Distribution Automatique

Tuesday, December 27

young friends

young friends
Originally uploaded by fait accompli.

Although I thought this photo was taken in the early 80's near Central Park, I showed it to Charles tonight and he was sure it was taken no later than 1978 and possibly as far back as 1976 or 1977. Since I was living in Park Slope between 1977 and 1980, this photo may have been taken in Prospect Park.

Friday, December 23

Sebastopol, 1990

Sebastopol, 1990
Originally uploaded by fait accompli.

Left to right:
Cydney Chadwick, Norman Fischer, Steve Benson,
David Bromige

Sebastopol, CA 1990

Thursday, December 22

Short Listed!

Thanks to Kevin Andre Elliot whose blog

Slant Truth [click here] listed ::fait accompli:: in its top ten favorites.

Wednesday, December 21

On the "Maudlin Art Cohones of Self-Destruction"

Lavamatique [click here] puts some thoughts on bohemia (almost wrote: bohernia) on spin cycle...

Sunday, December 18

TL of the LDB, part II, The Boho Awards
La Vie de Boheme-ery and the Capital of

Pantaloons presents the
awards, with the usual panache
Odalisqued on La Vie de Boheme-ery
Some Like It Ravishing

Shadows Within Shadows
The Capital of Pain

Equanimity [click here] connects the dots

The Boomer Hath Spoken

Bachelardette [click here} picks up the gauntlet

Friday, December 16

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Blogger

I've been wondering for awhile now what it would take to awaken me from a recent respite from blogging. It comes as no surprise that what would do it would be a comment from blogger Jordan Davis, who writes regularly for the interesting online journal The Constant Critic. He writes (of Alice Notley):

“She goes on to make the very arguable claim that self-destruction is a necessary by-product of making art, in fact, that 'if you're a poet and you aren’t somewhat ravaged' then 'there's probably something wrong with your poetry.' To use some negatives (it's contagious): No, no, and no. Or let's hope not.”

When Jordan writes, “No, no, and no. Or let’s hope not…” you realize that, although Notley’s thesis is an easy one to disagree with, it is not such an easy one to disprove. This must be because there is at least an element of truth in this disturbing assertion.

An argument could be made for the preeminence, among poets, of Baudelaire’s conception of the poet’s lifestyle, a conscious or unconscious idealization of bohemianism, even when the artist or poet's actual lifestyle mostly opposes this point of view in everyday practice. This sanctimonious conception of the overarching dedication demanded of the artist's life is barely distinguishable in many instances from a philosophy of self-sacrifice, or even martyrdom. The foremost poet to counter this point of view in life and art, in the twentieth century-in the US, anyway- was, of course, Wallace Stevens, who wrote, in his famous poem *Sunday Morning*:

“Who should give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?…
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch…”

In discussing one of Ted Berrigan’s most quoted sonnets that begins with the line: “It’s 8:54 a.m. in Brooklyn it’s the 28th of July…” in *Career Moves*, Libbie Rifkin writes:

“The tone is bemused, speculative, not rueful: the humor lies in the realization that Brooklyn, an unglamorous land of professionals, low crime rates, and reformed bohemians, is a strangely comfortable place to be.”

I have to admit this sentence stung a bit when I read it; after all, I am a professional, I now live in Brooklyn and could easily be characterized as a “reformed bohemian”, though in my case I was, perhaps, never other than an ambivalent bohemian. Awakening one morning, in the very early 70’s, in my roach-infested apartment on E. 8th Street, I realized that I didn’t any longer fit in as a resident in that neighborhood, though I loved, (-and still love) so much about it, particularly living around the corner from St Mark’s Church. That was the day my long experiment in bohemian living ended. I was 32 years old, broke, miserably alone (except for my dog Whimsey) and reading Rilke- or Berrigan or Notley for that matter- wasn’t uplifting me one bit. But it was the day, a few months later, after I had already returned to living on the Upper West Side, when, lingering more than a few minutes longer in a supermarket than I should have, shopping to prepare dinner for myself and a guest, that my beloved dog Whimsey, who was tied to a gate on a leash outside, was stolen. In a single moment, my conscious, determined attachment to adolescence, and thus the last vestiges of my personal attachment to bohemianism, vanished.

To the extent that being an artist is destructive (the romantic idea that one can be self-destructive without being other-destructive is a self-deception), I am not at all interested in being an artist, and am, in fact, ambivalent about the whole affair. The error comes in not acknowledging the price one pays for things. There are, in fact, innumerable qualities to love and enjoy about life besides art and poetry, and, for me, an over-involvement in the artist's life to the point of obsession and over-professionalism is unattractive. Surely the artist's mysterious access to transcendent pleasures in the process of pefecting works, so contrasted to the crude, the rough and ready modes and manners of materialism and commercialism, need not condemn her to a hellish life of needless physical and emotional suffering, deprivation and isolation.

How narrow and frustrating- how unartistic and unpoetic in fact, to go through life thinking only, or even mainly, of art and poetry. For me, when one thing becomes all of life, there is, in fact, no life, only mechanical repetition, a vast mirror reflecting mostly what the mirror has already reflected countless times before, self feeding on self, art feeding on art: which is little except emptiness. How sad to see the vibrant tree of art languish and grow dull for lack of light and sun and air -the sustenance of experience that is an end in itself.

Saturday, 12/17

Jack Kimball, in his inimitable witty and charming way, has responded to this post on his blog by awarding himself the honorary title of bohemian and stands ready to award it to other professionals of his acquaintance. This is fine, and I applaud the gesture. But the bohemianism I was picturing includes the description offered so tellingly by Alice Notley: "if you're a poet and aren't somewhat ravaged" then"there's probably something wrong with your poetry.' Doubtlessly every poet Jack is thinking of feels ravaged. But I don't think Alice is writing only about how poets feel. In the age of Bush and 9-11 every responsive, sensitive person deserves the right to feel ravaged. Very likely, the poets Alice is describing are or were much more desperate life-wise, at all moments, than the people Jack is thinking about. Now, of course, we'll get into it about the word "desperate." When I say desperate, I mean those artists who have put virtually all of their life chips into their creative work life to the point of anguished and unending economic risk.

Saturday, 12/17 afternoon

Jack Kimball and I have knocked this particular tennis ball back and forth a couple of times now. What is it about bloggers like Jack, Jordan- and a few others of my acquaintance-who have the ability to disagree with you, even prove you wrong, yet put a big smile on your face at the same time?

The poet's career- an endlessly faceted topic that continues to fascinate and draw me on- a glittering bauble I twist and turn over and over:- yet after I've put away, leaves me feeling I've witnessed only its surface attributes.

Reply to Odaliqued

Odalisqued [click here] staunchly defends bohemianism, with the reminder that in many cases alternatives to poverty might be unavailable, and that bohemianism can be embraced in addition to poverty, and not only as an alternative to affluence. I was thinking of how much an artist should be expected to continue to work exclusively on art projects at the cost of health and physical well-being. I didn't mean to put forth the idea that an artist who is poor ought to choose affluence instead. What I was opposing was the ideal of bohemianism that puts forth, as Notley puts it, being "ravaged" as a requirement. No doubt there are less harsh forms of bohemianism. But would these meet the Notley test of ravagement? Anne Boyer rings the changes on the word "ravagement." She is quite right to underline the ravagement of spiritual and emotional poverty. But I am quite sure this is not what Alice Notley had in mind. I am fairly sure she is thinking of severe physical and emotional self-sacrifice in the service of art. The fact is that artists and poets who choose not "affluence" as a goal, but two types of work and two careers as an option, are often viewed by those who consciously hold bohemian self-sacrifice as a necessary componant of an artists lifestyle as Sunday artists, dilettants or amateurs.
thanks to Suzanna Sirenic

who sent in the following info:

looks like my "gypsy" and the "bohemian"
currently being bandied about
are well intertwined

bohemian "a gypsy of society," 1848, from Fr. bohemién (1559), from the country name, from M.Fr. Boheme "Bohemia," from L. Boiohaemum (Tacitus), from Boii, the Celtic people who settled in what is now Bohemia (and weredriven from it by the Gmc. Marcomans early 1c.). The modern sense is perhaps from the use of this country name since 15c. in Fr. for "gypsy" (they were believed falsely to have come from there, though their first appearance in W.Europe may have been from there), or from association with Bohemian heretics. It was
popularized by Henri Murger's 1845 story collection "Scenes de la Vie de Boheme," the basis of Puccini's "La Bohème." Used in Eng. 1848 in Thackary's
"Vanity Fair.""The term 'Bohemian' has come to be verycommonly accepted in our day as the
description of a certain kind of literary gipsey, no matter in what language he speaks, or what city he inhabits .... A Bohemian is simply an artist or littérateur who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from
conventionality in life and in art." ["Westminster Review," 1862]

Monday, November 28

The Unbearable Lightness of Berrigan

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it does it still fall? It doesn't take a blogger long to realize that only a few stalwart spirits read blogs on weekends, and even fewer on holiday weekends. Seeing my stats fall precipitously on weekends, just a few months after I started fait accompli in February of '03, was one of the reasons I initiated the blogger crush lists that brought some passing fame at that time to this modest endeavor. The last one having been posted over a year ago (November has often been my lucky month, another reason why I like Thanksgiving so much) I am way overdue, and I promise, another one is forthcoming soon, along with a long overdue updated Blog List for the Electronic Poetry Center. Whether or not those trees really fall, and whether or not a blog will bring any notice, let alone lasting fame to a writer, few of them having once tasted its pleasures of blogging can resist returning, even if they leave relatively decisively. Witness the recent return of Simon DeDeo. So, you quiet ex-blogger readers/lurkers I have a hunch you'll be back again to blogging, by and by.

