Friday, March 30, 2007

Zizek on Mankell and the parallax view

Forgot how to make it link up.

Alger as the setting of the short prologue which describes the brutal slaying of the murderer's sister points towards what is allmost a formula for a couple of Wallander novels: they start with a brief prologue set in a Third World poor country, and then the novel proper moving to Ystad. The Other of today's World History, the poor Third World countries, is thus inscribed into the universe of his Wallander novels; this big Other of the World History has to remain in the background, as the distant Absent Cause.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Poetry doesn't sell

I'm often annoyed at how hard it is to get people to buy the books I put considerable time and effort into putting together, and you often hear people say that poetry doesn't sell etc.

Though this is true, it might be useful to take something of a historical view. Here are some facts I gleaned from Robert von Hallberg's "American Poetry and Culture 1945-1980":

In its first decade in print, The Wasteland sold 2000 copies.

Stevens' "Harmonium" sold fewer than 100 copies in its first year of publication (1923-24) even though Stevens had developed something of a reputation over the years publishing poems in journals.

Williams' "Spring and All" was printed in Paris in an edition of 300 copies, most of which were lost on the docks of NY. It received two reviews (both of them in Poetry Magazine).

Creeley's Black Mountain Review had a circulation of about 200 copies.

Between 1952 and 1959 Creeley published seven books of poetry, each one selling between 200 and 600 copies.

It is true that this was a long time ago and different social context, and it is true that things changed in the 1960s.

Scribner brought out Creeley's "For Love" in an edition of 6000 copies. Within ten years he had sold 39,000 copies.

Donald Allen's "The New American Poetry" was published in 1959 - by 1965 it had sold 40,000 copies.

Howl had sold 315,000 copies by 1980.

However much such statistics leave out (such as socio-economic changes), I think it's interesting to think about.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I'm still studying for my comps...

Which isn't as unpleasant as it may sound.

Here are a couple of my favorite stanzas from Mina Loy's "Songs to Jo(h)annes":

We might have given birth to a butterfly
With the daily news
Printed in blood on its wings


Shuttle-cock and battle-door
A little pink-love
And feathers are strewn

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 19, 2007

I'm reading with Clayton Eshleman this Thursday

Clayton Eshleman, a renowned poet, essayist, and translator, will be on campus March 21 and 22. He will be speaking about The Complete Poetry of Cesar Vallejo, which is the first comprehensive English translation of Vallejo's work. The schedule for this event is as follows:

March 21, 2007
4:30 p.m.
Hesburgh Center Auditorium
talk on the Vallejo translation saga
8:00 p.m.
Hospitality Room, Reckers, South Dining Hall
reading the Spanish originals of Vallejo translations with Orlando Menes

March 22, 2007
8:00 p.m.
Hospitality Room, Reckers, South Dining Hall
poetry reading by Eshleman with Johannes Goransson
For more information see the Creative Writing Program webpage:

Friday, March 16, 2007

Marianne Moore

One interesting thing about studying for my comps and being forced to read huge chunks of literature that I haven't read since I was in college is discovering how my views have changed.

For example, I used to love those early HD imagist poems. Now they strike me as kitsch.

I used to not be so into Marianne Moore, but now she strikes me as brilliant - the constant breaking down and realligning the binary between artificiality and the natural/real.

I love how it becomes impossible to tell when she's quoting a source or not, and the way the quotes function not as references but in new ways within the conext of the poem.

I love animals turning into decorations - over and over and over. Often within a single line-break ("An octopus/of ice" for example).

The lack of action verbs - it's all "has" and "is". No "vortex" here, but texture after texture after texture.

Zach, Revell

I just thought, perhaps it was wrong to focus so much attention on a blurb. So I cut that post down.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Evil Conference

Here's a thing I wrote on Kasey's alterna conference blog on workshopping (in response to Jane's proposal):

I'm not skeptical. I'm genuinely interested in the matter of pedagogy and, as poetry is to such a high degree wedded to education, it's important to think about it. Perhaps it could even be a theme for the conference.

