25 November 2006


Many people have asked me how they can help with the Tucson artist warehouse situation. Here's one small way.

One of the local newspapers, The Tucson Citizen, is conducting a non-scientific and extremely idiotic poll about attitudes concerning artists in the warehouses downtown. If you're reading this blog, you may already know about the issue.

Please go to the poll site and vote in favor of the artists. When you get there, you'll see what I mean by "idiotic."



22 November 2006


Thanks to all of you who have commented , emailed, written, and called offering encouragement and support after my last post about eviction notices to Chax Press and artists in two Tucson warehouses. Thanks to Ron Silliman for making a link to this blog, which I just found out about a few minutes ago when I noticed the blog was getting about four times the usual traffic, a good deal of it coming from Ron's blog.

This post will be a bit more technical, but I wanted to update you on what's going on.

WAMO (Warehouse Arts Management Organization) Executive Committee (I'm the president) along with concerned friends forming a sort of ever-shifting task force, met two days ago, in advance of a meeting today with a city council member and staff from other city council members' offices. We came up with the following list of requests, and handed them a page as follows.

The WAMO Executive Committee, along with concerned artists and friends of the Tucson Historic Warehouse Arts District, recommend that the following steps be taken in response to the State of Arizona Department of Transportation’s recent eviction order for warehouses.

· WAMO and the City of Tucson, with funds from the city's account that grows from accumulated rents in the warehouse arts district, will contract a consultant, preferably Art Space, Inc., to develop a plan and funding mechanism that will move the Master Plan forward and allow artists to gain equity/ownership in warehouses, including Steinfeld, Zee's, and Dwight Metzger's workspace, and that will fund necessary repairs to the buildings to allow for continued occupation that satisfies City and ADOT concerns for issues that might be considered liability risks.

· WAMO and The City of Tucson will contract a structural engineer to evaluate the Steinfeld Warehouse and Zee's, and possibly other buildings in the district, to determine whether it is safe for tenants to remain in these buildings while necessary repairs are conducted.

· Tucson Department of Transportation will conduct a survey of the square footage of space in the buildings of those who have received, or will receive, eviction notices, and will evaluate the kinds of space those artists presently occupy, and develop a complete relocation plan that offers artists spaces at least equal in size and functionality to the spaces they now occupy, at rental rates equal to what those artists now pay, with the City of Tucson funding all relocation expenses for those artists. TDOT will offer a comprehensive relocation plan for all effected artists, with the plan's components being individualized plans for each separate artist or arts organization. Present building tenants or groups of artists that wish to remain together will be allowed to do so if at all possible.

· WAMO and the Steinfeld Committee (suggested name for the committee moving ahead to address these issues) request a meeting with the responsible decision-makers at ADOT who are concerned with the Tucson Historic Warehouse Arts District buildings. We may bring all representatives we choose to such a meeting.

· All consultant reports and surveys should be fully completed before anyone is evicted from any building in the Tucson Historic Warehouse Arts District.

The response today was encouraging. First, we received, from the state (our landlord) a 2-month extension on the eviction notices, which isn't a lot, but it helps. More importantly, we received, from the city, a much stronger sense than we've had previously of support for the points above, and for our joint development of a plan that we hope won't require any evictions at all. In a couple of conversations with a member of the Governor of Arizona's staff, I also had the sense today that people are listening to the artists in the community. We're far from sitting in a comfort zone at this time, but I have a much more positive sense of possibility than I had several days ago. Part of this positive sense comes from the support received from so many people.

Also, today, sitting in a city council member's office, I was pretty overwhelmed just thinking about the extraordinary people around me who are helping with this issue. Many of them are the artists directly effected, others are artists in the community around us, others are community activists, leaders of social programs, etc. Among them, painters whose work has hung in collections from Paris to Hawaii, founders of national award-winning youth art programs, leaders of an independent community radio station, woodworkers who make some of the most amazing furniture I have ever seen (and that sits in the most prestigious homes & buildings in the region), founders of the annual All Souls Day Parade (I wrote about that a few posts ago on this blog), the chairperson of the local/regional arts council, and several others who all bring their intensity, resourcefulness, creativity, and intelligence to the current situation. No matter what happens, I feel priveleged to be a part of the community working to save these warehouses as art spaces, hopefully with no evictions to come.

