Public Space Rethought

Siri Agrell wrote a piece for the Globe and Mail which toured various cities around the world. It featured what human scale living could be like in an urban context. The piece is called "Rethinking public space - one day at a time".

One of the featured cities is New York

If there is a reigning Queen of Pop-Up, it is Janette Sadik-Khan, the New York city transportation commissioner. In 2009, Ms. Sadik-Khan famously closed Times Square to traffic, transforming it into a pedestrian mall by simply throwing down some pylons and offering a smattering of lawn chairs. [...] She performs most of her transformations without capital funds from the city, scrounging up cash and resources and avoiding actually asking permission.
Vancouver city councillor Andrea Reimer on similar experiments in the west coast city observes,
"I don't see a future where any street is only used for one thing. We need our roads for movement during the week, but on the weekends, we need them for recreation," Ms. Reimer said. "By trying things out, it really just makes people rethink public space."
The activities in the piece remind me of the cities in the fictional universe created by Samuel Delany in such novels as Triton and Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. Also a documentary film covers some of the same ground (especially the focus on alternatives to car culture). See: The Human Scale.

And so for day 1114
31.12.2009

Bucks and Does

Jacques Le Clerq in the introduction to the Peter Pauper Press (1955) publication of his translations of Love Poems from the Greek Anthology writes about the "somewhat special" section of the collection, the "Paedic Muse or Musa Puerilis"

which, as its title shows, was devoted to the celebration of pederastic amours. Compiled under the reign of Septimus Severus (193-211 A.D.) by Strato of Sardis, it consists of two hundred and fifty-eight epigrams, about two-fifths of which are by the compiler. Mr. [W. R.] Paton believes that originally Strato published merely a collection of his own poems — he was an avowed homosexual, sometimes a witty and felicitous poet but too often gross and obscene — and that some later Byzantine added other like writing. This, Mr. Paton argues, would explain such blunders as presenting obvious heterosexual lyrics as homosexual (especially in the case of Meleager) and including a poem by Asclepiades addressed to himself. "Among the poems by Meleager," Mr. Paton writes, "are eight relating to women, six of them being on women whose names end in the diminutive form (Phanion, Callistion, Thermion, Timarion, Dordion)." True, doubtless. And yet a mere bowing acquaintance with sodomy and linguistics might suggest that female diminutives are often substituted for male praenomens among the gentry of Urning persuasion.
Mr. Le Clerq omits one point brought forward by Peter Jay in his introduction to The Greek Anthology and Other Ancient Greek Epigrams (1973).
Kephalas was not very consistent in his redistribution of the poems by subject-matter. Book 12, based largely on Strato's Mousa Paidiké (Pederastic Poems) has a number of heterosexual poems in it; Book 5, the other collection of erotic poems, likewise has some homosexual poems.
What a tangle of genre and gender. Transposed and otherwise. Interesting migrations.

And so for day 1113
30.12.2009

Word Book World Back

It was originally published under the title Triton. Wesleyan University Press reissued it under the title Trouble on Triton with a forward by Kathy Acker who introduces the reader to the intricacies of Samuel Delany's prose by way of an extended meditation on the magical aspect of Orphic traversals.

For the poet, the world is word. Words. Not that precisely. Precisely: the world and words fuck each other.
Not it should be noted fuck each other up. The mode here is the copulatory. Not per se combat.

Further on she places into this mix of merging the active role of the reader.
Every book, remember, is dead until a reader activates it by reading. Every time that you read, you are walking among the dead, and, if you are listening, you just might hear prophecies. Aeneas did. Odysseus did. Listen to Delany, a prophet.
And we find in the second appendix devoted to "Ashima Slade and the Harbin-Y Lecures", Delany delivering a succinct exposition of how world and word hook up.
There are situations in the world. And there are words — which are, to put it circularly, what we use to talk about them with. What makes it circular is that the existence of words, and their relationship to meanings, and the interrelationships among them all, are also situations. When we talk about how words do what they do, we are apt to get into trouble because we are maneuvering through a complex house of mirrors, and there is almost no way to avoid that trouble, short of resorting to pictures — which I am not above doing.
When there is trouble on Triton. SNAFU. Resort to pictures. (My first reading of the paragraph above treated the last phrase as declarative i.e. that in the above paragraph our author was not resorting to pictures; now, I see that the author is announcing what is to follow -- the use of pictures. Still I'm iffy about the line between "picture" and "word" since both can through different modulations result in "images".)

And so for day 1112
29.12.2009

Involution Not Equivalent to Self-Referentiality

I have a fondness for jokes that depend on going meta that is inquiring about the frame of reference to make their point. For instance, Brian Basset in this 1996 three panel cartoon (Adam) brings a smile by having one of the characters adeptly query parental logic.

Frame 1
Father: Clayton, you know the rule. No television until you've finished your homework.
Clayton: But aren't rules made to be broken?


Frame 2
No. Records are made to be broken.


