We write poetry, typically, for people who speak the same language we do. We write as native speakers of our languages for people who are also native speakers of our language. We take advantage of this native mastery of the language, which allows us to be subtle and allusive, and still feel secure that at least some of our readers will get similar meanings out of our language as we do. The writer's contract with the reader states that the writer has devised a text that appeals to their sense of the language, and that the reader will find the text appealing to their similar sense of the language.

What would our poetry be like if we wrote under the assumption that our texts would be read by people who were not native speakers of our language, perhaps not even fluent?


What would our poetry be like if we read under the assumption that our texts were written by people who were not native speakers of our language, perhaps not even fluent?


What would our poetry be like if our standard model went something like: A writer who is a native speaker of language A writes poetry in language B for a reader who is a native speaker of language C?

Or is poetry always already like this, exploiting one of these models? Could one of them serve as a makeshift definition of poetry? And would any of these strategies promote certain genres of poetry and discourage other genres? Obviously this would depend on the sociopolitical status of the various languages. But perhaps not entirely.

When I am feeling rambunctious, I say that we can only read poetry in languages that we aren't fluent in. But now I'm wondering what kind of strategy it would be, to write for readers who are not native to or fluent in our language.

And I keep thinking about appropriation as a way of accessing the sentimental.

I read for Spare Room back in July 2006, and as always I was trying to write something new for the reading. But I was emotionally overwrought (oh, you know... boy trouble) and this got completely in the way of writing anything. I had too much to say. I had something to say and said it, and it was not poetry.

I won't publish the poem I ended up writing, as I don't see much of a point in it existing outside the time and place of that reading (which happily wasn't recorded). But think I'm happy with it as a solution, so I want to say a few words about that. But I don't want to do the dickish reductivist Conceptual Poetics 101 move of conflating the idea of the poem with the poem itself. Let's not do that. Reading about the poem is unlike reading the poem, and quite unlike being at my reading of the poem in July 2006. If you weren't there: This will not be the same. But perhaps it's interesting to talk about (which is the other thing they teach you in Conceptual Poetics 101).

I ended up working with "The Windhover", Gerard Manley Hopkins's emotionally charged poem. Both I and the cause of my tsuris were both deeply fond of Hopkins, and we had a "moment" over this poem, which he had memorized, and which I happened to be carrying a copy of -- well, enough about that.

I broke the poem into short fragments, a few words at a time, and rolled them on my tongue, surrounded each fragment with homophonic translations, changing the lines' meaning by placing them in the midst of a rush of other meanings, and repeating as necessary.

Hopkins' consonant-dense, stress-dappled, clumpèd-cluster-cluttering lines encouraged the repetition and sound-based reorganization. And Hopkins' ejaculations -- "O my chevalier!" -- and his overcharged vocabulary -- "ecstacy", "my heart in hiding" -- all... well, it gave me an excuse to write like this:

...the motion set in
motion, meaning
moored in minute
motions, minute
mentions, making
many million
set in motion.
More was said for

keeping off dangerous offers,
keeping off dallying dangers,
keeping off delight. Deep in the
kingdom of daylight’s dauphin,
center of dimly-dealt-with
inner endangered doings,

deeply damped down
deeply damped down
deeply damped down
deeply damped down
deadened dendrons, the
devil starts to
tap a tomtom.
Which, oof, is a bit much, especially on the page (or on the screen). But it was written as a text to be read aloud at a reading, in a particular time and place, for a reader who was in a particular emotional state, for an audience mostly made up of people who knew me (but who mostly didn't know I was in such a state) -- it became, of course, performative, but what isn't these days? And I am told that it was effective and striking, although what exactly was going on was obscured and deeply coded (because the details were probably not interesting and certainly not poetry). (Oh yes -- the obscuring of a romantic situation you didn't want to talk about, that also made Hopkins seem like a good choice...)

Still, I've already included way too much of the poem here (on the record!), and if I weren't such a packrat I would have deleted the file immediately after the reading.

flim, the quasi-literary journal that I published in various forms from 1996 to 2005, is back online. Or at least, the 2005 edition is back, which was being published daily until computer problems overwhelmed it. Anyway, pop over and check out the archives, if you haven't before.

1. If Geof Huth met Longfellow halfway in Longfellow Memoranda, Sina Queyras meets Virginia Woolf halfway in Lemon Hound. But I suspect Queyras and Woolf don't live as far apart. Lemon Hound returns, again and again, to a Woolvian world-weary melancholy, to that other sense of "the poetic". One poem starts: "If you open your mouth, ache. If you don’t open your mouth, swelter." I don't know Queyras's work outside of this book. What is her relationship to such melancholy? Is she leaning on Woolf to assume this emotional register, or as a way to incorporate this register into an exploration of other aspects of her poetry? Or is that register "natural" for her poetry? (Even if it is "natural", it's not unquestioned.) (And there are many other registers in the book, but this register is the tonic note that the book keeps coming home to.) I have been thinking lately about appropriation as a tool for accessing or allowing emotional writing. Does this book do that or not? I'd have to read other books by Queyras to tell.

