Commentaries - October 2013

Waring Cuney, No Images as sung by Nina Simone

Waring Cuney (1906-1976)

No Images

She does not know
her beauty,
she thinks her brown body
has no glory.

If she could dance
naked
under palm trees
and see her image in the river,
she would know.


But there are no palm trees
on the street,
and dish water gives back
no images.

(1926)

Nina Simone first version from Let It All Out (1964/1966):

Cologne 1990 (fragment):

Sao Paulo, 2000, courtesy the fantastic Nina Simone YouTube channel:

Ecstacist of the pwoermd

Geof Huth, wreading and the single word poem

 ffjordffloess by Geof Huth
ffjordffloess by Geof Huth

There’s a kind of tickling that language does, that letters do, somewhere in the brain. That reading does. Looking and the mind have a special relationship. As with faces. 

In Geof Huth’s visual pwoermd, ffjordffloess, the letters and the ligatures that love them are Loki-like tricksters tickling. Trickatures. It’s a lavamelt, a slow glacial movement of f’s to merge together, to flow.

The f’s are doubled, duplicitous. 

We have to ffjord the river of our usual alphabetic reading. The f-floes together. They melt, they mar, they merge with each other and with what’s next: a j or an l. It’s a music of ascender and descender. Fjords are made from that: mountainsides and waterffilled valleys. Mountain peak reflected in water.

And then at the end, there’s what seems like a half f, sliced vertically, maybe cut from a whole f, f-ed off, an anti-ligature, sliced. One arm gone. Only half a foot. And the arm that’s there, stumpy wing that it is, is different than the other f’s.

But of course, this letter is ineffable. It’s a long s. It belongss with the final s. This poem is about doubles, one thing joining another. Doppelganger effs and esses. Decorations: ligatures and extra letters. Extra f’s and s’s.

And rhymes internal to a single word. Fjord and floe. The up of an f or d to the down of a j. The o of fjord to the o of floe. The ligature bridging f’s and a j rhymes with that backward reaching ligature of the e.

It’s about a word that is an English word except that it isn’t. It’s a word to read but also to look at.

I recently spoke with Geof Huth about his pwoermk.

GB: Geof (Maybe in this one particular instance, speaking of this pwoermd, I should write ‘Geoff”): Let’s start with basics. Can you explain what a pwoermd is and why it engages you? I think here about your notions of Qage and wrawing, about minimalism, and about your practice of fitting creativity into the crevices of workdays. Of looking and reading closely and your awareness of the tactility of language and how reading reifies.

GH: Actually, my name used to be “Geoff.” I changed it to simplify it, to remove the unnecessary f, to reduce it to four characters so it would match my surname in size, to replace the word off with the more meaningful word of, to square my name: 

Geof Huth

The ff—and this is important—is a rare, but sometimes still present, way of showing a capital letter. Centuries ago, other letters were also doubled at the start of a word to designate a capital, but now only the ff survives, and just barely, in our cultural memory, often appearing in nothing but the surname ffolkes—held onto, I've always assumed, because families enjoyed the otherness of that spelling, the doubling, the uncapitalized capital, the way the two fs hold each other up (especially in a ligature), the way the sight of this simple name seems somehow more important than those other names that are capitalized with nothing but a letter too tall for its companions.

And so that ff hints another way to look at this pwoermd, another layer of cultural fact, another requirement of the reader—for the pwoermd is made for the hyperliterate, for those so deep within the word that they have forgotten the sense of words except abstractly, for those sensitive to the meaning of a serif (and it is there), for those sensitive to not only the sound but also the sight of the word. For those who can smell the size and weight of a word with their eyes closed.

Geof Huth: Ecstacist

I am drawn to the pwoermd as a concept, as a way to make meaning, as a way of art, because I am drawn to both words and smallness. A theory I expound is that only the tiniest part of a work of art matters, only some fragment so small that one might miss it. A pwoermd, being nothing but a single word presented as a poem, is all smallness. Within the space of a few letters, something must occur, something must set a spark. And that’s all a pwoermd is: A spark to make the imagination move. My first collection of pwoermds was titled wreadings, because a pwoermd is something that a reader needs to finish writing. The possible connections to make within a single word can be great when the mind rests upon it lightly and with an opening mind.

I’m drawn to pwoermds also because each usually comes to me in an instant. They arrive as pure and finished inspirations, absolutely complete. So I don’t need to take credit for them. My mind or my wandering fingers create them almost without the intervention of my self.

GB: How do you see this pwoermd relating to the ‘meaning’ of the two words which form it? In what way is it mimetic, a visual onomatopoeia?

