Saturday, January 31, 2009

Johnny Woods

has a new web site.

If you go here you can see some of the images from our comic book (in progress) as well as some other stuff he's been working on.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


I've really gotten into a project I'm working on right now and that's why I'm having trouble keeping up with the posts. I will write one on Artaud/Genet soon for Lorraine.

But right now I'm excitedly working on a kind of autobiography. It's based on images from the KGB archives. Swedish Television is making a documentary about my dad's time in Eastern Europe in the 1970s and early 80s and they've gotten all kinds of footage from the KGB archives.

Strangely I feature prominently due to my poor behavior. For example, after my dad and I had been to talk to Lech Walenza and were driving away from G'Dansk I kept popping my head out of the sunroof of the rental car. It appears that the KGB found this very suspicious so they kept photographing it. Perhaps I was sending signals or something.

So anyway, my autobiography is written using the KGB's strange perspective on my family.

Another important point is that in these archives they are very persistent and detailed in documenting who in various photographs were spies. Turns out everybody we knew in Eastern Europe were agents! And even more funny: the people who seem accidental in various photographs (joggers, jugglers, bicyclists etc) were also agents. It's like the Truman Show! So anyway, I'm writing a distorted autobiography based on these photographs and the strange commie narrative that goes along with it.

And then there are the various pink-panther-style fumbled assassination attempts and bomb threats.

It's a funny book I'm writing.

The genre is "haute surveillance."

I'm also rewriting Genet as a numb show. It has a lot to do with bodily fluids. I'm writing about three books at once. There is also a novel sequence to my pageant Entrance to the colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate.

But I will soon return to writing horrific accusations against American Poetry and Ron Silliman and Flarfers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ngai/Aase Berg/Öyvind Fahlström

I was issued this link in a comment field below:

It's for Sianne Ngai's article "The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde." It's very insightful. Incredibly interesting. Points out the violence inherent in "cuteness" and whos how cuteness has functioned in avant-garde art and poetry - not just the physical violence but the violence done to language when you enter the realm of cuteness (words become all gooey and y-y).

I basically taught this essay yesterday discussing Kim Hyesoon and Aase Berg. It seems like the article should have been about Aase's Uppland.

Here is a great little poem from that collection in my translation:

Creep under the skin
Hold on to one's skin
mutual pupa

And when I was reading Ngai's article I was reminded of how many Swedish critics - who had not trouble with all kinds of violence and obscenity - seemed deeply troubled/frustrated by the cuteness of Uppland.

Importantly: one guy who went out on a limb to praise it (he wrote at least two reviews of it!) was Bengt Emil Johnson, the legendary concretist and Öyvind Fahlström's trusted colleague.

This seems significant to me because I think of Berg as in large part a descendent of Fahlström's childish art.

Also significant: Fahlström's concretism was not like Swiss or Brazilian concretism, but much much more like Stein. In fact he mentions the childish prattle of Stein and Lewis Carrol as predecessors in his famous first concretist manifesto.

Also significant: Both Fahlstrom and Berg were mentored by Lithuanian exile sound poet and avant-garde babbler Ilmar Laaban (though Laaban was much much older when he mentored and championed Berg!).

Of course by far Fahlström's biggest influence was Artaud, and he shares that influence with Berg.

And he "re-wrote" Sylvia Plath in one of his last art pieces (Berg rewrites "Lady Lazarus" as obscene sci-fi fantasia in "Dark Matter," her second book).

Blake Butler's "Ever"

Blake Butler is the editor of Lamination Colony and yesterday I got his book. I read it to my daughter last night (the night before I read her a book about "a girl named Dictee" she's very interested in the books on my night table).

Happpily this fine book fits very well into my narrow interests: rooms, buildings, boxes and the gothic imagination. And The Shining of course.

In The Shining, a large part of the pleasure comes from the tension between the very linear narrative of the horror story and the increasing presence of the hotel itself as a kind of alternative structure. The high point is of course when the mother is going kind of crazy running in the stairways and she sees the couple in furry outfits engaging in oral sex (or something similar). This for me is the moment when the story threatens to totally break down (with the mother): if she leaves the narrative and enters the ghosty realm of the hotel, the movie is finished. Of course, this is what happens to Jack Nicholson at the end when he dies.

It is not irrelevant that Jack Nicholson's character when spellbound by the hotel begins to write artsy novels: conceptual detournments of Ben Franklin. This is perhaps most obviously seen as a sign of his madness: when the wife finds his novel - that's when she realizes he's crazy (as if the book could provide evidence stronger than his very strange behavior!).

But today I think of the novel as sign of his desperate attempt to stick to the Ben Franklin scheme: a way to keep from giving into the ghosty imagination of the hotel structure. But the very repetitiveness of the detournment suggests he's already lost and becoming part of the hotel [unless he joins the Conceptual Writing Club and gains great "Fame"]. Something that is affirmed by his increasingly living with the ghosts. In fact killing the family seems a pretty trivial detail by the time he gets around to it. Here the narrative is an emblem of the world where things make sense, where things are done for a reason, the realm of causality. The hotel invites Jack to a world of excess that cannot be reigned in by the narrative.

This is of course also the realm of Poe - Ligeia kills her replacement and is reborn through the strange atmosphere of the castle. When Twin Peaks aired, everybody watched it as long as it was a murder mystery. When we found out who killed Laura Palmer, we stopped watching because it became about the Black Lodge instead of the murder mystery. The show lost its narrative umph. Perhaps that tension is what makes something a gothic text.

Of course, I love the black lodge. The Black Lodge (like its mundane double, the Great Northern Hotel) are of course both involved in the hotel in The Shining (all of them are also built on top of the mass-murder of native americans we should not forget).

"When you see me again / it won't be me" says the little man. In the Shining, the dead girls are twins. The hotel is the realm of cinematic tricks (doubling, "doppelganger!" etc). The body is distorted - becomes a cinematic body, both in terms of stylized/unnatural (Laura Palmer's weird gestures, the little man's weird backwards movements which are actually reversed/backward by movie technology) and "charged"(Breton).

This is my long introduction to Blake's novel because this is the issue at stake in Ever (that is where narrative ceases to function). What makes this novel very interesting in this context is that it seems to be written from the other direction - not a murder mystery that loses its narrative, but a narrative-less cinematic body-fantasia in search of a narrative. The speaker wanders through rooms and room searching for the murder mystery.

Great book. Perhaps the word "book" matters here - as opposed to film.

It also has neat illustrations by Derek White.

Which perhaps brings up another cinematic/poetic room:

Just some early morning thoughts.


For some reason I woke up this morning desperately wanting to hear this song. Don't know. Must have been about a decade since I heard it. Thank god for Youtube.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A New Octopus

Octopus Magazine #11 We are proud to announce that the new issue of Octopus Magazine is now available.

Including a review of my book Pilot

If you are unfamiliar with the work of Johannes Göransson, whose first book A New Quarantine Will Take My Place (Apostrophe Books, 2007) shot up the poetry scene like a drive-by paintballing, Pilot: Johann the Carousel Horse will still have you as an active passenger in its expedition. On the other hand, if you are familiar with Göransson’s work—even better—for you will feel as though you are piloted from the land of A New Quarantine Will Take My Place to the island it may just have wanted to be on all along. Here we must note that Pilot can and does stand quite significantly on its own, but also further rewards a reader for coming from the pages of Göransson’s previous poems to existence within a grander, be it more stripped and danger-diving artifice. And these poems do dive; they even look dangerous on the page, moving in short staccato lines that pull off both brusqueness and concinnity: they are thin, they are fast, they are piloted.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Stephanie Young

I also wanted to draw your attention to Elisa Gabbert's very thoughtful review of Stephanie Young's book "Picture Palace.":

I don't just like it because it refers to this blog, but I think the ambivalence shows a really honest attitude toward the book and this ambivalence curiously made me want to read the book much more than I would if it got a purely positive shiny review. I'm going to get it the next time I go on a SPD shopping spree.

