Commentaries - November 2013

video by Gabe Rubin; Shadowtime tr. by Adriano Scandolara


Folha de Sao Paulo, the main newspaper of the city, published today a translation by Régis Bonvicino of "On Election Day," a poem I wrote five years ago, just after the election of President Obama. The poem was collected in Recalculating 
Gabe Rubin made a video of my reading the poem for this publication:



While working on a
Brazilian edition of Marjorie Perloff's Unoriginal Genius, Adriano Scandolara began translating passages from Shadowtime, the libretto I wrote for Brian Ferneyhough. He has just posted his translation of the "Amphibolies" section of the opera (along with some YouTube clips from the opera recording). 

See also
War Stories: Poems and Essays  translated from Portuguese, and with an introduction by 
Régis Bonvicino with the collaboration of Maria do Carmo Zanini

Translation & endnote by Gabriel Gudding

[As I enter my eighty-third year the work that still lies ahead begins to focus on the possibility of a new poetry & poetics of the Americas.  The idea, like most ideas (good & bad) is by no means new but it stirs up, again, a sense of unkept promises & of a discontent with the idea of America as the domain of the United States alone, the way we speak of it again & again in our works & in our daily lives.  The upshot of this is that I’ve recently begun to discuss with Heriberto Yépez the possibility of constructing an American assemblage/anthology along these lines – as a kind of experiment, the results of which we can’t as yet anticipate, except that the juxtapositions that such a work demands are truly enough for now to move us forward.  In the process, as with the previous romanticism volume of Poems for the Millennium & the outside & subterranean anthology, still in the works, I will be posting some of the preliminary materials (Spanish, English, Portugese, French, Indigenous) on Poems and Poetics, so as again to be working or composing in-the-open.  That a gathering of this kind seems never to have been made both surprises me & serves as a further inducement for the work ahead.  For which the following poem by Rubén Darío, which I first published in Poems for the Millennium, volume 3, can function as an opening move in that direction, north and south. Its relation to the present is too obvious to dwell on further. (J.R.)]


To Roosevelt


It is with the voice of the Bible, or the verse of Walt Whitman
that I advance upon you now, Hunter!
You are primitive and modern, sensible and complicated,
with something of Washington and a dash of Nimrod.
You are the United States,
you are the future invader
of all that’s innocent in America and its Indian blood,
blood that still says Jesus Christ and speaks in Spanish.

You are a superb and strapping specimen of your people;
you are cultured and capable; you oppose Tolstoy.
You are a horse-whisperer, an assassinator of tigers,
you are Alexander-Nebuchadnezzer.
(You are a Professor of Energy
as the whackjobs among us now say.)

You think that life is a fire,
that progress is eruption
and into whatever bones you shoot,
you hit the future.


The United States is powerful and huge.
And when it shakes itself a deep temblor
runs down the enormous vertebrae of the Andes.
If it yells, its voice is like the ripping boom of the lion.
It is just as Hugo said to Grant: “The stars are yours.”
(Glinting wanly, it raises itself, the Argentine sun,
and the star of Chile rises too…) You are rich --
you join the cult of Hercules with the cult of Mammon;
and illuminating the way of easy conquest,
“Freedom” has found its torch in New York.

But our America, which has had poets
from the ancient times of Netzahualcoyotl,
which has kept walking in the footprints of the great Bacchus
(who had learned the Panic alphabet at one glance);
which has consulted the stars, which has known Atlantis,
(whose name comes down drumming to us in Plato),
which has lived since the old times on the very light of this world,
on the life of its fire, its perfume, its love,
the America of the great Moctezuma, of the Inca,
our America smelling of Christopher Columbus,
our Catholic America, our Spanish America,
the America in which the noble Cuauhtemoc said:
“I am in no bed of roses”: that same America
which tumbles in the hurricanes and lives for Love,
it lives, you men of Saxon eyes and Barbarian souls.
And it dreams. And it loves, and it vibrates; and she is the daughter of the Sun!
Be very careful. Long live this Spanish America!
The Spanish Lion has loosed a thousand cubs today: they are at large, Roosevelt,
and if you are to snag us, outlunged and awed,
in your claws of iron, you must become God himself,
the alarming Rifleman and the hardened Hunter.

