To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Saturday, February 25, 2017

John Bloomberg-Rissman: from “With the Noose Around My Neck,” a poem & collage in progress

the cuckoo is a pretty bird,
she warbles as she flies
The cuckoo is a
- BANG -
                                                --Sean Bonney, The Commons 

The earth is currently operating in a no-analog state. In the center of the grid is a glass water pitcher. The pink lightning was branched — I think I mean forked. Instead of these, I was given an insect, a peculiar prehistoric creature, part lobster, part spider, part bell-ringer, part son of a fallen star, something like an armored dog. But of course a 

name means nothing to a place 

place-names are necessary relations 

a name recovered returns the claims of human affection
      for a place 

place-names identify a field of biotic relationships 

place-names are allied to habitat restoration 

listen to a place-name, hear the dead speak 

some place-names follow speech but run counter to

names change when the guard of speech alters 

some place-names are all that remain of lost languages 

our place-names un-name older names 

most people live in places, a few dwell in names 

the meaning of a name may go into oblivion long
      before the name itself 

perhaps in the way Dipesh Chakrabarty once said the colonized are placed in a perpetual “waiting room of history.” To wait for what? — For it to get worse? It already is worse. For it to get better? The cuckoo is a pretty bird. I wear a flowery dress to prison and let them shave my head off ... I press my hands to the window and hang my head. I know that somewhere in the darkened city there is a silent place where a tiny, frightened animal is scratching at the dust and earth, and it won’t stop until it uncovers some kind of burning rock that will illuminate the entire structure. ‘Fuck. / / Am I smiling [anyway], I think / so?’ Because parts, after all, are always unequal to the whale. I am easily distracted and I like to put clothes on dogs. And nothing moved nothing was moving. Nothing moved. Nothing was moving it was moving but at first it wasn’t going anywhere. That’s right. That room is locked. Is it the same room or a completely different one? We had an 
old mattress wed had it for years and the salesman
 wed bought it from had assured us it would last us a lifetime    and it
was getting older and lumpy or lumpy in some places and hollowed out
  in others and    i just assumed it was part of a normal process of aging
 it was getting older we were getting older and wed get used to it     but
  eleanor has a bad back and she was getting desperate to get rid of
this mattress     that had lived with us for such a long time and so
 totally      that i thought i knew all its high points and low points     its
eminences and pitfalls    and i was sure    that at night my body
 worked its way carefully around the lumps    dodging the precipices
and moving to solider ground whenever it could
                                              but maybe eleanor
sleeps more heavily than i do    i have a feeling that i spent much of
 my life at night avoiding the pitfalls of this mattress that i was used
to     and it was a skill id acquired over the ten or fifteen years of this
 mattress’ life     so I felt there was no reason to get rid of this mattress
that had been promised to us by a salesman who said it would last the
 rest of our lives     i figured we were going to live long lives i didnt
think we were anywhere    close to dying     so neither was the mattress
  but eleanor kept waking up with backaches
          still i figured it was a good mattress and that elly just didnt have
 enough skill at avoiding the lumps      it never occurred to me that the
mattress was at fault     so i didnt  do anything     and elly didnt do
  anything because shes not into consumer products and hates to go
 shopping    but by the end of a year elly convinced me     because she
  has a sensitive back and i dont     that she had a more accurate
  understanding of this business than i did      so I said sure eleanor
         lets get a new mattress      were rebuilding the house 

Every bird perched on an electric line is a reason to keep on going one more day. And every bird that swoops off, flies around in a mad circle, and swoops back down to land, is a reason to love. At a particular moment in time, it seems that the birds are everything. Through all of loss and being lost, there are the birds. The pigeon looks at the ground, its heart at your feet. This is a panel on interspecies communication. Goodbye. Hello. “A wrong life cannot be lived rightly.” And here we are in the dark in general, like snow in von Trier. Do not chew or crush the tablets. In emergency use bus lane. Amazing journeys start here. Restart your heart. Restart your heart. Powered by RoadPilot. LIFE JACKET UNDER SEAT. Tell us ten things, please. These blocks appear to have been arranged to imply relations between the texts, and to distinguish the ‘voices’ of the various contributors. This transcription seeks to preserve these features of the text by maintaining proportionately the left margins as they appear in the assemblage. To avoid ambiguities not present in the original xeroxed text, where it is a straightforward matter to distinguish one contributor’s writings from all the others by the appearance of their distinctive typography or orthography, we have indicated which blocks appear to have been the work of the same contributor by use of alphanumerical identifiers in the form: [A 1, 2...], [B 1, 2...], etc. Under a blue fog — 

PROGRAM MrsGorman (Input, Output);
   Indifferent = 60
   Thursday, Indisposed, Called: BOOLEAN;
   Bed, Chair, Hearth, Fire, Window, open: BOOLEAN;
   Rand, Temperature: INTEGER;
BEGIN {Main Program}
IF Thursday THEN
   IF NOT (Indisposed)
      THEN Called:= True
   ELSE {If Indisposed}
   IF NOT Called THEN Random;
         IF Rand = 0 THEN (Bed)
      ELSE {if Rand = 1then}
      BEGIN {Else}
         IF Temperature < Indifferent
            THEN (Chair and Hearth AND Fire)
         ELSE IF Temperature > Indifferent
            THEN (Chair AND Window AND Open)
         ELSE IF Temperature = Indifferent THEN
            BEGIN {Else if}
               IF Rand = 0
                  THEN (Chair and Window AND NOT Open)
               ELSE {if Rand = 1then}
                  (Chair AND Hearth AND NOT Fire)
      END {Else if}
   END {Else}
END {Main Program}