So, if a tree fell in the forest...I was chatting with my friend Charles Borkhuis the other day at the Bowery Poetry Club about the fact that some writers are able to plow away at their work, and remain focused, regardless of notice. I greatly admire these writers, or you writers, whichever, God knows I am not one of them. Although I wrote tons of poetry when I was a lad and a dashing young man, putting together small collections in binders which I read and reread as excitedly as if they were published and famed, hoping to trigger or jump-start another sheaf of poems. But after I began to see some of my writing in print, I grew either impatient, or self-conscious about writing, I don't know which. And after I judged a couple of poetry awards a few years back (the winners of which were Standard Schaefer's superb *Nova* and Mark Wallace's terrfic Unemployed Worker Rides a Subway [whose long page-turner novel Dead Carnival from Avec Books-I've only just dipped into it, but I'm eagerlly looking foward to totally immersing myself in this fine book soon] one Sun and Moon, the other a recent Green Integer book,) I became much more hesitant, or perhaps selective in recognizing or accepting a putative idea as a possibility for a poem. But blogging? Ha! Now that I have your attention, dear readers, or at least some of it for now. the sound of that particular falling tree right now, dear reader, is good enough for me.

I'm not going to get into the debate about the relative values of literary forms, no, I'm not going to go there. But I will touch on a related theme, the theme of the poet's career, as I mentioned on my last post, on that very recent Thanksgiving I enjoyed so much in Arlington. By the way, I said my suitcase was too stuffed to buy more books, but apparently that wasn't the case. I bit the bullet, risked pulling my back out (I didn't, much!) and bought a few more on our day trip to Gloucester. Unfortunately I did not have time to telephone Gerrit Lansing, but I did learn that his 80th birthday celebration is still being talked about, and included an appearance by Kenward Elmslie, whose famed 1975 Z Press book Tropicalism, as well as a signed copy of Gerrit Lansing's own recent -A Februray Sheaf- (Pressed Wafer) I bought in Gloucester in Bob Ritchie's Dogtown Book Shop. And I can't wait to immerse myself further in Joel Sloman's absorbing, haunting poetry in his 1997 *Stops* from Cambridge, Mass Zoland Books (I couldn't resist reading a few as soon as I got home) More on that excellent book soon ("Am I closer to thee, dotted world?/ In stillness, a resolving confusion/I throw myself out of bed with a martial arts grunt".) On that same brief visit to Bob Ritchie's rich and rewarding Dogtown Book Shop (write him at dogtown@cove.com) I also scored a copy of Gilbert Adair's *Surfing at the Zeitgeist* (Faber and Faber, 1997). I was pleased about this as Gilbert is someone I have spoken with a few times lately at the Bowery Poetry Club, but whose work was otherwise unknown to me. This is a book of brief prose pieces about various topics, a form I must admit I am inordinately fond of.

We also went to a bookstore owned by another Gloucester poet, a store called Mystery Train. If you get to Gloucester (and if you are a book collector, I am sure you will sometime after reading this, and apparently winter is a good time for sale prices -the most I paid for any of those books I bought from Bob Ritchie, believe it or not was $10), Mystery Train is a lot of fun as it has not only tons of books (now I wish I had bought that new book byJuliana Spahr I lread for awhile there-as my sister-in-law is shipping me a couple of last minute items I got at a final quick trip to McIntrye and Moore including the amazing Flaubert Correspondence which I have been enjoying so much. I had to go to the library yesterday to take it out it so I could get back to it right away- irresistable after reading Flaubert's-Sentimental Education- he must have intended that to mean also that the book itself an education, because you learn so much about 19th Century French history reading it-an excellent follow-up to All Men Are Mortal by Simone de Beauuvoir, a somewhat tedious novel by comparison but exceptionally rich in evoking European history, the gist of which is the main character is an immortal who is thus able to report on centuries of European history first hand!-by the way, if you haven't aleady read them, check out two masterpieces by Guy de Maupassant, Pierre et Jean and the incomparable Bel Ami, both of which I read lately and loved.) Anyway, Mystery Train is also excellently stocked in used vinyl albums -I've been listening to these lately, mosty classical, and used cd's. Mystery Train, by the way, even has free boxes of books and albums, so it is all the more difficult to pass it by. On this visit I also found a copy of *The Gods Hate Kansas* (a sci-fi pulp from the 60's) and Emile Zola's-The Masterpiece- which is about his friend Cezanne, (Last night Toni and I watched the 1937 -Life of Zola- starring Paul Muni-, which I also got out of the library, that mostly focuses on the Dreyfus case), Samuel Delany's classic *The Fall of the Towers* and-get this, the recently indicted assistant to Cheney, Lewis Libby's book *The Apprentice*, which my pal Ron Silliman wrote about on his blog as selling for over a hundred dollars. The price has come down now to about 25-40, but none of these books in MysteryTrain cost me over $4.50. But I'm saving the best for last: in an antique shop that my brother-in-law brought me to I found the book I've been dreaming of for months: a small leather-bound copy of La Rochefoucauld's Maxims, published in 1908, in fairly good condition, that set me back a mere $3.

I titled this edition of the blog -The Unbearable Lightness of Berrigan- because since reading Libby Rifkin's -Career Moves- I've been thinking a lot about Berrigan. November 15th is Berrigan's birthday and his recenty released collected works has gotten a lot of people thinking about this masterful poet. La Rochefoucauld's Maxim #147 states:-The fame of great men ought always be estimated by the means used to acquire it-. In -Career Moves- Rifkin manages to go even deeper than this. She seems to be searching for a way of cracking the code between a poet's intentions in their work and their intentions concerning the way they conduct their public lives as a poet. In exploring the lives and works of Olson and Creeley, two very public personas, and that of the relatively reticent Zukofsky, there is much to be learned and thought about. Good criticism gets you to want to explore the work more deeply and Rifkin's book does at least this. Just as Jerome McGann discovered correspondances between an author's intentions and the mannner in which their work is presented materially, Rifkin looks into literary career lifestyle as it relates to the literary style, the inspirations and aspirations of an author's work. Clearly the power of the ideas of the so-called New Critics is waning, who sought to find the truth of literary work only by examining and discussing the texts themselves. No doubt this had partly to do with the overarching influence of psychoanalysis in those days- these critics sought, probably rightly, to try to look at writing with less influence coming from Freud. But now a later generation is not so concerned with the weight of Freud's influence, so that psychological thinking can seek a reasonable purpose again in literary analysis. In any case, Rifkin is not worried about looking at biography as a source of insight into poetry, on the contrary.

The most moving of her explications has to do with the relationships between Berrigan's Sonnets and their revelations about his desire for a place in literary history, as well as his attitude towards death, at the tender age of 18, when the Sonnets began to be written. Sonnet II begins:

"Dear Margie, hello. It is 5:15 a.m.
dear Berrigan. He died"

and ends:

"Dear Margie, hello. It is 5:15 a.m.
fucked til 7 now she's late for work and I'm
18 so why are my hands shaking I should know better."

I was around 20 years old myself when I first heard Berrigan read that poem at the Poetry Project, and immediately went to the 42cd Street Library to copy out every one of his sonnets with a pencil on a lined pad. Reading Libby's book I can better understand why I was so moved over 40 years ago, and am just as moved today. Berrigan was able to touch on the heaviest issues in a poet's mind with tart yet warming humor, irony yet great compassion. Few indeed have since been able to straddle such emotions, and express them as well as Berrigan. Berrigan's intense lyricism mixed with his stinging wit creates a cocktail that is hard to resist. OK, he was a 60's victim, like icons Dylan and Lennon. But it is easily possible to see past this now, at almost 40 years distance. Berrigan's persona, as Rifkin makes so clear, was way larger than the 60's frame he can easily be placed in. Looking at his work now, I unite it with many of my other beloved diarists such as Ned Rorem, Cesare Pavese, Valery, Kafka and Samuel Butler. As a young poet I desperately needed models that I could depend on, but who I could look upon more as peers and contemporaries. Cummings, Stevens, Rilke, Eliot, Stein and the rest were inspiring, but of another era. But Berrigan, and later Bernadette Mayer's work and workshops helped define for me what a contemporary poet's life,in relation to their work, can be: difficult, demanding, obsessively dedicated, but nevertheless compatible with living in one's own era. Berrigan's Sonnets, then and now, helped to make a contemporary poet's life real, extremely challenging yet mostly stimulating and worthwhile, occasional hopeless depressions notwithstanding.

Reading Lifkin's book also brought back a number of vital memories of the Ted Berrigan workshop I attended, along with Carter Ratcliff and others, in 1967. He spoke about the "speed" of contemporary poetry. OK, we know about Berrigan's affection for the drug of the same name, but let's forget about the 60's flavorings for the moment. Berrigan was talking about the fact that when we read contemporary poetry there is an *electric* (instantaneous) quality to our contemporary way of reading that is unique to our era. He used Ashbery's Tennis Court Oath as an example. He was saying that we don't stop to think about each word the way we read poetry now. We engulf the pages instantaneously, ravenously. As he spoke about this, he kept pulling on the chord of the electric light hanging from the ceiling over and over turning excitedly turning it on and off. He made me realize that when we read poetry now we read with the speed of light, the speed of thought, so it should be written and presented with this factor in mind. His Sonnets helped make this an era of lightning fast poetry, He also spoke of the loss of nobility in poetry as well, so he was aware of the price that we might be paying for this type of insatiability. But I think he, and the New York School in general, did much to counter the mournful tones of so much 20th Century poetry: ("I grow old, I grow old, I will wear the bottom of my trousers rolled... I have seen them singing each to each...I do not think that they will sing to me")

The excitement of Berrigan's work- and much of the New York School- has to do with reveling in-and exploiting- the inexhaustible energy of the poet and poetry. Lifkin's book helped me realize that this awareness of inexhaustibility- (I think of Jordan Davis's Million Poems Blog in this context)- is tempered only, or mainly, by the admission of the reality of death (made briefly thinkable only by means of irony, humor and empathy-what a minute: I typed that first as "ampathy"- amplified empathy?-new word?). But superimposed on these realizations are the consolations- and the excitements- of remembering and being remembered

"...Back to books. I read
poems by Auden Spenser Pound Stevens and Frank O'Hara
I hate books..
I wonder if Jan or Helen or Babe
ever think about me. I wonder if Dave Bearden still
disliked me. I wonder if people talk about me
secretly I wonder if I'm too old. I wonder if I'm fooling
myself about pills. I wonder what's in the icebox. I wonder
if Ron or Pat bought any toilet paper this morning."

