Friday, December 26, 2008

en route; Zukofsky online

I'd intended a meaty post assessing the big Pogues box set that turned up under the tree yesterday, but I'm catching a flight for San Francisco & the dreaded MLA at the crack of dawn & I still have a few paragraphs to write on my paper, so any real blogging will have to wait until after the academic circus is over & I'm back. I will leave MLA-blogging to those who actually have the luxury of attending papers & panels. My warmest wishes & profoundest sympathies to the job-seekers out there.
In the interim, some new spots of interest on the net:

•It's been already heralded in several venues, but I'd be remiss not to point folks to the wonderful PennSound Louis Zukofsky page, which seems to make available every recorded reading of the thin one. Some lovely extras: the famous Grand Piano performance of "A"-24, Charles Bernstein reading "A Foin Lass Bodders," & Guy Davenport reading the Cats in both Latin & English.

•Jeff Twitchell-Waas's extraordinary resource site for Zukofsky readers & scholars, "Z-Site," has moved to here. (Yes, the old URL has a redirect page; I'm just amazed at how quickly these things change – the address I printed in the notes to The Poem of a Life has already been rendered obsolete.)

•Steven Fama has quietly and craftily started a blog, devoted mostly it seems to reviewery. Latest post is his list of top 20 poetry books of the year. Some good stuff there, things that had passed my radar.
In my briefcase: Rae Armantrout, Versed; John Taggart, There Are Birds; Peter Gizzi, Periplum and Other Poems; whatever else I can't leave behind at the last minute.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

more Beckett

Some time ago I wrote about Grove Press's sumptuous four-volume collected Beckett, the "Grove Centenary Edition" released two years ago to coincide with SB's 100th birthday. I've been enjoying it, savoring it, for almost two years now – and I've almost read my way thru every last page.

Of course, the Centenary Edition wasn't all that Grove did to celebrate their author's 100th birthday. Mr UPS brought this around the other day: Beckett's most famous play, Waiting for Godot, in a handsome, unjacketed hardcover whose dimensions are uniform with those of the GCE and whose design is close enough (without being identical) to make it clear that this volume is also part of the centenary celebrations. Best of all, this is a bilingual edition, with the original French text on the left page & Beckett's English translation on the right; no more flipping from one's English text to one's tattered old Minuit paperback.

The cynic in me, I fear, smells marketing here. Why only Godot? Why not Godot and Endgame, Beckett's other dramatic masterpiece originally written in French? (And for that matter, since Beckett's English-t0-French translations are as much creative acts as his French-to-English efforts, why not throw in Happy Days and Krapp's Last Tape?) There's certainly space here: the 2006 Grove bilingual Waiting for / En attendant Godot clocks in at 357 pages; that in comparison to only 509 pages in the complete Dramatic Works of the GCE.

I guess it's a matter, in terms of typography, of feast or famine. In the GCE, Waiting for Godot occupies only 87 pages, but they're rather packed pages: fairly narrow margins, stage directions pressed right up against speeches, speakers' names hived off into the left margin. Turning to the 2006 Godot (where the English text takes up 174 pages) is like going from the cramped Oxford World's Classics edition of the King James Bible to a big, airy presentation volume. Margins are vast; speakers' names (in all caps) rest atop speeches; stage directions have paragraphs all to themselves. Really, I can't help feeling, there's too much space. Even as I revel Ronald Johnsonianly or Susan Howeishly in the tracts of white space, I gotta suspect that Grove is stretching things out to make a substantial volume of this.

And as welcome as the bilingual edition is, I'm also a trifle exasperated with what I've called (in reference to the GCE) the "'black box' nature of the textual editing." The 2006 Godot has a teasing introduction by Beckett scholar & textual editor S. E. Gontarski that makes much of the text of this new issue, without ever really showing what's been changed. Gontarski goes over the play's textual history from the first Grove edition of 1954; he spends a good deal of time excoriating Faber & Faber for publishing a "mutilated" version of the play in 1956, and reprinting that text (censored at the behest of the Lord Chamberlain) in 1986, even tho they had access to a 1965 Grove edition that Beckett considered "definitive"; & he draws attention to 2 further revised versions of 1975 and 1955. 