For the word is not beneath the earth so that a man says Dig, nor is it in the heavens that a man may tell you Leap. Meanwhile, tourists will stand far outside any clouds of teargas that may appear. It is part of what defines them. They might want a trace of the smell on their clothes, but still it is the avoidance of pain that is the central fact of their collective dream. Nothing will cause them to disperse. They hold maps. Here is the factory. Here is the museum. Here is the hell of stars. And yet ... and yet ... your flesh is cared for dimly, lots of it cost more per cherub to save up in vats — but that is the logic of risk management in general. Prepare to grow that shit. This is a reminder. From the larynx to the boulder, under groundhog’s grease, from the coagulation to the yellow root in the closet by the fleece. For isn’t the foot one of the most important places in the body? A planet of sand. Sand mountains, sand plains, sand valleys. Sand weather. What if John Calvin had used CBD? “It’s a strange day,” Alysia says, “A green bug in my room & now this mushroom growing in your car.” The analysis, the most comprehensive to date, indicates that animal populations plummeted by 58% between 1970 and 2012, with losses on track to reach 67% by 2020. This mercy will replace to them near first exactly, as taken from clear at new payment tacit doesn’t reduce the few. Natural as due not meaning to; a cloud, after all is not nothing. The stench here is style. “We know this warmth acts like the life shared by all earth’s plants because when it increases in the spring, plants of all kinds sprout from the soil. They dress themselves in their leafy finery and then in their blossoms and eventually in fruit.” Nevertheless, not all ancient commentators assumed that coughing is necessarily the opposite of soul or meaningfulness. A ninth-century Arabic translation by Thābit ibn Qurra of the Aristotelian compendium known as Problemata physica reflects on the fact that the cough is not universal in the animal world, and indeed might almost be thought to be in some respects characteristic of humans rather than animals: Why is it that some animals cough, while others do not, for example a man coughs, but an ox does not? I wanted to write a poem as good as that one, do you know it? Two graces condescended from the Milky Way and landed in a Stockholm recording studio. They had to put their fingers in it. They had to puncture glass to get at it. And if that glass is the window of a Whole Foods, selah. If you don’t put your nose in it and make it part of you it will only be the meh life not the good life, the Bat Opera, the body mounds. So what you see in these rectangles are OH right OH right I forgot THERE’s the HEADLESS HORESEMEN on a TEEVEE show that will decide if you’re a “GOOD” or “BAD” artist or not ... but I DIGRESS, because honestly it would be better to set up some offshore banking account in the Cayman Islands — which incidentally would also surely be a FANTASTIC location for the STARS OF CINEMAROC piece I’d actually really like to do if anyone reading this could FUND that particular project of mine because I know a LOT OF WEALTHY ASS PEOPLE walk though this space. But I digress again because  

                        the birds
                           are real           

                           bring out

the washers
bring her over
to the table, i’ll
take her head
and you hold her
body, keep your
hands around
her wings, try to
keep her keel
up from the
table with your
fingers — many
of these guys
are very thin. 




                                    ok hold
                        on to her lower
                        back there so she
can’t kick herself
off the table, good
job here’s her leg,
let’s keep going, can
you please part the
wings a little with
your thumbs,

I crashed there, you know. In the field where an elf on a sleigh is painted 

[author’s note. With the Noose Around My Neck, the next section of the multi-part work Zeitgeist Spam, is both a continuation of In the House of the Hangman and a (more or less) mirror, “algorithmically” speaking, of the previous section, Flux, Clot & Froth. So I’m going to “unpack/sample” my library, and will at the same time also sample whatever comes into my RSS feed, as well as any downloads, emails, overheard conversations, the news, TV ... and whatever else presents itself as appropriate. And mash it all up. As with all of ZS, Noose will be composed in sections, which are designed to disappear into one seamless work. It will last as long as Trump and the aftermath.]  

