Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Christensen and Scandinavian Poetry of the 1960s (II)

Thought about it: another clear reference point to Christensen (and Fahlström for that matter) is Jackson Maclow's experimentation during the same period.

Inger Christensen's "Det"

New Directions has published Susanna Nied's translation of Danish poet Inger Christensen's amazing 1969 book "Det" ("It" in English). This book is a great book of radical Modernism and if you're at all interested in Scandinavian poetry or avant-garde writing, you should definitely read It. Only the fact that she writes in a minor language has kept Christenson (like Gunnar Björling) from being considered a "crowning achievement of 20th century poetry" (shout out to Ron).

Also, like I stated in another entry, Scandinavian poetry of the 1960s has a lot in common with contemporary American poetry that is interested in "simplicity." Juliana Spahr for example, who repeatedly alludes to Christensen's book "Alphabet" in "This Connection of Everyone With Lungs." Perhaps another entry into her work for Americans would be souped-up Creeley.

"We want the world and we want it now" has never sounded as beautiful, menacing and historically resonant.

I have only read it in Danish, but I'm sure Nied's translations are good, as she's translated a bunch of other Christensen books.

Buy the book:


An observation: New Directions keeps putting these nature images on the cover of her books, perhaps to tie them to the nature mysticism of Tranströmer. But this is radical modernism, not nature mysticism. The cover of my copy of "Det" is bright green with "Det" written in enormous typewriter font.

While you're on a shopping spree, you can stop by Douglas Messerli's web site and pick up "The Hangman's Lament" by Christensen's student Henrik Nordbrandt (translated by Thom Satterlee). Messerli has been doing an amazing job of putting out international avant-garde works in translation over the past few years.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Caroline Bergvall

Go here:


It's a brilliant performance by Caroline Bergvall at the Norwegian poetry site Nypoesi.

Sunday, November 26, 2006



I'm helping Finnish poet Leevi Lehto (and a few others) set up a "Scandinavian Portal" at the Buffalo Electronic Poetry Center. So far it's mostly got the Typo issue up. Not all that much up as of yet.

Ett Lysande Namn

If you can read Swedish (Mike, Erik...):


This is a great journal. My poems are in the third issue, but they are eclipsed by Sara Tuss Efrik's psycho-psychoanalytic (the way Bataille is a psychoanalyst...) interpretation of my poetry as being about shame and masturbation. It's really more of a prose poem. I'll translate a piece of it when I get some free time. Lara &co can add that to the case study of male hysteria.

Much like the US, there are a lot of small presses and journals popping up in Sweden and it's having a fantastic effect. Swedish literature has - if possible - been even more centralized/hierarchized than American poetry. (But with a quite different aesthetic.)

Much of this new literature is brilliantly grotesque, seemingly influenced by Bataille and Burroughs (who's always been considered a great writer in Sweden, much more so than here).

Community (III)

But then again, perhaps I'm perfectly happy with the current level of community I'm involved with. Any more might just be too much work.

Community (II)

I'm of course wrong. It's not the insularity of communities that's a problem, but the difficulty of creating a genuinely engaged community - ie overcome the insularity of individuals.

Perhaps Lucipo has been the best example of such community-building in the recent past. But the first time I came upon that list it was when I googled myself and found that someone on it had argued that my fellow Athenians and I were not a true communitiy (because we didn't baby-sit each others babies or play baseball together). That's exactly the kind of utopian rhetoric that makes me suspicious of "community"-building ventures.

Nevertheless they seem to have done a good job of generating a kind of critical reading/writing community. The same perhaps goes for various mother/women/baby lists out there.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Altman is dead

I love Nashville. It's one of my favorite movies.

Today I'm disgusted by poetry

Most of all I'm sick of the idealization of the concept of "community."

I've used this term in the past, but today it strike me as nothing but an excuse to be totally insular and only listen to one's pals.

Monday, November 20, 2006

American Nyenkelhet

The Samizdat blog (http://www.samizdatblog.blogspot.com/) reminded me that we've had plenty of Nyenkelhet in American poetry, for example Denise Levertov.

This blog is actually full of interesting material, including an essay on New Criticism.