I remember listening to Berrigan's mid 60's reading of this poem at St Mark's-with that *shock of recognition*- as if it were yesterday. As Rifkin discusses it, this poetry overlays his reverence for the poetry of the present and the past, with anxieties about whether he is being remembered now, and by extention, if he will be remembered like these greats in the future. These youthful anxieties are made so much more approachable, so much more life-sized, ("be big" he used to say) by his joke about Ron or Pat remembering the toilet paper. The poem begins with the lines:

"I wake back aching from soft bed Pat/
gone to work Ron to class (I never heard a sound) it's my birthday"

- birthdays being days of acknowledging tthe whole of one's life, Rifkin ties this in with the idea of the poet's concerns with the value of their work, with career concerns about the future reception of a poet's life and art.

Rifkin makes it clear that by immersing themselves in discovering ways of presenting and preserving - keeping accessible, and comprehensible- the poetry of today and yesterday, poets and their frequently unsung supporters, the academics, are contributing significantly to the hard work of keeping contemporary poetry alive, relevant and, as Joel Lewis and Alice Notley titled their 1997 Talisman book of Ted Berrigan inteviews- On the Level Everyday-.

Thursday, November 24

If There Have To Be Holidays

as far as I'm concerned, let them all be like Thanksgiving. For some reason, I always associate this holiday with affection for the near-at-hand in time and in space. This holiday demands little more than to appreciate whoever and whatever it is you feel close to- and to try to share that appreciation with others. For some, it is an opportunity to express much needed generosity. In an era which eschews idealism, sentimentality, earnestness, appreciation and instead glorifies irony, critique and wit (no doubt worthwhile attitudes at times, but hardly substantial or communal enough to ritually celebrate), this moment has a a pleasantly anachronistic aura, a time-travel spirit I enjoy immensely.(Still, Robert Jensen's call for A Day of Antonement is worthy of serious consideration.[via Wood's Lot ].)

As is often the case in recent years, we are in Arlington, visiting Toni's sister, brother-in-law and nephews. And, as has become my custom, I've made my annual, or biennial treasured trip to that incomparable bookstore in Davis, Mass., McIntryre and Moore. If you ever get to Boston, try to make the trip. It is possibly the most pleasant literary store I know of, excepting those superb literary establishments in San Francisco and Berkeley: Moe's, Serendipity and SPD.

Yesterday Bob, my brother- in -law. took time out from working on Thanksgiving dinner to drive us down to Davis. Although I promised myself I wouldn't buy more than two books this time (suitcases stuffed already), I wound up using the fact that one terrific item I found there consisted of a three book collection. That item (purchased for an amazing $17.50) was a three volume set of Theodore Dreiser's Letters, a hardbound collection from 1959 housed in its original cardboard case. If you've read this blog for long, you know what a fan of Theodore Dreiser I've become. By the way, if you look around you can find a copy of *Dawn* Dreiser's autobiography of his early years, still on remainder in many bookstores, including St Mark's.

The other book I bought was Libby Rifkin's book *Career Moves* published in 2000. I've heard about this book from many friends for years now, poets who know my fascination with the notion of career as it is or could be applied to the life and work of poets, especially recent and contemporary poets. Once, when he was artistic director of the Poetry Project, I asked Ed Friedman if he would be interested in organizing a symposium there on the subject of the poet's career. Ed quipped: being a poet is not a career, it is a vocation. I guess many poets would agree with this and I might even apply the somewhat archaic term, as it is sometimes applied to clergy, a "calling."

Speaking of callings, no doubt this posting will soon be interrupted by a call to dinner! As I try to resist eating much on Thanksgiving day before dinner, I can't wait. But I also can't wait to tell you about Libby Rifkin's book. I got it an McIntyre and Moore's shop yesterday at the discounted price of $7.00. I can't say it was the $16 cover price that prevented me from buying this book before now. Like many poets, I am ambivalent about this topic that summons certain demons one would rather not think too much about. The book focusses on four poets: Charles Olson, Lewis Zukofsky, Robert Creeley and Ted Berrigan. (By the way, I also bought the Creeley biography recently, the one reputed to have been greatly disliked by him. I haven't cracked that one open yet. I remember reading Allen Ginsberg's biography a few years ago. I knew both these poets, though Ginsberg much longer and a bit better- having responded to the latter's call for secretarial assistance in the 60's-though I was very politely, even gently, turned down by him we always had a nice rapport whenever I ran into him at a reading or wherever. The last time was at the Second Avenue Deli, just before a group reading we were both included in at the Poetry Project. I have to say I regretted reading the Ginsberg biography, having learned more intimate details about his personal life than I wanted - or needed- to know. Still, it was fascinating to learn so much more about this incredibly dynamic person.)

Since I paricipated in two of Ted Berrigan's poetry workshops, I found Rifkin's take on Berrigan's life and work the most interesting, but I enjoyed and found useful all of the Rifkin book. In fact, I read the entire book yesterday, the same day I bought it. A little later, or perhaps tomorrow, I am going to tell you more about it. Rifkin seems fascinated by the way some poets are able to consciously and actively pave the way for the historical reception of their ideas, their work and even the way they lived their lives. I enjoyed the way Rifkin discovered much in Ted Berrigan's actual writing, particularly the Sonnets, my f avorite work by him, to illustrate her ideas about the way certain canonized poets might have dellberately or unwittingly desired to direct the reception of their work and even some of the premises of their ultimate "canonizations."
Poet's Pool at Flikr.com

While I'm working on my Thanksgiving post, check out

Poet's Pool at Flikr.com [click here]

James, Nada and Gary on Poet's Pool

Sunday, November 20


Gary Sullivan and Jordan Davis report on yesterday's reading at the BPC. Ron Silliman, who read with David Shapiro, blogs about his perfect day in NYC. We can expect a report from Al-Jimzeera shortly, as we noted Jim Behrle's presence at the reading with a video camera-and his call for extras at 4pm yesterday at the BPC for a taping of a coming Jim Behrle show. Gary also supplies a wrap-up of this and last year's seasons curated by him and Nada Gordon. This year the Seque series turned 28. The founder, James Sherry was present, as was the owner and maitre d' of the BPC, Bob Holman. I am not even going to begin a list of the notable poets present- there were too many to list, but I must mention veteran series organizer Charles Borkhuis and poet Stephen Paul Miller, who, by the way, claims to have kicked off the idea of the original Ear Inn reading series that spawned the Segue series. SPM once explained that his idea was to have a series not far from SOHO at the Ear Inn so that people could visit a few galleries and come by to hear a poetry reading afterwards. The first Seque Series was curated by Charles Bernstein and Ted Greewald in 1977. SPM had a copy on hand of his new book *Skinny Eighth Avenue* (March Hawk, 2005), which he signed for me.

You can't blame me for so much nostalgia on the day following such an intensely pleasurable event. A few bloggers went out for dinner afterwards, and I mentioned one of my favorite anecdotes (if you've read this blog for long you are well aware that I've reached my anecdotage). As we left the BPC the dj was playing Led Zeppelin. (The following anecdote is presented here at the request of blogger Katie Degentesh.) I recounted the day in the 70's when I had an extra ticket to a Led Zeppelin concert and ran into Patti Smith on West 8th Street- with whom I had recently given one of my earliest readings on the roof of The Kitchen, curated by Ed Friedman. Patti told me she couldn't accept because she didn't want to upset her boyfriend! Needless to say, it was an amazing concert. Since I am in the mood for telling stories, I might as well mention the time I was leaving a reading (also in the 70's) at the Poetry Project with famed New York school poet Tony Towle. Towle told me that Frank O'Hara had introduced him to his wife and had found him the job that he would keep for his life- a job in the fine arts field. In my case I can credit Ron Silliman with having twice facilitated important directions in my writing life. First, by having included an essay I wrote in his famed anthology, *In The Anerican Tree* (reissued not long ago); and second by encouraging me to start this blog!

Ron read from his book *ABC*. I have my Tuumba Press copy in hand, #376 from an edition of 550 published in 1983 by publisher Lyn Hejinian as Tuumba 46. Ron mentioned in his preamble to his reading that there are 100 lines in this work, with an average of 6.3 words per sentence. ) Ron explained that he created his book Albany, which was recently made available in a complete version by Salt Press, by building each section from each line in the first section of *ABC*. The earlier version of *Albany* was commissioned by a publisher of High School texts, and it was edited. The idea of his recent book was to use each line of the first section of *ABC* as a starting point for remininscences. It is an excellent format and I'm excitedly looking foward to reading it, having heard some terrific work from it at the reading. I love the classic first line of *ABC*: "If the function of writing is to 'express the world.' My father witheld child support, forcing my mother to live with her parents, my brother and I to be raised together in a small room." Ron explained that the idea behind this piece was to "combine the political and the personal" in each of the 100 lines. I was too absorbed in Ron's reading to write down very many lines but some that jumped out at me were: "If it demonstrates form some people won't read it"; "nor is the sky any less constructed";"black is the color of my true love's screen." Ron also included, from from *Albany*, a page-turner type anecdote of his having been stopped by the police during a robbery. Afterwards he told me and Toni about how his house had once been robbed, and he found only one item missing: his CIA file that he had requested be sent to him! He also mentioned having posted on his blog the famous photo of David Shapiro sitting in the president's chair during the Columbia University demonstrations in 1968. More lines from ABC: "Rubin feared McClure would read Ghost Tantras at the teach in"; "Enslavement is permitted as a punishment for crime"; 'I look forward to old age with some excitement"; "A woman on the train asks Angela Davis for an autograph" [wait a minute, didn't Katie tell the story on her blog of seeing someone ask a famous person who had been in prison for an autograph, on the subway-have to ask her about this]; "They call their clubs batons. They call their committees clubs"; "Mastectomies are done by men"; "Talking so much is oppressive"; "If it demonstrates form they won't read it. If it demonstrates mercy they have something worse in mind"; "The design of a department store is intended to leave you fragmented, off-balance"; "The body is a prison, a garden"; "Our home, we were told, had been broken, but who were these people we lived with?" "I just want to make it to lunch time"; "Macho culture of convicts": "The want-ads lie strewn on the table."

