Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Some kind soul just made the 5,000th visit to this weblog. Never thought I'd get so far – at least not in less than a decade or so. No prizes this time around, but thanks for reading, everybody.

Editing Olson

Ron implies that I’ve “disparaged” WCW’s late poems: hell, yes! There’s a difference between reaching a certain “relaxed” moment in one’s career, a place where you can slacken up on the hard tightened forms of earlier moments – I see that in Journey to Love and The Desert Music, and in parts of Paterson – and the simple, pitiable symptoms of age and infirmity. There are moments in the “Pictures from Brueghel” poems where one sees WCW’s old cunning & fire breaking out, but there are a lot more moments where he’s just squeezing out lines in order to keep some grasp on his own self-image in the face of strokes, cancer, near-blindness, etc. It’s deeply admirable, and often heartbreaking, but it doesn’t make for compelling art.


I’m about halfway thru Charles Olson’s big Collected Poems (Excluding the Maximus Poems) (and that’s one big exclusion). A frustrating read. Olson can be so good when he’s on, and so unutterably limp and wooden when he isn’t. I won’t say that he’s a dour poet – to the contrary – but he’s got one of the bluntest, least subtle senses of humor in 20th-century American writing.

One of the frustrations with Olson’s Collected is that one never gets the sense of an ongoing career, spelled out in a series of collections. It’s just there – about 650 pages, over 400 poems arranged in rough chronological order of composition. I can see the wisdom of that on the part of George Butterick, the editor: after all, Olson simply didn’t seem particularly interested in issuing volumes of short poems that would serve as signposts to his work, as you can chart WCW over Kora in Hell, Spring and All, and so forth. But what’s missing in this behemoth of a book is any sense of Olson as arranger of his own works.

Olson’s short poems were gathered in three significant collections during his lifetime (I pass over a number of chapbooks and very short gatherings), and in one further collection shortly after his death:

In Cold Hell, In Thicket, published by Robert Creeley’s Divers Press in Mallorca in 1953: this volume includes 23 poems (Olson had chosen 26, but Creeley as editor deleted 3), including such masterpieces as “The Kingfishers” and the title poem. A major book, announcing Olson as a major poet.

The Distances, published by Grove Press in 1960: includes 21 poems, the first 10 of which are recycled from In Cold Hell. Olson had apparently planned a much larger volume, but got cold feet and withdrew many of the poems intended for the book. This is a beautifully printed and textually quite sound edition. (In the intro to the Collected Butterick cites only 5 errors in The Distances, and four of them have been corrected in my copy, which is the 3rd printing.) This was, incidentally, my own introduction to Olson some 20 years ago, and it still stands as one of the landmark reading experiences of my life.

•The New Directions Selected Writings, edited by Creeley in 1966, contains a section of short poems that includes 16 poems, most of them from The Distances.

After Olson’s death, Albert Glover and George Butterick put together Archaeologist of Morning (Grossman, 1971), which collects every poem Olson ever published, whether in book form or periodicals. It contains around 100 poems, which means that roughly 2/3 of the poems were appearing there for the first time in book form. The U of California Collected Poems ups the ante by including unpublished typescript and manuscript poems as well, bringing the total up to over 400 – three-quarters of which had never before appeared in a book.

This implies a couple of things to me: First, Olson (leaving aside whether, once he’d gotten Maximus underway, he really cared much about what happened to his short poems) never much thought in terms of short poem collections: the three gatherings during his lifetime are very much in the vein of “selected poems” (“The Kingfishers,” for instances, appears in all three). There’s no sense of “hey, I have a 100 or 150 pages of manuscript lying around, let’s do a new collection.” Second, what arrangement and thought Olson did give to his short poems – and I’m persuaded that In Cold Hell, In Thicket and The Distances are deeply thought-thru selections, carefully programmed and ordered -– is entirely lost in the big Collected Poems. If you're a real masochist, you can figure out which poems appeared in which collections, but only by wading through the textual notes at the end of the book; and there’s no way whatsoever of figuring out how the poems were originally ordered in those collections.

That’s a great loss, and it’s not at all compensated by having everything in chronological order, whatever advantages such ordering might otherwise have. Given the lavishness of the California presentation – it’s a big book, beautifully printed – and given Butterick’s otherwise scrupulous attention to textual matters, it would have helped all of us out a great deal to include a four-page appendix with the tables of contents of In Cold Hell, The Distances, and Selected Writings (not to mention Y&X, Olson’s first chapbook, and such ephemerae as O’Ryan and West). It would at least have helped the reader who wants to go straight to Olson’s own selections of his work, and then slog her way through the poems that he dashed off at odd moments and then lost under the stacks of magazines or shoved into the odd copy of Moby-Dick.


Jesus H. Christ.

Monday, June 27, 2005


A slow week, wet and muggy; writing, revising (cutting, the hardest sort of revising). Tweaked the blog a bit: new links on the blogroll (more to come), people's blogs' names added in parens.

Note above my first try-out of the new blogger photo utility. Ain't that purty? It's one of my prides and joys, an eBay find of last year: a Danelectro electric guitar (yes, silver sparkle, and the same model that Jimmy Page used to play on "Kashmir") that's been modified into an electric bouzouki (8 strings in 4 courses). So I can play those jigs 'n' reels, and I can play them really LOUD.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Charles Bukowski and Ciceronian Latin

That burst of Pound day before yesterday in response to Bob Archambeau's little informal “contest,” itself in response to a densely thoughtful e-mail from the redoubtable John Peck (need I add that more people should be reading him?). Peck, thinking around Bob’s/George Steiner’s notion of “contingent” difficult, is thinking about the ways in which poets’ – specifically, Pound’s and Olson’s – very syntax manifests the manner in which their poetic subjectivities are involved in the historical materials they manipulate. I want to chew this over a bit more; for the nonce, I’ll indulge in a bit of collegial puffery, and point to what I think is a really brilliant article by a colleague of mine, John Leeds’s “Against the Vernacular: Ciceronian Formalism and the Problem of the Individual” (Texas Studies in Literature and Language 46.1 [Spring 2004]: 107-148). John’s contention is that different languages – his particular examples are various early modern Scottish historical chronicles in both Scots and Latin – present the subject itself in different relations to the field of power and social relations. A bit of a tangent to what Peck’s talking about, but very provocative indeed, and drawing upon a refreshingly wide range of knowledges: Renaissance humanism, Frankfurt School critical theory, the Ciceronian tradition of Latin prose.