Frame 3
Okay, what's the record for the most rules ever broken?
What is endearing in the illustration is that from frame to frame the focus zeros in on the wide-eyed face of the child — gone is the television; it's all cerebral by the end.

And so for day 1111
28.12.2009

Product Placement

The Bad Sequence by Phil Hall published by Book Thug in 2004 and reprinted in 2007 is built out of a series of repetitions (The Bad Sequence is... The Bad Sequence does...) with one eye-catching exception:

Priests are torturing The Good Sequence. Apparently there are laws against removing the ghosts of history and story from dictionaries. Meanwhile, Sunlight's unflappable surrealism measures and swabs the room.
Some may think of Sunlight as dishwashing liquid. It first appeared in 1884 as a brand of soap for washing clothes and general household use. And what is it doing here in a segment of poem?

I venture an answer by way of Gerald L. Bruns "Karen Mac Cormack Among the Pagans" and my initial reading of "obsessive" for "objective" in the following passage:
Recourse to source texts or found language is a poetics that subjects the writing subject to an objective language (or linguistic field). It is a poetics of finitude [...]
Bruns is here discussing the use of chance operations confined to a restricted source text. For my purposes, I would like to suggest how a brand name is a fragment of found language and how its placement in Hall's sequence, so close to the mention of torture, reminds me of mouths washed out with soap and the surreal survival of poetry in quotidian lather of non sequiturs where the objective is obsessive.

And so for day 1110
27.12.2009

Necklaces Neckless

Ceiling, we look up. Roof, we look down. Covering, either way. [in English]

Wait, wait a moment
for us to dry a moment
there's in our trace
a reckless lament
    and a ceramic bird ...
and watch for the necklaces on the ceiling
from "Wolves" in Ghassan Zaqtan Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me, and Other Poems translated by Fady Joudah.

As I watch for the necklaces on the ceiling I wonder if they lie flat defying gravity or if they dangle in filaments. And the very last line of the book ("Only the jasmine continued its climb, its eyes on the ceiling") takes me in another direction (in English) and makes be wonder if "ceiling" and "roof" are not covered by the same word in Arabic. Regardless I am at a loss for direction in a tumble of necklaces and jasmine.

And so for day 1109
26.12.2009

Dead Men's Fingers

In the midst of this reworking of the Kay and Gerda story ("The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen), Daphne Marlatt introduces a strong childhood memory which I share (I distinctly recall the sugary liquid followed by chewing the wax shell to a pale whiteness — very like the colour of dead men's bones).

     She suggests I go to the cemetery with her, as a gesture, helping to dust rain-spatter off the artificial roses. & suddenly I taste grape soda fizz, from way back, from the black cat coffee shop. Remember those tiny wax urns with cordial inside? licour of dead men's bones.
There is in the Vancouver archives a copy of a placement ( dated from 1960) featuring the image of a black cat in a top hat. Goes nicely with this segement from 1968 Frames by Marlatt. A cat in a top hat just as artificial as those roses touched by rain-splatter or as dead men's bones — chewed.

And so for day 1108
25.12.2009

On The Scent

Wickedly good.

If Earth Witch, rather than Earth Mother receives
the woman's wound offering — and there is no
protection against this — the woman becomes more
and more driven with a Need. A Need. ...
and sometimes leaves her family, her village and
roams the mountains, seeking Earth Witch.
She will take lovers and they might satisfy her flesh
but her spirit is always seeking
    Earth Witch does not intend to be cruel
    She does not enjoy your pain
    It is just ... how she is ...
    The opposite of Earth Mother ...
Frankly sensuous.
Womanscent and womansalt and womanslick flesh against my lips, and all the mysteries explained, all the secrets open and inviting me to enter.
Anne Cameron. Earth Witch.

What is admirable here is the yoking of quest with eros. In a woman-identified perspective. Scent, salt and slick take on an added resonance with the prefix woman coming from a woman-identified stance (the poetic voice is strongly female). And a good dose of outlaw imagery provides a note of spiciness.

And so for day 1107
24.12.2009

Polymorphous Aphorism

In one poem ("The Double-Goer") Daryl Hine writes "Manifold are the disguises of our love." That should prepare us for the intriguing passage in "Osiris Remembered"

     Once Orpheus had turned his back upon
     The saddest and the palest of shades
     And tuned his hymn of praise to the homosexual sun,
     He strolled amid the adolescent glades
     That moved beside the streams that ceased to run
     To music, Dionysus' weakest reeds
Are women. Alas, with them have glades and music gone.
"Homosexual sun" was what caught my eye. And then the retreat from music and the going of the women behind that epithet of weakness. Music, women and even the glades where he walked are gone. Of course our singer is gone too. In legend's lore those weak reeds spurned by the poet exact their wrath but Ovid's descendant treats the reader to a freeze frame moment before the final demise.