I have the sense of language working in several parallel ways in this pwoermd. There’s the meaning of the words. Fjord and floe. Images of the north or far south: mountain, glaciers, icesheets, floes and fjords. 

There’s the sound. The f’s, the o’s. The blending of the f’s into the ‘y’/j sound and into the l. And then there’s the writing system. It’s so rich in history. A particular font. A particular choice of allograph: the long s and the ligatures. The piece is a rejoinder to these journeymen joiners, the ligatures. They are a recurring interest of yours.

GH: Gary, you have seen and said much that there is to say about this pwoermd above, so I shouldn’t have much more to add, and I always wonder if I should answer this question anyway — I talk too much about my own poetry, rather than leaving it to be itself and allowing people to finish make it themselves.

Yet I’ll still add a few thoughts here .

You missed a word within this word, the intentional aporia, the word that contradicts much of the rest of the poem, the word the draws into question the poem’s fairly clear meaning: the word is loess. Not just ice, not just water, not just north, not just winter, but also a gathering silt upon the earth, yellowish instead of blue-white and blue-black, something that rests still but can move almost as water, something liquid in its solidity. Because every poem is a contradiction of itself, because every word can mean its opposite (just say it with sarchasm), because we must be forced to find connections within a poem, no matter its size.

Especially in this poem, which is about connections between opposites, about doubling, about the fact that mirroring doesn’t produce a perfect replica of the thing reflected but its perfect opposite.

GB: If you had to redesign our writing system, what would you do? What would you change? What would you keep? What else would you make it do? 

GH: I’ve actually thought about this for many years. Thirty years ago, my interest was in simplifying English spelling to such a degree that I was writing poems in a spelling system I called New American Spelling. This spelling system reduced whatever sets of unnecessary letters I could from the language, sometimes in fairly standard ways (thru, tho, even thot) — and these spellings still dot my writing — and sometimes in less common ways (destroyd, brokn, walkt). My idea was to coordinate spelling with sound as much as I could without adding confusion. Given that we Anglophones (just ahead of the Francophones) have the worst spelled language in the history of the world and historically the least spelling reform, I thought it productive to produce a spelling system that I could use in my lineated poetry and that would then take hold slowly so that English would become easier for children and non-native speakers to spell and pronounce.

At best this idea was quixotic — and at its worst, megalomaniacal. I abandoned the idea after a year or so, but some drafts of my poems from the early 1980s retain these spellings, relics of a bad idea. For instance, eventually that spelling reform would have had to’ve removed the letters, c, q, and x as being totally useless—yet there is some great beauty in those letters, especially the many allographic forms of the letter Q, the letter that type designers take the most liberties with and make the most of. And I don’t like destroying the possibilities for beauty.

Now, I still believe that English is a poorly spelled language, but it is this poor spelling that makes English visually rich, that makes it the best language to use to write pwoermds. Pwoermds can be written in many ways: We can take an existing word and call it a pwoermd, as I have recently done in the case of percuss. We can gene-splice words to create a pormanteau that makes a kind of new sense, as I did above with the self-contradicting and internally consistent sarchasm, or as with my visual pwoermd infinéant. We can invent words that appear to be made out of the thin air of meaningless speech, like my mergasinth. We can focus the pwoermd on the shape of letters and the expected confluence of their sounds, as in my nanopoem tf.  We can add to or subtract from a single word to make it something different, something that refers to various indistinct ideas, as in spolt. But much of the richness I see in pwoermds is where complicated play is made in the language, often by combining a number of these techniques in one pwoermd. 

And that is what English can do so well because it is so poorly spelled. The fact that we can spell so many sounds in so many different ways (for, fore, four; palate, pallet, palette), changing the meaning dramatically as we do, and that we can also use one sequence of letters to represent so many different sounds (in my investigations, I’ve determined that the -ough- sequence in English is pronounced in 17 different ways), means that English has a richer orthographic DNA from which to create new wordlings. To consider the value of a skewed orthography, let’s take the examples of French and Spanish. I know these languages well enough to write pwoermds, or even multi-word poems, in them, but my better pwoermds are in French, because that language gives me more to play with. 

And writing and pwoermding are play above all. And play is the most serious of human endeavors, the way we best learn and create.

To answer your long-forgotten question, the way that I would change our writing system, assuming we mean the Latin alphabet, is by recovering its richness, which is what I’m always working on. I write poems with the German Eszett or with the dotless Turkish i (which denotes a short i). One entire pwoermd of mine is simply a double-dotted (or a diæresised or umlauted or trema’d) I:

Geof Huth i

This seems to me a full functioning pwoermd though it remains one of my shortest poems — but not my shortest, which is nothing but a dot or a period or a tittle or a full stop floating in the middle of a blank page.

