Commentaries - September 2013

this just in from James Sherry ––
Since 1978 our iconic series, started by Ted Greenwald and Charles Bernstein, has presented innovative writers from around the world. Do come to the Zinc Bar Saturdays from 4:30-6:30 starting October 5, 2013. We look forward to hosting the best new writers and to seeing you there.

curators - genji amino and daisy atterbury oct-nov - judah rubin and shiv kotecha dec-jan

[See early Ear Inn fliers, the fist site of Segue series, and listen to the recordings from the series at PennSound]


page two

In dialogue with Rodrigo Garcia Lopes

 from J.R., The Leonardo Project
from J.R., The Leonardo Project

circa 1999, revised 2012

[This is the final prose piece in Eye of Witness: A Jerome Rothenberg Reader, which brings together aspects of my work in a range of forms & genres (poetry, prose, performance, plays, poetics, visual, verbal, & vocal).  Co-edited with Heriberto Yépez & published in early September by Joe Phillips & Black Widow Press. (J.R.)]

RGL: The connection between language & reality has been a major focus of your poetry & poetics. It seems that we've crossed a long way from Blake's "doors of imagination" to Bill Gates's "Windows 98". I'd like to start our interview with this provocation as well as pointing out the medium by which this interview is being taken: the e-mail. How do you think that this Media Age - of TV, internets, consumerism, & rapid technological advances -- is affecting the language of poetry written today (& specifically in the U.S.)? How do you think poets are responding to this so-called "Globalization"?  Retaking the anxiety posed by Marjorie Perloff  in Radical Artifice, "Given the particular options (& nonoptions) of writing at the turn of the twenty-first century, what significant role can poetic language play"?

JR: The question has a special relevance for me, I suppose, since I’ve long been engaged in a project that involves an interplay of very new & very old forms of languaging & representation.  I think that one of the principal allures of poetry -- even or (maybe) especially for many of our most “experimental” poets -- has been the sense of engaging in a process -- a way of thinking & of saying -- that has until very recently been universal both in space & time.  The time factor is a measure of its oldness, & the emergence of a “new” poetry over the last hundred or two hundred years has almost always been accompanied by declarations of “re”covery / “re”discovery at the heart of every new invention.  This is clear enough in U.S. poetry, where someone like Ezra Pound, whom we take as radical — structurally radical — from The Cantos on, insists on pushing the time frame back & expanding it horizontally or culturally to a range of earlier initiating moments: first Anglo-Saxon rhythms merged with Homeric shaman journeys down among the shades in Canto One; then in his other & his later writings with the Chinese Book of Songs, the African “Gassire’s Lute” as given by Frobenius, erotic poems of ancient Egypt, re-castings of neglected Provençal & Roman poets.  This was what put him in conflict with Marinetti & the Futurists – a “tale of the tribe,” as he named it, but curiously – in that fascist mind – a greater tribe than privileged race & nation might have led us to expect.

The same spirit of newness & transformation with relation to the past & present (what I used to speak of as "an ongoing attempt to reinterpret the poetic past from the point of view of the present") infused the work of many of us in post-World War II America – Olson, Duncan, Snyder, Kelly, Waldman, Schwerner, among the major ones from my perspective.  And there were others too, outside of the U.S. as such – Tzara with his projected gathering of African & South Pacific poems; the Surrealists who set up a bureau (under Artaud!) of research aimed in that direction; & the French Negritude poets & their counterparts in the Spanish “new world.”  ...

The Russian Futurists are possibly exemplary here.  Unlike the Italians with whom they shared that name, they dug enthusiastically into their own prehistories – the past a necessary part of all that future.  Malevich was a kind of folk artist before he made himself a Suprematist, & their rough & very lovely hand-made books had sources in an old, popular, very low-tech form of book making.  And Khlebnikov & Kruchonykh are a mix throughout of science fiction laced with zaum as futuristic glossolalia.  (Khlebnikov makes the connection back to religious chants with undecipherable word-sounds.)

