Commentaries - June 2013

Wuhan, begins June 7

Chinese / American Association for Poetry and Poetics

June 2013
Central China Normal Univeristy
2nd CAAP Conference
pdf of program

Susan Stewart, Yunte Huang, Youngmin Kim, Hank Lazer, Li Zhimin, Luo Yimin, Aldon Lynn Nielsen, Akitoshi Nagahata. Young Suck Rhee,  Steven Tracy, Jerry Ward, Zhang Yuejun.
Organized by Nie Zhenzhao with Luo Lianggong and Su Hu

CAAP home page


Marty Ehrlich - sax, clarinet, and flute
James Zollar - trumpet
Marc Ribot - guitar
Michael Formanek - bass
Nasheet Waits - drums
Erica Hunt - poet and reader
Charles Bernstein - poet and reader

BIRD: A World's Eye View
Lost Jazz Shrines Concert Series
Tribeca Arts Center, New York
May 31st, 2013

1. Crumple That Suit                                                           Marty Ehrlich
2    Poetry Makes Rhythm in Philosophy             Ishmael Reed
3.   Rites Rhythms                                                               Marty Ehrlich
4.   Chasing The Bird                                                          Robert Creeley
5.   Ode To Charlie Parker                                                   Jaki Byard
6.   Walking Parker Home                                                  Bob Kaufman
7.   Chi Chi                                                                               Charlie Parker
8.   Frog Leg Logic                                                                  Marty Ehrlich
9.   Energy Music                                                                    Erica Hunt
10. Castor Oil                                                                           Charles Bernstein
11. Line on Love                                                                        Marty Ehrlich
12. Bird                                                                                       Joy Harjo
13. Orinthology                                                                          Charlie Parker



1.  Bright Remembered                                                                 Marty Ehrlich
2.  Jazz Drummer                                                                          Etheridge Knight
3.  Drum Solo                                                                                  Nasheet Waits
4.  Beat Thing                                                                                 David Meltzer
5.  The Lion's Tanz                                                                         Marty Ehrlich
6.  Hemphill Tonight                                                                     Jayne Cortez
7.  Parker's Mood                                                                           Charlie Parker
8.  Bloomdido                                                                                 Charlie Parker
9.  For Bud                                                                                       Michael Harper
10.  On the Corner                                                                          Philip Levine
10. News on the Rail                                                                      Marty Ehrlich
11. Errata                                                                                         Arthur Brown
12. Inauguration Suite                                                                   Marty Ehrlich

Charlie Parker Place. That's my corner, just down from Bird's house, now a historic landmark in the East Village. At times I imagine hearing him practice as I go by, infusing each rhythmic step and melodic turn with his characteristic sense of exaltation. "Bluing a new cartography of flight" is how poet Arthur Brown put it. Tonight's concert will celebrate that Bird's music points us forward, combining music with the images and syntax that he and his compatriots inspired in poets, then and now. 

As If We Might Join Our Hearts to Sound

Erica Hunt and Marty Ehrlich  collaorated at the Cue Art Foundation in Chelsea, November 16, 2007.
Part of my video portraits series.

Launch reading for Umlaut Machine: Selected visual works at the Kelly Writers House, November 18, 2009

Two Equal Texts
"Two Equal Textsˮ by Micah Lexier and Christian Bök

My very first assignment when I joined the PennSound team was to segment a recent reading by Christian Bök at the Kelly Writers House. It seems only fitting to start my Notes from PennSound commentary by returning to audio file that I cut my teeth on as I learned the ins and outs of PennSound's infrastructure, and to an author that has been unavoidable in discussions concerning performance, sound, experimentation, technology, word play, computational composition, 'pataphysics, unintentionality, intentionality, and semi-intentionality.

