Commentaries - November 2013

(Untitled) Bridge (detail; painting)
(Untitled) Bridge (detail)

“(Untitled) Bridge,” the banner image for my collection of (Un)lived/experience Commentaries, is from a series of works by visual artist Wura-Natasha Ogunji, and I am grateful that she allowed me to share her paintings here. “(Untitled) Bridge” and the details from “A Question on the Way to the Continent,” below, are not only emblematic of what I want to explore over the next few months, but they also inspire my thinking about processes of mediating experience, both lived and imagined. Perhaps Ogunji's work is a way to talk about instinct, or to understand the sinews of relation as psychic and material. Perhaps Ogunji's work allows us to understand cellular memory or genetic inheritance as an influence on how we dream. The grounds where we work ourselves out. Her choice of medium is deliberate: architectural tissue paper, usually discarded with preliminary sketches. With it, Ogunji insists on a delicate endurance: painted upon, drawn through, built up, kept.


Wura-Natasha Ogunji detail

How can one know without knowing, say, a homeland or a parent, and how do we use our power to create to reach that unknown place, that longed-for person, and make it known, make them present? Can one's artmaking practice manifest that presence as it is embedded within us? When musing on Ogunji's paintings, her stitched works, her multimedia performances, it seems so.  At the time of her making these works, Ogunji had not been to Nigeria, but Nigeria had been to her. So is that lived? Some brief touch from the beyond of father's spirit, of the home where one's face was born? And behind that face, our faces, any face, what is known? What can be uttered? There has long been an exchange, across time and space. And yet, a close view of “(Untitled) Bridge” belies the completeness of the exchange; yet again, from an eye's gift rivers of sense flow, reach for return. “A Question on the Way to the Continent,” the gift and mystery is speech act, speech artifact, speech object. These paintings are the dreamscape of lived experience and its inverse. Parenthetical unnaming, intent on crossing the question.

On Jake Pam Dick's 'Lens (a translit)'

St. Light Bulb, drawing by Pam Dick (

Transcribed From A Conversation in Bryant Park Near the Noisy and Annoying Appearing of A Skating Rink

It’s hermetic!

JK2: 48 postulates: “I am my world: the homocosm.”

It’s this really strong assertion that there are no politics.

But Jake Pam Dick is a philosopher.

Spliced biographies and fantasies of people hilariously standing in, posturing, as philosophy (as critique, celebration, correction, of those people, and philosophy).

Those particular people: 

Then the issue of the whole, how to become it. The beautiful doesn’t have to be beautiful. Sublimity gave moral freedom or freedom of the aspect.  Cf. Kant (heard by Jakob), Spinoza (read by Georg), or the German Romantics (read by Jake/James). 

I am my bed, I made me up, now I must lie in me.

It’s sharp inversion…

The next day the world was slow to appear, when it did, it was nasty.

The person precedes the world, the social. I read here a strong rejection of the social. And yet.

I see this as an apologia. Maybe that’s not the right word for it.

What is that?

A struggle, like the fancy literary word for justification. A literary philosophical argument for a life of reading as justification of the project itself. It’s not an easy one. It’s not a justification to the reader and it’s a justification to itself.

Here is the argument, again in Jk2.

Jk2:32 Their conversation a mere monologue, although by many voiced.

Jk2:32 I prefer a dialogue by one alone voiced. The solitary diverging.

Jk2:32 Make the two into one, 2=1, that single one the tract, the royal—no, Hermes—inkdom.

Histories compelled to be patched together, sucked into this vortex(t).

That’s the delight of the work. But that’s not what I am talking about yet. I want to talk about the work as a whole. To do this type of work in the contemporary milieu, there is this need to justify this type of occupation.

I'm assuming James is James Joyce.