I would, I think, want to suggest a pendulum moving for many of us between those same poles.  In my own experience I remember a time – the 1960s, a part of the 1950s – when an anti-technological impulse was very strong.  It wasn’t a Luddite, machine-wrecking thing for most of those I knew who shared some part of it.  There was in fact an ongoing interest in machines, a use of machinery for traveling, writing, publishing & making images, or even (in the old wilderness of mountains & rivers or the new urban wilderness of cities) cutting logs & building houses; & by the 1970s there was an acknowledgement (within the art world certainly) of a new territory that brought art & technology together.  What we’ve come into today – what you’re asking about directly – is an extraordinary immersion in the world of high technology – even for most of us for whom the past is also opening & deepening.

More specifically the question comes up about “this Media Age,” beginning with the fact that we’re conducting this interview by e-mail.  I find this no more surprising or threatening in itself than were the telephone, say, or the typewriter earlier in the century.  Quite the contrary.  The first thing that strikes me about our situation is that we’re communicating between California & Brazil – that we’re doing it rapidly & with the luxury of setting it in writing – as we could as well by voice, although the costs of doing that in detail would be more prohibitive.  With some more effort too we could deliver what we’re doing through the internet, could publish it, so to speak, without relying for approval on an intervening publisher who might be hostile or at least indifferent to our project.  In this one week – in January 1999 – I’ve been in touch with France & Germany & Mexico & Greece & Yugoslavia & England – most of it by e-mail, some of it by fax & phone.  And you & I might also – through a network or community of which we’re a part – meet together before too long in any of a number of places to which poets like ourselves can be transported across borders that are meant to keep us separate.

What this does is to further a globalism – the kind of globalism (not “globalization”) that I’ve always wanted & that I would not shy away from.  It also insulates us – in our cyber-giddiness – from problematics that some of the other instances you cite still hold for us.  The problem with most technologies – including poetry at the low-tech end – is that they’re double-edged.  Like other means (or media) they can be used in good or bad ways – even evil ways, or what we used to think of à la Hannah Arendt as the ultimate “banality of evil.”   If the magic of the old sorcerers & shamans could be used – as “black” or “white” for good or evil purposes – it’s true in much the same way for all that we class as “media.”  In this way the internet tempts us as poets with the sudden ability to publish & disseminate over a wider network than older means afforded us as individuals.  But it acts as a similar conduit for an ever expanding commercialism but – still more distressing – for the ugliest forms of racial & gender hatred (among other matters), with consequences still to be determined.  Or maybe it’s a balance – what we want on one side & an ongoing banalization of word & thought on the other.  Also I recognize – as we all do – the further encroachment of a monoculture, which I suppose is felt outside the U.S. in the growing hegemony of English & in the Americanization of the popular media, with whatever consequences those may have.  For us up here it may make the globalism question seem much less threatening, may make the opening of new lines of communication seem an out & out gain with scant sense of the losses.

Going back, however, to my own awakenings post-World War II, I recall being driven by a sense of un-ease – a feel about a language that had been corrupted by propaganda & mindless sloganeering – & more insidiously, because more omnipresent in the time that followed, by the vacuities of (well-made) advertising & the developing role of news[reality]-as-entertainment.  That made some of us look toward poetry as the “other” language – a language for calling language into question – the  banality of language as underpinning for the banality of evil.  The new technologies give us a bigger opening – or seem to – to let that otherness emerge.  It is still a language & a process I prefer – a way of “othering” that brings a range of poetries together in my mind.  But the greater push, I must admit, is overwhelmingly in the opposite direction.


RGL: It is frequent to hear claims about the impossibility of an avant-garde today, as well as complaints about the scarcity & poorness of contemporary poetical production. I feel that "Millennium" brings a more positive stance, emphasizing the possibilities, the "revolutions of the word" still to come, not their closure. Thinking specifically of the international experimental traditions you gather in "Millennium", do you see that poe(lit)ical movements are possible or desirable today? If they exist, where would they be occurring?

JR: It’s my belief that those “revolutions” are inherent to poetry as we’ve made it & will continue to be so into the foreseeable future – as long, at least, as ideas of freedom & transformation (change) remain a part of our outlook over all.  I don’t say that with any certainty, however, because revolutions are an area in which authority – the wisdom or the will to get it done – is, unlike some other things, a matter for the very young.  So while I feel, as ever, ready for those kinds of revolution, it’s not for me to say.