Christian Bök probably needs no introduction, neither for the members of the poetry community, nor for the general population, because chances are that in one way or another, you've been exposed to his poetry before. Whether it's from a description of Eunoia's one-vowel-per-chapter composition, or an image of “Two Equal Texts” (pictured above), Bök is possibly the most ubiquitous contemporary poet. A testament to this is the fact that two weeks ago, the social news aggregate Reddit, which normally shies away from the arts, and especially poetry, “discovered” Lexier and Bök's “Two Equal Texts” for the second time this year. The poem amassed 1936 “karma” (the numerical popularity score for the site) in its last posting, and 2323 karma the time before that. Not only is this higher than the top scoring entry on r/Poetry, a subsection of the site exclusively devoted to poetry, which scored a measly 608 karma, but, when these two posts are taken together, “Two Equal Texts” is more popular than any other poetry-related post on the entire site (based on a popularity sort on the top results for poem, poet, and poetry). Considering Reddit's role in web-based cultural dissemination, Christian Bök may just be the most popular poet on the internet.

Part of the reason for this internet popularity may be Bök's engagement with the fundamental building blocks of communication. Words, sounds, and noises (and in the case of “The Xenotext Experiment,” even DNA strands--the building blocks of life itself) are broken down into their most basic components, then reordered, refashioned, and repurposed into new pieces and new wholes. His work is startlingly diverse, and each new poem feels fresh and alive. There is something primal about Bök's work, even when both the process and the product are complex. Perhaps this is why his work always feels so engaging. And his November 2009 reading at the Writer's House is no exception to this.

The event showcases the extraordinary variety of Bök's poetic engagements. Starting and ending with poems by Hugo Ball, Bök reads from Eunoia, presents a series of Rimbaud translations, gives an early cipher from “The Xenotext Experiment,” and performs sound poems from The Cyborg Opera. And yes, he reads “Two Equal Texts.”

But the recording that I come back to time and time again—the recording that I always use to introduce people to Christian Bök, and often the recording that I use to introduce people to PennSound as well—is the “Aria of the Three-Horned Enemy,“ a song from R. Murray Schafer's The Princess of the Stars. Part of the appeal of this track comes from the explication that Bök gives:

This opera is considered one of the most difficult operas to stage in the history of Canadian music...because the entire action has to take place on a remote northern Canadian lake at four o'clock in the morning, and all the actors are in fact inside gigantic war canoes on this lake, with the entire orchestra sequestered in the surrounding forest, and people have to actually fly in, hike, and camp out before the event in order to be able to see it. 

The ritualization of the performance space has a magnetic draw in the way it breaks down the theater walls. The imagined space of performance sounds so appealing—given the chance I'd immediately travel to the Canandian wilderness to camp and watch the production. It evokes the mystical in a way that many other performances could never achieve. However, the opera's access barrier is so high that the imagined space evoked by this description begins to rival the actual remote space in which the opera is set. In reality, sitting in a campground with 5000 other people, wrecking the environment and trying to stay awake until the 4 AM start time of the performance would be exhausting. But the imagined world remains pristine and undisturbed. Undisturbed, that is, until Bök's performance starts, and the screeches and wails that follow sound all too real and horrifying. Maniacal laughs and deep roars disrupt the imagined space but make it more real--closer and more possible.

Of course, there are so many more Christian Bök resources on PennSound, and all of them phenomenal. I strongly encourage anyone who hasn't explored the full gamut of Bök material on the site to do so immediately. 

“Proxy” — someone authorized to act on behalf of another; an authority or power to act for another; a document giving such authority. Those are the defining terms with which most of us first learned the word, though we now live in a universe of proxy servers.

A proxy is a sort of trope.  All metaphors, composed of vehicle and tenor, are proxy enactments. A persona is a proxy. Ralph Ellison told us that there was no more powerful metaphor for the human condition than race in America. For reasons we might well wonder about, reader response criticism, whether the phenomenological or the psychological versions, took little note of the pressures race might place on reading practices.

“Post-racial” American English is a repository for proxy formations assuming the place of race without ever displacing it.