After an initial burst of peevish Narnian self-defense (how could Donald Davie pick on JRR Tolkien?!), Eric thinks carefully about the whole notion of “sheep & goats” in literature. I must note that I put the post up in response to another one of those young people who assaulted me with that “you are such an elitist” spiel – a bit of peevishness on my own part, but my attraction to Davie’s passage no doubt has something to do with my own lingering Puritanism. It’s a chancy thing: I’m well aware how problematic it is to teach one’s own tastes – one’s own sense of who’s sheepish – especially to undergraduates. My usual strategy, at least since I’ve passed that “certain age,” is to teach nothing that I don’t really like, or at least find interesting/provocative. That way I don’t have to argue that Djuna Barnes is “better” than Hemingway, since EH isn’t on the syllabus! Gets harder at the graduate level, esp. in creative writing courses, when one so often encounters students hard at work on projects with which one has very little aesthetic sympathy. Does one play along, say “here’s how you can make those poems sound more like the Charles Bukowski-thing you’re trying to do” while inside you’re thinking “this isn’t bloody worth doing”? or does one try to push that Charles Bukowski into a more Louis Zukofsky direction, subtly or overtly? or does one just shut up and let the other members of the workshop do the talking? (I can’t bring myself to that last option…)

I suspect much of what impressed Davie about Leavis’s and Winters’s sheep/goating had to do with the much-attested personal magnetism and force of the two guys: ie, those were the days when one could just waltz into a classroom and say “Famous Poet X really sucked,” and carry it off on the strength of one’s ethos.

Incoming (big new remainder store just opened in Ft. Lauderdale!):
Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism
John Lydon, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs
Bill Martin, Avant Rock: Experimental Music from The Beatles to Björk
WG Sebald, After Nature
WG Sebald, Austerlitz
John Cage, Writer: Selected Texts, ed. Richard Kostelanetz
Terry Eagleton, After Theory
Christopher Ricks, Dylan’s Visions of Sin
Anthony Hecht, Collected Later Poems
Michael Holroyd, Works on Paper: The Craft of Biography and Autobiography

On the earbuds:
Björk, Post
Radiohead, OK Computer and Kid A

Thursday, June 23, 2005

[EP example for Bob]

that the body of light come forth / from the body of fire / And that your eyes come to the surface / from the deep wherein they were sunken, / Reina...

That the tone change from elegy / "Et Jehanne" / A lost kind of experience? / scarcely, / O Queen Cytherea, / che 'l terzo ciel movete.

Canto XCI, pp. 610, 617 (1983 printing)

[Whaz my valuable prize? I take back the "whoreson knave" bit; turns out I've been misspelling Britney (ONE "T") Spears on a weekly basis.]

On Elitism

Submitted for discussion: Donald Davie, on Yvor Winters and F. R. Leavis:

That I cannot concur in either Leavis’s or Winters’s way of dividing the sheep from the goats, is beside the point: what I esteem in both of them is their common insistence that sheep there are, and goats there are; that in the arts, as between the genuine and the fake, or between the achieved and the unachieved, there cannot be any halfway house. The Calvinist doctrines of election and reprobation may be false and brutal in every other realm of human endeavour; in the arts they rule. And the catholicism of Lewis and Tolkien becomes, when extended into the arts, merely a lax eclecticism; worse, it becomes – because of its tenderness towards ‘the ordinary’ – indistinguishable, in its impact on the practicing artist, from that secular social democracy which from every other point of view is its enemy.

–Donald Davie, These the Companions: Recollections (Cambridge UP, 1982) 170.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Naming Names

In a comment to yesterday’s post Josh Hanson makes me honest, or at least more precise: when I pooh-poohed the Pulitzer to WCW’s Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems, I was forgetting that the prize didn’t just go to the rather lame Pictures from Brueghel poems, but to the book as a whole, which includes The Desert Music and Journey to Love as well. For all you precisionists out there watching.

Bob Archambeau has put up a “Contingent Manifesto 1.0,” and has begun showing what that might mean with a reading of John Matthias’s long poem “Northern Summer.” For those who don’t know Matthias’s work, he’s someone well worth looking into: born 1941, rackful of books published by Sparrow in the US and Anvil in the UK, and most recently by Salt Publishing (why don’t they ask for my manuscript?): A long and distinguished career, characterized by a series of very intelligent long poems mostly centered around specific places, and written in a late modernist mode deeply indebted to David Jones and Robert Duncan. Bob’s reading is smart, and gives us a tasty glimpse of the poem as a whole.

Matthias was indeed one of the people I had in mind when I promised to “name names” in re/ Bob’s contingent crew. Alcalay, whom Josh Corey cites, also comes to mind, as do Olson and large stretches of Duncan. If what we’re getting at in this “contingent poetry” is writing which grounds itself in the social and the historical – in large part thru cited or referred to documents which then confront a reader with Steiner’s “contingent” difficulty – then one sees the list getting longer and longer: Geoffrey Hill; Geraldine Monk; Peter Riley; John Peck; early Ronald Johnson; Allen Fisher; Robert Sheppard; perhaps first and foremost, Susan Howe. I guess Howe (along with Matthias and Hill and, well, most of the others) seems to me to scuttle Josh’s reservations: “My main reservation about what I'm happy to call contingent poetics is its diminished space for lyric: in the Altieri terms I referenced last week, a documentary poetics may give up too much ground to the "lucidity" side of the equation.” The question being how one defines “lyric”: Is it the personal voice (as in, “Poetry magazine has been the foremost publisher of brief and disposable lyric poems over the past fifty years”)?, or is it the heightened attention to the sound qualities of words implied by the term “lyric” itself? Either way, there seems to be plenty of space for the “lyric” in Bibliography of the King’s Book or Speech! Speech!

I want to grab Bob by his well-tailored lapels and shake him: Zukofsky with an F, an F, you whoreson knave! While I’m watching carefully, I’ve always suspected augury of “what’s next” to be something of a mug’s game. (But watch out for the Michael Jackson/Brittney Spears duet this time next year…)

Anchor has been weighed on the chartless depths of Olson’s Collected Poems. If I get lost, I’ll send up signal flares. Please rescue me, somebody…

On the earbuds:
Elliot Sharp and the Soldier String Quartet, Cryptid Fragments
Painkiller, Execution Ground

Monday, June 20, 2005

mas mystery

Consummatum est. I’ve finished the Williams corpus. Still some signs of life in Journey to Love and The Desert Music, but it’s pretty clear that the Pulitzer Prize that went to Pictures from Brueghel was more of a belated career acknowledgment than a mark of anything successful about that last collection.