Revolution – if that’s still the going word – is something more than a change of style or fashion.  So when you’re playing with the words & come up with a portmanteau like poe(lit)ical, you’re hitting on the dual characteristics (poetical & political) of what was once the avant-garde & certainly the avant-garde of art & poetry that formed itself as movements.  For those in the early days of experimental modernism – Futurists & Surrealists & Dadas – the ambition was to transform society & consciousness together, & it was only when the social transformation was separated from the poetic one (under the pressures of communism on the left & fascism on the right) that the avant-garde project put itself in question.  In the post-World War II time, the poets of the avant-garde – whatever avant-garde there was – were no longer so quick to place their art, as the Surrealists once had it, “at the service of the revolution.”  The general tone, as in words from the Cobra poet Christian Dotremont that we cite in Poems for the Millennium, was “against all isms, against all that implied a system.”  This meant – for many – a politics against a politics, but with a leftward tilt & keeping, over all, a freedom of occasion – where & when to act.  And the occasions included a widespread opposition to war & to resurgent forms of nationalism & racism, but also a reawakened sense of the poet as a spokesperson for peoples & species under siege.

The result by the 1960s was the appearance of a new “dialectics of liberation,” political & personal & marked by a sense of resistance, of breaking free (in word & act, mind & body), while retaining a more-than-formalist conception of the poem as vehicle-for-transformation.  As Allen Ginsberg wrote, drawing from an older source: “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.”  And the Japanese “postwar poets” (in a “demand” voiced by Ooka Makoto): “Bring back totality through poetry.”

That anyway was where I found poetry – in the days in particular of the postwar & the cold war.  Even in a movement, say, like that of the American “language poets” – the emphasis falling on that key word “language” – the underlying issues remained political & existential.  Indeed, as Charles Bernstein put it, “In order to fully develop the meaning of a formal rupture or extension, we need a synoptic, multilevel, interactive response that accounts, in hopefully unconventional, antiauthoritative ways, for sexual, class, local-historical, biographical, & structural dimensions of a poem.”  Or, in Ron Silliman’s words, which still ring true to me: “[A] critique of reference and normative syntax ... situated within the larger question of what, in the last part of the twentieth century, it means to be human.”

Other movements, like those grouped around ethnic & gender identity, were & remain more overtly agenda-driven & sometimes, from my perspective at least, lose the sense of how a “revolution of the word” relates to those other revolutions.  But even here, as I’ve stated above, there are language questions at issue – black voices / white voices, female voices / male voices, dialects & dialectics, written word & shouted word.  Such language issues – the whole slew of them & more – are still the heart of our poetics, though what the future holds is never amenable to easy guessing or glib prophecy.  Certainly, as I see it, the work is far from done, & the challenge of a poetry & a counterpoetics is as much needed as ever.  That in the end it may be a largely losing proposition is also possible, but I can only act as if it isn’t. 

POSTSCRIPT.  On the matter of revolutions of the word & how they might exist today, that brings me back to your first question – the future of poetry in the computer age.  …  I would urge – but with some limitations placed upon that urging – that the globalism of the internet opens up the possibility of a worldwide avant-garde. The limitations, given the dominance of English & other hegemonic languages, involve the threat to cultural & regional particulars.  Against this, perhaps, the internet, the web, offers a new arena for visual, performative, & interactive modes, moving (sometimes at least) in multiple cultural directions.  The number of such web sites & displays is in fact enormous, so that watching the experimental work already triggered – the technical ease in its construction –  there’s a sense, isn’t there, of a futurism that has come into its future.

All of this -- & more – is what I’ve more recently come to call an omnipoetics.

Editorial note: We received the following response to Jerome Rothenberg’s May 2013 commentary on Heriberto Yépez’s book The Empire of Neomemory (translated from Spanish by Jen Hofer, Christian Nager, and Brian Whitener, and published by ChainLinks in 2013).

Il Gruppo: Olson the Imperialist & The Empire of Neomemory

The following statement is a response to Heriberto Yépez’s El Imperio de la neomemoria, excerpts from which recently appeared in Jacket2 under Jerome Rothenberg’s commentary page. In 2007, the book appeared in Spanish. It was recently translated as The Empire of Neomemory. In recent months, the book has received notice while its assumptions remain unquestioned. Its editors wrote:

This work is a dismantling of [Charles] Olson, and of empire, and yet it is also clearly an inside job, a book that could only be written by someone who had spent hours thinking with and through — and beyond — Olson.