I try to take advantage of the stigmeological richness of the language by using abandoned forms of punctuation or ones not used in English. I sometimes use ancient printed and scribal forms of letters. I play with handwriting and the idea of visual puns within letterforms. I use the workings of other writing systems within my own. Take a look at the breadth of Unicode character-encoding to understand the possibilities that we can use, and this is only from a printed-character point of view.

We have richness enough. We just have to know enough to use it.

Or I might extend punctuation a bit. Punctuation is rich in meaning, but we could add more to increase the possibility of meaning within text. When we speak, we use pauses or intonations to make our meaning clear, yet punctuation and intalicization ony help us a little. There is much more our writing system could do with punctuation to display meaning.

Geof Huth idflip

GB: You said before that pwoermds are made for the hyperliterate, but what exactly do you mean by that? And do you think this means that you write pwoermds to be inaccessible to most people?

GH: I once wrote to a pwoermdist — which has become the word that refers to a maker of pwoermds — that he had created the humorous pwoermd, and in response he asked me, “Aren’t they always?” which made me pause to think. Many pwoermds are puns, and they may read at first as jokes and nothing else. (Certainly, plenty of portmanteaux that riddle advertisements and conversation are nothing more than jokes.) But I don’t see humor as the end of even a humorous pwoermd. There has to be something else there, something related to the humor, sure, but also something about how the language works, or fails to work properly.

So my pwoermds are often easy enough to grasp, so they are for anyone willing to consider a word a poem (say, like Ralph Waldo Emerson), or anyone prepared to be entertained by a word. But I write pwoermds upon my deep history with language in all its forms (visual, aural, semiotic), and I write with a knowledge of the history of English orthography and handwriting styles, with some knowledge of calligraphy, with the eye of a printer. This knowledge is necessary for me to write the pwoermds I write, and this means that sometimes a pwoermd of mine has levels many people don’t see: historical references, puns in other languages, self-contradictions that keep the beast afloat in the rough seas of everyday language.

I mean for everyone to read my pwoermds, so I post all of them somewhere on the Internet as they are born. Some people may see only one level of them, but others will see more, and I write specifically for those others, those who see more in the way that I do. But that’s what a poet does: writes as a poet expecting other poets to best understand, just as a musician knows that another musician will best understand the meaning of the music.

Geof Huth: PoeYeom

GB: I called your poem ffjordffloess a visual pwoermd, which assumes that some pwoermds are not visual. What do you see as the difference between the two?

GH: After years of thinking about this, I’ve decided that most pwoermds are visual because they usually need to be seen to be understood. They are plays with sound, sense, and sight, but it is the letters themselves as visual markers that make the meaning clear. Without them, a pwoermd may be literally invisible. (Say “sarchasm” to someone and ask them what it means.)

I still make a distinction between the unadorned pwoermd and the visual one, though. The unadorned pwoermd is a sequence of letters that does not lose its meaning if written in a different typeface or presented handwritten versus printed. A visual pwoermd is one designed to be seen and to give meaning in a specific visual form.

The pwoermd ffjordffloess, for instance, loses much of its meaning when presented as a simple sequence of letters (as it is in this sentence). This pwoermd is part of an unfinished sequence of visual pwoermds entitled wordlings that plays with ligatures, specifically those in the ligature-rich typeface Mrs Eaves cut by the great Zuzana Licko, one of the proprietors of the Emigre type foundry. These poems are lost without that typeface. That is what makes them work. That typeface is also the inspiration for the poems. As I worked on these poems, I was often pushed into an idea not by myself but by a particular ligature and the beautiful way it was fashioned. This rich typeface has numerous three-letter, double-letter, and capital-letter ligatures almost never seen in a typeface, and so Mrs Eaves is, to some degree, the visual language of these poems. 

Other visual pwoermds may inhabit a certain image or be fashioned typographically or calligraphically in ways that are essential to its meaning. And this hazy line between the visual and the textual (which are usually inseparable) is the line between the visual and the unadorned pwoermd, and between the visual and the lineated poem.

lipspeak by Geof Huth

GB: What can you say about reading and noticing language in its natural environment and acting ‘in the wild’ as opposed to like a trained seal?

GH: Usually language, even in the wild, is a domestic animal. Someone has written it, has made it, has put it up somewhere, and as we walk through the textscape of the modern world we see its forms floating before us—or allow them to become the invisible background of our lives. But I’m often sensitive to words that have gone wild, and I see wildness in two forms.

One of these forms is where someone writes and displays words but does so without a full sense of writing. It’s outsider signage: roughly spray-painted words, a piece of cardboard with misspellings scrawled upon it, a rough-hewn shopping list half-crumpled on the ground, even a child’s first attempt at writing. Given the right measure of purpose and failure, these can become interesting found poems, and I will snap a picture of them as examples of my poetry—I being the poet simply because I was the one who decided to call each a poem.