Yes, I will relearn how to make the links and I will form a flashy index of blogs. I only have to teach four more classes, finish editing our three translation titles and then it will be reality.

Black Widow Press

I heartily recommend that everyone check out Black Widow Press (www.blackwidowpress.com) - they're publishing translations of European Modernists - Breton, Tzara, Eluard and others - as well as Clayton Eshleman and some other good stuff. Buy it all.

It is interesting that so many presses will publish modernist works in translation, but not contemporary work. I'm thinking for example of Copper Canyon which has published tons of Neruda books, but -as far as I can tell- no contemporary Chilean poets. New Directions has published Transtromer and Inger Christensen, but no contemporary Scandinavia poetry (Christensen and Transtromer are still alive it's true).

I'm not saying publishing these books isn't extremely valuable. I'm just thinking of why it is that there aren't more presses interested in what is happening now.

There are of course exceptions - Action Books (of course), Ugly Duckling, Zephyr Press, Green Integer and some others. Dalkey Archives certainly when it comes to Fiction.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Reading: Cathy Park Hong and Sandy Florian

We're hosting a super reading lineup this Sunday (Nov 18th) with two of my absolutely favorite younger poets: Sandy Florian and Cathy Park Hong. (For examples of their writing, visit www.actionyes.org)

It will start at 7 pm. It will take place in the Regis Philbin Room at the University of Notre Dame.

Miranda July & Tao Lin?

1. mirandajuly.com

2. http://reader-of-depressing-books.blogspot.com/

Friday, November 17, 2006

New presses

It will be interesting to see how the creation of all of these new presses will effect poetry.

One thing it seems to call out for is more critical discussion. That's why I thought I would do my part and start writing reviews. But it seems the review as a genre is so old-fashioned and non-interactive. Seems like blogs or listserves would be the best space for discussions.

I just read an issue of American Book Review and I liked it a lot. Many good reviews. Michael McGee reviewed Gerald Bruns latest. Pierre Joris reviewed Jed's "Syncopations" and managed to call Clayton Eshleman a "quietist" (perhaps not the highlight of the issue...).

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thomas Transtromer, New Simplicity and Swedish Poetry

I'm currently writing a review of Tomas Tranströmer's selected poems - The Great Enigma, translated by Robin Fulton, published by New Directions - so I thought I would say a word or two about Swedish poetry.

For those of you who may not have read Tranströmer's work, here's a beloved stanza from "Elegy" (1973):

I open door number two.
Friends! Your drank the darkness
and became visible.

I pick it as an example not only because it’s beautiful but also because it gives you a good idea of his brilliant us of metaphor. The magic of his metaphors - showing the somewhat clashing influence of both Surrealism and Swedish nature mysticism - is that they are strange but strangely not estranging.

Thus it is quite different from Surrealism ("I watch a door slam like the corsage of a flower..." - Breton). Another difference: In Benjamin's essay on Surrealism he argues that it doesn't follow the bourgeois paradigm of "contemplating" art. Well, Tranströmer is definitely all about contemplation (mysticism). Or to use Bernstein's paradigm: it's incredibly absorptive.

The info that comes with the book claims Tranströmer is "the most important Swedish poet." Here again is this interesting word "important." What does it mean? I see it on blurbs a lot. I may even have used it myself from time to time.

Perhaps it means influence? Well in that case, the statement is not correct. From what I can tell of Swedish poetry, Tranströmer is not very important at all. His collected poems top the bestseller lists when they are published, but as far as having an influence on the way people write in Sweden, he's not an important. (Though it may simply mean, he’s the most important Swedish poet in the US.)

In some ways his influence was isolated by the 1960s, when Swedish poets began to call for a politically engaged poetry. These poets recognized Tranströmer's brilliance (included him in anthologies and such), but did not follow his example, and at times criticized his lack of engagement.

The major poet of this generation is Göran Sonnevi. Here's an excerpts (translated by John Matthias and Göran Printz-Påhlson, Rika Lesser has wonderfully translated an entire book of his work, A Child is Not a Knife, and I included some of his recent poetry in my Swedish-issue of Typo a while back):

The war criminal McNamara
has now
left his post as
US Secretary of Defense, and instead
emerged as
President of the World Bank - in the cold
spring light of 1968
During the autumn
elections were held for
the UN organization
for world food supplies, FAO
After a long struggle
including political blackmail
against he candidate
of the poverty stricken countries
a European from Holland
was elected
thanks to Swedish support
and with the blessing of the US
The African candidate was unacceptable...