Too often discussions of pedagogy at AWP or MLA type of events fall back on "this worked for my class" or "this was useful for my students." Without any critical inquiry into what "works" means or for whom it works.

Often it means: I got them to repdroduce poetry I like - whether Lyn Hejinian or CD Wright). Often it means: I convinced students to buy into a contemporary idea of poetry - that poetry can be reduced to style (and that that style should show mastery etc - qualities inherent in the monoglossic workshop paradigm).

Also, most discussions of pedagogy tend to fall back on the metaphor of initiation - the point of teaching poetry is to bring people into the world of poetry, as if it was this separate little world (which it then becomes).

I think it's important to bring those critical considerations into the classroom. And also, not to think only of style, but also what art can do and how it can accomplish that - or other concerns that are not exclusively stylistic (and also how these things interact - how Kafka's penal colony can be abour aerial photographs of bombed-out cities).

(My friend Johan Jönsson always says: American poets are naive about the political power of poetry, Poetry is actually a form of cowardice.)

I also think it's important is to bring in literatures from other cultures and languages ("languages" in the wide sense of the word, including other media) - without erasing the translation process - to avoid a trap American poetry often seems to fall into - playing the illusion of a national canon, the national language.

Finally (for now), the infrastructure of the workshop - criticizing poems, perfecting poems - tends to reify the idea of the poem, and I think that makes me claustrophobic. Or the idea that the writer who's being "workshopped' can't be part of the discussion - she's "dead" so to speak. The context is supposedly neutral (the hygienic workshop space). I think it's important to undo those paradigms - let the writer discuss her work, have the students develop critical tools for thinking about poetry etc.

Those are just a few ideas.

Jane, I'm not saying your class would fall into any of these traps. I don't know anything about your classes. I'm just saying, it's be good to discuss the matter.

One last thought (which really was my first thought): who would this workshop be for?

Monday, March 12, 2007


Funny that you use Ted Berrigan’s Collected Poems as an example of really liking a book outside your usual “discourse radius,” to use David Antin’s term. I have exactly the opposite reaction to Berrigan. I should love his work; most of my friends do, and of course he’s writing under the sign of Frank O’Hara, who is one of my great favorites. But I find Berrigan self-indulgent, self-important, and just plain irritating, and I have no interest in Alice Notley either. Second-generation New York poetry (or is this third-gen?) strikes me as a throwback to a messy confessionalism that lacks form.

- Marjorie Perloff (

There's an interesting new journal called New Ohio Review (/nor) from Ohio University. It includes a discussion between Marjorie Perloff and David Wojahn about Robert Lowell. That's where I got this surprising quote. Perloff is always interesting, even though I often disagree with her (as in this case) and though (or perhaps because) she's heavy-handed in her pronouncements. Recently she's been making forays into modern Swedish poetry (I've helped her with some translations).

As for Berrigan, his poetry has had great influence on my own writing mainly because his sensibilities are so different from my own (though we are both O'Hara-philes). I have often used his poetry to undo my own habits. But to be honest, I don't like his later work. It does become a bit dull.

I should love Duncan. Most of my friends do. But I can't get into it.

Friday, March 09, 2007


Here are my random thoughts and recollections of the melee known as AWP:

I agree with Kasey that it's fun but that it would be more fun/interesting if certain aspects of it was removed and certain aspects enhanced. I like the panels but I wish there were more panels of interest. I think our panel on "Strategies of Excess" (Lara, Kasey, Anne, me and Jed - Josh Corey was stuck in Detroit) was very interesting. As was Susan Schultz's and Ralph Berry's politics and literature panel. Susan wrote about why poets are so intrigued by Rumsfield - it's because he's got a poet's way of thinking about language. Ralph wrote about the idea that the war would have been avoided if we had only known the right facts. Everything these days in politics seems to boil down to this strange treatment of facts - as if it wasn't an ideological decision to go to war (or to not do anything about Global Warming etc).

