Saturday, June 30, 2007

2 poems from Evie Shockley

cause i’m from dixie too

i am southern hear me roar i am burning flags bearing crosses i am scarlett and prissy like a piece of carmine velvet at christmas don’t know nothing bout birthin no rabies so don’t come foamin at my mouth i am miss dixie and a miss is as good as a guile i am a daughter of the con-federacy come on dad don’t you know me here let me put on this hood and sheet do my eyes look more familiar now surrounded by bleach i am southern damn it y’all keep forgetting my birth was our wedding till death do us part i took the gal out of tennessee but the south came back to me the north left me cold though there’s southern heat i could do without i.e. stick to barbequing cows and pigs but i’ll take a late summer and a fall so long i land right back in piedmont eden hell it’s hot i am southern got this drawl that comes from s-wallowing final consonants cuss words loose meaning gonna spew it all back at you sew it in ink on the fabric of a myth of a land of cotton on page after rotten page book away book away book away dixie-banned o swee-tea honey sugar dumpling pie i’ll swallow more so much sweet stuff my magnolias will shoot out blossoms protruding raw cane this is my legacy the freak will inherit the mirth aw aw aw mammy don’t you want me don’t you want me home come on mammy i mean miss anne i may be your ugly duckling now but those folk up north will see me no more when i get to that swan-y shore

writer’s block

she made connections, drew, created them –

or had they been there, waiting to be found?

the rain went drop, drop, and a silver tomb

of ice encased each branch and limb. the ground

whispered its wish, the limbs bent to hear, tried

to cry, the tears stuck fast. it broke them, fear

they wouldn’t see spring, and they didn’t. sighed,

the slender trunks, into postures of prayer,

and now they shoot their buds at her, like green

fires, sap barreling along, parallel

to earth. the axes went chop, chop, to fell

the hangers-on that threatened overhead,

the wood that would not. the will to (be) read

(is) (in) a splintered language, meant to mean.

Evie Shockley has published a half-red sea (2006) and The Gorgon Goddess (2001), both with Carolina Wren Press, and recently guest edited a special issue of MiPOesias featuring the work of contemporary African American poets. She also writes fiction and criticism, which can be found in Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, African American Review, Talisman, and elsewhere. Shockley is a Cave Canem graduate fellow, the recipient of a 2003 residency from the Hedgebrook retreat center for women writers, and an assistant professor of English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. She is at work.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Anne Simpson & Sonnet L'Abbe

Anne Simpson and Sonnet L'Abbe have a few things in common: they are both included in Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets, they are both published by McLelland & Stewart, they both take risks, and they both win prizes. The similarities stop there.

Quick, Simpson's third collection of poetry and follow up to Loop, which won the Griffin in 2004, begins with "Clocks of Rain:"
—are you all right are you hurt can you move how clearly men speak
through the blown-out window undo the seat belt undo the seat belt
and fall headfirst into the rain pulled from a wrecked car the side
of the road scarlet apples rolling here there each one a miniature
emergency a loop of cord a coat a scattering of glass hands shaking
water running down someone’s face dark trees behind a van
brushwork on a Chinese screen a fire truck police car glaze of rain
this is where it happened an ambulance with its doors opening
into a throat of darkness—


It stops—
And with those quick strokes, Simpson establishes familiar themes: carnage, tragedy, momentous, fractured moments which the poet wants to know how we will deal with. Again and again as life slams us, hurtles airplanes at us, pulls the rug out from under us, how will we react? Simpson doesn't only look closely at tragedy, but it is a preoccupation. And in our world, why not? At any given moment someone is crashing, someone is being dragged across a war zone, someone is being held for questioning...not that Simpson is only concerned with our time. "Written in Ice," is a poem that developed out of a conversation about the Acadians who settled in Pomquet, Nova Scotia:
Sunday evening
9th March, 1921

How to begin--

Anselme, running from the barn, over the snow between bare black apple trees, down to the harbour, where I couldn't see him until we hauled him out, heavy, wet--he'd been trying to save the priest...
The kind of experimentalism we see with Simpson is not in the avant garde tradition to be sure. She isn't excavating geography or history in the way American poets such as Juliana Spahr and Jena Osman, Lisa Robertson (or west coast poets such as Wayde Compton, Michael Turner for that matter), so to call her an experimental poet, seems a bit of a stretch. Particularly after spending an afternoon with half a dozen belladonna chapbooks (posts on that soon) where language's electrons constantly affirm a sentence's ability to morph and reveal new meaning. Still, it is nonetheless more challenging than much of the work that receives the kind of attention Simpson's work does, and the question of "experimental accessibility" is always something that interests me. Loop had its Möbius strip, Quick has "The Visible Human," which tilts the text on an angle and presents it in what effect? Well, it's refreshing enough to see someone *not* taking the page for granted if not using it architecturally or sculpturally.

Simpson's early work seemed overly romantic, even precious. Light Falls Through You, for example, was a book this reader had trouble with--those endings "Thunder in our bodes,/fire in our air" (9), or the title poem itself:
sunlight falls through you. After all, I should have known
you would dissolve into something clear and unresolved,

like water, and that I would put my hands deep in you
and they would come up empty, wet from the touch of my own face.
There was clearly more going on there than many of the other titles referencing air, or water--and at that time every second book in Canada was referencing light or water in the title, and had a particular tone and perspective. However, by the end of that first book we arrive at the series, "Altar Piece," which signaled Simpson's desire, or willingness to stretch.

Not enough poets allow themselves that stretch. There are exceptions, Erin Moure and Anne Carson, for example. Reviewers like to compare Anne Simpson with Carson, but I can't see that. Other than perhaps in the shape of their curousity, that both fold in literary references, but Carson's field of references is much different. Her projects usually have a much larger canvas, often derive from scholarly pursuits, are often recycled essays, or in fact, essays--and Carson is often surreal and very, very witty. Simpson's work remains rooted in the quotidian, and so far, there is little humor. Perhaps a little more like Louise Gluck than Anne Carson if she needs to be compared to anyone at all, for Simpson, like Gluck is very attuned to line breaks.

But back to Quick. I want to spend a moment with "Anatomy Lessons," a series of prose poems. I'm a big fan of the prose poem, a form that is much more supple and diverse than people seem to realize, and one that lends itself to the surreal. Here we see a less formal more playful Simpson-and though I love the turns in her more traditionally composed work, the prose lines have more give, and the less formal voice, the more playful connective work, is really pleasing.

He was six feet tall, give or take. His body was wrapped in white, like cheesecloth around Christmas cake, keeping the rum from leaking away. Only his yellow hand had been unwrapped, and I took it in mine, weighing its heaviness. His fingernails, which must have grown after death, needed to be clipped. I didn't let go. I held on as if we were about to take the floor.
The more direct, the more powerful. A solid third book from Simpson. I hope she goes further still.

