Commentaries - January 2013

Feature in Jacket 23

David Shapiro lives surrounded by art and music. Photo by Claudio Papapietro for
David Shapiro lives surrounded by art and music. Photo by Claudio Papapietro for the Riverdale Press, copyright © Claudio Papapietro and the Riverdale Press, 2009. Used with permission.

[»»] Thomas Fink: David Shapiro’s ‘Possibilist’ Poetry
David Shapiro (in conversation with John Tranter, 1984)
David Shapiro: Six poems (from A Burning Interior, 2000)
     [»»] The Weak Poet
     [»»] Light Bulb

     [»»] After Three Chinese Poems
     [»»] A Poet Named Open
     [»»] Henry Hudson Looks at the Hudson
     [»»] After Poetry
Carl Whithaus: Immediate Memories — (Nostalgic) Time and (Immediate) Loss in the Poetry of David Shapiro
Nathan Hauke: Meditations on David Shapiro: Memory and Lateness
Kent Johnson: Poem Upon a Typo Found in an Interview of Kenneth Koch, Conducted by David Shapiro
Kent Johnson: an Interview with David Shapiro, 2009 (with lots of photos)

my first bilingual dictionary

In working last week with translator and writer (and multimedia, book designer and theatre guy) Daniel Canty on his current translation in progress of Little Theatres as Petits Théâtres, I remembered the original inspiration for the wee bilingual Galician-English dictionary at the back of my theatres. It was my childhood Whitman Classics edition of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes. No wonder that I’d always been drawn to translation!

It was, perhaps, my 11th year, and as a Christmas or birthday gift, I received a copy of the book, a copy I had to share with my brothers. It was the rule of books. At the back of the novel was something I’d never seen before, and it intrigued me: a bilingual dictionary. Ape-English, three pages long. I tried to use it to write poems in Ape but the words were limited, rather violent, and there were no connectives. As well, I had to read all three pages of English words before finding one I could use, as the dictionary went in one direction only.

Years later, when I knew the time was coming when we would be called to help my father move out of his house, I spotted the book on a shelf there still, and asked him if I could have it. He said, no, it belongs to your brothers. And I said, no, it was given to me! He disagreed. I gave up. But I told my father that there was something beloved in that book, a three page Ape-English Dictionary. He said there was no such thing. I told him, oh yes, and I loved it so much that when I had to share the book with my brothers, I wanted to keep the dictionary for myself, and decided to hide and tear it out of the book. An evil act. As I started to tear the paper, I felt horrible, and stopped. There was a 5 c.m. jagged rip in the page; I patted it flat and shut the book, hoping no one would notice, no one would realize that the tear had been deliberate.

My father looked at me strangely. He took the book off his shelf and looked at the back, for he remembered no such dictionary. He arrived at the page you see above, looked at me again, and held the book out to me. It’s been a precious possession since.

And not just for the dictionary. Something even more important happens in the story, I think: The young man Tarzan teaches himself to read a language he does not know, using children’s books he found left in the ruins of his own parents’ house in the jungle. By looking at images and letters over and over, he learns to read English. This reality stuck with me, and when years later I wanted to learn Galician, I did it at first on my own, buying workbooks forchildren and reading them over and working through them until I began to understand. And working through the same workbook over and over, understanding a bit more each time. I call it the Tarzan Method of language learning.

I’ve had other help learning Galician, of course. But I owe thanks to Tarzan that I can translate Chus Pato and Rosalía de Castro today.

In Jacket 36

Barbara Guest, Sermoneta, Italy, 1968
Barbara Guest, Sermoneta, Italy, 1968

[»»] Matthew Cooperman: Envy and Architecture: On Barbara Guest’s Realisms
[»»] Rachel Blau DuPlessis: ‘The other window is the lark’: on Barbara Guest
[»»] Ken Edwards: Pageant of creativity
[»»] Catherine Kasper: Barbara Guest’s Career: Defensive Rapture
[»»] Erica Kaufman: On “The Location of Things”

[»»] Will Montgomery: Sound Leads to Structure: Dissonant lyricism in Barbara Guest’s «Miniatures»
[»»] Elizabeth Robinson: Direction
[»»] Marjorie Welish: Spaced Intertext
[»»] Caroline Williamson: Working methods: painting, poetry and the difficulty of Barbara Guest
[»»] Lisa Donovan: Barbara Guest: Text as Ruin, Architected Negation, and the Gothic Structure
Also see the Barbara Guest Feature in [»»] Jacket 10
This feature in Jacket 36 supplements Chicago Review’s Northern Summer 2008
[»»] feature on Barbara Guest.

Hannah Weiner in Phill Niblock's film

Ernesto Livon-Grosman's poetry video of Roberto Cignoni, Jorge Santiago Perednik, Reina Maria Rodriguez (pictured), and Raul Zurita (as well as my collaboration with Perednick)
new at PennSound

Phil Niblock films of Hannah Weiner (1975), Armand Schwerner (1973), and Erica Hunt (1985) (the Weiner and Schwerner remastered for full screen and the Hunt avaible for the first time anywhere)
new at PennSound

[What follows is a glimpse of Talamantez-Brolaski’s creation of an effusive new poetry that brings together voices & forms over a wide range of experimental & traditional poetries. It is at the same time a hardcore experiment in the laying down of a transgender poetics that puts a number of identities into question & brings still others into a new prominence. All of this is done with an extraordinary & strikingly precise sense of what both identity & expression have been in the past & what they may be in the present. If Wittgenstein correctly spoke of “philosophy, as we use the word, [as] a fight against the fascination which forms of expression exert on us,” the same, as I’ve often argued, might also & usefully be said of poetry. In what Talamantez-Brolaski has started to create & re-create (and in these poems we only touch the surface), I see a mind searching the limits of possibilities, both demotic & elite, current & markedly antiquated, free forms & sonnets, at the practitioner’s disposal. The discussion of “phonosemantics,” below, of which I’m only showing a portion, is a zukofskyan assemblage in itself of multiple & diverse parts & in that sense a true beginning. (J.R.)]  

Fuck Me Harder

Fuck me harder, leave the haters behind
As you know I am a slut for leisure
Arrest me on the mountaintop’s incline,
For I’ve klepted when I ought to please your
Neglected epic skin, and pull your hair.
When the people call my pigtails prairie
Step in, honey, and set the aspect square
Put me in a suit and call me Mary,
Transcoping this goy’s grist or that one’s scope.
Holy monogram, how you like to tease,
Tender cufflink, I’m hurting for the grope
That sets my alpha at its churlish ease.
So strap me to the bed and knife my garter
Until I’m screaming baby fuck me harder.

The Art of Love as Converse

 Why so insistent upon the polyglot, my friendly friendly? Why be charmed by /w/s? It’s just a party bowed under the radar. Will I place the pearls before me? No but you’re givin me an idea.

 We were caught amidst the seven Roman hills, flicking the burning ember to a parched throat. Do I detect a note of jealousy for our dandified companion? That is both hilarious and endearing. As you know I am a sucker for the juice, and my hearts are polyglot, my hearts…

 But why do I court the spoken-for ships? Ever since you said you never wrote love poems I have secretly made your empire my business to conquer. Don’t tell me I paid the stage on its polar nights! I begged to get you on the stage, I roused bears from their wintry sleeps!

 But soon I realized the true art of love is not in kissing but in conversation. Well, it is in kissing. It is in conversation. But the mouth is such a cavalier renegade what insists on sucking hellspont, and so the desire for love remains unfulfilled. The third of this partite is Love, which solidifies the first two functions—(dative and vocative) the giving-to and the calling out.

 Your letter, Antonius, a touch, and two kisses on the balcony. But we’re not in Monrovia! Your ends, so heavily stopped, berate this touch as an exile sloughing off its Tristia. Ovid on the Black Sea, far from Rome. The error, probably Corinna, betakes itself to the sea where minerals suck at the sun lapping at our ears.