Here is an excerpt cited in Jacket2:

“There are laws,” begins Olson’s essay “Human Universe” written in Mexico. How does one create the illusion that there are general laws? The foundation of time reduced to space is, precisely, the supposition that there exist laws that function in the same way (homogeneously) across all (heterogeneous) times. If different times are united by the same laws, then, these times are not separated and thus form a single space. … This belief is the basis of totalitarian thought, in all its forms. …

Here is what one member of Il Gruppo writes about Yépez’s distorted logic:

Linking Olson's assertions about general laws to totalitarianism seems a stretch. Physicians also believe in what we could dub “general laws” without becoming totalitarian. My physician talks with me about healthy lifestyles, but she doesn't break into my house and throw away all the pastries, nor does she train my kids to spy on me.

Yépez’s suggestion of Olson’s totalitarian thinking connects to his “theory” of Olson and his poetics as stamps of the imperial empire. If Yépez’s thinking on Olson is examined, however, it is clear that at no point does he let the salient facts and relationships of Olson’s life get in the way of his theory about Olson as the master poet of empire. Yes, unfortunately the editors are right, he has gone beyond Olson, way beyond Olson, so much so that Olson has turned into a ghost. In addition, nowhere in his book does Yépez specifically refer to a political policy or position of his own or Olson’s. Does his “theory” not seem self-evidently backwards when two elder poets, Amiri Baraka and Jack Hirschman, known not only for their clear anti-imperialist politics but for being eyewitnesses to Olson’s life and poetry, come forward and find it necessary to critique Yépez’s suggestion that Olson and his poetry and prose reflect the impulses of a totalitarian and imperialist servant of empire? If Yépez’s book were a film, it would be as if George Lucas had storyboarded a fantastical empire of lost memory from which Charles Olson has gone missing. One could conclude that Yépez needs a little history, since his history can only be called fantasy or revisionist. A group of poets have gathered, Il Gruppo, and are concerned.

Il Gruppo has noted this “dismantling” of Olson as a trend, a pattern: for the last several decades, following every emergence of new interest in Olson, there is an inevitable backlash — usually under the guise of Olson as patriarchal misogynist on the one hand, or grand failure on the other. But now, inexplicably, fantastically, he has been morphed into the imperialist emissary of empire. Why has this happened?

Members of Il Gruppo (Amiri Baraka, Jack Hirschman, Ammiel Alcalay, Carlos b. Carlos Suarès, Benjamin Hollander, and others) intend to respond in a place and form where such a debate — usually sublimated into one or another mode of theoretical double-speak, political correctness, or “fair and balanced” flattening of positions — might actually be forced out into the open. We will point to commentaries diametrically opposed to Yépez’s claims about Olson. For example, we would point to Diane di Prima’s lecture on Olson in which she recalls asking Olson

“When did America go bad? Was it after Jefferson? Was it late as Andrew Jackson and the stuff with a national bank?” Charles answered me instantly. Conspiratorially. Leaning close to my ear, he half-whispered in that gruff voice he used when he particularly wanted to underscore what he was saying: Rotten from the very beginning. Constitution written by a bunch of gangsters to exploit a continent.

Or we would point to comments by Olson’s Japanese translator, Yorio Hirano, who writes that Olson’s

Maximus Poems is a book of quest. Maximus, who wishes to find innocence in the beginning of America, finds the fact that the beginning has already been contaminated by the filth of commercialism and nascent capitalism brought there by Pilgrim Fathers.

As with any response to a revisionist historian’s subject, it is not so much the subject — in this case, Olson — which needs to be defended: his poetry and the facts of his life will do just fine in speaking for themselves. This is why it is difficult for Il Gruppo to buy into defending Olson as if we were presenting just another perspective in order to have a fair and balanced counter to Yépez’s so-called history. This move would mock the facts of Olson’s life. Are astronomers in the name of “fairness and balance” asked to present “the other side” to those who believe the moon is made of green cheese?

Rather, Il Gruppo intends to directly address Yépez’s claims, most importantly why they are being made, why and by whom they are seriously being entertained, their purported basis, and how they fall into a pattern of attacks on Olson. The space and form where such issues will be forced into the open is still under discussion.