In the 2006 Godot, Gontarski, gloats somewhat anticlimactically, "Grove Press has not only reunited the long separated fraternal twins, the English and French Godot, but has brought British and American texts closer to harmony." Er –– meaning what precisely? Show me the textual notes, guys. You've got over 350 pages to play with here; 15 or 20 pages of texual notes and variants at the end would have been far more welcome than a lot of that beautiful white space in which Didi & Gogo's back-&-forthings echo like Laurel & Hardy in the Sahara. No Shakespeare editor could get away with this.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

[not of general interest]

The holidays, as they have a habit of doing, have snuck up on me this year. Maybe something to do with the fact that it's hard to feel winter-holidayish when you're still going outside in the middle of the night in shorts & a t-shirt, running the a/c in the car, etc. But trees & wreaths & menorahs are up, presents are stacked ready for wrapping.

J. & P. are in NYC this weekend playing in the snow, so I'm running solo with Daphne, who I guess is a pretty easy job as 4-year-olds go. Anyway, she seems to be relishing the "quality father-daughter time," as she calls it. Still, the place feels empty & lonely. (Tho I'm trying not to be "cranky and bummed out," as Don Share puts it, sweetly.)

A weird twinge of sentimentality last night: on the back porch, on my laptop, into the wee hours, I watched Citizen Kane, courtesy of Netflix; & as I was putting the disk back in the little envelope (you know, the wax-papery inner one with the brief misleading movie description & runtime) I noticed, written lightly in pencil, neatly but in an unfamiliar hand, the message "I love you." 

Who wrote it? Not a member of the household, certainly; maybe one of the guests & friends who've been thru over the last week? (Obviously, we're among the I suspect majority of Netflixers who turn over our movies a lot slower than we thought we would.) 

But then I realized that I'd only broken the seal on the envelope a couple hours before, after putting Daphne to bed. It was the last Netflixer, I guess, who'd decided to trace those archetypal 3 words on an envelope that was about to head out to someone – who precisely, she or he could have no idea. A message in a bottle? (Cynically, the "God Loves You" one finds occasionally on a dollar bill?) It says something about the phenomenology of reading, or maybe about my own state of mind, that I would feel personally interpellated by this anonymous, anonymously-directed scribble; that I would feel struck, alone in the middle of the night, by a touch of human affection.

A figure for the poem. Paul Celan: "I see no essential difference between a poem & a handshake."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jennifer Moxley: The Line

The Line, Jennifer Moxley (Post-Apollo Press, 2007)

The "line" between sleep and waking, at least in part; between intellection & emotion? The line as something followed, something toed. "I Walk the Line." The language "of the heart," an attempt to use the old tropes of consciousness, of affect, seriously again, without irony. Twenty-first Century Romanticism? The prose poem, but not the New Sentence: the unit of composition is the poem itself (1 or 2 pages), often telling a narrative or a fragment thereof. A kind of clear-eyed "shimmer" to these pieces, a muted awkward grace that has them gnawing into the corner of one's readerly eye as one picks up the next book.


Joshua Clover: The Totality for Kids

The Totality for Kids, Joshua Clover (U of California P, 2006)

To be read with a French dictionary at one's side, along with the latest guide to cultural theory. Honeycombed with referentiality, like a postmodern Rock-Drill, tho always glad to stumble over Warren Zevon & Roxy Music (oddly enough, the latter not indexed). The disturbing thought that dissent itself, at least in its poetic embodiment, may have reached the stage where only the face is left floating above the acid pit of self-dissolving irony, like the worker in the James Kelman story. Very French indeed; kept repressing the impulse to put on a beret, buy a pack of Gauloises, & find a café where I could order a carafe of wine as I read – or to climb a barricade, turn over a Peugeot, throw a cobblestone at something – if I could determine what my target might be.



