Michael Magee

No truths self-evident (PoemTalk #105)

Michael Magee, 'Morning Constitutional'

from left to right: Kristen Gallagher, Joshua Schuster, Kerry Sherin Wright (photo by Al Filreis).

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Kristen Gallagher, Kerry Sherin Wright, and Joshua Schuster converged on Philadelphia to help us celebrate twenty years of the Kelly Writers House. Al Filreis took the opportunity of this reunion of KWH founders to convene a PoemTalk session on the work of a fourth founder — Michael Magee. This was Magee in his pre-Flarf days, the late 1990s. He was finishing a doctoral dissertation on Emerson, pragmatism, Ellison, and jazz; was beginning a relationship with the person, now his partner, who had created the Kensington Needle Exchange; and was taking long, daily morning Emersonian/Whitmanian constitutionals, walking the city incessantly described as the cradle of constitutional democracy. The book of poems resulting from these experiences was Morning Constitutional.

Michael Magee, 'Morning Constitutional'

In the Kensington section of Philadelphia, 2004.

Thanks to PennSound staffer Hannah Judd, a November 2001 reading of Morning Constitutional Michael Magee gave at the Kelly Writers House — with Louis Cabri — has been segmented. Magee's book Morning Constitutional was published in 2001. Publisher's Weekly observed: “A breadcrumb trail of juiced urban monologues, phrasal runs somewhere between Dolphy and Sun Ra, rope-a-dope reports from a guarded ordering bordering on an underdog corner restoration and definitional clarity (a slush fund is dirty money) mark these ante-meridian outings, exercising our rights and outlining the space between our laws.” Magee walked Philadelphia in the mornings and these poems densely record his observations, debris-like.

Michael Magee's book Morning Constitutional was published in 2001. Publisher's Weekly observed: “A breadcrumb trail of juiced urban monologues, phrasal runs somewhere between Dolphy and Sun Ra, rope-a-dope reports from a guarded ordering bordering on an underdog corner restoration and definitional clarity (a slush fund is dirty money) mark these ante-meridian outings, exercising our rights and outlining the space between our laws.” Magee walked Philadelphia in the mornings and these poems densely record his observations, debris-like. The book is still available for purchase. Philip Metres wrote about it for Jacket in May 2003.

Now, thanks to PennSound staffer Hannah Judd, a November 2001 reading Magee gave at the Kelly Writers House — with Louis Cabri — has been segmented.

Bright arrogance #5

'Extraordinary experience will not be locatable'

Detail of Clark Lunberry's "Bodies of Water: Somebody—Nobody"

Emily Dickinson’s poetry is perhaps the closest thing canonical American literature has to a “sacred language.” In Robert Duncan’s lectures on Dickinson, we could say that he posits her as the ultimate untranslatable poet, even within her own language. In her poems she “bring[s] us to the line where everything is so fraught with meaning that we can’t find the meaning.”  

Strange galvanics (PoemTalk #75)

Will Alexander, 'Compound Hibernation'

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Tracie Morris, Kristen Gallagher, and Michael Magee gathered together in PoemTalk’s garrett studio to discuss a poem by Will Alexander: “Compound Hibernation,” published in Zen Monster, then performed at least once at a reading (Alexander’s Segue Series performance at the Bowery Poetry Club in March of 2007), and then collected in the book Compression & Purity (City Lights, 2011).

Flarf poetry festival at the Writers House

Readings by Sullivan, Smith, Mesmer and Nichols

Gary Sullivan and Sharon Mesmer

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Former Kelly Writers House mainstay Mike Magee organized a Flarf Poetry Festival at the House in February 2007. The festival, which was a part of the MACHINE reading series and was cosponsored by Combo Arts Providence, featured seven prominent Flarf practioners who shared their inappropriate, odd, disturbing, and hilarious works. Gary Sullivan, one of the founders of this avant-garde poetry movement, has said that Flarf can be defined as “A quality of intentional or unintentional ‘flarfiness.’ A kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying, awfulness. Wrong. Un-P.C. Out of control. ‘Not okay.’” Sullivan has also said that Flarf is a verb meaning “to bring out the inherent awfulness, etc., of some preexisting text.” Mike Magee’s take on the movement is slightly different — he conceives of Flarf as a “collage-based method which employs Google searches, specifically the partial quotes which Google ‘captures’ from websites.”

Editorial selections from 'Combo'

Combo no. 4 detail

Culminating in an all-Flarf twelfth issue, Combo is known to have been the first print publication to gather a full collection of Flarf poems. Published in the same year as K. Silem Mohammad’s Deer Head Nation (poems from which were also first published in Combo) the magazine stands as the original print vehicle for the listserv-generated poetry movement. Magee’s Flarf manifesto “Mainstream Poetry” is first published here, and the editor’s and contributor’s notes are ideally suited to the collection (see Combo no. 12). As Jordan Davis writes in his 2004 Village Voice article “O, You Cosh-Boned Posers!”:

Magee's small-press magazine Combo broke the flarf story first, in early 2003. A significant finding in that issue, currently required reading for Charles Bernstein’s literature students at the University of Pennsylvania, is that Google searches on the phrase "aw yeah" yield more socially acceptable results as the number of w's in "aw" increases.

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