Tuesday, December 29, 2009
We leave from a single place; arrive from the distance at the same place. We wander the compass: our paths cross yet we move on. The horizon surrounds us, our single winking eye.
Small star. Asshole. Firework burst. Cobweb scaffold, the spider gone. Footnote from a distant constellation which may exist no longer. Doleful snowflake: matchless star in a storm of a single flurry.
Six-pointed: first position three-toed ballet. A W and its pond other. A bedful of Xs, their bodies crossed. Five-pointed: endless knot, pentacle, little headless man, leaf spine.
A tiger in dreams. A railway car. Things and their inner shape. Matter and the beams of its being. A marking of more than one way of seeing the spot.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
We got my son a cell phone for Channukah. It's a nice one with a little keyboard for texting. He was appropriately grateful but explained that he'd have been happy with a phone without a screen. "Actually, I'd have been perfectly happy with a rotary dial cell phone." When I told my daughter this, she quipped that "That'd take a long time to text with a rotary dial." (The above image is what such a thing might look like. If I were better with Photoshop, I'd have loved to have Steampunked the phone a bit more.)
Perhaps he'd have been happy with one of those cell phones with a cord that attaches to the wall. Or one of those phones with beaks and wings.
For me, the archetype of the phone is still the classic rotary dial. However, I remember playing Pictionary with my wife's late grandfather. He was drawing something that we couldn't quite identify. It was one of those very old phones with the hand crank that had a cuplike receiver that you had to hold to your ear. That was his archetype of the phone. My children will have a very different visual image. And their children? A wireless cochlea implant?
When we visited Cape Canaveral when my kids were very little, I recall explaining to my son that the Saturn V rocket was one of those 'old fashioned spaceships' and being boggled that I could actually say such a thing--me, who remembers being called in from playing on the street of the little Irish village where I grew up to witness the moon landing on Michael Wallace's little black and white TV set. "This is important, boys," his mother said. "You'll remember this." And I did, though at the time, I didn't know that it was being filmed in Sudbury.
Two typical White Male Canadian poet/critics enact their place of privilege and demonstrate some key moves from the master discourse.
Last night, I finally got around to watching the “Cage Match of Canadian Poetry.”, a discussion between Christian Bok and Carmine Starnino. As always, Christian Bok was articulate and amusing, creating beguiling paradigms vividly expressed. His language was rich and highly charged with a wide array of colourful imagery. In many ways, Christian’s argument was exemplified by the rhetorical devices of his delivery and the imagery of his argument. (At one point, he was advocating the greater recognition of the poetry of the various language contexts of our time. It made me think of his various comments or quips concerning online porn, microwaveability, and ‘the software of reality.’) Over the past decade or so, Christian has practiced to be a master rhetorician. And he was certainly that in the Cage Match.
Regardless of my position on the argument, I found Carmine to be unclear, halting, and for the most part, unengaging. He brought forward few interesting – or even clear – arguments.(footnote 1) Carmine, too, has practiced, as evidenced by his outspoken critical writing, to be a vivid rhetorician. He didn’t demonstrate it here. (I was particularly disheartened by his comments about the role of women and minorities in contemporary poetry. Frankly, I forgot which decade I was in.)
But really, how these guys did performed isn’t what I want to discuss. I want to address, the, what I take to be, false duality of the argument.
Christian’s view is that poetry should be an experimental, exploratory art, taking risks, trying out aesthetic hypotheses, opening up new avenues of discourse and discovery the way science advances. Poetry is research.
Carmine assertion is that poetry can also stay close to the tradition, ‘re-relevanting’ past discourses by relating them to a current situation. (footnote 2). There is a place for the comfort food of poetry. Well executed, insightful, writing which draws connections between past views and the contemporary world. So, for example we don’t always want to experience ‘inventive’ food. Sometimes we want Mac and Cheese, though I like (for example) how my wife has modified the usual recipe and uses interesting cheeses in addition to the usual, making the cheddar cheesiness of the traditional Mac and Cheese more vivid to me.
I don’t know why we can’t have both approaches as part of a vital and active poetry world. Sometimes poetry is research, exploration of the hadronic structure of a conceptual alphabet of supernovae. Sometimes it is renovation, rejuvenation, development, and refinement. I like my Blues atonal and with a seventeen and a half bar form. But I also like good ol’ 12 bar blues with just the three chords, well executed, sometimes with old words, sometimes with new words that talk about sex, lost love, and microwaveability.
Christian argues that most poetry isn’t ambitious enough (by this he means, mostly exploratory enough.) He creates an opposition between the artisanal vs the artistic. Much poetry is hobby pots, when it could be missions to other planet or a breaking open of particles we didn’t even know existed. Exploration is good. The new for the sake of the new is good, too. Pure research. Invention, discovery, and delight. Opening up of the hood. But there something to be said for refinement and elaboration. It doesn’t mean subsiding into the Rococo or the mannered. I wouldn’t want to preclude the opportunity for a brilliant syncreticism, a truly insightful summation of a tradition. Heck, half of Shakespeare is this.
They are many ways ‘forward’. Sometimes the way forward is to the side. And sometimes, we don't know which direction is forward. Or sideways. And we can't tell a quantum leap from an autumn leaf, a quivering lip from a quarking letch.