2. But let's keep going with that poem:

If you open your mouth, ache. If you don’t open your mouth, swelter. If you open your mouth but hold your breath, ether. If you look for colour, coral and tea leaves. If you follow the moon, wet and concrete. If you cling to the earth, pistol and candy apple. If you give up your garden, maze and globe, hydrangeas and moon vines. If you lose your shoes, pumice and strain. If you have no money, tin and clang.
That's the beginning of "If". Like many of the poems in the book, it has a certain structure. It is a prose poem that repeats the opening phrase of each sentence ("If you..."). They are, in a certain sense, list poems. Lemon Hound explores, ah, not so much the form of the list, but the form of the list poem.

So far, the clauses before the comma are mostly stable: "If you X your Y", with one "If you X your Y but P your Q", which is not so different. But the clauses after the comma flicker. "Ache" and "swelter" are imperative verbs, but "ether" must be a noun. Hm. Well, "ache" and "swelter" are also nouns. Although, does "swelter" want to be a noun? It prefers being a verb, I think. Similarly, "wet" can be a noun, but wants to be an adjective. So there is some grammatical tension building. At first, the nouns go together nicely enough. "Coral and tea leaves" both connect to "colour" easily enough. But "maze and globe" require interpretation to be resolved, and "globe" re-moons the "moon" in "moon vines". And "pumice and strain"?

Later in the poem: "If you can, software and lingerie.", which adds (bitter?) humor to the ache and swelter. Then, instead of nouns, there is a verbal phrase with "If you love flowers, do not fold." But: "If you are blonde, topple, flax, moraine." And towards the end: "If you know anger, detonate and flex." "Flex" can be resolved into a noun, but "detonate" and "topple" can't, and the pattern of verbs forced into nounhood is complicated further. Can we imagine "a topple", "a detonate"? The form is a list, and at times reads as a preacher's rhetoric (get Obama to do the audiobook), but the expectations set up are, again and again, subverted.

3. It's not just Woolf: There's a secondary strand of Stein running through these poems. Lemon Hound is a book of short declarative sentences. There are almost no relative pronouns. Removing relative pronouns removes a form of subordination. It encourages repetition. It encourages lists. It discourages the overgrowth, the weedy and untended patches of nature that too easily grow in, say, my blog writing. It is a neatly trimmed pubic area. But it is a still human geometry, trimmed but not airbrushed, manicured but still pungent.

Let's Aristotle

I guess I think of poetry in three senses.

Poetry in the small sense, that is, received opinions on poetry held by, oh, the culture at large. "Oh, isn't that poetic!" "I was feeling upset, so I wrote some poetry and now I feel better." "I'm a poet and I don't even know it!" And so on, et cetera, und so weiter, kaj tiel plu.

Poetry in the middling sense, that is, poetry as the creations of a bunch of people and communities that think of themselves as creating poetry or working in poetic traditions. These creations are often called "poems". See this is slam poetry, that is post-avant poetry, this is a poem I wrote for my dog, this is a Norton anthology filled with poems.

Poetry in the large sense, that is, anything that is being read or understood as poetry, whether everyone would recognize it as poetry or not, whether it was created with the understanding of being poetry or not.

Hopefully this has clarified nothing. But I think that when I make big "poetry is X" statements (a bad habit) I sometimes would say something different if I were talking about a different sense of poetry.


So I'm finally on the Silliman blog roll. Who are my neighbo(u)rs?

Below me is Dave Pollard, who has a blog at Salon.com that seems less about poetry than it is about "making the world a better place". He asks: "If we're going to spend time playing video games, why not make them informative and get that energy directed at ways that can make the world a better place?" Well. Also, if we're going to spend time making burritos, why not make them informative and get that energy directed at ways that can make the world a better place? Also, if we're going to spend time cracking our knuckles, why not make them informative and get that energy directed at ways that can make the world a better place? Also he has a chart where he "reframes" received wisdom. So, instead of "if you want smart people to work for you, you have to pay them a competitive rate for their time", he reframes the idea as "what if you could produce an invitation so compelling that smart people would be willing to come together and solve a problem for free?" Which is true and handy and based on the fundamental principle that smart people shouldn't be compensated for being smart. Which, you know, perhaps they shouldn't.

Above me is Pearl Pirie, whose blog is nicely titled "Humanyms"(which sounds like a cross between humans, homonyms, and Houyhnhnms). She links glowingly to a Geof Huth piece, has Crag Hill on her blogroll, and uses the word "poet-y". Although it looks like her actual poetry blog is here? Anyway her blog(s) look like they're worth exploring.

She lives in Ottawa, and Pollard lives in, oh, apparently Winnipeg. I have made some sort of Canadian tic-tac-toe in the middle of the P section! Nick Piombino, you're next...