And though you count on everything, you lack the one thing needed:


[TRANSLATOR'S NOTE. The great Nicaraguan poet, Félix Rubén García Sarmiento (1867-1916), who called himself Rubén Darío, was born in Metapa, Nicaragua, in a city that now bears the name Darío. Considered one of the leaders and proponents of the Modernismo movement, Darío completely changed the landscape of Spanish-language poetry. A journalist and diplomat, he is now one of the most widely read of Spanish-language poets. This poem, “A Roosevelt,” was written in response to US President Theodore Roosevelt’s invasion of Panama in 1903 after Roosevelt fomented a coup in Panama City so that he could annex the Panamanian isthmus for the purposes of building the canal. Roosevelt’s coup and the invasion of Panama was excoriated around the world and at home. Richard Olney, in 1903, former US Attorney General and Secretary of State, said of Roosevelt’s act, “For the first time in my life I have had to confess I am ashamed of my country.”]

From Jacket #9 (October 1999)

Robert Sheppard contributed this piece to Jacket issue 9 to mark the occasion of Bob Cobbing's 75th birthday:

I visited Bob Cobbing, and thus met my first poet, on November 3 1973. I was still at school, keen to put on an exhibition of concrete poetry. I recognised this as the wilder edge of the new British poetry I had discovered through Horovitz' anthology Children of Albion and Bill Butler's Brighton bookshop. In the school library there was, unaccountably, Emmett Williams' An Anthology of Concrete Poetry. Bob was in it.

When I arrived at Randolph Avenue to collect some hansjörg mayer posters, Bob was already talking to a student who was writing a thesis on language in visual art. I listened as they talked and sounded some of the Shakespeare Kaku. I remained mute, uncertain. Bob played a tape of himself and Peter Finch performing e colony from the Five Vowels, a then incomplete project. He showed us the work in progress. I stayed for six hours literally learning the life of a poet.  [read more]

[Continued from a previous posting]



As the patterns are emerging from the small battered lawn—the patterns which are for her continuously seeping in from those in the long-ago linoleums . . . they begin to form before her eyes the patterns of a parquet floor . . . the patterns, even, of a kind of design she has seen somewhere before . . . watching, waiting, with ever increasing urgency, an urgency she feels violently and vividly coursing through her tautening veins . . . as the memory begins to clear . . . revealing to her both the floors and the ceiling of a Cinema she had frequented as a child . . . in some outlaying area of the small battered city . . . an area which she associates more with dream than memory . . . though, now coming back to her as the patterns grow ever clearer before her eyes . . . she finds herself involuntarily witnessing scenes from her childhood and early adolescence . . . entering into this Cinema with her family—entering in there on weekends—Sundays even—she now recalls, as the parquet floor and ceiling become ever more vivid, all the while themselves images superimposed over those of her now streaming memories—of her entering the Cinema as a girl in neatly pressed skirt and blouse . . . freshly ironed that morning, before Church, by her mother . . . the scent of her mother’s faint perfume comes back to her—the slight smells of freshly laundered dresses, of crisply clutched handbags in which various “secrets” of her mother’s ‘Woman’s Life” are kept carefully at the ready for the ever awaited “special occasion” which might someday “you never know when” arise . . . those scents of an expectancy which made her mother and everything about her seem to her, even now, “romantic”---all this flooding back to her now, superimposed over those lozenges, those patterns of the parquet—and the expectancy of waiting in line, there, at the ticket taker’s small glass enclosed booth---before entering the inner area where the popcorn machine towered, immense and alive, spouting furiously its fountains of pop corn, while the soda fountain poured forth a continual bright and multi-colored syrupy mist in her memory—a mist made up of all the exotic tints of the promising sodas . . . and then, then, her own taut veins now pressing ever more tightly against the skin—she could feel this—the tautness, like a bow being stretched back, back, back—about to launch the well aimed arrow—then—with a slight release of the tension—she sees herself entering into the Cinema—