Proxy is the title of a wonderful new book by r. erica doyle, published by Belladonna Press. I hope to write elsewhere about this work and about doyle’s surpassing art; what I want to address here, though, is the book’s framing, a sort of proxy war that erupts on the pages of the book.

Proxy opens with an epigraph from a 1997 book titled A Tour of the Calculus, by David Berlinski. Other quotations from Berlinski’s volume frame sections of Proxy, authorizing, as it were, the metaphorical explorations doyle offers. But it’s an earlier Berlinski book that frames my reading of doyle’s framing.

David Berlinski is a former colleague from early in my teaching career.  Not long after I arrived at San Jose State, I was told of a new professor who might share my interests in philosophy and literature.  So it was with that in mind that I picked up a then recent book of Berlinski's on display in the San Jose State campus book store.  Berlinski was not with us long at SJSU. Seems he had more pressing interests than actually meeting with students or returning their papers.  I gather he was not entirely happy with his time at the university.  Shortly after his departure he published a thinly veiled fiction in Heterodoxy, the squibulous, some times scurrilous paper launched by David Horowitz and company in their wars against America’s tenured radicals, a short, sort of story, titled, I seem to recall, “Old Hose.” It was a sorry piece, one whose author felt compelled to belittle people’s physical appearance as much as their ideology.  I made no effort to keep up with Berlinski’s subsequent career, but found him on my television set one day when the book channel broadcast a talk he was giving at the Discovery Institute, where he was now employed. Turns out he had taken to writing such works as The Deniable Darwin.

But it was the earlier Black Mischief: Language, Life, Logic, Luck that I have never forgotten.  The subtitle had attracted my attention.  I’d expected what Berlinski’s preface promised, “the moment in which various lines in an intellectual field of force collect themselves into a kind of dense knot.”  You, like me, may read those words and think “charged detail,” or “objective correlative.” Here is an example of the sort of knot Berlinski ties for his readers.  He is describing his visit to a restaurant: “Everyone ate rapidly, with the rather revolting heads-down posture that the Chinese adopt when alone, clicking their chopsticks as if they were castanets.”  (If you’d like, you can confirm the accuracy of my transcription with your own visit to page 8.)

But it was Berlinski’s reflections upon his life as a teacher that burned the memory of this book into my mind.  Take page 27:

“I had expected that my classes would be composed of sullen blacks, eager to offer me an act of racial revenge . . . but my students were New Jersey ethnics chiefly, and the blacks who came to my lectures treated me with sad, fuzzy softness.”

I suspect those black students sensed something, something sorrowful they’d seen before.  Try page 42. Berlinski is taking a tour of The University of Puget Sound, has just walked past Jones Hall and the Hub:

“‘Why do you want to leave New York?’ Magee asked as we were walking toward Jones Hall.”

“‘No Schvugies,’ I had said to a friend when asked precisely the same question. ‘You walk out in the street and there are no Schvugies walking around with one hundred pound radios glued to their ears.’”

“For obvious reasons - Magee looked like the sort of man who might actually wish to clap some smoldering Black on the shoulder and exclaim moistly that he would be proud to think of LeRoy here as a friend – I elected not to pursue the theme of racial rawness.”

But of course Berlinski did elect to pursue this racial rawness, right into the pages of this book and no doubt beyond. Did I mention that Berlisnki, like me, was teaching courses that San Jose State listed as satisfying the cultural pluralism requirements?  Mind you, these quotations are not from some pre-Civil Rights Act era.  This is the second edition of his book, dated 1988.

I doubt that doyle knows any of this; she doesn't strike me as the Deniable Darwin sort of poet. What interests me is the set of tensions that arise in a reader who has read those other Berlinski works and now reads them within and against doyle's prose poems.

“You hope to perform an autopsy. The dead and the nagging questions” (Proxy 9).

I think that reading doyle within the framing of Berlinski's calculus brings us back to the thought-dead nagging questions.  I think that reading Berlinski against the frame of doyle’s so much more thougtful lines becomes an autopsy by proxy.

“The entries are usually in black.” (Proxy 31)