Father’s Day celebrations subsiding. Got myself a brand spankin’ new rice steamer, something I’d been coveting for years. Any blogfolk find themselves in Palm Beach County anytime soon, give a holler and I’ll whip up a vindaloo or some black beans and rice.

With all the talk about “difficulty” in poetry, this struck me from The Infallible Oscar’s “The Critic as Artist”: “the critic will be an interpreter, if he chooses. He can pass from his synthetic impression of the work of art as a whole, to an analysis or exposition of the work itself, and in this lower sphere, as I hold it to be, there are many delightful things to be said and done. Yet his object will not always be to explain the work of art. He may seek rather to deepen its mystery, to raise round it, and round its maker, that mist of wonder which is dear to both gods and worshippers alike.”

Some Mallarmé-channeling going on there. At twenty, SM wrote a piece on poetry called “Hérésies artistiques. – L’Art pour tous”: “Whatever is sacred, whatever is to remain sacred, must be clothed in mystery. All religions take shelter behind arcana which they unveil only to the predestined. Art has its own mysteries.”

All as footnote to somebody’s post or comment on difficulty and “mystery.” Mystery – in that almost Roman Catholic-mass sense – was crucial to my own attraction to poetry. In complex ways, but leading into a “comfort level” with indeterminacy or contigency of whatever damn thing much like that described by Eric’s friend R (Friday) (is that RZ?).

I do like Eric’s move of shifting categories of difficulty from George Steiner’s taxonomy of difficulties – which is what goes I suspect mostly in the head of academics writing essays – to a set of “difficult to [what]”s:

when we say "difficult" we should always add a verb: "difficult to..." Difficult to what? "Difficult to explicate" is quite different from "difficult to appreciate." "Difficult to read for more than a few lines without losing interest" is different from "difficult to talk about animatedly in an exciting theoretical or historical context." "Difficult to understand" isn't always the same as "difficult to enjoy" or "difficult to lose yourself in" or "hard to find yourself haunted by."

I find explicating Bruce Andrews excruciatingly tedious, but read his work with a continuous, line-by-line excitement. And am more often than not haunted by Susan Howe, even at her most impenetrable.

Bob, do I see a full-blown defense of what one friend called “late modernist” poetry forthcoming? Back to the Mauberley Line? I could name names, I think, though I’d throw one in that you might not be planning to adduce: LZ. And one might ask why you consign Muriel Rukeyser to the “scenic mode”? However successful or unsuccessful one finds it, “Book of the Dead” is pretty much as damned modernist a poem as one could ask for.

On the earbuds:
French Frith Kaiser Thompson, Invisible Means
Killing Joke, Killing Joke (1993)

Friday, June 17, 2005

Alex Chilton: Like Flies on Sherbert

I’m gonna avoid the temptation of turning this blog into a dialogue with Eric – though talking with him’s always a pleasure – but I’ve got to at least respond to his own response to the talk about “next things,” or, What Comes After the Post-Avant? Eric:

You see, since I'm just a reader, and a teacher, I don't have to worry about What Comes Next. I tuned out of this debate around the time of the Barnard conference on "Where Lyric and Language Meet," and I haven't seen any need to tune in since. Debates about poetics are about as interesting to me as arguments over sausage recipes and competing meat-grinders, folks. I'm hungry, and if you won't git to the skillet and dish up some poems, there's them that will.

But E, as teacher, as (last time I checked) an academic, isn’t it precisely your business to think about these issues of literary trends and literary movements? Or at least it’s as much your business as it is that of the poets themselves, who post-Romantic tradition tells us are supposed to be busy writing poems in whatever way makes sense to them. The fact that Bob and Josh and other accredited poets, including, in a big way, Ron S. with his dozens of books (and I suppose including me in a small way), are willing to give so much thought to the topography of the field probably says something about the unsettled state of the field itself, and perhaps says something about how much more theory we’ve gotten around to reading than the poets our age would have done 20 years ago. But that’s no excuse for you to simply bow out of the whole thang, claiming to be no more than a rather demanding consumer: “I dunno what Applebee’s coming up with for the Fall menu, but I hope it’s better than this time around…” You could at least comment on the relative prevalence of blackened fish dishes over last year’s offerings.

To Norman, in re/ your comment on the last post: yes, I do think the LangPots were indeed “that” oppositional, tho perhaps only for a far shorter historical moment than some of them think – maybe only thru the 70s, in fact. But that’s one that needs a long think and write. I love Ron’s rhetorical twist in today’s post, where he argues that rather than LangPo being marginal to the academy, the academy itself has been marginal to American poetry. Dang, that seems right on.

I’ve just gotten back in touch, thru a hazard of Google, with one of the most influential people in my life: one Edd Hurt (y’all too can Google him – he turned out to be a rather widely published music journalist of the intelligent sort), who 20-odd years ago, when I was a geeky (read: even more geeky than now) high school kid listening to all those prog-rock outfits that Peter was listening to (but not Triumph), made me – forced me – to listen to Big Star, the Box Tops, and Tav Falco’s Panther Burns: in short, real Memphis music made by real Memphis musicians.

I electronically stumbled upon Edd after a late-night listen to one of the really great “awful” albums of the 1970s, Alex Chilton’s Like Flies on Sherbert. The Rockhound CD guide – a required bathroom accessory – notes that “With the possible exception of Rod Stewart, no artist has betrayed his talent so completely as Alex Chilton.” (And without even getting rich…) Well, that’s arguable, tho a lot of Chilton’s late 70s output makes pretty ragged listening. Chilton was the blue-eyed soul singer of the Box Tops (remember “My baby she wrote me a letter”?), and one of the leaders of Big Star, the purveyors of the most luminous, pure but twisted pop music of the early 70s. (If all you know of Big Star is Cheap Trick’s version of “On the Street” over the credits of That Seventies Show, you owe it to yourself to run out and buy their first two albums, #1 Record and Radio City.) During the latter days of Big Star, Chilton descended into the sort of drink & drugs abyss that seemed to be standard MO for seventies rockers. He eventually pulled himself out, and has put out a string of always listenable, sometimes sublime R&B-influenced pop albums over the past two decades. He’s bigger in Europe than over here (heard that one before?).