The other form of wildness is the most interesting to me, and I usually collect these as part of my sequence of “Found and Aleatoric Poems.” These are words made by a person’s hand but then transformed by the random acts of the earth or the people within it. Sometimes, such a poem is a weird sequence of words or a single word that has been shredded into a gestalt that was never before there. Or the ravages of living outside through a winter have eaten the work away. Or the text is what remains of a letter to my grandmother in the form of a tiny rectangle of text the size of the stamp she cut from an airmail letter/envelope.

But forms meld. Sometimes, a single letter I see is enough to be a poem. Sometimes, the text has worn away into a vague watery pattern. Sometimes, I take a photograph to distort the image of the text back into the sense of text as textile, back into the physical interlocking fibers that weave each sheet of paper together.

Everything is of a piece because all the pieces fit together.


Geof Huth lives in Schenecstacy, New York and creates visual poetry, textual and aural work as well as critical writing. His extensive main blog on visual poetics is dbqp. Huth’s latest books are Aution Caution (Redfoxpress, 2011), NTST (if p then q, 2010), and Texistence: 300 Pwoermds (with mIEKAL aND, Xerox Sutra Editions, 2008.) 

Raymond Federman: from The Carcasses, with a blurb by the author (redux)

[The excerpt below is from a collection of Federman’s writings, Carcasses, published by BlazeVOX Books shortly before his death in October 2009.  It was first posted on Poems and Poetics, blogger version, on February 28th of that year.]

Yesterday I bought a new tape recorder – and today I recorded a story on my new recorder – this is the story – I call it –

