Commentaries - January 2013

St Francis

As the 'inconvenient elder'

St Francis:  flickr photo by dawnzy58
St Francis: flickr photo by dawnzy58

When he ceded control of the group, Francis [Saint Francis of Assisi, AD 1181–1226] hoped that he could still lead the men by example, but his influence quickly waned. This enraged him. “Who are these who have ripped my order and my brothers out of my hands?” he shouted. Once, when he saw a new building that he thought the community had erected for itself, in disregard of the rule of poverty, he climbed up to the roof and began prying off the tiles and throwing them to the ground. Breaking with his earlier, gentle practice, he cursed people who opposed his ideas.

Francis was a good example of what, in the annals of history, might be called the “inconvenient elder”: the person who starts the revolution and then, once it succeeds, becomes an inconvenience, even an embarrassment, to the next generation. (Think of Gandhi.) They honor him —  they have to — but they wish he would go away, so that they could “work within the system” and relax a little. [– From “Rich Man, Poor Man: the radical vision of St Francis” by Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, January 14, 2013. Page 75. Image: flickr photo by dawnzy58]

Why teenage girls?

A question for Trisha Low

One segment for this Jacket2 column will be titled “WHY__________?” in which I will ask certain people Why questions. Participant responses must be between 100-300 words. One of the first people I had a Why question for was Trisha Low. Because it’s a thread running through all her writing and performance work (she reads their diaries, their feminist blog comments, their love letters; she dresses like one in performance then throws up fake blood on herself) I asked her: Why Teenage Girls? Here’s her answer.

After Tiqqun’s Theory of a Young Girl, I think Poetry thinks of teenage girls the way some magazine editor looks at a contact sheet, selecting the spectacle and then pulling it up on the screen for the airbrusher going “INFLATE HER HAIR SO WE CAN SEE THAT FRAGILE VACUITY. I WANT TO SEE THOSE CAPITALISTIC PROCESSES NOT THAT CELLULITE. HAVE THIS SHIT ON MY DESK BY 2.” It’s apt that when I sit down to answer this WHY question, it’s 5.51 pm, I’m listening to slowcore and unwrapping a new tattoo, one that I acquired because of a certain amount of emotional distress, leaking blood and ink while I’m looking at the ‘real’ image reflected in my computer screen of me writing about ‘real emotional’ teenage girls, because what I’m really interested in is the cultural demarcation of the confessional genre. The tension between our structures of feeling (ie. the artificial way in which these feelings will be aestheticised or they will be bullshit) and the socially unfit waste of the feminine, the excess that is created in tandem with these scripted confessions. I have no patience with looking for a sufficiently ethical poetic representation but I’m interested in how your 'ethical' poetic representation is just a fantasy of reparation. As Mary Jacobus writes on Klein: “to make reparation would be such an all-consuming task that an unending, fake analysis is preferable to ‘cure’.” How is Poetry complicit in the urge to falsely ‘heal’ societal wounds into the silent fixity of It Gets Better? What better place to look than the teen girl, whose cut wrist is an abject fuck-you; whose cute Band-Aid and its artificial ‘healing’ is really just your sentimental fantasy – a palatable performance of narrative object that could really just be your worst nightmare. This is also how I do kissing nbd. 

 xoxo, 

t. 

Talkin' Politics of Poetic Form (the recordings)

25th anniversary

New at PennSound (site link for these recordings)

a series of talks I curated in 1988 at The New School (New York) and collected in The Politics of Poetic Form, Roof Books (1990)

Prologue: IPS Talk by Charles Bernstein (1981)
With P. Inman, Lynne Dreyer and others
Preliminary to the PennSound recordings of the New School talk, this is a recording of a 1981 presentation at the Institue of Policy Studies in Washington, DC., part of a 1981-1982 series called "Politics and Language" that also included talks (not recoded) by James Sherry and Bruce Andrews.
note: recording is incomplete
(1:25:47): MP3

Jerome Rothenberg, "Ethnopoetics & Politics / The Politics of Ethnopoetics"
September 30, 1988

