Friday, April 30, 2010

Rethinking Poetics

[Here's the announcement for a pretty interesting-seeming conference at Columbia U. I say "pretty" interesting because it seems to me that the langpo/Buffalo/Bay Area crowd keep hosting all these conferences with themselves. Seriously, don't you guys think it would be more interesting to bring people of different persuasions to the table? Especially if you want to "rethink" poetics. The questions posed in this intro suggest a total lack of new ideas: "Materiality of signifer"? Are you kidding me? I'd be very interested in discussing poetics with several of these folks, but it seems you guys don't ever want outsiders to offer actually differing views. These perpetual conferences seem more like attempt to maintain a consensus. Seriously, folks. I know you love the community and its lineages and reproduction/futurity, but don't you get tired of this consensus-building? Don't even get me started about the cultural homogeneity of this. It makes me appreciate the "hybrid" model all over again. Talk me down, Ben Friedlander.]

Rethinking Poetics Conference

*Columbia University, NYC
June 11-13, 2010

Announcing the Columbia-Penn Poetics Initiative.

We are convening a three-day conference at Columbia (June 11-13, 2010),
"Rethinking Poetics." It is our sense that the practices of poetics are in
danger of becoming pro forma and that a focused, skeptical examination of
basic assumptions will be most useful. Terms continue to be used routinely
in circumstances that increasingly call for nuanced or even fundamental
change. What does "materiality of the signifier" mean in the era of data
mining or platform instability? What does "news" mean? How useful are
current periodizations? Such questions can be multiplied.

Given that new questions need to be raised and old certainties troubled, our
goal is to have a conference dedicated to articulating what most needs to be
rethought, what familiar formulations seem increasingly inadequate, what new
directions seem best to pursue.

In order to allow for time for substantial conversation, we are scheduling
no multiple panels and no plenaries; rather, there will be a series of
plenary-panels, two in the morning and two in the afternoon, with four or
five speakers each taking 10-12 minutes for themselves, leaving half the
session for more general discussion. There will be a panel chair to moderate
discussion, but there will be no introductions.

Participants will include Rachel Zolf, Rodrigo Toscano, Jennifer
Scappettone, Brent Hayes Edwards, Lytle Shaw, Juliana Spahr, Kenny
Goldsmith, Erica Hunt, Alan Golding, Monica de la Torre, Andrew Schelling,
Bruce Andrews, Michael Taussig, Joan Retallack, Rachel DuPlessis, K. Silem
Muhammad, Jena Osman, Craig Dworkin, Elizabeth Willis, Barrett Watten, Rob
Fitterman, Jonathan Skinner, Marjorie Perloff, Sherwin Bitsui, Mark Nowak,
Judith Goldman, C. S. Giscombe, Steve Evans, Stephanie Young, Lisa
Robertson, Paul Stephens, Rob Halpern, Jeff Dirksen, Ben Friedlander, Joshua
Clover, Michael Taussig, Astrid Lorange, James Livingston, Jeff Nealon,
Richard Doyle, Tan Lin, Tonya Foster, Matthew Hofer, John Melillo, Susan
Howe, and Charles Bernstein.

Conference costs for the 3-day conference are $50/university faculty,
$20/student & unaffiliated; $10 1-day entrance.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rodarte, Gurlesque, Poetry

Here's an article from Art Forum by John Kelsey about the fashion lable Rodarte.

I talked about that in my talk about "spasmodic" poetry in Chicago last week, and I hope to have a few minutes today or tomorrow to write about it here on this blog.

I'm discussing it tomorrow in my seminar on modern poetry - how it pertains for example to Chelsey Minnis or "gurlesque" poetry.

