05 April 2007

piety and perversity

well, it IS almost easter weekend

"how long has this been goin' on?"

In the last three months I've blogged only once a month, usually toward the beginning of the month.

Have I now blogged my month's worth?

Tune in next week & find out.

the physical part of language, i.e. the letter


visual / symbol / glyph

sign or part of sign

system component

variable unfixed

flighty unstable volatile

loaded free and not free

before mess or message

upper limit something not quite speech

lower limit more or less than phoneme

not the letter of the law

but the interpretation of the law of the letter

frame bumps arrows cups fork tines trees

crosses holes with lines differential strokes

curves and intersections

recent readings

Tremendous poetry readings over the last six weeks in Tucson: Alice Notley, Harryette Mullen, Gloria Frym & Anna Fulford & Tory Foster, Dawn Pendergast & Charles Borkhuis, Nanao Sakaki (in perhaps his last trip to the USA — what a master, a legend — & he sang two pieces: one of his poems & one Japanese folk song), Bonnie Jean Michalski & Karla Kelsey, & two nights from now, Hoa Nguyen & Rodney Phillips. Poetry is my only social life right now, & it's plenty. Sponsors of these readings: primarily chax press & POG, with some key assistance from the University of Arizona Poetry Center.

Bonnie Jean Michalski and Karla Kelsey: a contrast in readings

Karla Kelsey and Bonnie Jean Michalski read two nights ago in the Cushing Street readings series, in the terrific patio setting of the Cushing Street Bar & Restaurant, sponsored by POG & Chax Press. The reading was actually in the opposite order, the younger & less published Michalski reading first, reading poems that twirl language, set systems in motion and never lose curiosity about how such systems might proceed. Each word or phrase seems to stand at attention, and our listening follows suit. What is said matters, but it's the lack of preconception about both the what and the how that keep us here, absolutely focused.

Here's the beginning of "Presently an Espousal," where two modes of discourse interact with one another, both enlivening the other and casting a sense of open possibility out to the audience.


“I began this work in hopes of liberating the child-like


doubters from being dandled, like infants, on nature’s unruly lap”


“I began my work not as a beast of burden but due to scarcity

(my apologies that formatting in the poem may not be as in the mss. -- charles)

This work is not worried about whether it is poetry, rather is concerned that it works as structure and system — and it does. How this and other works by Michalski move, how they articulate, moves me. Michalski writes with nothing to prove, and she proves her work to be very special.

By contrast, at this reading, Kelsey, who is the more celebrated poet, presented a quieter reading, one more interested in patterns of loss and elegy that are heard in the very rhythms of her work, with repetitive falling tones.

I know Kelsey's work has lots of fans, and I hope they respond to this post with their understanding of Kelsey's work. I feel more in tune with Bonnie Jean Michalski's word mills, so I'll keep my comments to her work. Michalski's poems are evidence of what, in an essay in a recent book, Andrew Joron has called "lines of force."

. . . poetic "lines of force" point toward uninhabited wildernesses within language, toward removes of irreducible meaning — so that a poetic impulse will cause the system of language to exceed its own boundary conditions, and to undergo a phase transition toward the Unsayable."

This is where I want poetry to take me. I'll end this post with Bonnie Jean Michalski's poem "Bluing."
I’m looking for a synchronized-swim routine that flags to moonlight little bursts of air.
Secretly, I’m looking for storage methods to reduce clutter.

Concerned as I am about obscurity laid waste. My next organizing project:
I’d like to include cat food tins, but shelf space is a rare commodity. These days.

I know it’s all the rage to try to redefine art using the gross anatomy slump,
which reduces the blue in everything. No place to look

without there’s a competing color scheme. And shelving should always
be neutral. Because of all the unpredictable stuff a shelf must hold.

Because it is its job, the noble and ever-streamlined job of the shelf. Next time say
you have many more pets than you have pet-flexible lifestyle space. I’ll tell you

you aren’t the only one rezoning. You are, however, the only one drinking sangria
and thinking hard about which fruits are local. I credit you that. Credit for everything

that was not intended as largesse. It goes on and on the sound that is remodeling.
It goes on and on the sound that is the economy refurbishing itself as a barrio.

Sangria is one part wine to one part fruit juice. Is hard to find. Is baggies.

books keep coming

A lot of new books in in recent weeks, like the three new Counterpath Press books (I already wrote about Laynie Browne's in an earlier post), and Harryette Mullen's Recyclopedia, Cynthia Hogue's Incognito Body, Ron Silliman's The Age of Huts (compleat), Barbara Henning's magnificent My Autobiography, Beth Joselow's Begin at Once, and Sarah Riggs's Waterwork (the latter two from Chax Press). I may never quite read every word of all of them (compleatly), but here goes one capsule take.

The Cry at Zero, by Andrew Joron
Philsophical poetics at a very high level, concerned with cosmology, the present war, Robert Duncan's "orders" of war and poetry's lack of innocence, Olson's use of symbol for "field of force," music and mathematics, a letter from Charles Borkhuis, Mary Margaret Sloan's long poem "On Method," Will Alexander's philosophy, Clark Coolidge's The Crystal Text, and much more. You will find many generous and enabling readings here, of important texts, events, and ideas.

One quotation will give you an idea. It concerns the complexity of systems — think of its application to a poem, an idea cluster, a society.
The more sensitive, the more susceptible a system is to the reshaping influence of chance, the greater its complexity. Storm-swirls, termites' nests, human moods and musings: such hierarchies of structured randomness are found at every level of objective, as well as subjective, reality. Systems of this kind are poised on the edge of chaos, and draw upon the surrounding turbulence as a source of developmental possibilities. As one group of researchers recently put it,"environmental randomness can act as the 'imagination of the system,' the raw material from which structures arise. Fluctuations can act as seeds from which patterns and structures are nucleated and grow."
from Andrew Joron, "Divinations of the Vortex(t)," in Joron, The Cry at Zero: Selected Prose (Denver: Counterpath, 2007), p. 43. The quotation within the paragraph is from S. Camazine et al, Self-Organization in Biological Systems (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), p. 26.

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knowing & writing through overload

I know now (how does one know?) (who knows?) (the shadow knows?) (a little gnosis is a dangerous thing) that my no-blogging of late is strictly a matter of being incredibly busy, with pressured kind of work and concerns (like — where will I be, where will Chax Press be, in two to four months — can I keep chax going in a space that might cost six or seven times what we now pay in rent, will artists here in Tucson continue to lose warehouse spaces on what seems like a monthly basis), so that I've just been overexhausted to the point of feeling utterly gone; although today I thought that maybe part of my tiredness has to do with the fact that I need new glasses, i.e. eye strain plays a role. Then I see my friend Frank Parker, who has Stage 4 liver cancer and is going through chemo treatments, yet he always looks happy, is as gregarious & generous as ever, and I think I had just better get to work.

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