I first came across Sonnet L'Abbe's work in The Malahat Review where she won the much coveted long poem prize in 1999, and then the Bronwen Wallace Award in 2000. This work appeared in her first book, Strange Relief (2001), and like much of the work that wins the Bronwen Wallace Award, it was more familiarly narratively driven. It was a surprise then to discover work such as "Oh," a poem that I selected for inclusion in Open Field, and a poem which when L'Abbe read it at the launch of Open Field at McNally Robinson in Soho (following Erin Moure, Ken Babstock, Karen Solie, Diana Fitzgerald Bryden and Anne Simpson...), was a crowd favorite:
this o is my throat
this o is my oh yeah
this o is my really
this o is my credulousness
I recently read with L'Abbe in Montreal and can say that she is even more comfortable with the work, and more polished in presenting it, having now settled into the journey. That work was in progress at the time, but has since been solidified into the book that is Killarnoe, a "lyrical" "linguistic" exploration. Not quite the recombinant linguistic force that Margaret Christakos achieves in Sooner, or Rachel Zolf in Human Resources, or Laura Elrick, Latisha Diggs, or Caroline Bergvall, but again, not the same project. What is great about Killarnoe is the linguistic work, particularly the series "Instrumental." Energetic, concise, largely unsentimental: the lines snap. Bang. Very nice. Mindful of Dennis Lee's incredible UN (which I can't believe more people don't talk about! My God!).

"Ghazals for Zahra Kazemi," pushes uncomfortable notions of linguistic terror. Prefacing both Agha Shahid Ali and John Thompson, L'Abbe confronts the form (and its history):
The mountain comes. Zero sum.
Abu Ghraib. Arar.

Gaza, Zahra. Bloody gauze.
Your gaze on a military strip.
and later
In my cab, hear a-salaam alaykum.
Having had a love affair with the ghazal myself I appreciate the formal inventiveness--and wish there had been more.

Other sections, "My Inner City," and "Amniotic," are working well too. There are some great, gutsy poems here. You have to admire a poet who can spin the line "theory, my natural brown ass..." But there are also some poems--"My Sonnetina" for example--that I just couldn't get. I say yes to this direction though, and to the energy. This is a book with energy, something that is hard to come by in poetry these days.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Poem from Shane Rhodes

To Elizabeth Bishop

Here is a coast. Here is a harbour.
Here is beach sand. Here is owned land.
Here is an economist. Here is a fine mist.
Here is a dock. Here is a flock of birds.
Here is a trade. Here is a woman in labour.
Here is trade. Here is a woman’s labour.
Here is a border zone. Here is a pay phone.
Here is free trade. Here is a man getting paid.
Here is a market place. Here is its church.
Here is its steeple. Here is nada para amor.
Here is a calle. Here is a detalle.
Here is a mercado. Here is a SuperMercado.
Here is a Zapatista. Here is a Pípila.
Here is a revolucionario. Here is a federalista.
Here is a trabajador. Here is your zapato.
Here is 200 murdered women.
Here is a fábrica. Here is some maquillaje.
Here is a turista. Here is an assembly line.
Here is an assembled line. Here is the blazing divine.
Here is a smokestack. Here is a wire rack.
Here is product X purchased at £100.
Here is a statue to commemorate. Here is a statute to commiserate.
Here is the policía. Here is the beautiful song.
Here is the beautiful song. Here is the beautiful song.
Here is a room. Here is a man sitting.
Here is his hammock. Here is his beach sand.
Here is his coast. Here is his harbour.

from The Bindery, NeWest Press, March 2007.

A new book from Shane Rhodes! The Hound was a big fan of his two previous books, The Wireless Room (2000, NeWest Press), which won the Alberta Book Award for poetry, and Holding Pattern (2002, NeWest Press), which won the Archibald Lampman Award. There was also a gorgeous chapbook from Jason Dewinetz over at Greenboathouse. I haven't seen The Bindery yet, but I'm very curious to see where Rhodes is heading next. His work is erotic, lyrical, and playful. He reminds me of Robert Kroetsch a little and I would love to see him go long.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ghostly bp

Ghostly bp, originally uploaded by squiddity of toronto.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Much in process...

...but no time to finish. Perhaps it's time to shelve things for the summer? Meanwhile, for a soothing bit of eye candy check out the books & portraits pool I've been curating on Flickr.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

In conversation with Zoe Strauss

(Photograph by Zoe Strauss)
If you reading this fuck you
Zoe Strauss is a self-taught photography-based installation artist. She lives and works in Philadelphia where she was born (at Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first), and with the exception of a brief sojourn in Nevada, where she was raised. Strauss comes from a close-knit family. Her parents both worked a variety of jobs before her father, who took the family to Nevada where his family worked in the casino business, took his own life. The family moved back to Philadelphia and in with her grandparents.

Not surprisingly Strauss’s work deals with the chance of people’s lives. Her candid, powerful street portraits have been described by Roberta Smith in the New York Times as “not without tenderness, but their harsh, unblinking force is a bit like a punch in the face. ” The aspect of America that Americans don’t want to see. I first discovered Strauss’s work randomly on Flickr, where she posts almost daily, then I found her blog, and then, quite by accident, I found myself at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia last summer, where her work was shown as a commissioned Ramp Project.

Strauss’s work is striking. In the tradition of Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, and Nan Goldin she gets into the world of her subjects. She is interested in “how we move around with the choices we are presented with,” specifically those with “limited choices. What do we opt to do,” she asks, “and how does chance play into that? How does luck and other circumstances move us in a variety of directions…” These questions resonate in her photographs, candid, emotionally rich, completely empathetic and unsentimental.

An avid blogger and involved citizen, Strauss recently completed a film project with a group of eight at-risk youth titled If You Break The Skin which you can see a trailer of here . As the New Yorker points out: “This is not America the Beautiful, and Strauss wants us to know it as intimately as she does .” And she generally makes that possible, taking her art out Under the 95 Ramp and selling photocopied prints at the end of the day for $5. each. She has recently been back to Las Vegas, where among other fabulous photos (reminiscent of Alec Soth’s Niagara series on view at the Gagosian recently ) she returned with one of herself riding a grizzly bear. She later explains the origins of that photo. Zoe Strauss and I recently had coffee at Philly Java on 4th & Lombard where she refused to let me buy her a coffee—her independent fuel of choice in her city of choice.

SQ: You are a Philadelphian. You have enormous pride.

ZS: Yes. I love the city. I love it. It’s non-stop.

SQ: How do you interact with the city?

ZS: I lived in a number of different places in the city. I have an active interest in how it was shaped, how it was formed, how it changes and shifts. It’s fascinating to me. I have great affection for it even in the most difficult circumstances. I’m interested in the whole picture.

SQ: So you must know the city, its layers of development, the stories…is there a particular place that interests you?

ZS: It’s wherever I am at the moment. But, in terms of my own interest, I’m interested in how neighborhoods evolve and what it means for the city on the whole and what it means for the United States on the whole… Sometimes literally and sometimes as a metaphor but it’s always interesting how it’s shifting.

SQ: So—

ZS: Sometimes tremendously…like right now it’s a very distressing shift. It’s been a very difficult last two or three years.

SQ: In South Philly? In the city?

ZS: Yah, I’ve noticed it in South Philly, Kensington and North Philly especially. All of those places. There is a different level of desperation, a different level of mean-spiritedness that comes back to, very literally, a tension that seems to have literally filtered down from the Bush-Administration. And I know that sounds grandiose, but it really feels like it comes from this specific climate in the United States, and it’s just been boiling down to this…disregard for human life. The need for wealth. A lack of real jobs, of real opportunities. It’s manifested itself as real, not just “oh that’s a shame.” It has impacted real life.

SQ: The implications are more immediate.

ZS: Yes, and I think it’s taken some time to get here. It’s not so slow in some ways. It’s pretty direct, but it’s a climate of fear and suspicion that has steadily grown.

SQ: Okay, well shifting to another kind of fear and suspicion. How do you walk into a scene and walk away with a shot like the one I saw on your blog yesterday?

ZS: Oh, the swastika guy? I love him! I mean how nuts is that?