In particular I like this quote (where for "European" or "haute coutoure" you might say something like "Official Experimental Verse Culture" or some such, because it seems to say something about the way "gurlesque" poetry and other poetries that I'm interested in deviate from the standard "experimental" poetry mantra):

"And it is not just in terms of what the late film critic Manny Farber called “termite art” (“it goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity”) that we can identify Rodarte’s aesthetic as American, but in all the improvisatory ways it de- and recodes a culture that is already impure and blended with crisis. If the typically European strategy is to construct avant-garde gestures around the inversion of established, legible codes (aristocratic or bourgeois), an American vernacular is corrupt in advance, the border between high and low long since dissolved. Here, it is less about turning the queen on her head than a matter of tracking mutations in the desert, where celebrity and nothingness have always shared a strangely productive cohabitation. Rodarte are perhaps closer in spirit to Roger Corman or Wes Craven than to the top men of haute couture."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Oscar Hahn

As I just wrote in the previous post, The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry is chock-ful of great writing. Here's the beginning of Oscar Hahn's "Conjurer's Tract" (trans. James Hoggard):

In the garden were some very curious magnolias, listen
some really rare roses, oh,
and an awful smell of incest and blustery violets,
and semen flowing from hummingbird to hummingbird.
Then the girls came in the garden,
rain-soaked and full of white cockroaches,
and mayonnaise curdled in the kitschen...

Anyway, it goes on, great poem. Apparently Hahn lives in Iowa City and teaches Latin American lit at the U of I.


For some reason I haven't been getting alerts about the comments on this blog. I just found heaps of comments on the "comment moderation" page, so I published some and rejected some (the ones I thought were pointless). I'm sorry it took me so long to publish these comments.

I'm reading the very square sounding "Oxford BOok of Latin American Poetry" (Ed. Cecilia Vicuna). Wow there's a lot of great writing in here.

And I just came from a panel we hosted with Joyelle, Matvei Yankelevich and Sandra Doller on Futurism and contemporary small press publishing and that was really great. They're giving a reading in South Bend tonight.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tadic Reading in Chicago

Steven Teref and Maja Teref
When: Wed., April 21, 5:30 p.m.
Phone: 312-369-8819
The Terefs read from their translation of Serbian poet Novica Tadic's collection Assembly. In the graduate lounge (room 404).
Columbia College
LOOP 33 E. Congress Pkwy.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Excerpt from my novel Haute Surveillance

is up at Everyday Genius, edited by Blake Butler.

Here again is the beginning of the novel posted by Andrew Lundwall of Scantily Clad Press.

And here's a section from Boo.

(I just realized that the book was in a different order when I sent the things to Blake and Nick Demske; as a result, there is a little slight overlap of these two excerpt.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Spasmodic Talk in Chicago on Tuesday

CHICAGO POETRY PROJECT: POETS TALKING Since 2001, the Chicago Poetry Project has brought locally and nationally significant poets to Chicago audiences. This year, the Project initiates a new series of poet’s talks. In the tradition of Bob Perelman’s Folsom Street talk series, but without the book & DVD package, or the lectures of Prof. Irwin Corey, but without the academicism, the series aims to generate discussion of issues inpoetics among writers and readers outside the university umbra. This inaugural year will take up the issue of education: how does a poet get educated? and how might he or she work as an educator, in andoutside of writing? Talks will take place at the Green Lantern Gallery, 1511 N. Milwaukee Ave.

April’s talk, “The Spasmodic Gothic,” will feature Johannes Göransson on Tuesday, April 20, at 7:30pm. Johannes Göransson is the author of Pilot ("Johann the CarouselHorse"), Dear Ra and A New Quarantine Will Take My Place, as well asthe translator of several volumes from Swedish, including With Deer by Aase Berg and Collobert Orbital by Johan Jönson. Together with Joyelle McSweeney he publishes Action Books. He is an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at the U of Notre Dame. His blog is

5/18 Jenny Boully
6/15 Brenda Cardenasg

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I don't know if I've mentioned this already by Mark Wallace is progressively posting parts of his talk from the AWP about "hybridity" on his blog. It's good. In fact the whole panel was excellent.