Reading the Iliad is like travelling through a Country uninhabited, where the Fancy is entertained with a thousand Savage Prospects of vast Desarts, wide uncultivated Marshes, huge Forests, mis-shapen Rocks and Precipices. On the contrary, the Aeneid is like a well ordered Garden, where it is impossible to find out any Part unadorned, or to cast our Eyes upon a single Spot, that does not produce some beautiful Plant or Flower. But when we are in the Metamophosis, we are walking on enchanted Ground, and see nothing but Scenes of Magick lying round us.
–Joseph Addison, Spectator 417 (2 June 1712)
Reading "A" is like passing a season in an unfamiliar principality where the landscape is so variegated, the prospects so ample and diverse, that one is always encountering a new neighborhood, an undiscovered village, a previously unremarked vista or grotto.
–MS, The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky (2007)
[To my knowledge, I never read Spectator 417 before happening on this passage yesterday in John Dixon Hunt's The Figure in the Landscape: Poetry, Painting, and Gardening During the Eighteenth Century.]

The horse sees he is repeating
All known cultures 
And suspects repeating
Others unknown to him...
–LZ, "A"-12

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Zukofsky in Sussex!

Those of you who are Britons, Europeans in general, or just spending January in sunny Brighton, might be interested in the following:
“A”-24: A Louis Zukofsky Seminar and Performance

The Centre for Modernist Studies at the University of Sussex presents the British premiere of Louis and Celia Zukofsky’s “A”-24, performed by Sean Bonney, Ken Edwards, Daniel Kane and Francesca Beasley with harpsichord by Kerry Yong.

Sarah-Jane Barnes plays violin pieces by Janequin and Bach

The seminar will include papers by Harry Gilonis, Jeff Hilson, Mark Scroggins, Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas and Tim Woods.

£10/£5. Places are limited, to reserve a place email Richard Parker at

13.00, 23 January 2009
The Meeting House
University of Sussex
Falmer, East Sussex

Saturday, December 13, 2008

the year's reads: selected & notable

So Bob Archambeau's beaten me to the punch, for what it's worth, with a list of things he's read this year; & it's a long one & an impressive one. I'll confine my own to things, like last year, that really struck me or stuck with me:
Atmosphere Conditions Ed Roberson
The Church – The School – The Beer chris cheek
Watchword William Fuller
The Tenor on Horseback Christopher Middleton
Slowly Lyn Hejinian
The Outernationale Peter Gizzi
Next Life Rae Armantrout 
AAB Tyrone Williams
Platform Rodrigo Toscano
Music’s Mask and Measure Jay Wright
Not Everything Remotely: Selected Poems 1978-2005 Alan Halsey
Sick Heart River John Buchan
The Captive Marcel Proust
King Rat China Miéville
Hegel: A Biography Terry Pinkard
Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage Richard Holmes 
Ezra Pound: Poet, A Portrait of the Man and His Work: Volume I, The Young Genius 1885-1920 A. David Moody
Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist Anthony Cronin
Criticism, Philosophy, et cetera
The Field of Cultural Production Pierre Bourdieu
Blue Studios: Poetry and Its Cultural Work Rachel Blau DuPlessis
Archive Fever Jacques Derrida
George Oppen and the Fate of Modernism Peter Nicholls
The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening Horace Walpole

Friday, December 12, 2008

Isabelle Baladine Howald: Secret of Breath

I think that last post, & its comment stream, demonstrate why I don't really do much teaching-related blogging. It's true I talk about syllabi a fair amount, and course texts, & kvetch about grading, & so forth, but generally speaking my life as a teacher is something that doesn't feature too prominently here. There're obvious reasons for that: perhaps most obviously, I am indeed an employee of Our Fair University, and generally speaking what goes on in the classroom is both a transaction among me, the students, & the course texts and a kind of service rendered by me as a hash slinger in the employ of Our Fair State. More importantly, there's a relationship of trust the one builds up with one's students, an interchange that can be so mutually rewarding & mutually revealing that I'm reluctant to feature it very much on this very public, rather disembodied blogspace. I'm not in the business of denigrating my students – I like them very much, & respect the ways their minds work, & sometimes lament their misplaced priorities or the choices their over-busy lives force upon them: but I'm not going to talk about it here.

On the other hand, when someone pulls a bozo stunt like the one recounted in that last post, it's just plain fair game.
Secret of Breath, Isabelle Baladine Howald, trans. from the French by Eléna Rivera (Burning Deck, 2008)

Vast stretches of white space, one voice in roman type, in dialogue or counterpoint to another in italic. War, displacement; the state of the refugee, which is the common state of 20th-century Europe. War, snow, movement, & the inevitability of a death, which lends an existentialist cast to everything that goes down. Not Celan but Trakl; not so much Bonnefoy as St.-John Perse. (But contemporary French poetry is one of my vast ignorances.)


