosawa's Dreams (which I don't mean to disparage; it's a great film), The Cremaster Cycle could inspire all manner of fascinating reactions and rejections, precisely because its cries for interpretation are as overdetermining as its actual symbology remains stubbornly indeterminate. There are ideas if one wants them, particularly concering masculinity, patriarchy, anti-phallogocentrism, what have you; there are suggestive uses of language; fragments of narrative and character abound (Houdini, Gary Gilmore, Mormon history, etc.) and above all there is imagery as compelling as it is mysterious.

Of course I still haven't got the much smaller Aubergine prankthology rolling yet. But I do know I could get help printing and publishing a Cremaster anthology (whether I'd need or want permission from Barney is another question). If folks are interested, I'd be interested in seeing poems, though I can't promise I'll do anything with them for quite a while. There is that pesky dissertation to deal with, after all.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Another day spent doing not much of anything in particular, except for considering which chunk of Fourier Series to give to Conjunctions. Or should I give them Severance Songs instead? The actual writing I'm doing I'm not much happy with. Or rather the re-writing. I have some poems in the notebook I put on the computer today and didn't feel my usual confidence about the changes I inevitably make in the process of transferring them—a key part of my process, though I do occasionally write directly on the computer. This too shall pass, but to what?

For sheer eloquence and heartbreakingness I can't put it better than Stephanie has.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

On the one hand, the new templates are undeniably beautiful, mod even. And it would now be easy to put that overly serious photo of me up. On the other hand, I've always appreciated the low-techness of Blogger, and the no-frills look of my own page (in spite of past color troubles). On the third hand (where'd that come from?) would refusing to update the template merely be obstinacy on my part, more showy in its way than creating a page with all the now-standard bells and whistles? A condundrum.

Got notice today that I didn't get a fellowship to Bread Loaf. There was no one there I was dying to work with, nor was I, a happily cohabitating man, looking forward to "Bed Loaf" (I freely admit that when I went in 2000 that was my idea of the place). I was just hoping for a free Vermont vacation. Phooey.
Relaxing today: a day off. Morning at the coffee shop with the dog; afternoon watching the rain and reading the first novel I've thoroughly enjoyed in a long, long time: Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March. A novel that actually uses the form well to track dozens of characters through history writ small and large, with a not inconsiderable amount of usable wisdom about life. Plus the prose is gorgeous, ecstatic, crammed with detail: he's a great, Joycean list-maker. I've read Bellow before, years ago, but the books seemed dated and full of self-importance. Either this novel, his first, is very different, or I am. Lately I've been thinking about narrative, what it would be like to embark on a long one. Years ago I wrote most of a novel but the impulse has been evaporated since. The Severance Songs are approaching their conclusion (I'd like to stop somewhere between eighty and one hundred) and yes, I have a dissertation to write, but I do feel the itch to try something more sustained than fourteen lines. But what? I don't have that insatiable curiosity about people and places which I think is the prerequisite for the kind of straight fiction I most enjoy—that which evokes a world. (The last writer who provided me that kind of pleasure in any consistent way was Patrick O'Brian, which is why I enjoy this poem by Mairead Byrne so much.) I'm more likely to attempt something with a less absorptive linguistic surface. Carole Maso and Lydia Davis are inspiring in that regard, as is the work of my new patron Christian Bok. I devoured Eunoia in Arizona and I love the way he swing-dances with narrative while hacking (if "to hack" can become a verb belonging to the sublime) out his set pieces: orgies, sea-fights, trenchermen's contests. Saturated by way of restriction, his book also manages to create the illusion of being overstuffed with world. Bountifulness.

On the other side there's spareness, where I find myself inclined for solace these days. After yesterday's horror I was comforted, though not soothed, by the intelligent mirror of anguish provided by Michael Palmer's "Seven Poems Within a Matrix for War" from At Passages. (Yes, I'm mentioning patrons a lot—but how extraordinarily fortunate I am to be patronized, so to speak, by writers for whom my admiration was already vast.) Read them if you don't know them: they came out of the first Gulf War (the same war, really) and they extract and examine our complicity in these things in a away that leaves me clear- and wet-eyed at once. Poems more urgent and immediately useful than I once found them to be. Useful in another way is Kasey's Deer Head Nation, which he kindly sent me a copy of. It's a pure product of America that makes you feel less crazy, that helps you recognize the ravings of the White Mouse for what they are. Which is all, maybe, that you can ask from poetry, especially at a time like this.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Can't get over the beheading story. Utterly and profoundly appalled. Sick to my stomach. The terrible temptation to believe that Arabs are in some way more savage than other people, which begets the temptation to see savagery in all, which begets the vision of the neocons' Leviathan. I won't go down that road. But the naked horror of it will not let me go. And the further violence it will justify. Nightmare time.
Sickened by the news, by both what "we" do and what "they" do. Sickened further by the thought of how the despicable things that "they" do justify, in many people's minds, the despicable things "we" do. But I'm glad that images of the war, the real war, are finally piercing the veil of ignorance Americans draw over themselves. Images began this war and maybe only images can end it.

A mouthful of ashes.

Monday, May 10, 2004

And we're back.