Here's her discussion of this blog (when I came to that part, I was like, that looks familiar, and that's my name... It took me a second):

Johannes Göransson wrote the following on his blog Exoskeleton on August 12, 2008:

I don’t see why re-reading something is such a die-hard merit. Some works may be read wonderfully once and meant only to be read once. Or even a half time. Not to be combed through. Perhaps not even read at all.

I have thought about this idea–the value of impermanence in literature–from time to time since reading it, and Picture Palace put me in mind of it again. To demand that all poetry stand up to multiple readings–or that any art form, for that matter, always be endlessly re-experienced or re-experiencable–limits its possibilities. To use Dada as an example again: Dadaist plays are not really meant to be reproduced; they exist as records of “happenings.” I don’t know if this is what Young had in mind, but it might be helpful to frame the performance pieces in this book in a similar way, as transcripts that are not intended to offer the same or approximate value as the events they correspond to.

Within a close-reading paradigm, “any text that seeks to provoke, ritualize or offend, rather than craft a poetic experience, will usually not make sense,” Göransson wrote on his blog several days later. If Picture Palace occasionally reads like rough notes–bits of brilliance among stabs at connection and impressionistic ramblings–this doesn’t feel accidental. Its purposeful lack of formal rigor is part of what makes it intriguing as a form of autobiography–calling attention, like an avant garde film, to its inherent discontinuity, rather than exploiting the tendency of the human eye and mind to turn a succession of frames into a continuous experience. The “notes are a mess” for a reason, Young tells us: “this mess / is economic, it represents / the time I had.”

Tone of the Blog

For some reason the tone of this blog has gotten kind of snappy as of late (or has it always been this way?) - I snapped at Lorraine, Mark snapped at me, Max sees himself as "challenging" me (which suggests I am some kind of oppressive authority, possibly the pope, which would be fitting). Perhaps it's the touchy topic of translation. Can we try to be a little more relaxed and have discussions instead of "challenging" each other? Lets be a little less snappy (me included). Thanks. Johannes

Form (Hejinian)

Also while perusing the Language of Inquiry I found the following discussion of form which I think does a better job than I have done explaining my strongly negative reaction to Josh Corey's claim that Ariana and Lara's poems were without form (free, unrestrained). So much discussion of form makes it seem like it restrains the "vitality" or impulse behind art. I think it's the form that generates that vitality.

"The relationship of form, or the "constructive principle" to the materials of the work (to its themes, its conceptual mass, but also to the words themselves) is the initial problem for the "open text" one that faces each writing anew. Can form make the primary chaos (the raw material, the unorganized impulse and information, the uncertainty, incompleteness, vastness) articulate without depriving it of its capacious vitality, its generative power? Can form go even further than that and actually generate that potency, opening uncertainty to curiousity, incompleteness to speculation, and turning vastness into plenitude? In my opinion, the answer is yes; that is, in fact the function of form in art. Form is not a fixture but an activity."

More Translation Trouble

Obviously I don't think any editors of these presses "hate foreigners" or "are opposed to translation" ((many of whom I know personally, so I know they don't hate foreigners). I never wrote that. I merely noted that they don't publish works in translation. It is interesting to me that several people feel I'm scolding or blaming just by pointing out some basic facts.

And obviously, I'm not blaming small presses for the shape of American Poetry. There are far more important participants in this situation: big presses, poetry programs, conventions of pedagogy etc. In this Bill Knott is right: it's a system issue.

What I wanted to draw attention is that poetry in America has been defined in such a way that translation or writing from the rest of the world is not essential to poetry. We don't hate it, we just don't consider it all that necessary to engage with.

And of course it's quite possible what Jordan cynically says: that american poets don't read anyone, so why should translation be any different.

Obviously I don't say that you must like all things foreign. Max makes this obvious point. Clearly Action Books/Yes has a very specific aesthetic. I don't consider this something bad. I think it's a strength.

Mark makes the point that I only engage with Northern European poetry. Even if this wasn't gruesomely false (as evidenced by my publication of poetry from all over the place), it wouldn't somehow contradict me. I'm not saying everybody has to be super multicultural.

As Mr Knott points out, things have not always been like this (and I think they are becoming less so). In the 1960s, American poetry was incredibly invested in translation.

One more thing: Brian Henry makes an important point about how it's difficult to judge translation. You have to suspend your immediate judgment and consider its context. I think this is hard in a lot of ways but it's also a very useful exercise, not just for reading works in translation but for reading works in English as well (especially considering that English is not a single language but a multiple melee of languages and dialects, something discussions of poetry seem to largely want to cover up).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Translation Trouble (Hejinian)

Contrary to popular belief, I have indeed read an article or two by the language poets... Today I would like to call attention to one that I think pertains to the translation trouble discussion I've been trying to conduct.

In her essay "Barbarism", Lynn Hejinian makes some interesting claims. To begin with she offers a perceptive close-reading of Adorno's famous statement "To write poetry after Auschwitz is an act of barbarism". Lyn suggests that one often overlooked way of reading that statement is to foreground the meaning of Barbarism - as the foreign (see previous discussion on this blog). So to write poetry after Auschwitz one should write like a foreigner, or "it must be foreign to the cultures that produce atrocities." This seems very insightful to me.

She then goes on to show how the "difficulty" of language poetry could fit into this category of barbarian language. She also gives a bit of history of how language poetry was formed as a "scene" in the 1970s and the virtues of writing as a scene of "encounters".

It is strange to me that Lyn, who is one language poet who has done quite a bit of translation (and actually the essay before this one in the book is about translation) does not include translation in this idea of barbarism. That would certainly be what I would expect: to write poetry that is foreign to the US one can actually bring in what is foreign. And that's how I think her analysis of Adorno makes a lot of sense (of course Adorno himself had an often negative view of writing that bring various languages together, making the German "impure" I think he actually says at one point).

To understand the absence of translation, I think we need to look at her emphasis of community and scene. And this brings me back to small press publishing. As I wrote in response to Mark, the scene and community can be really great [and during my little visit to San Francisco I was deeply affected by the communality of various enterprises... I don't know why I'm suddenly writing this in such a strange, high-falutin' voice...]. For one it does away with the repressive social formations of the workshop hierarchies (iowa etc).

But I think community-based aesthetics can often lead to insularity. And I think that goes some way to explaining why so few of these presses publish works in translation. The scene promises the illusory experience of unalienated encounters.

My tentative [because there were a lot of things to avoid in it] model for how to integrate these various tensions is a very different scene, a scene of people of multiple nationalities (even a Swede!) who intermingled in Zurich in the mid 1910s in what Ray Williams has called "cosmopolitan encounters" (ie very alienated encounters), resulting in what one critic (for some reason I'm spacing his name right now) has called an "aesthetics of homelessness." As Dada spread throughout Europe it spread as a form of "barbarism" as a foreigness and as an emblem of a modernity that was wrecking up the map of Europe. But it was never utopia. There are no foreigners in utopia.

Joyelle adds: One thing that makes Dada interesting is that so many people moved "through" that community - people who moved across Europe spreading the "contagion."

Friday, January 23, 2009

American poetry in Swedish paper (translated)

So I came on this article about Cathy Park Hong, Jane Reyes and Shanxing Wang in SvD (which is pretty much akin to USA Today in Sweden) by Jesper Olsson.

Here's a translation of one paragraph:

"In Cathy Park Hong's celebrated "Dance Dance Revolution" (WW Norton), Hong creates a strange fiction about a historian and a guide who in a fantastic and loaded idiom ("Desert Creole")guides the reader through a world marked by political violence and social schisms. In Shanxing Wang's brilliant "Mad Science in Imperial City" (Futurepoem Books)advanced mathematics is connected to experiences at Tianamen Square in 1989 and a life of multifaceted exile. In Barbra Jane Reyes' award-winning "Poeta en San Francisco" (Tinfish Press) the poetry is activated through a mixture of English, Spanish, Phillipino and imagined languages, and an experience filtered through the wars of the past few decades."