 Where I espied you, marigold, all gold like Hermes on the loam, ascending the Olympian mount, wings at your feet and at your wings. Thanks for having a hand at my form—beauty suffuses. What moribund bouquets are we become! Here’s glot for you: algolagnia.1 For the wind puffs our smoke so high there's never any private...even Webster has lost its license for the lexicon...
 1Either masochism or sadism; algos (Greek 'pain')+ lagneia (Greek 'lust').
Invocation to Spicer: Similia similibus curantor
           My purse, my person, my extremest means / Lie all unlock’d to your occasions.
                              -William Shakespeare (Antonio to Bassanio,
                                         Merchant of Venice I.i.141-142)

Whatever it was, Spicer thought
he could do it. I can’t say ship
without wanting it to wreck.
My map skills
fled for an argonaut
whilst sad songs
basically bleed cash.

No-one in America is a poet
for a living, and Rome
is a city in Georgia
as well as our terrible legacy.

Like Paul Célan saying
I would regale you with snow,
magic become desire
on the open throes
in the mouth of spring
by a literal lake the dog
drops the tennis
ball gingerly in
constructs for it
a moat.

To what do we dare/owe
this desire?
An obviate oracle
a leaflet with its hooks.

The north and the south pole
are the points from which
all directions on earth are figured.
Jack and his dying. Between
the tropic of cancer
and the arctic circle
you were headed
for a beauty contest in Berkeley.

Your mind’s tossing on the ocean
sometime tomorrow with your ships.
Jack, can’t you see how sad songs
help when you're sad?

FromPhonosemantics and the Real

 Shakespeare was almost certainly homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual. The sonnets provide no evidence on the matter. - Stephen Booth, ed. Shakespeare's Sonnets.

 If you look closely enough at word, you'll find it contains its opposite. George, porridge, Norwich, porch and goy ridge all rhyme with orange. Why this antithesis between decoration and use? Is a tiger less efficient because of its stripes? Plato's cloak was so magnificent that Diogenes leapt on it ...

 Lucus a non lucendo – an absurd conclusion, explanation or non sequitur. Literally 'grove from not giving light,' i.e. a dark grove (lucus) is so called because it does not shine (lucere)—an illustration of the etymological procedure (see Quintilian) of deriving a noun from another having a contrary sense (Webster).

 That art is thievery is a commonplace--lyre is homophonous w/ liar. This only coincidentally says something about poets (fidicula, little lyre, is an instrument of torture).

 The very labor.

 Stein was mainly moved to write by sounds, but not divorced from their landscape / visual field: 'Cows and the clunking of their bells inspired her. The American writer, Bravig Imbs, said he saw her sitting on a camp stool in a field and instructing Alice to bat a cow with a stick to one side of the field. Gertrude then wrote in her exercise book. Then she folded up her camp stool, moved to a different part of the field, and signalled to Alice to bat the cow in a different direction' (Souhami).

 That mountain range reminds me of a postcard.

 Georg von der Gabelentz’s Lautsymbolik claims that as sound and meaning meet our 'feeling etymologizes' (r to the dog and s to the snake [Saintsbury]).

 Erasmus says to lie and tell the truth cleverly are the skills of the same artist (De Utraque Verborum ac Rerum Copia / On Copia of Words and Ideas). See Isidore of Seville on the 'vervex' or wether, the ram:

          The wether (vervex) is either named from "force" (vis, gen. viris), because it is stronger
than the                 other sheep, or because it is male (vir), that is, masculine; or because it has a
worm (vermis) in           its head--irritated by the itching of these worms they butt against each
other and strike with         great force when they fight.' ('De Animalibus' XII.x in Etymologiae).

Etymology can be said to be articulatory, thus bodily: 'The Paget theory would explain this…by saying that while "huge" moves the tongue back from the teeth so as to make as large a space as it can, "wee" moves the tongue near the teeth so as to leave as small a space as it can…all sounds may be reduced to gestures in this way, more or less fancifully.' (Empson 14, emphasis mine).

 [NOTE.The three poems above are from Advice for Lovers, published in 2012 by City Lights, San Francisco, while the excerpt from “Phonosemantics” is part of a forthcoming publication in the anthology Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, from EOAGH and Nightboat Books, scheduled for March 2013.]