Micheal Theune was also on the panel discussing two constellation Cole Swensen's "American Hybrid" very obviously leaves out, or tries to cover up: what Theune calls wit and the carnivalesque. Picking up on the carnivalesque, Arielle Greenberg discussed the gurlesque, Craig Peres Santos discussed the strange absence of ethnic hybridity in the anthology, and Megan Volpert gave a queer-lens critique.

Fashion vs Art (Rodarte, Art Forum)

[In his Art Forum article about the Rodarte label, John Kelsey ends with a statement that to me seems to recapsulate my argument with Ron Silliman from a while back, where he argued for a "structure" of resistance and against "fashionism" and I argued for an art that was more like fashion, more mobile. I'm not sure exactly what he means here, but it seems to point to something similar:]

"Not art, fashion prefers to haunt art. More mobile and exposed, in certain ways fashion remains the more effective means of processing the chaos of the present, probably because, as sociocultural mediator, it is itself already highly mediated and because, while sticking close to the body, it is ever so responsive to how quickly the ground shifts under its acid-treated zombie-vein heels."

White Elephant Art vs Termite Art

This manifesto, written by film critic Manny Farber feels quite relevant to contemporary poetry. I'm putting it in a talk I'm giving in Chicago on Tuesday that will be about Artaud, Rodarte, Aase Berg, Plath, David Lynch and "spasmodic" (or possibly merely "gothic") aesthetics:

"Most of the feckless, listless quality of today's art can be blamed on its drive to break out of a tradition while, irrationally, hewing to the square, boxed-in shape and gemlike inertia of an old, densely wrought European masterpiece.

Advanced painting has long been suffering from this burnt-out notion of a masterpiece - breaking away from its imprisoning conditions toward a suicidal improvisation, threatening to move nowhere and everywhere, niggling, omnivorous, ambitionless: yet, within the same picture, paying strict obeisance to the canvas edge and , without favoritism, the precious nature of every inch of allowable space. A classic example of this inertia is the Cezanne painting: in his indoorish works of the woods around Aix-en-Provence, a few spots of tingling, jarring excitement occur where he nibbles away at what he calls his "small sensation," the shifting of a tree trunk, the infinitesimal contests of complementary colors in a light accent of farmhouse wall. The rest of each canvas is a clogging weight-density-structure-polish amalgam associated with self-aggrandizing masterwork. As he moves away from the unique, personal vision that interests him, his painting turns ungiving and puzzling: a matter of balancing curves for his bunched-in composition, laminating the color, working the painting to the edge. Cezanne ironically left an expose of his dreary finishing work in terrifyingly honest watercolors, an occasional unfinished oil (the pinkish portrait of his wife in sunny, leafed-in patio), where he foregoes everything but his spotting fascination with minute interactions.

The idea of art as an expensive hunk of well-regulated area, both logical and magical, sits heavily over the talent of every modern painter, from Motherwell to Andy Warhol. The private voice of Motherwell (the exciting drama in the meeting places between ambivalent shapes, the aromatic sensuality that comes from laying down thin sheets of cold, artfully cliché-ish, hedonistic color) is inevitably ruined by having to spread these small pleasures into great contained works. Thrown back constantly on unrewarding endeavors (filling vast egglike shapes, organizing a ten foot rectangle with its empty corners suggesting Siberian steppes in the coldest time of year), Motherwell ends up with appalling amounts of plasterish grandeur, a composition so huge and questionably painted that the delicate, electric contours seem to be crushing the shalelike matter inside. The special delight of each painting tycoon (De Kooning's saber-like dancing of forms; Warhol's minute embrace with the path of illustrator's pen line and block-print tone; James Dine's slog-footed brio, filling a stylized shape from stem to stern with one ungiving color) is usually squandered in pursuit of the continuity, harmony, involved in constructing a masterpiece. The painting, sculpture, assemblage becomes a yawning production of overripe technique shrieking with preciosity, fame, ambition; far inside are tiny pillows holding up the artist's signature, now turns into mannerism by the padding, lechery, faking required to combine today's esthetics with the components of traditional Great Art.