[SOURCES: The cuckoo ... BANG –: Sean Bonney, The Commons; The earth ... no-analog state: Amsterdam Declaration on Global Change, 13 July 2001, quoted in Ian Angus, Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System; in the center ... pitcher: CA Conrad, “Spider Symbiosis: Time With Freya”, at So(ma)tic Poetry Rituals, 23 Oct 016; The pink ... forked: Bhanu Kapil, “Notes for a novel not yet written: BAN”; Instead ... dog: Brigit Pegeen Kelly (RIP), “ISKANDARIYA”, quoted in John Keene, “Poem: Brigit Pegeen Kelly”, at J’s Theater, 3 Apr 08; But of course: JBR;a name means nothing ... before the name itself: Alec Finlay, “A Poem of Namings, from Gaelic and Norn”, quoted in Jerome Rothenberg, “Alec Finlay: A Poem of Namings, from Gaelic and Norn”, at Poems and Poetics, 24 Oct 016; perhaps in the way Dipesh ... shave my head off ...: JBR, as remixed by Lynn Behrendt, “I Haul I Haul I Touch Myself”, in A Picture of Everyone I Love Passes Through Me; I press ... I think / so?’: Sean Bonney, “Letter in Turmoil 14 / Note on the Hallucinations”, at Abandoned Buildings, 13 Oct 016; Because parts ... whale: Rod Smith, blurb for Brandon Brown, The Good Life, at Big Lucks; I am easily ... clothes on dogs: Jenny Lawson, “Dorothy Barker is more graceful than any of us, really”, at The Bloggess, 23 Oct 016; And nothing moved ... different one?: Ken Edwards, a book with no name; We had an old mattress ... rebuilding the house: David Antin (RIP), “the theory and practice of postmodernism—a manifesto”, at; Every bird ... interspecies communication: Janice Lee, “Interspecies Communication”, at Entropy, 25 Oct 016; Goodbye ... lived rightly”: David Grundy, The Problem, The Questions, The Poem, and Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (tr. EFN Jephcott), quoted in Lisa Jeschke, “Jisa Jeschke on David Grundy’s Poetry”, in Sundial [Compleat] 2016 (ed. Richard Owens); And here we are ... von Trier; Ian Heames and Jonty Tiplady, “from Sonnets”, in Sundial [Compleat] 2016 (ed. Richard Owens); Do not chew ... ten things: nick-e melville, “Lyrical Commands”; please: JBR; These blocks ... [A 1, 2...], [B 1, 2...], etc: “Editorial Notes”, in Certain Prose of the English Intelligencer (eds. Neil Pattison, Reitha Pattison, Luke Roberts), Second revised edition, 2014; under a blue fog: Samantha Walton, Amaranth, Unstitched, in Sundial [Compleat] 2016 (ed. Richard Owens); PROGRAM MrsGorman ... END {Main Program}: Samuel Beckett, Watt (tr. Hugh Kenner), quoted in Reynard Seifert, “HyperNormalisation”, at HTMLGIANT, 26 Oct 016; For the word ... tell you Leap: David Brazil, “The Method”, in Sundial [Compleat] 2016 (ed. Richard Owens); Meanwhile, tourists ... hell of stars: Sean Bonney, “Letter in Turmoil 16 / Further Notes on Teargas”, at Abandoned Buildings, 26 Oct 016; And yet ... and yet ...: Issa; your flesh is cared ... management in general: Joe Luna, “Save Lots”, in Sundial [Compleat] 2016 (ed. Richard Owens); Prepare to grow ... by the fleece: Justin Katko, “With Only the Handle Visible”, in Sundial [Compleat] 2016 (ed. Richard Owens); For isn’t the foot ... in the body?: Linda Mary Montano, “The Performance Of Montano’s Shoe Store: Linda Mary Montano 2000/2016”, at Linda Mary Montano, 26 Oct 016; A planet ... sand weather: Don DeLillo, The Names, quoted in dmf, “I can’t get the Empty Quarter out of my mind”, at -synthetic zero, 26 Oct 016; What if John ... CBD?: JBR; “It’s a strange ... car”: Steve Abbott, “It’s A Strange Day Alysia Says A Green”, at README; The analysis ... 67% by 2020: Damian Carrington, “World on track to lose two-thirds of wild animals by 2020, major report warns”, at The Guardian, 26 Oct 016 (I don’t mean to mitigate this in any way, but somehow the headline writer and the author have conflated animals and vertebrates); This mercy ... meaning to: JH Prynne, “Infusion”, quoted in John Armstrong, “Clarifying Difficult Poetry: Infusing with JH Prynne. Again”, at Arduity; a cloud ... not nothing: Simon Jarvis, “Why Rhyme Pleases, quoted in John Armstrong, “Simon Jarvis’ Jerusalem Deleted and Long Difficulties”, at Arduity; The stench here is style: nick-e-melville, Alert State is Heightened: an imperative imprimatura; “We know this warmth ... eventually in fruit”: Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom (tr. George F. Dole); Nevertheless: JBR; not all ancient ... ox does not: Steven Connor, Beyond Words: Sobs, Hums, Stutters and other Vocalizations; I wanted to ... good life: Brandon Brown, “The Last Words of Gerard Manley Hopkins”, “The Good Life”, in The Good Life; the Bat Opera: JBR, reference to a series of paintings by Marvin Gaye Chetwynd; body mounds ... digress again because: AL Steiner, “Total agential realism, rad aleatory abstractions: Art + Porn/On Robt. Heinecken”, and “Welcome to My Rectangle”, at Hello my name is A.L. Steiner, and “Portfolio by A.L. Steiner”, at BOMB, 28 Oct 016; the birds ... thumbs, yes: Laura Corsiglia, How to Handle a Bird; I crashed ... sleigh is painted: Tomaž Šalamun, “On the Tracks of Wild Game” (tr. Sonja Kravanja), in Currently & Emotion: Translations (ed. Sophie Collins)]

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Jerome Rothenberg & David Antin: A First Interview with Kenneth Rexroth (1958), Redux

The memory of Kenneth Rexroth goes back into my distant past. I had been aware of him since the 1940s but with renewed interest during the 1950s & the emergence of the San Francisco Renaissance & that early Beat Generation for which he was an older spokesman. With David Antin & others, circa 1958, I was coming into contact with poets outside of our immediate neighborhood &, as with Kenneth, outside of our own generation.