In Sandra Simmond's interlingualism panel, David Lau discussed Terry Eagleton's critique of Adorno's reading of Beckett (the ditch isn't metaphysical, Beckett actually spent a night in a ditch during WWII working for the resistance). I only had five minutes left to talk, which was OK because I was totally exhausted at that point anyway. I just talked about a report Josh Wilkinson had given me about a panel before our panel - a panel on "experimental" workshops. This panel basically seems to have turned into a debate on teaching Hejinian vs teaching Kunitz. First of all I think any "experimental" workshop should be about the way stuff gets taught, not merely substituting one set of authors for the next. But also - and this was what I talked about - how all the names seems to have been contemporary American poets. So that's what I talked about. And maybe something about Raymond Williams and the importance of the foreign and uncomprehended. It's all a blur. One panelist had grown up in Poland but did not know about "Bolek and Lolek," my favorite communist cartoon about two very nice boys with big round heads.

All in all there seems to have been a higher level of substantial panels this year than last. Our panel's papers will be in the next Action,Yes. Susan's talk will be in some new journal.

Among the lowlights was no doubt Donald Revell's attempt to turn Rimbaud into an Anglo-American, Christian poet. His argument was that Rimbaud was a Blakean poet with "the imaginary influences" of Ashbery and other contemporary American poets. His concept of "imaginary influences" is more revealing than he meant it to be - his only way of making sense of Rimbaud is as a contemporary American poet, removing his foreigness. Strangely, his talk compared Rimbaud's work to several poets, all of them English-language poets. Not a single French poet in the bunch. Freedom fries for everyone. Pretty offensive.

The best reception was no doubt Counterpath's and Omnidawn's reception, even though I missed Andrew Joron's reading from his new book of essays and though the drinks were outrageously expensive. It was the best because I saw a bunch of people I hadn't seen for awhile. I was informed that I had criticized Julie Carr, the editor of Counterpath. The Internet has made me into a monster! I can't even remember the things I've written.

Walking around the floor of the bookfair tableless, Richard Greenfield was selling the first Apostrophe book - "Tonight's the Night" by Catherine Meng. I'll write something more about this book later because it's perplexing in the best of ways.

I met GC Waldrep for the first time and he gave me the name of a poet I meant to look up. Unfortunately I lost the little notebook I wrote it down in (along with all the books I received and bought during the fair - I'm a space case). I ran into a whole lot of Alabama students, some of whom were in charge of the Action/Fairy Tale Review table.

Our Action/Fence reading went very well. Lots of good stuff. Good crowd. Weird disco balls. Special credit goes to Laura Mullen and Dan Machlin of Futurepoems because they were the first two people to buy the latest Action Books book, "lip wolf" by Laura Solorzano, translated by Jen Hofer.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Joyelle's intro to Action, Yes from AWP Panel

[A sound recording of this is available at Mipoesis]

2007 AWP Talk

Hello this is Joyelle McSweeney talking to you through the larynx of my cyborg/golem, Lara Glenum. My gratitude to Lara and to Danielle Pafunda for including Action, Yes in this lineup of webjournals.

With Action, Yes, practice somewhat preceded theory. Johannes Goransson and I decided to start a web journal right after we finished reading for our first (and so far, only) Action Books contest in early winter 2006. We were introduced to the work of so many strange and interesting poets through the contest that we wished we had the resources to promote more of them, since for money reasons the contest would only produce a single, single-authored perfect-bound book. We reasoned, in a nascent way, that a webjournal would be economical, accessible to as many readers as possible, and elastic in its size, allowing us to fulfill our dream of showcasing a greater number of authors than the book press allowed; as a bonus, the webjournal would allow us to do more to bring into contact American and international poets, and to blend together American and international readerships-- both goals for our book press as well.