The slant tone is caught again in "The Destruction of Sodom" which concludes in a turning-cheek invocation that asks for forgiveness but not deliverance.
Number your vices in imagination:
Would they teach whole cities of perversion?
Forgive us our bodies, forgive us our bodies' uses.
The irony is relished when one retraces one's steps and reads the beginning:
One would never suspect there were so many vices.
It is, I think, a tribute to the imagination
Of those who in these eminently destructible cities
Have made an exact science of perversion
That they, like us, limited by their bodies
Could put those bodies to such various uses.
And then there is the sauciness of the tenth of the "Fourteen Aphorisms in the Same Vein"
A definition of depravity:
What the imagination's suavity
     Can devise
     Otherwise
Than the simple need to fill a cavity.
Audacious rhymes. Witty.

Daryl Hine. The Devil's Picture Book (1960).

And so for day 1106
23.12.2009

Reality Dissolves Imagination

I was first taken by how these two lines open a stanza some way through the first section of David McFadden's A New Romance.

Reality dissolves imagination,
dream seeks its own level
I was left with the impression of dream like water finding its place in the contour of a landscape. But the stanza continues and does so with a circularity that is constructed out of skilful use of conjunction and punctuation &mdash the line endings do not end the thought or the image.
Reality dissolves imagination,
dream seeks its own level
in the grey dawn of awesome stillness
and the newness of a new romance
glowing with the skin's electrical fire
in the dissolution of the imagination.
What edges towards burn (fire) retreats with the repetition of the dissolution of the imagination. The newness of the new allows the dream to find its own level in a circle that goes on and on — dissolving the ground of imagination.

And so for day 1105
22.12.2009

Memory Rising

Mark Sinnett attentive to sensuality brings on layers memories. The child is never very far away from the appetites of the adult. Together they form a continuity that consumes the world with an avidity that results in acute observations. There is, for instance, an extended description of a partner making bread which culminates in the promise of an embrace imbued with aroma and attractiveness.

And when you do come up to me,
in the end, swinging your arms
in the room's air
with a rough semaphore
that says you want me
to be proud of you,
pushing around the smells
of yeast, of baking, stirring them
about you until they are over me
like a blanket
There follows a fine observation about a trace of flour in the hair at the top of the spine and the next segment brings the memory which carries the conceit further and interestingly balances plural (marmalades) and singular savours (the butter).
and I lie there in the gusts
of memory brought on by your sent —
[...]
before I loose myself
from your body, untie
the knots we made

and turn instead to the bright
bitter marmalades I grew up with;
the soft, warm butter.
"Late Riser" in The Landing.

And so for day 1104
21.12.2009

People Who

How do you represent an infinite space? You rift on a catalogue. Take two lines from a translation of Borges. Between the lines insert more lines as if the poem could go on and on. You have something like the poem by Steven Heighton collected in Patient Frame which ends in this conglomeration

Those who sit on front porches, not in fenced in privacy, in the
         erotic inaugural summer night steam.
Who redeem from neglect a gorgeous, long-orphaned word.
Who treat dogs with a sincere and comical diplomacy
Attempt to craft a decent wine in a desperate climate.
Clip the chin of consequence by letting others have the last word.
Master the banjo.
Are operatically loud in love.
These people, without knowing it, are saving the world
And there is on this second page of "Some Other Just Ones" following the words a panel of white space that offers the reader room to ruminate about saving the world and how many more just ones there may be.

And so for day 1103
20.12.2009

Necessary Chances

"Where Chance Meets Necessity"

Somewhere in the city of New York there are four or five still-unknown objects that belong together. [...] The city has an infinite number of interesting objects in an infinite number of unlikely places.
Charles Simic. Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell. These are the opening and closing sentences of Simic's prose poem brought together here by chance and making a very necessary observation about the plethora of opportunities found in urban spaces.

And so for day 1102
19.12.2009

Aggregates and Equivalencies

W.S. Merwin on the progressive nature of translation from his forward to Selected Translations 1968-1978.

But if we take a single word of any language and try to find an exact equivalent in another, even if the second language is closely akin to the first, we have to admit that it cannot be done. A single primary denotation may be shared; but the constellation of secondary meanings, the moving rings of associations, the etymological echoes, the sound and its own levels of association, do not have an equivalent because they cannot. If we put two words of a language together and repeat the attempt, the failure is still more obvious. Yet if we continue, we reach a point where some sequence of the first language conveys a dynamic unit, a rudiment of form. Some energy of the first language begins to be manifest, not only in single words but in the charge of their relationship. The surprising thing is that at this point the hope of translation does not fade altogether, but begins to emerge.
The poet after sketching out the limit where energy is manifest and where hope emerges continues in workman-like assertion.
Not that these rudiments of form in the original language can be matched — any more than individual words could be — with exact equivalents in another. But the imaginative force which they embody, and which single words embody in context, may suggest convocations of words in another language that will have a comparable thrust and sense.
Take a single word. Trace from there the rudiments of form. Find the comparable convocations.