Movies have always been suspiciously addicted to termite-art tendencies. Good work usually arises where the creators (Laurel and Hardy, the team of Howard Hawks and William Faulkner operating on the first half of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep) seem to have no ambitions towards gilt culture but are involved in a kind of squandering-beaverish endeavor that isn't anywhere or for anything. A peculiar fact about termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art is that it goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity.

The most inclusive description of the art is that, termite-like, it feels its way through walls of particularization, with no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement. Laurel and Hardy, in fact, in some of their most dyspeptic and funniest movies, like Hog Wild, contributed some fine parody of men who had read every "How to Succeed" book available; but, when it came to applying their knowledge, reverted instinctively to termite behavior.

One of the good termite performances (John Wayne's bemused cowboy in an unreal stage town inhabited by pallid repetitious actors whose chief trait is a powdered make-up) occurs in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Better Ford films have been marred by a phlegmatically solemn Irish personality that goes for rounded declamatory acting, silhouetted riders along the rim of a mountain with golden sunset behind them, and repetitions in which big bodies are scrambled together in a rhythmically curving Rosa Bonheurish composition. Wayne's acting is infected by a kind of hoboish spirit, sitting back on its haunches doing a bitter-amused counterpoint to the pale, neutral film life around him. In an Arizona town that is too placid, where the cactus was planted last night and nostalgically casted actors do a generalized drunkenness, cowardness, voraciousness, Wayne is the termite actor focusing only on a tiny present area, nibbling at it with engaging professionalism and a hipster sense of how to sit in a chair leaned against a wall, eye a flogging overactor (Lee Marvin). As he moves along at the pace of a tapeworm, Wayne leaves a path that is only bits of shrewd intramural acting -- a craggy face filled with bitterness, jealousy, a big body that idles luxuriantly, having long grown tired with roughhouse games played by old wrangler types like John Ford.

The best examples of termite art appear in places other than films, where the spotlight of culture is no where in evidence, so that the craftsmen can be ornery, wasteful, stubbornly self-involved, doing go-for-broke are and not caring what comes of it. The occasional newspaper column by a hard-work specialist caught up by an exciting event (Joe Alsop or Ted Lewis, during a presidential election), or a fireball technician reawakened during a pennant playoff that brings on stage his favorite villains (Dick Young); the TV production of The Iceman Cometh , with its great examples of slothful-buzzing acting by Myron McCormak, Jason Robards, et al.; the last few detective novels of Ross MacDonald and most of Raymond Chandler's ant-crawling verbosity and sober fact-pointing in the letters compiled years back in a slightly noticed book that is a fine running example of popular criticism; the TV debating of William Buckley, before he relinquished his tangential, counter-attacking skill and took to flying into propeller blades of issues, like James Meridith's Pale Miss-adventures."

[In particular I'm interested in the aspect of "termite art": "The most inclusive description of the art is that, termite-like, it feels its way through walls of particularization, with no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement." This ties in to the way I see this strain of art as termiting, infesting, consuming, rather than parodying, criticizing, alluding to, adapting. Possibly the most obvious examples would be Kenneth Anger or Jack Smith. Or the folks I'm going to talk about. I actually got the idea of including Farber from an article about Rodarte in the most recent Art Forum. More about this later.]

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

possession and poetry and Artaud

Johannes and Kate Durbin and Kate Zambreno have been discussing the issue of possession and poetry recently, with Artaud being an especially important figure. Artaud was haunted by a sense that his life spilled out beyond his everyday perceptions and there’s an element of the inhuman in that. He wrote: “Art is not the imitation of life, but life is the imitation of a transcendental principle which art puts us into communication with once again.” (Switch the words “transcendental principle” with “force” and the quote could be coming from Deleuze.)

