Commentaries - May 2013

Weak Links: Introduction to Hannah Weiner's WEEKS

First edition  of Weeks published by Xexoxial Editions in 1990, with photos by Barbara Rosenthal, and my introducton.

Full text from Xexoxial

Weiner reading Weeks @ PENNsound:
(1/3) - (2/3) - (3/3)

Section 4:
She’s grateful to her new boyfriend for a new lease on life
Many other cities broke the record high for the day It’s a
woman’s political issue It is absolutely the woman’s right
to decide whether she will or whether she will not have an
abortion 13 years after abortion was legalized Friday and
Saturday prying into the private lives of public people
Questions about any relationship between the two The US
Mediterranean fleet The US insists Sidra is international
waters Italy today issued an international arrest warrant
The opposition challenging his election Just how long is a
day on Uranus Higher pulse rates, necessary for building
fitness, seem easier because more muscles share the exercise
Wildly independent and beloved of the younger set The white
minority government There’s a lot for other cats to live up to
Including nine thin rings which are barely visible It
discovered active volcanoes on undiscovered moons The Ball
Court seen from the Jaguar’s Temple, Chichen Itza If mankind
is guided by such radiation, ianstead of being destroyed by
that of atomic fission, all will enjoy eternal peace in the world
A man like that would be unhappy in heaven I am innocent of
these changes The church fully understands Jewish concern
walking westward in the city I just try to refine the boy’s
talents a bit I have reason to believe that someone is
trying to poison her to death Interest rates go down
Admission to Museum field station in Arizona There will be
Several city employees indicted Travel opportunities led by
Museum Scientists to all parts of the world They voted over the
weekend to accept a new contract I think there’ll be some snow
Below 0 in 21 states Challenger explodes The tragedy defies
any easy explanation There were no signs of abnormalities on
the screen The twin solid boosters had not shown any trouble
at all The huge ball of fire shortly after 11:30 this morning
A minute and ten seconds into the flight—a fireball Never a
disaster like this in the history of the space program


 

My introduction (collected in My Way: Speeches and Poems)

Every day.  Day by day.  The hours hang and the headlines punctuate a passage through time that we move through, head bowed at the collision of flesh and indoctrination.  Yet there might be (might there be?) some doctrine to get us out of this viscous circle of self-enclosing artifacts that we call news, as if the world was already lost before we could speak a word to it.

            In Hannah Weiner's Weeks, the daily bite of world-event narrative achieves the grandeur, perhaps the quiet desperation, of background music (ambient ideology).  Weeks is an unnerving foray in a world of prefabricated events: a world we seem to have fallen into, as if from the cradle.

            Weeks was written in a small notebook, one page per day for fifty weeks.  Each page of the book is the equivalent of a single week, with each day taking its toll in about five lines.  The material, says Weiner, is all found – "taken at the beginning from written matter and TV news and later almost entirely from TV news."

            Here parataxis (the serial juxtapositions of sentences) takes on an ominous tone in its refusal to draw connections.  Weeks, in its extremity, represents the institutionalization of collage into a form of evenly hovering emptiness that actively resists analysis or puncturing.  In Weeks, the virus of news is shown up as a pattern of reiteration and displacement, tale without teller.  Yet, while Weiner follows a strict poetic method of refusing the "lyrical interference of ego", the result is that these deanimated metonymies take on a teller, as if to call it "Hannah".  This is the voritcal twisting, or transformation, at the heart of Weeks' prosodic inquisition.

Weeks is poetic homeopathy: a weak dose of the virus to immunize our systems – let's say consciousnesses – against it. 

            What do we make of our everyday lives: make of them, make out of them?  What do we make of, that is, these materials that we can no where (not anymore) avoid, avert our ears as we do, or, as in poetic practice, hide behind the suburban lawns of laundered lyricism?