Geof Huth's new book, Longfellow Memoranda, consists of 366 poems written into the small spaces provided in a 1917 day book. Each day was accompanied with excerpts from one or two Longfellow poems, which Geof riffs off. You can read more about the book, follow links to samples, or order it. Here are three nice poety things about it:

1. Voice. Many of Geof's signature forms -- the pwoermds, the fidgetglyphs -- operate within words, or even within letters, and don't engage with concepts of "voice", of the characteristics of an imagined narrator or an imagined listener. They are, instead, nestled within the crenelations of the building blocks of language. But Longfellow's poetry is invested in the concept of "voice". And by meeting him halfway, Geof takes on its challenge. But by meeting him halfway, Geof complicates the challenge. Is the voice in these poems Geof's? Geof's through Longfellow's? Longfellow's through Geof? Some newborn persona, born through a dialectical struggle between the two? Longfellow (especially in the quotes selected for the day book) is sentimental. When these poems are also sentimental, is this Geof's own sentimentality finding a formal excuse to creep through? Or is he play-acting, or trying on foreign modes of sentimentality? And these questions neither have nor need answers, of course. Nor am I by any means suggesting that this book is alone in raising such questions, heavens no, but it did raise them in a clear and sustained way.

2. Form. Because the day book gave four lines per day, the majority of the poems are four lines long, though a few are shorter if the original owner had used up the space. A reproduction of a page of the day book included towards the end shows that on April 12th, the original owner used up all four lines, forcing Geof to write his poem in one cramped line underneath. This suggests that Geof could have occasionally gotten away with a five-line poem, but he never choose to do so.

Now, four is an irksome number to deal with. The classic problem with a foursome is that you just end up pairing off, which defeats the purpose of getting everybody together in the first place. Geof does a good job of working through the combinations here, in part through the judicious use of indentation (unless I missed something, he restricted himself to one level of indentation) and the occasional poem with less than four lines. You've got your ABBAs, your ABABs, your AAABs, your AAAAs, and your ABCDs, all of which are aggressively symmetric, but again, with the occasional indentation you can make a ABAB', which helps unsettle things. But what would the book have been like if it had only three lines, or a generous five lines! Five is the magic number, after all, where the combinations and asymmetries explode in your face. But perhaps the symmetries and formal rhythms of fourness are part of meeting Longfellow halfway.

3. Ligatures. Another book I'm reading right now, Steve McCaffery's Seven Pages Missing Vol. 1, has "ct" and "st" ligatures: st, should that character show up. I'm not really a big fan of such ligatures, in general -- they look nice on their own but they're distracting when you're reading. Longfellow Memoranda goes full-tilt with its ligatures: "gi", "sp", "it", and the creepily subtle "ee" ligature speckle its pages. Geof included the abundant ligatures as among the reasons why he chose the font. And I wouldn't bring it up, because in generally it didn't "work" for me. It looks "old" but the day book itself doesn't include such ligatures, though perhaps Longfellow's books during his lifetime would have -- but it looks older than that, even. But it was all worth it for this one poem, which as far as I know might even be a (terrific) typo:

Which reads, should the ligature show up on your browser:


This poem, playing off the "readst" in the original Longfellow, is on more familiar Huthian ground (note there's not much "voice" here!): "read" as verb, "reader" as noun, but "readest" as quasi superlative adjective, recasting "reader" and "read" as adjectives, reminding us that "read" is unstable and could be read "read", the past tense of "read", and with an old-timey ligature on newfangled superlative "readest" but not on the source's actual old-time morphological form "readst". The Longfellow poem begins: "Maiden, that readst this simple rhyme / Enjoy thy youth, it will not stay", and not even the word "readst" stayed. The grammar has shifted out from under us, had in fact already well shifted by Longfellow's time. The slippage can serve as a memento mori -- and the other Longfellow poem for that day is entitled "Morituri Salutamus" -- "We who are about to die salute you" -- and, well, who knew a list of morphological forms could be such a downer?

Well, Geof knew.

(There's also a really nice bit of typesetting involving two of the numberings for the poems, but I'm not going to spoil that surprise for you.)


  1. Cradle the sonnet in your hands.
  2. The Toronto Transit Map, anagrammed.
  3. Yes. (Rather than: No.)
  4. A method for presenting translation. (Via Languagehat)
  5. Someone recently reached Buggeryville by searching google.ca for "canadian poet blogs"; this blog is hit #30, which cannot possibly be right.

Actually I don't think I have much to say about Jack Spicer's Language after all!