Like Flies on Sherbert is according to some accounts the nadir of Chilton’s career. (Rockhound: “the best showcase of Chilton’s disintegration, a drunken spree…”) Au contraire, mon chien – I find this record perversely brilliant, a lavishly talented musician with all of his inhibitions bleared over by various substances, bouncing around the studio with a bunch of musicians who seem either a) just as stoned as he is, or b) taking advantage of Chilton’s baked (half-baked?) condition in order to put weird twists on the pop-R&B-country material. The album begins with the sloppiest version of KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes” (!) ever recorded, with Chilton missing his vocal entry cue at least once: but the groove the drummer, bass, and piano player fall into, and the wild obliquity of Chilton’s guitar solos make it also the hottest version of the song ever committed to vinyl. Jim Dickinson, the producer, adds incredibly incongruous Roxy-era Enoesque synthesizer bleeps to a handful of straightforward pop tunes, to which Chilton responds with guitar solos that seem to have been lifted from the early Sonic Youth catalogue. There’s one of Chilton’s semi-patented “I won’t touch those sexual politics with a ten-foot pole” songs, this one about a Catholic school girl (“Hey! Little Child”), a Roy Orbison song, and even an Ernest Tubb chestnut, “Waltz Across Texas” – all of them performed with grand instrumental expertise, exhuberance, and absolute disregard for precision. Not one to miss, if you have a taste for this sort of stuff.

Makes me wonder what the poetic equivalent might be – maybe Barry MacSweeney’s last works? Allen Ginsberg in the late 60s?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and water

Almost too much to keep up with these days. For those of you who’ve been wondering how the WCW is coming along (not that you asked), I’ve gotten through Paterson and am now among the uncollected poems around the period of Pictures from Brueghel. Some of it’s pretty disspiriting, particularly Paterson VI, which the newest edition from New Directions reproduces in its full-of-errors typescript. Sad, knowing how debilitated WCW was when he struggled to type those pages, and sad how poor they are as poetry.

As to Bob’s “Bleed-Over and Decadence,” I must note that I didn’t say just “what both Bob & Josh are talking about is Language poetry” but “Language poetry in its first, second, and third generations, or what Ron Silliman is wont to call the ‘post-avant.’” And I should have taken care to mention that I included in my thinking there the various conversos (Jorie Graham – the Vanilla Ice of avant-garde writing – the most prominent example, but we can all name a half-dozen others) who began writing in a “scenic” style and then got the indeterminacy religion. I dunno whether I find “bleed-over” any more useful a term than “influence,” ultimately, but what it comes down to is that a Language-like difficulty (sort of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and water, like Edward Carpenter is Whitman and water) has become one of the period styles of our moment, one of the approaches the young Iowan can adopt at her/his pleasure. And thereby it’s been drained of much of its oppositional power: one way of conceiving it would be to say that the oppositional force of the “original” Language writing lay as much in its social formations, its rejection of conventional circuits of consecration and validation (the academy, trade and university presses, high-tone magazines), as in the forms and modes of the poetry itself; now that those forms and modes have begun to be common parlance and entered into the APR-AWP jobsearch marketplace, it becomes difficult to pretend they’re oppositional any longer – at least in the same way, or to the same degree. I'm frankly uncomfortable here, and need to think more about the issue, especially in regards to the creeping suspicion I have that a form or mode of poetry has no determinate ideological valence outside the social formation in which it is composed and received.

Of course, there are still certain poets and bodies of work that resist and will continue to resist incorporation into the poetry industry: limit-texts like Melnick’s PCOET and Coolidge’s Space, the entire corpus of J. H. Prynne, and so forth. Let’s one of these days make arguments for Ronald Johnson.

To Eric (in earnest of a longer response anon): What that Extraordinary Fellow G. Steiner actually said, in a manner far more constipated than either Bob’s recalling or your Austin Powering-up, was: “A move in American slang, though already somewhat dated, may pinpoint the cardinal distinction: we ‘get the text’ but we don’t ‘dig it’ (and the suggestion of active penetration is exactly apposite.” [Beavis: What did he say? Butthead: He said “penetration”! Both: heh heh heh.]

To Peter: Golly, I had no idea you were such a geek, Monsignor O’Leary! I won’t admit to which of those musical eminences I listened to in my formative years, but Triumph…

of the earbuds:
Rush, Hemispheres – no, just kidding – Anthony Coleman, Selfhaters

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Whole lotta shakin’ on the difficulty front. Bob Archambeau has weighed in with a precis of George Steiner’s “On Difficulty,” a useful if problematic essay, and has followed with a rather polemical statement noting how a certain kind of “indeterminacy” has become almost a period style in contemporary poetry – has entered the “mid-stages of its decadence.” Josh Corey as well looks quizzically towards something beyond this “period style” – and let’s make no bones about it, what both Bob & Josh are talking about is Language poetry in its first, second, and third generations, or what Ron Silliman is wont to call the “post-avant.” But I think Josh is right in noting that the “scenic” style thus named by Charles Altieri back in 1984 remains in many ways a hegemonic norm in the creative writing industry. (Nice touch there Josh, by the way – I am in entire agreement about the the “formidable lucity” of Altieri’s prose style, if one wants to call it a “style.”) It will be interesting to see though what happens in the next decade or so, when the surviving pundits of the 1980s poetry industry have retired or partially converted, and the young poets publishing in Fence and Verse have vaulted into slots in creative writing programs around the country. I’m not a regular reader of Poets and Writers, the industry mag, but on my occasional scans through I’m astonished by how many poets of a definitely “non-scenic” bent are getting regular rotation on the visiting writer circuit. Lists could follow, if anyone’s interested.

Eric is as usual right on the money about how students confront “difficult” poetry, and makes a first-rate distinction between “poems that simply have more complex syntax and diction than they're used to--say, 90% of what they'll read---and poems that really ARE "elitist," in that they really WANT to address a coterie, a coven, an in-crowd, a ‘fit audience though few,’ which our students, whatever their social class, are invited, just by being there, to join.” And he’s right about the potential costs of such fit-audience joining. In some ways, the precise analogy is “classical” music: one can “get” a certain amount of it just by listening, one can take certain immediate pleasures out of a piece by Brahms or Beethoven without really “knowing” much about music. But in order truly to appreciate Webern or Gorecki, or even to entirely get what’s happening in a Beethoven symphony, one needs to know something about sonata form, one needs to have a kind of memory for melody, variation, and harmony that the average car-radio listener doesn’t have. And to get that requires a considerable investment of time and energy, and ends up placing you in a different category – call it a class, call it an elite – from those who simply like the way orchestral music "sounds," but who can't tell Stravinsky from John Williams. (Adorno, of course, believed that you couldn’t entirely understand a piece unless you were well enough versed in music to read the score – preferably without an actual, potentially distracting, performance going on – and imagine yourself composing the piece along with the composer – but then again, he’d studied with Berg, and knew music about as well as Christopher Ricks knows canonical English poetry.)