Yet this “principle” isn’t humanized, it doesn’t wear a human face, or any face at all. Similarly, the demon that possesses Linda Blair's character in “The Exorcist” is less of a "demon" and more of a demonic principle. The demon-principle seems to make no real demands, and doesn’t seem to have any grand scheme--it simply possesses Blair because it wants to possess Blair. It does say, “The soul is mine,” but in the way a child might shout that this random marble or stone is his or hers. One of the odd things about the film is that the question of why the girl becomes possessed is never really answered.

Durbin is right about the artifice element too: the demonic principle likes to perform. There is the spider walk, the head turning scene, the masturbation scene with the crucifix that could have come from a Bataille novel. Artaud’s theater of cruelty is also one where performance-as-performance is highlighted. He wrote: “We intend to base the theater upon spectacle before anything else, and we shall introduce into the spectacle a new notion of space utilized on all possible levels and in all degrees of perspective in depth and height…Thus, theater space will be utilized not only in its dimensions and volume but, so to speak, in its undersides.” Everything, in other words, will be touched by spectacle/artifice.

But spectacle isn’t representation, or at least not representation as we usually think of it: “The theater must make itself the equal of life--not an individual life, that individual aspect of life in which CHARACTERS triumph, but the sort of liberated life which sweeps away human individuality and in which man is only a reflection.” (This relates to Deleuze also, to his division between the representational and the expressive.)

I thought I would post the section from “Deleuze, Wittgenstein, and the Political Grotesque” that talks about Reines’ The Cow, since it is also related to this issue of poetry and possession:

Ariana Reines' The Cow is a book similar to Spahr's in its obsession with our physicality ("I was a LUNG," she writes), but unlike Spahr, who sees our physical nature as the literal tissue that we all hold in common, Reines views our material selves as full of divisions, holes, with the recurring imagery of the slaughterhouse blending into "human" sex ("Boys rinse their arms in what falls from my carotid. My body is the opposite of my body when they hang me up by my hind legs") and death ("I have to get to the other side of the animal"). There is a horror film atmosphere to the text overall, and not simply because of the amount of carnage and slaughter that occurs in its pages, though carnage does appear everywhere in the book, including its jarring cover. Rather, the voice itself seems monstrous at times, and possessed. In some of the poems, such as "In Which She Pays For Her Tardiness," the poet's persona speaks in such a sputtering, uneven manner ("I was a rock PLUGGED / I was a whole EMPTIED") that the voice seems possessed by a multitude of struggling voices, similar to Linda Blair's demon voice in “The Exorcist” (where even her sleep-breathing sounds like a room of patients in a sanitarium). And in the poem, "Nico Said Excrement Filters Through The Brain. I's A Kit," the "I" enters "somebody else's house," masturbates, bleeds in the sink, and shits with the door open ("because there's nobody here") - and the persona here has the numbed menacing aura of the character Henry in "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." Instead, Reines is working in a similar vein as Burroughs and Godard, who were committed to stealing from any genre that they might find useful in order to create effects that a more normalized aesthetic (the art film, the literary novel) could never achieve. In the case of The Cow, it could even be said that Reines uses horror film effects partially because the horror film is one of our most subversive genres - a good example of this being seen in the film "28 Weeks Later," in a scene that begins on a highly sentimental note (Father is reunited with Mother) and then quickly turns obscene and disgusting (Father eats Mother). In the world of The Cow, as in the world of the horror film, love and Eros do not so much turn into hate (that would be the world of the thriller) as into something monstrous and inhuman: "His thick thick thick in my Warsawa. So basically you peel the skin off and slice the thing in half with a chainsaw, vertically. Does every man really want to split me open." That said, though, I don't think that Reines indulges in the easy misanthropy of most horror films. What seems to fascinate her is not the horror film's paranoid notion that there are dangerous, sick individuals out there who perpetually threaten to obliterate our normal life: instead, she is interested by the more uncanny element in some horror films that suggest there is something shocking and grotesque about material reality itself.

Monday, April 05, 2010


If it isn't clear to the readers of this blog by now, I am not scared of "problematic". In fact American poetry has become way too un-problematic.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Wagner quote from Alex Ross blog

I stumbled upon this great quote by Wagner posted on the Alex Ross blog on avant-garde classical music called The Rest Is Noise (the blog is related to his book with the same name). It echoes some of the things that have been discussed on this blog about the relationship between art and death. It also relates to the aesthetic sensibilites of the Necronauticals:

I have felt the pulse of modern art and know that it will die! This knowledge, however, fills me not with despondency but with joy, for I know at the same time that it is not art in general which will perish but only our own particular type of art—which stands remote from modern life—, whereas true—imperishable—constantly renewed art is still to be born. The monumental character of our art will disappear, we shall abandon our habit of clinging firmly to the past, our egotistical concern for permanence and immortality at any price: we shall let the past remain the past, the future—the future, and we shall live only in the present, in the here and now, and create works for the present age alone.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

CT Laity on Gurlesque: "this book is intended to be read and talked about by men"

Curious assertions over at

Calamari Press Lisquidation Sale

[Got this from Derek White. I think I own all his books already.]

Hi all,

Calamari Press will be moving to Rome next month so we’re having a “lisquidation” sale to facilitate the move. Prices have been greatly reduced and here are a number of special offers like 2 for the price of 1, packs of all 3rd beds or Sleepingfishes, or if you are ambitious you can “shoot the moon” and get all 34 Calamari Press titles. To see the details of the various offers go here:

After May 1 books will still be available but only by P.O.D. (print on demand) or through Small Press Distribution, so this is your last chance to get them at these greatly reduced prices (while they last).


Derek White | |

Friday, April 02, 2010

Chris Tonelli Interview


This one's funny:

"There is simply no way people in an average department have even heard of the small presses and journals we love. To them it must look like we’re just making up names of places to put on our CVs. I love when I have work in places called Kulture Vulture or Melancholia’s Tremulous Dreadlocks or Left-facing Bird. I can just imagine the look on some department head’s face as he peruses my CV, thinking, “Fou?”"

This quote is especially funny because I have Kulture Vulture and MTD on my CV, and I've had these kinds of experiences with the higher-ups.


[Got this message from JA Tyler:]

{ 1 } Issue Eleven (the all excerpts issue)

{ 2 } the first mlp bookmark contest

{ 3 } our AWP reading with FlatmanCrooked

{ 4 } pre-orders for the 2010 novel(la)s

{ 1 } Issue Eleven (the all excerpts issue):

We thought about all the great books that have either recently released or are headed out in 2010 & wanted to showcase them, so Mud Luscious 11 is our all-excerpts issue, featuring words from Amelia Gray, Rachel B. Glaser, Peter Markus, Robert Lopez, Scott Garson, Joanna Ruocco, Alissa Nutting, Ken Sparling, Roy Kesey, Michael Kimball, Lily Hoang, Aaron Burch, Jac Jemc, James Kaelan, Adam Robinson, James Chapman, Ted Pelton, & Dawn Raffel. Online & for free – check it out here

{ 2 } the first mlp bookmark contest:

The first ever Mud Luscious Press contest is underway now & closes on May 1st. We want your 150-word or less story or poem for our next slick printed bookmark, to be included with all the novel(la) & chapbook shipments beginning in June. $5 for one entry, $8 for two, & our winners (x2) will each receive one-quarter of the total entry fee pool plus a load of c. copies to distribute as they see fit. Enter your work here

{ 3 } our AWP reading with FlatmanCrooked:

Join us at AWP – on April 9th, 4:00 pm, at the FlatmanCrooked booth, we are co-hosting the first ever puppet reading. Featuring Joanna Ruocco, Alyssa Knickerbocker, Molly Gaudry, Emma Straub, Elizabeth Ellen, Edan Lepucki, Jac Jemc, Aaron Burch, & Bradley Sands – all controlling their fmc designed puppets as they read their work. Keep the date on your radar

{ 4 } pre-orders for the 2010 novel(la)s:

Don’t forget, in June we will release both AN ISLAND OF FIFTY by Ben Brooks & WHEN ALL OUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED MARCHING BANDS WILL FILL THE STREETS & WE WILL NOT HEAR THEM BECAUSE WE WILL BE UPSTAIRS IN THE CLOUDS by Sasha Fletcher. Two amazing books that are already getting some big mentions from some big writers:

AN ISLAND OF FIFTY is a new literary bomb, resulting in the shrapnel of gold, ships, ocean, chandeliers, dreams, blood, & flame. Old & stale literature won't know what just hit. This is something new masking itself in the old & I'm so so so excited. -- Shane Jones, author of LIGHT BOXES

My advice: those who are to read Sasha Fletcher's delightful enjoinder WHEN ALL OUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED should go into an empty house of an afternoon, shut themselves in a backroom closet on a low shelf, & read straight through without stopping. -- Jesse Ball, author of THE WAY THROUGH DOORS

Pre-order both here.

Hope to see you at AWP,

J. A. Tyler

[ ]

Thursday, April 01, 2010


If people are, as they appear to be, interested in "burlesque," can I remind everyone of the notoriously pervy Weimar poetry/costume cabarets of Anita Berber and Sebastian Droste, translated by Merrill Cole and published in an issue of Action, Yes. If this doesn't shake up conventional ideas of Modernism, I don't know what does.

Gurlesque, Suburbia, Sleater Kinney

Lorraine Graham has an interesting post asking if the Gurlesque poets are defined by having grown up in the suburbs, which led to them not knowing the queer nature of Sleater Kinney.

At first I just got testy about Patrick Durgin's comment and left a pissy comment on the blog. I'm sure Lorraine is genuinely intrigued by this issue, and, as Mark points out in the comment field, it's perhaps possible to equate a certain "hidden-ness", as exhibited in the Gurlesque, with suburbia (Amy and Any having objected to the lack of overt queer sex in the anthology).

But I'll try to explain the reasonsis for my initial testiness (of course it will come as no surprise to readers of this blog, I'm a pretty testy person, just google "johannes + Max"), and why I think this post is interesting.

For the record, I don't know where anybody in the anthology grew up, but I do know that Lara grew up in Atlanta as an at-times homeless teenager, so at least one of the editors did not take her cue from suburbs.

My main argument I think is not with Lorraine so much, but with Patrick's comment: I think the key here is that this idea that the Gurlesque is lacking. And what they are lacking is the genuine knowledge, the kind of authenticity you gain by being a member of a community - urban here standing in for a kind of center, the suburbs for a distance from the center, a fakeness, a dilution of the real. This for me echoes a lot of the community-obsessed criticism of contemporary poetry. The gurlesque is a wax museum, in other words. A prosthetic poetics. Again, the fact that Lara was homeless starts to seem important here, in a way I never thought I would think it would be.

While Lorraine makes a sociological inquiry (which I agree, could be an interesting way of looking at the aesthetic), Patrick Durgin equates "suburban" with some kind of aesthetic sensibility, divorced from the demographic. Some poetry is just "suburban" (independent of where the poet grew up). Ie it's kitsch. These poets don't have the specialized knowledge of real Riot Grrls, they are mere suburban imitations. They're not truly Kathy Acker, just weak imitation. Here again we have the kitsch rhetoric of that dude who said that Lara's poetry was like Marilyn Manson and Hot Topixx stores: the fake, the tasteless.

I should also note a curious tendency in these discussions. It's important for Patrick to claim that the Gurlesque is not enough like Acker; a while back someone on this blog commented that it is too much like Kathy Acker, ie just imitation, repetition. This strange dichotomy seems to repeat itself: it's both too much and lacking. It's just like translation: both excessive and lacking. (Just like translation.)

If it's true that the gurlesque poets are suburban and used to shop at Hot Topix, then perhaps we could argue that it has taught them a good deal of skepticism toward High Taste and Good Moral Standing, taught them not to follow the High Modernist/Clement Greenbergians in automatically define the good in opposition to mass culture, something Official Experimental Poetry Culture has long done.