There's a little more but you'll have to imagine it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Translation Troubles (2)

In response to Jordan's comments, I'm not "scolding" anyone. If your press wants to be a press that publishes 0 works of translation, that's totally OK with me.

I've written on this blog before that I think it's wrong not to publish translation; any time people create ethical rules for writing I get uncomfortable.

However, I do think it's important to think about. Do we want to be a national poetry? I don't think so. But then I'm not a national, so I may be biased.

Correction: that's totally the wrong way to put it. I think what perplexes me the most is that people are not more interested in foreign writing. Just on the level of interest. One doesn't even have to bring in the politics of the situation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Translation Trouble

During the Engdahl discussion, several people (including me) pointed out that small presses publish a lot more works in translation than big presses. So in the spirit of various polls of women rations that were conducted in the wake of Juliana Spahr's essay about gender inequity, I think I'm going to do one based on translation:

Ugly Duckling: about 1/4th of many many books
Green Integer: too many for me to count in both categories...
Fence Books: 30 American books, [correction:] 3 books in a special French series
Ahsata Press: about 60 books, as far as I can tell 0 in translation
Future Poems: 0 out of 10
Flood Edition: 23 books, 2 in translation (though none of those are contemporary)
Edge books: 37 books, none in translation
Roof Books: 90 books in English, 4 books in translation
Nightboat books: 9 books, 0 in translation (or 1 if you count Natalie Stephens)
ingirumimusnocteetcomsumimurigni; 3 books, none in translation
Atelos: 29 books, 0 in translation
Palm Press: 16 books, 0 in translation
Chax Press: 77 books, 0 in translation (!)
Atticus Finch: 12 books, 1 in translation (the Illiad...)
U of Iowa Poetry Press: 12 books, 0 in translation [Apparently I was wrong about this one - I was looking at the series edited by Mark Levine and Ben Doyle, not the entire press]
Omnidawn: 22 books, 2 in translation
Post-Apollo Press: better than half in translation
Subpress: 14, 0
Wave BOoks: 50 books, 1 in translation
Litmus Press: 12 books, 5 in translation.
Burning Deck: somewhere between half and a third of the book are in translation.
BOA Editions: about 1/5 or 1/6th of the books.

These are just some presses off the top of my head.

PS: Another issue to look at is what kind of poetry is published. How many publish contemporary poetry in translation?

Best of the Year

These kinds of lists are pretty stupid but I really like them. I remember being a kid I always listened to this one top songs of the year on the Swedish radio, hoping that Depeche Mode would win. They never did. The Best I think they did was "Shake the Disease" which I think was about 4th in 1985. I think that song "Touch me touch me now" won it that year.

Anyway, here are some books I would include in my best of the year list if I were to make one (not including Action Books etc): Articulate How by Cathy Wagner, Aaron Kunin's novel and notebook selection, Fredrik Nyberg's Nio, nine, neun, neuf, Karl Larsson's Form/Force, Lisa Schmidt's Karrmunslbomma, Coeur de Lion by Ariana Reines, Alyson Singes by Caroline Bergvall, Bad Bad by Chelsey Minnis, Kapslar by Viktor Johansson, Men hur sma poeter finns det egentligen (best title of the year: But how small do poets really get) by Eva-Stina Byggmästar, Holy Land by Ron Klassnik, the Kara Walker retrospective at the Whitney, Efter Arbetschema by Johan Jönsson, a book whose title I don't remember by Sara Hallström, Sara Tuss Efrik's unpublished book of automanias, Violence by Slavoj Zizek, Hoover/Chernoff's Hölderlin, Saga/Circus by Lyn Hejinian, George Baker's Caught by the Tail (about Picabia), Miller/Prufer's New European Poetry, J. Reuben Appelman's Make Loneliness, Shorts are Wrong by Mike Topp, Hughson's Tavern by Fred Moten (and his chapboook), Unexplained Presence by Tisa Bryant, anon by Chris Pusateri, the big anthology of Greek Surrealism, Pure War by Paul Virilio, Ugly Duckling's 0-9 volume, the Ugly Duckling book by Elizabeth Reddin (is that her name?), and absolutely No Colony (edited by Blake Butler). Was Alma from this year? If so, put that one the list even though I've only read about 50 pages of it. And of course Clayton's Grindstone of Rapport.

I guess I read a lot of Swedish book this year. There are others but I have to go teach Haryette Mullen right now.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Here are some quick responses to Lorraine's comment about indeterminacy:

* Lorraine says that "indeterminacy does promote active readers." I don't think this is fundamentally true. Only metaphorically. Perhaps we could venture that if faced with poems that are unfamiliar, readers are forced to work harder. Or not. It's rhetoric but it's not necessarily true.

* My idea of the artistic experience has much more to do with the "cruelty" of Genet and Artaud.

* When I wrote about "noise" a while back, some people thought I was talking about language poetry or whatever, and I wrote that that is not at all what I was writing about. The noise I am interested in is the dynamic of translation or Deleuze and Guattari's notion of a "minor" literature. What happens when languages interact. I see "indeterminacy" as purified noise, the opposite of minor lit or the foreignization of translation.

* One important moment for such writing in American poetry is of course the 1960s - with Rothenberg, Bly, O'Hara etc all interacting with foreign literature and often with the very act of translation. Perhaps the most interesting and/or important figure from this point of view is Ashbery, who lives in France, translates texts (and writes about visual art) and writes under the influence of various European avant-garde movements.

* I may be wrong about this: But does Perloff ever talk about the act of translation in "Poetics of Indeterminacy"? I think it's good that she shows foreign roots of American poets (rimbaud-Ashbery), but I think it's important to see Ashbery as a "translator" as well as poet, as a figure who brings in other languages into American poetry, who deforms the American English.

* Perloff's "indeterminacy" to me purifies Ashbery, turns it into "undecidability", somethign much cleaner, less foreign. It seems to me that "indeterminacy" as a concept generally leaves out translation. That's a key point. In Perloff's formulation it becomes a language game.

* Ron Silliman comes up with these huge ludicrous genealogies of American Poetry. And where is the foreign? He has one lineage of poetry that come from unknown "quietists" reaching back to the 19th century and another that comes through the heroic New American Poetry (who as a whole were absolutely influenced by foreign writers, but nevermind that Silliman). THis is of course part of Silliman's aesthetic which is very anxious about the foreign - it makes things too messy, too "soft" for Ron.

* Gurlesque for me is about the Death Drive, about jouissance, about critiquing "The Child". Part of what I love about Lara or Chelsey Minnis is that it's not "indeterminacy"! It's not poetry for languishing around in. It's not "democratic."

Review of Maximum Gaga

This is about as insightful and great review one can hope to receive.

Here's an excerpt:
"The terrain of the book is filled with malformed sexual machines, Sade-ian cartoon demons with child names like Minky Momo and Seven Cunt Mary and the Bull. There is a stage play that seems implicating in and on the poems as if by quasi-candied-dictatorial reign, which then scourges itself in and of the poems as if it is one of them.

Phrases used include: voluptorium, muzzleloader, ham canyon, carnage suit, trannie mermaids, perfect labia.

There is the presence of a 'Normopath' which is used both as an insult and as slang and as a presence that destroys. It also seems to fear itself and want to fuck itself. It also seems to have the power to enter the text's reader."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Killing Kanoko

Here are some readings by Japanese poet Hiromi Ito, whose first book in English Action Books is publishing this spring:

More gurlesquerie

I think I should clarify some things.

To me a rejection of "empowerment" is not equal to "powerless", ascetic or some other form of nothingness. In fact the opposite may be power.

The girlhood thing: I don't think of it entirely as a withdrawal from adult society, but perhaps as a violence done to the notion of girlhood. And here Edelson's "No Future" with its call for queers to be on the side of "abortionists" and the "death drive" comes into play for me.

There is a fundamental belief in the social order behind the utopian thinking of the indeterminacy-promotes-active-reader BS. And I can't stand that kind of goody-goodness.