19 November 2006


Some call our building, whose real name is the Steinfeld Warehouse, or the Old Steinfeld Warehouse, or the Historic Steinfeld Warehouse (home of Chax Press, Cynthia Miller, the Alamo Woodworkers Collective, Dinnerware Arts Gallery, Elizabeth Crider, Laura La Fave, Joe LaBate, David Aguirre, Nora Kuehl, and others — 16 artists in all, plus their employees, volunteers, interns, exhibited artists, organizational board members, etc.) the Alamo. It may be at its last stand.

We were all (and the tenant of another building, Zee's Warehouse) on Wednesday of this past week given eviction notices, by our landlord, the State of Arizona Dept. of Transportation. The State bought several buildings in the area more than 25 years ago in order to clear the way for a highway to be built through the area. The highway was not built, artists came to inhabit the buildings (ours was the first to become an artists' warehouse in the area), the state seemed to condone the idea, and we've been there ever since. Specifically, The Alamo Woodworkers' Collective has been at Steinfeld for 20 years, and Chax Press and Cynthia Miller have been there for 17 of those 20 years; David Aguirre has been there for about 17 years as well. We are now supposed to leave by January 31, 2007.

Last night, at a poetry reading in the building (presented by POG, which is supported in part by Chax Press), I kept looking up at the beautiful wood ceiling, at the time, I thought, one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I had difficulty concentrating on the poems (though they were fantastic: both Barbara Henning & Sheila Murphy gave terrific readings), as my mind was on the building that has been my home for most of my waking hours, and the home to a group of extraordinary friends and colleagues.

Earlier that day about 100 artists gathered for a photograph at the Steinfeld Warehouse (one of the photos taken is included with this post), all of whom are trying to save this building and to save the Tucson Historic Warehouse Arts District, of which the Steinfeld is a cornerstone. At this point we have many questions, few answers. We will do our best to resist and try and overturn the evacuation order, at the same time trying to find new homes. Some of us will not leave until we are literally forced out. A coalition is coming together, and I hope it can be effective not only in saving the buildings for the artists who are here now, but in finding ways for those artists to own the buildings, and to gain financial support for the rehabilitation of buildings as needed to meet building codes (all the time the buildings were in state hands, they were exempt from city building codes).

The state claims their intent is to "reintegrate the buildings into the neighborhood." This is actually what the artists have done for twenty years, in the process creating a kind of community that is all too rare, and continually threatened, in our world.

I want to leave the last word here to my friend John Sartin, a woodworker, photographer, and jeweler who has been a mainstay in the building, and in the district, for a good part of his life. This is his letter to the group of artists who are coming together to try and save Steinfeld and Zee's for the artists therein.
Hello Group!

My name is John Sartin and I am one of the original members of the Steinfeld Warehouse group. Although I now work mostly from a home studio, I have deep roots in the Downtown Arts Community that started in the very early days of The Splinter Brothers and Sisters Warehouse circa 1972. I have literally grown up as a downtown Tucson artist / craftsman. The issue of a thriving and vibrant arts community is very important to my personal well being.

After speaking with some of you at the Dinnerware meeting I have come to the conclusion that some of us have different hopes for an outcome. Some simply want a time extension and possibly compensation or moving assistance. Some would like to have an opportunity to purchase their building or get a long term lease at an affordable rate after rehabilitation. Some are involved simply because they believe in the importance of the Warehouse Arts District and the fair treatment of the affected people. Some just want to assure that the buildings will not be razed. What ever your personal agenda is, we must now come together , find our common focus and educate the greater community of Tucson in the true value of maintaining the continued use of these properties as affordable art and craft space. I think it will be necessary to show Tucson why these particular buildings and their tenants are critical to a healthy city identity. What have we given to Tucson over the last 20 years? Why do we deserve their support for fair treatment? Why should they care? What have we done for them?