SQ: How do you walk in to that situation and come away with those images?

ZS: I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that. It’s just completely intuitive whether or not this will be a good interaction. I mean you can tell within the first twenty seconds whether this is someone interesting, someone I’ll feel comfortable. There’s just…it’s very immediate.

SQ: So you must have to interact before you take each photo?

ZS: Oh yes. I always ask. If it’s a portrait I always ask. They can pose however they want.

SQ: So you tell them what?

ZS: If I see someone who I think would make an interesting portrait I tell them that, I tell them why if I have a sense of why, sometimes I don’t know and I just say that. We usually talk for a second and it’s usually yes or no, and that’s that. It’s almost always a good interaction.

SQ: Is this why the portraits are so intimate?
(Photograph by Zoe Strauss)
ZS: Yes. It’s always a real interaction. It’s never surprising someone. Unless it’s a street scene—I’ll often do photos where someone is striding past an architectural piece, and I often don’t ask those people. Their presence is just movement in the photo not the subject.

If I notice that they’ve seen me, I’ll sometimes say you know, I took a photo, is that okay? If they seem adamant then I’ll chuck it.

SQ: Has anybody ever chased you down? You know—

ZS: With a machete?

SQ: Or—

ZS: Brandishing it? No. My interactions are generally good. Except once I was in someone’s house and it felt uncomfortable, and I just left.

SQ: Easy enough.

ZS: Yea, and it wasn’t even the interaction it was just a “difficult feeling.”

SQ: My partner and I were talking about this the other day how architecture can be so oppressive, how even a street has a psychology, and sometimes, you can’t put your finger on it, but there is a kind of psychic dis-ease in a random place.

ZS: Oh yes, absolutely. There’s no question, and sometimes it’s intangible, but it makes a big difference. Like in South Philly we have overhead electrical wires and it’s oppressive…if I were ever to move from South Philly that would be why because it’s like you’re literally under a weighty net… And there is all different things that make the feeling of, either the illusion of openness or closure... Once I read in The Moviegoer by Walker Percy about walking and how the “new” houses seemed haunted. Something resonated with me about that.

SQ: The new houses?

ZS: Yes, it’s not about the history it’s about the psychology.

SQ: Interesting. On the other hand, you can take a place that seems totally abandoned, lifeless, and to most people, terrifying, and infuse it with absolute joy…but there’s a lot of weight that goes with the territory of being a social documentarian. Particularly of a place like South Philly where you can feel, in some areas the tension is palpable. And the desperation is really evident block to block. Sometimes it seems you’re in a war zone.
(Photograph by Zoe Strauss)
ZS: It’s really block-to-block. My block has in the last couple of become gentrified, but yes, you can go one block and it’s…yes, it’s like Dresden.

SQ: How do you negotiate that?

ZS: That kind of dichotomy is fascinating because we live with it. That’s our lives. It’s not an abstract concept of this block is bad, this block is good; it’s very difficult to see and think about, but we’re all living our lives together at the same time. There’s no separate. People have these perceived ideas that this block is this, and this block is this, but it’s the same fucking block! You’re in the same neighborhood. For their own sanity people have a tendency to compartmentalize because we’re so packed in like this…and sometimes I think that’s healthy and sometimes not. I mean just to get by we don’t have to talk to every neighbor, but you need to know your neighbors and you have to be able to interact with them…

SQ: So, are you friends with everyone you’ve ever photographed?

ZS: Um. Ya. Kind of. Ya. I kind of love all of them. Without exaggeration there’s probably only one or two that I do not have a feeling of affection for…and you can really see it in those photos. They’re a little bit meaner… One guy, years ago, he was just a real racist, beyond the usual…you know working class white people can be sort of racist... I can have affection for someone whose ideology is absolutely abhorrent to me, but sometimes you can feel that someone is just mean-spirited. They are not a good person. Their ideas are like a giant albatross around their necks…you know we all come up with endless theories and ideas to deal with our lives, but the few times I’ve felt like “oh, my god this guy is like excessive” you can really tell in the photo that there’s not a connection.

SQ: Have you ever been terrified?

ZS: If I have I’ve blocked it… No, I haven’t been terrified. I’ve been uncomfortable with things people say, but no. If I felt I was in danger I would just immediately leave. I’ve felt scared, but not with people. Places yes, history yes, but not people.

SQ: Speaking of places…I’m from Vancouver, and I don’t know if you know this, but Vancouver has a very, very big problem in the Downtown East Side. A problem that activists, artists, politicians have been trying for decades to solve. Drug and poverty related.

ZS: I know, I’ve heard of this, and I thought, what? Canada?

SQ: Yes, Canada.

ZS: Seriously, it’s so shocking to me.

SQ: I know.

ZS: Mounties. Maple syrup. Friendliness.

SQ: Well, twenty years on when I go back and see it and know that little has changed. It’s difficult to remain hopeful in the face of such enormous poverty and suffering. How do you remain so hopeful? Do you feel that the work you do has some kind of impact, some kind of healing in your community?

ZS: This is an excellent question. I’m not really liberal in terms of this kind of ideology. I’m the far, far left here. I think you must do this yourself. Someone can’t come into a specific spot and as an outsider—I mean certainly there are a lot of things that can facilitate change and hope—actual daily living conditions for people, that’s important, that’s tangible, that’s a big part of the overall picture. That’s life. But I’ve also come to feel these people who want to come in and “do good,” “save people,” that kind of change cannot happen.

SQ: Liberalism out of context?

ZS: At its absolute worst. It’s a demeaning concept.

SQ: Enabling?

ZS: Yes, I mean, needle programs are great, but I think people get some romanticized idea of what they’re doing…they aren’t coming in on white horses to save people, they’re facilitating a daily need. Not, I’m riding in and here you go… I mean shut up you jackass. Are you kidding me? Does that make sense?

SQ: Yes.

ZS: Cause that’s totally how I feel.

SQ: Yes, I totally get it, and it seems as though that’s what you’re saying with the photos. Your photos aren’t portraying some kind of “lifting out,” they’re a kind of witnessing. Like you have two seconds you can choose how to engage with this person. It seems like you find the most strength and dignity in whoever you’re looking at and whatever situation they find themselves dealing with on that particular day.

ZS: I hope so. I’m very optimistic. I’m filled with hope and joy.

SQ: Speaking of hope—who inspires you? Who are your photographic heroines?

ZS: I love a lot of photography but I really feel connected to the WPA photographers. I feel like that was—you know Dorothea Lange—an interesting important moment. I’m fascinated by that idea, the interaction between the photographer and subject is the photographer’s choice in this instance. So many iconic images that come from that period we see without thinking of the choices of the photographer. So in terms of preserving the dignity of the subjects and meeting the needs of the assignment the project was successful in many instances.

SQ: Do you have a favorite Lange photograph?

ZS: The Road West, New Mexico. 1938. No Contest.
SQ: What about Diane Arbus? Nan Goldin?

ZS: Cindy ShermanTina Modotti. I’m a fan of all of them. Even if my own interest is unrelated to their work…they’re working within a very different framework, a patriarchal framework of who decides, you know, the gaze, and so on. I’m just like, go for it, go be your bad self. You really just have to put yourself out there for people to look at. It takes a lot of effort to put yourself out there—and pushing the work past the point where people will look at it. I mean it’s an enormous effort to get past the Jeff Koons set up of what we think art is...

SQ: 7%. Did you read that statistic? Only 7% (or 12% more recently...) of the artists in The Tate Modern’s collection are female.

