Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Samuel Menashe: New & Selected Poems

New and Selected Poems, Samuel Menashe, ed. Christopher Ricks (Library of America, 2005)


Samuel Menashe's preface to this volume in the Library of America's "Poets Project," winner of the Poetry Foundation's "Neglected Masters Award," underscores what I've suspected for a long while: that SM's been getting a hell of a lot of mileage out of his own "neglected" status – this despite the fact that he's been well-published in England, & that Talisman House brought out a "new & selected" volume almost as compendious as this one no further back than 2000. Stop whining, I think: Blake had it a lot worse.

But Menashe's undeniably got an idiom all his own, a mode that I find more impressive in long stretches than in brief batches (pace Christopher Ricks's overclever introduction, which wants to show us that every Menashe lyric holds "eternity in a grain of sand"). Menashe's little poems aren't quite epigrams, nor do they have the gloomy gravitas of William Bronk's little poems; they certainly aren't haiku-like, nor do they have the slipshod, tossed-off likableness of many of Cid Corman's poemlets. They're uniformly clever, & sometimes – rather often – quite moving. Still, for micro-machines made out of words, give me

any day.
NB: My own copy of The Niche Narrows, the 2000 Talisman House new & selected Menashe, was picked up a summer or two ago at The Strand. It's inscribed to a prominent English critic-biographer, & contains about a half dozen poems added on the endpapers in Menashe's hand. Shame on you, J––– T–––, for tossing this one out! And shame on you, G––– H––– (prominent American poet), for discarding the copy of John Peck's Poems and Translations of Hi-Lo I found in Eugene, Oregon, in which Peck had entered a dozen or more tiny, meticulous corrections.

Novalis: Hymns to the Night

Hymns to the Night, Novalis (trans. Dick Higgins) (3rd ed., MacPherson & Co., 1988)


Apart from Schlegel's fragments, a couple volumes of Hölderlin, & a few of Goethe's lyrics, German Romanticism is terra incognita to me. Who woulda thought that Dick Higgins, Fluxus artist & the guy behind Something Else Press, had translated Novalis's gloomy prose poetry & free verse set of death-meditations? The translations strike me as solid enough, if not particularly felicitous sometimes; Higgins translates into a kind of colorless contemporary English, rather than the ersatz "Romantic" diction one encounters way too often in this field, but he's no Richard Sieburth or Christopher Middleton. And my cold fish inability to buy into the Romantic excess of it all leaves me a bit chilly – tho I'm intrigued by some of Novalis's reworkings of mythological & Christian material.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Devin Johnston: Sources

Devin Johnston, Sources (Turtle Point Press, forthcoming)


Hey, this one's a set of uncorrected proofs – how often do you see that in the poetry world these days? – so don't look for the full color version until Turtle Point releases the book in September or so. I'm keen to see what the omnipresent Jeff Clark has done with the cover, but the interior design & typesetting is exquisite as usual. Johnston is of course one of the movers behind the always excellent Flood Editions, & the poems of Sources are almost a continuation of the aesthetics of Flood books: clean, lithe, spare, & quirky. "After Propertius" is tremendous. "The Pipe" amused me at first as a reprise of Mallarmé's prose poem "La Pipe," in which the accidental discovery of a pipe throws the Frenchman's imagination back to his London days – then I realized, from its "charred bowl and thatched screen," that DJ's is that kind of pipe, not the tobacco sort.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Patrick Pritchett: Antiphonal

In the interests of shameless self-promotion, & cuz I just can't quit rereading the thing & grinning, once again here's the link to yesterday's Michael Dirda Washington Post review of The Poem of a Life. Any reason your local library – public, academic, etc. – hasn't ordered this yet?
Antiphonal, Patrick Pritchett (Pressed Wafer chapbook, 2008)


An odd rush almost of nostalgia reading this nicely-produced, cleanly laid-out, & precisely but passionately written chapbook – a sense of the idioms & concerns of the Apex of the M crowd back in those "how the hell do we get out from under the shadow of the Language Poets?" days, that heady mixture of post-Black Mountain, post-Objectivist poetics, Jabès- & Derrida-inflected nrratives of loss & deferral, & Levinasian (or Samperian) reachings towards the numinous, the spiritual. My inner Zizek (or Hume) snorts: my inner Robert Duncan, enthralled by the cumulative music especially of the latter poems of Antiphonal, is delighted, just delighted, & moved.