THE CARCASSES

I am sitting in my study -- that's how the story I recorded begins -- I am sitting in my study in California - in San Diego California -- close to the sun -- where I moved four years ago to be with myself and finish my work -- I am sitting in my study looking out the window at the splendid view before me -- incredible the valley the mountains the trees the sky -- beautiful -- I had a good day - I feel great -- good round of golf this morning -- shot an 81 -- yes 81 -- 38 on the front - I hit seven greens on regulation - had two birdies -- back nine a 43 -- two lousy double bogies -- dumb mistakes -- the mind wanders sometimes -- but a solid 81 -- then home to work on my body in nine parts with 3 supplements -- the English transaction -- worked on my scars today -- and I look up and there before me the view -- incredible - and I think -- when you die all this gets extinguished -- nothing more to see -- it's like plunging into a big black hole -- everything becomes dark -- but then it occurs to me that to say that -- to think that - implies the possibility of an after -- of some kind of existence after you die -- could I have been wrong all my life -- no -- I'm not going to fall into the meta-pata-physical stuff -- no magic trick -- not divine power or intervention -- I am human -- I am conscious of being human and alive -- but now you are dead -- so here you are among all the dead carcasses -- yes that's what this story is called -- the carcasses -- here they are -- the old ones that have been around for a long time -- the new ones that just arrived -- all pile up on top of one another waiting for their turn to be transmuted -- transmutation does not happen all at once -- does not happen instantly the moment you become a carcass -- carcasses are not reincarnated the moment they become carcasses -- theirs is a waiting period -- a kind of incubation -- so here you are waiting your turn -- no magic trick as I said -- just that you have to wait for the authorities to decide -- yes let's call them that -- authorities -- and they are the ones who decide when it's your turn to be transmuted -- they call you -- hey you over there come over here -- and they tell you we’re sending you back -- back wherever you came from -- doesn't have to be the planet earth -- carcasses come from all the places in the entire universe -- the place where the carcasses are piled up is a separate zone in the great void of the universe -- nobody knows where it is -- but it's like a huge department store -- a bit like wall-mark -- and there carcasses of all sizes all types all shapes all forms -- but most of them formless - wait for the authorities to call them to be transmuted -- one cannot argue with the authorities -- you have to accept their decision -- and so your turn came and you are told that you are going back as an insect -- yes -- as a fly -- imagine yourself now living the life of a fly -- ok it's a short life -- but still - what is your main purpose in life - your raison d'etre -- to buzz around -- to bug the shit out of the other species -- buzz around the eyes of cows who try to smack you with their tails -- or buzz around human -- shit on window panes or T.V. screens -- but one day you land on the arm or the top of the head of a human and - -bang -- he slaps you with his hand -- and crushes you -- splashes you -- and you're dead -- what kind of a life is that -- so here you are again among the carcasses -- oh you're already back they say to you -- I mean those who are still there -- and again you wait your turn -- well this time your turn comes quick -- no reasons given -- you come back as a flower -- a lovely red rose in the suburban backyard of some nouveau rich on the coast of California -- and you're proud because you know you're beautiful and you smell good -- and the ladies who come to visit or to play bridge look at you and say -- oh what a beautiful rose -- but then one day the lady of the house tells the maid to go get flowers in the garden to put on the dining room table -- so here comes the maid with her clippers or whatever she uses to cut you off -- then she sticks you a a vase with some water -- and soon the water starts smelling foul and it's unbearable -- and you begin to wither and the lady of the house says to the maid get rid of that dead flower -- and the maid throws you in the garbage can and empties the smelly water in the sink -- and here you are back among the carcasses -- what kind of life was that -- now you wait again -- this time a very long time -- maybe a couple of centuries -- even more -- time does not exist in the carcass zone --- but finally the authorities call you and tell you that you are needed among the lions of Africa -- there is a shortage of virile male lions on the planet earth -- and so they are sending you back to be a lion in Africa -- so here you are in Kenya
with three sexy lionesses and a bunch of cubs -- and it's a good life -- every fifteen minutes -- this has been carefully observed by lion observers -- one of the lionesses comes over and begs you for a little humping -- so you rise from your dreamy slumber in the sun -- hump the lioness and go back to the shadow of the trees where you were dreaming of another life -- it’s a good life --- plenty to eat -- the lionesses see to that -- lots of gazelle meat -- and it's fun to play with the little cubs -- but one day a bunch of humans of different colors comes along -- the black ones are half naked and dance around -- the white ones wear funny colonial hats and have rifles --- but they are not here to make a carcass out of you - they want to capture you -- and they do with a big net -- then they stick you in a box and ship you to what they call the civilized world -- lucky for you -- they don't put you in the Buffalo zoo where you would have to spend the rest of your temporary earthly life in a cage wallowing in your own shit -- and with no sexy lioness to hump because now -- because of the lack of exercise -- you're incapable of getting a hard-on – no luck for you -- they put you in the San Diego zoo -- and build for you what they call a natural environment -- of course it's fake -- this is California -- there is nothing natural about this environment they build for you -- it's pure Hollywood decor – you know that - you know it's fake -- but you pretend it's really to make the humans feel good and happy so they don't send you to the Buffalo zoo -- but you're bored in this phony Walt Disney environment -- most of the time you sleep -- or pretend to be asleep -- especially when they bring their children to look at you in fear -- they would like you to look and act ferocious -- so once in a while a human pokes you in the ass so you can roar -- what kind of a life is that -- okay they bring you these big chunks of meat -- beef -- but one day they give you a piece of meat that comes from a sick cow and you die -- you die of the mad cow disease -- and you're back among the carcasses -- well I won’t go into all the possible animals or humans or vegetables or whatever you could come back -- imagine yourself as radish -- what kind of a life that would be -- or an artichoke -- okay a tree -- a big majestic tree -- that would be okay for a while -- but then all the other trees around become jealous because you're taller -- or because your trunk is bigger than theirs -- or your leaves are more beautiful -- then one day some humans come with a big saw and cut you down to pieces and burn you – what kind of a stinking life is that --
and here you are back again among the carcasses -- and while waiting for your turn to come again you think -- I know dead carcasses are not supposed to be able to think -- but for the convenience of this story let's just say that they are capable of thoughts -- you think -- why can't I have a voice in the decision of what I will become next -- why can't I make up my own ... -- well I was going to say mind -- let's just say my own carcass -- and since you were once a writer in one of your transmutations -- you compose a very stylish message addressed to the authorities asking if maybe it isn't time for the carcasses to have a say in the process of their transmutation -- so this stirs up things in the carcass zone -- there are discussions -- debates -- polls -- and all sorts of things like that -- and finally the authorities agree -- so now the carcasses must come in front of them to discuss what they would like to become -- it's a very complex and lengthy process but eventually you decide what you want to become -- for instance me I often said that if I were to come back I would want to come back as a roman gladiator so that I could lead a revolt against the roman emperor -- or come back as a musketeer -- or as a French lover -- or as -- as -- as -- it's not easy to decide by oneself what one wants to come back as -- this is why I think the best thing to do here -- I mean here in this story -- is to let the readers decide themselves what they would like to come back as -- and if this is ever published -- let's say in the New Yorker -- then I would insist that the last page of the story be a blank page where the readers can write what they want to be in their next life -- of course someday -- the way science is making progress -- carcasses might be able to come back as objects -- imagine coming back as a stove or an electric razor -- or better yet -- as a golf club -- that would be an interesting life -- here you are a brand new Taylor Made titanium 360 driver with a graphite shaft -- not a bad life -- well
at least until the golfer decides that you're driving him crazy with the way you slice the ball and decides to buy a carcass reincarnated as a King Cobra 560 driver with an anti-slice shaft -- and throws you in the garbage -- imagine what a life that would be -- by the time I finished recording this story it was dark outside my window and the splendid view had vanished into the night –  