David Shapiro and Ron were excellently matched, particularly due to their contrasting reading styles. Ron read extensively-and intensely- from two very related texts, with few interjections. David read from many different books and provided a continuous witty patter-which Toni characterized as "excellent comic timing." I couldn't help scribbling down a number of lines: "Jasper Johns said 'I like David Shapiro's poems- he just writes down what I say'"; "I grew up in New Jersey among communists"; "Meyer Shapiro's favorite word was 'restless'"; "Wallace Stevens is my favorite living poet"; "The stars in the sky- I seem to hear your voice"; "Jerry Lewis went to my high school"; "my father used to say-'Practice early & eat in the garage with the dogs";"I have seen God in dungarees" (from a poem for Joe Ceravolo); "What was there to do- it is said the violins do not sleep"; "we were safe in Texas-in Texas- mostly in love with the earth"; "a girl in Israel once said-'Why be serene?'"; "the snow falls and covers up the word 'poetry'"; "you cannot live your life in quarter tones" At the end of his reading David passed out some copies of his collages.

Saturday, November 19

All Wet

It's affection for things that crystallizes the rays of imagination into insights and images. An irritable or critical disposition will eventually cloud over even the brightest blazes of inspiration and finally drown them in a downpour of quibbles and complaints.
This is true, even though there is so much about the world that calls for anger, satire and critique. Still, what was all that outrage for, if not to clear a path for laughter and for love?

Saturday, November 12

Monsters and Memories: A Visit to Chelsea

In a further effort to rid Toni of a persistent headache, we headed for our monthly (or so) review of the Chelsea galleries, starting with a failed attempt to sip some take-out tea on the Chelsea piers. Francie Shaw, a recent immigrant from Philadelphia, showed us how to do this last summer, only yesterday it was far too windy and cold. But, lo and behold, with Toni's usual perfect timing, when we headed for our first stop- Mike Kelley's show at the Gagosian Gallery, we ran into Lee Ann Brown and Tony Torn, who were showing their friend Peter Culley around, who happens to have a blog I've long enjoyed, mosses from an old manse [click here]. Peter Culley told me he's heading up to U Maine soon, to be reading in Steve Evans' New Poets series. The Mike Kelley show is well worth seeing: ghostly clothes blow in the wind, revealing fondly remembered erotic fantasies, tv monitors feature phantom mystical, mythical, religious initiations, reminders abound of Holloween parties of yesteryear, the show is a feast of latent childhood anxieties and superstitions; I didn't realize how well the entire effect was working on me as I chatted with Peter about blogging (I realize I can over-enthuse about this, as any reader of this blog must know). When Peter was called away by Tony a to check out the show further, as I was searching around for Toni I got startled by my own shadow!

From there we headed for the Nancy Spero show at the Galerie Lelong (528 W. 26th Street). The show, titled Cri de Coeur [click here] is a must-see (fortunately it's open until December 3). Toni explained to me that the female figures, who I thought were praying, represented a "lamentation" or ritual morning. This piece is consistent with Spero's superb work since the 60's- political insight powerfully illuminated by means of feeling. As you enter the large room of the gallery, the collaged paintings are placed around the lower part of the wall like a fresco. As you look clockwise around the room, the paintings move from light to dark, in vibrant blues, greens and reds, getting darker and darker, possibly tracking the progression of mourning and loss- finally to a cinematic fade or blackout.

From the Lelong we headed for one of Toni's usual haunts, PaceWildenstein (534 W. 25th Street). Today is the last day for the Keith Tyson show, Geno Pheno, an interesting and diverse assembly. One piece in this show impressed and moved me greatly: *Cutting the Fungal Chord #776+1 (2005)*. This sculpture consists of a large enclosure with a figurative polyester sculpture housed within. The figure is holding up a large cracked mushoom with a cord. I regret I didn't have the time to write down some of the interesting poems embossed around the sides of this eight feet or so tall, polyhedrical enclosure. The piece was constructed with steel, medium density fiberboard, glass reinforced plyester, glass, synthetic milk and pump. There were 37 pieces in the show. Born in England in 1969, Tyson has exhibited at the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Venice Biennale and the Tate Modern.

From there we headed for Michael Feinberg Fine Art [click here] (526 West 26 Street) to see the Emilie Clark *Studies in Nature*, which also closes today. Emilie Clark's strikingly beautiful paintings in this show are based on the work of Mary Trout, a little known botanist friend of Charles Darwin's, which Emilie found out about in his correspondance. Mary Trout raised carnivorous plants as did Emilie to prepare for her painting in this show. The plants Emilie raised are also on exhibit in the gallery. Emilie photographed the plants and created the paintings from the drawings, which were also exhibited. Sorry to report on this show so late, because it was superb. We promise to get to her next one much earlier, and wouldn't miss it for the world. Emilie also carefully researched earlier classical paintings concerning carnivorous plants for this show.

On to the Paul Kasmin Gallery to see the latest Kenny Scharf show which was well worth a visit. My favorite in this show was his large *Time Flies When You're Having A Good Time* which seemed like a reference to the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. A huge car is headed for a huge clock and is painted against a star-studded cosmic background. Around the corner Scharf did a must-see installation in a small space. From floor to ceiling on all the walls you find a representation of *Scharf's Closet*. Toys, fans, radio chassis, odd pieces of discarded objects are hung merrily in disarray around the room; you are supplied with a few ancient bean bag chairs to stay as long as you like and watch the fans (as in the Mike Kelley show above) blow memories around in the wind.

Our last stop yesterday was an unexpected treat, given the understated title of the show *Looking at Words*. About 275!!! artists who have used words in their works are represented. There is an amazing number of incredible works in this absolutely must-see show, up until January 14th at the Andrea Rosen Gallery, 525 West 24th Street. Some of my favorites in the show included: Jackson Mac Low, Vito Acconci, Shusaku Arakawa, Max Ernst, Henri Chopin, John Cage, Henry Darger, Marcel Duchamp, Oyvinnd Fahlstgrom, Alfred Jensen, Ray Johnson, Jasper Johns, Anselm Kiefer, Christopher Knowles, Willem DeKooning, Barbara Kruger, d.a. levy, Robert Motherwell, Picabia, Picasso, Sigmar Polke, Liubov Popova, Richard Tuttle, Dieter Roth, Rosenquist, Ed Ruscha, Kurt Schwitters, Robert Smithson, Nancy Spero, Fred Tomaselli, Jess, Jacques Mahe de la Villegle, the list goes on. Almost 300 works worth seeing many times, tons of famous artists and many I had never seen before, including 5 great pieces by Marius de Zayas [click here], an amazing artist completely new to me. This show, on its own, is a short course in art history- including many of the works that presaged the growing vispo phenomenon.

Sunday, November 6

Poetry Reading Cures Week Long Migraine

In what might be a first in medical and poetical history, Toni Simon announced yesterday at the Bowery Poetry Club that a poetry reading had made her laugh so hard it cured her week-long migraine headache. Two poets were featured at the Club, Drew Gardner and Alan Davies. Drew read from his book - Petroleum Hat- (newly published by Roof Books). He accompanied himself excellently at the electric piano along with a fine bass player and drummer; shades of Bob Dylan. Is this possibly a preamble to a new major poetic form: the flarf opera?

Here are some lines from the poem that knocked out Toni's headache: (*JOHN DENVER WAWA SHADOW PUPPET GOVERNMENT*)

"soon we'll all be praying to John Denver
if we don't allow right-wing poor people to be happy ALL the time,
teach their kids how to pray in the direction of pizza
yet see no problem
with the Lord's Prayer printed in ghostly pubic hair"

Since a CD was cut at the reading, there is some possibility that those of you who could not be there might at some point get to listen to a recording. Stay tuned!

Alan Davies read from a long work-in-progress. I spoke with him after the reading and learned that the work is, at this point, well over 300 pages! The whole is as yet untitled, and is divided in 10 books. He read from Book 9. These were powerfully lyrical, meditative poems. It was hard to break away from listening to jot down some lines:

"the words are like dictation from one's self to one's self"

"don't try... it writes itself"

"let the wild words win"

"no more smoking
no more drinking
just looking
to see if you're there"

"frail fugue of video"

"literary anxiety's the worst
blaming everybody
for cultural demise
when it's the reverse"

"the lollipop hop
before we drop"

"just as plunder hungers
hunger plunders"

"people are designed
to be stupid"

"it's all about risk, asshole
if you're not going to take it
you ain't going to make it"

Alan Davies left the stage, all too soon, to thunderous applause.

Audience sightings: Lee Ann Brown, Mitch Highfill, Bob Perelman, Marianne Shaneen, Ulla Dydo, Pierre Joris, Bruce Andrews, Tom Savage, Katie Degentesh, Tim Peterson, Sharon Mesmer, Jonathan Mayhew, Adeena Karasik, publisher James Sherry, Deborah Thomas, Rodrigo Toscano, Laura Elrick and hosts: Nada Gordon and Gary Sullivan.

Saturday, November 5

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Blogger

I was surprised to hear myself say, at lunch with a very
close friend, that I didn’t care for blogs as much as
I used to. Then, when I found myself yesterday and today reading and re-reading
this post, from Cosmopoetica [click here] and this one from Equanimity [click here] I wondered what I could have been thinking the other day, chatting with my friend, who does not happen to be a blogger, but who is otherwise intensely involved with poetry and the internet. Maybe part of the feeling had to do with the conversations I had read recently on Limetree [click here] about Dead Kitten poetics. This discussion has to do with a Mary Oliver poem that KSM, Drew Gardner [click here]and others, possibly including Mary Oliver herself (never can tell with these comment signatures)have been intensely discussing. The issue is an all too familiar one in blogland: can anyone say with certainty that this or that poem is “bad.” Kasey concludes that you can say a poem is adequate or inadequate. I’ve succumbed to this discussion too many times already (usually with Jonathan Mayhew- who, as has been once celebrated in song, is back in town again -I’m sure to see him tomorrow at the Bowery Poetry Club where Alan Davies and Drew Gardner are reading).
My point, during the last go round with Jonathan (or was it the one before?) that a poem is sort of like a prayer, and what would be a bad prayer? I think Jonathan’s response had to do with the possibility of opening a ball game with one, or praying that your team might win, I’m not sure which, or if I got his point right at all. I guess I got a little impatient, along with Drew, that the whole discusion seemed a bit too reminiscent of the dark side of the poetics list .