I have to admit: I don't know who the gurlesque poets are. My main ideas come from Danielle, Lara and Lara's writings on the gurlesque and her essay on Aase Berg in the new Action, Yes, and Aaron Kunin's essay on Cathy Wagner (also in the upcoming AY). I know Chelsey Minnis is one of them and Cathy Wagner is another. Elizabeth Treadwell? Her very title "Wardolly" seems ultra-gurlesque to me.

But I know there are several poets that Arielle calls Gurlesque that I am not interested. I can't remember which one.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kate Durbin's response etc

"Also, the choice NOT to choose, to remain "passive," or, to be more accurate, to give the finger to the illusion of true "choices" for women, is even more huge and crucial than choosing cruelty or manipulation. We equate passivity with weakness or "disempowerment" because it's seen as essentially female (and ties in directly to what happens to a woman's body during sex, or when pregnant), whereas empowerment is seen as masculine and "active". But passivity and the choice to not "empower" oneself or take action can often be a radical choice...particularly when the choices women have are all bullshit, and only give the illusion of real empowerment. I should probably give some real examples here, but I have to go, unfortunately..."

That's something interesting Kate Durbin wrote in the comment section so I thought I would point it out.

Friday, January 16, 2009


It's funny, a reader of this blog just told me that there's a Parland special in a new issue of a German literary journal. In an interview in that issue, the German translator claims that I have turned Parland into George Oppen. I'm not sure where this comes from, but I suspect it's from Ron Silliman's review of Ideals Clearance (there was an article in the biggest daily paper, SvD, about my various translations that began by quoting Ron's review). I keep hearing that view from people, that my translations turn Parland into Oppen, but I just don't see it. Parland is distracted, his astrological sign is the readymade, his bride a mannequin.


I'm putting together the collected Parland for some piece of institutional support, and I came upon this poem I really like.

we returned
to what we were doing before:
i.e. I
went to Gambrini
and you
continued playing
with your dog.

And this one:

The history of pants: their evolution, morality.
O to see the golf pants of the future!

Thursday, January 15, 2009


In our conversation in the heart of the gurlesque in San Francisco, Joyelle said one of the most insightful things I've heard about gurlesque: It is the rejection of "empowerment."

I thought about this because of my comments below about this persistent obsession with activating the reader in "post-avant" theorizing. This is the democratic urge: we should all exercise our right to vote, we should all be active; passivity equals immorality.

(Also, see Aaron Kunin's essay in the forthcoming Action, Yes about models of citizenship and the gurlesque.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

ugly feelings

I've been told to read Ugly Feelings by Sianne Ngai for a long time. All the time a multitude of people have told me, what you would really love is Sianne Ngai's Ugly Feelings. It turns out they were right. I just got it at the library today and it's incredibly insightful.

TELEPHONE by Arian Reines

From The Foundry Theater in New York.

Inspired by Avital Ronnell's The Telephone Book; Technology, Schizophrenia, and Electric Speech, Reines' TELEPHONE connects Watson and Bell, a famous 19th century schizophrenic, and a series of cell phone calls to form a tender and ferociously poetic meditation on invention, love and the evolution of human connection. Telephone begins performances February 6 at the Cherry Lane Theatre in the West Village.


Calamari Press is pleased to announce the publication of Ever by Blake Butler. To read blurbs, excerpts and watch the trailers, go to:

While Calamari Press won't have a table at AWP this year, Blake Butler, Peter Markus, Robert Lopez and a host of others will be reading at Quickies in Chicago on Feb 12. Blake will also be around at the No Colony table with copies of Ever on hand. The official book launch party will be on March 5 in Brooklyn at Word Books, where Blake will be reading with Robert Lopez and Gary Lutz. For more information about these upcoming events, see the Calamari Press homepage.

In other news, the online Sleepingfish N series is almost complete, with works posted so far by James Reich, J.A Tyler, Kim Parko, Shane Jones, Justin Dobbs, Mathias Svalina, Uche Peter Umez, Ravi Mangla, Fortunato Salazar, Jimmy Chen, Andrew Zornoza and Brian Beise, with more to come by Sandy Florian, Brandon Hobson, Aaron Burch, etc.:

Coming next down the pike is a reissue of Stories in the Worst Way by Gary Lutz, hopefully in time for the above March 5 reading in Brooklyn.

All the best in 2009, and a happy 30th birthday to Blake!

Derek White | |

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I'm getting ready for the semester and finishing up our action-packed upcoming issue of Action, Yes (including but not limited to essays by Aaron Kunin on the Gurlesque and Cathy Wagner, James Pate on Clayton Eshsleman and the grotesque, and Lara Glenum on Aase Berg and cute avant-gardism), but I would like to say a few brief things.

[Before I start, can I also apologize to all the people who have written me emails that I have not replied to yet. Also, the best way to reach me is not the Action, Yes email but my g-mail account.]

In a lot of the discussion about "post-avant" etc I see the rehashing of Marjorie Perloff's old argument in favor of "poetics of indeterminacy". According to this paradigm (which goes back to before Marjorie, but I think her work has popularized it in the poetry world), "post-avant" writing is more democratic because it is indeterminate and therefore leaves it up to the reader to find the "meaning" of the text.

As I've written on this blog before, I'm totally opposed to this idea of meaning/democracy and to a lot of the writing it has engendered.

I'm in favor of a masochistic paradigm for art. I like to go to the movies, to sit in the movie theater (unfortunately I can't much anymore due to my demonic child). I want to go see the Swedish vampire movie "Let the Right One In" which is showing this Friday in the Regis Philbin Theater in Notre Dame.

I am in favor of corruption, especially of myself. That's why I'm in favor of translation too. Also of myself.

Indeterminacy has come to mean something like "negative capability," or "ambiguity", in which the reader can languish in a "contemplative space."

Further more, it's an illusory democracy, since the author is still asking you to do something - find your own, non-symbolic meaning, turn the pages.

Art is about manipulation.

Of interest is that through the paradigm of indeterminacy, language poetry entered the academy.

An interesting article that touches on this is Marjorie Perloff's review of Ron Silliman's "Under Albany" where she has to dismiss Leslie Scalapino as "hysterical" in her use of the "I". Ron is seen as a "realist" basically because of his democratic use of montage and non-I.

Which leads me to another cliche of "post-avantism": that somehow by not using the word "I" we offer a critique of subjectivity. I've read so many poems by people (both from Iowa and Buffalo) who do not use the word "I" but basically offer a high old poetry, just simply not with the word "I".

[A more important argument with Ron might be why he likes to see himself as "realism."]

The I is a charged word. Incredibly interesting and complex. Excluding it reminds me of a kind of puritanism that has always had a home in contemporary American Poetry: the cliche Quietist Lyric and the "post-avant" lyric seem equally obsessed with restraining "excess" and "self-indulgence".

Which is why neither view seems capable of dealing with Sylvia Plath's radical legacy of Surrealist montage, gothic "I" and gothic body, and perhaps most of all, her lowbrow hold on people (ie "popularity").

And excluding the I also seems to me to return to the same illusory democracy paradigm. Jed Rasula has written articles about Ron Silliman arguing that the reading experience is more democratic, not authoritarian.

I am not interested in a "democratic" reading situation.

One last thing: If you want to talk about "avant"-anything, shouldn't the discussion have some historical element? Ie shouldn't we talk about the history of avant-garde writing? Of the changing notion of "avnat-garde"?

In one recent post Mark said Ariana Reines was not "avant-garde"- as if that term was self-evident, but I brought that term up in a previous discussion about Ariana precisely because her work calls into question the concept of "avant-garde" and its relationship to a "historical avant-garde."

This is also why I brought up Aase Berg's serious avant-garde cred awhile back. She actually was part of an avant-garde group - The Stockholm Surrealist Group - that worked outside of the academy, that did not publish "Literature", that opposed the gov't, engaged in various acts of creative vandalism and detournment etc etc. According to Mark, she may not qualify as "avant-garde." But her background is far more in touch with the ideas and practice of Surrealism and other historical avant-garde movements than for example the professor who wrote a CFP (I posted it a few months ago) calling Language Poetry the "true avant-garde" (some kind of historical progress reaching its summit in that exceptionalist country, USA).

No, one last thing: Most of all what I'm opposed to is the constant desire to cover up difference, to say we're all the same after all. There are very real differences out there. That's good.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lara Glenum

I almost got into an accident several times last night because I was driving in traffic and reading at the same time. I got Lara Glenum's new one from Action Books Maximum Gaga and couldn't quit reading aloud from it to myself. Two kids outside the car saw me reading while going slow and they were pointing at me and I think talking shit and I read louder and made a face at them with teeth. The book is really fucking good. Like terror good. I will write more about it when I have finished reading, but you should go ahead and get it now. We can talk about it. While I was almost rearending people while reading the book aloud I thought, 'This would be worth it, to get in an accident while reading this book aloud, and even appropriate.' In this way Lara Glenum's book managed to impress danger on myself and those around me, good.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Inger Christensen and Sandy Florian

An Icelandic poet named Eirikur Örn Nordahl, notes in his entry on Inger Christensen's death that her constraint-based writing differs significantly from what we in America might associate with such writing in its lyricism. As I noted in my entry about Christensen's death I first came to her poetry through a reading with her and Jackson MacLow in NYC in 93 or 94. It sounded amazing and just blew me away.

I want to add that the American poet I think resembles Christensen's lyrical constraint-based writing is Sandy Florian. As with Christensen I became a fan of Sandy's work first through hearing her read it, and I immediately thought of Christensen's reading of Alphabet. So anyways, people who like Sandy's work should definitely check out Christensen.

In addition to the lyricism Nordahl notes, I think the similarity has to do with the accumulation-effect.

Astra Taylor's new film

Astra Taylor of Athens, GA, who made a movie about Zizek a while back, has now made a movie about several philosophy-stars. It should be a good time. I also noticed that her sister Sunny (an amazing portraitist) is in the movie. When I lived in Athens (GA),the Taylor family was a nexus of much hoot and merriment.

With Deer

You can now pre-order my translation of Aase Berg's With Deer here.

Praise for With Deer

“Oh, you have taken it too far, Aase Berg, on this field trip to dismember an apocalyptic body that is self-bomb, culture-bomb; you are scratching at the interior of the bomb that has no exterior. Amusedly, bombastically, terrifyingly you scratch. Johannes Goransson’s translation is lush and boldly guttural and the two of you have my intestines by a leash. ‘One by one you turned my faces up/toward the sun’s surface/and drank them like deer water.’”

—Cathy Wagner

“Aase Berg’s poems deepdive through the perversity of nature, groping the outer edges of subjectivity. Along this super-charged border dichotomies infest one another—inside/outside, human/animal, animate/inanimate, macro/micro—and desire cannibalizes all. Think Hansel and Gretel on acid, think of the horrors of cookie dough. If this unflinching and awesome collection is the shape of modern poetry, then, as Bob Hope said in his 1965 United Artists modernist classic, ‘I’ll take Sweden.’”

—Dodie Bellamy

“These poems have the scent of a lost hermetic text extracted from the oily black clay of a ruined forest. Long suppressed scenes of deliberate, feral ritual and the thrill of animal submission are herein joyfully revealed.”

—Michael Gira

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Sara Tuss Efrik

Emily, John and I are putting the final touches on the next issue of Action, Yes. It includes some of my translations of the automanias (that's the genre) of Swedish writer and performer Sara Tuss Efrik. She's part of a young generation of Swedish poetesses that are really wonderful (influenced by Aase Berg).

These are so awesome that I'm posting one here. Also, I think her works speaks to gurlesque, embarrassment, movie poetry (automanias are translations from films, though I don't know which one this is based on), clumsy language and any number of other issues I've brought up on this blog recently.

My Baby Bear Tumor

I was pregnant with a military hoard. It was not air. It was something that grew and pricked and puffed. Small small spearheads against the inside of my belly. It was gases from gunpowder. It was winding chains and small pricks. I opened up my belly; let out the Bear Tumor. It already had sores. Still it grew. I released the Bear Tumor in the Garden which was the first military force, in its very own Lilliput Land where the Animals rule. Where the Wolf parts its own legs and allows itself to be wounded, where the Puppies have small cunts with sores, where the screams are fragile and high and lovely. In Lilliput Land where the flowers are buried. There the motif is colored by the tormented Bear Tumor and the burial soil.

The Bear Tumor is my Lap Girl. I gave birth to my own maid. She is tortured from tear-wounds that give her pleasure. It is the pleasure of having been bred out. The air to be inhaled can be found beneath the soil, inside the warm belly. The red colors in the wind that blow through holes and auditory canals are dizzying and spiral-like.

In the Ladies’ dressing room the undressing is taking place. My Lap Girl is always the cleverest at taking off her clothes compared to the other Ladies. There is also a Bear Tumor in my Lap Girl. Above the Ladies’ desert the sun shines red and fervent. My Lap Girl inside the Bear Tumor is also a Lap Girl to the Ladies.


Here's an interesting post on Ululations about Embarassment.

It is weird to hear someone write this because this is something I've been thinking about and talking about as well.

I'm working on an essay on Aase Berg, Dodie Bellamy, gay porn, Kenneth Anger and tacky occultism and some other stuff, and one point of comparison between Aase and Dodie is the emphasis on embarrassment.

I remember once when I was in Sweden the more langpo-influenced crowd had asked Aase to write something but they kept sending it back wanting it to be more rigorous and theoretical, and she told me, "They don't realize that I want what I write to be embarrassing: to them, to the reader but most of all to myself."

When Aase published her second to last book, Uppland, a lot of critics ridiculed because it is full of baby-talk and nursery rhyme. It was the perfect anti-dote to the serious Swedish cultural establishment. But the great concretist poet from the 1960s, Bengt Emil Johnson wrote at least two reviews lauding it. He's great (and he's my facebook-friend).

[Speaking about Swedish Concretism: For those who know something about Swedish culture, I might also add that what's so irritating about the recovery of Oyvind Fahlstrom is that most of the young Swedish critics who are part of this move try to make him into a language poet or a serious political poet. But his art is full of baby-talk, homages to Krazy Kat and R.Crumb, skin flicks. He made games or "variable art" - that he wanted mostly to play himself. Most of all it is: Artaud With A Ridiculous Body. Fahlstrom was the primary influence on "The Widow Party."]

I might also add Aase's frequent reference to bad zombie movies, not in a ha-ha clever kitsch way, but for their visceral effect. Or most recently, her re-write of that terrible movie starring Nicole Kidman as a mother who has killed her kids.

Embarrassment seems to be the driving urge behind Bellamy's recent book of essays/memoirs "Academonia." For one thing she chronicles the pressures of language poetry to be more rigorous and theoretical [This should surprise nobody who's read Ron Silliman's blog and his dismissal of "soft surrealism" - the impetus behind Joyelle and I writing our "Lemur" manifesto a while back, a manifesto in favor of soft things, embarrassment over macho hardness].

She also gives this quote which I am using in the essay and I think is pretty great:

"If I hadn't stumbled upon the gay narrative writers I might very well have succumbed to social pressure and toned myself down. Among the queers I not only found support for my interests in sex and trash, I received serious training in how to refine my trashiness. They taught me thrillingly radical values, such as porn is not oppressive but hot, writers should embrace porn as a political tool, group sex is transcendent, gossip and pop culture are good, writing about yourself is good, you can never have too much sex in your writing." (page 120)

Another character who comes into my essay is of course Sylvia Plath, and important figure to both Aase and Dodie. Here's what Dodie writes:

"Plath's exultation in lowness awes and inspires me. Her "high" poetry may be formally brilliant, but its content embarrasses. Her domestic squabbles, her depression, her female rages. From her I learned to grope around in the dark muck of femaleness, to embrace the terrors and embarrassments that emerged."

