30 September 2006


from Alice Notley, "It's Dumb to be a Member of a Dominant Species"
A conversation. "I'm waiting for . . ."
a myth of rescuing the future

We sanction no war whatsoever
just or unjust.
As a matter of fact we do nothing
we use no more fuel, drive no more cars
because we have tied our hands
with the silver-grey fabric.
It's hard to eat, hard to write. Our enemies
can kill us if they want
I think they're us anyway
and we were already doing that, killing us
if we wanted
The complete poem appears in Disobedience (Penguin, 2001)

Alice Notley will be reading in Tucson on February 24, 2007, in a reading cosponsored by Chax Press, POG, and the University of Arizona Poetry Center. More details will be available later from these sponsors.

28 September 2006

KNOT by STACY DORIS (notes from a first reading)

Now that Stacy Doris’s Knot has been out for several months, I find it as exhilarating as ever I did when I first read it in manuscript. And now, I thought I’d share some of the notes from that first reading. Zukofsky had it right when he stated that the test of poetry is the pleasure it affords as sight, sound, and intellection; as did Pound with his centers of poetic value: phanopoeia, melopoeia, and logopoeia. But both these systems imply a certain distance between reader and poem, a distance that is specifically broken or collapsed when a poem is successful as an experience, when it literally takes one “outside oneself,” or, as Emily Dickinson powerfully states it in a letter, "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that it is poetry." It is this sense of the powerful experience of reading poetry, not the later activity of reflection and analysis, that I hope to convey here. If I can carry over even a small piece of that experience with regard to Doris’s Knot, it is enough.

Some of my thrills, notices, etc. from a first reading (very informally stated) —

1. What is the unit of measure? the line is lovely but it is not here, where thought coheres. neither is it of the page — sometimes seems the phrase, but that's always folding into something else, not secure. maybe that's it — nothing is secure. maybe the unit is the whole & acceptance/understanding is a matter of absorption, both absorbing & being absorbed. yet the line IS a unit — each line is integral, albeit integral, partial, and multiple, all at the same time.

2. It was at i.XIII, particularly beginning "Where is ambers" until "That uninflected" that I first stopped, startled, remarking how absolutely beautiful the language is there, but also where I think I first began to be absorbed into the work, feeling I was strangely inside it.
Where is ambers, which reputedly captures or preserves? In air, so all in all,
There aren't ends to any step's echoes; no bridge back to the bland fizz
Of ice milk, depilatory scents, nodes labeled "home," a voice. Recycling's
That uninflected.
It was also there that I began to notice repeated words/ideas, like "cordon" (which turns into corridor and other avenues of travel, in the world, in the body, etc.) and "absorption" and a lot more as the work develops.

3. A couple of pages later, i.XV, the work started (or I first started noticing it) articulating what I was feeling about the process of reading, i.e. "Ricochets, so destination disorients." and truly "where the sky cave in comes illumination." I.e. that it was in the process of giving up reading as understanding, and accepting reading as process, that I did feel I was understanding the work, that it was illuminating me, or its own illumination was clearer to me. It took disorienting to become oriented. Somewhere near here I began to feel that this work is perhaps the best example I have ever seen of a poem where the process of reading is the essential excitement. Undergoing the work is an experience, and one well worth having.

4. i.XVIII where "I dissolves to a haven of buzzing." This is not the first buzzing, nor the first dissolution in the poem, but a place I marked where what happens in the poem also happens in the reader (and in the writer? or is that even important to think about?). This is also a section in which I felt some relationship between this process and many parts of the experience of love, which may just be the experience of breathing — “In breath, so you're hugged." There is something very physical about what is happening.
I dissolves to a haven of buzzing. Since altering circulation recharges,
You's are restrung from your own elements even; aired, exposed. If lenses
Have magnitude, each act dissects, oxygenates the particles, drenches
In breath, so you're hugged. There, light's no longer felt in contrast
But as increase, thickening in depth. Illumined as a desertion from
Surfaces collides, balming in flames, angles in, zeoes, thus heroic and
Erotic: a building.

5. ii.V "water's / Architecture where somebody swims" is like an earlier passage I remembered where genes are using bodies for their own ends. I.e. the terms in which we usually understand things are turned around or folded in a certain way. And while there are plenty of dualities in KNOT, I felt like the fold (or the knot) is more at issue. Another place this is felt comes later, at ii.X, in "Blood's useful only enclosed in coursing" and of course here "coursing" related to earlier "cordon" and "corridor." It's all part of the knot one is in while reading this work, constantly returning, but not a return of the whole, rather a return through, around, and out again.

6. ii.XIX In reading "Why a galaxy's the mirror of one / Explosion, in exhausting facets" to the end of this passage, I wondered if there isn't a cosmology going on in the work, and I'm not certain how I feel about that. But even if it is a cosmology, it's more an anti-cosmology, or multi-cosmology, at the same time. "Logic's gaping, most liminal then." makes this felt.