This something of an extreme case. He doesn't only detail political injustices, though it's a significant part of his ouevre ("a child is not a knife" is a beautiful poem protesting US imperialism in Central America).

Here's excerpts from a poem by Sonnevi's contemporary Göran Palm (same translators):

What's happening in the world, what do they say about me?
Calmly and with concentration I began to write an article
All the relations were cowering in the cupboard
Bloody typewriter
While I was eating it suddenly came to me just how logical positivism really hang together
A man came walkign by with sheets
A minibus goes racing through the hallway
Why don't I get anything done

A lot of what was written by this group of writers would actually fit in quite well with contemporary American poetry. Juliana Spahr's "This Connection of Everyone With Lungs" for example is very similar to Nyenkelheten, both in its persona (valiantly struggling in an alienating late capitalist world) and the stylistic juxtaposition of facts, newspaper headlines and poetic lines.

These poets have a lot of prominent descendants among the young poets in Sweden. Perhaps the best example of this is Lars Mikael Raattamaa. I wish I could find a copy of this one poem he wrote but I can't seem to locate it - the chorus was something like "Israel are murderers." Well here's an excerpt of a Ginsberg-homage about the US called “Muddy Water Taking Back the Sentence”:

:a few days toward the end of august 2005: america : america what have you done with my kidneys : they’ll come and pick us up : on Monday : do you believe in all of this : there are two americas : what have you done with my small intestine : america walks down the street : water is flowing : america is a utopia : not the soviet union : scientism is the symptom of the soviet union : america is utopism : brazil has a big comte quote on its flag : america : what have you done with my spleen :… the soviet union killed : america killed : what are we supposed to forget : america walks down the street : it’s so warm here : they’ll come and pick us up on monday… so what are we supposed to forget : the banishment of the volga-germans : the banishment of the five civilized tribes : trail of tears : the extermination of the Iroquois….

[rough translation by me]

These poets are also somewhat connected to the American Language poets, as some of them (not LMR) have studied at Buffalo. They also have done quite a bit of critical work on the Concretists and Öyvind Fahlstrom, about whom Marjorie Perloff is currently writing. In fact some of their work is quite obviously neo-concretist. Here are some examples of Concretism and its descendants:


I used to see a kind of opposition between Swedish concretism and the simplicity, but I have increasingly come to see that opposition as an exaggeration, that they were/are in fact much more similar than they are made out to be in the books of literary history. But more about that some other time. I've got to go. Mostly I wanted to mention this strand of Swedish poetry because it seems to have so much in common with a lot of contemporary American poetry. I’m going to run some errands but I’ll write a little more later on.

One last thing: I have ambivalent feelings about a lot of this poetry. The Swedish poetry I like best is a kind of neo-decadent strain – including Bruno K Öijer, Ann Jäderlund and Aase Berg, a poetry that seems more interestingly political than the New Simplicity with its often programmatic politics. Well, more about that some other time.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Action Books Insanity from 14 Hills

[I received this email today:]

Congratulations! 14 Hills has nominated you for a Pushcart. The complete list of nominees include the following writers:

14 Hills, Volume 12.1
Paul Gacioch
Sandy Florian
Aase Berg

14 Hills, Volume 12.2
Lara Glenum
Tao Lin
Gabriel Haman

Thank you again for your submission to 14 Hills and we wish you the best of luck as your work is further considered for a Pushcart Award.

The Editors

[I don't know who Paul Gacioch or Gabriel Haman are, but they better be damn good.]

[I actually have no idea what a Pushcart Award is, but since it's an award I would think it's good.]

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Jim Behrle

Jimmy has written a great book of poems called "She's My Best Friend."

I say "book," but that sounds wrong. Perhaps it's more like souvenirs from this megalomaniacal persona's adventures in mass culture (including poetry - Fasicle, Legitimate Dangers and Jane Dark all make guest appearances).