I think our first meeting with him was under the pretext of doing an interview for Chelsea Review, during its early period, when Robert Kelly & George Economou were among the co-founders & editors. I have a memory too of having caught up with Rexroth at the CBS Studios in New York, to watch him being interviewed by Mike Wallace, but David seems not to have been a part of that. Afterwards, we agreed to meet and do our own interview at the Five Spot, a popular jazz club in what would later be called the East Village, where Kenneth was performing nightly with Pepper Adams’ quintet.

In that ambience the interview we did was secondary, but the chance to watch Kenneth was something I felt as memorable from the outset. By that I mean Kenneth talking & Kenneth doing jazz & poetry, all of it with an outrageous zest & for the moment at least with a belief in his own presence & power as a public person & a man who had the real goods & could well display them.

Our interview was never published but I retained a copy of the manuscript and have recently dug it out of my papers and manuscripts at the New Poetry Archives of the University of California, San Diego. In 1958, it’s clear, there was no tape recording to fall back on, but I was busily writing down notes in a weird kind of shorthand that I had picked up while working for a sometimes questionable New York outfit called Writers Service. I can still hear his voice as I read through it, and I’m aware now, as I was then, of how much he was trying to dazzle us. We took it all in stride, including the irritability and impatience he displayed toward other poets, and learned later that it was a part of any encounter with Kenneth.

For David and me there would be other meetings with Kenneth down the years – not too many but all of them comradely and without rancor. He was incredibly supportive of the work I did with ethnopoetics and with an avantgardism for which he was often an interested but skeptical supporter. We only found out, after his death, that our connection with New Directions – the poetry rather than the poetics – was largely of his doing. That he had never called this to our attention is something I find as moving as the support itself.

What follows, then, is an unedited version of our interview with him, scribbled by hand at the Five Spot.

As Rexroth sat down a well-dressed woman over at the side pointed him out to a group of friends, speaking in an audible, almost passionate tone: “That’s him, that’s the poet, the PO-ET!”

Rexroth: Feed him some peanuts (Laughter).
R&A: How are things here?
Rexroth: Not bad...This isn’t the best town for what we’re doing. Too many other things to pull the crowds away.

R&A: Better audiences here?
Rexroth: I don’t think so. I find a New York audience is less sophisticated. They miss all the better lines. I mean I like to throw out some patter before we start, to relax them. You do it here and they’ll sit right below the bandstand and never crack a smile...all the music and literary references go right by them.

R&A: What are the differences outside of New York?
Rexroth: Well, we draw bigger there. We pack in crowds in some places they would never dream of here. You can’t match the enthusiasm. This is a big cultural event for a lot of those people. This is a big cultural event for a lot of those people. They’re quick to respond. Like in St. Louis I said, “We want to pay tribute to St. Louis’ two greatest citizens, Jimmy Blanton and Karl Schurz,” and some guy got up and applauded...Wouldn’t happen here.

R&A: In the Jazz-Poetry itself, what are you trying to achieve? What effects do you go after?
Rexroth: You don’t always get what you want, of course, but we’re learning...What I try with my own stuff is to work the poem to a slow climax through a series of quiet painful dissonances. They (the musicians) aren’t dissonant enough for me. There’s too much funkiness. On a tour like this you can’t expect too much, playing with different groups.

R&A: What’s the trouble?
Rexroth: A lot of the boys just don’t want to practice. I have some of my own Chinese translations in the book, and I try to get them to listen to tapes of Chinese music and build the jazz around it. There’s a tendency for it to come out like 42nd Street chop-suey music. Its not a bad effect altogether, but it isn’t what I want.

R&A: Have you tried any Japanese waka or haiku?
Rexroth: I’ve managed some really good, short things with that, but there the Japanese music is essential. A lot of the boys are good instrumentalists, you know, but without imagination for this. It seems to me as if the 1958 bop style is swinging back to the old K.C. sound brought up to date –with harmonies invented by Beethoven. The funkiness always bugs in.

R&A: Does any of this interfere with your poetry?
Rexroth: That question always depends on who you are. I find I’ve learned a hell of a lot about my poetry and poetry in general. Actually only about half the things in our book are my own. Then I read Durrel, Neruda, early Sandburg, a lot of other people.

R&A: In what way does your approach to Jazz-Poetry differ from, say Patchen’s or Ferlinghetti’s?
Rexroth: Well, Larry came to it late and didn’t really know much about jazz to start with. But he’s a good foil for me. We work well together. I’ve been around jazz and jazz musicians most of my life. In my teens I ran a joint in Chicago. Dave Tough was a very good friend of mine. He was a great musician and a really good poet too. I knew them all back in Chicago.

R&A: He’s got some really top musicians there.
Rexroth: There’s six men but they double in everything under the sun. Some of their climaxes come out sounding like the Pines of Rome. With my own group I like to keep it loose. They have to counter rather than go with me. When they stop I like to be moving.

R&A: Like cross rhythms?
Rexroth: That’s right. You have the voice moving free across the bar line. It’s something like a solo riff. Kenneth’s arrangements are a lot tighter. I think they’ve got it worked out to the hemi-semi-demi-quaver.

R&A: Do you think it’s all heading somewhere?
Rexroth: Sure, it’s the only way you can return poetry to its audience.