7. I like the way "the cat" keeps coming back. It lends a sense of humor to the work, and a sense of the everyday, strange as cats can be.

These are only a few of the occasions for amazement about this book, possibly Stacy Doris’s best – and that’s saying a lot.

read read read this book

27 September 2006


Elizabeth tagged me to write "five things feminism has done for me," and to tag five others to do the same. I don't know if what I have to say quite fills the bill, as it's more about five things I have experienced that involve feminism in some way.

1. When in high school, one day I was alone in the gymnasium (why, I can't remember). A black girl I barely knew came in, then two white guys came in and started hassling her: insults, taunts, threats, while physically advancing toward her. I don't think they knew I was there. I made it known that I was, and that they should leave. They did. At that time I thought it was a racist incident, which it was, and didn't consider it an example of hatred toward women. But two or three years later, I was on a balcony at a college dorm late at night, and saw a woman walking alone, and saw two men emerge seemingly from nowhere and begin to chase her. Again, they didn't know I had seen them. I yelled, and they stopped and ran the other way, away from her. I gradually put it together in my own mind that women are threatened, all the time, in many ways, and that we are all less human because of it. A year or so after that, Susan Brownmiller's book on rape & power came out, and I had a much clearer sense of this. In part because of that growing sense I joined a coed feminist consciousness raising group, which ended up being as social as it was political. We were all learning a lot in those days.

2. One day I held open a door for a woman in black dress, with hair that had been partially bleached. She turned to me and said to me that "the witches will always be good to you." It made me very happy, and still does to think about it. Maybe this has nothing to do with feminism, but I like the way female as a category, and I think feminist, too, includes everyone from powerful political and public women to women who work with herbs and green things (and other women, and men) to change the world as they can. Several years later I would meet Pauline Oliveros and her then-companion Susun Weed, who was such a woman, and seemed one of the most contented people I knew. Maybe I learned that feminism didn't necessarily involve anger.

3. When I went to England after college, the first book I bought in a London bookstore was the Thomas H. Johnson edition of the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. I had not taken a class in college that required me to read Dickinson at all. I had some experience with that work on my own, but not much. Suddenly, during a week and a half when I stayed put in a room in Cambridge reading & writing, I thought this was the most powerful writing I had ever read. Every time I teach it, I continue to think so. And it's because of the power in and of language, which is just explosive, yet dancing its explosions all the time. Dancing explosions may be feminist, too. There has never, at least since then, been a question in my mind that in my chosen field of poetry, the work of women is at least the equal of the work of men. In my own time, I believe it generally exceeds the work of men in the ways it explores, discovers, and opens up worlds.

4. My father had a bad heart, and most of the time after I was in the fifth grade, he stayed home. He sewed, cooked sometimes (not a lot, and not all that well): he dwelt in the house, in the domestic space. My mother continued to work until long after my father died. My father was a military man for a good part of his life, yet always one who had jobs that required him to help people with administrative and personal problems. He was a caretaker. My mother was strong: in youth an award winning athlete, throughout her life as a working woman with an active social life, until the last few years when she has been almost entirely confined to home and a need for care. She had to survive after my father died, when I was 20. As I remember them now, both of them gave me a feminist base—she as a powerful woman, he as a strong yet gentle care-taking man. My partner in life now likes to say that there are women of both sexes. She includes me in that, most of the time; I don't know if I could possibly have been that without my father before me.

5. My home is a home of women: my wife a visual artist whose work has made me question everything I know about light, color, and vision, and whose sense of the explorations involved in her field has greatly informed mine in poetry; my 17-year-old daughter a questing, caring, emotionally powerful student whose voice alone inspires me (she's a singer); my 13-year-old daughter the president of her student council, a writer whose notebooks completed (novels that she hasn't yet decided to share with me) stack to the ceiling. Living with them is certainly not always easy, as they are right a lot, wrong sometimes, opinionated almost all the time, not afraid to fight for what they believe in, and they are lively . . . very lively. But living with them is always an education for me in what it means to be human, and specifically female, through the process of growing up, and, in my wife's case, through the process of growing together for the last twenty-one years and forward through what years we have left. Feminism, as a lived experience, excites, inspires, and humbles me.

I may write more about this subject. There are certainly intellectual, philosophical, artistic things I have gained from or through feminism. But I wanted to begin mostly with the experience of learning and living things having to do with women & feminism.

And now I tag Tim and Brenda and Barbara and Rodney and Dawn. I had seven, then narrowed to five. Excess may be feminist, too, but not solely that. Trimming down to a certain order is probably not feminist. I'm not sure if Brenda or Barbara have blogs, but I'll be more than happy, if they answer this tag, to post their responses here.