Here is what I will say: It reads like a book that was at some point avant-garde. It is a collection of short verses gathered into longer poems gathered into a short book. And, like hundreds, maybe thousands of books and chapbooks that are published each year, it is a poetry of working out an idea or two. It is essayistic. It is a thinking-through. The last two lines (two words, even) spell out the intersection: "That time leaves us / Words, loves." But baseball, the death of JFK, and whatever else was at hand is mixed in as well. But I think what separates Language from those hundreds or thousands of books of experimental poetry is that Spicer doesn't seem primarily concerned about his thinking-through. He does not want to impress you with the quality of his thought process, or his insights, or the intersections of ideas that he is making -- though some of them are of quality. Instead of connecting ideas, he's connecting lines of poetry. The ideas just happen to be there, when they are. He would, I suspect, jettison an interesting idea if it would lead to a more interesting combination of words.

I've edited this from the sort of post I abhor to the sort of post I merely detest, so I'll sign off now. Go read the famous opening section or listen to him read the whole book. I can't find all of part 3 of "Morphemics" online ("Moon, / cantilever of sylabbles / If it were spelled 'mune' it would not cause madness.") but it's particularly choice.

Buy now!

This will be up for only a few days for perhaps obvious reasons, so if you actually want any of this crap, grab it quickly.

Secretly, yesterday's reenactment of Jack Spicer's last lecture was the event in the Scream's line-up that I was most excited about. I suppose this makes me a nerd of the highest order. Or a poetry fan. Or both. But it was a great idea; old poems get read all the time, but old lectures? old interviews? Outside of, oh, the Gettysburg Address, how often do lectures get re-presented?

The lecture was given at UC Berkeley, as part of a series of lectures given by the New American Poets from the Allen anthology (Ginsburg, Olson, Creeley, etc.). The topic was "politics and poetry", and Spicer's message, to oversimplify it, is that if you want to have a political effect, you're not going to achieve it by writing a poem. This is a contentious thing to say to a bunch of UC Berkeley students in 1965. Much of the lecture consists of Spicer asking for questions from the audience, and the audience trying to convince him that, yes, poems can have political effect, and Spicer being utterly unimpressed with the examples they bring up.

(If you haven't noticed, I'm more or less in Spicer's camp.)

The one person in the audience who brings up an example that Spicer is down with is Mary Norbert Körte, who at the time was a Dominican nun. She suggests that 1930s labor and civil rights anthems had some political effect, though perhaps they don't count as poetry? Spicer gets excited by this idea, and breaks out into a verse, "You'll get pie in the sky when you die." But he's not sure poetry achieves that effect very often.

It's a nice and meandering lecture, where both Spicer and the audience are thinking the issue through -- it loses focus at times, brings in other elements, starts with a firm conclusion and ends up less certain of it, you know, all the typical "thinking" characteristics.

So. Jesse Huisken (of This Ain't The Rosedale Library, yet another great little independent book store in Toronto) (unexpectedly on display there: Doug Nufer's Negativeland) came up with the idea of re-creating or re-presenting this lecture. Stan Rogal played Spicer, Jesse played the panel moderator (and, delightfully, Peter Gizzi's footnotes to the published transcription), and those of us in the audience played the people who were in the audience at the original event, ad lib. I ended up asking Mary Norbert Körte's question, for instance. And we sat on the concrete lawn in front of the bookshop, the sun blazing on us with a picnic table umbrella offering only so much protection, and we worked our way through the lecture.

The general feeling afterwards was that everyone was itching to ask a question of Spicer that wasn't in the script, because how often do you have a chance to ask Spicer a question? And we were all reacting to the issues brought up by the lecture, but we were thwarted from doing anything with our reactions unless it happened to be something that someone in 1965 asked. But Stan Rogal isn't a Benjamin Franklin impersonator (or whatever the Canadian equivalent would be -- are there John A. MacDonald impersonators?) and presumably wouldn't have felt comfortable answering for Spicer in that way.

Anyway what I want to say is obvious enough: There is a certain type of attention that a performative moment -- even one so barely performative as an amateur re-presenting like this one -- encourages, and it's one of the reasons why people go to lectures in the first place, and we sometimes re-present poems, but I think re-presenting lectures or events such as this one should be done more often, as a way of reading, or of pointing, or of paying attention.

. . .

My books arrived here in Toronto on Friday, so I got to spend the morning doing my every-few-years rereading of Spicer's Language, and I had a few things to say about that, but I guess I'll save it for another time.

. . .

I went to another event last night, and I don't have much to say about it. (OK, I have this comment: The piece based on Jordan Scott was based on a recording, and pulled some fun scattering rhythms from his stutter, but the thing about stuttering is that it's unpredictable, and the precision playing and the carefully lain out composing didn't recreate that -- not that it had to, but that was the aspect of Jordan's speech patterns that I was most interested in hearing "translated" into music. But that's my expectations being foiled, rather than the piece itself lacking anything -- it was a different piece than what I was hoping for, is all.) OK, I had a little to say about it. But I don't want to give Torontonians the idea that I'm always already going to endlessly blog about every little thing I go to. I am far too lazy for that.


I think the new rule will be that as soon as I get five links, I will dump them.