R&A: What are the chances of this developing into something like drama?
Rexroth: You can’t tell yet. Actually out on the coast very soon, they’ll be a performance of my Phaedra to jazz accompaniment. It’ll be jazz with sort of modal harmonies. My wife called me on this from out there, and I told them to hold everything till I got back. The essence of all these plays is in the absolute starkness, as in Noh drama or Yeats. Did you know I staged the first performance in America of At the Hawk’s Well ? Well, in the Phaedra also the staging is bare. You have two choruses — four people sitting at the sides who are also the musicians, and the main chorus, a beggar and a prostitute, sitting on a sort of step in front. They narrate what the characters are doing and also pick up their lines and speak for them in their own voices. Now originally I had this scored for flute and percussion and something like a guitar. That’s pretty far away from the new version, and I want to make sure it doesn’t get loused up. When they put this on in New York back in the forties, it was one of the great disasters in the history of drama. Thank God I wasn’t there. Later I heard they played it in orgone boxes.
R&A: What’s your present view of that which is called “the beat generation.”
Rexroth: Oh hell! Do you know what I said about that? It’s all a Madison Avenue gimmick that’s going to go out with the Fall book list.

R&A: Just sticking to the writers around San Francisco....
Rexroth: Those two (Kerouac and Ginsberg) aren’t from San Francisco, they’re from the San Remo. I mean I think Allen Ginsberg is a very good poet. Don’t get me wrong. I said and I still feel that he has great potential as a really popular and hortatory poet.

R&A: How about Kerouac? Have you changed your mind about him?
Rexroth: I have no interest in Kerouac whatsoever. I’ve done my stint for him. As far as I’m concerned, Kerouac is what Madison Avenue wants a rebel to be. That isn’t my kind of rebel. I mean I’ve been an anarchist all my life, and I know a lot more about Greek and Latin than Allen Tate.

R&A: What’s your opinion of Howl ?
Rexroth: I’ve gone through it very carefully. It’s a skillfully put together poem, if you understand what he’s doing. I mean Allen handles a colloquial line — of the type of Sandburg before he imagined he was Abe Lincoln — very well.

R&A: Does the “hipster” vocabulary bother you there?
Rexroth: I don’t think it’s inherent in the verse line. It’s part of the content, but that’s something different. What I was talking about was the rhythm of the line...the use of a natural speech line. Allen works very hard at it. He’s really a poet.

R&A: And Kerouac?
Rexroth: No! I think that Jack busted the crust of custom, and as far as that went I was for it. At least he made all the right enemies.

R&A: In your own poetry it’s not just the natural speech line, is it? You use syllabics ...
Rexroth: Oh yes ... mostly. But the syllabic structure is just a device, and behind it there’s the organization in terms of rhythms. Eluard did that also. Or you find it in Laughlin, where you have to know what he’s playing it off against ... the jazz feeling behind it. Do you know this? (Leaning over and chanting)
Met you in the supermarket
And gee you were nice.

R&A: Is that what you mean by cadenced verse?
Rexroth: The basic line in any good verse is cadenced ... building it around the natural breath structures of speech.

R&A: What about Williams’ claim to have discovered a new type of American prosody?
Rexroth: Well, Bill I think is a very great poet, but I’m afraid he’s created such an elaborate smoke screen about his discoveries that he’s come to believe them. It reminds me of the story of the painter who went through a big show of stirring his paints very carefully, and someone asked him what the secret was, and he said, “It’s all in the mureatic acid.” Bill just got to believe the hoax.

R&A: You wrote, in the Prairie Schooner I think, that most of the San Francisco people, except Denise Levertov, were “uncivilized.” Did you mean anything special by that?
Rexroth: No; just that Denise is the product of an old and rich culture ... her family is grounded in the humanistic tradition. I don’t think it’s that important. I mean there are a lot of different kinds of people on the San Francisco scene. And I’m not talking about Kerouac. He doesn’t belong there. I don’t think he’s been in Frisco more than three months in his life.

R&A: This Marie Ponsat is quite different than the others, isn’t she? More like Lowell, or someone in the Donne tradition?
Rexroth: Oh sure, there’s just the widest variety out there. Josephine Miles, Robert Duncan — all of them are different. You can’t call this a movement.

R&A: You wouldn’t want this to tighten into a single poetic point of view?
Rexroth: No; when I was teaching a workshop course there, the only thing I tried to impress on my class was certain fundamentals of any writing — directness and clarity of observation, and fidelity of the poetic situation. Not any special forms or styles.

R&A: How do you take to people who work in more or less traditional metrics, like Richard Wilbur?
Rexroth: No, I’m just not interested. It bores me. What would you call the now — the neo-alexandrianization of the baroque tradition? I mean I can still read Callimachus, but not Eratos. I draw the line there ... no interest whatsoever. You can fall into the same thing by modeling your work around Saintsbury’s Minor Caroline Poets.

R&A: Does that hold for Lowell too?
Rexroth: I don’t think Lowell’s like that.

R&A: He writes a stanza like Drayton’s...
Rexroth: Yes, but there’s a personal element here. I’ve always felt with him a considerable violence and bettering of form. But even so, he’s not one of the people I like best.

R&A: Who would you consider the rating American poets?
Rexroth: I don’t know ... Williams. He’s one of the very few we have in the general European tradition. All these quarterlies and all that exist in the backwash of the English tradition ... something apart from the modern movement. Williams is the peer of the Europeans — a world poet.