21 September 2006


A Reading 18–20 shows Beverly Dahlen as a deeper, more poetically adept, more comfortably playful with language, and more important poet than she has been to date . . . and I didn’t think that was possible. Since I first read A Reading 1–7, and went back to read The Egyptian Poems and Out of The Third, I have known that Dahlen’s poetry is work I love and that hers is one of the most significant bodies of work of our time, a knowledge also confirmed by A Reading 11-17. I was led to want to publish it, which I’ve done for Chax Press in A Reading 8–10 and A-Reading Spicer & 18 Sonnets.

But now I have in front of me the new book, which confirms and goes beyond what I already knew about Beverly Dahlen’s work. The poetry in this book floats, as consciousness, gathers and disperses, as air and water, and continues, as matter, or as shadow of matter. It is a very strange writing, yet one feels, at all points, as if the phrasing, the diction, and everything about it, is right. It simply has to be this way.

I read the book for the first time today, and I feel a little like I do when I come out of a great performance or movie, i.e. pretty speechless, simply stunned by the experience of the work. So I’m not going to say a lot, but I’ll try and say a little.

First, the beginning:

I could no more have done that than I could have flown. I was censored deleted hands on a marked battle, a revised version. why should his life have been saved, he was an old man presumably and fit to die. the others might have gone along with this medium priced heresy might have made light of it the standard justification. did you see any white shadows there?

our visionaries traipsed to the barn concocting a glorious revolution. I scared myself sitting down. one doesn’t necessarily wish to go in the predicated direction. did I owe him that?
Here you can see and hear the amazing touch in language, moving from humor to serious questions, from battles to lives to heresy as lightly as possible, actually gliding through meaning. Like shadows, perhaps, and these shadows recur throughout the book. A shadow both exists and does not exist; it’s a tracing; in certain ways language is a human shadow, or perhaps in language humans are but shadows. Consider Shakespeare: “we are such stuff as dreams are made of” — Dahlen is acting/writing the being of “such stuff.”

not so much the


that would

what’s matter drifting un
such that we are at least

crowds probably, more than enough
crowds, probably more than enough

where signification is “not so much,” and we, as much as anything, are “matter drifting,” and where any meaning can be changed in a flash, by a deletion, a gap, or a change in the placement of a comma.

If a great part of the investigation or “reading” in the previous volumes of A Reading have been concerned with one and other, here there is not so much I and you, but much of the third person. The self is outside the self, although whether there is a barrier between outside and inside is entirely in question.

The identity of the third person: the father, who is either the father of lies or the author of “existence” — in any case, in whose sign we are constituted. To put the sign under eraser is a gesture, feeble in the circumstances, toward unmasking this father. It marks “his” absence. Any name may stand in this place. The log is absolute. One may conclude, as Watten does: “The world is everything that is not the case.”

Soon after, “the third person is the mother, whose presence is a kind of rumor.” And just a bit later, “The third person is the child, or rather the child-as-child-of-the-mother.” The distance is profound, and it is that distance in which we are engaged.

The shadow returns near the end as the shadow of “the material basis of reality the cornerstone of philosophy” which is now but “the triangular shadow that follows us.” Triangular as the father, the mother, and the child; triangular as the three-headed god; all of that and less, much less, shadow.

The book ends with a statement of our need for “belief in the coherence of systems.” That belief is bolstered by “verisimilitude,” which is a “problem in fiction” and is never noticed “unless it fails.” So fiction becomes us, “mourning becomes etcetera,” and we become immersed in a most glorious uncertainty, the world of A Reading 18–20.

I have not touched on the humor in this book, nor on the web of literary and philosophical reference. I leave that for each of you to find and revel in, as I hope you read this necessary book. I leave you with a passage, ending in a stop, from “A Reading 19.”
a slip of the tongue thought’s slippage a bald-faced lie
a slip of a girl tiny immaculate a foreign horn
burning her buttons tousled in thin air
foot-shot retriever ‘coarse materiality’
dragging a poem up by its roots shrieking
mama mama ‘the universal cry’ a voiced labial
sucking breathing and then a full stop

Published by Instance Press, 2006.

(Note: in the second indented quotation above, fourth line, there should be a large gap after the word "what's," that I have not yet figured out how to insert in blogger. Apparently within the blockquote tag, non-breaking spaces are not registered.)


How divine it is to get new books, whether through purchase at a store, online, or as gifts in the mail. Here are a few of the ones that have come my way today or lately, some very briefly noted, some barely more than listed.