No. It’s something else. It’s in Pam’s email giving context on the work:

Lens (a translit) engages with the writings and lives of Jakob Lenz and Georg Büchner (author of the prose poem novella Lenz.) It rewrites Georg's Lenz, analyzes Lenz, transmutes an epistolary novella by Lenz himself, transposes Georg's own letters, riffs extensively on the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, and ends with a list of unpublished books by Dick. The 6-part structure is lifted from Archipelago's book Lenz, which includes not only Büchner's novella but also sections by Goethe, Oberlin, a series of notes, a translator's afterword, and background readings. The Gospel of Thomas part is motivated by Lenz's preparation of a sermon in Lenz, and by the overall spiritual/social/political pursuits of Lenz and Büchner. Lens explores ideas of multilingualism, fragmentation, transient subjectivity, melancholia, despair, euphoria, indifference, empathy, etc. It's an iteration of what I've been calling incestuous poetics (i.e. making out and off with sibling texts.)

The pleasure of text stands in for social action. An assertion, or proposition: as I collect these parts that have created me into one, I am doing the making of the one and all that exists as the one. The first person singular is all that exists in terms of first person, because of the work.

She turned to go, he threw himself out of the bed, landed prostrate at her heels with a weird eye in his look. Listen, he said, this idea just had me, if only I could figure out whether this is bad news or a good novella. I mean a gospel/poem. You could try it out, here in bed, he hurled himself back into it, looked frankly at Inger. But she had already left, so all he saw was her negative space. Later Roald decided he was disgusted and made evacuation plans.  Inger a distant postulate. James burst in on Roald. His head a slippery doorknob which life or God couldn’t grasp because it was greasy. He had his left arm in his right hand, the nervous circuitry hung out from the shoulder like electric spaghetti.

I saw that as a need to sustain the energy of reading. In the reading of the texts every single image becomes an object. The scene is happening as its being read. The world outside would be too overwhelming.

I think James is James Joyce. Unless Jake Pam Dick told you something different.

No. There is that whole list of people who this is about and James Joyce is not one of them.

It doesn’t matter.

Is it James Joyce or is it not James Joyce. 

I don’t think it matters.

Here's why I thought it was interesting. All the Pam Dicks are always writing about multiple people. I don’t think we need to worry about that.

About knowing?

The reason why I started to think it was James Joyce was certain lines reminded me of Ulysses.

Readings are stupid because aural, I miss the words as tiny drawings. James prefers to look at things.

That could be Robert Walser. The need (for things) to be handled.

There is very little containment except the act of wrestling with it (the gangly and overwhelming).

There are paragraphs. But they are very sprawling. The narratives are floating stratospheres like bean dip aquariums. 


The bus refused to listen. No amount of cutting will relieve you. Chopstick sonata. Chapstick sanity. I do not want your kisses, whispered James. The pen was deep cerulean blue and somebody had something.

Everything is floating in layers but it’s also moving. Those were my images of the structure. Bean dips and aquariums. Crazy chaos inside the head or the house then it’s planted, plopped down. 

There is also a sort of raunchiness.

Spasm is its formal code.

A myth being embalmed.

Lens, in all these 6 parts, is dredging up something that’s dead and redisplaying it. I feel like the motivation for that other than a personal excitement in the original texts and constellation of texts is putting all these people together. A very stylized exhibition display.

You just went through a lot. Start again with the embalming.

If there is this cast of characters that get placed and replaced with each other, intercut, transposed, transmuted with each other, her words, their words, it’s like how is it all supposed to come together as a thing that is then talking to the reader. It feels like a collection. The way it is being collected is the thing.

That’s what I was saying before, that formally it is contained. That there is all this shit flying all over the place but formally it is very structured.

Is this supposed to be pointing us towards the source text? Do I need to go read Lenz now? Even a little bit?

I never know the answer to that question. Personally I think no. There are a lot of books and writers that do that. Beverly Dahlen's A Reading, Rosemarie Waldrop's Lawn of Excluded Middle, Caroline Bergvall's Chaucer work, Alyson Singes and the rest.