R&A: How about Pound?
Rexroth: Well, as a poet I find his verse soft and mellifluous ... a limp soft line. It’s not what I’m looking for at all. The difference is like that between Wyatt and Surrey. And he’s beneath the backwash also. I just don’t think it’s very fruitful.

R&A: Which European poets do you prefer?
Rexroth: Mostly French, though I read the Italians also. Reverdy and Apollinaire in particular.

R&A: Any younger French poets?
Rexroth: I don’t care for the post-war ones in general, though I did translate some of [Oscar] Milosz. I like the sentiment. I’m in favor of that.

R&A: How about post-war Germans?
Rexroth: Those I don’t know. Is there anything there? See if you can find some.

R&A: Back to the French, what about Rene Char?
Rexroth: Well, don’t forget that he’s a sort of A.E. Housman in a modern the same way that Prevert is really their New Yorker poet, which shows how much ahead of us they are. Larry [Ferlinghetti] always thought he’d modeled himself on Prevert, but I think he’s got a much harder line, more like Queneau.

R&A: Are there any older poets to whom you return?
Rexroth: Those I read continuously are Burns and Landor. Simple, stark quatrains ... things my little girls can enjoy.

R&A: There’s been a growing interest in oriental verse recently, in which you played a part. What do you think of it?
Rexroth: In California — not Los Angeles but in Frisco — there’s direct contact. They’re open to the sea, so that something of the real flavor comes across. And Frisco, remember, is full of Buddhist churches. Mary, my little girl, was confirmed in a Buddhist temple. She saw the Life write up on Buddhism, with pictures of the ceremony, and she said she wanted to be confirmed there because she only liked Jesus as a kid. She was a little disappointed in him when he grew up. But anyway, the orientalism in Frisco isn’t all the ten cent incense burner variety. A lot of us — Gary Snyder, Alan Watts, myself — read the languages.

R&A: Do you include the current Zen craze in this?

Rexroth: Oh, I don’t much care for that. Do you know what the Japanese call it? Buddhism for white people. It’s too easy, something set up for a popular market.

¶ R&A: Do you think of yourself as a Buddhist?
Rexroth: Not really ... or if I am, if I am a Buddhist, I’m a Buddhist of a very primitive sort — not a Rhys Davids Oxford Hinayana Buddhist. If I have any religious belief at all, I suppose I believe in the primacy of religious experience. In Buddhism the religious experience is purely empirical.

¶ R&A: Do you mean they’re continually searching, but nobody gets to Nirvana ... like the laughter of the Buddha and the Bodhisatvas about the path?
Rexroth: It’s like what you find in the statues — the bored look on the face of the Buddha — or the Bodhisatva’s vow made out of a kind of good humored indifference or insouciance. But I’m not a Buddhist anyway. I’m an aetheist.

¶ R&A: That searching for the path isn’t like Kerouac’s search for God’s face, is it?
Rexroth: Look, that’s all a lot of talk. You don’t become a saint until you lead a good life whether in Tibet or Italy or America. When the hipster picks this up, he cheapens it. I don’t like hipsters. The hipster is a louse on jazz ... a mimic of jazz and Negroes who believes the Negro is born with a sax in his mouth and a hypodermic in his arm. That’s despicable. In jazz circles it’s what they call Crow Jimism.

¶ R&A: And in religion?
Rexroth: I just don’t know where they drag the saints into this. You can’t become a saint by taking dope, stealing your friends’ typewriters, giving girls chancres, not supporting your wife and children, and then reading St. John of the Cross. All of that, when it’s happened before, has typified the collapse of civilization ... and today the social fabric is falling apart so fast, it makes your head swim.

[Originally published online in Jacket 23, August 2003.]

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Robert Yerachmiel Snyderman: Lyric Fermentation: A Practice