ZS: Are you kidding me?

SQ: Modern.

ZS: We’re post-post-feminist, post, oh, we’ve made it. Like we’re a Virginia Slims ad. Fuck you.
(Just for the record, I’m a radical feminist and I believe that we’re still in the process of creating a feminist movement. I believe the idea that social movements are fixed or static is false and we’re as connected to Seneca Falls as much as we are to Tribe 8...)

SQ: But it seems "you have made it." What happened? When was the moment for you? Can you take me back?

ZS: The Pew was pretty big. The Pew was a great moment. Things were kind of happening, but the pew set things in motion. It was like Wagnerian Opera. So good! So awesome!

SQ: So did you wake up one morning and think, oh my god I actually do this?

ZS: Yes. Yes, that was before the Pew. That was…

SQ: When was that moment?

ZS: That was the first roll of film.

SQ: Really? When was that first roll?

ZS: That was in 2000.

SQ: Get out!

ZS: It’s true. It’s good.

SQ: Wow. What kind of camera was that?

ZS: It was a Canon Rebel. The low-end automatic and manual, like $195 dollar camera.

SQ: How did that come about?

ZS: I had been thinking about it. I’d been doing other installation work and I wanted to do the 95 project…and wondered how I could do that and when I saw the first photographs I thought it was definitely feasible.

SQ: What did you do with your first roll? Where did you go?

ZS: I just walked around the neighborhood.

SQ: Of course. What kind of installation work were you doing?

ZS: Like two big boats smashing into each other in a parking lot.

SQ: Really?

ZS: I forced my mom, my siblings to go to 5th and Wharton to go push boats together…

SQ: How did you become an installation artist?

ZS: I felt compelled. I had to do that. I went to college and I was just like, eh. It was too tiring, I had to work full time, and I thought that’s not what I like.

SQ: You wanted to be out in the action?

ZS: I wanted to be making shit.

SQ: So the 95 project was before?

ZS: The 95 project started in 2000. So I thought, pick up a camera…and then I thought about the installation and went for it.

SQ: So that first roll?

ZS: Yah, it was pretty good.

SQ: What was on that first roll? Are any of the photos in your show at Silverstein from that first roll?

ZS: Yes. Yes, it’s a basketball hoop made out of a milk carton. That’s the one that remained.

SQ: That’s great.

ZS: I’ve always been happy with those first ones.

SQ: What about Monique Carbone? That photograph is so haunting.

ZS: Yes, that’s very sad. I’m hoping to meet her mother in the next week.

SQ: The photograph of the Grizzly Bear that’s on your site. Can you tell me about that?

ZS: How great is that? It’s from Circus-Circus in Las Vegas. You go in a booth and you have a million Photoshop options and I was like, my god, I have to get one of these. So I turn the page and there’s the photo of a woman in curlers riding the bear and I thought, that’s the one.

SQ: You’re having a lot of fun.

ZS: Oh, yeah. I’m having fun. I love it.

SQ: When you’re on the street you’re having fun.

ZS: Yes, I’m having fun. I’m not looking for despair; I’m looking for something I love.

SQ: In an interview with Jeff Wall I noticed recently that he said he had begun to think that the idea of subject no longer mattered. What do you think of that?

ZS: Are you kidding me? What are you saying? I have little tolerance for that…not that process, or theory doesn’t matter, but when it comes right down to it, “it” has to be pretty fucking strong to say that the “subject” doesn’t matter, and that the theory and the process are the finished work…that’s not a judgment on his work, but you really have to be on solid footing if you’re going to say the concept is more important. Did you see his show?

SQ: Yes, I know what you mean. I’m a big fan.

ZS: Yes, me too. That piece with the papers blowing in the wind is mind blowing, but to say that the subject…

SQ: Well, yes, I thought so too. And the extent to which the images are reworked and manipulated…

ZS: For me, something gets killed in the process.

SQ: The life gets beaten out in some way.

ZS: I think you can overwork a photograph, or I suppose a poem.

SQ: Absolutely.

ZS: …but really this is not a value judgment, it’s just not my interest…it gets flattened.

SQ: Speaking of process. How much time to you spend working with an image once you’ve take it? I assume it’s all digital?

ZS: Yes, it’s all digital. Not that much time at all. I color correct it, and sometimes crop, and I’ll clean it up. If there’s dirt, or often I get what look like oily spots, but that’s it.

SQ: What’s your camera of choice?

ZS: It’s a Nikon D70. It’s so good! I might want to get the D200 if I ever get some money…

SQ: Okay, so speaking of money. What’s next? I mean the Whitney, the Silverstein…this is a big moment. That’s a great gallery. I’ve seen some of the greats in that gallery. This is significant.

ZS: I know. It’s a great moment. It’s a great gallery. They have a great sense of history, the sense that photography is still a burgeoning art. That it’s just started! People think vintage photography is the genesis rather than a constant organic process, always reinventing itself. We’re just figuring out this new technology, and I think Silverstein has a great perspective…

SQ: They move from classic photography to new photographers and interesting group shows—the Jesus Christ Superstar show (which was fabulous!), the Kertesz...

ZS: And the show before mine was E. O. Hoppé's Amerika. It’s really heartening to me to be a part of this big picture.

SQ: So what’s next? Is the show going to tour?

ZS: No, it’s just going to end. And I have no idea what’s next. No plan. None.

SQ: What about a book? Can we expect that soon?

ZS: Actually, someone approached me about that last week. I was like, holy fuck!

SQ: You must be saying that a lot these days.


Zoe Strauss continues at Silverstein until June 23rd.
If you are reading this: go see the show!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Kate Greenstreet, Case Sensitive

Every other day Kate Greenstreet blogs over at Kickingwind. She has also curated a series of first book interviews. A daunting, and exciting, list of new books appearing daily. Daunting because one wonders how one will ever get to them all, and exciting of course because one will attempt. The first book interviews would make an interesting study in themselves...I've written several posts on common threads I have noticed, but ultimately deleted those findings for others to discover on their own.

"Where there is injury/Where there is doubt" Kate Greenstreet deadpans in her own first book, revealing a trajectory very unlike many of the poets with first books these days. A long view, a fragmented journey, a perspective outside of the MFA womb, outside even, of a larger poetic net, and yet directly in conversation with it.

"Things got complicated," she says in "Where's the Body?" And they do. They did. They are. Poems intersect themselves, veer off, usually into further investigation or self-reflection. A poetic as much about disassembly as wonder, and hardly concerned with crafting itself to be lost within certain pages of certain journals. Stubbornly original. This makes its own journal.
Ate a teaspoon of plain dirt a day.
Changed her name to save her life,
deepen the channel.
What channel? "Reeds pushed up by waves," she continues, "Suspicious trash."
The visualized
are unremarkable.
Yet, the idea: "earned the right to speak."
Indeed, if an idea had the right to speak, not in a particular form, or even with the awareness of that choice, or limitation, however you might describe it, how would it sound? How without us? Impossible to trace the idea, but possible to trace the handling of it. "Leave openings," she says simply at the beginning of "Book of Love."

Here again from "Dusting for prints:"
If you feel you can no longer pray, personally, I like trees, birds.

Personal & unintelligible, my addiction bores me.
We still need spoons, plates, and knives. Bowls. Your star sign.
Those weeks with you?

I remember driving you somewhere. Driving, and it was snowy.
Nothing was figured out.
You said redemption looked like a painting of fire, after a fire.