1. INDUSTRIAL POETICS: Demo Tracks for a Mobile Culture, by Joe Amato (Univ. of Iowa Press, 2006)

The author says in his acknowledgments that I (among several others) have "better sense" than he does. OK, Joe, but I don't have "better nonsense," and that has made all the difference. Actually, that's a lie, or at least the part that infers that Amato is nonsensical is a lie. Sure, he can goof with the best of them, and sometimes does, but it's truly a ruse, and this is one of the most serious books to come my way in a long time. It's just that Joe can have fun with serious, & often does, although it can be heartbreaking fun, too. From grant proposals to engineering, to the heights & depths of poetics, well, as the author says, everything is in dialogue with everything else. Or maybe, multilogue. And it's all here, at least in microcosm, & all a delight. Truly, I'm still within the first 50 pages (though I've glimpsed through), but I already know this is one for the ages, or certainly for this age, slamming it through.

2. THE GOLDEN DAYS, vol. 1 of THE STORY OF THE STONE, by Cao Xueqin (Penguin, 1973).

I've been wanting to read this book for more than 25 years, and the four volumes that follow, in this foundational book of Chinese literature, or at least foundational for the last 250 years. Written in about 1760, mostly by Cao Xueqin, with later elements added by other authors, and beautifully translated by David Hawkes, this is a novel of romance and manners wrapped in a fable and held within a metafiction. Metafiction? In 1760s China. Yes, why not. Chapter 1 begins,
What, you may ask, was the origin of this book?
Though the answer to this question may at first seem to border on the absurd, reflection will show that there is a good deal more in it than meets the eye.
And there is.

So now I've begun. I'd love to finish it in a few months, but given the five volumes, not all of which are easy to find any more, realistically I may spend a year or so with this, reading as I can. I have a feeling Cao Xueqin will give Laurence Sterne a run for his money. And more.

3. RIVER ANTES, by Myung Mi Kim (Atticus Finch, 2006)

Oh those Atticus Finch people. They seem unable to make a book that is not physically and verbally fascinating. But then, starting with Myung Mi Kim is never a bad idea. She always creates a space in which her work exists creating the space in which the work exists creating the space . . .
In The Bounty and Dura it seemed to be transitional space, characterized by diaspora manifested in time/space and in language. Here too the past figures prominently, a past river, water, toppling shores, home hunt, all "Knotted heavy holy swear free flash."

Delightfully, reader is enclosed in the physicality of the book, as the book also becomes the space in which reader enacts transitions, unfolding gated pages to reveal sections of the book spread out before one. The architecture is physical.

Myung Mi Kim is one of the most focus-eyed writers I have ever known, but I love it when she also lets the language get a llittle goofy, as with

Could the rock be that yellow, canary yellow
Pelvis Bowl

Bunker buster bomb

Bombs indeed, as in one page of the text the language has literally exploded, with partial words drawn apart to pieces, unrecoverable except in gapped phonemes & morphemes. On another page, meaning entirely comes from markings, and there are two kinds of markings: virigules and periods. Make that three kinds of markings: virigules, periods, and space.

Find this book. Unfold it (literally). Read it. Conjugate it.

4. AN EARTH OF TIME, by Jean Grosjean (Burning Deck, 2006)

This one just came in the mail today, and I haven't read a word yet. But it was written while Jean Grosjean was a prisoner in the Second World War, and was his first book, published by Gallimard in 1946, awarded the Prix de la Pléiade. As the release says, "Between lyric and meditation on Biblical themes, the poems work up to a personal apocalypse." Translated by Keith Waldrop — I also just ordered his version of Baudelaire's Les Fleur du Mal, but that one has not arrived yet.

5. UNDER THAT SILKY ROOF, by Elizabeth Robinson (Burning Deck, 2006)

This one also just made its way to my mail box today, and I don't have a thing to say about it yet, but to me any new Elizabeth Robinson title is an event, and I keenly look forward to reading it.

6. TRAFFIC Issue Number Two

Also just arrived in the mail today. I was pleased when Small Press Traffic began a journal, and the first one was great. The second one looks beautiful, too. Ably edited by Elizabeth Treadwell. You should check out Elizabeth Treadwell's lively new blog, SECRET MINT: AN EXPOSITION.


To repeat from an earlier post, I am not using this blog to promote Chax Press books, but I feel like I at least have to make announcements (and if you consider that promotion, . . . well, OK.

The two newest Chax Press books, David Abel's Black Valentine, and Joe Amato's Under Virga, are now (finally, some might say) up & available through the Chax Press web site.

Here are two small snippets. First, from Joe Amato's Under Virga, the end of the first poem, "Alpha."

Whence memory operates
under the gravity of small moons, always
under the table
(i.e., self-regulated compensation
for the examined life)

under the weather
(i.e. dues paid
and no medical benefits to speak of)

under virga
(i.e., if you look it up you'll find
that it never hits the ground)
(i.e., the grounded).