And T. S. Eliot – whew. I’ll only admit that I think I read “Prufrock” in an AP high school English class, and went to The Waste Land on my own, attracted largely by the “aura,” the mystery of a poem I couldn’t make a damn thing of. The same reason I bought Stockhausen records when my cohorts were listening to The Eagles.

on the earbuds:
Sonic Youth, Goo
Julie Miller, Broken Things (how’s that for spirituality? very few things sexier than a winsome-voiced Southerner singing love songs to Jesus…)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Smells like Teen Spirit

I fear this might be a long one, folks, so please relieve yourselves in the aft lavatories or strap on the Texas Catheters before we take off –

What started out as a discussion of difficulty somehow morphed, by means of the notions of “aura” and “mystery,” into a discussion of (argh how we all hate the word) “spirituality” in poetry. As something of a Summa on the subject, I’ll take the liberty of quoting an email from the estimable gnostic-Catholic poet Peter O’Leary:

Poetry & religion. Or is it poetry & spirituality? Or is it the [Jesus] Freak Scene? (Insert your own Weberian exemplary type in the brackets.) Since I've been working on a book on this topic for the last four years, & since I'm specifically interested in the convergence in later 20th c. & contemporary American poetry of a kind of "Religious Turn," especially in the invocation of aspects of Christian belief & imagination in that realm (which have been, at least among so-called experimental writers, more or less verboten post-Eliot, in contrast to Buddhist professions of faith, which present the aura of authenticity & the everyday exotic, & to Jewish professions of faith, which can be cultural/ethnic as much as spiritual), I do, as you sensed, have something to say.

But not belaboredly! I think, culturally speaking, the thing to consider in imagining a current or contemporary religious poetry, is to recognize that with modernity in the West, religion has atomized in a way that it no longer represents overarching, or totalizing cultural concerns. It would be impossible for a poet to do a Divine Comedy & represent American Catholic culture, for instance. (Though this has not, & will not, stop me from trying.) When Dante wrote his poetry, its religiosity was inherent in its making. I think this is the thing Henry Adams describes so incredibly in Mont Saint Michel & Chartres, the idea that there was this unified cultural expression, whose apex was Aquinas, whose outward expression was Chartres, & whose mythos was the fantasy of the Lady/White Goddess/Grail/Beatrice. Religious poetry today no longer reflects a religious culture, like Dante's, but rather the private, peculiar, & traditional expressions of the person writing it. Now, this tradition can be either exoteric or esoteric. And the properties of that writing can be expressive of the tradition - lexical, liturgical, theosophical, for instance - or it can be writing that seeks to reproduce through its language the experience of religion - what Norman/Mike writing to Eric called the "aura." But in both kinds of religious poetry, as readers, we can have access to an oceanic feeling best called religious.

[Why is it that Sonic Youth’s “Catholic Block” just came up on the iPod?]

Boy do I like that final characterization, though – “an oceanic feeling best called religious.” But Eric does a nice job of steering the discussion away from that sticky religious-spiritual territory into something a trifle (but only a trifle) more sociological when he responds to Norman: “My sense, though, is that what we both like isn't a "spilled religion" so much as it is a nostalgia for...not religion, really, but a childhood faith in language, in magic, in the magic of language, and so on.” Mike Heller gets at something similar in his email to Eric: “the reason the word "spiritual" continually crops up is that it is hard to find any poetry which isn't possessed by some sort of hunger or longing, and so the word is a short hand for that otherwise unnameable or ineffable quality, which permeates your Auden or your Pound, your Mallarme to the nth and Oppen & Zukofsky, each in their way. And one might say that that quality is one of the things reserved by poetry for its way of being and speaking.”

[I must stipulate that I distrust the essentialism creeping in here. Bourdieu has a brilliant passage where he discusses how definers of what poetry “is” (the Russian Formalists in particular) work “to frame as a transhistoric essence what is a sort of historical quintessence, that is, the product of a long and slow work of historical alchemy which accompanies the process of autonomization of the fields of cultural production” (The Rules of Art 139). Has poetry always been involved with this “unnameable or ineffable” quality, or is this just another bibelot aboli that we’ve inherited from the Mallarmé estate sale? Is this one of the few damned things left after poetry has freed itself from its entanglements with the broader culture (freeing itself, in the process, from any audience outside of its own practitioners and their captive undergraduates)? NB: Strong hyperbole in the preceding sentences; add soda or tonic – or granum salis.]

"Hunger or longing." Hmmmm. I do indeed like that way of phrasing it, though I'm not sure that I agree with E. that what we're hungry or longing for is "the Old Speech," an "Orphic explanation of the earth" (Mallarmé again). Couldn't one posit that the hunger and longing we find in the poets we care about among our contemporaries and immediate forebears, and which we perhaps project backwards in our reading upon poets very distant from us indeed in linguistic and cultural circumstance (from Homer through, say, Dryden), is really just a reflection of our own damaged life, of the damaged existence into which our society – no matter how advantaged any one of us might comparatively be – forces us? Again, perhaps what I'm doing is no more than seeking a secular perspective on the auratic phenomenon: effing with the ineffable. But to get really vulgar, one might remember Marx's remark about religion as the "opium of the masses." He didn't mean that the masses were having some kind of 'shroom party when they went to church: Opium, first and foremost, is a painkiller.

But I’m tired, having already put in a full day’s darg towards the most looming of my looming deadlines. Tomorrow I want to respond more fully to Norman’s comment, and to Bob Archambeau’s throwing down of the Steiner gauntlet – which goes a good long way towards steering the discussion back towards them there issues of difficulty, and what’s pleasurable about it, anyway. (Bob – diff. #4 is “ontological” – perhaps the only phrase I remember quoting – and quite wrongheadedly, maybe – in my 1st book.)