Melanie Neilson: Natural Facts

Natural Facts, Melanie Neilson (Potes & Poets, 1996)


Way back in the day in Ithaca, MN was one of the poets of "my" generation that Ted Pearson kept telling me to read. So I read Civil Noir (Roof, 1991), & enjoyed it. Bits of Natural Facts (love the r&b resonance of that title, combined with the RW Emerson of Nature) are explicit sequel to Civil Noir; other bits make use of some of the same overtyping and manuscript presentation. A big sense of humor here, a willingness to indulge in some serious slapstick among all that disjunction. And not that kind of allusive, highbrow-political Benjamin-quoting that starts the chuckles among the brow-furrowing reading-audience crowd, either. Real guffaws. All senses in play here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

glums ii, & something much happier!

Much of yesterday was burned up in a university level promotion "workshop." A little background (consult last post if necessary): when one applies for promotion to a higher grade at Our Fair University, one's massive packet of materials ascends thru a number of bolges: a review at the department level; at the college level; at the university level; by the Provost; and then by the President himself. (By the way, just to make things the slightest bit more uneasy, every one of these reviews up to & including that of the Provost is technically merely "advisory": one is promoted, that is, at the will of the President – who of course is more than willing to take the Provost's word for it, happily.)

Anyway, this "workshop" consisted largely of a recap of the procedures that had been far more usefully spelled out at the college-level meeting last week, & an opportunity to get to see & hear from the university Promotion & Tenure committee, which consists of representatives from every college in Our Fair University. And they seem to be mature, level-headed folks, for the most part, all looking to make fair decisions. The one really unsettling moment of the proceedings, however, was when the representative from another college rather grandiloquently announced that he made a habit of never reading the lengthy self-evaluative narratives that candidates are supposed to produce: you know, those walk-thrus of one's work that serve the purpose precisely of explaining the value & relevance of your intellectual labor for members of other colleges who might have no idea of what you're doing. Oh my, I thought; I can't wait until I get on this committee, so I can judge the physicists & biochemical engineers without bothering to listen to their explanations of what they do.
On a far happier note: Michael Dirda reviews The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky in tomorrow's Washington Post Book World. This one's a dandy, paying attention (if perhaps too briefly) to both LZ's career & poetry & to the form & strategy of the biography itself. The money words this time around: "splendid"; "speed, clarity and zest"; "scholarly yet down to earth, full of good sense and useful information." Now who wouldn't want to buy that book?

Friday, April 11, 2008

the glums; Zizek on Courbet & Malevich

[Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915]

Astonishingly slumpish depression today – occasioned largely by a morning spent reading bureaucratese documents from the various administrative levels of Our Fair University about how to become fulfilled – er, how to go thru the procedures for promotion to Full professor. So far as I can tell, it's much less a matter of having written books & articles & essays & taught classes than it is of getting about 5 million documents in the right format & order in the right kind of ring binder. The very prospect of spending a couple of 40-hour weeks putting this paper & plastic simulacrum of myself together – & by the beginning of August, to boot! – is deeply disheartening.

And then, casting my eyes over one page of criteria, I see a requirement for "2 recent letters of evaluation of teaching," & think, Oh crap, I haven't had a colleague visit one of my ramshackle excuses for a class in half a decade or more; I gotta line up visits – in the next three meetings, before the semester is over!

But mostly, on a lovely spring day, I'm feeling kind of quiet, becalmed, bored, & directionless.
Wishing Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Madeline Kahn, & Bob Creeley were still alive.
"We can now understand in what precise way – and paradoxical as it may sound – Malevich's 'Black Square', as the seminal painting of modernism, is the true counterpoint to (or reversal of) 'L'origine [du monde]': with Courbet, we get the incestuous Thing itself which threatens to implode the Clearing, the Void in which (sublime) objects (can) appear; while with Malevich, we get its exact opposite, the matrix of sublimation at its most elementary, reduced to the bare markings of the distance between foreground and background, between a wholly 'abstract' object (square) and the Place that contains it. The 'abstraction' of modernist painting should therefore be viewed as a reaction to the overt presence of the ultimate 'concrete' object, the incestuous Thing, which turns it into a disgusting abject – that is to say, turns the sublime into an excremental excess."