Kenneth Anger I find fascinating from this perspective. One connecting thread is the use of montage in Aase and Dodie's work. But more interesting to me is this use of the schlocky as both ridiculous and powerful. Think of Anger's dudes in lucifer-masks or all of "Invocation to me Demon Brother." Or most importantly, that his films were shown both as underground art films and as gay porn (in fact at that time the two seems to have been nearly synonomous).

In addition, I think if you youtube Ariana Reines's reading from Berkley awhile back: how her smalltalk is a kind of performance art of embarassment.

In addition, you might look at Ron Klassnik's recent "dreams" about Ron Silliman.

In addition: you might read anything by Hannah Weiner, or look at the way her supporters have shied away from some of her more embarassing fixations, such as her erotic fascination with Native Americans.

Also: Read Aaron Kunin's essay on Cathy Wagner and "diva citizenship" in the upcoming Action, Yes.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Dali on Un Chien Andalusia

"The film produced the effect that I wanted, and it plunged like a dagger into the heart of Paris as I had foretold. Our film ruined in a single evening ten years of pseudo-intellectual post-war advance-guardism.

"That foul thing which is figuratively called abstract art fell at our feet, wounded to the death, never to rise again, after having seen " a girls' eye cut by a razor-blade - this was how the film began. There was no longer room in Europe for the little maniacal lozenges of Monsieur Mondrian."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Inger Christensen

One of my all-time favorite poets has died. I began reading her in 1993 after hearing her read with Jackson MacLow and it totally blew me away. New Directions has published three of her books. My favorite is Alphabet but I also love Det. Both Joyelle and I teach Alphabet pretty much every single class we teach (this upcoming one is no different). She was 73, so she did pretty well despite being a severe chain-smoker.

Blake Butler's Extensive Reading List for 2008

Can be found here.


27. Flet by Joyelle McSweeney: god, Joyelle is really doing some new things with narrative, making this hyper-worlds out of style and language that really get my brain jarred and apt for making )*(&*#&$ come out of my eyes: some of her passages are just so new its like you are not reading and instead are in a very fucked video game made of deleted language, I read this on a mountain


29. A New Quarantine Will Take My Place by Johannes Goransson: probably my favorite of Johannes's 3 books this year (not counting his translations), this is one of those they'll be realizing what happened in it years from now: a new genre I think, names are a waste of time.


49. Remainland by Aase Berg: I had this book open at my desk when I was writing one of the novels I worked on this year, really brutal and juxaposing imagery, fantastic fuel.


56. Nylund the Sarcographer by Joyelle McSweeney: Connected to the FLET, another brilliant mashing of language and some genre I can't quite put together, Joyelle I think is doing something with image and language and the surreal that no one has done, I hope she makes more books in this vein.


61. Changing by Lily Hoang: this book made me gasp when I saw it, she took the I-Ching and turned it on itself in these strangely formatted, textual objects, Joyelle's blurb on this is right on about how it is an impossible thing, a dream object, or however it was put, I have also not seen another book like this ** JUST CAME OUT FROM FAIRY TALE REVIEW PRESS *


82. The Tree of No by Sandy Florian: Action books eats my face throbbingly, this book is worth it if for the 'Parables' section alone, a post-Biblical freakshow, awesome.

[Blake reads a lot of books.]

Centripedal (not centrifugal)

"With respect to world poetries and the decline of English, I'd say we're in for an enormous dumbing down of the language, as other languages push English to the side, or at the very least inject it with neologisms and hybrid (illiterate) constructions. The most talented writers of any generation know their language inside-out, not outside in. The few exceptions don't disprove that rule." (Curtis Faville, in the comment stream of Ron Silliman's blog. One can always count on Curtis to be not only uninformed but also xenophobic to the hilt.)

You can add to this Silliman's own obsession with poets with "fine ears", his opposition to translators whose first language is not American-English (they foreignize the English language, being less saturated in it, and in this he makes an interesting pair with Robert Bly who I once heard say that poets could only write in the language which their mother spoke when the poet was in her womb - of course my mom spoke a lot of languages when I was in her womb...), and his inability to "hear" other dialects/languages than his own (even British English). The ear as a grotesquely detached, objective organ.

The best example of this kind of thinking is of course - as I have noted on this blog in the past - the letter in which TS Eliot speaks with fear of Gertrude Stein, claiming that she represents a future which will be "of the barbarians." A quote similar to the one Yeats makes about Jarry ("After us, the savage god").

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Maximum Gaga

Lara Glenum's new book Maximum Gaga is now available for pre-sale on our website: Not only that but we're selling it for a cheaper than listed price ($12 instead of $16) and we're selling it with Sandy's book for a superdeal of 20 bucks.

Here's the description we wrote up for SPD:

Get minky in the momodrome with Lara Glenum's second book, MAXIMUMGAGA. In scenic Catatonia, the Normopath snoozles, the Cherubimapplaud, King Minus lies face-down, the Visual Mercenaries burst in,Icky and his school-boy minions race past, and the Queen Naked MoleRat climbs inside the miraculating machine. Reworking the tabloidmaximalism of Jacobean drama, this book investigates the politics of aesthetics and prosthetics, gender and power. With original cover art by Swedish artist Mia Makila.

Here are some statements made about Lara's first book, The Hounds of No:

“Lara Glenum's The Hounds of No also finds in obscenity a site of possible liberation, or at least a site where capital implodes... Like Sylvia Plath, Glenum is not afraid of using a theatrical persona, and that quality serves these poems well... The voice she creates is reminiscent of the witch's otherworldly voice in Kurosawa's Rashomon, being an odd mixture of formality and ghastliness.” from James Pate’s essay “The Deleuzian Grotesque”

“Like many readers, I rely on poetry to improve or at least nourish my capacity to feel and to think, to think feelingly, with all sensual and intellectual apparatus available. Thus, it devolves to poets, among others, to restore a meaning to terror, to allow us to think it or at least think how we fail to think it. If you read Lara Glenum’s The Hounds of No — her gutsy, unsettling and deeply brilliant collection, published by Action Books — such an operation does certainly seem possible...” from Jasper Bernes’s review in Jacket.

"Noise" /indeterminacy/internationalism

I was thinking about the word/concept "noise" and how I've been using it, and how Seth interpreted my interest in noise as what he calls "syntactic" poetry. And here are a few thoughts I've had about this:

- I may be misusing the word "noise." When I say I am interested in noise, I mean something more like what I talked about when I talked about multilingualism, minor literature and the historical avant-garde (repeatedly on this blog): that is a centrifugal concept of literature and language that is interested in the "noise" of clashing languages. For example, the way Deleuze and Guattari describes how Kafka uses Yiddish to "deterritorialize" German, exaggerating the features of an already clumsy provincial Prague German. So for me, noise is more like the sounds of languages clashing.

- Max resisted this idea, saying that I privileged non-Americans and well-off Americans who had had the benefit of learning a second language. This is a slight but important misreading of my idea. For one, I think a "well-educated" person who has learned a second language in a classroom does not necessarily have the kind of experience I talk about because second-language education tends to reinforce the idea of true, central languages, rather than the noisy experience of the outskirts of language I am talking about. The kind of experience I am talking about is full of the noise of not "properly" learning and interacting with foreign languages - not pure noise in the information theory definition, but not the illusion of language as pure exchange of information.

- A second point I would make: America is full of languages that intermingle. Most obviously I think of all immigrants and ethnic minorities and their "Englishes" (which are so threatening to so many Americans).

- An important difference between my idea of noise and Seth's "syntactic" concept of "noise" is that I think his idea of noise is purely "syntactical" or formal: his noise comes out of playing with grammar. This is very much in line with Perloff's "poetics of indeterminacy." A kind of formal exercise. But my idea is very much political, very much attached to the social meanings of language. For example, if you are an immigrant you are likely to not only have had experiences of having your "english" clash with some kind of monoglossic ideal, but that experience is often incredibly political, and often violent. I've talked about in the past having experienced violence due to the way I speak and for me it's impossible not to think of politics and violence when I talk about minor literature. This is of course a central point of Deleuze and Guattari's minor literature as well.