Then if we are writing about it, is there some baseline research we need to do.

The city of the text.

The mind wants to live as a text.

Object oriented. Words are objects.

She fell with all her pronouns, whereas Lenz tried to jump from his name. Georg hallucinated. What you hear when the languages don’t mesh. Solipsism does not deny the existence of others, it only shows your access to them as mediated by your own existence. So they exist in you.

 They are cascading. The self is always breaking open by the weight of all these words or images. There is no self. This is a manifesto that struggles with the problem that there is no self and yet the only thing that gets represented is the self. That the only source of representation is first person singular. Yet the self, the thing that is always transmorphing transmuting, is based on the words it encounters that are these objects that become images that become things. **

The argument is that it’s hard enough to have a self. To just have a self would be to be in the world. It’s hard enough to be in the world but the world is also asking you to have a self.

This is helping me understand it. Because my understanding was that it restarts every few lines.

My sense of it is the bawdy. It's lascivious delight. In the game are these vectors of encounter between the different texts. There is this gesture of them as characters. As invisible friends.

They are friends, absolutely. Mischievous. Like Kafka’s assistants in The Castle. They are the Amelia Bedelias. The messy of being a person, a trans person, ambiguously means both being a multiple and rejecting the multitude to have a self. Is that the trans of the lit in Jake Pam Dick's 'translit.'

Jk8: 41 How I put on the Batman t-shirt to conquer fear…

JJ8:57 The hustle a double negation. The ambidextrous dash goes both ways.

JJ9:06 Amplified, amped. Am per signed; am personed.

(And here are some links to more Pam Dicks, see vimeo from 21 Grand below):

Except from Postmodern Culture

Crumbs (from Deliquent, Futurepoem 2010) at Brooklyn Rail

from I am the Robert Walser at Brooklyn Rail

Trans Verse (or, Travers Tranifesto) at EOAGH

[In the construction of an assemblage of outside & subterranean poetry the question looms of whether to include in the composition some of those who in the aftermath are celebrated & canonized as the ultimate & necessary insiders.  For Dante the outsidering came in his 37th year, when he was banished from Florence into what came to be a lifetime of exile from his native city.  That the Commedia emerges from this is a point to be considered, the Inferno in particular an image of a world peopled with those similarly exiled or outsidered.  Of the heroic damned, as Dante imagines them, Brunetto Latini, who was Dante’s guardian & teacher, stands out with his stride, curiously triumphant, as he runs off into the distance more like “one who wins, not one who loses.”  The spirits of the ancient poets in Limbo (Canto 4) is yet another nod to the subterranean & outsidered nature of what was clearly dear to him.

Armand Schwerner’s translation of the Inferno, as presented here, was one of his own last works, still in progress at the time of his death in 1999.]