Nick Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High-Technology Capitalism (U of Illinois P, 1999)

on the earbuds:
Sonic Youth, Sister

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Pleasure of What’s Difficult

Eric has weighed in in response to Josh’s recent thoughts on pleasure and difficulty with a series of posts, a couple of them responding to Norman Finkelstein and Mike Heller (y’all can follow the various links yourself, by’r’leave). My turn, speaking as someone very interested in this issue – but also as the least inherently “spiritual” person who every gargled (nobody ain’t never borrowed me for a minyan, & I ain’t nobody’s minion):

In re/ Bourdieu’s notion of how “art and cultural consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfil a social function of legitimating social differences,” Eric notes “Michael Palmer's disdain for Carolyn Forche's The Country Between Us, and his preference for, say, Celan or Vallejo as models of political poetry, comes to mind as an example.” But what does one make of the fact that Forché herself, in The Angel of History, veers towards a Celan-Vallejo-Palmer model of the political poem? Does this make her a social climber, or does she perhaps find some auratic power in the more oblique mode that is more satisfying, or more long-lastingly satisfying, than in the more accessible? The Country Between Us, like the program Thirty-Something on which it was once mentioned, now seems like a relic of the eighties. (Not that I’m making any grand claims for The Angel of History, either.)

I’m afraid I’m more convinced by Norman’s reading of Mallarmé’s remark street vending than by Eric’s attack on the “extraordinary self-flattery” of Alain Badiou’s “USE” of the remark and its invocation of the “oh, so comforting ‘tension between artist and bourgeois philistine.” I’d prefer to stay away from the term “elite” as well, but a decade-and-a-half’s time of confronting students who automatically label anything they read that uses a word they have to look up or a syntactic structure that wouldn’t fit on a bumpersticker “elitist” has made me pretty impatient with blanket dismissals of the whole notion. Let’s face it: Those who make art seriously – who’ve taken the time to master harmony, orchestration, and musical notation, who have learned how to handle paints and brushes and complexly interacting visual media, who’ve handled words and phrases over and over so that they fit together in memorable ways – those folks belong to a different group (call it a class, call it an elite, call it fricking broccoli if you like) from the occasionally thoughtful people who sometimes listen, look at, or read the products those first groups make (but who, and perhaps here’s the point, mostly DON’T do any of those things – they’re too busy making money and buying things with it, “getting and spending”).

Poets aren’t a “spiritual elite,” certainly (and here I agree wholeheartedly with Eric) – one need only think of Auden discoursing to his Oxford High Table about the pleasures of booger-eating, or Pound passim – but that only suggests to me that poetry and spirituality are by no means coincident realms. Poets are a “word elite.” Period. Like TE Hulme, I myself am pretty tired of the whole romantic “spilt religion” business. It’s not what I go to poetry for, nor am I convinced that it’s one of the things that poetry does best – for my money, even the best religious poetry isn’t a patch on fine hymnody or the experience of communal worship for putting one in touch with the numinous. I think Alexander Pope or Louis Zukofsky would have found the notion of seeking the ineffable through poetry a very strange one indeed. (Okay, guys, go to town on me – you too, Peter.)

Bourdieu, like Eric, plays the class card on “the preference for poems which don't seem to do "work" in the world, including the work of pleasing us easily, but which rather wrap themselves in ‘aura’”: "working class people expect every image to explicitly perform a function, if only that of a sign, and their judgments make reference, often explicitly, to the norms of morality or agreeableness. [...] The denial of lower, coarse, vulgar, venal, servile--in a word, natural--enjoyment, which constitutes the sacred sphere of culture, implies an affirmation of those who can be satisfied with the subliminated, refined, disinterested, gratuitous, distinguished pleasures forever closed to the profane. That is why art and cultural consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfil a social function of legitimating social differences" (Distinction, pp. 5-7).

Okay, but before we don our penitential sackcloth and ashes, throw away our CDs of Monk and the Bach cantatas and trade ‘em in for Alan Jackson and Brittney Spears, and run out to the Wal-Mart for some plastic junk, let’s think about that first sentence for a moment. Just because art (leaving aside “cultural consumption”) has historically fulfilled “a social function of legitimating social differences” doesn’t mean that art doesn’t also, as none or few of the signifying products offered by the culture industry (THAT culture industry, not THIS one) do, offer a window to utopian alternatives to the entire class-based society in which we live. (Cf. Norman’s first book.) To push that a bit further, and to risk sounding like Adorno (or Josh), isn’t it possible that the most obdurate poetry is obdurate precisely in its resistance to the kind of easy and endless exchange that characterizes an exchange-based society? (This amounts, I suppose, to a political reading of some of the same qualities in which Norman – at this point in his earthly journey – is disposed to read in terms of the spiritual.)

Mike quotes some lines from Oppen’s "Five Poems About Poetry”: "How does one hold something/ in the mind which he intends//to grasp and how does the salesman/Hold a bauble he intends//To sell? The question is/When will there not be a hundred//Poets who mistake that gesture//For a style." I’ve always read those lines in part as a round in Oppen’s longstanding disagreement with Zukofsky, whom Oppen felt was using obscurity as a device, as a “style” rather than a way of “grasping” the endlessly slippery issues Oppen himself grappled with. Here we’re at another matter: the difference between difficulties, between (to paint broadly) an Oppen trying to reason and feel his way through fiercely abstract problems of human life and meaning, and a Zukofsky constructing endlessly complex, painstaking referential formal mosaics. It’s the difference between Herakleitos and Kallimachos, one might phrase it. If I could quote Adorno on Wagner, for what it’s worth: “Alexandrinism is the principle of art that has attained self awareness.” Basta.

on the earbuds:
John Zorn, Elegy and Kristallnacht
Alfred Schnittke, Concerto Grosso #1

Saturday, June 11, 2005

[in progress iv]

     Somewhere they’re giving up the search
for chemical depots or stockpiled pikes and
halberds. Somewhere the clouds have squatted
     down over our heads like a copulent ploughman
           taking a midday dump. Like, really,
           no kidding, man? The gear and wheels
     are binding in an alarming mechanical
           obligatto. Humming in my ears. And so
     are we who are astonished to be loved.
Put it in park to remove the key.

           This one runs like a scalded
dawg! but the heat will bake your brains
right in your head. Don’t sit there, Margaret,
     if you want to pee go back to your
     own damned room. Cash or checks
only No Credit cards No Debit. And bake
           the green out of those beans
     on the steam table. If you bread
           and fry it, he’ll eat the sole
of a fucking shoe. And ask for seconds.