  1. Love poetry and advertising.
  2. A new high (or perhaps low, I can't quite tell) in inflation.
  3. Another look at lost letters.
  4. A slightly out of date cheat sheet to the Toronto (or, Canadian) poetry scene.
  5. On philosophers and poets. (#2 is quite nice. #3 suggests Plato was a successful philosopher and a failed poet, which only makes sense if you hate life. How does Wittgenstein fit into #3? In #6, the mathematician would favor the poet.)

Our panel: Marcus Boon moderating, Alexis Muirhead, Michael Maranda, Kenneth Goldsmith, M. NourbeSe Philip, and Sonja Ahlers talking. The topic: Appropriation, a.k.a. "stealing shit".

Marcus lays out a history of originality. It is not an original history but it will do. Originality didn't use to be so important. You know, medieval times. But then the Romantics. Also emerging at that time: copyright law and globalization! Also, the reaction against this isn't new: Dada appropriated, and appropriating African art. [I wonder: Nationalism? Dvořák? Messiaen, even?] Also: Communism took issue! But now, ach, DNA is being copyrighted. Anyway, Marcus wants to know what you do.

Alexis writes fanfic. She writes Due South fanfic. Some writers (Anne Rice) hate when their work is used for fanfic, some (J.K. Rowling) seem cool with it. Fanfic is female and queer and thus can fly under the radar -- some people just don't want to think about it! [I think about Todd Haynes finding out about fanfic after Velvet Goldmine came out and being surprised and delighted by the whole thing.]

Michael offers an artist's statement, but it's appropriated from someone else, which is to say it's a quote. From Italo Calvino. Then he talks about turmeric, as a traditional medicine that in 1995 was patented by a pharmaceutical company, but people complained, and it got overturned. He mentions many other legal cases. He has done his homework. It is interesting. He is soft-spoken. He wends from turmeric to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and beyond.

Kenny says the internet writes better than writers. He makes an analogy: internet:writing::photography:painting. He says, some people are writing as if the internet never happened. He says this as if it is not a good thing, as if those writers are doing something wrong. He asks what writers are to do, now that the internet. He says, writers don't write, they organize.

NourbeSe ties appropriation in with academic practices and with the footnote. She ties appropriation with the 80s sense of inappropriate appropriation of voice, which was a bad thing. [Later I think: That was the most interesting connection anyone made, and no one went with it.] She has been writing from a text of a legal case involving an incident in which a ship's crew dumped slaves because they could make insurance money. She makes a metaphor involving the desiccated legal language of the original document and her attempt to replenish it with water, but water is where those people drowned.

Sonja also provides quotations as a sort of artist's statement, but she has several quotes, and presents them somewhat randomly. Her work, like Michael's, is also visual, though his is more fine art, and hers is more zine art, but now zine art is fine art. She makes, you might say, visual poetry collages. Also she lives in Whitehorse, which is in the Yukon. [I think: I thought that the Yukon, like the Ukraine, now prefers to be "the"-less, but perhaps not.] She likes to appropriate "gently". She likes to preserve the ephemeral, what would be forgotten anyways.

Is that everyone? Yes, but wait Kenny is reminded of when Warhol displayed his Brillo paintings and they were a huge success and he made lots of money and then the guy who designed the Brillo packaging came in and was pissed cause he was a frustrated abstract expressionist. Oh and also he is reminded of how a bunch of people came up with a silent music piece at around the same time but Cage got the credit and at some point he was asked about this and he said "I was the first to bring silence to the market" and isn't that ironic because Cage is a Zen Buddhist but here he is using market speak! [And I think: Oh, Kenny, you know Cage well enough to not actually find that ironic.]

OK, well, Marcus wants to know what signing your name is all about. How does that work, when you steal shit?

Sonja thinks that, now that her zine work is art work, signing her name means something different.

Kenny talks about economies. Some are functional (and make people money). Some are broken (and make people poetry). Ubu stuff doesn't make any money; it's part of the broken economy. There is a John Lennon piece on Ubu, but it is nothing anyone would pay for, so the Lennon estate don't seem to care. And what makes more money than Lennonania? But only in the legitimate economy. He says, once you leave the legitimate economy you learn that copyright law is an illusion.

OK, says Marcus, but that doesn't really get to my question about signing your name. You signed your name to Day, the book where you copied an entire issue of the New York Times. What was that about?

Kenny thinks that Day was the "greatest book ever written". More specifically, it was a newspaper, and Marshall McLuhan (or someone) thinks that any copy of a daily newspaper is the "greatest book ever written", so Kenny will appropriate that comment.

No one breaks out into fisticuffs.

NourbeSe didn't want to use her name on her book, the one about the drowned slaves. But there were economic issues involved, because the publisher could use her name to make more money, and she could use the money too. Kenny pops in with an O RLY?, surprised that she makes any money at all at poetry. Anyhoo, she and her publishers decided that they could say the book is "as told to the author by..." which nicely ties it in with slave narratives.