Armed with that vision and the manifesto we had already devised for our press, we enlisted John Woods to design the journal and he soon gave us the incredibly distinctive format that you can see today if you go to But as soon as the venture was in webformat, it started to grow and exceed our original vision in dynamic and interesting ways. Looking back, our original vision of the webjournal was essentially that of a paper journal that just happened to find itself on the web. But as soon as it existed, Action, Yes was more than that. It had occurred to us to include both visual content and translation in the journal, and we accordingly collected a complement of such images, collages, translations, and originals as well as English language poems and forwarded them all to John. But the design John produced reminded us that it is impossible to distinguish between form and content with hyptertext. In particular, John used mouseover technology to bring translations and originals, visuals and verbal texts into dynamic and surprising relationship with each other, jostling each other with their presence rather than sitting side by side like dead specimins pressed flat in a book. Encountering the first edition of Action, Yes, (‘reading’ seems like too limited a verb) one can flip over playing cards to read poems apparently ‘printed’ on their faces, mouse over Swedish to read English, click through a grid of cartoon images to open a further grid of comic strips associated with each one.

The unsettling strangeness of these reading practices in turn ‘infects’ the reading required by even non-visual, non-translated pieces such as the excerpt from Cathy Park Hong’s Dance-dance Revolution, in which the main text is written in a kinetic pidgin of extant and extinct languages, dictions, dialects and slangs, complete with faux-scholarly annotation. In the first excerpt, Hong’s speaker entices us to a stay at a luxury hotel:

Twenty rooboolas, kesh only . Step up y molest
Hammer y chicklets studded in ruby y seppire almost
bling badda bling. Question? No question! Prick ear.
Coroner diagnose hotel as king of hotels 'cos
luxury es eberyting. Hear da sound speaker sing 'I get laid in
me Escalade/but I first sip gless of Crystal/den I whip out me pistol.'
No worry. No pistol in hotel, only best surgeon feesh y beluga
bedtime special. Deelicious
As we shift by ear among the various registers of this joyfully mongrel text, we find ourselves employing a certain internal ‘mouseover’ technology of our own, an absolutely non-linear reading which forces us to jump among formerly separate orders of knowledge, a reading which priveleges recognition, flexibility, and willing not-knowing over interpretation and ‘meaning’, which drops us through trapdoors and shoves us merrily out onto wildly swaying limbs.

In this way, the hypertext dynamic of the Action, Yes design leads us to the possibility of reading all texts as hypertexts—hyperactive, multidimensional, full of agency, never anything so boring as merely linear. Although each issue of Action, Yes presents the reader with a neat, conventional stack of contents in the center of his or her screen, one may choose any place on these contents to begin, opening window after window for a pileup of competing texts, bios and images, any one of which enters into a unique correspondence with any—or many-- others. In this way the hypertext format, which is not special to Action, Yes but is employed by John’s design to an extent not found on every website, denaturalizes the rigid structure of the print journal with its serial perogatives. To decouple and relink a print journal in such unexpected ways, you’d have to rip it to pieces. The New Critical imperative to ‘unlock’ meaning from the dry bones of the text, to dissect each text object in isolation from others —and most certainly in isolation from the biography of its authors—dries up and blows away amid all this juicy reading-work.

Most instrumental has been the way Action, Yes adjusted my thinking about translation.
For example, recent issues of Action, Yes have included poems by Don Mee Choi, as well as her English language translations of the contemporary Korean poet Kim Hyesoon, as well as Kim Hyesoon’s poems in Korean. The three sets of texts float in a challenging relationship to one another, a sort of flexing Venn diagram. Rather than the same old painful dialectic of translation vs. original, target language vs. source language, dialectics which are generally used to connote loss and which generate anxiety and self-loathing even among translators, we now have a snaking and fertile set of three. Or, one can choose to decouple Choi’s poetry from her translation project, and read it in concert with other prose poems that surround it—say, the prose work of Jennifer Hyashida, who herself also translates from the Swedish—which opens up a whole other can of pleasantly pliant worms. It is impossible to think in terms of the ‘loss’ of translation, or bemoan the impossiblity of one language ever being faithful to another, when one is engaged in such messily fruitful de- and re-coupling. And let’s not forget that the web-format allows for the porous interconnection of one site with another as well, potentially placing Action, Yes in alliance with any number of holy and unholy, literary and non-literary, formal and informal concerns.