- But I also want to say that this experience is not limited to immigrants and ethnic minorities. As Bakhtin I think correctly points out, the monoglossic ideal is an illusion used for political supression, or as Benedict Anderson points out, to create the idea of the coherent nation states (we all speak the same language thus we are part of an imaginary community). I think it's just more noticeable to various minor groups.

- This is also why I repeatedly reject calls for poetry for a "general population" or "the lay reader." It's a politically oppressive piece of rhetoric.

- Of course you don't need to be an immigrant or a translator to be interested in centrifugal ideas of literature.

- Of course I don't like all poetry that participates in this kind of poetry. Just like I don't dislike all poetry that does not.

- However, I absolutely reject the kind of thinking that reinforces the idea of an illusory center to poetry/language/culture. What Joyelle and I called "the cult of elegance" in one of our manifestos.

- The danger with this kind of thinking: a vague notion of hybridity eliminates cultural difference.

- To me (but clearly not all) minor literature/language is absolutely intertwined in notions of the grotesque; or as Par Backstrom calls it in his essay on Michaux, "language grotesque." Gregor Samsa becomes a cockroach afterall. Afterall the Body without Organs comes from Artaud.

- There's an element of transvestisism in minor literature. Like a good transvestite it reveals that all language is artificial, there is no natural center. That's what makes that movie "Paris is Burning" so profound: when the kids go from imitating women to imitating other kids from their neighborhood.

- Francois is right: Like Ron's model, Seth's model imagines American poetry as isolated from the rest of the world. It is not, has not been. And this kind of thinking performs the function of perpetuating this illusion.

- On a totally unrelated note I would like to recommend Tony Hoaglund's essay on Sharon Olds in the most recent issue (I think) of American Poetry Review, in which he takes on the macho dismissal of Olds by a some critics. I don't much like (or dislike) Olds poetry, but I like to teach it in creative writing classes because there is always one or two students who really get into it.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Responses (more)

[I don't know if anyone of you read this interview in which Ron K. asked me some questions about Aase Berg so I am posting some of it here, as it answers more questions I think than what I just did in my previous post.]

Johannes Göransson Interview: Question 1
RK: For those not familiar with Aase Berg's work: why Aase Berg?

JG: In her first two books you get a powerful, cinematic experience (in the second book, Dark Matter, this is really pushed to the limit). It's an experience of what Steven Shaviro, writing about the movies in his brilliant, Deleuzian book *The Cinematic Body*, has called "visual fascination": "Visual fascination is a passive, irresistible compulsion, and not an assertion of the active mastery of the gaze." And elswewhere: "visual fascination as a restless, shattering mobility." It's a poetry that explodes the control, the mastery, that rational gaze that is idealized in much of art (especially poetry); it's the antithesis of the pervasive idea that if our art should provide us with enough distance so that we can somehow approach it logically, an approach which comes out of the naive fallacy that art is part of an illusion we must free ourselves from.

That pervasive insistence on freeing ourselves from the illusions is ultimately based on a utopian idea of a kind of primeval communism, in which we are not alienated and interact honestly. A load of crap. And always xenophobic: the foreign, foreignizing, strange is suspect. Another thing that is great about Berg's work is the way the Swedish language is seemingly constantly breaking down and being reshaped into a kind of foreign language. It is both Swedish and foreign. (What Deleuze and Guattari would call "minor literature.") Strange neologisms and permutations proliferate.

Also, I should say that my cinematic analogy is not arbitrary. Aase started out as a member of the wild and unruly Surrealist Group of Stockholm, and one of the major original influences on Surrealism was Andre Breton and Jacques Vache sneaking in and out of movies, an experience that left Breton "charged." Further, film – especially B-movies, horror movies, zombie flicks - are a big influence on Berg. In her second book, Dark Matter, she is more explicit about this (she addresses her lover as "leatherface" from Texas Chainsaw Massacre). I think more than the violence and hallucination, what she gets from these B-movies is the powerful combination of estranging cheapness and visceral power, confusion and bodily reaction.

It is related to the quote from Dodie Bellamy that I posted on my blog a while back: about the influence on gay pornography on her work. I think it's a similar dynamic of alienation and viscerality. The body is central in both poets, but it's not the body as "the authentic" or "true" but the body as both alienated and visceral. To provide another American point of comparison: We can say that Plath's (and Plath was of course a huge movie buff) speaker in "Lady Lazarus" subjects herself to the gaze of the peanut-crunching crowd, dreaming of destroying the gaze; Aase's poems fulfills the dream (eating men like air), blowing up the gaze, opening the bee box. We are enswarmed.


Question 4
RK: A few places on line, including Action Books' website, have excerpts from Berg's essay "It's not acceptable to be a fatso" (first published in the journal 90Tal, number 3, 1999). Here she writes that she values the "aggressive, baroque and esoteric" and that she laments that "the fleshy, screamy and overdone...are so taboo in our culture." I remember, also, you using (in an email to me a long way back) the term "fat surrealism." Berg's surrealism seems to me to be the "fat" sort. Care to talk about Berg's particular sort of surrealism and surrealism in general? Where she stands, in this regard, to her contemporaries and predecessors? I wouldn't mind hearing you comparing her "fat" surrealism to Simic's "soft" (Silliman's term), but as you wish.

JG: To begin with, Aase joined the Surrealist Group of Stockholm when she was around 20, and she kind of grew up with that group as her major artistic influence. She was 30 when With Deer was published, so she spent many years engaged in activities with this group before publishing, or even writing, the book. The group is a quite notorious group in Surrealist circles: very extreme, very motivated, very dynamic at times. This isn't Surrealism as a few literary devices- the way someone like Simic has used it (if you ask Simic he'll tell you that he doesn't like Surrealism, though it was an important influence on his work) - and not avant-garde as a literary or artistic or
academic mode, but a group for whom art is not autonomous objects but a process of oppositionality. So Berg's artistic learning took the shape of vandalisms, trances, protest, happenings and the like. It's a really interesting group; not a mere re-creation of Breton's ideas from the 1920s, but also influenced by Situationism, Foucault and contemporary thinking. However, Berg left the group in the mid-90s at the time she started publishing her poems, in part I think because she didn't subscribe to their increasingly militant views.

In Berg's manifestos and essays there's a very interesting emphasis on the body - what Masson called "physical idea of the revolution" or what Bataille called "the bloody farce". There is more focus on the administered body than the unconscious/ego dynamic. In part it's important to view this in the context of the Swedish welfare state, which is a culture based in large part on an obsession with the healthy body. One of the first things the Social Democrats did when they were voted into charge was to make sure everybody got healthy -that everyone knew how to exercise, how to practice healthy sex, how to take virile camping trips etc. How to make them "hard" bodies – not surreal, strange, foreign, leaky, repulsive etc - in other words. But
it should also be seen as part of the obsession of our global capitalism culture - ideal body images, Vogue Magazine articles on the best sexual positions, dieting etc. These two often join in Aase's work: sex ed and tanning beds are on the same page in a lot of ways.


Joyelle and I used the term "soft Surrealism" rather as a response to the macho rationalism of Ron's statements. And this goes back to my earlier statement about the naivete of the anti-alienation ideas. Ron is very much a rationalist. Distrusts the visceral and the confusing. His way of dealing with this is to split the world into hardness and softeness, the serious and the frivolous, the illusory and the true. A very binary, reductive worldview. And I would add, that this is no separate from his pervasive distrust of the foreign, the translated (even the British poetry!). I am in favor of the strange, the stranger, the foreigner, the homosexual, the wimp etc.

Question 5
RK: Translation's always a difficult, tricky and delicate matter. A piece of any language of any complexity simply can't be "brought across" exactly as it is in the original. Since you've translated other writers as well as later-career Aase Berg can you tell us what was particularly and uniquely difficult about translating "With Deer?" What sorts of tough decisions did you encounter and what sorts of compromises did you have to make? And because of such compromises what hasn't come across in the English as much and/or as well as you'd like?