The thing is, I really liked Jordan’s little essay above, as I did the one above that from Cosmopoetica. I remember recently that Ernesto Priego [click here] made the comment that blogging is evolving its own form of literature. And I think of the somewhat damaged copy of Rousseau’s confessions deposited now in the smallest room in the apartment. Gertrude Stein famously said that remarks are not literature. Sorry Gertrude. But, sometimes, at least, in blogland now, they most definitely are, despite the occasional gusts of hot air. We pick and choose, we like and we don't like, and sometimes we talk about why, why, why.
Ernesto Priego (Never Neutral) [click here] expands on his thoughts about blogging as a form of literature, with a few understandable, and crucial, caveats. Thanks, Ernesto for dedicating your 1000th blog post to me! I am moved and eagerly looking forward to the next 1000, and many more.

Tony Tost's The Unquiet Grave [click here] hosted a discussion on Dead Kitten poetics, replete with rewritten versions of his own, Thomas Basboll, et al.
Laura Carter [click here] weighs in on Dead Kitten poetics.

Guess what Jonathan Mayhew [click here] would say about the Mary Oliver kitten poem.

Thursday, October 27

Time Undisturbed: A Quick Interview with Nico Vassilakis

Nico Vassilakis’ recent works include Concrete: Movies, a vispo dvd, Texts for Nothing, But Cut Up and StampOlogue. At the end of StampOlogue there is an afterword by Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino to which Nico wrote a brief response. When I quoted this response on fait accompli recently, I mistyped the final sentence as :”staring at vispo creates the potential for vispo.” Nico emailed a note of appreciation and corrected my typo. This led me to suggest a mini-interview because I found his actual statement not only to be interesting but to ring true.

NP: I am curious, though. How does "staring at textpo create the potential for vispo"?

NV: “I’m looking through you, you're not the same.”

The initial act of reading is staring. When you add saccades you initiate movement.

Text itself is an amalgam of units of meaning. Words, right. As you stare at text you notice the visual aspects of letters. As you stare further meaning loses its hierarchy and words discorporate and the alphabet itself begins to surface. Shapes, space relations, visual associations emerge as you delve further. Alphabetic bits or parts or snippets of letters can create an added visual vocabulary amidst the very text you're reading.

As when you are perched on a mountain’s peak though the panoramic view is fetching you tend to focus on an interesting pebble at your feet. Something quantum about it.

(In my early twenties my friend, John Ventimiglia, and I hammered out our own simple art movement. We called those involved The Starists. The idea is that a person is engaged in two ways of interacting with the world. One is action, people immersed in myriad levels of activity. The many physical attempts to manipulate time. The other is staring. That being people involved in varying degrees of focus. The constant observation of being inside or living alongside time. Action is a means to harness time. Staring as a portal, a doorknob into the larger notion of time. The immediacy and infinity of time vying for attention. The starist is drawn toward promoting “time undisturbed”)

(Mildly similar to the abstract expressionists or the Morton Feldmans of the world that offer both a snapshot and a container for time to exist unfettered. There is both a muted ego and non-aggressive intention in their work. Mildly dissimilar in that it's a less productive endeavor. There is less art product when staring is the poem & noise is the music. Living in wider time is the silence of doing, the doing of silence. Staring, etc.)

NP: Can you say more about “meaning loses its hierarchy?”

NV: Staring changes content as we think meaning is permanent. Meaning loses value, clarity, importance, its ability to generate income. Staring changes a word irrevocably, but only once and in one way only.

A moment is bundled. You see a word and it means what you recall of its definition. That happens in less than a second. As if automatic. You don't typically spend more time than that, but if you did.

The word call. Stared. Is see all or california eleven or circa 2.
It loses or sheds meaning.

You draw words. A picture of a word of what it's related to. The object’s verisimilitude in a word.

c c
a a a
((((((((((((((( l l
l )))))))))))))))
l l

I suppose meaning can shift from moment to moment, from reading to reading, from hat to that, from appetite to appetizer, from trend to bend, but the signifier, the definitional aspects of words are so deeply embedded they hardly stray.

But when you do spend time it's instantly apparent that we are not only surrounded by our writing (and what we're told the writing means), but there are fewer places to go to retreat from it. What started as cave drawings has yet to cease and we have tagged everything around us.

So visual writing is closer to it.

(Stopped in traffic, waiting for the light to change - you find a logo. These people exploit our ability to stare. They tap into our personal time, the time yre not doing anything, that special disconnected to immediacy time. Meaning loses hierarchy when what yre looking at doesn’t matter, when it begins to alter without constraint, when it enters a tunnel and exits elsewhere.)

NP: Meaning, meaning everywhere, and not a drop to think. This was the appeal of Ashbery's *Tennis Court Oath* for me at the time of its publication in the 60's, the absence or transfiguration of meaning into words to look at. I liked what you said in your MiPoesias interview about letting "time and experience accrue."

NV: Squeeze more breath out a sentence and press Ashbery’s margin return key.

Writing from back to front, from last to first, from then to now. After an allotment of time starts the culling & gleaning of texts. Longhand into tiny notebooks I carry for months. Preferring to wait, to ripen chemically. I don’t wipe down the walls to make room for more words. Approaching it as needed. A late bloomer, not till 15 yrs old did it happen that I heard voice in my head. Previous, my thoughts were in a flowing visual continuum. So writing was to document my own new sound.

The twang of inebriate accuracy. The carousel dizzy plummet devises entry. Where you want to be. Delete the bullshit to point at what remains. When is truth a mule, when is truth a chaos you carry, when is truth an obsession you wear. Approaching buttons you are ready to push. One stare is one flower only through the tethers that connect it. Made of the same ingredients we harness the same drive to continue, but it replicates naturally with no intention of worth in another's eyes. A quizzical foray into tearing this wall paper, this build-up, but I am not a wall. It is trickery this fabricating a way to absolve the veils between it and me. The closest it gets is still tucked in self-absorbed extraction. The monkey distraught at finding itself in the city. No puzzle of beer strong enough to cajole the entirety out, so it’s a snippet. And this equals the time you’re willing to spend. Written during commute. Drafts in segue. Shiny morsels. Encapsulations on the run. No disciplined scribe here. No calendar specific pen. No keyboard soldier. A mountain’s an easier target. The subtle adjustment, the oversized straw’s struggle to suck out miniature fluids. A careless minefield. Erupting in time. Throwing nets to catch the one. Attracted to misreading and the tumult of turning words. Tiny notebook. The weather’s not it, it never is. You write your way through. Glad to remove the glare, the weight, the ashtray, and the pendulum sound. Always trying to fill tiny notebooks.

The mishaps and misadventures of mishearing.

"My obsession with surface is the subject of my music. In a sense, my compositions are really not "compositions" at all. One might call them time canvases in which I more or less prime the canvas with an overall hue of the music. I have learned that the more one composes or constructs --the more one prevents Time Undisturbed from becoming the controlling metaphor of the music."
Links, Responses

Crag Hill (Poetry Scorecard) [click here]
recently posted some links to online publications of Nico Vassilakis' work.

Quoted by < Harry K. Stammer [click here](from the Nico Vassilakis interview above)"As you stare further meaning loses its hierarchy and words discorporate and the alphabet itself begins to surface. Shapes, space relations, visual associations emerge as you delve further. Alphabetic bits or parts or snippets of letters can create an added visual vocabulary amidst the very text you're reading."

(Harry K. Stammer's response): >>>the staring is key, even in textpo that becomes other textpo... not as visual vocabulary but as unintended alphabetic/word/sentence vocabulary. yeah, it branches back to visual snippets and associations... i love the mixture of both,,, Nico has it down... break it up without doing anything (it breaks itself), one word many syllables other meanings... His work is very cool!<<<<

Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino sent us this link
Eratio [click here]
that includes selections from
StampOlogue and St. Thomasino's response (included
in the print version of the piece)
Note: use the horizontal scroll bar and keep scrolling to your right to view the piece and read St. Thomasino's notes to the piece.

Saturday, October 22


Facts, facts I was bored with them. I wanted something more important, bigger, more encompassing. I turned to specific words, to abstract ideas, to shapes, to colors. I tried to learn and absorb principles wherever I could find them, generalities, rules, systems, explanations.

Yet gradually these became blank, monochromatic, inert. Lately, I've come back to those concrete details, but not as a windbag might so respectfully refer to them, intoning them monotonously, as I angrily understood and rejected them so long ago, or as a miser might collect them, reveling in their exactitude.

One day I noticed that as overly treasured or trivial as any of these might appear to be to those who search out the most useful of them as liferafts, facts are the very specific colors, textures, odors, shapes of experience itself, without which there remained only those so familiar thoughts, those protective insights I always found so warming and alive. Instead of converting every object into a mental keepsake before I'd even held it, I try now to allow these details to shine, sharpening and shading each moment into, yes, something hard and real, untransformable, irrevocable, and quotidien, but nevertheless, something you can name.

Happy Birthday, David Bromige!

Ron offers up a warm tribute to the bard, who lives in Sebastopol, CA right now on Silliman's blog [click here]

A Master's Voice

If you have a few minutes, listen to some of David Bromige's poems on Penn Sound [click here]. Most of the selections are about a minute or less, and are
very gratifying to listen to. If you've never heard David read in that so gentle, so lightly teasing and funny way he has, with that charming accent from his UK origins , you are in for a real treat. I kid you not.

Friday, October 21

A Passing Comment

made by Ray Bianchi and commented on by Bill
Allegrezza on pr-ramblings [click here]
has evolved into that most pleasurable of all blogosphere moments- an ongoing discussion in a comments section, this one about poets, students and reading. Want to check it out, and perhaps chime in?

Postcritpt 10/26

David Shapiro

Don't miss David Shapiro's thought provoking outburst re: reading on p-ramblings (click above), and his quieter note added later. I have to think about his interesting typos- vispo? I like RFTEADING above as "retreading" or "retreating"
Shhh- I'm trying to talk David into opening a blog. He may do it, but for, guess what? His collages. Now hear this,dbqp [click here]. By the way, move over Ron Silliman- Geof Huth is getting over 700 hits a day!