Right now one of the harsh banks conveys us
and up above, the rivermist hovers,
and screens water and embankments from the fire.
As the Flemings, from Wissant to Bruges,
afraid of the impinging flood
set up their dikes to blunt the sea-threat
and as the Paduans of Chiarentana, along the Brent’s edges,
shore up their castles and towns
against the snowmelt torrents
so did these mounds, of like construction,
rise, though their architect, whoever he was,
had made them neither as high, nor as wide.
We walked so far beyond the wood
that even if I’d turn to the rear
I couldn’t have made it out.
Then we came upon a company of souls
walking by the bank; and everyone
peered at us as men under a new moon
will gaze each at each;
squinting, they peered at us,
like an old tailor into his needle’s eye.
As we were being eyed by the tribe of shades
I was recognized by one of them, who seized the hem
of my gown and cried out,
“Amazing. Is it you?
And I, when he stretched out his arm to me,
peered so intently at his baked face
that even his scorched features
couldn’t prevent my recognizing him
and lowering my face to his face
I answered,
“Ser Brunetto. It’s you! here?”
And he,
“o my son, please don’t be annoyed
if Brunetto Latini turns back to walk with you
a little, and lets the others go their way.”
I said to him
“yes, with a full heart
as much as I’m able;
if you want me to sit with you
I’ll do it, if my guide will let me.”
He said:
“My son, if any being in this flock
stop walking for even a second, the fire will eat
at him for a hundred years.
So move on; I will follow you closely
And soon will rejoin my company,
which goes on mourning endless loss.”
I didn’t dare to step down to his level
But kept my head inclined
as in a reverential stance.
He said to me,
“What fortune or what fate
Has brought you here before your time,
And who’s your guide on this path?”
I answered him,
“In earth’s tranquil life,
before I attained
to a fullness of years
I wandered in a valley,
but just yesterday I turned my back on it.
This man appeared when I was losing ground
and by this path now leads me home.”
And he:
“As long as you’re guided by your star,
you will not fail to reach fair harbor;
if I’d judged you well in our life on earth
if I hadn’t died so early in my life—
Seeing that heaven makes its face to shine upon you—
I would have cheered you on in your work,
but those malign, ungrateful people
with rockhard mountain hearts
who came down from old Fiesole
will fall on you for your good works.
That’s how things should be: it isn’t right
that the sweet fig should come to fruit
among the sour serviceberries.
Common knowledge asserts those men are blind,
envious, arrogant, greedy.
Rid yourself of their usages; be sure to do it.
Your future is signed with such honor
that the factions will both hunger after you,
but the grass will forever elude those goats.
Let the beasts of Fiesole eat
themselves: on their dunghill some plants may bear
the sacred seed of brave Romans
who stayed and did not move to Florence;
such plants are never for the beasts of Fiesole,
denizens of wickedness and vice.”
I answered him:
“If I had my wish,
you would not have lost your human place:
you live in my mind, how clearly
I remember you, sweet and fatherly,
when, for hour and hour on end in the world,
you used to teach how man makes himself eternal.
What I owe you my tongue will declare all my life.
What you tell me of my coming fate
I will note down, and save with other texts
to submit to one who knows, if I can arrive at that Lady.
There’s a thing I need to say to you:
with a clean conscience
I am prepared for Fortune; whatever happens.
I’m not new to such prophecy;
let Fortune spin her wheel
and the churl strike with his mattock.”
My guide now turned around, to his right,
And looked at me and said,
“A good listener hears.”
Without responding, I walked ahead
And talked with Ser Brunetto, asking
About his fellow shades, which best-born
and which most famous.
And he to me:
“Some deserve words; others silence.
There wouldn’t be enough time for such talk.
In brief, we were men of worth, clerics, all of us—
Scholars of great renown, who on the earth
Were polluted with the same sin.
There’s Priscian the grammarian, with that sad bunch,
And with him is Francesco of Accorso, the Oxford law professor.
If you had any wish to see such scum
look at that man there, who stiff in his iniquity
was moved from Arno to the Bacchiglione by the Pope
—the Servant’s Servant!—and died unnatural.
I’d say more, but here’s an end to talk;
I see a new dustcloud rising from the sand,
and new people approach, not my shades.
To your care I commend my Treasure.
My name lives on in it; I ask no more.”
The he turned back and ran, like one of those
who across the plain at Verona race for the green cloth;
and as he ran, he seemed
the one who wins, not the one who loses.