Besmilr Brigham
 (via CD Wright and Besmilr Brigham, in memory)
[Presented originally at Outside-in/Inside-out,” A Festival of Outside and Subterranean Poetry, in Glasgow, Scotland, on October 5, 2016, as a testament in part to C.D. Wright’s work with the archives of poet Besmilr Brigham, while touching on much else in the process. (J.R.)] 
When C.D. Wright died ... American poetry lost one of the great ones, one of the figures who changed what the language can do, one of the writers whose lines and titles, sentences and similes are going to last at least as long as American English. That’s something I believe, but it’s also something seems inappropriate, even rude to say, because Wright’s artistic powers cannot be separated from her deep sense of democracy, her work against boundaries, rankings and exclusions, her insistence that poetry, and society, should become, not a hierarchy or star system or a way to exalt a singular self, but a way to be generous, to share the powers we get, to give of oneself, to let everybody come in.                                             
      Stephen Burt, Los Angeles Times (ShallCross, 2016)
1.       Fermentation
Culture is what we overhear and what we overhear is noise, not a privileged didacticism we should mutter after. Dough culture is sour. Crushed grain and water, given space, left to change in an experimental zone, if you will, a jar, traditional, ghetto. Culture is what’s passed down and chained to change. I’ve chained, or linked, held, digesting and wrapping or tonguing, studied my noise for my ancestors by responding, adding the water and flour. Whatever is available to me in my time now, my fields, my supermarket, my rations. Culture is radically shared substance, bitter, wild to its eater, and appropriately so. Its bitter wild is signage of persevering lifeforce, digestive affect, and innate experimentalism. But for all of that it is also (a) dying, somewhere between the now-not-wholly material culture of ancestors and very present but not visible microorganisms. It is evidence of what’s at stake for emotional beings. The foremost popular advocate in the U.S. for fermentation’s significance to food justice and cultural history, Sandor Katz, rightly associates fermentation with a coming-to-terms-with and re-envisioning of mortality and death because fermentation is a projectile utilization, preservation, changing, and presencing of what-could-rot to keep for living, preserve through winter, sanitize in the way of restraint and witness, grant the gut ecology-tools by which to cultivate genetic resilience. The politics of fermentation, or what sociologist, Heather Paxon, calls “microbiopolitics,” presences us in the violence of “Pasteurian ethics” which need us to erase microbes, bacteria, biotics wholly as if we can separate from them, from our vaccuum of space where we, as if we could, make time alone. Maybe rightly so, we do this out of a fear of falling ill, because of the fermented thing’s dangerous soil-potential activation, addressing what makes us edible to the dark unnamed god; that moral inverse of our own behaviors that silences subjectivity for the omnipresence of the body. We over-prescribe and inject anti-edemic chemicals into our dead. We try to perform the body of death.  Pasteurian ethic is that vast contract that protects through indiscrimate erasure on the most base level confounding a visibility that turns out to be of ultimate significance. The ecology of our immunity is all bound up in the cascading of resistances the microbial world inherits and advances. And what is immunity other than our most fragile conundrum?
Susan Stewart, in “Lyric Posession,” writes on Plato’s reason to exile poets from his city on the basis of the cancer they initiate, of possession and mimesis, “The point is that one cannot intend to be possessed; one is helpless before the magnet and one’s helplessness is contagious.” What is lyrical is a matter of fragility and what we tend to do with ourselves against it. Lyric in its most urgent conundrum calls and levels, which is painful, ecstatic, and collective; that active tension between subjectivity and the material commons that never ends in language but the contagion of utterance. Fermentation in  the Pasteurian era is lyric force that makes things reckon, both progressively and retroactively, in a momentum propelled by a perceived-to-be unperceivable excess. Fermentation is real genetic influence, process, feast, as much as it is teacher and metaphor. Somewhere here in the crush of ancestrality and microbials and subsequent bio-momentum is the full permeable capacity of lyric, quite indifferent to the separations between what we name and the ways in which lyric objects disperse, which is to say with or without rotting.
2.      Fermentation-Incantation 
Fermentation incantation. Incantation is the magic behind apostrophe. All language is apostrophic. It is always addressing two. It is always addressing one who is present and one who is not, from a place of speech-origination that is as permeable to its own not-being as it is to its capacity to assert being. Lyric’s shifting of language between subjectivity and material distortion intensifies this process. That which the critic, Jonathan Culler, in his various works on lyric theory, calls “embarrassing” in regards to apostrophe, is I think its fundamental source of resistance to its own institutions, including language and all that codifies it. The poet, Lisa Robertson, parallels and informs my stance by her idea of “the prosody of noise:” “The rhythmic opacity of noise,” she writes, “or the body or the city fails or exceeds its measure” (61). The lyric becomes incantatory as a form of noise, dependent upon its arrivals or emergences from the shelter of institutionalization; the way it runs from it without ever really leaving and what happens then by the prosody of that refrain. Robertson: “The prosody of noise parses a discomfort that uncovers, in its unstable caesura, the fact of the citizen’s material fragility” (61). The lyric poet is ultimately within but, and at least, triangulated, always able to incant to (at least) two outsides by the simulatenous surfacing of herselves. One outside is that shelter of institutionalization. The other is a violator of the sheltering, less immediately present, less named, yet equally something one is within. Incanting to both there in that is incantation-fermentation; a vatic acculturation that induces othering sensibilities, misdirecting language to and through what is expectant because it’s paying debt to an origin subversively fragile, which is to say it alters from the roots, ecologically speaking. This happens because it happens in a historicity that confounds presence into what I think Fred Moten in a more specific context calls nothingness, and Robertson noise, “the historicity of nonmeaning,” and what Theodor Adorno in “Lyric Poetry and Society,” calls “lyric’s inalienable right.” I will quote Adorno at lenghth: 