Recall: how can you be so
singular, she sd to him, so


And this one from David Abel's Black Valentine, from the title poem.

I'd like to describe the register's shine
so the ring of its drawer
brings dollars to your eyes,

deflects the inquiry
disguised as sexual duress a loose
uncertainty between businessmen

leads them — ineluctably, as the raw thong
drawn through the tender skin binds —
to scour the bright sign of ecstasy

or tear it out by the root

14 September 2006

MORE & MORE & MORE (plus est plus)

Please visit some of the great blogs & sites listed on the right. I just added several more, like Tom Beckett's Soluble Census, Eileen Tabios's The Blind Chatelaine's Poker Poetics, Dusie's Micawberesque, Aldon Nielson's Heat Strings, Steve Evans's Third Factory, Mairead Byrne's ///HEAVEN///, Logan Ryan Smith's Do Gummi Bears Dream, and Kali Tal's myspace blog.

And there were a lot of other good ones already there!


Certainly one of the most energetic, intelligent, and dedicated workers in poetry at present is Brenda Iijima. As poet, organizer, activist, and press director, she is to be celebrated. It has been my pleasure and great fortune to come to know her and her work in the last several years. Two new books from her inimitably creative enterprise, Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, have come my way recently, and I just wanted to note them briefly.

Evelyn Reilly, Fervent Remnants of Reflective Surfaces

What’s immediately striking here is the physical structure of the work. Before reading, you notice two entirely different conceptions of the poem in its space. First, the title poem, with all lines symmetrically centered


yet the poem curiously not so orderly as that physical presence might imply. It begins “In the reek of an era,” and acts to initiate a different history, a different sense of organizing the human species, invoking a female presence closely connected to topography.

a landscape (a She) Spreading in


On her pedestal thus the wings

fairly innocuous a near Window
opening to a continued

expansion of the flatness
she became an inverse

Graph of

There’s finally an openness of process here, in this complex connection of the physical to the mental, where “the thought (maps the rain thought),” in this poem of myriad connective tissues, connotative possibilities.

The second work in the book, also a physical as well as a textual presence, includes three sections spread left to right across each page, the middle one being from Melville’s Moby Dick, chapter 87, “The Grand Armada,” where the whale “cows and calves” visit in a “wondrous world” both on and under the surface of the ocean. Connections of whale mothers to their offspring, the “umbilical cord of Madame Leviathan” provide a way of looking at the left & right columns, that also appear to denote human and animal connections and disconnections, “small groups…….. s//trangers….. I told him/doctors…..//legs, bacon grease and//…. distr…. styrofoam/purchased seemed normal/then//therapeutic// ……. what isn’t// repor….// ….. a smallish house/windows on two//mounts…. history/thus// with women a tone.” The breeding and birthing of the whales seems enmeshed with possible breedings and birthings of other newborns in the outside and inside columns, yet while the story of the whales is clearly told, the possible stories elsewhere in the text are more enacted from the inside, without a reconfigured narrative that allows a grasp of the whole. Rather than a piece of literature one can finally handle, a reader is immersed in the work, with a sense of its vastness, our participation in something beyond us, as we end “l/ost……//floating the …. pouring//grief discolor/th, th …….. the land dumb//… mute,// nearest the vast.”

I look forward to seeing more of Evelyn Reilly’s writing, feeling more immersed in her creations, catching glimpses of the vastness she espies.

Martha Oatis, Two Percept

My first act in pre-reading this book was just in noticing, looking at the look of words on the page in neatly ordered 6-line stanzas, except for one page at the beginning, one at the end, and two just past the middle, which are less ordered, less about containment than about “mayhem,” “meddling,” and some other or “another” that is implied, perhaps sought, in the poem.

In the attention to formal structure and its deviations, I also began to notice the presence of repeated words, something difficult to miss in this book, even in just looking through the pages. My count could be slightly off, but not much I think; I noticed 61 instances of versus, 33 of except, 26 of but, 7 of against, 4 or so of although. Altogether, of the book's approximately 1200 words (this is a speculation, based on some word-per-page average counts, and the total number of pages), more than 10% of the words have something to do with suggested turnings or negations. In reading the work, it’s clear that negation and turning are constant prospects, in lines like “except audacious except,” and “this but except access,” and “except but but although,” indicating that constant turnabouts are what we have, possibly who we are. There may be no going through, only going back and forth.

what the mind does to secure
a non-thinking state a
dove a lark a fixation
a tone a glass
versus human versus pulling
apart and together versus the

growing and shrinking
of the intercostal muscles
during breath versus the
rib-cage allay
the friend
versus to find

Even our breathing is a matter of this and that, push and pull, in and out, turn and re-turn. Why should not all other endeavors, all thought, be so? Is there a way out? Here’s where we turn to the few pages with a different structure. Curiously (or not so) on these pages, none of these words of turn & negation appear. Instead, two things can co-exist, as the first line of the poem declares,

announcing both worlds —

a nook — abbreviated —

long pause — an explanation

two worlds — trickling

down the slip — slide — the

invention — plastic — of string

cloth bikinis — arriverderchi

an order — coming — going

where the proposition is not an “except” or “but” or “versus,” but of both together, moving back and forth between them. Even “bikinis” are composed of two parts that work together, not “against” one another.