–Slavoj Zizek, The Fragile Absolute – or, why is the christian legacy worth fighting for?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

mostly musical

Can't really explain the hiatus in blogging – no heavy-duty reading series planning, literary foundation-laying, or newish child duties, like the estimable Josh Corey – not much productive reading gotten thru, certainly no writing to speak of (save for the first poem of a series that I'm still too superstitious to say much about, but have high hopes for). We're in the throes of having a new roof installed, after 6 or 7 years of running about with towels & buckets whenever it started to rain.

Roofing – I'm not sure I'd wish it upon an enemy. They spent a full day ripping off the old roof, sending clouds of grit & ick down thru the slanted tongue-&-groove ceilings of several rooms, in the process discovering acres rotted wood that needed replacing. (A rather unsettling experience to arrive home after having gone out to dinner – who wants to cook & eat among such racket? – and find a 4'x4' hole in the ceiling of the den – late afternoon sun streaming thru – & a highly competent fellow with a soul patch named Israel assuring us that it'd be closed before it was too dark.

The next day – Friday – they installed what they call "paper," but which I gather is actually some sort of watertight composite covering. You install it by nailing. Suffice it to say nobody spent much time around the house that day. This weekend it rained: it rained four 14 hours straight, buckets & poolfulls, which promptly came trickling thru the "paper" in about a dozen different spots.

All this, I've been assured, is a thing of the past, since they came Monday and painted the whole damn'd thing with hot tar & laid down another layer of something or another. All that's lacking now is installation of the tiles, which will give us perhaps another two days of relentless noise. And then there's a decent chance much of it'll get blown off come the hurricane season in a couple of months, & we can start over from scratch.
I've been working my way slowly thru The Poem of a Life: my first real reading of the book in print. Mostly looking for errors – typos, misstatements, things that might get changed if I live long enough for a second edition to be needed (I fool myself – I'll be lucky if the things goes into a second printing). A number of helpful people have sent me corrections & suggestions, which I heartily welcome. I may, I fear, be entering the stage of post-partum depression with the book: that sense that the thing, like so many other things I do, has fallen off the edge of the world, & said world has nothing to say to me but "what have you done for me lately?"
In the interstices of my days, I've been seriously ripping my CD collection onto a hard drive, discovering scores of disks I didn't know I owned, had perhaps listened to once or twice then shelved. Much listening these days to old P-Funk things, to the jangly alt-rock things of my youth, to vast blocks of Beethoven quartets. Don Share (himself a native Memphian) reminds me of one of my youthful enthusiasms, the twisted post-rockabilly of Tav Falco's Panther Burns, one of the strangest phenomena to crawl out of the Memphis region during my high school years. The fact that I only own a vinyl copy of Behind the Magnolia Curtain, which features not merely the godlike Alex Chilton but the Tate County, MS Drum Corps – the closing apocalyptic version of "Bourgeois Blues," which ends with Tav ranting the first lines of "Howl," is one of the grandest moments in recorded music – is at the moment my greatest spur to unpacking J.'s USB turntable & figuring out the software for converting LPs to MP3s.

Mostly tho I've been rediscovering the many faces of bassist/producers/impresario Bill Laswell: his work with John Zorn's Painkiller; the funky Material; his various dub remixes (Miles Davis & Bob Marley on heavy rotation) & collaborations with folks like Jah Wobble. A stroll thru a Boca thrift shop yielded surpringly enough a copy of the first Praxis album, a sort of metal-funk supergroup put together by Laswell that includes P-Funk veterans Bernie Worrell & Bootsy Collins & the pretentiously masked but undeniably virtuosic guitarist Buckethead. Here's a later version of Praxis, with Buckethead on guitar & Laswell himself on bass:

And here's Laswell really laying it down in a live performance of Zorn's 3-piece Painkiller outfit. (Turn down your speakers, ye of tender ears...):

Come to think of it, I haven't seen a picture of Laswell without headgear in 20 years or more, & it's a look I rather like. So a year hence, look for me in stocking cap. (I don't think I'll go for the pointy beard, tho.)