And so for day 1101
18.12.2009

Enigma & the Enigmatics

Signage. Alan Davies. "Private Enigma in the Opened Text"

This present writing defines those private enigmas with which the author sometimes pierces his text. These are distinct from, for example: the narratively enigmatic which, functioning, becomes through reappearance, a character or figure of the text; the metaphysically enigmatic which functions, deliberately, through our lives as we return to its imperative point of question; the enigmatics of dream which function, vehicularly, to let life ride itself; the grammatically enigmatic, which functions as a verbal irregularity, a non sequitur stunning us with what previously could not have been said; the enigmatic of any single text, which is obsessive in its function as the ground for all text and all enigma. Throughout this writing, the word "enigma" will refer to private enigmas, and not to the otherwise enigmatic which may frequently surround its appearance.
The contrast between private enigma and functional enigmatics seems to breakdown towards the end of the paragraph but it is only a semblance of a breakdown. The "enigmatic of any single text" is not the same as a "private enigma". The "private enigma" seems to haunt every item in the listing, shadowing obsessively like a vehicle question endlessly figuring.

And so for day 1100
17.12.2009

Dancing and Songs Undanced

I thoroughly enjoyed the chorus that knits together the narration of what would be a collection of disparate tales. I like the wryness of the collective "we" that comments on the next generation's path. I do like. I can almost identify with these ancestor voices.

We taught you how to dance.
Full of metaphoric import with "dancing" as code for how to live. And some pages later the comment about limits. The identification grows stronger.
Not all songs need to be for dancing. There will always be the next song, to draw the dancers back.
It reminds me of the classic Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran where the dancers come and go but the dance itself continues. The comparison is not gratuitous. The voice of the chorus in David Levithan's Two Boys Kissing in some ways sounds like the older generation except for a very different take on the embracing of death. Levithan's "we" cheers on the adolescents, it embraces a longing for life; all well and good for there is a valour in struggle. Yet for one who heard and read the Holleran generation there is a but a hint of the savvy sadness that imbued an attitude to life. It is an attitude that only occasionally comes to the fore in Levithan's chorus. Take the edge in this remark:
It's a highly deceptive world, one that constantly asks you to comment but doesn't really care about what you have to say.
Glory and fame are now even more fleeting than the Warhol standard of 15 minutes. Attention and devotion are never total — as the characters in Levithan's novel acknowledge. Self-reliance is necessary for mature relationships. All our characters seem to learn this except for one.

There is a radical tour de force in the scene where Cooper burns through his online contacts by a series of truth-telling comments that see him blocked or blocking all interested parties. Cooper is deeply depressed and isolated. This scene cements that fact.
He gets kicked out of every site he's ever created a profile on. A block on each and every one. Stacked up, these blocks make a wall. Him on one side. The rest of the world on the other. It might be his most successful barrier yet.
Cooper in the course of the narrative is led to the brink. He is ready to jump off a bridge. At the last instant, he is tackled by a police officer. His parents are called. The suicide attempt is foiled. Should the author have been truthful to the darkness and killed off the character? Regardless how the narrative should unfold, there is a flaw in the narration. Our chorus, the generation who faced decimation by AIDS, would not look upon suicide as a bad thing. Choosing one's exit is terribly important. Our chorus, comments "Cooper will live to meet his future self. / You should all live to meet your future selves". The order needs some adjustment. All have a right to meet future selves. Cooper too. However, Cooper may yet meet more darkness. Given the depths of his depression, there is no guarantee that he would not seek oblivion again. His is the only character where their final appearance is not from the character's point of view. It is from the outside. We do not have Cooper's words. He becomes a cipher. He is brought back. He is an exception. The narration has a catalogue of suicides (with the odd addition in the middle of the catalogue of suicides of the mention of a brutal gay bashing death that alludes to the case of Matthew Shepard as if the murder victim died by his own hand). This catalogue recited by the chorus underscores the exceptional nature of Cooper's case. The chorus flinches. Which is odd. The narrative can well foil the suicide attempt. It works as an acceptable plot device. But the narration suffers. The savvy chorus grows maudlin. In dreaming a chain of succession it does more than fail in acknowledging breaks and ruptures. It burdens the future. It becomes an oppressor. In a detour around loss, the chorus seems harmless in what it declares, yet its hope is lethal to clear-eyed attitude.
We saw our friends die. But we also see our friends live. So many of them live, and we often toast their long and full lives. They carry us on.
Never have my dead friends placed such a burden upon me. I was not to carry them on. I simply aim to carry on. They are gone. It is an irredeemable loss.

Two Boys Kissing is a novel of the 21st century where for some perhaps it is necessary to articulate a burden for the future to carry. Still it sounds vile. Nothing but a rigourous self-determination allowed us to struggle. That is what I hope to read in the novel's closing injunction "Make more than dust" an echo of its peroration "Choose your actions wisely." And your words too.