Thursday, December 11, 2008


[found in a stack of three-year-old e-mails:]

Dear Professor Scroogins [sic],

You probably do not remember me, but I was in [one of your classes] over a year ago. If you do remember, I missed the final because of a mixup of dates and you therefore gave me a D as my final grade. I was supposed to schedule a makeup exam with you, but because my schedule is so crazy I haven't been able to. Being that it is now over a year later I was wondering if you might just call it even and change my D to at least a C. According to the last time I spoke to you my grade was a high B in the class without the final.

[oddly enough, I never got around to replying...]
Update: One commenter, choosing a convenient anonymity, asks "Provided that this student email is authentic, what would your employer, Florida Atlantic, think of you openly mocking students online?" What can I say? I can pretty easily imagine "mocking" this e-mail (just as I can imagine someone's mocking various communications of mine); but is it mockery simply to reproduce it verbatim?

(Call me crusty, but I look back in fondness on the days when the university was considered an association of faculty banded together for teaching & research – this was sometime in the late middle ages, I believe – rather than a corporation in which "instructional personnel" nest somewhere between grounds maintenance people and promotional memo writers in the grand hierarchy.)

Bradley comments, rather more helpfully, "You should reply to that email this weekend. 'Being that it's now been three years since you took the class, I'm ready to schedule that makeup exam. Let's do it today.'" In point of fact, I tried to schedule a makeup exam with student in question one more than one occasion in the months following the course, but it just never worked out with student's schedule. 

–which addresses the next (anonymous) comment, "Come on man you could've given him an incomplete. Scary passive-aggressive dude: just not responding." Around here, I fear, you can't just "give" an incomplete – there's a longish, rather complicated paperwork process. If memory serves, I offered to go thru said process with said student, & student opined that it would be better to take the grade earned sans final, then make up the exam as soon as possible. Hey, I reserve my passive-aggression for personal relationships and editors: I'm Mr Upfront with students.

But the only point was to point out cheekiness (something, frankly, which I rather admire): Note how student doesn't suggest "hey, it's time for me to take that exam," but "hey, time's passed; let's just split the difference." I wish I had the chutzpah.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Elizabeth Arnold: The Reef

The Reef, Elizabeth Arnold (U of Chicago P, 1999)

Where Civilization wrestles with a father's dementia, The Reef deals with the poet's own bouts with (I take it) Hodgkin's lymphoma. Harrowing reading, tho beautiful as well. I admire the ambition that leads her to release, as a 1st book, a single long sequence of poems. Much of what makes Civilization so compelling – for me – is only in embryo here.

I'm down with these; working on #5, "got prose?" these days.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

William Fuller: Sadly

Sadly, William Fuller (Flood Editions, 2003)

If anything, even more disorienting that Watchword, & at the same time a trifle more laconic. Still, tremendous stuff. Fuller indulges his lyrical gifts rather less in this one. The last poem, "I Now Think I Was Wrong," is Wallace Stevens without all illusions, stripped of all gaiety:
Returning to the spring, we see green on the surface
of the water. This is not the earth. Stand still, monkey,
do not run. None of us was ever here before.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Ron Silliman: The Age of Huts (compleat)

The Age of Huts (compleat), Ron Silliman (U of California P, 2007)

There's something about Silliman's work that has always been just there for me – an element of the landscape, a big looming presence of possibility. I like the "compleat" Age of Huts better than the old Roof edition – as LZ says somewhere, "more of a good thing." Tho I don't think Ron would appreciate the comparison, I'm put in mind of the "fractal" character of Eno's ambient stuff – ie, the experience of hearing the 61-minute Thursday Afternoon, in details, isn't different from hearing a 6-minute extract: it just that the former is longer. (That longer, however, is a pretty crucial difference.) A poetry which not only (in Auden's phrase) "makes nothing happen," but in which nothing happens. Or rather, nothing big, dramatic happens, only a constant flow of small-scale events. "A poem without development, without events, without end" ("2197"). Every time I read RS I start covering notebook pages with diagrams & numbers for some large-scale recombinative project which I never end up writing.