Over the past four quarterly issues, Action, Yes has infected and expanded how I think about poetry, how I think about translation, and how I think about publishing itself. For example, although I am obviously an editor of Action, Yes, I learn the most about it when I come to the finished issue from the position of a reader, and realize I can dismantle and remount it in all sorts of provocative positions over and over again. Because of the flexiblity of John’s design, each new reader becomes an editor of Action, Yes, composing and experiencing an entirely different version of its contents and calling different combinations of texts into contact. Such a dynamic and involved readerly engagement is all any editor could ever hope for any publication in which she had a hand, and it is my sincere hope that this is the experience readers have when encountering Action, Yes. It is also my hope that they use the further resources of the web—and of course their friendly neighborhood libraries—to go deeper into these texts and authors than we do with a single issue, to discover—and build—new zones of contact and perhaps bring about new publishing and collaborative projects which it would be my great pleasure to read.

Here’s a final illustration of how thoroughly Action, Yes has reworked our mission as a press: though we originally simply plastered our Action Books manifesto up on the Action, Yes site, we soon not only created a distinct manifesto for Action, Yes itself, reflecting its cockamamie energies and entropies, but also decided that it should supplant the earlier Action Books manifesto and become the battle cry for the entire two-headed, huge hearted, manyboweled creature. In this way, Action, Yes has taught us something about the kind of publishers we wanted to be:


1. Action, Yes is the online arm of Action Books.

2. Hybridity, Entropy, Inflammation.

3. We 're not so interested in tchotchkes from the style-mart.

4. Translation teaches us to read adventurously.

5. It's the sun, not carrots, that makes us see in the dark.

6. The quest for sincerity is like the quest for a perfect lawn.

7. The cult of elegance is xenophobic.

8. The cult of eloquence is eugenic.

9. The bacteria carried by the immigrant will rejuvenate the traumadrome.

10. Knock down all the pipelines and employ border guards as guiders
for newcomers.

11. A fine ear is a severed ear.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


The second issue of Cannibal is now available and features poems from Hadara Bar-Nadav, Jen Bervin, Julia Cohen, John Coletti, Christopher Eaton, Landis Everson, Karen Garthe, Daniela Gesundheit, Johannes Göransson, Kate Greenstreet, Jane Gregory, Shafer Hall, Janet Holmes, Dan Hoy, Amy King, Donna Kuhn, Mark Lamoureux, Kristi Maxwell, Farid Matuk, Ben Mazer, Jess Mynes, Sawako Nakayasu, Eugene Ostashevsky, Arlo Quint, Chris Salerno, Mary Ann Samyn, Frank Sherlock, Stacy Szymaszek, Maureen Thorson, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Jake Adam York & Alex Young.

Cannibal is seventy pages, hand-sewn in signatures and screen printed.

Copies are available through Paypal for $12 at

We are also releasing the first two books in the Cannibal Chapbook Series, Jane Gregory's The Second Is Thirst and Shannon Jonas' Compathy, both available at for $7 at Chapbooks are side-stapled on quality paper.

On March 9th from 8-11, we'll be celebrating the releases at Jimmy's on 7th Street, with readings from Susan Briante, John Coletti, Jane Gregory, Farid Matuk & Eugene Ostashevsky, & with music from Chris Cuzme's Silent but Violent Arkestra & Snowblink.

Copies of the journal & chapbooks will be available at a discount.

Directions to Jimmy's:
43 East 7th Street
Between 2nd & #rd avenues
F, V at 2nd Ave; 6 at Astor Pl

The Burning Chair Readings Brooklyn Poetry Bazaar will take place the following day, Saturday March 10th, from 2;30-7 at Galapagos in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The event will feature Fanny Howe, Rod Smith, Anselm Berrigan, Karen Weiser, Christian Hawkey, Jess Mynes, Farid Matuk, Susan Briante, Anna Moschovakis, Matvei Yankelevich & Ben Mazer, with music from I Feel Tractor.