And so for day 1099
16.12.2009


Addendum:

A comment from Giles Benaway's blog. Giles author of Ceremonies for the Dead introduced me to this novel which has provided me with an opportunity to reflect upon questions of self-determination and debt.
The novel is terrific in displaying characters that come to realize that self-reliance is important to a mature relationship and that not all one’s self-worth is dervied from being a partner. Readers get to see most of the characters exercise self-determination with one notable exception we get to witness each’s own particular point of view as the novel moves to its denouement. The narration draws away from Cooper, the most troubled of the lot. There is for me, a very odd moment at the book’s conclusion where the collective “we” that chorus of voices from the AIDS crisis takes off on a life-affirming cresendo – which is good – but the chorus moves beyond a simple assertion that the living “carry us [dead] on” to an obligation implied in the injunction to make more than dust. There is a nuance between carrying on and carrying the dead on. I hope the sentiment that imbues relationship with the living – mutual and non-coercive relations – would animate relationships to the dead. The novel’s peroration implies a debt to the past and an obligation to the future. A type of emotional accounting displaces the discourse of self-determination. There is a lingering note of cognitive dissonance at the end of the novel. This reader for one resists the trip that is being laid on. In a fashion this resistance is a making more than dust. Something that is not countable but accountable i.e. the stuff of story.
This all reminds me of the notion of "metaphysical cannibalism" explicated by Ti-Grace Atkinson in Amazon Odyssey.

Elegiac Stasis

Mary Jo Bang in Elegy has a poem entitled "Evidence" which carries over to a second page and ends

How changed we are.
Otherwise no longer exists.
There is only stasis, continually
Granting ceremony to the moment.
And these lines stand alone on the page with nothing but white space until page end. They speak to the grief that is the subject of this collection and is a constant companion to the poet narrator. Another poem ends
A dream bell begins to toll, to tell
Of the intolerable end that keeps going on.
The very simplicity of the assonance "toll", "tell", "intolerable" rings out the anguish of pain that is perpetual. And yet it is from such sorrow that ceremony is fashioned much like the words fashion themselves into an honouring.

And so for day 1098
15.12.2009

Staple Balm

Matthew McKean in the obituary for Marshall Berman in the Globe & Mail provides a short paragraph on Berman's love of books.

Inside the kitchen cupboards of the Upper West Side apartment where he lived for decades, he stored his staples: books. Inside the bathroom cabinets, he stored his balm: more books.
And the tender heart of the bibliophile is wrenched.

And so for day 1097
14.12.2009

Carceral Care

The Toronto Review of Books has issued a "Tasting Menu" which includes Brett Story on "Occupying Prisons" in which I was struck by this well-constructed sentence about Quaker reform gone awry.

But something strange quickly became evident: solitary confinement, rather than offering criminals the requisite conditions of self-reflection to rehabilitate them into law-abiding citizens, instead drove prisoners mad.
The whole sentence meanders until its last clause which drives to the inevitable conclusion of madness. A small single syllable word that encompasses the outcome of solitary. One word.

You can't miss the equation. Not if you care.

And so for day 1096
13.12.2009

Crozier on Ghazal Syntax

From Bones in Their Wings a set of ghazals by Lorna Crozier.

My Tai Chi master has Parkinson's,
a slight shudder in the stillest pose.
This is the first couplet or sher in the second ghazal in the collection. It provides for my imagination a capsule commentary on the whole genre. Each couplet is a pose and each pose trembles with potential.

Crozier provides some very sensitive and insightful notes on the ghazal genre in English in an afterward. Of the many remarks, I choose to relay these:
The enforced economy of two stand-alone lines, rather than the fluid run-on of four or six spilling over the spaces between stanzas, puts tremendous pressure on the syntax, diction, and images. A different kind of poetry animal comes into being, mammalian like the other but as similar as a horse is to a langur.
She is alive to the possibilities of syntax even in such a small space and the reader is well rewarded for paying attention to punctuation. Here a yoking comma. Elsewhere in the same sequence the two lines of the sher end in periods and further on the one line runs without punctuation mark to conclude in the next end stopped. And there is punctuation internal to a line. All this in six couplets of one ghazal, all a shudder with stillness.

And so for day 1095
12.12.2009

Icelandic Light

I sampled her Strawberries. I was impressed by Beth Follet's Pedlar Press production of Small Arguments with is spacious and airy layout of these delicate poems. The perfect pairing of publisher and poet returns with Light by Souvankham Thammavongsa. Look at how she handles the liveliness of un-English line endings in "Ljós".

In Icelandic the word for light is ljós




And the word for poem is ljóð




What happens at the end can change everything
And there follows a whole plotting of possibilities based in the description of the letters. And the next poem is a meditation on the Lao word for "fire" in a collection given over the modalities of Light.