But conjunctions, gatherings, alliances are difficult, and the book ends ambiguously, on the one hand “alliances / begone,” yet still there is an invocation of “another place” and “another time” as though there is another possibility that coexists with this one. There can be

yours —

another’s —

My praise to Martha Oatis for creating an inviting work of such push/pull complexity, and certainly to Portable Press and Brenda Iijima for bringing two stunning books into the world. Iijima’s drawings, on the covers and elsewhere in the books, are both an integral aspect of the individual works, and a lovely and useful way of joining the books as part of the effort of a singular visionary press.

Portable Press at Yo-yo Labs

10 September 2006


Mostly I adore HD, and particularly Trilogy, but yesterday John Wright did point out some moments when her language is either gratingly near-rhymey, or academically so, such as

This search for historical parallels,
research into psychic affinities

"The Walls Do Not Fall," XXXVIII


states economically
in a simple dream-equation

the most profound philosophy

"The Walls Do Not Fall," XX

I wonder, though, for this poet, who was entirely conscious of having been labeled, H.D., Imagiste, and who bristled under that label, if a little of the flatness that occurs now & then in Trilogy, a little of the parts that don't exhibit her usually superb and cool soundings of the language, aren't intentional. I.e., as another member of the reading group I am involved with that is now reading HD, said, with full admiration, "HD works hard sometimes not to be a tight-ass."

I was really surprised to find, in Trilogy, and particularly in "Tribute to the Angels," a poetic tone of arch & cool distance that I primarily associate with the beginning of Edward Dorn's Gunslinger. Think of lines about meeting "the Cautious Gunslinger / of impeccable personal smoothness," and the distance and raised eyebrow tone in "Is it the domicile it looks to be / or simply a retinal block / of seats in, / he will flip the phrase / the theater of impatience." Also the act of the Gunslinger as "he will unroll the map of locations." Also the concern with "Time" in Gunslinger as in "Time is more fundamental than space," and the concern about relating self (or multiple selves, or culture) to time.

Then look at these lines, chosen from various places in "Tribute To The Angels"

as if she had miraculously
related herself to time here,

which is no easy trick, difficult
even for the experienced stranger (XXVII)

But none of these, none of these
suggest her as I saw her,

though we approach possibly
something of her cool beneficence (XXXI)

I see her as you project her,
not out of place

flanked by Corinthian capitals,
or in a Coptic nave

or frozen above the centre door
of a Gothic cathedral;

you have done very well by her
(to repeat your own phrase) (XXXVII)

she carries a book but it is not
the tome of the ancient wisdom (XXXVIII)

Certainly Dorn, in a class with Robert Duncan at Black Mountain College, would have had impetus to read HD. Whether he actually did or not, when he read her, and with what result, I can't say. I just find the juxtaposition of tone fascinating, and when I hear that tone in HD, I like it very much. It confirms to me something I have suspected, but that is not part of the picture usually conveyed of HD, that is, of how tough-minded she is, and how entirely conscious of every aspect of her work she must be. Devotee & seeker of wisdom that is intellectual & spiritual, yes, but never one to give in or over to anything not clearly in her mind's eye.

Moving from reading HD to reading Gertrude Stein's Geography and Plays. First, I am immediately struck with how I admire HD, & read her with taut attention and a bit of awe, yet how I simply so enjoy reading Stein. There is so much abundant energy, leaps of imagination, and sheer fun in her work.

"Susie Asado" is like, or is, having sex in language. Try to understand it as modulations of breathing, with the breath getting somewhat louder & shorter with each "sweet" in the first line to a climax in "tea" and then an exhalation of relief/release in the first "Susie Asado." Then again. And continue with this kind of thinking/hearing/feeling the poem throughout. Ulla Dydo of course has noticed and noted this in her great work on Stein, The Language That Rises (Northwestern Univ. Press, 2003), but what's great about Stein, or one of the many things, is that so often, if you just hear the work, it doesn't need explication. It is what it is what it is, and we find joy in it.