Jury's out on the new interface. Jury's in on Phoenix, Arizona: it stinks. Well, at least Scottsdale does: it's its own planet of the electrified undead, insulated by money in the form of water for fountains and swimming pools. The hostility of the surrounding environment just makes the city itself seem that much more impossible, and not in a glorious Bataillean way a la Las Vegas. Yuck and yuck. One redeeming feature: the kind and clever Matt Shindell, who bravely came to meet Emily and poet Jason Zuzga (getting his MFA at U of A in Tucson) and Jason's friend Robert and I at a ridiculously swank eatery/bar/silicone hangout called AZ 88, sight unseen. He gave me a copy of his beautiful chapbook, Were something to happen it would be both funny and interesting. Jason himself was also a redeeming feature, though as mentioned he doesn't live in Phoenix or anywhere near it; two righteous men do not a city make. I'm sure there are redeeming features; Matt and Jason labored mightily to point out a few. But I'm feeling uncompromising tonight in an Old Testament or Roman or otherwise ancient kind of way: Phoenix delendam esse. Sooner or later the drought will take hold.

Lots of thinking to do now about the Aubergine chapbook. But probably not until I'm done dealing with end-of-semester stuff this week. Please stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The Meme That Wouldn't Die

A brililant cook offers us an auberginian recipe, albeit without the word "aubergine." And I'm sure I've missed a couple of other such contributions—if you wrote an aubergine poem, please e-mail me and I'll link to it or post the text. I will also put together a chapbook if no one more skilled will step forward; I've never done such a thing so the results aren't likely to be as beautiful as what Maureen came up with. (A little help, here?) What I can do, however, is extend an open invitation for any Auberginian to come to Ithaca and read sometime in the fall or following year. E-mail me for details. Want to read but haven't written an aubergine poem? It's not too late!

Taught my last class this morning and I'm sad to see the little nippers go. But also looking forward to a summer of research and writing. Is that perverse?

Off to Arizona tomorrow to visit Emily's grandmother and also to meet poet Jason Zuzga, who I am reliably informed is also something of a Fourierist. So if you write to me over the next four days and I don't get back to you right away, that's why.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Two intensely enjoyable books are keeping me company at The Bookery this evening. The very humorous sadness of Nabokov's Pnin has long been noted; in addition to the rapturous prose and wry nostalgia for a Russia that probably never existed, I'm tickled by the references to Ithaca and Cornell. And please, please go buy and read Renee Gladman's The Activist. A marvelous model of the poem-novel, a lushly abstract deconstruction of politics both vertical and horizontal, and bitingly funny to boot. To maladapt one of her own sentences, "[Her] repudiation was unbearable, in that it was the most high-spirited display of disaffection that I'd ever seen."
Gary opens a can of aubergine and whoop-ass.

I thought it might be edifying to post my explanation of the formal constraints that Fourier Series operates under:
The most obvious and visible formal constraint is not a constraint at all, but a mode of visual arrangement: the non-prose lyrics in the book (excepting the concluding section, "The Impeached Image, Wilderness") are all arranged in a quadrant or floating plus sign. However other constraints do apply:

- Based as it is upon the passional theories of Charles Fourier, the book contains a section for each grouping of passions invented by Fourier: "The Five Senses" or Luxurism, "The Affective Passions," or Groupism, and "The Mechanizing Passions," or Seriism.
- Each of the twelve passions (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, ambition, friendship, love/celadony, familism, cabalism [the passion for minute division and conspiracies], flitting/butterfly [the passion for constantly changing activities], composite [the passion for combining stimuli]) plus the thirteenth passion, unityism (the feeling of oneness between the individual and multitude) has a poem or poem grouping assigned to it.
- The Fourier series (not the mathematical procedure that goes by this name) is a way of arranging people for maximum efficiency and pleasure (two seemingly disparate values that Fourier believed would become one in his new harmonious society). The minimum number needed for a series would be seven people: three would be the central "pivot" and they would be flanked by two two-person "wings." Fourier’s idea was to foster healthy competition within the series while ensuring that no one group could have hegemony over the other. Therefore the lyrics arranged in the quadrants of the book are seven lines each (with one exception). Furthermore there are never more than three lyrics to a quadrant: a foursquare totality is never achieved.
- Fourier posited that the possible combinations of the above passions resulted in 810 psychological types. There are therefore 810 lines to the lyrics in the quadrants.

As you will see from reading the book, the constraints I’ve imposed are as thematic as they are textual.
It seems somehow appropriate that the gentlemen for whom the contest is named, Edwin Fitzpatrick and Pontius O'Dinn, are entirely fictional. They are fictional and ought to have been real; Fourier was real and may also simultaneously have been fictional.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Thanks to all who have expressed (or perhaps merely harbored) good wishes. I had a wonderful weekend wandering aroudn stunned in the beautiful sunshine. This afternoon I spoke with William Gillespie, the editor and founder of Spineless Books, and I'm excited about the potential for the online version of Fourier Series. And I think the book itself is going to be very nice, too.

The aubergine phenomenon still has legs, as witnessed by this sestina from Mr. James Collins.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Okay, the big news...

It seems like indecently good fortune, but I am very proud to announce that Fourier Series is going to be my second book. Here's the official announcement:
Announcing the winner of the Fitzpatrick-O'Dinn Award For Best Book-Length
Work of Constrained English Literature, as judged by Christian Bök:

Joshua Corey's Fourier Series
(forthcoming, Spineless Books)


If Language, by Gregory Betts
here/gone, by Karen Green
Blue Fire, by Wendy Walker

More details soon at

Spineless Books is the publisher of, most recently,
Drawn Inward, poetry by Mike Maguire.
So, wow. Just wow. I'm deeply grateful, and deeply amazed.

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