Michael signed his Kant-based book with his name, and his Melville-based book with Melville's name, and these days signs his name when someone else is publishing it, and doesn't if he's publishing it.

Kenny sent a copy of Day to the New York Times and believes they threw it out. Marcus brings up how Brian Kim Stefans did something with the New York Times, and Kenny tells about how Brian took the nytimes.com design and replaced all the content with anti-war texts, and he got a cease-and-desist. But it was more for stealing the look-and-feel rather than the content.

Alexis points out that she, like most fanfic authors, writes anonymously. There is, she says, a culture of fear in fanfic, because they could get ceases-and-desists or other legal action should CTV decide that they don't care for Due South fanfic. So they stay anonymous and write elaborate intros about how they don't own the characters, won't make any money off this, and are just in it for kicks. [But does Kenny "own" that edition of the New York Times? He might not have made any money off the book, but surely The Scream paid for his trip to Toronto, and probably gave him an honorarium as well, due in no small part to Day. How broken is Kenny's economy?]

Kenny asks Alexis if she is an amateur. She says she is. He asks if she considers it a hobby or does she think she has made a body of work. She thinks it's a body of work. She thinks it's literature, but she thinks most fanfic writers probably don't think that about their work. I think somewhere in here NourbeSe made a comment suggesting that anything you do that doesn't earn money could be called a hobby, sure, why not.

No one breaks out into fisticuffs.

Marcus wants to know whether all this leads to a "gift economy".

Michael thinks it's more of a "service economy". More like McDonald's than Starbucks, because of the lack of benefits. But Revenue Canada will let you write all sorts of things off if you're a writer, and "the promise of income doesn't need to be one's lifetime". So, yeah, keep writing things off. Thanks, Canada! [Not that I can earn revenue here, except through my school.]

Kenny thinks Ubu is a gift economy. Ubu doesn't ask permission, so they get things done. MoMA asks permission, so they don't have much on their site. Go Ubu! Michael wants to know if that's a gift or a theft economy (he means no disrespect). Kenny says that no one is stopping them, so that makes it a gift.

No one breaks out into fisticuffs.

Marcus wants to know what everyone's attitude is towards appropriation, or the materials appropriated?

Sonja collects and organizes and falls in love with things, with images. [I think: collecting and organizing everything you fall in love with -- is this the story of my life?]

Alexis wants to get back to the gift economy thing, because that term comes up a lot in fanficland. For instance, she will write a fanfic for someone specifically for their birthday. Or to trade for someone who will make an image for her.

No one breaks out into fisticuffs, not even when question from the audience is solicited.

Someone in the audience [update: apparently, Paul Dutton] wants to know about legal retribution and John Oswald. Kenny points out that the Plunderphonics stuff has been reproduced everywhere online and so it seems that the legal injunction was useless. Marcus finds legal decisions to be but a moment in an ongoing history about an issue, and that the relationship between the law and lived experience is in no way a one-to-one correspondence [and how often have I brought that point up in history classes?]. Michael sees copyright violation as an excuse to bring down the law, or so my note says, although I can't remember what that meant.

OK, audience, you've said enough! Thank you for not fisticuffsing! Marcus would like to end with a zinger: Does anything belong to anyone?

Alexis: Yes. Fanfic is a fear-based community, and they are constantly aware of ownership issues and limits and the ethics of claiming the characters are "their" characters. [I think: Well, I think a set of things that are not easy to write out in a parenthetical -- and also I am no expert, and feel like I'm stepping on toes here -- on about the nature of fanfic authorship and ownership, how they can't own their characters for it to properly be fanfic, how admitting this Due South mountie was not the Due South mountie would fuck everything up.]

Michael: "It's complicated."

Kenny: Legitimate economies are fine, but they're not the only economies.

NourbeSe: Yes but [inaudible -- it's changing?].

Sonja: Yes and no. Use common sense if you appropriate.

. . .

Then it was over, and there was a brief and fisticuffs-free intermission before a reading, which was thoroughly great and which I probably won't really go into here, but big ups to derek beaulieu for writing poems that I no longer have to write, and for Rob Read and his budgie poem, the first time I've seen a sound poet pull off polyphonic sound poetry on his lonesome without electronics or anything but plenty of lip and tongue action.

But yes: The panel did not go terribly deep, nor was it terribly energetic, but it was surprisingly broad. Kenny and Michael are the obvious go-to people for this sort of topic, but bringing in fanfic and zine art were great ways of going with this topic, and NourbeSe had interesting things to say on the topic that were very different from what Kenny and Michael were saying, but unfortunately she got a bit lost in the shuffle. Alas.

Polyphony sucks

[Of course, I forgot to scan/photograph the illustration where Feldman has doodled "POLYPHONY SUCKS", so I should have gone with a different title. It's on page 158 of the book. It's cute.]