What is often memorable about these poems so infused with white space and effects of indentation is how they come to turns of phrase that do not suffer from being lifted and learnt by heart. Take the ending of "A Starfish" where the reader comes to a general and portable saying, takes it up as his or her own: "looking back / at where it was / / as where it was / looks back / at where it could be". Makes a fine statement about how we use the past to bridge our way to a future.

And so for day 1094
11.12.2009

Scattering Ampersands

How Hug a Stone by Daphne Marlatt has towards the middle of this book part travelogue and part commemoration a piece that is marked by contrasting one day scurrying to avoid the incoming tide and a final day of ashes sprinkled at sea. It is called "close to the edge".

At one point in the midst of crisis we inhabit the conscience of a mother of two

if we
don't go now we won't get back & i could hear it in her,
panic, pan-ic (terror of the wild), shouldn't have brought you
here. all three, & the wind rising — risk. to meet it.
The children and the mother of course make it to safety or else there would not be this writing to read. They are panting exhilarated. "we did it. / taking us closer to the edge, over & over." And the edge is now a different one just as tinged with mortality...
we did in the end, as she asked, on a different sea-coast off
a different rock, lean from the boat to scatter bits of porous
bone, fine ash. words were not enough. & the sea took her.
I have always admired Marlatt's use of the ampersand; they just out on her page like waves. And here they cannot hold what is breaking apart. & yet they do over & over.

And so for day 1093
10.12.2009

Enlightenment

Respect for fair use and copyright prevent me from quoting the poem in its entirety — at one run without interruption. An impulse to praise and its many virtues make me quote bit by bit with interspersed commentary. First off the title:

12. Enlightenment
It is the twelfth poem in the 99 collected by David W. McFadden under the title What's the Score?. It is written in couplets. The first of the couplets presents a bald statement about the nature of hobbies and the subject's time of life.
Gardening and photography, his hobbies
went together like old age and death.
From this laconic beginning, the reader moves to a bit of narrative about abandoning the implements of the vocation to a child described as "sticky-fingered" which leads one to believe the gift is a pre-empting of theft.
I understood when he grew tired and gave
his Leica to his sticky-fingered son.
Our narrator poet understands giving up on the future but is a bit flummoxed by the erasure of the marks of the past.
But when he committed to the flames his entire
collection of slides of glorious dahlias
Note here that the couplet doesn't close off as do the preceding. It carries over, we expect something from this cremation.
that he'd cultivated over a lifetime
and flowers of all kinds from around the district
And as the sentences spill over the lines, the lifetime, a stretch in time becomes figured as an increasing distance from home and our subject's glorious dahlias; the gardening interest grows a geographic spread.
or from botanical gardens around the world —
I looked into his eyes and asked him why.
The question is immediately answered:
"No one was interested." Tears appeared.
This was in his early seventies.
The staccato of these short sentences offer a sharp contrast with the flow of the previous lines. Indeed in this poem, there is a constant erosion of the previous tempos and rhythms in a way that supplements the narrative undermining of closure. As expected the poem takes a new turn:
He had several years left of growing flowers
but they blossomed and faded unphotographable.
This is the end but note that the poet narrator doesn't describe the flowers of this late blooming as "unphotographed" but as "unphotographable". As if the capacity for image making itself was impaired. Furthermore this turn to the unphotographable blossoming and fading is ambiguous. It may be a loss for one of the hobbies we started out with is gone. It may signal an enriched appreciation for the one hobby that is left: gardening. One is not quite sure if the stress is on the fading or the growing. Just who is enlightened remains a mystery.

And so for day 1092
09.12.2009

Dung and the Masses

Salman Rushdie's narrator, Saleem, in Midnight's Children is prone to reading history in associative terms and it is perhaps fitting that we hereby bring the final paragraph of the novel in close proximity to a scatological moment — an almost castaway waste of a moment — that occurs near the end...

Midnight, or thereabouts. A man carrying a folded (and intact) black umbrella walks towards my window from the direction of the railway tracks, stops, squats, shits. Then sees me silhouetted against light and, instead of taking offence at my voyeurism, calls: 'Watch this!' and proceeds to extrude the longest turd I have ever seen. 'Fifteen inches!' he calls, 'How long can you make yours?' Once, when I was more energetic, I would have wanted to tell his life-story; the hour, and his possession of an umbrella, would have been all the connections I needed to begin the process of weaving him into my life, and I have no doubt that I'd have finished by proving his indispensability to anyone who wishes to understand my life and benighted times; but now I'm disconnected , unplugged, with only epitaphs left to write. So, waving at the champion defecator, I call back: 'Seven on a good day,' and forget him.
Saleem may be modest about his production of shit but magnificent in the scope of multitudes that his writing pours out onto the page in those final epitaphs. He spirals off into the untold.
Yes, they will trample me underfoot, the numbers marching one two three, four hundred millions five hundred six, reducing me to specks of voiceless dust, just as, all in good time, they will trample my son who is not my son, and his son who will not be his, and his who will not be his, until the thousand and first generation, until a thousand and one midnights have bestowed their terrible gifts and a thousand and one children have died, because it is the privilege and the curse of midnight's children to be both masters and victims of their times, to forsake privacy and be sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes, and to be unable to live or die in peace.
Enormous. Flood of human essence. Appropriate for a novel where the principle interlocutor is called by our narrator his dung lotus, Padma. We as readers are still focalized by this one point, this interlocutor, but we are bereft of her response. Stuck. Having to refigure in a Saleem-like fashion the connections between the untold story of the one unabashed shit producer and the multitudes whose stories are foreshortened and come to figure a return of the same but not same sons which morph into the genderless children. Privacy is forsaken. Peace unattained.