Some answers that come to my mind are:

We have literally kept these building standing and not let them become eyesores while the transportation issues were being resolved. I think there is a perception by some that we have been the beneficiaries of cheap rent and should be happy to have had it and move on when told to. We know this is not true. We have paid the rent that buildings in such a state of disrepair could command. I feel we have quite a lot of sweat equity in the Steinfeld Warehouse. The fact that this grand building still stands is due totally to the people that have poured their cash and sweat into keeping the roof on it for 20 years. The State has turned a deaf ear to requests for help to preserve this important landmark. This building without renters like us would not have been a viable commercial property. The collapse of the roof and decay of the walls has been postponed only by our efforts. We have paid real world rents for this property when you factor in the money and labor invested. I feel in a very real way we have prevented the city from having to endure abandoned and decaying buildings a few blocks from city hall. We have been awesome caretakers of these splendid and now rare examples of Tucson's heritage.

We have provided the greater community an identity of a creative and inventive city that will accept and embrace culture in many varied forms. I see Solar Culture as a shining example of this. Where else can you go and see such diverse entertainment for a reasonable price in a safe and authentic environment. My kids love shows there as much as I do. I do not want to loose a venue like this. We also represent a community of involved and giving citizens. Just look at the wonderful article in the new publication ARIZONA FOOTHILLS TUCSON. There is an article about artists giving back to the community. Featured artists include Cynthia Miller, Charles Alexander and David Aguirre, outlining their generous community involvement. These are all people working in the buildings in question! There are many more examples of this nature just waiting to be brought to the attention of the public. We need to come together and show them we are worthy of their support.

We continue to enrich the community by working together, in close proximity, inspiring each other to do our best work. I love seeing my fellow local artists work in peoples homes. Just last week I went to a customers house and the first thing I noticed was a painting by Cynthia Miller over the fireplace. When I mentioned it, the owner told me it was one of her favorite things and how much it meant to her. I hope you have all had this experience and know the feeling of pride for a member of our special community of creatives. We are in a unique position to touch peoples souls. We are worthy of support from the greater community and should come together to ask for their assistance. The positive press we want will then follow!

Peace, John Sartin


Here are the last eight lines of HD's "The Walls Do Not Fall," the first book of Trilogy.
we know no rule
of procedure,

we are voyagers, discoverers
of the not-known,

the unrecorded;
we have no map;

possibly we will reach haven,

I have been looking at these lines over and over lately, but it was not until a few days ago, after students left a class I was teaching, that I wrote the lines on a blackboard (size is a tool in allowing sight) and started thinking about similarities, dissimilarites, and connections between and among words.

There are five words (or parts of words) that either directly, or in context, are negatives: "no," "not-," "un," "no" again, and in this instance, "possibly," at least in the sense that it casts doubt.

There are six words (or parts of words) that I associate with markers of the known: "know," "rule," "procedure," "-known," "-recorded," and "map."

To know seems devalued here, and to have suffers a similar fate, leaving as positives only the assertion "we are voyagers, discoverers," but finally leaving perhaps the only true value at the end of the poem, the only thing that can be trusted, as uncertainty. Possibly we will reach a "haven / heaven," whose very being is also uncertain, although what controls the uncertainty there is a single letter, the lower-case "e," which, as any typographer will tell you, is the most frequenly used letter in the English language.

This may be HD's somber paean to negative capability, the ability to exist among doubts and confusions, without reaching after the known, the rules of procedure. The poem "Trilogy" is one of the finest demonstrations we have of that capability

10 November 2006

Berssenbrugge & Nichol: POETRY PHYSICAL PLEASURE 2

Years ago (1988) I attended a poetry reading that in a single hour displayed the widest range of poetry as physical pleasure that I have ever witnessed. It was at the Tucson Poetry Festival. First Mei-mei Berssenbrugge whispered a poem, much like the following, from “The Retired Architect.”
I tried to complete a life circumstance like a building, loose in space on used land.
I made a shape against sky on flat land like a cut in the weeds, but I got bored and didn't finish.
Concrete surfaces need support, and my illness made calculations difficult, shadows fell like hinges on erasures.
This site is riddled with plastic wood panelling, plastic ducks and discarded coach lamps.
The iconography doesn't ethically correspond to its cut up and eroded state.
I make something which as it changes and falls apart, offers no clues to itself before, as if all shots were mobility frames.
Consider the length of the line here, with all lines not fitting without break within this blog frame. To speak through the line as a single, continuous, unbroken utterance, it must be uttered softly, preserving the breath. In Berssenbrugge’s voice it becomes very nearly a whisper; in anyone’s voice it would be something close to that. Such a reading also recognizes the contemplative nature of the work, its existence as thought perhaps more than as speech. Imagine yourself in a room alone, savoring the articulation of serious matter, wanting a single reader not so much to understand herself as recipient of an address, rather to overhear thought, with both speaker and listener barely noticed. The pleasure here is delicate, helping to create a spiritual space that might be located in time on a cool spring morning and in space looking at the long horizon of the New Mexico desert—that long line of space informing and responding to the long line of the poem and the long line of the time of the poem. Nothing tricky about the physical act of pronunciation here, yet it demands a great deal of care, patience, stillness. In a culture of rushing to a never-ending line of appointments, such calm may be a superior pleasure.