The essays from the first decade or so collected in Morton Feldman's Give My Regards To Eighth Street make frustrating reading. They're suffused with the petty complaints, the pointless character assassinations, and the implausible approbations of an ambitious young artist clearing a path:

Messiaen on the other hand is more robust... Messiaen is artistically Gallic and considerably more abstract -- remember he's a younger man. He is fascinated by complicated rhythmic cells derived from the East and shows a curious preoccupation with bird calls.

Out of this poor man's aviary a sustained piano chord in unbelievably bad taste raised the audience to a state of exaltation. I closed my eyes. Slowly the same bourgeois family came into focus. This time they were endlessly climbing hills -- or was it always the same hill? In the frenzy around me I couldn't quite determine. Let me say only that Paul Jacobs's playing of the piano part was so brilliant, so matter of fact, so Olympian, that one felt he should be climbing not hills, but mountains. This, unfortunately, ruined the outing for the other members of the family, but that is merely incidental.

"Mr. Schuller's History Lesson", 1963
This is, you know, fun enough, I suppose. I'm not sure Messiaen's famous bird calls are any more "curious" a thing to get fascinated by than, say, Turkish rugs (although perhaps Feldman wasn't fascinated by them yet, in 1963?) or mushrooms. But connecting Messiaen with the bourgeois family is something Feldman chose to do, it's in Feldman's head -- music is not that programmatic! -- and it's unclear that anyone else would have made that kind of connection. So this passage is amusing, maybe, and gives us a look at how young Feldman (about two years older than me when he wrote this) thought, but I'm not sure it's very... helpful.

After a while, the essays stop trying to tear down "respectable" composers and are satisfied in offering up the fruits of Feldman's wanderings. "The Future Of Local Music", a set of anecdotes, doodles ("POLYPHONY SUCKS"), and reinterpretations of artistic problems, is the highlight of the book. There, he tells stories involving other composers, and sometimes to disagree with them. But he is not quite so interested in calling them bourgeois, clucking at their interests, and washing his hands of them:
Stockhausen asked me for my secret, "What's your secret?" And I said, "I don't have any secret, but if I do have a point of view, it's that sounds are very much like people. And if you push them, they push you back. So, if I have a secret: don't push the sounds around." Karlheinz leans over to me and says: "Not even a little bit?"

"The Future of Local Music", 1984
And so why does he make the switch? Let us say it is entirely my fault. Ten days after I was born, he wrote this:
August 12, 1975

Until about ten years ago I wrote often about music. I no longer do. The writing was usually polemical in content. In recent years I do not want to argue with talent. I want to be thankful for it regardless from where it comes.

"Statement", 1975
Feldman was going on fifty when he wrote that; if you listen to these fantastic conversations between Cage and Feldman from nine years earlier (and if you're at all interested in either of them, you should) you can hear Feldman struggling to accept this position. I think it's a good position, and I'm struggling to accept it as well.

(Nevertheless, tonight I'm going to see Kenneth Goldsmith, who is talented yet antagonizing, so that should test my mettle.)

I dipped into another of The Scream's events, this time to see a revival of the Lexiconjury Reading Series. This gimmick this time: Have three "younger" poets read, and pair each with an "older" poet who will do some sort of collaboration with them. Each collaboration was done differently -- Steve Venright transformed and enlimericked Alixandra Bamford's poems, Sharron Harris illustrated Natalie Zina Walschots's series of poems about supervillians, and Paul Dutton joined Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl in that way that sound poets do. Norðdahl is of the "fast and articulate" school of sound poets, along the lines of Christian Bök (whom he read a poem dedicated to, an Icelandic monovocalic piece in which the only vowel was ö), and was a treat, and he and Dutton performed together quite well, in that way that sound poets do.

During the first break, Jay MillAr (who I guess went to the mARK oWEns school of capitalization) set up his mobile bookshop, which had a terrific collection of poetry books, and oof I just wasn't in a position to throw down a few hundred on poetry books. Not just yet. But I was agog at the selection. It included books by Kaia and Kasey, which again made me a touch homesick.

Afterwards there was an "Open Michelle", and I decided to stop being a total wallflower and read. The rules were that you had to read a cover poem and one of your own. I mostly took my time saying "hi" and explaining who the hell I was, lurking at these readings. Eventually I read Joseph Bradshaw's "'You,' by George Oppen" (from his new book This Ocean, and maybe more on that later) and then "for Gale Czerski".

The open mic was generally pretty great, and it was good to hear the variety of poetries that people are working on. And to actually meet and say hello to people this time. And this post has been far more LiveJournal-y than I want Buggeryville posts to be, so I'll leave it at that.

Thursday night: Kenneth Goldsmith, Michael Maranda, and others on a panel about copyright and appropriation. Should be a treat!


I finally found the complete Ennodius (in Latin) (see also). It turns out that the beloved rabbit/lion poem is part of a set of epigrams about hermaphrodites (or a hermaphrodite). I decided to translate a few. These are, uh, not the most literal translations; Ennodius is not quite Dorothy Parker.