David Shapiro reads with Ron Silliman at the Bowery Poetry Club Seque Series on November 19th hosted by Gary Sullivan and Nada Gordon

Alan Davies reads with Drew Gardner on November 5th

Thursday, October 20

*Three Trees* by Nico Vassilakis

Geof Huth's *dbqp Visualizing Poetics* [click here]

Jackson Mac Low's new book from Granary is out!
(via the SUNY/Buff poetics list)

Granary Books is pleased to announce the publication of Jackson Mac Low's DOINGS: ASSORTED PERFORMANCE PIECES 1955-2002.

"...The book includes detailed performance instructions as well as notes on the specific procedures of composition through which the works were created. The curious reader finally has access to some of the most important yet most elusive works within Mac Low’s oeuvre, including many examples of “Gathas,” “Vocabularies,” “Asymmetries,” “Light Poems,” and more. Doings performs the dual task of sourcebook and Baedeker — a looking glass through which to see where we’ve been and where we’re going as we
sift through the radical poetries of the postmodern era looking for renewal, for the inevitable path to the future. Doings includes an introduction by publisher Steve Clay, five gate-fold pull-outs, and a 60 minute CD of live and studio performance recordings..."

Wednesday, October 19

The Sooner The Better

Vincent Van Gogh Drawings at the Met [click here] opened today. As we've noticed in the past, the sooner you get to blockbuster shows at the Met, the better. Although the galleries were, of course, quite crowded, these crowds are sure to grow to huge proportions as the holidays grow near. Although the show is billed as a drawings show, there are lots of paintings also, many of them hung next to the drawings they were based on. This is a huge show, and the early drawings especially have been rarely, if ever, seen here before.
Charles Bernstein interviews Douglas Messerli

on his recent poetry, his pseudonyms, his
interest in and publication of Brazilian poetry,
his *writing through* and collaborations with
other poets, and a memoir he is working on


Jacket (Ocober)[click here]

Monday, October 17

Poetry, Prose Poetry and Vispo: Good Reads

Of *Atellier* by Claire Lux [AQP Collective, 179 Azelea Drive,
Afton, VA 22920, 26 pages] John Most [click here] says: "This small book of poems is the first of thirteen such books, each written using a different character/voice that I have invented: *Atelier* by Claire Lux, et cetera. The plan is to print each book separately in a small run and then compile then into a single book after the project is over."

"The festering wound
Diagnosed through hypnosis
Sculpture failure /
Silt from the streets
Of my states urban
Center coursed through
Tangled veins
Little WANTS"
Sheila E. Murphy *Concentricity* from Pleasure Boat
Studio 201 West 89th Street, #6F, NY, NY 10024

Of Sheila Murphy's many excellent books in recent years, I am most excited by this one. It is all prose
poetry-this book has something like 80 dense, intensely imagistic, thoughtful poems, each one a complex, lyrical, dense puzzle, tempting the reader back to unlock its mysteries again and again. For years I've been delighted when I've come across a prose poem in a lit magazine by Sheila Murphy. She's one of those rare top-flight contemporary poets who isn't coy, is constantly in the fray, (frequently on the collective blog, As/Is). whose work is constantly inventive without being opaque in an annoying way:

(from *Pleasure*, p.44)

"Rhumba, samba, doe-eyed opposite of clash is education. Pens to match the theobald of summer slingshot into monster's eye. Spotted on the cry end of a seamed chaise facing all the brick light of a world through olive palms and chaps on someone riding. Do the half-tones rise with Adam's apple to the sonnet in a copybook? And do the whiled appointments harbor space of modesty? Cold bristles soften to the lanolin-bathed fingers close to sheep in lengths of semi-automatic flight. A gathering of leathergold
still suitable for taming..."
*StampOlogue* by Nico Vassilakis
the Runaway Spoon Press Box 495597
Port Charlotte Florida 33949

photographic visual poetry
afterword by Gregory St Thomassino
with a response by Nico

Gregory writes: "'X' genealogist I know has 'rubbings' framed and hanging in her study. These remind me of them. I must tell her, there is something 'shroud of Turin' about them"

Nico responds: "...the process of doing vispo right now is still fun for me. sometimes it bites and i hate it and i don't do it for months, years, it loses its flavor and appeal for me if fussed over excessively. i try to learn how and when to approach vispo with openness. occassionally i get it right. sometimes it takes me from my text writing. it does that bcause it's easier for me to access less torment in creating vispo, i think. staring at textpo creates the potential for vispo."

Saturday, October 15

MiPOesias, edited by Tom Beckett

Reading and rereading the engaging work in this issue... I'm the least fan of the "best ofs" but you've got to check out Nico Vassilakis' "profile." Lots of writers, who were interviewed, jumped or wriggled through or over and around that hoop, but Nico [click here] leaped through it deftly and with enviable elan. And the poems!
What the hell, while you're at it check out these *Texts for Nothing, but Cut Up* on UBU web:
Nico Vassilakis [click here]

In A Dark and Desperate World

it's a joy to focus on a few rays of sunlight. The MiPOesias issue, discussed above, Karl Rove under indictment and Harold Pinter winning the Nobel Prize:
Los Angeles Times online [click here].

Friday, October 14


You can't always get what you want, but you can almost always read what you want; that way I read more, think more, and usually even write more.
Forget about being a writer and you'll be happy. Then keep on writing.

Wednesday, October 12



If you are 40 and still ambivalent, consult more
deeply within yourself. If you are 50 and continue to suffer from mixed feelings, try to seek out the opinions of others. If you are 60, flip a coin.


The Debt

Much of what I am came out of books, so much of what I become goes back into them.

Sunday, October 9

Fishing The Street

A heavy, punishing rain beat down on the streets outside the Bowery Poetry Club yesterday where a respectable and respectful crowd came to hear and cheer Marianne Shaneen and Anselm Berrigan, introduced by Gary Sullivan and Nada Gordon. Each of these young poets read, with witty, charming and quiet force, a combination of new and earlier works to appreciative whistles and applause from the drenched audience. Marianne has a new chapbook from Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs [click here]; Anselm spoke about his father, Ted Berrigan's new Collected Poems [click here]. Reading over the blurbs, I noticed that two are by poets who recently died, Robert Creeley and Lorenzo Thomas. Anselm mentioned that the latter, who died this year on July 4th, passed away on the same date as Anselm's father, 22 years later. Anselm, who was 10 when his father died, read several great poems by Ted I never heard before. As I've mentioned previously on these pages, I attended my first poetry workshop with Ted Berrigan in 1967. I am not ashamed or embarrassed to state how fond I was of this man, who, like so many people, was what I call a 60's victim, in relation to his early death, anyway... As I write this I realize that there are many others, like myself, who survived the 60's, who were also its victims (and its beneficiaries). In my case maybe you can't see the wounds, maybe you can, but I can often feel them, especially when I think of Ted. For a taste of the real 60's see the Scorsese documentary about Dylan and read Ted. Especially read Ted. As I turned to leave, I spoke briefly with the maestro, Bob Holman, who, by the way, is performing on Wednesday night at 10 pm at his own club, the BPC with the Billy Bang Trio. Bob mentioned how you could hear, at times, that Ted Berrigan lilt in Anselm's voice. Yes, I heard and loved that, and also the way Anselm couldn't stop laughing at one of his father's poems as he read it- the one about a truck and fish all over the street.

Ted Berrigan Reads

Listen to Ted, thanks to Al Filreis and Charles Bernstein at Penn Sound,
and Alice Notley.

Ted Berrigan at Penn Sound [click here]

Thursday, October 6


Watch for the moment in each day when you are given the choice to change.


Innocent until proven guilty is a fair and just formula, but intelligent until proven otherwise will waste a lot of your time.


Spirit Photography

Don't miss the astounding Spirit Photography show [click here for Kimmelman's review in the NY Times] at the Metropolitan Museum, especially the photos by Ted Serios. By the way, there is an excellent hardbound catalogue for $60.

Wednesday, October 5

Think Again

"Every difficulty slurred over will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on."

Frederic Chopin

from *The Harper Book of Quotations*
edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry


When you use something, you no longer know it. To know it, you must leave it alone.


'"But I don't see it," she continued sadly. "So, it's useless, isn't it? -and so cruel..." He was about to speak, but she went on: "I shall never understand it- never!"

He looked at her. "You will some day :you were made to feel everything----"

"I should have thought this was a case of not feeling----"

"On my part, you mean?" He faced her resolutely."Yes, it was to my shame. ..What I meant was that when you've lived a little longer, you'll see what complex blunderers we all are: how we're struck blind sometimes, and mad sometimes- and then, when our sight and our senses come back, how we have to set to work, and build up, little by little, bit by bit, the precious things we'd smashed to atoms without knowing it. LIfe's a perpetual piecing together of broken bits.'"

from *The Reef* by Edith Wharton (1912)

Saturday, October 1

The Consolations of Art

"Ah, those strange people who have the courage to be unhappy. *Are* they unhappy, by the way?"
Alice James, *Diary*, 1889

What might be the alchemy that transposes suffering, or mere contentment, into happiness? Most artists come to understand and hold to one ineradicable consolation: every type of experience, without exception, contains food for thought, material for contemplation, a lesson in life. Perhaps their acrobatic feats of regeneration and renewal are as much explained by this tenacity, linked to unbounded curiosity, as it is by those all too noticeable balancing acts around recognition, motivation and self-esteem.

Friday, September 30


"There is hardly any grief that an hour's reading will not dissipate."

Montesquieu, *Mes Pensees*, c. 1722-55.

Woman reading [click here]

Jordan Stempleman's

poetry and images plus
Kari Edwards' new blog
featured now on
Chris Murray's Tex Files [click here]

Friday, September 23

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Blogger

Certain sites of reading project a promise of intimacy- the reader knowing full well that some degree of suspension of disbelief will be expected; but so what, nearly any intriguing read asks for some of that. Such intimacy, intuited from the first moments- at first sight, so to speak- immediately invites thoughts about possible time and frequency factors- where and and how often to hang out, for example.