  • complete recording (2:01:24): MP3

Bruce Andrews, "Poetry as Explanation, Poetry as Praxis"
October 8, 1988

  • complete recording (2:05:48): MP3

Erica Hunt, "Notes for an Oppositional Poetics"
October 14, 1988

  • talk - (38:04): MP3
  • discussion (1:30:18): MP3

Nicole Brossard, "Poetic Politics"
October 21, 1988

  • part one (48:39): MP3
  • part two (54:01): MP3

Jerome McGann, "Private Poetry, Public Deception"
October 28, 1988

  • complete recording (2:07:54): MP3

Susan Howe, "Encloser"
November 4, 1988

  • introduction by Bernstein (7:10): MP3
  • complete recording (1:49:20): MP3

Ron Silliman, "Canons and Institutions: New Hope for the Disappeared"
November 11, 1988

  • talk (1:12:23): MP3
  • discussion (50:01): MP3

Rosmarie Waldrop, "Alarms & Excursions"
November 18, 1988

  • talk (1:13:53): MP3
  • discussion (46:36): MP3

Charles Bernstein, "Comedy and the Poetics of Politcal Form"
December 21, 1988

  • talk (1:04:00): MP3
  • discussion (1:06:30): MP3

Of related interest, talk series I curated on PennSound:
New York Talk
St. Mark's Talks


Nathaniel Mackey's "Sound and Sentiment, Sound and Symbol"
presented at St. Mark's Talks on April 24, 1985
was also included in the Roof book; recording on that page.

"Language and Politics" a forum with Jackson Mac Low, P. Inman, Hannah Weiner, James Sherry, and Nick Piombino
at
St. Mark's Talks on Oct. 25, 1984
was also was the basis for several short essays included in the Roof book. Recording on that page.

Recorded by Charles Bernstein. © 2012 Charles Bernstein and the authors. These sound recordings are being made available for noncommercial and educational use only. Used with permission of the editor. All rights to this recorded material belong to the editor and authors. Distributed by PennSound.

From sea to screen

Yang Lian and John Cayley's iterations

Where the Sea Stands Still
Yang Lian's Where the Sea Stands Still (London: Wellsweep, 1995), translated by Brian Holton and published by John Cayley

The long poem “Dahai tingzhi zhi chu” 大海停止之处 by Yang Lian 杨炼 and its transformation into the collaborative digital and performance piece Where the Sea Stands Still illustrate an iterative response to digital technologies and globalization. The iterative structure of Yang Lian’s long poem produces an expanding sense of space and geography that, like the title, combines perpetual repetition with continuous change.

The long poem comprises four poems, each entitled “Dahai tingzhi zhi chu” (“Where the Sea Stands Still”). There is no numbering: each poem’s title is identical to all the others. Each has three sections and ends with “zhi chu” 之处 (where/the place where). These final characters combine stillness, spatial and temporal arrest with the sea’s ceaseless repetitive movements. The poem’s repeated images, title, final words, and structure produce a fluid sense of space: they leave the reader unsure of his or her place within the text because the usual markers of progression––such as progressive numbering, varied titles, or changes in subject matter––are absent. Adding another layer to these iterations, Yang gave the same title, Dahai tingzhi zhi chu / Where the Sea Stands Still, to the collection in which the poem first appeared. Thus each poem entitled Where the Sea Stands Still appears within the long poem Where the Sea Stands Still, which is in turn within the collection Where the Sea Stands Still. Each poem relates to all the others in wave-like expanding circles of meaning.

The poem’s repeating, expanding form is mirrored in an expanding sense of geographic and oceanic space. “Where the Sea Stands Still” is located in Sydney, Australia, where Yang held the position of writer-in-residence in 1993. He even gives his address:

King Street 一直走

Enmore Road  右转

Cambridge Street 14 号

The shift to roman script emphasizes the geographic and cultural movement between Sydney and Beijing. Elsewhere Yang contrasts Auckland, another harbor city and the place he first lived after June Fourth 1989, with “that ancient city buried in dust and yellow earth” where the “sea is only a myth.” The sea marks his geographical displacement from dry northern Beijing and his “floating life” (piaobo 漂泊)––a Chinese term for wandering or exile that chimes with the maritime theme.

Through its iterative form, the poem’s precise geographic and temporal location opens into modernity at large and into a global system of oceanic currents and geographic interrelations. Yang’s subsequent collaboration with John Cayley (and also Brian Holton, who provided the English translation, and Gao Xingjian 高行健, who supplied some of the images for the project) further expands the geographical reach of the poem, as a multimedia collaboration now encompassing China, Australia, Canada, the UK, and France. Here is a clip from the work, as performed by Yang and Cayley at the ICA in London in 1997:

This geographical constellation went truly global when Cayley subsequently published a hypertext version on the World Wide Web.