Jerome Rothenberg & Arie Galles: A Double-Headed Portrait with Clouds
Jerome Rothenberg & Arie Galles: A Double-Headed Portrait with Clouds

But none of them paused,
none of them wanted to be a cloud

F.G. Lorca 



among the clouds

one face appears


a world of babes

& shadows


wrapped in its caul





stretched out in coils

the bodies of the lost

lie dormant


babes as fair

as paradise

who sleep their dreams


so hard to lend an eye to

& to look inside

to see the earth below


more like the sky

when turning softly over

the blue above


goes grey





inside the grey world

black eyes open


black lips

lie in wait


ready to suck down

the lights


the white

an opening more real


than morning

a limpid hole





the dead return


the nearly dead

lie sleeping


keeping a line

between them


hungry, mutilated

faces lost


ghosts wrapped

in gauze


& set in rows

like sleepers





land breaking through

at last    at sunset


at the breaking down

& folding up


of borrowed






to be a cloud

face up

against the other

brighter cloud


more like an animal

a life gone by

who would not

rather be?






where the winds rush

lifting bodies

like false clouds


from darkness

into light

& back

to darkness





a god is easy



easy body

of a man

or woman


easy dreams

of power


from the side

where light

fades out


the face of night

is lurking


[NOTE.  For some time now I’ve been working with Arie Galles on Graffite, a three-part series of graphite drawings with poem accompaniments, a followup in some sense to our earlier collaboration on Fourteen Stations, some small part of which I was able to display previously on Poems and Poetics.  In this instance Galles’s photo-based drawings came first & my readings of them followed thereafter.  An actual viewing of drawings and poems waits of course for final publication, but my part of the over-all work is probably clear enough for now from the words alone.  (J.R.).]

by Teresa Carmody

Mrs. Porter's at Occupy LA
Mrs. Porter's at Occupy LA

Act 1: Description and Content

Yes, we were at a party for Amy Schroeder, in her parents’ backyard in Hancock Park. We were talking to other women, Susan McCabe and Kate Chandler, definitely, and maybe Elena Karina Byrne. We said we wanted to start a literary art salon for women. Give us your address and we will make an invitation. We decided on mandatory participation. From the beginning, we had rules.

Yes, rules. It was 2004 and the rules went like this: 1) if you attend the salon, you must bring something to share; 2) each attendee will have 5 minutes to present her work, though she may use less; 3) the order will be determined randomly, through bingo chips.

It was bossy of us, yes. But we wanted to create a space for vulnerability. We never used that word. We said: it’s too easy to sit back and critique. We wanted conversations outside the comfort-zone. We’re not ones for small talk, and there is, perhaps, too much emphasis on individual comfort. We never used that phrase. We said: if everyone is required to share, then everyone must risk something. Those probably weren’t our exact words. In any case, designating equal time for each attendee is a democratic gesture. The artifice of the structure gave permission and pushed the conversation in unexpected directions.

There was writing, and other art. Visual. Voice. Photography. Film. It didn’t have to be something you made. Rather, to bring something you were thinking about. The invitations included examples. One said: Hope, hand-raised and fed from a tube; a crossword puzzle made of tweed; a bunny hop of precise duration; a poem about a poem about a boy. Here is another: Clay, creative writing, colors on a piece of paper, cozies (tea), charcoal drawing of Clay (the teacher’s son, Clayton for long), a choreographed dance routine. Another for good measure: Mistakes, matchbox dioramas, muscled dances, motor car poems, mad-cap photos, more. One time, someone brought pale brown clay and directions for shaping it into a rabbit. This delighted some and upset others.

Sometimes there were 6 women, sometimes 8, sometimes 18. And so the 5 minutes stretched and contracted, yes, and afterwards: more eating. More drinking. Plus the third aesthetic experience, that’s how we named it. We reassembled our circle and talked about what happened during the sharing. That’s what we called it. Not performances. We talked about common themes and juxtapositions. Similarities and dissimilarities. Complaints and conceits. What were we trying to figure out?