And so for day 1091
08.12.2009

The Mechanics of Sentiment

Mark Haddon has the autistic narrator of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time meditate on the nature of computers and feelings.

Also people think they're not computers because they have feelings and computers don't have feelings. But feelings are just having a picture on the screen in your head of what is going to happen tomorrow or next year, or what might have happened instead of what did happen, and if it is a happy picture they smile and if it is a sad picture they cry.
Of course one is reminded of Wittgenstein and picture theory. What is interesting here is the need for temporal shift in order to produce emotion. There is as the French say a "décalage" necessary to the expression of emotion. Here Christopher, our narrator, introduces the process by picturing the future, followed by picturing of what might have been, followed by the experiencing of sad or happy pictures. Projection, counter-factual, emotion. All accomplished by a screen in the head.

And so for day 1090
07.12.2009

Parentheses and Tables

BookThug has re-issued Karen Mac Cormack's first book of poetry Nothing By Mouth. There one finds a segment of a sequence that stands alone as a statement.

details)    sifting the desert  
     letters swirl  
     
     the grains ignite  
     in her eye    (he never
     
noticed)    green as oasis  
     palms burning    (in the first place
I like how the tabular layout allows the reader to read down the columns and generate meaning that complements the line by line horizontal working through. Furthermore, the placement of the parentheses can lead to a story seized upon in media res [details)], elaborated with an enjambement [(he never / noticed)] and left in suspension [(in the first place]. And the poem segment gets typographically denser as the pace of parenthetical comment picks up [two in the last "couplet" versus one in line one for the first couplet and one in line two for the second couplet causing a sort of bunching]. And retroactively one has the sense that the "swirl" results from "burning"; one moves from effect to cause in a pleasurable narrative progression. And perhaps some of the friction came from his not noticing the grains in her eye or the palms burning — in either direction "he" doesn't notice details that we as readers do but we are unable to burst through the parenthesis and address this him or caution her about the irritation of desert sand in the eye: all we carry away from the oasis is a vision of flame. (a conflagration

And so for day 1089
06.12.2009

For Taking

Beside the non-fiction of The Evidence of Things Not Seen by James Baldwin one puts the short story by Toni Cade Bambara "Madame Bai and the Taking of Stone Mountain" in Deep Sightings & Rescue Missions. The title announces something as accomplished what the story hints as yet to come. Madame, the self-defence instructor, poses a series of questions and each of the questions initiates a description of the ruminations of the protagonist.

"One question, daughter." Madame says it in English.

[...]

"Stone Mountain," Madame says finally [...]
The question is followed by a politicized description of the relief carved into a cliff (a relief depicting a tribute to Confederacy generals). The reader is made to understand the monument receives a particular meaning depending on one's subject position ("Tourist trap entrapment of visiting schoolchildren lured under the spell of the enslavers of Africans and the killers of Amerinds, lewdly exposed mammoth granite rock of ages the good ole boys think they can hide in from history") — it is all told with rather more urgency and finesse in the short story. The questions continue.
"What is it for?" Madame asks [...]

There follows a piece of bravura writing where our protagonist in a series of truncated sentences is not only describing its function ("[t]o rally the good ole boys, to dispirit the young, to celebrate the.") but also its destruction ("Five sticks of dynamite shoved in just so [...] A people's army could."). It is an oratorical gesture that prepares Madame's striking final words which end the story
"Stone Mountain is for taking," she says.
Without quoting large swaths of the story, I do no justice to the intensity. I do want to be clear that the whole section of Madame's apparently simple questions and the train of thought they provoke follows a very detailed description of how the authorities withdraw from investigating the murders of Black children ("Wholesale defection begins in June when the headlines around the country announce that the monster's been nabbed. [...] One man, two counts, and amnesia drifts in like fog to blanket the city.")

Look up images of Stone Mountain. Read Bambara's story. Understand Baldwin's "virtuoso polemic" (Kirkus Review). And believe that changing culture is massive work. Good work. Ongoing work. Necessary work.

And so for day 1088
05.12.2009

Antics in the Whorehouse

George Elliott Clarke. Execution Poems. "Haligonian Market Cry".

The poem is structured as a succession of sexually suggestive cries flogging vegetables and fruit interspersed with snatches of non-English phrases. Abundance is celebrated by the English bits.