Following Berssenbrugge, bpNichol came on stage, with noticeable difficulty in moving (he was in considerable pain from a tumor at the base of his spine, which eventually would lead to his death in September 1988), sat at a table, began tapping the table with his palm in a rhythm, and performed the sound poem, "pome poem” (full text on Crag Hill's terrific blog) that takes us on an anatomical tour of the body, beginning
What is a poem is inside of your body, body, body, body?
What is a poem is inside of your head, inside your head, inside your head, inside your head?
The lines are sung rather than spoken: a chant-like song that elongates and rounds (practice going down in tone and then up again to complete the sound of the word) the initial word of each line and then speeds toward a persistent stress on the words “body” and “head” in their respective lines. The stresses are different—“body” moves up the scale a few places in a lilting tone while “head” comes down about a half octave in tone like a blunt force.
What is a poem is inside of your fingers, fingers, fingers, fingers?
What is a poem is inside of your toes, inside your toes, inside your toes, inside your toes?
As the poem continues in pairs of line, the pattern repeats. Once heard, an audience wants to sing along in pleasure and contemplation of the connection of poem to body, of the production and reception of sound as physical fact. The poem is not too long to lose the effect, but long enough to develop its centrifugal pull, until it ends with
What is a poem is inside of your breathing, breathing, breathing, breathing, . . .
with the final word repeating, without taking any further breath, gradually softening until one’s lungs are empty, having issued the poem into the world with all that one has to give. Inspiration ends in exhalation. Oddly inspiring that both the Berssenbrugge poem and the Nichol poem, incredibly different in voice, tone, subject, loudness, form (in all ways), end in the same place, a quiet breathlessness that honors the place of the poem as rhythmic speech act.

07 November 2006

POEM from the forthcoming CERTAIN SLANTS

(book by Charles Alexander to be published by January 15, Junction Press)
Which Day Was It?

We wanted to begin with a line, begin begin begin and continue, so does the weather, whether or not we blossom, uncovering bosoms and breathless fall, reverence to remember, still the line beckons not straight or curved but repeats for always the next to last time or world or world or word, not getting it right until the third breath, triple-tongued, laughing from the effort, lest we take it too seriously, nonchalant, and care for nothing but effect, something less or more than breathing, last resort of the living, to wander until the dark makes us consider an alternative, until dawn, begin we wanted to, with a line, and continue, suppose the garden supposes a lake and where the air falls to light and

A Poem NOT from the forthcoming CERTAIN SLANTS

not the one but the more (by Charles Alexander, circa 2003, altered 2004)

this may be just a bit too small to work on the blog, but if I make it bigger it exceeds blogger's image file-size maximum. So here it is.


Charles Borkhuis's intriguing and powerful new work, Afterimage, is now out from Chax. I am so happy to be a part of this book, as publisher and book designer and delighted reader. I read the mss. first on an airplane a couple of years ago. It made the flight a great one, and I have been enthused about the work ever since, and continuing. Here's a snippet that may let you see why
echo's end
begin again

a little girl
hands me a blue box
I'm the birthday boy
pulling past the ribbons and wrapping
to a small bloody tooth
buried in white tissue

she smiles showing me
the space between her teeth
I want to climb in
but her mom's flash to the retina
goes off like a warning shot's first kiss