[N.B. An extraordinary & prolific writer -- & even a notably experimental one – his decision taken twenty years ago, he tells us, was to “never again accept a blurb for one of my books from anyone – and I went even further – I decided to write my own blurbs.”  The following profile, then, is taken from his blog, “the laugh that laughs at the laugh”  (http://raymondfederman.blogspot.com/ ):

 IN THE SANDBOX He constantly tortures himself to know who he is, he wants to know, wants to understand himself, but perhaps it is this ignorance of his self that is his strength, his destiny, never to understand himself and to remain always misunderstood ... He offers himself totally, his head, hands, mind, soul, zipper, all open, not to expose himself, but as an initiatory gesture ... This is his way of saying, I am here, everything I have is here take it ... Such ego as he may be said to have is the referred ego of those outside of him who give it back to him as they see him ... He is not generous in any received social, sentimental sense, it is simply his nature not an acquired virtue, a personal gesture, like the way he watches over others ... He is a child in a sandbox asking others to come and play, but no one comes to play with him ... More often than not, they mirror him, but the mirroring does not reflect, it obscures who he is ...” ] 

Ten newly found recordings of poems performed by Ashbery

Thanks to Anna Zalokostas, we at PennSound have just now located recordings of ten of John Ashbery’s poems. They had been preserved in a Segue Series audio tape, dating from a 1978 reading Ashbery did with Michael Lally at the Ear Inn. We had left the Ashbery portion of this reading not quite identified, and have now corrected that oversight. On Ashbery’s PennSound page now, and on the Segue series page, you will now see — and can hear — these segments:

  1. A Box and its Contents (1:42): MP3
  2. The Heralding Shadows of a New Adventure (2:01): MP3
  3. Haunted Landscape (3:28): MP3
  4. Five Pedantic Pieces (1:02): MP3
  5. The Cathedral Is (0:17): MP3
  6. Silhouette (2:36): MP3
  7. A Tone Poem (0:59): MP3
  8. Metamorphosis (2:26): MP3
  9. Sleeping in the Corners of Our Lives (1:21): MP3
  10. from Litany (19:59): MP3

John Bloomberg-Rissman: From In The House of the Hangman, with a commentary on the process