What one quickly becomes aware of, as Charles Alexander points out beautifully, is the intense thinking involved here:
I looked through the book, pretty quickly, noting 37 instances of this cluster of an idea, although primarily, 30 instances, specifically of one of these words: think, thinks, thinking, thought. In a book of 100 pages of poetry (more than that many pages in the book, but when I subtract title pages, section titles, notes, etc., it's just about 100 pages of poetry), this can't, I think, be insignificant.
Part detective, all artist, Greenstreet is out and in the world, and like the poets she refers to (Lorine Niedicker, Fanny Howe), she is surgical in her view, slicing specimens, crafting hybrid images and tossing herself, her perspective into foreign landscapes (or making the familiar foreign):
Ice, it gets under your feet
You don't know it's there.
I was thinking of Keats, Beaudelaire.
I was thinking of boys.
Nothing is taken for granted but instability and inquiry. Even when the subject MUST certainly be autobiographical, as in "The Purpose of Discouragement:"
By the time I arrived, it was too late to see the lawyer. I found the house without trouble. It was so friendly and plain. The porch light was on. I went up and looked into the mailbox, and there was the key to the door, in an envelope...
Never mind that we are told in the beginning to "imagine a movie in which every five minutes there's a still," and no matter that we get "I was visiting my mother in jail and ran into Perry Mason in the hall..." I want to believe this is real.

I haven't even begun to talk about the incredible series of poems, "Salt" which, like Steven's Blackberry poem offers variations on the idea, and concrete reality of salt--table salt, salt on roads, little pigs of salt? Surprising volcanoes of salt. Think you've thought about it? There are associations here I've yet to make.

There are many ways to poetry. Thank god. So how do we encourage them? Other ways I mean, not just the predictable, and not the quick. The new, the young, the about the layered, the thoughtful, the unpredictable? Greenstreet's text seems to ask that. And perhaps even offer an answer.

Meanwhile we see new work from Greenstreet on Fascicle, and in that new work a melding of her visual artist self. And a small chapbook called Rushes, from above/ground which is the most polished "physical" production I've seen from that press yet.

David Altmejd

David Altmejd is representing Canada at the Venice Biennale, and as far at the Globe & Mail is concerned, he's causing quite a stir. I had the pleasure of seeing Altmejd's work while in Montreal last month and was not so impressed. But, I wasn't seeing it in Venice. Nor was I seeing it at The Andrea Rosen Gallery in Chelsea. I was seeing it in Montreal, in a too-large room with very poor lighting and very, very drab carpeting.

David Altmejd’s contributions to the Venice Biennale are The Index and The Giant 2. The latter, as Sarah Milroy describes, is a large human figure:
whose body cavities have fallen in, seemingly in an advanced state of decay. Where rot has set in, crystals erupt. His arms and legs sprout a variety of vegetation and moss, and his penis lolls to one side like a great scoop of half-melted vanilla ice cream.
She goes on to assure us that, "If our nation still had a reputation for excessive modesty and politeness, I think we can consider it dispatched." I'm not sure that Altmejd is the first Canadian artist to work so boldly (Atilla Lukas anyone?), and I can't agree with Milroy's claim that he has
created an imaginary erotic realm that is extraordinarily intense and entirely his own. (In this regard, the American artist Matthew Barney, who is showing this summer at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection on Venice's Grand Canal, may be his only living contender.)
In fact these installations, or sculptures (or as one critic points out, what looks to be "parade floats"), each decorated with fake flora and fauna as well as half man half animal creatures, are of the moment. Half human characters (bird girls, eagle men, etc.) are everywhere. Altmejd's work reminds me more of Jessica Stockholder than Kiki Smith or Louise Bourgeois, or someone like Brian Jungen (who I would love to see represent Canada at the Biennale!).

In any case, I have the same problem with Altmejd's work as I do with Jessica Stockholder's--and that is the extreme seam. They are both sculptors who want the audience to get splints. The work is so unpolished that it often seems, well, just way too thrown together. While not every artist has to be as clean as someone like Jungen, once you've seen the kind of precision possible you really want to know why an artist is going to such lengths to be that prickly, that--I almost said fragmented but it's not at all fragmented. Fragmented would have more purpose. Nor is it broken down, it's... Well, I think it's "ugly," but again, not ugly in a way that I can understand as saying something, or evoking any kind of meaning.

"Altmejd uses mirrors to amplify and complicate the scattered horror," writes one reviewer, and I can see how the artist might be thinking that, but no, I didn't experience the work that way at all. He doesn't want cohesion, but that's a word, and a concept that I suppose means something more cohesive to me than it should. I tend to think of cohesion as not necessarily unified. You can have a sculptor--someone like Eva Hesse--who is looking at imperfection as much repetition and variation, and there will be a kind of cohesion. Or someone like Robert Smithson, or Kiki Smith for that matter. There was a show at Metro Pictures recently that did this as well. Look, Rauschenberg did this with his Combines, people are doing this all over the place.

The work is the work, I just resist claims of genius and star and "out of the blue," when someone is clearly working in and of a moment, and not--it seems to this viewer in any case--not in a particularly shocking way. But then perhaps I would feel differently had I seen the show in a more compelling setting. Say Venice?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Nibbling in other fields, 3


I watch the sunlight drip behind the straight
high chunk of office block. The avenue tenses,
like a face. It’s the blurred half-hour of non-alibis
when no one’s claim to be any place

might stick. Lobbies roll the sped-up film reels
of people through revolving doors, and collector
lanes circulate like lazy pin-wheels.
It’s the blurred half-hour of possibility, when

work’s the scapegoat we’ve stuffed away, like a gagged
and groaning body in a trunk, and the stranger who waits
there with a spade, in suspense, might be the life
we’re rooting for. Both are angry, and afraid.

--David O'Meara
David O'Meara is a poet I've read before, and with much enthusiasm. Last year I blogged briefly about him along with Shane Rhodes. O'Meara has published two books, Storm Still and The Vicinity, to quiet acclaim, and I am happy to say he has a new book coming out with Brick in 2008. O'Meara works in a tradition that a whole posse of young Canadian poets are working in. It's fruitful territory, and one that is often championed with an unfortunately combative and myopic vision. It's a field that sees the offspring of a kind of McKay/Lilburn/Zwicky engaging with the more formal, canonical poetry world, one-eye on either mid-century America, or England (which for all anyone gets to see of British poetry might as well still be in mid-century England), and one eye on Canada's version of new formalism.

What I like about O'Meara is that while he is clearly working in and responding to certain traditions, he also has something to say. Something to say that is of interest, that even if it is focused on the quotidian, has emotional and formal weight:
Silence is not tonelessnes; listen.
Untie yourself from straight lines
and money,
traffic, grammar.
He doesn't rely on linguistic prowess, the lithe turning of a corner in a poem, as many poets do. And while I can't say all of the poems in here are excellent, or have a sense of polish (and this is a poetry that is going for polish), I can say that there is more honesty here, and more striving, something real, grittier than much of the poetry of this school.

Political poetry is something that we are admonished not to do. One of the saddest poetry moments I witnessed was Paul Hoover warning a group of students at Rutgers post 9/11 off of political poetry. Innovative poetry is also something we are warned off of. In an interview with O'Meara Michael Ondaatje expresses his doubts, saying that Neruda's poem about "Salt" is more political than his most earnest political tracts...that is probably true. But clearly, emphatically, on the whole, I disagree. If our poets don't take risks who will?