El Colonel smiles . . . there in the darkness, he sees a person enter stealthily from the door way at the other end of the Cinema—on the other side of the middle of the three rows of seats . . . at the same time—he is aware of some one moving with equal stealth in the area of the balcony just above where the first figure is moving----and, slightly behind this figure, for the very briefest of moments—there appears another figure—which swiftly withdraws—into a shadowy area in which hovers the red light sign for the restrooms . . . something is taking place, El Colonel murmurs to himself . . . something is taking place—and he is suddenly aware, at the sound of these words uttered by himself, to himself, with as much stealth as the two moving figures are possessed of—he is suddenly aware that at this moment in his consciousness, and “before his very eyes as an observing consciousness”—he notes mentally—as an aside, whispered to the audience which is comprised by his own various suddenly alert consciousnesses---he is suddenly aware that the events which are about to transpire are occurring simultaneously as memory, dream, imagination and that form of conscious thought which is known to himself as “writing”---and that these events are triggering also, somewhere else, events in the consciousness of someone else—not only a reader—the reader who is himself of the writings which emerge with –with, as in a distinct and intimately close collaboration--himself—writings at once his own and some Other’s—as well as some other reader—and some other being, somewhere else, also writing—in their own way—these same events . . . aware of all these simultaneous events occurring—and of all these simultaneous awarenesses converging, here, in this spot—in these events now going on—El Colonel finds himself being drawn to an area to his right, in the middle aisle—in which the figure who has stealthily emerged form the door on the ground floor—has seated itself unexpectedly next to another shadowy figure—there in the dark—of which he had not previously been aware—and that this shadowy figure is now engaged in some form of exchange of both sounds and gestures with the figure who has emerged from the doorway—and placed itself practically on top of the shadowy, seated figure—in an astounding act of imposition---


El Colonel smiles. Casting his gaze upwards—he perceives the figure in the balcony slowly grope its way towards the front of the balcony—where, standing just overhead—it is watching the scene below, in which the two figures are exchanging rapid gestures and indistinguishable sounds—before suddenly separating—with the figure who had entered into the Cinema from the ground floor door—moving off and finding a seat at some distance from the other—while the figure overhead—suddenly is casting glances sideways and back—back towards the area where the hovering red sign indicates the rest rooms----


El Colonel smiles. Something is going on—he is thinking—when of a sudden in the area on the ground floor to his right—there enter two shadowy policemen . . . creeping carefully along the dim rows of seats—while, above—where the standing figure has been directing its gaze—he sees beckoning another figure—gesturing—towards a door marked “EXIT” whose light has suddenly come on and which swings suddenly open—open—to a hurried, scrambling rush of bright air and light---




The scene in the small battered backyard is flickering as the lights from neighboring houses go on . . . and for the first time she feels a slight disturbance in the scenes in which she is simultaneously entering the Cinema proper . . . inside the movie theater itself . . . this flickering catches her eye immediately she is inside the theater---and, drawing her gaze towards the peripheries of her vision to her right—she sees entering there suddenly a swift, stealthy figure . . . the flickering increases, as though there is interference from some other transmission . . . and for the first time she has the sense—a sense “like ESP”—that some one else, also, is watching this same scene . . . though from somewhere else—some other pair of eyes is also making out in the dimness the shadowy figure moving along the rows of seats until it finds one where a figure she had not been aware of, a shadowy, lumpy figure, is slumped---and practically on top of which she observes the swift moving shadow place itself—so nearly are the two figures placed they seem for a moment to merge, then pull abruptly apart—and between the two a rapid fire series of gestures and indistinguishable sounds is being exchanged . . . while, above—“out of the blue”—for all the darkness around her, the phrase comes to her—she notices a figure beckoning from the area where a dimly glowing red light announces “rest rooms”—and—following the line of sight towards which this figure is beckoning, she makes out another figure—dim, standing at the edge of the balcony—and—while she watches—she sees a door begin to open behind the man gesturing from the rest room area—and, as the door opens—she sees a patch of sky—feels even the slight in-rushing of a cooler air . . .