More words are there and you come back to read again. A factor of possible interaction now imposes itself or is suggested. This time, as it happens, no stickiness or embarrassment, it's comfortable in fact, you don't even think that much yet about the content, though it's intriguing, especially from the standpoint of some early ambience of fitting in. It's a room you can hang out in for a bit - while that other place comes across more like a workout space, for example, ithe way a gym is intimate but the object being so much on self-improvement or strengthening and alert presence- you go but you don't necessarily linger.

With intimacy, connection, warmth, familiarity almost invariably trump revelation- true, both are present, but the revelations themselves seem to some degree to want to provoke chat not mere "response", and ultimately, some sort of involvement- after all you yourself do these things as well, and with a similar sense of pleasure and satisfaction: you too go to openings, you eat, you identify passages in poems you return to, you recognize, greet, mention artists. A book like this recently made me feel so welcome it actually got me past a whole day, maybe even a longer period of doldrums and whining.

I picked up Michael Coffey's *cmyk* at St Mark's when I first got back from a longish vacation in Provincetown. Immediately I was more enmeshed in thinking about New York than I expected to be reading a book of poetry, in particular its references to the lives and deaths of literary figures, many known personally to me, opening the book as I did just now to the line:"Half-lamenting the passing of Pessoa and Armand Schwerner." Armand was a close friend, a deeply influential poet for me and many others, so I personally appreciated this, that is, Coffey's projection of the simultaneous (literary) reference/ greeting and (personal/literary) grieving. By now I realized i'd been immersed in an intimate space and though I put the book down for some reason and wandered a bit around the bookstore, I soon picked it up and came back. This time I read it through completely, hungrily looking for references (Coffey once remarked to me he had noticed he himself had appeared as a sort of cameo in a book of mine, titled -Theoretical Objects- where he shows up as "the guy with the moustache" (the face hair is gone now) that I recognized at events and kept noticing and got curious about. Coffey mentions poets in the book including Ted Berrigan, Jackson Mac Low and Bruce Andrews, focusing on his affection for sonnets. Artists too, like Tim Hawkinson and Vito Acconci- so the book space intimately enters the art space, and eventually gets around to the restaurant space- a diary of menus and meals and social moments. But these intimacies, redolant as they are in some way with a nostalgia for the old New York School fondness for immediacy of experience, are not presented here exactly as such. In -cmyk-, casualness is less offhand, though still not all that earnest, or "cloying", but perhaps neighborly (maybe slightly like the way John Godfrey can be neighborly in some of his books- evoking the street and chararacter of the Lower East Side) - factually, meticulously detailed, while remaining emotionally substantial. Somewhat similar to a social visit, the way bloggers at first thought of people coming over to their blog as being like a social visit. He quotes Warhol:

"There is hardlly a better way of describing the situation of the late twentieth century artist who has everything at his disposal but for whom nothing is really present as he can no longer grasp the depth, all that has survived of The Last Supper's spiritual wealth, its spiritual substance are carbohydrates and that which, apart from pizza qualifies worldwide as Italian fastfood cuisine."
-Carla Schlulz-Hoffman, p 11 Warhols Last Supper

"Where do Italian art and culture intersect in your mind?
Andy: "Spaghetti?"

For its voyage through the abundant and various humidities, admixtures and intertwinings of writing the reading experience as an exploration of various doors-including doors, archways and entranceways constructed of intricate and intriguing typographical designs crafted by a master of such entwinings- Guy Bennett. -cmyk- proposes the seeming possiblity of a book as a temporary domicile: an enticing place to hang out and wander about within, with clues and/as memories popping up around to make you wonder if it might yet offer itself to you as a frequent stay. Early on, though, Coffey does drop a suggestion given such an open invitation, a certain requirement: you'd at least have to know how to hang out with a group of friends and have a relaxed beer.

O Books 2005
typesetting by Guy Bennet
cover by Rebecca Smith

Wednesday, September 21

Dreams and Nightmares

The important work of Ligorano/Reese, now on view at Cooper Union and elsewhere (see below), is critical, probing, sharply satiric of American politics today. We checked out a show based on a book by Joel Sternfeld, -Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America-, on view September 16- October 22
at Luhring Augustine, 531 West 24th Street, NYC 10011 (212) 206-9100. Thankfully, for those of
you who can't get to the show, you can purchase or look at the book, which is well worth seeing and having. The show concerns experimental utopian communities across the United States, focusing both on their use of space and housing and on the essence of their communal ideals, structures and activities. This show comes at a crucial moment in US history, when it can be best described, perhaps, as a dystopia. There are at least 40 huge photographs on view, each accompanied by an excellently written, lengthy description of the history of the community. Some are well known, others obscure. The link to the New York Times review of 9/18 is: Mostly Lost [click here]

Another hightly recommended show now at Caren Golden Fine Art, 539 West 23rd Street, NY, NY 10011, tel: (212)727-8304 is Tom Burkhardt's *Full Stop* Here Tom Burhardt has wittly reconstructed an entire 50's style artist's studio, replete with pot-bellied stove, book and record shelves, numerous details all nearly full scale and constructed out of cardboard! It is dedicated to his father, Rudy Burkhardt, among others. See it on Tuesdays- Saturdays 11-6 pm. Some of Tom Burkhardt's excellent small paintings are on view in the show also.

If you're in Chelsea, make sure to check out this excellent gallery devoted completely to collage: Jeremy Lawson, 525 West 24th Street (212) 627-6000. On view until October15 are the fascinating collages of Rita Ackerman.

Sunday, September 18

A Knock on The Door

The collaborative art team Marshall Reese and Nora Ligorano have a recent work

Pure Products USA [click here]

up at a literally dynamite
art show called *A Knock at The Door* at
Cooper Union

A Knock on The Door [click here]

The show-and the Ligorano/Reese mug shots
were featured both on a recent
cover of the New York Post (reviling
it, of course, as dishonoring the losses
of 9/11) and a surprisingly respectful
review in a recent issue of the Art section
of the New York Times. The Ligorano/Reese
work was the lead-off photo in the Times

This is a must-see show!

Sunday, August 7


'Bear with me. I know that I sometimes stray from the point, but unless I write down things as they occur to me, I feel I wil lose them for good. My mind is not quite what it used to be. It is slower now, sluggish and less nimble, and to follow even the simplest thought very far exhausts me. This is how it begins, then, in spite of my efforts. The words come only when I think I won't be able to find them out again. Each day brings the same struggle, the same blankness, the same desire to forget of ever bringing them out again....Memory is the great trap, you see, and I did my best to hold myself back, to make sure my thoughts did not sneak off to the old days. But lately I have been slipping, a little more each day it seems, and now there are times when I will not let go..."

Paul Auster
*In The Country of Last Things*
Viking, 1987

"No Oblivion

Someone, I tell you,
will remember us."

translated by Willis Barnstone
Green Integer 26


"Our hearts were filled with so much pain but this past week or so, the pain
seems to be capitulating to the point where she can pronounce..."

Nada Gordon
*V. Imp.*
Faux Press,
Cambridge, Mass 2003

"Now experiencing mounting feeling of ecstacy and anticipation; this is all
*leading somewhere*"

Gary Sullivan
*How To Proceed in the Arts*
Faux Press,, 2001


There are things about reality
that continue to astonish almost everyone.


Friday, August 5

War and Treachery

"This war has produced perhaps the richest crop of treacheries that has every been known; which indicates a revolutionary climate- a climate, that is, where the initial state of things is gradually changing and the general standard of discernment is beginning to differ from the views of this or that group."
10th July, 1940

Destiny and Peace

"Life is not a search for experience, but for ourselves. Having discovered our own fundamental level we realize that it conforms to our destiny and we find peace."
8th August, 1940

Completion and Transcendence

"A man completes a work only when his qualities transcend that work."
14th August, 1940

Cesare Pavese
*The Burning Brand:
Diaries 1935-1950*
Walker and Company
New York, 1961

Tuesday, August 2

Henry Hills' Experimental Films {click here}

This rich site has a lot to offer, not only links to and discussions about the fascinating and richly conceived films of this important avant-garde filmaker, but it also features tons of links to information about many other filmakers and terrifically detailed essays concerning contemporary filmaking.

Also included are links to ::fait accompli's:: and Nada Gordon's blogged commentaries on Henry Hills' latest offering, the ongoing series *Emma's Dilemma* featuring Emma Bernstein's interviews with artists and writers including Carolee Schneeman, Ken Jacobs, Fiona Templeton, Richard Foreman, Susan Bee, Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe, Kenneth Goldsmith, Jackson Mac Low and Tony Oursler.

Saturday, July 30

Perfect Summer Fare-A Breath of Fresh
-and Icy-Air

March of the Penguins {click here}

Thursday, July 28

Beautiful New Books

Vernon Frazer, *Improvisations*
Beneath The Underground, 2005
"Surface denial breeds lost ampersands.
Who understands the colon's fitful wedge?
Pursuant to undreamed rhetorics the flay.
Sidestep rhythm commands. Cease and."

Ernesto Priego *The Body Aches*
ExPress Doble, 2005
"One day our names
will be read at the entrance of buildings
unrecognizable shadows
of a somewhat somewhere"

Burt Kimmelman *Somehow*
Marsh Hawk Press, 2005
"I suppose letters to the dead are common.
We need to speak, even when there's no one there.
I think of the crazy juxtapositions, the people
and things you loved. Life's a mute grieving."

Kyle Schlesinger Thom Donovan *Mantle*
Atticus, 2005
"Last-back in time
Lash-of the "future past"
Held things rung-this ring
(Too familiar) of the present's/
Seminal knell"

Thom Donovan *Tears are These Veils*
images by Abby Walton
Wild Horses of Fire Press
"I mean bark, thick meaning of bark
The actual act of cutting bark
Shot and printed"

Stan Apps *Soft Hands*
Ugly Duckling Press, 2005
"Because they want a future/
Where there's room for everyone, to enjoy themselves
Among the graves. It's a rich white racism thing."