— Benjamin Hollander, on behalf of Il Gruppo

Some sh/email instigations by Julie Patton

In these emails there are the multiple proper names, who are not explained. There are names always doubled for their lexical word meaning and for address. Can you hear me?

Readings of ideology between lineation, phoneme. Writing about Belladonna*s Advancing Feminist Activism and Poetics (ADFEMPO) Conference at CUNY in 2009 then splintering off. In the image of the email (above), something is started. Cartoons of politicians: distilling the most searing image amidst tag along crackles of associations. Trickster like.

Defining (negations) usa military culture bumping hips with Nation of Islam in sharing ideology.

Freely expansive reach for imagery: high low, spirit and politics. There is Charleston Heston’s Moses to describe an eternal event narrated by Shamans in the Yucatan.

Julie is recording angel, recording other recording angels.

>Thanks for listening" (as King Arcey would say) and "thanks cyberspace">> for mimicing that which travels at the speed of light because I'm about to>> step away from this headache inducing wall of glare

The frame of the email for the writing reminds me of Hito Steyerl. I just got The Wretched of the Screen e-flux journal book of her essays at the International Center of Photography Triennial. I am thinking about the full throttle anti-nostalgia and work with the degradation that we need to feel the groundlessness and infinite reproducibility of the image as trade for the printed photograph. The email as poem is in a similar exchange.

I agree with you that Steyerl is a perfect match for Patton.

Role of the poet is to sing it in many ways, ever over.

I will ask her if we can use this quote.

>Laid an egg in my head about side broads, egg girlfriends and howl. >An anti In Ass A moanyfisto? …> Can tell em anything. That the verizon is both vertical and horizontal, has omniscient omnipresent and oppressive powers ever broadening.> That plain ol bards lack the passion and shooting spirit of passiflora> so shd stay home and beat their beaks against the oven and rent >their clothes. Their children will become egg whites. 

I wish this was the new national anthem. Or call to arms.

Real time measure of time and the times.

Cross-reference, the analyses of ideology and character, not unintentional to place a historical hero next to a villain/demon.

Assertion that, the catalog (Whitman, Waldman, Baraka) that keeping it all in the present and visible, is possible, against the distractions of consumption. Continuing that work of witness, of record. An Ars poetica – Julie Patton's Poetics of Time.

>> Our Sun, who art in heaven, is at its lowest point, on the longest night
>> drive home, the most profound descent into the dark of no globe ball
>> warming, we too, offer to take the time to turn inward, reflect on the
>> nature of existence for all on the farce of the earth, pay our UNION dues,
>> meditate in SOLidarity and stillness with the SOL mysteriously rising and
>> falling in the same SETTING! the same SUNSPOT for a few days.

Instructions, practice, practical means don’t lose sight of body, of ability to do these things, in reference to the south American shamans.

I am thinking about how I want Julie patton to write opeds for the NYTimes. 

Here she is talking about her invitation to AWP panel talk proposed by HR Hegnauer on the poet/professor Akilah Oliver, whose passing surprised and devastated us in February 2011:

>Hello! I sure hope you & the teddy bears are hibernating well. >Rest yr sould. Abt Akilah...I found out that one must register & pay!!! I don't live in a >cash economy, travel w/my good gardens (true) and the rest is beans. >But I have an idea which I shared with Tonya who had Akilahs wings wrapped >tight around her...the memory of her loss insuring the care of another. >And so it goes. Lessons learned the yard way of dropping seeds. Anyway, re >past, I imagined we could set a table, serve tea and its cohorts (cookies, a cake baked by Foster asthetics) >and carry on a public conversation dialogue >q&a rhythmics about A. The conversation wd just flow but of course we could have points of discussion> written down her books for readings relative >to & end w/ed. bowes film? Whose on panel? Is it true each must pay $80.00?> Is it true you are sweet' precious and kind? and the devil is a gingrich >newt and we are blacks entitled to subtract a negative from a hole in the ground?> What would Akilah say about this? Having nothing the poor are >entitled to suck even less nothing from zero in a country wealthy off free labor> and land wanting more but not even makes me want to become >religious and rent my clothes as home embodiless mess >sigh a black jewish asian native in dios aboriginal venus de willin to come kick they infernal >blabbermouth gunrighteous ass.