Exige mendaces, populorum uxorcula, barbas,
Ne minuant quaestum mascula labra tuum

To a hermaphroditic whore

Lose the 'stache;
you'll make more cash.

. . .

Ludit in ancipiti constans fallacia sexu:
Femineum patitur: peragit cum turpia, mas est

Your sex is shady,
it's either/or.
A pleasant lady,
but male? A boor.

Craig Conley worked up one of my poems from The Redundancies for his ongoing Colorful Allusions series. Check it out!

I got into Toronto quickly and smoothly Thursday.

Then yesterday I went to see my first poetry reading here. (Toronto, apparently, unlike New York, does not think it is in elementary school and should get summers off.) (UPDATE: I'm told this is not as true as it seemed at first. Oh well.) It was part of The Scream, a week-long festival.

Except I got a little confused. I thought I was going to a reading-cum-art show featuring work by, amongst others, Michael Maranda and derek beaulieu. I arrived at 7, but... well, long story, but it was the art show opening that had no reading; the reading at 9 was unrelated. Since I am completely incompetent at mignling, I ended up meeting only one nice woman who said hi and we chatted about Toronto vs. Portland (the first of many such conversations, no doubt), but I didn't get her name. D'oh!

The art work poetry whatever was great, including Maranda's version of Mallarmé's "Un coup de dès n'abolira pas le hasard", which is basically a reproduction of the original edition but with all the words white-taped out, and a cabinet by beaulieu with what was apparently all the "A"s from a box of Alpha-Bits pinned down and labelled like so many butterfly samples.

The reading was basically: Lots of people died in 1957. People in the audience picked out a text by or about one of those people and read it for two minutes, timed. At the end of the two minutes, a woman in a black veil lightly tapped the reader on the shoulder, indicating that Their Time Had Come. People had fun with the format, a highly ecclectic set of texts were read, etc. (I did not participate.)

It was a nice night. It was at a cute little indie book store, Type Books, which has a "plotless fiction" section (a third of which I have read or owned or were by David Markson so I might as well have read them). It was very strange being at a poetry reading where I didn't know anyone and where I wasn't in charge of anything. Oddly passive. But I could have been more active about it. (I did not participate.)

(Written for my recent reading. Not read exactly as written. See also The alphabet: An introduction, which was read earlier in the reading, and which this piece references.)

I wanted to write an alphabet of the poets we know here in Portland, in the Spare Room part of Portland. David would be D, and Maryrose would be M, and Mark would be M, and… but Maryrose isn’t Mark, and Mark isn’t Maryrose, but M is M, so… but Lindsay could be L, and Rodney could be R, and they could be left and right, and Robbie could be R, although Rodney isn’t Robbie, and Robbie isn’t Rodney, but R is R, but also Robbie’s already gone to Buffalo, so… and Jules could be J, and Kaia could be K, and together they could be just kidding, and margareta could be M, but, Maryrose isn’t margareta and Mark isn’t margareta and margareta isn’t Maryrose or Mark… but margareta is a lowercase m! but then again, so is mARK, sometimes… and do we want an alphabet where lowercase m and uppercase M count as different letters? and Dan is D but isn’t David, and Joel is J but isn’t Jules, and Jared is also J but Jared isn’t Jules and Jules isn’t Joel and Joel isn’t Jared and I’m not even sure Jared’s Jared and now Joseph’s back in town which is great but you can’t all be J! At least Bethany is B and I can’t think of another B, but I bet Bethany wishes she were Œ. Gale is safely G and Cynthia might soon have C to herself, oh except Cat and the other Cynthia are also Cs… Tony and Tom can tussle for T. Patrick might be the only P, Endi is a cinch for E, Sam can be S, but Ashley and Alicia are both As, and Lisa and Laura have been Ls in this town longer than Lindsay has… and maybe Maryrose could be MR but she is no mister and she’s certainly not mentally retarded. And this is hardly everyone! If this is supposed to be the alphabet, it’s not an exhaustive list, it’s in no particular order, and it has left off important letters like O and Y and certainly hasn’t considered any Æs or &s… This is not the alphabet marching in rank and file atop the chalkboard in an elementary school classroom, it’s a bundle of signboard letters found in a decaying briefcase in the basement of a long-abandoned church, the sort of thing that would get snapped up at a garage sale in this town.

(This should automatically post right around when my flight leaves to Toronto. Thank you all, again and again, those mentioned in this piece and those not, for being my alphabet.)


How to read the Jumble. Those Wordsworth sonnets on capital punishment that Jackson Mac Low mentioned. Another example of cod Hebrew (after a long bit about GI troubles, you might want to skim down for the images of cod Hebrew). Further adventures in homophonic translation.


Template based on one by GeckoandFly which was modified and converted to Blogger Beta by Blogcrowds.