Kitasono Katue: Three Poems from BLACK FIRE (Kuroi hi), 1951, with a Note on Typography

Translation & Note by John Solt

Kitasono Katue: Plastic Poem (Even from Trifling Objects), 1966
Kitasono Katue: Plastic Poem (Even from Trifling Objects), 1966

[Kitasono Katue (1902-1978), whom Pound admired & renamed Kit Kat, was on his own grounds a major, truly experimental poet & artist. Beyond that, in the 1950s, he designed the first four covers of Black Mountain Review, & Robert Creeley’s Divers Press published a book of his poems in his own English translations & containing a few of his colored drawings (or”katto” [cuts] as they say in Japanese – or so John Solt informs me). To get a sense of what should be his prominent place in international avant-garde check out the full range of selections in oceans beyond monotonous space at http://www.thing.net/~grist/ld/japan/kitasono.htm along with John Solt’s Shredding the Tapestry of MeaningThe Poetry and Poetics of Kitasono Katue. A full presentation of his visual & plastic poems is also long overdue. (J.R.)]

MONOTONOUS SOLID

in the mirror
turtle's
egg
burst
summer's burst
gloom's
shadow's burst
that bubble
that hopeless
wing
or
that
avalanche
of
clouds

one drop
of my location
and
stripe
of tragedy
and
circle
of loneliness's
head

that
verticality
that
blanc d'argent
that
illusion
that
burst

imagination's
face's
curved line's
dark
jaw's
hard loneliness

that craving
voice
is full of
gloom's forest

the day
also passes
for
an extremely fast
fly

needle
of white cone's
distance
needle of bread and
water
lead moon
repudiates
lead flag

dream's
butterfly's
burst
on
top of smashed plates
still voluptuously
fragrant
black firearm

death's
burst
inside
hot glass bottle
star's
water's
dahlia's
extraordinarily visible burst

OU UNE SOLITUDE

glass
inside
glass

that
curved line
and
within
it
gloomy
seashell

above
one
stem
the
wind

a
plate
for
tragedy's
plate

one star
breaks
one
star
departs
for
purple's
yellow
wreath
there
are
purple
yellow
wreaths

one
star
departs
one
star
sits
down
crying

BLACK PORTRAIT
(followed by sample pages of original typography and notes)

hopelessness's
alcohol's
purple
moustache

or shadow's
egg
inside
cage
of
bones

distance
of
night
of
death's
turtle

solitude is
wetted
by
black
rain
rotting
in
ladder
shape

that
wall
that
brittle
cone's
lonely
part

ON THE TYPOGRAPHY OF BLACK FIRE
from John Solt's Shredding the Tapestry of Meaning

Each page (of Black Fire) contains only one or two lines, positioned near the top of the page. These fill approximately 5 percent of the page, thus creating a tension between the type and the blank space. If Katue had not shortened the page, the disproportion between print and emptiness would have been even more pronounced. Another striking feature of the design is that the poem titles are printed in red ink and the poems in black, thus reinforcing the theme of a "black fire."

More radical than the short line lengths and the two-color lettering is the innovative way the poems of Kuroi hi are to be read: top to bottom and right to left. For other modern Japanese poetry, the eyes move vertically and then shift a line to the left and proceed down it, and a page is read right to left; or, when the type is laid out sideways as in the case of European languages (common these days), it is read from left to right. Katue essentially throws his readers off-balance by forcing their eyes to move horizontally in the "unnatural" direction of right to left. (On the rare occasions when Japanese was written horizontally in the past, the common direction was from right to left, and in a sense Katue was reverting to an old practice; it is, however, new to modern poetry.) He was the first poet in Japanese, as far as I know, to use a "double axis" of vertically down and horizontally right to left, thus rattling the reading process. Following is a transcription into directional signs for reading (down and right to left) "Kuroi shozo" (Black Portrait), one of the most extreme poems in the double-axis mode. Each letter or number stands for one graph; letters are read vertically (top to bottom) and numbers are read horizontally (right to left), starting at the top right-hand corner. The common form by other poets could include a string of letters ad infinitum, but would never have a number higher than 1.