Sent via MOTOBLUR™ on Verizon Wireless

I wish I knew Akilah. 

The snapshot is the means of communication through a small phone, no computer. Shooting out into the world of friends, assertion, exists, non alienation, despite odds.

It goes on and on, bounces off the keyboard.

Wait!!! Before we end, I want to point to Julie Patton's wide reach--the way, ironic that she writes on a motoBLUR--her poetics, politics, love, activism, collage, homemaking, community building, gardening, ecotrembling, friendship can never but all be fully intersecting like water hyacinth. Here is Julie writing a massive project, The Salon des Refusés (art gallery/residence and community network in Cleveland's East Side) for About Place Journal, which is edited by The Black Earth Institute Fellows (shout out to LaTasha Diggs, Marcella Durand and Patricia Spears Jones.)

Some sh/email instigations by Julie Patton

This writing on Julie Patton's writing is done from a set of collected but non chronological and selected randomly emails sent or forwarded by Julie Patton to Rachel Levitsky. The emails are various and organized in no particular order here. A more sustained editorial effort by the poet and fiction writer Barbara Henning will support a book length project of Patton's emails, to be published by Belladonna* Collaborative.

Date:   August 29, 2013 12:27:51 AM EDT>Rhapsody blue chagrin. on the line music and time. the pattern is justice as measure and >balance, glitz and hallways Send Her Ella and loose lip comedians. Bruce & Pryer must say. >Sammy D would be. Nevertheless reaching for a tango right outside the doors vaudevile and >more. blues in between. Notes, kissing cousins but not one holocaust after another spurred >pilgrimace book bleeding cover to cover mEnding something ancient and lost. Perhaps a split, >Sephardi on the boats to... and more than rumors of slave trader rhythms on the C. lump bus. >Schiz culture dash. jamericas despot queen isabella across the aisle of Liberte' Mist. Torch >songer borscht belting out— a racist's racket, scrunched neck lacing the sea (brought news to >blacks, unwelcome news). They were on their way... To, meet comrades on the other end, link >lyrics, lit, land, lords, Lord, neighbor shoulds, cultural proximity and familarity. When I was a >child, and blacks tended t follow shoes on the way outside the hood fresh en counter Hughes in >relation to  Bess's Porgy and all the rest. I can sometimes get inside yr/our brain. As women, >pushy ones at that. Pussy. And on the move.

What flashes up

a full portrait sustained

in the deeply specific

telling me to watch

what is knowing (someone will read something.)

The email is encasing the tenderness of the struggle. It’s part of the form, for convenience to connect, for connecting to not just one person—I'm an outsider to the email chain, tacked on for purpose of further unfolding these as a text, but not as a thing, also it’s own non-critical jump cut. So how do I comment (such a meager term) on an email about being beside your mother as she may be dying (too crude a word). All that can be is silent empathy?

Material makes action possible. Mother's mural physically makes her as person real, makes the doctors care, fight, holds the space of living and dying. The writer, Julie, too, is held by the fact of her mother's painting.

Remembering also makes material. How to slow down, pause a word as strategy.

I fixate on how the email to one person is an email to multiple versions--dead and old email addresses, when someone wants to find you they send to all your versions.

Word mutations are similarly little dictionaries for the context, personally.  

Date: October 6, 2009 6:19:05 AM EDT>At least I hope Solanum geni us bookended by U queen of cups>justice wants to say how eye'll always member that conference womb at>CUNY—cunt'n forget impressions of the leafier bodies swell enough to>turn inside out sex revulva reading wall panels a gain in my socket>or jes glad to seize ya boldly sit'n us down (big babes that we are)>and wowing us with brains brawns beauty and booty—don't>know how you pulled it off——was like being at the (old) Oscars, all those>smiles, zip and celebrittle read carpet for what was herd but never>scene (so many donnas on the rag, beachy clean) cun't quantify o very>rare egg supplanted minds abreast each other (men inclouded too>considering they start out flowering like us, then chain their minds)

Breasts and flowering for all, he/she, black/white, other dichotomies torqued, tweaked to be inclusive while in space of language, which also provides edge/edges, challenges, figuration by negation. Julie is not afraid of language. Meaning not afraid of its fissures, failures. Utopian. 

Stay Tuned. More Julie Patton to come!