I stumble back in sparks
clouds roam through my temples
and the earth turns
in the opposite direction
Here's what Sharon Mesmer has to say about the book.
At the beginning of Chris Marker’s film Sans Soleil, the narrator says, “. . . in the nineteenth century, mankind had come to terms with space, and that the great question of the twentieth was the coexistence of different notions of time.” Like Marker’s film, Charles Borkhuis’ book-length poem Afterimage speaks brilliantly to that question in terms of the image/language connection. A plain-spoken (though subtly metered) narrative threads through a cinematic run of constantly reconfigured images, to bind them in time, but loosely, leaving enough space for readers to enter. Characters appear, but as “traces that self erase/or are transformed into repeating voices”; sometimes we recognize them, but it is characters from our own dreams that we are seeing. Likewise the “story” seems familiar, but it is a story from our dreams. One of the many strengths of “Afterimage” is the way Borkhuis illuminates the personal, so that we suddenly see its universality, and thus become like viewers in a darkened theater, together and alone, drawn to strange but familiar objects that flicker in and out of light.
And here's what Rodrigo Toscano has to say.
Charles Borkhuis is one of our most merciless vivisectors of the logics of bodypower exchange. We’re talking forensics here, not schematology. Like Hieronymous Bosch and William Burroughs before him, his art collapses cosmos onto mundus causing “reality” beneath our feet to crack open. Demons and angels (supersolid forms of evanescent knowledge) begin a wild romp in the
a f t e r i m a g e of that collapse. The dystopic postmodern city becomes at once funnier & more frightening. The Social Psychology Research wing of Borkhuis Poeticworks has been especially created to debrief each of us on our status as triple agents of late capitalism. You have special clearance. But so does everybody else. What the. Exactly. Add this book to your spy kit.
I hope you somehow read it and find out for yourself. It's not up on the Chax web site yet, but will be soon. Also will be available soon if not already from Small Press Distribution.

I'm working on 9 other books, simultaneously, at Chax Press right now. The ones to go to press almost immediately are SWOON NOIR, by Bruce Andrews, ANALECTS on a CHINESE SCREEN, by Glenn Mott, SINCE I MOVED IN, by Tim Peterson, and MIRTH, by Linda V. Russo. SENTIMENTAL BLUE, by Jefferson Carter, was just sent off to be printed. We're nearing the last stretch of a fine handmade book in the studio, by Kathleen Fraser & Nancy Tokar Miller; and we're even closer to finishing an artist's book by Dennis Williams that compiles photo-documents from performance art and other events by Williams. We're in proofreading stages of BEGIN AT ONCE, by Beth Joselow. We've passed that point with SOUND REMAINS by John Tritica, and are still working hard at layout on MEDITATIONS IN CROWDED AIR, by Gene Frumkin. So look for new Chax Press books in November, December, and January. We could publish as many as 15 books in 2007, some of which will come out a bit in advance of the new year.

Dia De los Muertos & Brief Notes Politics & otherwise

Election tonight & even in Arizona it looks like Democrats may pick up at least one House seat and one Senate seat. And so far, thankfully, it also appears an anti-gay marriage, anti-civil union rights initiative will go down in defeat.

This past Sunday night was one of the times when it feels like Tucson is a terrific place to be. I wish those times were more frequent, but I'll take them whenever they come. The Dia de los Muertos parade arose about fifteen years ago, largely driven by the artist Sue Johnson and friends, in an attempt to commemorate lost loved ones. It began with some 30 walkers in costume, and just a few people watching. It's turned into a parade with perhaps a thousand participants and several thousand spectators, although one thing I love is that it's difficult to tell one from the other. It's an entirely non-commercial (absolutely every costume seems lovingly handmade), non-focal point parade with a celebration at the end. Anyone who wants can come in costume and walk the route, or not come in costume and walk the route, or decide at any time, costumed or not, to join in, or drop out. And the celebration at the end features several fire/art performances going on at once, a couple of projections of photographs onto large screens, acrobats, balloons, and bands, going on at once. So it's a terrific example of a postmodern or nomadic event, and it's more about being there, within it all, than about seeing any one or several things. And somehow, in a way I can't entirely explain, it lifts a load from you, and you feel absolutely marvelous there. I can't wait until next year.

I was a little disappointed to not notice any of my local poet-friends there. Lots of visual artists, community activists, dancers, performers of all kinds, and more. I like to think the poets were there, too costumed to be identified, and not stuck at home with their books; there's a time for that, but Sunday after Halloween in Tucson is a time to be out on the streets.