Recent and Stunning

Charles Bernstein *Shadowtime*
Green Integer, 2005
"You can do nothing worthwhile
until you discover your own imperatives
the commands that will make
the supreme demands on your life"

Jerome Sala *Look Slimmer Instantly!*
Soft Skull, 2005
"problem is:
since we rule the world
the only culture we have
is the air we breathe
you human fuckers"

Standard Schaefer *'Water and Power*
Agincourt, 2005
"who blames the excessive heat on this damn thirst
the word property evaporates from the dossier
the word slavery not even noted"

All Warren *Hounds*
Spring 2005
"Louise is alright, but so delicious
and mechanical are my offspring
I need not worry even a poet
could name it by name"

Paul Celan *Lightduress*
Green Integer, 2005
translated by Pierre Joris
"Webbing beween the words,/
their time-halo-"

Clayton Couch *Artificial Lure*
effing press, 2005
"poems cast and collapsed into one life's misgivings/
does anyone live long enough to forget the whole song?"

Brother Tom Murphy, *finish . your phrase.
first line index. 03*
cat press, 2005
"some neil young in the morning...
versions of life's worth"

Mike Kelleher, *To Be Sung*
Blaze Vox, 2005
"I'll fuck anything
that moves.
But everything
is still"

edited by Vincent Katz
*Vanitas 1: The State*
"Comes to an end. Disestablished path. *maybe baby*/
token analytic muse in the glove compartment"- Ann Lauterbach

edited by Douglas Messerli
*the PiP Anthology of World Poetry
Volume 5: Intersections: Innovative Poetry
of Southern California*
Green Integer, 2005
"fried brains and all, dumbfounded
in Los Angeles, where mosquitoes drowse
in noonday heat, bloodlust drained from
tropical eyes"- Wanda Coleman

Gary Sullivan *Japanese Notebook*
Elsewhere #1, 2005
"There are so many people, so many dreams"

edited by Jordan Davis
The Hat #6, 2005
"Not something you have. Not something you are. Not even a/
medium in which you swim. Then what"- Jonathan Mayhew

edited by Kyle Schlesinger, Sasha Steenson, Gordon Hatfield
Kiosk #4, 2005
"I must be anachronistic to be so silent
in the face of these empty signs"- Michael Davidson

Ann Lauterbach *Hum*
Penguin, 2005
"*Ladies and gentlemen, rock 'n roll.*"

Kimberly Lyons, *Saline*
Instance, 2005
"At night, with a fever, the smell is of my own tongue,
swollen and of a washrag."

[for Steve Evans]


Thought for The Day: The Good News

ecritures bleues (Laura Carter) {click here}

Wednesday, July 27


"70. Ideas too are a life and a world."
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
translated by R.J. Hollingdale
Penguin, 1990

"Intense but imprecise memory? Try a poem"

"Dreams as aesthetic achievement: why couldn't one
take pride in a dream as a work of art?"

"Literature: disover localities that have not yet been
claimed by meaning."

"Disgruntled-because I was unable to think."

"Linguistic euphoria is needed for a poem
(even a desolate one)."

"I will not write another poem until I have a new view
of life."

"Writing- safe again."

October/November 1976
*The Weight of the World*
Peter Handke
translated by Ralph Manheim
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

" 69.The pantomimes of the ancients no longer
exist. But in compensation all modern poetry
resembles pantomimes."
Friedrich Schlegel
translated by Peter Firchow
Univ of Minnesota, 1991

"I speak of the Messiah whom the poet
Senses without naming, the painter
Feels without seeing, the composer
Hears without noting, the philosopher
Supposes without knowing."
Charles Bernstein- *Shadowtime*
1. Level 5.
published by Green Integer Press, 2005

To Paul Valery, May 5, 1891
"In order to give life and meaning to literature, we must reach that "great symphony." Perhaps no one ever will. Nevertheless, the ideal has obsessed even the most unconscious writers, and its main lines- however gross or fine- are to be found in every written work. The perfect poem we dream of can be suggested by Music itself; and if our own written melody seems imperfect when it has ceased, we must lay siege to the other and plagiarize."
Stephane Mallarme
translated by Bradford Cook
Johns Hopkins, 1956

"How far civilization is from assuring us the pleasures that are supposed to be its attributes! For instance, one might well be amazed that there is no league of dreamers in every great city, existing to support some newspaper that would record events in the light of dream. *Reality* is a contrivance, serving to situate the average mind among the mirages of an event....All ears, one had to be all eyes. From the mimic's stance, one hand straining upwards with fingers wide, I saw that, clever fellow! he had captured the audience's feelings with the movement of catching something on the wing, emblem (and no more) of the ease with which anyone seizes an idea; and that, stirrred by the breeze of this movement, the bear swayingly and gently erect, was querying the exploit, with one paw on the ribboned human shoulder....A lucid pantomime, vaster than the boards and with the gift proper to art of durability...."
Stephane Mallarme
*A Break in the Act*
translated by David Paul
*Poison and Vision*
Vintage Books, 1974

Saturday, July 23

Containing Multitudes, One Shadow at a Time:
on Ferneyhough and Bernstein's *Shadowtime*

“The past and present wilt- I have filled them and emptied them,/
and proceed to fill my next fold of the future/
Listener up there! What have you to confide in me?
/Talk honestly, or no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.
/Do I contradict myself?/Very well then, I contradict myself
/I am large/I contain multitudes”
*Song of Myself*

Imagine if, when Debussy was looking for a libretto for his opera *Pelleas et Melisande* he had chosen Mallarme instead of Maurice Maeterlink. Well, maybe if he had written the work at age 61, as is Ferneyhough, he would have, but he happened to have been in his 40’s. Anyway, Debussy didn’t and wound up having to fire Maeterlink’s wife who had been offered the leading role, but far from Debussy’s ideal for the part. I spoke briefly to Brian Ferneyhough after tonight’s performance (which elicited quite a few curtain calls, allowing composer and librettest an opportunity both to take separate bows and to embrace.) He emphasized how pleased he was for his music to connect more with contemporary literary life.

Let’s put it this way. The Mallarme/Debussy comparison is apt because if there is one point that no one will disagree with: this writer and composer have produced a work that is anything, if not nuanced. Nuance is incorporated literally into the title of this complex, many faceted work, Shadowtime. In a typical slapstick
moment after the performance Bernstein pointed out his tie, subtly painted in shades of gray: “My Shadowtime tie” he told me, with a smile.

I liked the sonic shivers in all the instrumentation in this music, and the way this composer uses sound reminds me of both Debussy and Webern. Not that he overindulges in it, but there is not a small amount of very sophisticated humor in this music, that dances nicely with Charles B’s not infrequent joshing around. This is real amiability but it is a very intelligent amiability, and, sorry, that Debussy connection pops up again; Charles’ poetic horseplay, sometimes of a mildly self-deprecating Woody Allen type, which always includes joking about joking, corresponds nicely to Ferneyhough’s music which is freely at ease and comfortably conversant with all his influences, to a point where he can echo his idols to the edge of flattery- Charles, I think, has to compensate for an awful lot of affections for very many voices with a considerable dose of irony and not a small amount of lightly laced Manhattanite sarcasm.

The piece stretches out for a leisurely 2 and one half-hours, but not a second is wasted. Like Bernstein, Ferneyhough has quite a lot to say about his literary, philosophical and musical references and he is not going to leave out a single utterance or voice. I like to see artists take their time; set the slate, allow the music to double back on itself and rediscover its shadows.

Bernstein’s focus on time is Benjamin’s focus. Bernstein is showing clearly how Benjamin’s idea about time had to do with layering, with, as Benjamin states in the passage I quoted yesterday, the way things pile up at our feet in contemporary life. They confront us, these shattering contemporary events, Benjamin said; so there is no choice but to search for their harmonic and dissonant corresponding patterns in the past. Listening to this music I never felt impatient for it to end, I continually felt the moments were constantly varied and reconfigured.Sometimes the orchestral layer was foregrounded, sometimes the words, from time to time projected on the small screen above the curtain, rang out clearly in the mind and inner ear. As Charles has occasion to elucidate in the subtitle: this is a “thought opera.” Whatever the physical objects put in front of us, sound, image, voice, instrument, human body, we are constantly drawn to their counterparts in thought and time. For once, relationships are not the main story, the human ones anyway. Each presence, from memory, to association, to light (there were several lovely LED light bars added onto the stage and curtain towards the end, for example) sound, object, thought, word, phrase, interpretation, in the past, present, or future all have equivalent significance ("And the new angels pass away/ like sparks on coals/ Just as we/ no sooner than/ we had seen each other for the first time/ journeyed back together/ from where we came.").

This libretto substantially demonstrates one of Bernstein’s, and now Bernstein and Ferneyhough’s common political values; the democratic tenet of acknowledging, and trying to identify and comprehend as many connections conceivable between each and every character and moment in the world’s imagination, as they present, and have presented themselves: photographs of books, a man getting undressed and getting dressed again; the same scene projected or animated on the screen; or a figure leaning back over a chair as in a trance or a dance; cutouts of Einstein, Hitler, the Marx Brothers, Karl Marx;all appear as actors for cameos. There are references to philosophy, but there are also references to Benjamin’s essay on Hashish in Marseilles.

We are made out of everything we have experienced, that is sure: we hunt out words for the components of the experiences and the resulting present is a weave that is complete in every subsection but these are not necessarily, anyway, as yet named. This is true in Ferneyhough’s music as well. Not pastiche as the critics
will no doubt say, but collage, collage in the best sense meaning complexly multifaceted but not necessarily intentionally so, just as in life and democratic in being open to the next episodic insistence patiently. This is all we have, as Creeley might have put it. I’m thinking of some quote from the libretto now,but more on these soon. It’s past 3: 30 am!

note added 7/24

Although I had not read it (promise) before this morning, Brian Ferneyhough adds this note about his music in Shadowtime in the playbill:

"The second aspect of this music, that makes it perhaps a little bit dynamic, is that I do a quick run through of the entire history of Western music, from about the year 1000 up to about 1825, which is where, I think, the history of the genre comes to a stop and then the individual style takes over. Each one of these little scenes runs through some emblematic classical form with nonclassical means, no stylistic imitation at all."