            Weiner's Weeks is a shocking cul de sac to a tradition of the found in American poetry – a tradition that includes, by any brief accounting, Charles Reznikoff's Testimony, Sterling Brown's ethnographic encounters with the black oral tradition, William Burroughs's cut-ups, Jack Spicer's "received" poems, Jackson Mac Low's processing of source material, and Ronald Johnson's erasure of Milton in RADI OS; not to leave out Weiner's own Clairvoyant Journals, where what is found is the words seen (projected? transferred?) onto the objects and bodies surrounding her. 

            Cul de sac not in the sense of "no more to be found", any more than no more to be lost.  Only that in the world of Weeks there's no way out and ascent upward is effectively blocked, since Weeks presents a world in which "I went by [can only go by] the information I received": i.e. not very far.  What's left is to descend into this world of "our" very own making, to attend (to) its forms so better to reckon with it.  "The standoff began as a botched robbery."

Dan Waber's 'Another Tool for Discovering your Favorite Letter'

When is a text not a text?

Dan Waber’s Another Tool for Discovering your Favorite Letter
Screen Capture: Another Tool for Discovering your Favorite Letter (the letter K)

Dan Waber’s Another Tool for Discovering your Favorite Letter (ATDFL) is an online interactive poem, a mandala-like, kaleidoscopic hallucinogenic roundabout tilt-a-whirl hurricane pinwheel rabbit's hole sawblade exploration of the letters of the alphabet and the keyboard.

You type a key and on the screen that glyph begins rotating. The up and down arrow keys allow you to control the opacity — how much of a visual trail the letters leave. The left and right arrow keys control the speed of rotation. And the space bar allows you to do that roller rink thing where suddenly, everyone — G, }, h, and * — skates in the opposite direction. There’s also an option for choosing the font. I think I might have a fontcrush on Times Roman h.

screen capture: Dan Waber's Tool for Determining your Favourite Letter

When is a text not a text? When it’s a writing desk.

In an email, Dan writes that he’s hesitant to call ATDFL a poem. He thinks maybe ‘fun-with-typography.’ But, though that is true—its funneling type graphs are certainly a type of typographic fun — I think he’s being too modest. To me, this poem enacts writing, a specific performance of letters. Not a moment of oral performance, but a scribal moment. Each experience of ATDFL — because it is user controlled — is a unique per perf perform performative moment. And it’s not the Platonic ideal of a perfect moment, but the wheel thing.

Screen shot from Dan Waber's Another Tool for Discovering your Favourite Letter

Dan notes that “when I showed it to my wife [the writer Jennifer Hill] the first thing she noticed was how many of the letters would form into shapes that were very analogous to how she experiences the letterform. “k” is very jaggedy, “s” is slippery, and the piece as a whole begins with “j” because she loved how the first letter of her name looked (because it looks in this instance not dissimilar to how she experiences it).

And I agree with Jenny. There is a kind of reading/language-centered attention that the work evokes. As she observes, it brings out something inherent in the letters that we suspected—or didn’t suspect--was there. Something that corresponds with our understanding or our appreciation of them. Something to do with their sound, shape, symbolic or associational heft. Isn’t this ‘reading’? Because it’s language-related, specific to these particular glyphs — language mark(er)s? Because it's an exploration of the sign and the signifier, of the operation of language? And because it’s an exploration of how we interact with the forms of language? Which font do we prefer? What is our favorite presentation of S? How much should linger after X? Are we serif satisfied or are we sans teeth sans eyes? These spinning typeshapes evoke a wide range of sensory (visual, tactile, auditory) and even verbal associations. There’s certainly much aesthetic pleasure in the images and in interacting with them. A pleasure in the tech. A glyphouissance. Text evoking images? Hmm. That sounds like that thing I’ve heard that poems sometimes do. So, ATDFL, I’m looking at you (as): text, poem.

Screen shot from Dan Waber's Another Tool for Discovering your Favourite Letter

But let’s leave Dan Waber with the last words: “I'm reminded of a reading where one poet read a poem about falling into a mineshaft, and after the reading another poet came up to him and said, “Wow, that poem of yours about the writing process was AMAZING.” And the first poet said, “Huh? What poem?”