I love the moments in Stein when, in the midst of long strains of variation on word combinations, sentence possibilities, gradually shifting and sliding, all the while carrying information (yes, Stein is understandable, quite often, as providing information), she inserts a sentence in which it's clear the work is about what the language in it does. Such as

Education, education, apprenticeship, and all the meeting of nephews and trains and changing papers and remaining when there is no chance to go there, all this occupied a whole sentence.

from "France," in Geography and Plays

and of course the "whole sentence" it occupied is the one you have just finished reading, and all of a sudden instead of being absorbed in the work, you are back to yourself and, if you experience it as I do, laughing for a moment, yet also better prepared to launch back into reading the work, which, while a lot of fun, is also entirely demanding of one's attention.


This came from Elizabeth Treadwell, in response to the post on her Cornstarch Figurine. It's from a future book of hers.

(or Opening of 2nd section of Virginia or the mud-flap girl)

all the handsome signifiers
in the village heap

the town tramp called
she wants her voice back

in thin, diurnal vocab.
the person & her food

07 September 2006


Is there a relationship between delight and estrangement? Recently I have read several books of poetry that draw me in, as though a kind of spell of centrifugal force keeps one in the middle of the work, inside the poem (or poems). Elizabeth Treadwell's Cornstarch Figurine (Dusie, 2006) is not that kind of book, but its absence of that quality of attraction does not harm the book, in fact it may be one of its great strengths. The book is so entirely filled with signifiers, jammed against one another, in a way that is undeniably a delight, yet in a way that doesn't quite let the reader enter. But it also won't let the reader turn attention away.

Take this passage from one of the last parts of the book, "My Hello Kitty Rulebook."

button eager nimblemount, carrion side fey,
extraordinary lapidarian menage,greet union
bestiary, for the mixed plum dressing mires,
and we foreshoot,and we mumble, and we glean.

so that yesterday's greenbelt mirage
won't site. won't it miracle. won't it merge.

reorder gambit lesson in the once-over
holiday accord. it will do. it will. it —
oh, beating.

There is an extraordinary display of language music here, and a sense of humor that finds itself in language's sound and sheer play, and there are elements of many potential stories. There is terrific repetition, sometimes of diction, sometimes of syntax, and sometimes of both. There's a practically 18th Century sense of the performance of the poem, uncorrupted by later Romantic notions of the position of self and sincerity (posed "sincerity" can be a terrible problem in poetry), that I find altogether compelling.

Elizabeth Treadwell may be my favorite poet of the last several years whose work I can't quite claim to understand. And I'm not driven to do so, rather to listen & revel in it. It's a work where "vertical lines are IMPOSSIBLE," yet its cover is printed with pink vertical stripes, putting one in mind of popcorn bags, carousels, possibly Victorian carnivals, and cotton candy. And the work is sweetly sung, yet in its movement of mind, its grappling with gender and other personal/social issues, it is also intriguing in its refusal to settle.

There is always a "but" to lead us elsewhere, as in "Genevieve," a prose poem in the "Cornstarch Figurine" section of Cornstarch Figurine, where a paragraph that occupies a little less than a half page contains no capitals or periods or commas or other punctuation but includes fourteen instances of "but" and one "however."

I think Elizabeth Treadwell must love Jane Austen, early Romantic novels, and possibly even contemporary ones, Shirley Temple, and maybe even soap operas. Otherwise, how could one fill a poem with such phrases as "crystal dined at court," "daresay bygone prince," "ruined women," "a girl's peekaboo," "the alderman's newspaper flaming," "nervous christian mercy," and more, as she does in a poem titled "Oona Thompson," whose epigraph is from Beverly Dahlen and reads, in a blind way the legend is moving. Maybe that's one thing you find in Treadwell's work, a sense that everything is always moving, and while it may have all the elements of legend, it's rather blind and can't quite be a legend. We are rather blind as readers and can't quite grasp control of what we are reading, and that is what keeps us at "the banquet."

In this book there are bridge parties, palace arcades, and the remains of the bodies of ladies. There are goddesses and daisies and an apple-jade dancing floor. And there are also sisters, and sisters, and sisters, and "the mother the mother the mother," so that, despite what I have said about being thrown out of the poem all the time because of the not-quite-joined bric-a-brac, there is a feeling of intimacy, of a deeply personal poem under or within what we are reading. There are poems dedicated to sisters, and there may well be codes we can not entirely recover. But again, I don't think that matters, rather I have the sense that the meaning-always-slightly-beyond-the-edge-of-where-we-are, is what keeps us on that edge, reading, listening, seeking.

I find some aspects of the book present in microcosm, in some of its briefest bursts.

lumber mecca (geology)

clarityburg: the high road, half-fate
kitty languid, box-lunch january
slow-down, only the papers
arrive early, tortoiseshell hoopskirt flick of the wrist,
it's all out there, sunshine

I love the way sounds glide into related sounds, clarityburg to languid, high to half, languid to january, and the short phrases between punctuation grind and slow down; but then it all stretches out again in that longest phrase, "tortoiseshell hoopskirt flick of the wrist," like a carefully modulated jazz solo that suddenly lets go with a long lyrical howl. And when it comes back from that stretch, it comes back with a joyous and clear summation, and a call to go forth into the world, because "it's all out there, sunshine."