But I digress...or do I? Maybe this connects to a more important question, and that is the engaged "I." Here's a snippet from O'Meara's "Letter to Auden" in The Vicinity:
Well then, sir, I thought of you again just recently:
New Year’s ticked in with scant fuss,
The so-called millennium, hyped
To bring disaster—not quite the end of us
But certainly an indisputable wholesale mess.
A political poem? Or are we talking about a conscious self in the poem? Certainly this "I" isn't overly concerned only with beauty and self-flaunting. Nor is it necessarily concerned with the tidy "tucking in," we find in so much of this school of quietude poetry. Though it is concerned with poetry itself, and in addressing Auden, also addresses the reader. The poem ends:
Perhaps I need forced rhyme, or idle chit-chat entre nous
To guess what Dante knew
Justifies champagne: something about love,
Interest, praise, and gratitude,
Or all of the above.
Like the poets of this particular school O'Meara is concerned with sound too. Here from, "Glass:"
Whatever it is you see, you see. But see,
it's not like that. That is what's beyond here, and here
is this. And whatever lies between is glass.

All you can see is what's perfectly clear, though clear
to say it's never quite there, like air or innuendo. Like
speaking in the past tense...
Rhythm. Fabulous energetic rhythms. I suppose all I have left to say of O'Meara is more please. Of the last three poets--Coles, Nepveu, and O'Meara--O'Meara is the one I most want to hear more from.

Friday, June 15, 2007

New Issue of How2

Always an event, the latest issue of How2 has more from Jena Osman's ongoing essay-poem about public statues carrying weapons in Philadelphia, notes from the Pressure to Experiment Conference in England, the Barbara Guest memory bank, and so on! Always inspiring.

Pro-consumerism, Pro Kenny

You have to love Kenneth Goldsmith who continues to stir it up over at the Poetry Foundation website. It's in response to Time Magazine's recent call for poetry to be "interesting" again. What is interesting indeed. Certainly the two poets Goldsmith serves up.

Latvian Happy Hour

One of the great Philly secrets.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Andrea Robbins & Max Becher

Max Becher and Andrea Robbins are not Bernd and Hiller Becher, but close. In fact Max Becher is their son. And though on the one hand the terrain seems very different, the projects themselves are not unlike the Bechers. The Becher's, who are at the center of the Dusseldorf school of photography, deal with space, and the architectural lines that occupy that space. Becher and Robbins deal with what they term the Transportation of Place. Brooklyn Abroad, the show that I saw at Sonnabend last year, traced the spread of the Lubovitch across the globe. Lubavitchers are:
one of the largest groups of ultra orthodox, or Hasidic, Jewish groups, and number about 100,000 worldwide. In 1940 the Lubavitchers purchased a small collegiate-gothic-style Brooklyn building (once a medical clinic) for the sixth Lubavitch Rebbe, Yoseph Yitzchak Schneerson, who had recently immigrated to the United States to escape Nazi persecution. In 1951, a year after his passing, his son-in-law Menachem Mendel Schneerson officially accepted the title of the seventh Lubavitch Rebbe, and inherited a congregation decimated in numbers by the holocaust...
The communities whether in Brazil, or Iowa, feature a building like the Brooklyn original.
The show traced the development of these communities and the business/lives that people built in various locales such as the factory pictured above, in Potsville, Iowa.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bernd & Hilla Becher

Behind both Andreas Gursky and Candida Hofer are German photographers Bernd & Hilla Becher of the Düsseldorf Academy. Over the years the couple has photographed typologies of architecture including water towers, furnaces, mineheads, industrial buildings, industrial landscapes, and most recently, grain elevators. Sonnabend is one of my favorite galleries, always on the top my list when I get to Chelsea, and this show was one I was eagerly anticipating. However, for some reason, perhaps because of my association with the grain elevators of the Canadian prairies, perhaps because I had certain expectations--for whatever reason I found the show extremely disappointing. The grain elevator is a regal structure, jutting out of prairie, and often the tallest structure as far as the eye can see. Here the Becher's reduce the structures to lines--and perhaps because they are photographed so tightly, they seem out of context without the surrounding space. It isn't that the photographs aren't beautiful, it's that they are austere, stripped of meaning, too perfect in fact, for the structures themselves.

Sonnabend has never seemed so cold as with this show.

On until June 30th, 2007

Monday, June 11, 2007

Candida Hofer

I've been obsessing about libraries of late, and taken to photographing them whenever possible, and am curating an ever-growing collection of photos of books and bookish people and spaces here on flickr. Lamenting too, that I don't have adequate equipment to take in the wonderful, wonderful light that usually accompanies these spaces.

Now I find that Candida Hofer, fellow student with Andreas Gursky (see below) of Bernd and Hilla Becher, has recently published a book of photographs of libraries. Not surprisingly I suppose since Hofer has been photographing "space" and "absence" for 30 odd years (see a selection of her work here), and quite possibly is responsible for my particular looking and/or appreciation of the light and space in the first place.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Andreas Gursky

Ah, spring in spilling out everywhere. I could give up nature for this...or this would be the one thing that would tempt me. German photographer Andreas Gursky gets at the bigness, the largess, and perhaps the delicacy (or not) of modernity, capturing chains of islands from the air (chains that will likely disappear very soon...), and roadways in Bahrain. He also boasts of said "biggest" "most expensive" and "most people" in a photograph, such as the one immediately below at Matthew Marks.
and in detail:
I watched group after group of people walk in and bend down to see what the two below are looking for. What is it?
Getting closer...
And closer...

I could tell you what floats down in the bottom, but that would be spoiling the fun. Coming to terms with scale is key here. Take a photo that when viewed large resembles one of the thousands of metal doors that swoop down over store fronts up and down the streets of New York after dark. But up close? Again, I won't tell you, but I'll give you a hint: it's edible.

I've posted at length on Gursky:
there is something extremely compelling about the scale and depth these photographers--Gursky, Burtynsky, Hofer--achieve. The tenderness, the depth of feeling that one senses in the composition, tone, and subject matter. Prefacing Irish writer Edmund Burke from 1756, Critic Alix Ohlin suggests a contemporary sublime, a time in which we are faced with "terrible emotion,""terror" and "transformation." Scale. Remember the guilt with which people referred to 9/11 as such, the "brute beauty," if you will, of the destruction? We aren't so much trembling before God, Ohlin suggests, as we are trembling before the sheer presence of ourselves. Difficult to disagree.
Micro to Macro. Compacted. Grand. The show is a must see. It's up until June 30.

Arts & Literary Hits of the Week

New director on the block. Add one more woman to very short list.

Hound idol Lydia Davis on CBC's Writer's & Company. Catch it Sunday, or on podcast.

The New Yorker takes a long look at Richard Serra.

A new book from Woody Allen.

Another one from Ian McEwan? He lost me with Atonement. Life's too short.

Beckett's actors.

Philadelphia artist Zoe Strauss (to be interviewed here next week) gets reviewed by the New York Times.

Brian Jungen's Prototypes For a New Understanding closed this week in Vancouver, but Andrea Zittle is setting up at The Vancouver Art Gallery.

Edmonton photographer takes it slow.

In a wash of very, very, very, bad author and reading photos J.W. MacDonald gives us all hope.

Translation & collaboration.

Lipstick, noise, Leslie Scalapino, an outrageous listening.

Just published: American Poetry & Poetics in the 21st Century: The New Poetics, Claudia Rankine & Lisa Sewell eds., Wesleyan, 2007. **Joshua Clover, Stacy Doris, Peter Gizzi, Kenneth Goldsmith, Myung Mi Kim, Mark Levine, Tracie Morris, Mark Nowak, D.A. Powell, Juliana Spahr, Karen Volkman, Susan Wheeler, and Kevin Young**

Griffin Prize Report: the dancing is indeed odd.