*

All of the images are screen captures of various iterations of Dan Waber’s Another Tool for Discovering your Favorite Letter. The living, squirling thing can be found here  along with other of Dan’s processing pieces. I’d particularly recommend his beautiful The Book of I — a potential book with an ‘i’ for every person on earth.  Dan Waber is a poet, publisher, and multimedia artist. More about him and his varied work can be found at his website

Robert Grenier, "Language Objects: Letters in Space, 1970 - 2013" at Southfirst Gallery, Brooklyn

Robert Grenier, #2 from Four Poems / February 2004 (MOON/IT'S/THE/RE).
Giclée print on Photo Rag Paper, 23 3/8" x 17 1/2" ed. 1/10

May 18 – June 30, 2013
Reception for (& presentation by) the artist, Sunday, 19 May 4 - 6 PM

SOUTHFIRST is proud to present "Language Objects: Letters in Space, 1970 - 2013," a retrospective exhibition tracking (via notebooks, holographic & published texts, archival materials and works on paper) the evolution from early typewriter-generated forms to more recent four-color drawing poems in the work of American poet Robert Grenier between 1970 - 2013. The show will be on view from May 18 – June 30, 2013

On Sunday, May 19, 4 - 6 PM, Robert Grenier will introduce the 'idea' for the show, and speak to/read from & provisionally 'interpret' certain of the materials set forth in the room. 

Over the past 40 years, poet/artist Robert Grenier (b. 1941) has constantly pushed poetry into new frontiers of practice and utterance. His handwritten poems, produced in the last two decades, cross the upper limit of inscription to be both writing and drawing. His works include Series (This Press, 1978), SENTENCES (Whale Cloth Press, 1978), Oakland (Tuumba Press, 1980), A Day at the Beach (Roof Books, 1984), Phantom Anthems (O Books, 1986), and OWL/ON/BOU/GH (Post-Apollo Press, 1997), as well as more recent online color drawing poem sequences like POND 1 and PENN SCANS. A graduate of Harvard College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Grenier has received two NEA fellowships for poetry writing and a 2013 grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. An archive of his work is housed in the Stanford Libraries' Department of Special Collections. He lives in northern Vermont. 

SOUTHFIRST, founded in 2000, is located at 60 N6th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn between Wythe and Kent Avenues.
Gallery hours are Fri., Sat. and Sun. from 1 - 6 PM and by appointment. Subway: L train to Bedford Avenue. For more information, please contact Maika Pollack at 718 599 4884 or info@southfirst.org

SOUTHFIRST
60 N6th Street 
Brooklyn, NY 11211 
718 599 4884 

Duras & the cinematic novel

The poet's novel

The first thing you might notice about The Malady of Death is the visual components to this book. It is slim, only sixty pages of text, like many volumes of poems. On each page the font size is larger than most large-print editions of books. I measure the opening capitol “Y” beginning “You” at one-half  of a centimeter. The page that appears the fullest contains one-hundred and sixteen words. A page appearing one of the sparest contains sixty words.  Section breaks appear as multiple paragraph breaks, a multitude of white space, and an occasional asterisk.

The two characters  in this text are referred to only as “you” and “she.” This is a story told in particulars by nobody named. Or I should say, this is a non-story, a story about the inability to happen.  The characters are present only in relation to desire or a lack of desire. This poet’s novel is a fable of sexual deadness, numbness, told in a very compressed episodic manner. A man approaches a woman, asks if he can pay her to spend many nights with him. She is to be passive, silent. He is hoping to discover if he has the ability to love. “She,” though she speaks little and is mostly asleep, is able to diagnose his “malady of death.”  Though sexuality is often a subject in works by Duras, the real focal point is usually the question: what happens to a human being that renders them incapable of intimacy? Often the answer is war, but the focus is never war, but its psychological remains.