Or - since I know that Lara did not grow up in the suburbs - it might be that what strikes some as "suburban" is in fact a kind of rejection of the "high taste" of authenticity, an embrace of the inauthentic, or - as I argued in my article about the Gurlesque in Calaveras - what Kaja Silverman (discussing Godard's Weekend) calls "anal capitalism." Everything has become shit, exhausted.

In other words: The gurlesque already embraces this inauthenticity. It embraces kitsch.

One thing about queerness and Sleater Kinney: I remember when they became popular. I was in college. It was the 1990s. My ex gave me a tape which had the latest Social Distortion on one side and Sleater Kinney on the other. I wasn't into it (at this point I was abandoning Social D and such, I was mainly listening to hip hop). But here's my point: It seemed like identifying someone as "queer" at that point seemed strangely redundant. At least in Mpls where I was living. Boys were wearing dresses, girls looked like mountain climbers.

At the U of M we had a special department devoted to Foucualt (I think it was called The Department of Sex and Knowledge or something like that, I think it lost its funding in the late 90s). My thesis advisor and a huge influence on my thinking about literature was this professor, Andrew Elfenbein, who mixed a very close close-reading approach (including an emphasis on metrics, which I still bust out when prompted) with queer theory, New Historicist/materialist and Foucauldian explorations of Gender and sexual politics. (When I look at Elfenbein's CV, it alone predicts so much of the direction of my poetry and opinionating - sex, disability, costumes, Romanticism.)

Why does this matter to the Gurlesque? I think rather than 'suburban' influence, I think the influence of 1990s queer theory was probably a huge influence. Then you exit the U of MN and what you find is that gender is not at all fluid! There are in fact very real gender roles and horrific enforcement. It sucks!

So in that sense Patrick may be right in talking about the influence of college rather than suburbs (Of course, Kathy Acker had an MA as well, lets not forget - and this is the problem with a lot of the knee-jerk anti-academy sentiments; it can actually be quite awesome).

Nancy Spero

[Holy cow, I just got these awesome news this morning from Siglio Press. Nacy Spero is an amazing artist (though for some reason I am incapable of putting one of the web images on this blog). I am going over to this web site to buy my copy right this minute:]


A model of how appropriated words and images from multiple sources can be spliced and shaped into a forceful, coherent statement about the the sexual, social, political, and existential dilemmas and dynamics of the modern world. —ROBERT STORR

On April 30th, Siglio will release Torture of Women, the first book to reproduce acclaimed artist Nancy Spero's influential and epic work in its entirety. Torture of Women is a 125 ft. collage juxtaposing startling imagery drawn from ancient mythology with hand-printed and typewritten words—first person testimony by women culled from Amnesty International reports, news items on women missing or dead, definitions of torture from the 20th and 13th centuries, as well as the retelling of violent Sumerian and Babylonian creation myths. Artistic ingenuity coupled with boldly political intent, Torture of Women is a public cry of outrage as well as a nuanced exploration of the continuum of violence.

Siglio’s publication “translates” Torture of Women into nearly 100 full page color plates so that the entirety of the work—with legible texts and vibrant color reproductions—can be experienced with immediacy and intimacy. The design of this book encourages multiple acts of reading Torture of Women—as an innovative and polyphonous narrative, as a feminist disquisition, as a register of political protest, and as a fierce and enduring work of art.

With texts by Elaine Scarry, Luisa Valenzuela, and Diana Nemiroff
$48 / Cloth / 156 pages / Color / ISBN: 978-0-9799562-2-5

M O R E S I G L I O T I T L E S I N 2 0 1 0
Our digital catalog of 2010 titles is now available! This year bring two more inimitable Siglio titles: S P R A W L, a wondrously inventive and absurdly comic novel by author Danielle Dutton, and Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas by geographer Denis Wood, whose "poetics of cartography" reimagines the way the world may be rendered in a map—and the way a map may illuminate the world. More about both titles in the catalog.