Even as she is watching, she becomes aware that she is seeing the arrest of Oswald in the movie theater in Dallas on “That Day”—and into her awareness come rushing the snatches of varying accounts of those moments—accounts pieced together from among the stacks of books she has read . . . with a growing intensity her vision is taking in each detail, each remembered moment of the action—in a kind of slow motion . . . a slow motion however, growing increasingly troubled by interference---by a kind of flickering in which the images “go in and out”—and sounds suddenly are leaking in as though from some other consciousness—not voices so much as sensations of wires, synapses, being crossed . . . she feels herself recoiling in a kind of horror as her suddenly sensed awareness of witnessing the multiplicity of possibilities of what may have occurred during those fateful moments—is being disrupted—by a transmission-- which she senses is not meant to interrupt—but is that of an other consciousness, also registering these scenes—though this other consciousness she senses, is somehow not aware, as she is, of what the scene exactly is—that is, the other consciousness observing these events is not interested in them—not in the way that she is, but at the same time from some other interest of which she has no idea, no remote idea of herself--—a horror from which she recoils—that some one else’s awareness of the events—is interpreting in ways completely other than her own—not out of malevolent design, as she somehow most powerfully feels—but out of an intensity of awareness happening within it, this other consciousness, which is equal to her own—and even—perhaps—even—she feels the possibility all too acutely—painfully—even more powerful than her own—yet not with any ill intentions at all towards her own. . . a consciousness which she feels suddenly withdraw . . . leaving her to observe—the now empty theater . . . after the sensed fleeing of all those who but a few brief moments before had been there—all those who had been present on “That Day” according to all the accounts she had read . . .


Everything is happening so fast . . . has been happening so fast—and now, so abruptly she feels herself nearly swoon . . . is so abruptly over . . .


Slowly, slowly her eyes become aware of the small battered backyard in which the shadows among the flickering light look like so many burnt out remnants of an intense explosion . . . the singed and still smoking remains of her intensity of awareness . . .yet . . . as she gathers herself—she thinks—having come this close . . .this close to finding the Truth . . . perhaps . . . someday . . . and she finds her awareness trailing away . . . trailing away into an immense and most welcome sense of relief, of safety, of rest . . . of a calm assurance completely new to her . . . and, as she drifts into this peace . .. she has all the while a feeling through its own shadowy, slowly retreating substance, of the still flickering presence of that Other . . . while it, also, slowly recedes . . . she has still the consciousness of an emerging “welcome memory, however faint”-- of this awareness which has brushed presences so intensely with her own, there, on “That Day”—in the Cinema of Catharsis . . . . .




El Colonel is smiling . . . lighting another cigarette, he uses its bright glowing tip to write in the gathering twilight sky . . . to write of the sensations of coolness and blue he had found himself drawn to in ascending to the second floor of the Cinema and exiting by the door which he had seen open . . . while all the while there lingers in his consciousness the sensation of having passed through an immense, and intensely concentrated, electrical event of some kind on his way across the floor of the theater, to the stairs and then up them . . . as though the immensity of the blue he finds on exiting . . . is the calm following a storm, a storm in his consciousness, to which, someday he may return—as he sensed within it—the presence, distinct and powerful, of some Other there in the Cinema, some other pair of eyes also observing the same mysterious scene—some other consciousness, some where—which might hold the key for him—of all that had transpired during this afternoon—this afternoon in the Cinema of Catharsis, in which he finds the writing taking him . . . on so many occasions . . .