Mrs. Porter's Invitation

Act 2: How-To 

It is best to begin with a friend. A very special friend, another person, in any case, will make the going more probable. The we in this case was Vanessa Place and Teresa Carmody. Plus Mrs. Porter, a character in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. From the salon’s inception, Johanna Blakley began researching Mrs. Porter and discovered a real-life madam in Cairo during World War I.  It is best to invite smart friends. For the first three to four years, the salon met at Carmody and Place’s apartment in Little Ethiopia.  The women met on the first or was it the second Saturday of the month. There were paper invitations, a collage made from putting objects on the copy machine and pressing the button. It is always best to press the button and to have the button pressed. Do you remember the salon in Lund, Sweden when Marianne read Axel’s short story? And in Albany at Susanne Dyckman’s house, that was the year the bees began to disappear. At the Richard Hugo House in Seattle, and later, at AWP in Atlanta? When Carmody and Place moved to West Adams, so did Mrs. Porter. There, eventually, she opened a gmail account and Coco Owen began organizing the invitations, digitally. That was either after or during the year the salon was hosted by other women. Johanna Blakley. Brenda Varda. Katrin Jurati. Andrea Lambert and Katie Jacobson. Barbara Maloutas. It is best to move around, to mix things up. Better yet to hand over some hostess duties, especially if you are overwhelmed and need rest. By that point, the salon was very much part of Les Figues Press, part of its mission. And then the rules changed, this happened much later, this history skips so much. It is best to allow a certain give and take, it is best to begin having a special guest. Plus, participation became optional. In the first half of the evening, those who wanted to share could share for 5 minutes or less. Those who wanted to listen or look could simply look or listen. In the second half, the special guest presented something special. A meditation. A dream analysis. A new project. A portrait of Mrs. Porter, her new twitter account. Do you remember the salon at Occupy LA, putting poems in people’s tents during the general assembly? Do you remember lying on the floor in a trance of voice and breath? Did you mail your kitten postcard? To whom?

Act 3: Passion

Who came? Laida came. Larkin came. Lisa came. Thea came. Adrienne came. Margaret came. Christine came and Susan made us whistle. Johanna D and Johanna B, Elena R and Elena B. Many Mary’s, several Anna’s. Sissy came. Geneva came. Amanda and Miranda came. Connie came, she asked a question. Maureen came. And Tanya came. Cherine came. And Tracy came. Jessica came. Rebecca came. Amy plus Allison came. Maybe the baby came, but definitely Erin came. And Danielle came. Linda came. Molly came. Tanya came. Here she came and came again: Jemima. Elizabeth. Amina. Coco. Kate. Ceres. Sharon. Camille. Nikki. Barbara. Amy. Jen. Jen. Andrea. Andrea. Susan. Susan. Susanne. Eleni. Karen. Gina. Heather. Pamela. Pam. Julia. Rachael. Sarah. Olive. Nancy. Audrey. Janice. Jamie. Jane. Stacey. Alta. Elline. Dorna. Diane. Margie. Quintan. Laura. Erin. Barbara. Barbara. Katie. Hillary. Sylvia. Svetlana. Dorit. Leslie. Katrin. Bonnie. Renee. Griselda. Deborah. Deborah. Terry. Emma. K. Daniel. Mat.

This list is incomplete and given without permission. A peek into the parlor. The preferred mode now is potluck.

Scene 4: An Anecdote: The Good Stuff

Because they wanted to write. Because they wanted to talk to writers. Because they weren’t in school anymore. Because they were too tired after the long commute. Because their days were filled with children. Because they wanted to meet the special guest. Because they were finally writing again. Because they wanted to screen a new short film. Because they were writing new poems. Because they loved women. Because they were worried about not writing. Because they were looking for a job. Because they were interested in collaboration. Because they didn’t want a workshop. Because they hoped to be published. Because they were invited. Because they wanted more information. Because they were feminist. Because they had just graduated. Because they were rarely asked about their creative work. Because they wanted to experiment with performance. Because the conversation thrilled them. Because they were supporting their friends. Because they didn’t want to go alone. Because they wanted to meet new women. Because they were writing again, finally. Because they wanted a night away. Because they had a deadline and something to say. Because they wanted to listen to others. Because they suspected something might happen. Because they are artists and writers. Because they make things and a salon is something too.