I got hallelujah watermellons — virginal pears — virtuous corn!

[...]

Come-and-get-it cucumbers — hot-to-trot, lust-fresh cucumbers!
And in between are the "foreign" bits

The motto of Nova Scotia: Munit haec et altera vincit!

The end of Lowry's Under the Volcano with the key question (Do you destroy your children?) missing: Le gusta este jardin?

The best disco French: Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?

Italian whose source forsooth I have been unable to trace: O peccatore, in verità!

And finally some German that alludes to a scene in Joyce's Ulysses where Bloom pays for a chandelier that Stephen smashes in a whorehouse: Die Reue ist doch nur ein leuchter Kauf!

You really should consult the whole thing to get a fulsome taste of this combination of market cries mixed with strange snippets of holy-roller praise interleaved with the "foreign" bits — it makes for a potent combination.

And so for day 1087
04.12.2009

Pre-Camp

It was in reading Against Interpretation cover to cover in the order the essays appear instead of selectively in what ever order piqued my curiosity (I had years ago consulted the "Notes on Camp") that I noticed that the end of the essay on Happenings made a beautiful introduction to the penultimate essay in the book "Notes on Camp" which originally appeared in the Partisan Review. So the juxtaposition of "Happening" ending and "Camp" beginning is an artefact of later placement. Yet how very telling that we leave off with a consideration of audience only to pick up a concern with sensibility.

Comedy is not any less comic because it is punitive. As in tragedy, every comedy needs a scapegoat, someone who will be punished and expelled from the social order represented mimetically in the spectacle. What goes on in the Happenings merely follows Artaud's prescription for a spectacle that will eliminate the stage, that is, the distance between spectators and performers, and "will physically envelop the spectator." In Happening this scapegoat is the audience [1962]
Susan Sontag provides here in "Happenings: an art of radical juxtaposition" a marvellous key to reading the difficult-to-describe sensibility of the 1964 "Notes on Camp". There too audience plays a role:
The peculiar relation between Camp taste and homosexuality has to be explained. [...] Jews and homosexuals are the outstanding creative minorities in contemporary urban culture. Creative, that is, in the truest sense: they are creators of sensibilities. The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony.
I am reminded of the comments years later by Fran Lebowitz on connoisseurship and the gay public of the New York City Ballet. Somehow along the way we have lost the scapegoat and the monopoly on camp or moral seriousness. Still worth remembering the history.

And so for day 1086
03.12.2009

Pumped

In the perspective of an admitted "catharsis addict".

Dirt is liquid. And writing and reading are a conduit for bodily fluids.

A book, like a TV, drains me of my wishes and fears. I hook myself up to the book — the book I'm reading, the book I'm writing — and out pour the fluids. I no longer want. Afterward, I feel sickened by my release, but also relieved; the toxins are gone, flushed out of my bloodstream. A book, for catharsis addicts, is a ritual chamber wherein we acknowledge that we are dirty and that we are capable of becoming clean.
This is section 3 of the "Catheter" fugue in Wayne Koestenbaum's Humiliation. The whole mechanism depends on a "becoming clean" and raises the question of purity. Can we ever become toxin free? What of a metaphorics that views reading as ingestion? We can view cultural artefacts as osmotic membranes. They permit two-way traffic. Koestenbaum's "I" acts out a theatre of humiliation in which he attempts to drag along the reader. But what if the reader believes that a pure state is impossible and that the reader is attuned to foreign bodies dancing in a dialogic soup of antibodies? Germ phobia is not universal. And so the dynamics of humiliation may have a more limited reach than observed by Koestenbaum's "I". And for anyone tempted to "go meta", please note that it is not the case that exposure of faulty plumbing is humiliation; a catharsis addict and their ritual chamber may spring leaks; it is in the order of language and the physics of liquids for flows to disrupt machines.

And so for day 1085
02.12.2009

Indifference

Thom Gunn Selected Poems 1950-1975 concludes with a poem chosen from Jack Straw's Castle called "The Cherry Tree" which after description of the fecund abundance of the fruit-bearing tree moves to a description of its self-possession. The babies, i.e. cherries, have fattened. The gendered tree is not preoccupied with their fate.

Now she can repose a bit
they are so fat.
                    She cares less
birds get them, men
pick them, human children wear them
in pairs over their ears
she loses them all.
That's why she made them,
to lose them into the world, she
returns to herself,
she rests, she doesn't care.

She leans into the wind
her trunk shines black
with rain, she sleeps
as black and hard as lava.
She knows nothing about babies.
I think the strength of the image derives from the gendering and from the appeal to hardened lava: there is in the picture of this "return" something elemental. It places the reader in an interesting position: what are we to know of her unknowing? What are we to do with this knowledge? Turn too to forgetfulness... grow hard, shining in the rain. Can we cultivate such indifference? Find rest?

And so for day 1084
01.12.2009