I leave you with just a few short lines, from various points across the 128 pages of the book, that seem to capture the overloaded and entirely compelling sense of Cornstarch Figurine.

& within a crooked mind
freed & eased by thin branches

and we turned on plaid scratchy filmic futures diverge

something a rag rug:
and swans and
swans and swans

complex of the ordinary
in the sullied modern
peepshow hamlet

the philosophical potion of
the basic understood experimental

overrun with being, being

But in fact challenging consecrated vocabulary, meting out sources
and colors and shares. And in fact, there will be comforts and drawings
and homes. To turn it over to you, ingenue

The last of these snippets is in fact the end of the book, the end of the very fine last poem, "Letter to An Ingenue," which is part of "My Hello Kitty Rulebook," where I began this post. "Letter to An Ingenue" is concerned with "patterns of lovers and loves," with "dream mechanics pushing it all beyond document," with odd attractions and what "thinking can't explain," with the oddness of the present coming out of "Dead centuries at the helm," and with not ending, for there is no period after "you, ingenue" - for who is the ingenue to which the poem is addressed? Perhaps it is you. And you are outside the book, free at last, but free as well to take the book with you, always.

If you have the possibility of choosing an "unbounded instant simple act," let that choice be to read Cornstarch Figurine.

You can read more about this book on Eileen Tabios's marvelous Galatea Resurrects, #3, and you can even purchase it at Dusie Press. It's the first book from Dusie — what a great beginning!


Does everyone know that Steve Reich's birthday is in less than four weeks? I know there are concerts & celebrations world-wide for this man who has been called America's "greatest living composer." Alas, nothing in Tucson, so I'll have to listen to music I have and/or find by then. Right now I am listening to "Music for 18 Musicians" (1976). You too can listen to part of it, which you'll find here if you follow the link to Multimedia. I haven't listened to this music for a long time and had forgotten how utterly freeing it is. If anyone wants to send me comments about their favorite Reich pieces, that would be great. I have by no means listened to all that is available.


and turn and turn.

Hours and hours have been taken from my time in the last several days meeting City Council members, going to council study sessions, speaking at regular council meeting, etc. The issue is a development to go right across the street from the chax press studio, a development by Town West developers that will provide downtown housing in the form of 140 to 150 condominiums, generally priced at $350,000 or more. The spot is the largest vacant piece of land in the Tucson Historic Warehouse Arts District. Two years ago Mayor & Council adopted a Master Plan for the district that foresaw this parcel as filled with an outdoor performance space, affordable housing for artists, arts retail space for art supply store, galleries, and space for nonprofit arts organization, all coordinated with a connecting art walk throughout the district. I am president of the Warehouse Arts Management Organization, a group that came into being through that Master Plan. WAMO has been continuously working on the development of the district, solving problems of artists in old buildings that have difficulties to overcome, and trying to focus the city council & staff's energies on honoring the Master Plan. This particular parcel is a major connecting point, perhaps THE major connecting point.

The working heart of the district is the Steinfeld Warehouse and 6th Street studios. This is where more artists and arts organizations create their work than in any other similar conjunction of buildings. Chax Press is here, the Alamo Woodworkers Collective is here, Dinnerware Art Gallery is here, dance companies are here, youth organizations are here; it's impressive, not only for Tucson — it would be impressive anywhere. That's the heart. The brain, at the other end of the district, is MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art. Still struggling in its early development, but entirely promising and thoroughly professional, MOCA curates the myriad practices of contemporary art into exciting and educational exhibitions and programs. Heart & brain. Connecting them is the bloodline, the Toole Avenue corridor of artists' warehouses, performance spaces, educational organizations in the arts. It's lively there, as blood should be. Steven Eye's Solar Culture, in particular, is where one goes for "the news" in contemporary music, and where any artist can find their work welcomed. In some ways, it's the anti-museum; we need that, too. The final connecting point in this bloodline would have been this parcel that is now to be a 12-story condomium project. What a missed opportunity! This could have been the piece of the puzzle, as envisioned in the Master Plan, to ignite the district and give it a place for outdoor art and performances, coffeehouse and restaurant for gatherings, retail that supports the arts, and a place where more artists could live at affordable prices. Well, it isn't going to happen. The city has ignored the desires of artists and has ignored the very intent of their own approved Master Plan, while claiming this new project is the "first major investment in the Warehouse Arts District." It may be the first major investment within the district, but it's not an investment in the district and what the district hopes to accomplish and develop for the arts.

I'll keep updating this issue, and I'll try and supplement this post soon with some photos of the warehouse arts district.