At that moment, an explosion occurs. At that moment the sumo wrestler dives; he enters the water and makes no splash. The prisoner’s strike is on. Often I wonder whether my teeth are rotting. On Tuesday I had my hair cut. In the bathroom I kill a cockroach as it tries to run past me. My breasts hurt I am pregnant perhaps. This prepares the manifold, earlier, immaterial representations, the mounting system centralized, happily groomed as yoga for planets. The earlier bonobos touched it and squirrels did their math to empower the mergers and exchange.That’s part of what I believe. Remember how I was stressing out about my essay on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus for ages and then about my essay on the role of sympathy in Kantian and Humean forms of Metaethical Constructivism? I got firsts for both of them :} Just call me fun bags. I know what amateur porn is. The best dinosaur was a flower. The dawn of something, following a night of else. You know Mies Van Der Rohe’s monument to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht (built of bricks because “many of these people were shot in front of bricks ...”) (destroyed 1933 by the Nazis)? My friend Aindriu plans to rebuild it. In my waking dream a vessel similar in appearance and age to the one in X-Files: Fight the Future filled with enough empty containers (like the ones in the movie) to hold several hundred thousand people — with similar intentions for them as in the movie — was approaching Earth’s outer atmosphere. In a few seconds, another massive vessel became visible and fired some kind of weapon that destroyed this ship instantly. A flash of light illuminated the northern hemisphere over Russia for a brief moment. The vessel that fired on this ship (don’t ask me how I know this) was a military vessel from an extraterrestrial civilization that considers our species as an emerging life form that is very rare and endangered. Perhaps I’m guilty of an overactive imagination and so be it, but “It’s so weird out. What do you think is happening with the air?” A good example is “Laundry Lists and Manifestoes” which takes us from Noah through the Odyssey to Robinson Crusoe to opera, to Tristan Tzara and Malevich and Khlebnikov to the present day and ends with: The screensaver image of a broken SE10 / Madame C’s nine cognates gather around boxes dropped / By Ever Afterlife Balloonists working on the script / of cargo cults. They argue (the cognates) that a manifest / Attached to shipment listing all collaterals and cogs, / Codes and codices for Mme’s Nothing Else Cockaigne Machine / In fact are elegiac poems, that David sings for Jonathan, / Gilgamesh for Enkidu. They inscribe themselves as / Manifestoes which proclaim their faith in algorithms of an / Unknown field of force. They're cognizant and they can glow. / They're coeternal, and they rise to an occasion. / Although they tell no stories of their lives, their little trumpets blow. Some grubby pants & death in the chest (Right on man!) I’ll see you there by the wall / just past the loading zone / : Mezcalito casting posies : Earth & its opposite : deer silent as the noises at their weddings You shouldn’t go / but you should go We transformed caressing the ayayay of every wound ... Gray is the Theory ... Red the fuzz of Cannabis / The Wireless /  / The fight? — How much for the singing rabbit? — Happy Un-Birthday / The piranhas of the day before yesterday are iguanas of the Waves : waves : waves of — Would that be 1 Sirian haiku? 1 water poet in the sierras? dickfaces & fucktrarians? “What was friendship in the plague days?” I cut his hair while he slept to prevent vines from stretching around his throat. Things happened then they changed into squirrels. They got squirrelly with lab coats filled with dollar bills. Let my phone vibrate out: the notorious files have ceased to elongate posterity. I came all this way for a single glass of water. Only people like you who will not talk with their wives when they get home about what they do all day are able to … [garbled] … protecting us from the ‘terrorist threat’, but let’s let everyone here hear more information about karaoke. Anyone that wants to can go. What if one day they find Shakespeare’s codpiece? In other words, ‘Life is good,’ says the T-shirt with a smiling cartoon stick figure that is waving crudely. The fly lives for a day. An elderly man falls. A bus with hissing brakes. ‘Are you okay?’ I ask. The most stupidest question on Earth. Pulling his veined hand to help him up. Sticky fingers. An apple cider bottle on the ground. “Avoiding everyone's pupils” is oddly more precise than avoiding their eyes. Listening to the sound of decomposition, however, is curiously affecting. As the lettuce’s cell structure and water content changes, so, too, does its voltage, and thus its sonic output, from the bright, tinny, and surprisingly speedy pulse of a crisp, green leaf to the mournful, fog-horn honks of a five-day-old composting candidate. I guess this is where I quote John Olson saying, “You can change a circumference but you can’t change pi.” “Canty soon faced an alternating cycle of unpaid work and job-search placements, his benefits constantly threatened by petty infractions — alleged ‘failures to comply’ (FTC) beyond his control and often lacking a basis in fact. ‘I stopped believing there’d be a job. I said to myself that they gonna keep FTC’ing. Everybody was getting FTC’d.’” “So I used a sharper, more ‘confrontationally clean,’ I guess, font, and made the coloring inside the letters this beautiful little photo of raw meat.” It was only a two-hour drive across Central Florida from Disney World to Weeki Wachee Springs, but the distance traveled was much further, from sleek theme parks, hotels with room service and package vacation deals to a rundown motel with broken Wi-Fi situated across the highway from a thrift store and a Hooters. To get there, I took State Road 50 through mile after mile of swamp and farmland, which was dotted with pawn shops looking to buy guns and gold, and billboards with photographs of babies and reminders that “my heart beat 18 days from conception.” Strip malls were broken up by new town-home complexes, old trailer parks and churches. When I reached the intersection of 50 and Route 19, a faded blue-and-white sign welcomed me to Weeki Wachee Springs, which is both a very small “city” (population: 4) and a 538-acre state park. It is also “the world’s only city of live mermaids.” Yesterday, 30,000 California prisoners refused to eat. The people on the lawn are nice They are adaptable The people on the lawn are pretty cool when you don’t get on their bad side You are so funny and adaptable Can I adopt you It’s like you’re singing all the time in the woods The forest is long It is long gone like a stick. Once, I let a doctor stick a tube down my throat, I was so broke, and take pictures of my esophagus and stomach for $200, the same year I wore an Easter Bunny suit in Quincy Market, my furry rabbit arms around tourists (I’m probably in more of their photo albums than my own family’s.) Is this an example of Rachel’s Hyperaesthesia-wha-wha (web.2-in-1??? It is not that we cannot talk Tiqqun talk. Look: The Man-Child has two moods: indecision, and entitlement to this indecisiveness. The Man-Child tells a racist joke. It is not funny. It is the fact that the Man-Child said something racist that is. The Man-Child thinks the meaning of his statement inheres in his intentions, not in the effects of his language. He knows that speech-act theory is passé. Why are you crying? The Man-Child is just trying to be reasonable. This is his calm voice. UPDATED: A Phillips 66 pipeline with a record of prior accidents spilled an estimated 25,000 gallons of gasoline in a remote area outside a small town on Montana’s Crow Indian Reservation, but no public health problems were anticipated, federal officials said. This is not like when training a dog you must look it in the eye or other aphorisms of good sense. What’s the word for an undiscovered word? Julia Lesage came to the U of Chicago in 1985 and said that: Citations are world-building, acts not only of admission but of promotion of ways of thought, and so not only feminist but fundamentally what induces others to read what’s inconvenient, not already canonical, and on behalf of capacious *solidarity*. It completely changed my life and practice to hear that. Since I have begun to quote, it is difficult for me to stop doing it (it has already been the next day for a long time, and it is almost seven o’clock in the evening already, and thus questionable whether I can at least finish these notes today); specifically, I want to note down a few more sentences about the meaning of openness to the idea of transcendence – to which, I believe, the idea of utopia would also belong. I wanna know what it’s like to be Scarlett Johannson or what it would be like if I became (I mean actually became) Linux OS gazing tenderly through animal eyes at you from a billboard when you walk by deep in thought over a Mark Rothko painting from 1959. Free Mumia Cheesesteaks. In 4th grade I endured a field trip to Prachovské skály and the Rwanda genocide. After transferring to a language school the Yugoslav Wars took place. People don’t know what they’re thinking about for half a minute. Polarity. Grillwork. A blue flame. Audible. Quick, thin digital, hot, seizing right to acute. I’ll be expecting you. Repeating the tune to a song on the window. The power is out. Exclamation point, question mark, three dots. In this situation, it seems natural to ask: How does the space-time known to all of us emerge from the primary states of quantum gravity? And since normal space-time would be born as a result of the interaction between matter and quantum gravity, can we be certain that each type of matter definitely interacts with a space-time that has the same properties? I mean, he says problems in Israel will be solved by extraterrestrials, and I admit he can overplay the artist thing, but I like his paint-dripped pants and raggedy parka. He has no need to make extraterrestrials concrete. “It’s moment to moment with them, it’s local.” Illicit carcinogens — contrail scars on the Blu-ray — only more better ye butter the saline skyline, yo. I know the Lockheed Martin logo bastardizes stars. But soft, But Lo: a light from a bushel. It is the east and Juliet is the sun. Are there desires running through an impulse, deeper than its source? In 79 AD, Pompeii was buried. Though the fleeing bodies deteriorated, hollow casts of ash formed around them. Most endearing are the mangled dogs. Rock on London. Rock on Chicago.