The Grand Piano, Part 4

Part 4 is in some ways the most compelling installment to date. But the various entries, some of them revolving around the term "utopia," others providing hard & fast contextual information about such events as the "Talks" series held at Bob Perelman & Francie Shaw's loft, or the 1978 Duncan-Watten dustup following the screening of the NET Louis Zukofsky film outtakes. (Wish I'd had this while drafting the Afterword to Poem of a Life.) All of the pieces, however, suddenly fade into ruminative insignificance when Rae Armantrout announces that she's been diagnosed with cancer – in the real time of Grand Piano's composing, that is, rather than the 1975-1980 era The Grand Piano remembers.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hey, I'm giving an exam right now, so I'm technically working...

Y'know, every time I think of throwing over my day job in the academy & becoming a free-lance critic/writer type – well, actually every time I think of that a bill comes in the mail, & I'm reminded of how useful an actual income is – I think about the very few folks out there who actually have the big magazine-mass audience-public intellectual gigs. I think about James Wood, whose writing puts me to sleep faster than three double martinis with a quaalude chaser. 

Or I think about Adam Kirsch, who's somehow unaccountably convinced people that he knows something about contemporary poetry. If you care to get mildly or grandly irritated, check out Kirsch's latest in the New Republic on Slavoj Zizek, the malign genius who – if we're to believe Kirsch – "is engaged in the rehabilitation of many of the most evil ideas of the last century." An astonishing farrago of out-of-context quotations, superficial misreadings, and ad hominem attacks. Kirsch makes David Lehman on Paul de Man seem subtle.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

On the edge...

of the end of the semester. A storm of papers will arrive later today, to be followed later this week by a stack of final exams. And then I can get to work on what I ought to be writing. But for now a brief breather.
Snatching some time to read in the interstices: Ron Silliman's The Age of Huts (compleat); I've known Age for yonks, thru the old yellow Roof edition. "Sunset Debris" and "The Chinese Notebook" are old friends. And I've become very fond of "Ketjak" now. (The recursive structure assures it that by the time you finish the poem, you're either very fond of it, or driven to active loathing.) I have the typically anal project of working thru Ron's big poem Ketjak (not the short "Ketjak"), as outlined in the preface to Age of Huts, in order of its parts: Age of Huts, then Tjanting, then The Alphabet. That's what, maybe 1500 pages of elegantly processed quotidianity? Should keep me off the streets for awhile.

Mostly thru Beckett's How It Is. One of those books that when you lay it down, you can't pick it up again, if you know what I mean. Oh, it's brilliant all right – I wouldn't want at all to sell the thing short of brilliance. But it's frankly the  single most painful read I've ever essayed. The unpunctuated paragraphs are one thing, forcing you to read at pretty much speaking pace, pausing to internally punctuate & repunctuate at every turn, looking for where the pauses ought to (or might) fall. But while that's a painstaking process (a painful process?) not unfamiliar to the reader of contemporary poetry, it's the bleakness of the "action" that really does it for (to?) me. In a few words: Conveyance: standard Beckett blind mud-crawling; Diet: canned good of dubious provenance & sell-by date; Communication media: fingernails in back, digit in arsehole, can-opener to buttocks, sharp knocks to the skull. And other nastinesses, not least of which is the intrusion of "Love" into this hellish scenario. Kathy Acker, by comparison, is sunshine & lollipops.
Observations on the state of modernist studies, having read thru almost 200 job applications:
•James Joyce stock remaining high, with no perceptible dips; still King of Hill

•historicism the order of the day; even the crustiest formalists apt to swath their readings in a decent chiton of historical context or anecdote

•William Faulkner holding steady – who woulda thought?

•Langdon Hammer of Yale the busiest dissertation director in the land; how does he find time to chair the department and write James Merrill's biography?

•the Edwin Rolfe renaissance still failing to materialize, despite all of Cary Nelson's best efforts

•poetry, alas, the big loser: by my admittedly unscientific estimate (ie, I don't have the notes in front of me), something like 15% of dissertations