I believe in multifunctionality. In multiplicity and biodiversity. In the world and in aesthetics.
1: I take Carmine’s point that sometimes the ‘hook’ of Eunoia is all anyone says about that book. They talk about the constraint and not about the jokes, the narratives, the joy of sound, the imagery, etc. It’s like talking only about how a sonnet fulfills its form without speaking of what else it does.
2: I can’t see how Carmine can say that he reads 16th century work in the same way as 21st century work, without a historical or social context. Not to say that 16th century isn’t vital, alive, and aesthetically fruitful to read, it’s just that one needs to understand how a 21st North American heterosexual white man (or someone else with different experiences/background) might have different (perhaps unconscious) paradigms than a 16th century Elizabethan educated aristocrat. (My forebears didn’t speak English and lived in a shtetl in Lithuania. Elizabethan sonnets would have been entirely foreign and exotic to my ancestors. Likewise, they are not my indigenous culture. I learned of them through education, just as I learned about Medieval settings of the Catholic mass or the stunningly beautiful music of the West African kora. How can I not contextualize them within history and relativize their aesthetics within a particular cultural reality?)
Monday, December 21, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Nico Vassilakis and Geof Huth have been creating great images via the iPhone application TypeDrawing. Since I just was given an iPhone for Channukah, I couldn't resist trying out some of my own. I had some vague notion, when I got the phone, that there would be a constant incoming stream of vital communications, inspiring, important, and causing both me and the phone to vibrate incessantly. However, this didn't happen. I found myself checking to see if my settings were correct, if something was amiss. Somehow, though, pressing matters of intergalactic safety and global aesthetic emergencies haven't made it into my inbox, at least, not any more quickly that they make it onto my computer.
However, there's something remarkably pleasant about rolling over from sleep, reaching for the phone and creating these little images. The software feels more like playing an instrument: it suggests things by its design and it seems to call for certain idiomatic moves. But that's just a beginner speaking.
I just bought a Bela Fleck album, Throw Down Your Heart, recordings he made with fantastic African musicians. The album is a wonder. And Bela Fleck doesn't just play what you'd expect any old banjo player to play when they first got their banjo. So that's what I strive for. Pick me up and drop me down by a fireside in Zimbabwe. Give me a little while and my thumbs'll go as virtuoso crazy as any mbira player's, tapping out mesmerizing, lilting beauty while the night insects sing.
My son and daughter made me a beautiful vispo tie for Channukah. I'll post images soon (as soon as it arrives from Zazzle.) One of the elements of the image was a heart that was an ampersand, which I thought was lovely, both visually and symbolically. The above images are based on that image.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Michael Jacobson's great The New Post-Literate: a gallery of asemic writing has just posted a number of my asemic pieces, including one based on a section of Christian Bök's Eunoia made into a kind of rosetta stone kind of object, though I've messed with the vowels and made bouma shapes of the words. The blog features much intriguing and beautiful work. I mean, in addition to my contributions.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
There is a large rat in our house. It moves between each member of the family.
“I think it is happiness,” my son says.
It gnaws at our feet. It crawls under the sheets of our beds as we sleep. It sits at the table while we eat. It doesn’t say, “Pass the bread,” but climbs up the table cloth and chews at the food, its tail curling into the salad.
“Is it grandpa?” my daughter asks.
“No,” we say. “It is a rat.”
“Let’s give it a name.”
“No,” we say. “It is a rat.”
“Then we must kill it,” our youngest says. “I will drown it in the bath, and fill its mouth with Lego. I have a box from my rock collection. I will make a coffin and decorate it with glitter and macaroni. We can bury it in the garden beside Scott the Bunny.”
Instead, my wife and I dig a hole in the middle of the living room. We gather blankets and pillows. The family climbs in and we cover ourselves up. “Who will remember us?” we say.
“My teacher,” our youngest says. “My soccer coach, Grandma, and, of course, the rat,” he says.
Saturday, December 05, 2009
I recently came across the fantastic blog, Music for Maniacs, which writes about and links to many fantastic and unusual recordings of music. Today's post is "The Thing with the Three Leg Torso" which is about the band, Three Leg Torso and its collaboration with David Greenberger. Greenberger, who runs Duplex Planet, bases his texts on interviews with the residents of nursing homes. It's really fantastic stuff. The music of 3 Leg Torso perfectly complements the texts. Here are two pieces from the collaboration.
Miss Dog Miss Me
Here's the beginning of some kind of a poem of mine, speaking of three legged torsos, which borrows a title from my friend, the poet, Slim Volumes.
THREE LEGGED DOG
I aim with a gun
I miss myself
I aim with a mirror
I miss myself
I am with a dog
The dog is three-legged because
it has three legs
where is the other leg?
on another dog
a dog with one leg
it is a one-legged dog
this poem is being
listened to by a robot
it thinks it’s a violin
a violin with an indeterminate
number of legs
I take an iron to a mountain
and flatten it out
now the mountain stretches for miles
the violins run free along its once steep sides
it is a one-sided mountain
a Möbius strip unwound
a mirror in the shape of a Möbius strip:
reflections only of reflections themselves