[NOTE.  The allure in Bloomberg-Rissman’s work, which has drawn me to it from the start, is his use of appropriative & conceptual techniques toward the exploration of real if unanticipated meaning – the saying, in other words, of that which is crying to be said.  Of this he writes the following in a necessary act of self-depiction:

In the House of the Hangman, which takes its title from Theodor Adorno’s Guilt and Defense: On the Legacies of National Socialism in Postwar Germany (“In the house of the hangman one should not speak of the noose, otherwise one might seem to harbor resentment”), is the third part of my Zeitgeist Spam. Zeitgeist Spam, while sharing some features with, say, the work of Tony Lopez and with Ron Silliman’s new sentences, has as its guiding motif’s John Cage’s “no sounds of my own making”, and is mashup/collage, virtually every word of which coming from someone other than me (thus bringing to mind, and hopefully more than mind, one of the fantasies of Walter Benjamin). Each section of Zeitgeist Spam has its own constraints; Hangman’s primarily that it be written / composed /constructed in real time, daily, out of the materials presented by that day (whether via RSS feed, Facebook, books received in the mail, emails, tv, conversation, or anything else the day brings) over a period of 2012 days (yes, the “Mayan apocalypse” inspired that). It is intended to be “adequate to the world in which we live”, and has two epigraphs: 

their empire
our time

Laura Moriarty, A Tonalist (my original epigraph, from the very beginning)

 The witch’s proposition doesn’t ask for the conversion of those to whom it is addressed. When witches address others, they do nothing other, all told, than relay, echo the question that transformed them themselves – existential catalysis. They tell us their recipes and ask us: “And you, where do you draw your capacity to hold up and to act from? How do you succeed in creating the protection that the poisoned milieu in which we all live necessitates? What protects you from the vulnerability that our common enemy hasn’t stopped profiting from? What do you do? What have you learned?”

Isabelle Stengers and Philippe Pignarre, Capitalist Sorcery: Breaking the Spell (my second epigraph, added three years in)

 [Bloomberg-Rissman is currently working with me on Barbaric Vast & Wild, a large assemblage of outside & subterranean poetry in the mode of Poems for the Millennium and Technicians of the Saced. (J.R.)]