They grumble in the line at the deli counter:
     one half-pound of smoked turkey – smoked,
     you whoreson knave! No chance
           of a revolution happening here,
     and when it does we’ll stay out
of its way. Smeared gravel and asphalt.
     Yesterday pink (the dead possum) today
           a stomach-turning pinky-
grey. Dodge the lightning bolts falling
     like pitchforks from a sun-powdered
           sky. Not my president baseball cap.

on the earbuds:
Big Star, #1 Record
Henry Cow, Concerts

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Gosh, I always knowed it!

You are John Ashbery
You are John Ashbery. People love your work but
have no idea why, really. You are respected by
all kinds of scholars and poets. Even artists
like you.

Which Famous Modern American Poet Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

[in progress iii]

           The full monty, as if talk
     of sexuality would not seem objectionable
to someone, somewhere. Tie that one down before
it blows away. Guttural sound in the throat
           of the saxophone, scratched my leg
           on chemically treated mulch.
     Dragonfly, damselfly, ladybug, mosquito,
     a fog of bugs smeared across the wind-
shield. The word made flesh less interesting
     than its neon-bordered converse.

“Winsome” one of those looks to muster while
     sucking a finger and spreading it wide
     for the camera. Motion option
           whoreson poise. Beef and kidneys,
           liver lights and complicated
     closely packed flesh seins forward
     over time, as if time would make it all
clear, the rough places straight and the high
     places flat and easy.

I did not know what the word “anachronism”
     meant until you explained it to me.
     Eat your cellphone. A-1 vegetarian.
           A charming plastic pink house
     with a charming plastic blue roof, bleaching
in the sun, formalizes the informal garden, draws
     palms bushes ornamentals and sickly
grapefruit into an enlightened whole. Sedentary
     or sedimentary feet up and drawers down.

On the earbuds:
Fred Frith, Allies and The Previous Evening
John Adams, Violin Concerto

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Woodstock, Gaza-style

One quaint New York experience: This Sunday, we rendezvous'd with an old friend of our at my mum-in-law's apartment and cast about for ways to kill an hour or two. We decided to forego the Maurice Sendak exhibit at the Jewish museum (weekend crowds) and instead just take the girls to a nearby playground. Well, turns out Sunday was the big day of the Salute to Israel parade a trifle downtown; people had been filtering past the building with lawn chairs and coolers all morning.

The patch of the park we needed to cross to get to the playground, directly opposite Mt. Sinai hospital, was a sea of people by the time we got there. There was a bandstand, on which a group was playing something that sounded vaguely like a cross between Hasidic New Wave and Counting Crows (that would be I guess emo-fusion-punk-klezmer), and before them was a crowd with an admittedly rather restrained mosh pit; more notable was the presence, on the fringes of the crowd, of several circles of modestly dressed teenage girls dancing the hora vigorously.

Yes, it was the Israel Day Concert, this year as I understand it sponsored by groups who oppose the Sharon-directed pullout of Israeli settlers from Gaza. This ought to have been clear to me -- how else to explain all those orange t-shirts? (No, Virginia, these aren't Ulster loyalists: orange is the color chosen by settlement supporters to represent their orange groves.) It became real clear real fast when we started getting bombarded by leaflets and petitions, all opposing the pullout, all supporting the settlers. (No Baptist preachers in sight, though, surprisingly enough.)

What was odd to me was the fact that all of this political activity -- and let's be frank about it, political activity that one could only call right-wing -- was accompanied by an atmosphere of Woodstock-like festival abandon: scruffy young people, hippies with kippahs, barefoot children, etc. On the way back from the playground, back on Fifth Avenue, we passed a crowded island of cordoned-off counterprotestors: ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, by the look of them -- black suits, big hats, etc. -- carrying signs with slogans like "TORAH SAYS ISRAEL IS NOT A JEWISH STATE" and "SETTLEMENT IS NOT A MITZVAH." Go figure; I love New York.

*Fave t-shirt of the rally: I (HEART) EY (Eretz Yisroel).

Monday, June 06, 2005

Home Again

So – back from New York this evening, and just in time: muggy summer weather was just beginning to set in up there, and without the advantage of omnipresent frigid air-conditioning, like down here. Didn’t do a blessed literary thing while I was there, aside from reading a few books. Plath’s Ariel, for one, which, though I found about three-quarters of the poems in it quite familiar, I guess I’d never gotten around to reading straight through. Made me think a bit more of Plath (probably not enough to get my own copy of the book); she’s certainly ill-served by her anthology pieces (“Lady Lazarus,” “Daddy”), and so far as I can tell the first version of Ariel might just as well have been printed on a tombstone, for all the mileage the publisher wrings out of her suicide. But the poems are for the most part well crafted, and at times they have a kind of frightening intensity, though the crafting process seems to buff off most of the rough edges and present them as documents eminently suitable for re-reading and teaching.

The mailstack by the front door includes Michael Heller’s new book of essays, Uncertain Poetries: Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Poetics (Salt, 2005). This is one I’m anxious to get into. Mike wrote the first book-length study of the Objectivists, Conviction’s Net of Branches, a book that’s still well worth reading – a fine starting point for thinking about LZ, Niedecker, Oppen, and co., and much more than a starting point. And he’s written a lot of very good poems along the way (also in print from Salt, as Exigent Futures). I was a press reader for his memoir Living Root (I think that’s a secret I’m allowed to give away), and would recommend it to anyone handy as one of the best childhood and adolescence memoirs by any poet, anywhere.