It's a cliche to talk about how in collage there is a tension between the original context of the collaged materials and the art piece. But I think Jimmy uses that tension incredibly well. It's not so much a tension between an orginal context and a poem as between a total commodity culture and a persona adrift in that culture - the persona is to such a large extent created by this culture (the sexual bragging, the stalking, the masturbating) but the persona still has enough autonomy to muck things up.

One could drag Adorno ("negative knowledge" etc) into this, but that feels wrong. What Jimmy does to mass culture is closer to what Patti Smith does to "the watuzi."

There certainly is critique involved, but it never feels "contemplative" or Eliotic, as so many contemporary poetic takes on mass culture. Poetry is just as ridiculous as Paris Hilton.

The cover is interestingly and fittingly crass: a photograph woman with a prominent behind surrounded by all kinds of phallic spikes. It's like "the gaze" x seven-hundred-forty-five.

Friday, November 10, 2006


"One finds the cult of evil as a political device, however romantic, to disinfect and isolate against all moralizing dilettantism..."

(Walter Benjamin, "Surrealism")

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ron Silliman

OK. I'm going to say one more thing about Ron.

In an entry from two days ago concerning his youth, Ron reveals that all the "crowning achivements" (Who uses tropes like this??) of 20th century poetry were written by American poets.

At what point does his intellectual insularity become so obvious that he notices it?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Lately I've spent much time on my comps. But I have managed to read a thing or two aside from critical theory.

Tonight I've read "Do Not Awaken Them With Hammers" by Lidija Dimkovska, translated from Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovksa and Peggy Reid (Ugly Duckling). Totally great. Anybody (and there are quite a few) who like Tomaz Salamun's work should run out and buy this book.

I've also been reading John Wilkinson's amazing "Lake Shore Drive" (Salt). If I hadn't completely lost all respect for Silliman, I would volunteer that this book should be thrown into the weird, narrow-minded discussion that he held recently. Anybody who likes Joyelle's poetry (Or Bruce Andrews') should run and get this book.

I also read the New Yorker article about Suzan-Lori Parks, whom I just taught in my avant-garde seminar. It's well worth reading. I love her. She's great.

Also: Gloat.


“An ideology really succeeds when even the facts which at first sight contradict it start to function as arguments in its favor.” (Zizek)

This reminds me of some classes I taught in the south where teaching students material they didn't know sometimes resulted in them getting angry - it made them think that I was a foreigner/communist trying to brainwash them. That's why I think the academy-bashing (for example that Horowitz guy) is a serious concern.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Action Reading

Joyelle McSweeney, Sandy Florian and Tao Lin (to the extent that he exists)

will read

at Little King's in Athens, Georgia

on Wednesday November 8th, at 7 pm


La Petite Zine

There is a new issue of La Petite Zine here: http://www.lapetitezine.org/

Read it and weep.

Read it and climb a tree.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Tao Lin rumors

I have heard all kinds of funny rumors circulating about Tao Lin. Most recently a friend of mine told me that he heard that Tao doesn't exist, that he's made up by some woman. Or are they confusing Tao with that guy who wrote stories about being a teenage prostitute? Bottom line is that you should buy the book - www.actionbooks.org.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Bruce Andrews on Bill O'Reilly

It's pretty funny. You can watch it on O'Reilly's web site.

It's not exactly exciting. Andrews doesn't fall into O'Reilly's pretty obnoxious traps (You hate capitalism don't you?) and thus makes O'Reilly look pretty stupid.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Brazilian Poetry in NY

More things I wish I could go to:

The Minstrel and the Poet-An Evening of Poetry and Music
Thursday November 2, 2006-7pm
The Americas Society
680 Park Avenue at 68th Street
RSVP to The Americas Society at (212) 277-8359 or culture@americas-society.org
A special evening with author, composer, and musician Jorge Mautner accompanied by Nelson
Jacobina. Mautner, a central figure in the Brazilian literary and musical scene since the late 1960s, is the author of three novels entitled Trilogia do Kaos, as well as of several records, including collaborations with Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Poet Francisco Alvim will start the evening with a reading of poems from his latest book accompanied with simultaneous English translations read by Lytle Shaw