People are talking about Tomas

Also about poetry. Oops, I mean Poetry.

Nice post Amy.

Tina Brown on the arrival of the digital age (or so it would seem at Book Expo):
“Giving an author’s book away for nothing on the Web as a way to market books seems a mirage to me,” Ms. Brown wrote in an e-mail message after the lunch. “All it does is feed the hungry angles of journalists and bloggers who plunder it without any of the author’s context or nuance and makes the reader feel there is nothing new to learn from the genuine article when it finally limps on its weary way to a book shop.” Although “The Diana Chronicles” will be excerpted in Vanity Fair, Ms. Brown pointed out that both the author and publisher are generally paid for such excerpts.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Ubu Spring & Poetry Foundation

Wow, Ubu just keeps getting more and more amazing. They've posted a pdf of Monique Wittig's Les Guérillères (1969), Rosmarie Waldrop's Shorter American Memory, and others including Bruce Andrews Divestiture - A (1994), Steve Benson The Ball // 30 Times in 2 Days (2005), Maurice Blanchot The Last Man (1957), Mairéad Byrne SOS Poetry (2007), Terence Gower & Mónica de la Torre Appendices, Illustrations & Notes (1999), Dick Higgins Horizons (1984), Bernard Nöel The Outrage Against Words (1978), Severo Sarduy Big Bang (1973), Claude Simon Properties of Several Geometric or Non-Geometric Figures (1971), Rosemarie Waldrop Shorter American Memory (1988), Robert Wilson A Letter For Queen Victoria: An Opera (1974).

Speaking of Kenny...Mr. Goldsmith is shaking it up over there at the Poetry Foundation. Something is going on. They've published Mr. Behrle too (who I happen to think is pretty funny), and this month they published Charles Bernstein...not just on the blog but in the hallowed pages. Hm, are we hearing something cracking open...

First book interview

A great first book interview over at Kate Greenstreet's today. I've never heard of Kathleen Graber before, but my curiosity is piqued.

The Seven Cliches of Canada

Surprising, but not in the way you expect.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Ducks? Stanley Cup? Say it isn't so...

The Senators lost me in game 4 when Daniel Alfredsson took a shot at an opponent for no was just stupid. Bad energy. He gave the game away and lost a fan. Stupid. I don't care how many goals he scored in game 5, game 4 was just...ack.

Nibbling in other fields, 2

How We All Swiftly
Signal, 2005

Wow, is my first response to Don Coles weighty, How We All Swiftly, a book that engages all engines, motoring through much of the last half century, folding a good deal of detail and nostalgia into the work. The past few years have been good ones for Canadian poetry, and this edition, a collection of the author's major works, is certainly an impressive event. I had read Coles before, but not all at once, which certainly makes an impact. I was as surprised to find this text, as I was to find Bruce Whiteman's The Invisible World is in Decline, and wonder why these books (and poets!) aren't talked about more? Why do literary critics/cliques tend to hone in on one or two voices and raise them up out of the crowd?*

There is much to like about Coles. The work is accessible, personal, deeply nostalgic and smart. The earlier poems have a similar kind of innocence as the Nepveu text I talked about in a previous post, but that gets complicated as Coles progresses. Complicated in his own way, not in the way of Erin Moure, or George Bowering, or Fred Wah, or Robert Kroetsch, or Dionne Brand...but in his own way. Important to remember I think that what one might think of as complicating doesn't mean the same thing for every poet. For instance, an early poem begins:
alone this morning here
in this cottage where you lived
the careful last summers of your contracting lives
rows of rain falling from the eaves,
the rain barrel irrelevantly filing
and the disabled wooden sawhorse
upended years now...
nothing new there, either in language, line-break or sentiment. For me the best moment is the leap from "contracting lives" to "rows of rain." A fine poem, just not enough happening on other levels, aurally (so much of lyric poetry today gets by with having no lyric quality at all!? How is that?), linguistically, or even imaginatively. But this takes care of itself as the poet progresses:
There is a narrow endless place
where the earth has frozen. On this
they live at unbelievable speeds (155)
or from "Old Sunken Ships,"
The modesty of them! An hour's flashy hubbub
and then such endless disavowal
such embracing of failure, only
ribbed sand in shadowy re-establishings and
little frills of water...
I sang. Bullshit. Not 'sang'--
semaphored. And only when I was
in the mood... (203)
the last nugget from the final section, and this reader's favorite of the book, titled, Little Bird. Here the poet composes at unbelievable speed, as if he'd just found a sheet of ice, vast and clear, and wholly untouched. Much energy! An energy we see throughout, but not with such vigor or focus, or perhaps unselfconsciousness--it goes! I was flipping back and forth, noting the break out of one kind of constraint (the emotional narrative waterfall, as I like to call it), and the invention of another, and wondering what precipitated it: Had Coles had a sense of this late career breakthrough? So I did a search to see if I could find reference, and there it was, thank you google. Here from an interview with Don Coles:
The choice of the form though, the quatrain, the rhyme scheme, was one of the things that in retrospect I feel drove the poem onward. There are obligations that one sets up for oneself just from the point of view of format, in terms of the ongoing rhythms which meant in this case not, I hope, that the thing just became more wordy or that I found it impossible to stop.
Indeed. The beauty of constraints is that they give a poet something to bump up against, even if one feels tethered. Life is so much self-discipline as it is: form frees.

There are quiet and moving poems here, and when Coles gets at the kind of intense witnessing he can do--much illness, old age, pain--when he does this with equal attention to form, and to language, the result is very fine. Listen to the energy of these lines:
As you steadily--startled
into reverie only when
the spoon nearly misses (140)
His harrumphing and egadding.
His fez. His spats.
lashing (that innocent-abroad
face inside a frame,
those jejune poses,
but all the same (203)
I love a poet who grows over his or her lifetime. Why not? So much to learn. Though several times Coles has stated that he hasn't learned much at all from Canadian He makes a lot of statements about "what he isn't." Maybe that's part of the reason he "isn't" as well-known as those who champion him think he should be. After all, isn't poetry dialogue? If you aren't talking to your peers you probably shouldn't expect an answer.

*Brooklyn poet Joy Katz and Kevin Prufer (editor of Pleiades) have just published Dark Horses, a collection of poems and poets that don't get the attention they deserve. CA Conrad has the neglectorino project, I just discovered Gil Ott, have to catch up with Ronald Johnson, still trying to get back to Barbara can see that keeping abreast of poetry is impossible. All the more reason to resist the urge to focus on the one or two who make the most noise.

Don McKay wins the Griffin

"Being haunted by the fairy-tale significance of the number three, I didn't want to think about what the penalty would be for not winning."
-Don McKay

Charles Wright took the international prize.

Go Kaz!

Canadian poet Karen Connelly has won the Orange Prize for fiction for her novel The Lizard Cage, an excerpt of which appeared on Drunken Boat last fall. Congrats, congrats.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

On the run. A few hits.

Rock on, Gore Vidal.

New Yorker now offers fiction podcasts.

Did anyone read the Mississipi Review's "Prose Poem" issue? (Review of that to come.)

Poetry is dead, poetry is dead. Complaining that poetry is dead is so dull.

Big money for poetry: like everything else it's money that gets the attention.