Salt, John Kinsella’s mega-enterprise of promoting modernist and late modernist (or postmodernist, if you must) poetries, is perhaps the most lively publisher out there right now. And to think that I hadn’t even heard of them five years ago! I suppose I tend at times to divide the history of my own reading life into periods dominated by particular publishers. There were the years when I was reading all Black Sparrow, then the North Point years, then the Roof and The Figures years, and of course the Sun & Moon years. (And of course it all began with the New Directions years…) Not that one ever stops reading books put out by a given press, it’s just that at certain moments certain presses seem touchstones for what’s interesting and alive. Salt (along with the younger and still fledgling Flood Editions) is where it’s at for me right now: it’s hard to think of another press with as strong and heterogenous a list: Heller, John Matthias, Susan Schultz, Kamau Brathwaite, Lisa Jarnot, Drew Milne, Peter Middleton, John Wilkinson, and so forth. Go look at the list. (Now if I could just get them to take my manuscript…)

Off to bed.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

LZ by RS, part 2: the short poems

Another great post from Ron, this one outlining what he would choose from Zukofsky’s short poems for the hypothetical selected. I don’t want to quibble much with the choices – some things are obvious, and after that there are pieces that are a matter of simple taste – tho I myself would be strongly inclined to put more of Some Time in there. That collection’s not simply “the remainder of the little Zukofsky wrote during the [1951-1959] hiatus from ‘A’” – it’s his second largest single collection, after 55 Poems, and includes basically all of the short poems he wrote from something like 1945 to 1955 (including a number of pieces originally intended for Anew). I’d be loath to leave out “A Song for the Year’s End” and “Chloride of Lime and Charcoal.” And while I value 80 Flowers over Catullus, I think there’s a great deal more going on in there than just LZ working out his “homophonic” translation technique. (When enough people have read David Wray’s article in the Chicago Review LZ issue, perhaps that term will be mercifully retired.)

But I was reminded last summer, seeing Robert Creeley at Orono with his old, battered copy of the 1946 Anew, of how much we lose in not having the original collections as single volumes. (To second Stefen’s comment, as it were.) That’s especially true of Barely and widely, which was published originally in a facsimile of LZ’s handwriting – a really lovely little book, where the reader (at least this reader) gets a sense of being closer to the poet at work than in any printed format.

By the way, LZ was selected in his lifetime at least three times. 16 Once Published, put out in 1962 by Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Wild Hawthorn Press, was Celia’s selection of her husband’s work, and included:

Poem 10 from 55 Poems
Poem 19 “ “
Song 3 “ “
Song 5 “ “
Song 25 “ “
Poem 1 from Anew
Poem 12 “ “
Poem 15 “ “
Poem 36 “ “
Poem 37 “ “
“Xenophanes” from Some Time
“Air” “ “
“Shang Cup” “ “
“An Incident” “ “
Poem 3 from Barely and widely
Poem 9 “ “

Found Objects, published in 1964 by Blue Grass Books, was LZ’s own selection, and runs in reverse chronological order:

The Ways
Stratford-on Avon (Barely and widely)
The Guests “ “
Michtam “ “
Poem 42 from Anew
Poem 14 “ “
Poem 26 “ “
“Mantis” from 55 Poems
Song 28 “ “
Song 27 “ “
Song 22 “ “
Poem beginning “The” “ “

There’s also a very odd little Italian selection/translation from 1970, Da A (trans. Giovanni Galtieri, Parma: Editore Guanda), which includes a number of poems from 55 Poems and Anew and some movements from “A”: “A”-1, -2, -9, -10, and –11. I have no idea who made the choices on that one.

Off to New York in the morning for J.'s high school reunion. Last time I did this, I ran into Chip Delany in the lobby, and got to hear him belting out the school song in the auditorium! (They're not the same class, by the way...)

Taha Muhammad Ali, Never Mind: Twenty Poems and a Story, trans. Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin. Jerusalem: Ibis Editions, 2000.

On the earbuds:
Naked City, Live Volume 1: Knitting Factory

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

LZ by RS

Ron Silliman has a ruminative post on how he would go about making a selection from Louis Zukofsky's “A”, if such an assignment were posted him. It’s a daunting idea – how do you go about representing an 800-page long poem, if you’re given something like 250 pages to work with? Of course, only 530-odd pages of “A” are strictly speaking LZ alone, since “A”-24, Celia Zukofsky’s “L. Z. Masque,” takes up almost the final 300 pages. Ideally, one should include a scene or two of the Masque, but realistically only maybe one in twenty readers is going to be able to read music ably enough to “hear” what’s going on; so barring the inclusion of a CD of twenty minutes or so of “A”-24, I’m okay with leaving the movement out. But Ron’s final total of 256 pages, it turns out, equals almost half of the strictly text portion of the poem.

Ron’s writing on “A” in The New Sentence has radically influenced my own reading of the poem over the years. I think he’s right in seeing “A” as composed of blocks of movements in which deep shifts in attitude, form, and poetics take place (as opposed to the much more homogeneous movement of The Cantos), and I’m in absolute agreement with him that the most interesting stuff comes in the second half. Probably our only real differences lie in the valuation of “A”-21, which I think is largely a success – and at least as worthwhile as “A”-10 or much of “A”-8. I’d want to see at least a scene or two of “A”-21, and some of the “voice off” sections, included. Beyond that, however, Ron presents a selected “A” that I think I could live with (though if it were all I had on the proverbial desert island I’d probably feel pretty ripped off).

But what if one gets challenged to come up with a real selected, one that realistically can’t go beyond 250 or 300 printed pages? And that includes selections from the short poems? In other words, how would one go about cutting Ron’s 250-page “A” down to say 175 or 150 pages, in order to accommodate a selection from ALL and 80 Flowers? (The poetics of 80 Flowers is already in place in “A”-22 & -23, but the radical compression of the Flowers, it seems to me, marks another step forward in LZ’s practice.) Yes, for me as for Ron, “A”-12 would be the first to go; then I’d cut “A”-11 – it’s a very lovely, intricate poem, but the familial love there celebrated (in perhaps too tender a form – the term "schmaltzy" come to mind) is also evident in “A”-13; “A”-14 could be cut, but I’d retain –15 and –16; after that, it’d almost be a tossup between “A”-18 and –19 – “A”-18 has penetrating meditations on Vietnam, -19 has the snazzy thinking about Mallarmé – but one or the other would have to go by the wayside. And then, tho this part would hurt, I’d include only the opening of “A”-22, followed by the whole of “A”-23.

I’m not counting, but that might well get us closer to a 175-page mark. My challenge to Ron, then: What, if you were given a hundred pages to play with, would you include of the short poems? It’s pretty clear how much “A” influenced writers of various long poems (like The Alphabet, to pull one out of the hat), but my sense is that LZ’s short poems, and perhaps especially the sequences of the 1950s, were terrifically important to a goodly number of writers coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s.

John Tipton, Surfaces. Chicago: Flood Editions, 2004. 37 pp. $13.
Jennifer Moxley, Often Capital. Chicago: Flood Editions, 2005. 61 pp. $12.95.
Ronald Johnson, Radi os. Chicago: Flood Editions, 2005. 107 pp. $14.95. (Expect a RonJon entry soon…)

On the earbuds:
Painkiller, Execution Ground (Ambient) and Live in Osaka.