[NOTE. David-Baptiste Chirot –born Lafayette, Indiana, grew up in Vermont, lived also Gottingen, Germany, Arles & Paris, France, Wroclaw, Poland, Hastveda,Sweden, Bostonand Milwaukee. Since 1997 essays, Visual & sound poetry, Performance Scores, prose poetry, poetry and book reviews in 70+ different print and online journals in USA, Brazil, England, Spain, France, Germany, Russia, Chile, Australia, Yugoslavia, Italy, Canada, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, Turkey, Japan, Holland, Belgium, Uruguay. Chirot's own blog can be found at, & Parts I-III of Cinema of Catharsis appeared previously on Poems and Poetics.]

Acconci Studio, "Personal Island"
Vito Acconci, "Personal Island"

Last weekend (October 25 & 26) was the occasion of the fifth annual Creative Time Summit in New York City. Creative Time is an organization known for producing public art projects, but recently it has become an important producer of conversations about the intersections of art and social justice. This year’s Summit was titled, “Art, Place & Dislocation in the 21st Century City.” Speakers included Rebecca Solnit, Lucy Lippard, John Fetterman (mayor of Braddock, PA), Rick Lowe (of Project Row Houses), Lucy Orta, Laurie Jo Reyolds, and many others. Panels addressed gentrification, sustainability, and grassroots resistance to urban development (all talks are available online). 

One of the panels was called “Flâneurs.” The Situationist psychogeographer is often discussed in relation to the 19th century flâneur. Taking his cues from Edgar Allan Poe, Baudelaire described, the flâneur as “a man of the crowd”:

“The crowd is his element as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the center of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world….He is an ‘I’ with an insatiable appetite for the ‘non-I’…”

At the panel on flâneurs, Vito Acconci said he had reservations about the term because it carried connotations of a passive person: an idler or a dawdler. He said that he was much more comfortable with the idea of the flâneur as “an activist, an instigator, somebody who causes trouble.”

Acconci then stated his belief that architecture has to move, otherwise people are subjected to it. The activist flâneur is thus someone whose walks can activate and change the environment. An example he gave was a project from the 1990s called “Personal Island” (see image above), where a boat is locked into the land as if it were water, and the rower can row her island out to sea. 

Acconci made a point of explaining how he had no art or architecture training, but rather was the product of the Iowa Writers Workshop. He said “my stuff comes from words and since it comes from words, it comes from concepts.”

The concept of the “activist flâneur” has me thinking of a number of poetry projects that begin with walking. And although these walks might not cause trouble in the same way that a detachable island might, they do upset static notions of a place. For example, Kaia Sand's walk through downtown Portland, Oregon in Remember to Wave reveals that the site of a present-day roller derby was also the site of a Japanese internment camp during World War II. On a walk down “Dole Street” in Honolulu, Juliana Spahr reveals evidence of colonialism in seemingly neutral street signs and similarly bland public sculptures. On a walk through New York City’s Bowery, Brenda Coultas lists objects found in dumpsters or left at the curb in order to record a past that is being actively discarded in the face of wild real estate development. These poems ask us to bring “passionate spectatorship” toward a stance of critique.

Acconci Studio, "Courtyard in the Wind"Although Acconci stated his interest in a mobile architecture that empowers users, he also noted that flexible architecture can sometimes have the opposite effect. For example, “Courtyard in the Wind,” designed by Acconci Studio and built in Munich, Germany creates a kind of motorized turntable on the ground that’s powered by a wind turbine at the top of a nearby tower. As Acconci describes it, you could be having a conversation with a friend, sneeze, and then find yourself seven feet further around the circle depending on the wind. In this case the speaker/walker is at the mercy of the elements. Such a scenario reminds me of David Buuck’s Buried Treasure Island particularly the moment when Buuck suggests that as part of his investigation of this former site of world’s fairs and military installations, he will ingest the toxins that saturate the landscape. He writes:

“Practitioners using psychogeography and counter-tourism can visit and leave, often taking the ‘art’ while leaving the conditions unchanged. For BARGE [The Bay Area Research Group in Enviro-Aesthetics], this has necessitated the consumption of the poisoned land itself into my body and bloodstream, the lungs and the eyes, if only as a small gesture of solidarity and tactical magic. If we are to take in the treasures, we must likewise taste of the fever…”