Not only does the lyric subject embody the whole all the more cogently, the more it expresses itself; in addition, poetic subjectivity is itself indebted to privilege: the pressures of the struggle for survival allow only a few human beings to grasp the universal through immersion in the self or to develop as autonomous subjects capable of freely expressing themselves. The others, however, thos who not only stand alienated as though they were objects, facing the disconcerted poetic subject but who have also literally been degraded to objects of history, have the same right, or a greater right, to grope for the sounds in which sufferings and dreams are welded. This inalienable right has asserted itself again and again, in forms however impure, mutilated, fragmentary, and intermittent—the only forms possible for those who have to bear the burden. (45) 
If these are the social conditions of lyric utterance, I think we might call them in a more total and visceral manner, lyric momentum, lyric fermentation, incantation-fermentation; a force welded to possibility and poverty, the poverty of possibility and the possibility of poverty. Lyric fermentation steps outside of the shelter of rhetoric by working specifically with unseen- and also nonhuman agents of social condition; some tradition of evocation and anti-meaning expenditure addressed to whole ecologies of power and space. Lyric fermentation is what Adorno calls an “undercurrent that makes language the medium in which the subject becomes more than a mere subject” (45). It is only by way of (the sealed off, the hidden, the excised) poverty that subjectivity is afforded to the whole, and social conditions are afforded to ecology. 
3.      Before-Archive 
I approach these things through telling of an archive that for many years lived between readership and trash; between the carpentry of an author’s husband and Southern humidity and the teeth of rodents; between a daughter’s body and indifference. When I found the poem, “The Origin,” Besmilr Brigham’s archive became a law. Handwritten in blue ink, dated precisely in the upper right corner “Feb. 5.88/11 am,” I was sitting in the dust yard of the daughter Heloise’s home, Las Cruces, New Mexico, cataloguing everything because I thought she was dying. Heloise had just returned from the hospital diagnosed with bladder cancer. Besmilr’s boxed papers surrounded the bed I slept in and once I woke to see three little people sitting on top of them, looking at me. Heloise limped her tall, thick body outside, and read loud the scrawl, at the edge of her voice, while I typed.  
I am an old woman writing.
it began
            in a gully of fright, bare red earth—
            a yard of graves, hill-land and
            delta; a child rocking in a chair
            learning to read; it began, a recurring
            in silence, with fingers on letters
            feeling out the words. a young
            woman’s songs, singing in the night
“The Origin” was evidence that she was still writing then. The late work is all in notebooks, handwritten; most of it dated precisely, with the time. She was hard in Alzheimer’s by the early 90’s when CD found her in backwoods Arkansas, having dropped out of a brief period of belated literary recognition a fifteen years before. At this time, Besmilr could not always identify with her own work, questioning, for instance, in a video Forrest Gander recorded, from where “in the world” the poem she was reading out of the binder in her hands had come. When I saw (or should I say read, or witnessed?) “The Origin” I felt I was being addressed as an instrument of the archive, that it was employing me, making me it. A pulse emanated through all the papers and the house where her husband died before her in her lostness, and Heloise’s cancer. The word “writing” in the poem’s first line is subject and verb. “I am an old woman writing” is a stilled state of active being, continuing to perform in a combustion. It is old writing that irrupts the archive, adamantly and always resettling, unsettling, giving writing to I am not. She instrumentalizes her life’s work in its total precarity with a base statement of self-witness that cannot really be eradicated by any other. In this simple gesture, Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever, which deconstructs the “codetermination” of “archivable meaning,” is undermined by a diffident speech-act of self- witnessing and -protection. To re-appropriate Roland Barthes’ term, Brigham’s poem-object is the punctum to her papers; stripped of and stripping ready association, piercing for an other axis of perceiving and meaning-making. What if the specific poverty of a specific lyric’s tendency to ferment, foments past the archival superstructure into its own ante-archival persistence? What if this persistence is what saves it?
The noise before archive calls for an embodied research that might underlie recuperative urgencies as much as it reckons the extent of influence. In the noise: poems, blood-urine, photographs, voices, boxes, sleep, defunct mines, logging woods, cats, a bed the author’s husband died in, intuition, ghosts of the scholar, and income tax records, or the smell of paper rot that is the smell of accumulated backwoods shames and the exact disintigration of memory break down upon each other to formulate shapeshifting trace of authorial power. The exciting problem of this need is that it is pushed out and pushes out of bounds for immunity. This pushing is interrogative and instructional. I have asked myself the following questions, because the living and dying of my subject (and the living and dying of how there I arrived) instructs it. Where does Besmilr begin and the young, working with what she left, end? Where do Besmilr’s intentions begin and the archive’s own end? Where does Besmilr’s lyrical force begin and the decisions Heloise makes about its shelter end? Lyric fermentation, the dangerous abolition of boundaries these questions inaugurates, designates the mortal field. Fruits and drought of my intuition, hallucinations, illnesses, experience, and thought are given import to meet Besmilr in a mutual and dark noise. As when Robertson writes, “Noise doesn’t cohere with the figural self-identity of meaning,” that it “excedes its own identity,” the lyric force of a woman’s materials teaches and so reforms, deforms “us” into untracked elsewhere. We join, so to speak, such a force of things to be closer to each other than our names can be. “Noise is moving survival.” The point is there is no evacuation of the subject’s momentum. There is no purification process for the caretaker and the dead to decisively separate themselves, in working through what is left. 
Works cited
Adorno, Theodor. “On Lyric Poetry and Society.” Notes to Literature Volume 1. Ed. Rolf Tiedeman. Trans. Shierry Weber Nicholson. New York: Columbia UP, 1991. Print.
Katz, Sander. “The Art of Fermentation Sander Katz Interview.” Youtube, 22 April 2014. Web. 06 December 2014. 
Robertson, Lisa. Nilling: Prose Essays on Noise, Pornography, The Codex, Melancholy, Lucretius, Folds, Cities, and Related Aporias. Toronto: Bookthug, 2012. Print.  
Stewart, Susan. “Lyric Posession.” Critical Inquiry Vol. 22, Issue 1 (Autumn, 1995). U Chicago P, 34-63. Print. 
(The author thanks John Melillo, Julie Carr, Jerome Rothenberg, and the organizers of the Outside-in/Inside-out Poetry Festival in Glasgow for the fundamental gift of dialogue)