Bowering on lyric and democracy--I have to get Vermeer's Light.

The Hound's theme song.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Nibbling in other fields, 1

Pierre Nepveu, Mirabel
Don Coles, How We All Swiftly
David O'Meara, The Vicinity

Here are three books that I keep coming back to, and have yet to post anything on. Partly this is because they are outside of my immediate purview, and one tries to maintain a focus in this over-stimulating world. In the face of that, it's still important to read outside one's zones of comfort, to read work that is not simply giving you what you want to see or read. Not that there's anything remotely uncomfortable about these books--they are all three fabulous in their ways. But if I didn't read out of the range of my immediate interests I wouldn't have found them. I'll start with Pierre Nepveu.

As the cover of this book suggests, it's pastoral. As Lisa Robertson says, "Imagine you had a land, and then lost it..." So it is with Pierre Nepveu's Mirabel, translated by Judith Cowan who won a Governor General's Award for her effort. Mirabel takes a slant look at the expropriation of land to develop the Mirabel airport north of Montreal. I say slant, because it doesn't so much chronicle the struggles, as offer wisps of its haunting. There is something familiar about this constrained and passionate book, how it sings to the little woodland, how it yearns for green. There is something very 19th century about its consciousness, even as it transcribes the leveling and building of a modern day hub of mobility, even as it attempts to seek meaning in this transformation, as the poet looks up at the contrails which he doesn't name, the language insisting on a past that is no longer.

Here from a series titled "Surveyor's Notebook,"
I'm crossing a field that doesn't belong to me, measuring out clumps of condemned trees and tracing heart-breaking outlines as yet unseen by those who live here. When, a surgeon without a scalpel, at five o'clock I walk away through the long leafy shadows, with the light itself stretched out tight enough to strum the nerve cords, down my back I sense the looks that kill...
Of course I'm wondering what surveyor thinks like this, and if he does, I would like to know more about this fruitful tension. What I get however, is beautiful language, a romantic way of seeing the earth, words that evoke the past even as they point to the land's future, words that leave out discord. And I wonder how could this book have been written post Paterson? Poetic time is not linear of course, nor is development, and despite this fact the book is gorgeously quiet, powerful, and compelling. Every poet has a right to carve out his or her terms and create their world. Nepveu's world, despite the decision to chronicle the earth's slicing transformation and connection to larger nexus of communication, remains whole, each poem representing another whole, no sign of any contemporary forces in the shape, no sign of struggle in the text itself, though we get a gesture of disquiet:
It was written that in a coming winter,
garlands of electrical wires
would fall across the fields,
that the dark and empty houses
would await the last judgment in silence
and that along the road tight as a tunnel
a snowplough would be shoving before it,
back and forth up and down,
rolls of white ghosts.
The lines themselves tumble effortlessly, beautifully, line breaks evoking, for this reader in any case, a more innocent poetic time.

In the final sections of the book we see the poet returning to the land of his family, looking for some resolution where there is none. "Imagine you had a land, and lost it." Pastoral is steeped in feeling. It's feeling. A harkening, an insistence on the past as a better time. And much of Mirabel is moving, and all of it is skillful, each line, just bang on in its simplicity. Though I would love to have seen some of that feeling (intense anger!), and some of those facts (contained in the poet's statement at the end), burst out of the constraints of the school of quietude which sees all painted mutely, mutely, as if by holding our breath and looking backward we can either make it so, or in our reverence, make ourselves somehow immune to modernity's woes.

This is not Nepveu's first, or only book. I believe it's the only poetry in translation, and there is also a novel. A professor of French studies at the University of Montreal, he has won many literary awards.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Zoe Strauss at Silverstein in Chelsea

If you are reading this...Strauss is a photographer who keeps it real. She is the antithesis of Jeff Wall. Watch for more on Strauss here soon...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Rethinking the city

Take a look at the possibilities for urban spaces...what would happen if people began to think of the city as their world, rather than focusing so completely on their own backyard, and their individual experience?

Lemon Hound fetches a Lambda

It's the Hound's first prize...and a first prize. Wow, or as my press would say, Bow Wow.

See a recent review here, and an excerpt here, thanks to Dan Wabner, and here thanks to the Poetry Foundation...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Alice Notley, Part 2

Notley's Disobedience and the disobedient reader

After a discussion with Jena Osman on how a poet's modes of writing can shift it seems a little less mysterious to me how a poem or a poet can appear on the one hand so distant and hermetic and then suddenly completely open and engaging. It sometimes seems that I am the only poet who has these difficulties--either that or as I stated in my last post, people/readers/poets are just not able to admit their own difficulties and the need for growth. Easier to say this or that poem or poet is bad, not playing fair, doing something nonsensical. Revealing of course, an unwillingness to let oneself sit in the discomfort of not having fit a text into its appropriate slot.

As we were talking I kept thinking how the reader had to be a kind of locksmith, sitting in his or her bed at night, or at a table, hunched over a coffee, listening to the tumbling of ideas, willing one's own thoughts or interpretations to achieve a click of meaning... Are great works of art a refraction immediately, or subtly recognizable? How archaic to consider "great works of art," how naive. Or is it?

Osman is one of the most intelligent poets writing today. In the tradition of Leslie Scalapino, Susan Howe, and Joan Retallack, we find her creating hybrid texts that are essay, criticism, conceptual art, and poetic. See her recent essay in Jacket, for example. There is little argument in the face of texts by the above writers, that language is a site of urgent political activism. Here is Osman:
The linguist George Lakoff has argued that we need to unpack and recontextualize the big metaphors behind political rhetorics. Phrases like “rogue state,” “friendly nation,” and “just war,” are based in narrative frames that remain static (some people are good, some are evil, taxes are bad, etc.).
The more intense the dualistic/simplistic thinking, the more important that work. Here's Retallack: "If complexity is the source of our freedom, it is also the source of our terror."

And more and more complex things become, which means that the right wing business maven Theodor Drucker was, not surprisingly, wrong, when he said that the skill one will need most in the future is knowledge. The ability one needs the most is the ability to think, to handle that knowledge. Fast. We are, after all, only as good as our systems can process many desktops can you have open at once? At one point do ideas begin to blur? Is this part of why suddenly facts don't mean anything? Why people like Bush and Harper can simply say, another set of facts please, those ones are inconvenient...

Disobedience is both lyric and initmate, a kind of epistolary flaneur's account of walking and thinking the streets of Paris--a tradition itself among American poets and impossible not to want to hear Stein's pounding on stone. But this is not Stein, no, this is thinking of a different order, and as Brian Kim Stefans points out in his review of Notley, this text represents a melding of different modes of writing and thinking, a turning point in a way for a writer who moves through clearly defined projects. So, we get from Descent of Alette to Alma, or The Dead Women, by moving through this intertidal zone where ideas meld and shift, open and close as the mind washes over them:
Love in caves are love.

It all
I mean, the universe
it had to
it is a universe of exactness.
The god we are in is exact. (4)
What is so frightening about thought?
I dream that
a bomb might injure me
because some Muslims hate me. I mean
isn't that real possibility a dream,
wouldn't its happening be dreamlike?

...if hatred's a vicious phantasm,
waking reality's a dream.

(...)Why don't we make some new emotions?

Did dreams begin when women were first
excluded from public life?
Thinking being active, thinking being acknowledgment that this is not the end of the thought, nor the beginning, that there is little ownership. Yes, perhaps dangerous in a time of intellectual property hysteria. And there is very real danger there. If one can pull apart thinking from market. Can one?