JG: On translation: A lot of people in the US have problems with translations. They're scared that they're not getting the original. But you're never getting the original. No ultimate reading is available. A lot of folks have trouble with translated poems because they sound strange. Of course they do, they are foreign. This foreigness is key I think, because it reveals the artificiality of all language and literature.

Part of what makes Aase's poetry great is the way she makes the Swedish seems foreign, she "minoritizes" it to use Deleuze and Guattari's terminology. The most obvious example she does this is by doing strange neologisms which make the reader aware of how weird the regular compounds words are: marsvin = guinea pigs = (night)mare pigs; nackrosen = water lily but also nude rose (with all of its fetal associations).


Question 6
RK: You mentioned "visual fascination" earlier and that the poetry in this book "explodes the control, the mastery, that rational gaze that is idealized in much of Art." The book is certainly an onslaught, being swarmed again and again by Lemurs. But one might say that what keeps it (the book, the experience of it) from being completely blown apart, what allows it to maintain "integrity," is that the heroes of the book (in spite of the relentless assault against their bodies, mostly their bodies, and selves) continue to strive-- "you and I, with your soft wax skin and our love." And the book ends on a upbeat note: "Now it is time for the cutting to slowly start to heal." So, one could say that the onslaught, the persistent horror, is just style, style in abundance, overabundance even, and that the substance or gravity--the real heft--of the book comes from its tiny soft-white core. Or is the end of the book a mistake? A cop-out? Or an author's lie? A fake-illusion? Can it really be the beginning of healing? Your thoughts, please.

JG: I suppose you can read the ending of the book as optimistic. However, in difference to the typically arched poem, I would say there is not a conflict resolved in epiphany. Much of western poetry over the past few hundred years follow that paradigm: the broken becomes whole, or - to reference Joyelle's and my "Manifesto of the Disabled Text" – goes from disabled to "healed". Instead here we have damage after damage after damage. There isn't really progress or even narrative; mostly it' s a matter of addition: this happens and this happens etc. There's not causality.

That very last line, while not ironic, sounds insufficient to me, overwhelmed by the melee that precedes it. There is also no stable core, no sense that "this is reality" or "this is the way the worldworks"; therefore it's hard to say what is optimistic and pessimistic. And if there is no ultimate stability, there can be no healing (which means returning to an original balance). It's also important to note that it's the "logging" (the dismemberment) that is going to heal, suggesting that it may be more about getting ready for another "drubbing" than becoming a "healed" individual.

I don't think it's a sad or depressing book; rather, it's an ecstatic book. It's the ecstasy of dismemberment (of body, text, language). The "characters" tend to be frail but ecstatic. They're also not really characters, they don't have any interiorities. They are not any more important than any other object in the book. The "logging" or "drubbing" space of the poem is not brought beneath the rule of characters with interiorities. It's the space, I suppose, more than the characters that is ecstatic...

Quietism (response to Seth's response to etc)

Apologies for being so slow to respond to this discussion. I've been on both the east and west coast over Christmas. Right now I'm watching some kind of strange squirrel reading on television. This is meant as a response to Seth's responses (below) and some of the posts on his blog I've skimmed through today.

First off: I have read some comments suggesting that Ron Silliman believes he fits into the "post-avant" category of the quietist-vs-post-avant breakdown. I think that category is in fact in Ron's mind in many ways a post-language poetry category that includes any number of various strains of poetry that doesn't fit neatly into the Quietist aesthetic.

The important thing about the "quietism vs post-avant" breakdown is that it makes visible a stream of American poetry that has over the past few decades tended to define itself as neutral, quality, tradition, while defining alternative or opposing aesthetic as somehow deviant of that neutral category. There will always be points of view, but the important thing is to engage with the various biases and ideas rather than just accept them.

The problem with the division is that it is static, binary and too cold-war simplistic. It doesn't account for any number of factors, it is too vague and static. It doesn't for example account for the fact that a lot of language poetry has - as Seth notes - become standard fare in a few programs such as Iowa, or why it's precisely Iowa, that supposed bastion of Quietude, that has accepted Langpo and the likes into its canon (see "indeterminacy" and "syntacitcs" below).

What I tried to do in the post below was to briefly make this argument: that Quietism should not be read as a static style, but as a dynamic of our literary culture; a dynamic that establishes what "poetry is". Therefore it changes in some (usually stylistic) ways but it also remains the same in some respects (usually more overarching).

I have several problems with the "cognitive poetry" category Seth has come up on his blog. To begin with, it is even vaguer, more general than Ron's breakdown, including just about anybody that Seth feels doesn't fit into the quietism-postavant breakdown. Basically this just reiterates Ron's reductive cold-war breakdown of q, p-a and "third way." It also suggests something similar to "post-avant": there are many different ideas in poetry.

For example, I've seen Mattea Harvey compared to Joyelle in a lot of discussions: both come out of Harvard/Iowa and both have expressed an interest in "hybridity". But if you actually compare Harvey's "hybridity" - for example lyrical poems about a half-robot, half human - to say Joyelle's "Flet" - a Joycean hyperflow of language in which the binary of "human" and "robot" become totally quaint - you see that they have fundamentally different attitudes about the very fundamental idea of what "human" means (and technology for that matter). So we could place them both in some big taxonomical group (neither one writes what would formally classified as language poetry, neither writes personal narratives of authenticity), or we can point out their differences.

I think the solution to the dilemma is not to come up with new, decontextualized taxonomical categories. I think the "conflicts" that Seth simultaneously criticizes and engages in, are good. Lets have people write about poetry they like, not in normalizing terms or broad taxonomical categories (quietist etc), but in terms that engage with the material and ideas. That is why Joyelle and I write manifestos and reviews and why I like Flarf and Lara's and Arielle's "Gurlesque."

I think Ron is perfectly right to point out that all these prizes go to "Quietists" - lets look at who gets these prizes and teaching jobs. Adorno has a good essay in which he discusses how the administration of art has to repress differing views in order to function. Well I think we should make perfectly obvious that various departments and presses and awards have aesthetics, and make them be explicit about them. Nobody is looking for "just the best" (as many journals claim), but a certain aesthetic.

Quick responses to Seth's responses below:

1. You don't need to understand post-structural theory to read "Syntactic" poetry (does syntactic poetry mean langpo?). In fact, a lot of langpo seems opposed to a lot of post-structuralism. Lyn Hejinian for example is always insisting on the "empiricism" of her writing (See her lectures on Stein).

2. One reason why "syntactic" can't mean "post-avant" is that "post-avant" has "avant" in it and a lot of "avant-garde" writing has nothing to do with language poetry or "syntactic" operations. When I write "noise" I do not mean "syntactic" poetry. For example, Majorie Perloff's idea of "indeterminacy" is the opposite of "noise."

3. Noise is not just a matter of "syntactics". The most important study of this issue is probably Deleuze and Guattari's "Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature," in which they sugget how Kafka exaggerates a kind of exaggerated "Prague German", using yiddish to deterritorialize German. Kafka doesn't break down syntax, but makes it clumsy etc.

4. "Syntactic" explorations are often highly regarded within Quietism. That's why "indeterminacy" made such a splash in Iowa in the 90s. It's the flipside of the coin of personal narrative poems: both are mainly concerned with administering and controlling "excesses" of language, both are *refined* (what we need for a "high culture" to exist).

5. The most common ideas (even pre-Shklovsky) of what is "poetic language" has in some ways to do with "syntactic" explorations.

6. "Accessibility" is a red herring. I can never understand the poetry I hear on Garrison Keiler's radio show in the morning.

7. The importance of New Criticism cannot be overestimated. See Jed Rasula's "The American Poetry Wax Museum" or "Repression and Recovery" by Cary Nelson.

8. I tried to show that the populist argument is inherently ludicrous and false. Using an illusory "general population" is a facetious rhetoric that again avoids having to engage with the ideas and aesthetics behind the poems. Further, being part of the majority is not necessarily a good thing (I don't give a crap about most people).

9. The reason it is wrong to say that "we're all in this together" is that it not only covers up differences, but also hides the fact that certain aesthetics are much more likely to win awards and jobs etc than others.

(More later)