What is Duras’ influence on contemporary poets? On the novel? This is one vein to consideration of the form — the realm of a novelist and her particular influence. Poet and novelist Jeanne Hueving writes, “Marguerite Duras has greatly influenced my poetics because of her sense of being ravished and because of the synthesized mixture in her writing of perception and medium — of filmic seeing, framed documentation,and fictional apparatus. Her two “novels,”  The Ravishing of Lol Stein and The Lover comprise an inquiry into female love and sex like no other.”[1]

 Duras was one of the first modernist writers I read who wrote openly about women’s sexuality in a manner in which the unsaid was as essential as the said. Cinematically, one can see her texts. At the end of The Malady of Death instructions are given for a theater or film version of the work.  These notes are as interesting as the text itself, in that they change how one reads the book and  illuminate how Duras conceives of her text.  She suggests that the piece could be staged, with the “young woman of paid nights” [2] lying on white sheets on a bed.  She later adds notes regarding the text being filmed: 

 “If I ever filmed this text I’d want the weeping by the sea to be shot in such a way that the white turmoil of the waves is seen almost simultaneously with the man’s face.  There should  be a correlation between the white of the sheets and the white of the sea. The sheets should be a prior image of the sea.” [3]

This metaphoric process is movement akin to a poem.  Duras tells the reader in her notes on staging that the man in the story should never appear.  Instead, another man reads (does not perform from memory) the text.  In this way Duras suggests that the central male character does not actually exist in her text.  After reading this note one’s sense of the work is entirely changed. The main character, speaking most of the text, is an instance of absence.  Duras has written absence into the center of the text in a way in which only becomes apparent once one has finished reading.  The reader is required to rethink the experience of the text.  Instead of moving forward, from beginning to end, as in most fiction, this text sends us back to the beginning. 

Duras also connects the white space on the pages of the text to time and silence.  She writes “There should be great stretches of silence between the different paid nights, silences in which nothing happens except the passage of time.” [4].

 

Notes:

 1. Jeanne Hueving, conversation via email, Feb 2013.

2. Marguerite Duras, The Malady of Death, trans. Barbara Bray (New York, Grove Press, 1986),  56.

3. Ibid., 60.

4. Ibid., 58

It's poetry but it ain't

Objects in visual poetry can be read closer than they appear

Visual poetry has always fascinated me because it’s poetry but it ain’t.

It often contains its own borderblur. Image < --> language

Imaguage. Langmage.

What the oral is to the written, visual poetry is too.

What kind of reading is needed to read visual poetry? Is it different than reading other poetry? Than looking at visual art? Than reading ‘text’ in visual art?

How much of the l of the la of the lan of the lang of the langu of the langua of the languag of the language needs to be there for it to be language?

Or is it not about what’s there, but about a kind of looking. The kind of looking that is reading? A kind of awareness of textuality? Or the possibility of textuality?

The stones suddenly break out in song. Or text.

When is / what is text?

Mum, Dad, I’ve come to terms with my own textuality.

Or I come to terms for textuality.

Dear we’re happy as long you’re legible.

And while we’re at it, what is legible (and legibility) in the visual poem?

What is/can be written there? What’s the vocabulary, t th the t-t-t-tale f-f-from the (s)crypt(ic)(sic)?

How does visual poetry call on the resources of other arts: visual or textual, digital, gestural, aural, oral, et al? What the relation between the visual poem and the musical score?

Is there (or can we create) a repertoire of tools for engaging with visual poetry?

If your eyeyes R hammmers than everytything lookks likke a nnail.

Iff youou ccan rread, thin everyththing seeems lyke langauge.

An’ evverythin seemss rreadibble.

Visuall poettry meanns yu hafve hammmers for eyeyeyes.

                                             *

In the weeks ahead, I’m delighted to say to write & to draw your attention to a range of marvelous visual poems and vispo digital marvels and their makers as well as thinkers-about. In most commentaries, we’ll aim to examine a visual poem closely, looking to respond with the aplomb of a frog leaping through the surface of its visponding and reading the ripples.

( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( rLeOaOdK ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) )

In other words, to q-uote bpNichol’s marvelous visual poetry translation of Basho’s frog poem: