Editorial note: We received the following response to Jerome Rothenberg’s May 2013 commentary on Heriberto Yépez’s book The Empire of Neomemory (translated from Spanish by Jen Hofer, Christian Nager, and Brian Whitener, and published by ChainLinks in 2013).
Il Gruppo: Olson the Imperialist & The Empire of Neomemory
The following statement is a response to Heriberto Yépez’s El Imperio de la neomemoria, excerpts from which recently appeared in Jacket2 under Jerome Rothenberg’s commentary page. In 2007, the book appeared in Spanish. It was recently translated as The Empire of Neomemory. In recent months, the book has received notice while its assumptions remain unquestioned. Its editors wrote:
This work is a dismantling of [Charles] Olson, and of empire, and yet it is also clearly an inside job, a book that could only be written by someone who had spent hours thinking with and through — and beyond — Olson.
Here is an excerpt cited in Jacket2:
“There are laws,” begins Olson’s essay “Human Universe” written in Mexico. How does one create the illusion that there are general laws? The foundation of time reduced to space is, precisely, the supposition that there exist laws that function in the same way (homogeneously) across all (heterogeneous) times. If different times are united by the same laws, then, these times are not separated and thus form a single space. … This belief is the basis of totalitarian thought, in all its forms. …
Here is what one member of Il Gruppo writes about Yépez’s distorted logic:
Linking Olson's assertions about general laws to totalitarianism seems a stretch. Physicians also believe in what we could dub “general laws” without becoming totalitarian. My physician talks with me about healthy lifestyles, but she doesn't break into my house and throw away all the pastries, nor does she train my kids to spy on me.
Yépez’s suggestion of Olson’s totalitarian thinking connects to his “theory” of Olson and his poetics as stamps of the imperial empire. If Yépez’s thinking on Olson is examined, however, it is clear that at no point does he let the salient facts and relationships of Olson’s life get in the way of his theory about Olson as the master poet of empire. Yes, unfortunately the editors are right, he has gone beyond Olson, way beyond Olson, so much so that Olson has turned into a ghost. In addition, nowhere in his book does Yépez specifically refer to a political policy or position of his own or Olson’s. Does his “theory” not seem self-evidently backwards when two elder poets, Amiri Baraka and Jack Hirschman, known not only for their clear anti-imperialist politics but for being eyewitnesses to Olson’s life and poetry, come forward and find it necessary to critique Yépez’s suggestion that Olson and his poetry and prose reflect the impulses of a totalitarian and imperialist servant of empire? If Yépez’s book were a film, it would be as if George Lucas had storyboarded a fantastical empire of lost memory from which Charles Olson has gone missing. One could conclude that Yépez needs a little history, since his history can only be called fantasy or revisionist. A group of poets have gathered, Il Gruppo, and are concerned.
Il Gruppo has noted this “dismantling” of Olson as a trend, a pattern: for the last several decades, following every emergence of new interest in Olson, there is an inevitable backlash — usually under the guise of Olson as patriarchal misogynist on the one hand, or grand failure on the other. But now, inexplicably, fantastically, he has been morphed into the imperialist emissary of empire. Why has this happened?
Members of Il Gruppo (Amiri Baraka, Jack Hirschman, Ammiel Alcalay, Carlos b. Carlos Suarès, Benjamin Hollander, and others) intend to respond in a place and form where such a debate — usually sublimated into one or another mode of theoretical double-speak, political correctness, or “fair and balanced” flattening of positions — might actually be forced out into the open. We will point to commentaries diametrically opposed to Yépez’s claims about Olson. For example, we would point to Diane di Prima’s lecture on Olson in which she recalls asking Olson
“When did America go bad? Was it after Jefferson? Was it late as Andrew Jackson and the stuff with a national bank?” Charles answered me instantly. Conspiratorially. Leaning close to my ear, he half-whispered in that gruff voice he used when he particularly wanted to underscore what he was saying: Rotten from the very beginning. Constitution written by a bunch of gangsters to exploit a continent.
Or we would point to comments by Olson’s Japanese translator, Yorio Hirano, who writes that Olson’s
Maximus Poems is a book of quest. Maximus, who wishes to find innocence in the beginning of America, finds the fact that the beginning has already been contaminated by the filth of commercialism and nascent capitalism brought there by Pilgrim Fathers.
As with any response to a revisionist historian’s subject, it is not so much the subject — in this case, Olson — which needs to be defended: his poetry and the facts of his life will do just fine in speaking for themselves. This is why it is difficult for Il Gruppo to buy into defending Olson as if we were presenting just another perspective in order to have a fair and balanced counter to Yépez’s so-called history. This move would mock the facts of Olson’s life. Are astronomers in the name of “fairness and balance” asked to present “the other side” to those who believe the moon is made of green cheese?
Rather, Il Gruppo intends to directly address Yépez’s claims, most importantly why they are being made, why and by whom they are seriously being entertained, their purported basis, and how they fall into a pattern of attacks on Olson. The space and form where such issues will be forced into the open is still under discussion.
— Benjamin Hollander, on behalf of Il Gruppo
: some sh/email instigations by Julie Patton
In these emails there are the multiple proper names, who are not explained. There are names always doubled for their lexical word meaning and for address. Can you hear me?
Readings of ideology between lineation, phoneme. Writing about Belladonna*s Advancing Feminist Activism and Poetics (ADFEMPO) Conference at CUNY in 2009 then splintering off. In the image of the email (above), something is started. Cartoons of politicians: distilling the most searing image amidst tag along crackles of associations. Trickster like.
Defining (negations) usa military culture bumping hips with Nation of Islam in sharing ideology.
Freely expansive reach for imagery: high low, spirit and politics. There is Charleston Heston’s Moses to describe an eternal event narrated by Shamans in the Yucatan.
Julie is recording angel, recording other recording angels.
>Thanks for listening" (as King Arcey would say) and "thanks cyberspace">> for mimicing that which travels at the speed of light because I'm about to>> step away from this headache inducing wall of glare
The frame of the email for the writing reminds me of Hito Steyerl. I just got The Wretched of the Screen e-flux journal book of her essays at the International Center of Photography Triennial. I am thinking about the full throttle anti-nostalgia and work with the degradation that we need to feel the groundlessness and infinite reproducibility of the image as trade for the printed photograph. The email as poem is in a similar exchange.
I agree with you that Steyerl is a perfect match for Patton.
Role of the poet is to sing it in many ways, ever over.
I will ask her if we can use this quote.
>Laid an egg in my head about side broads, egg girlfriends and howl. >An anti In Ass A moanyfisto? …> Can tell em anything. That the verizon is both vertical and horizontal, has omniscient omnipresent and oppressive powers ever broadening.> That plain ol bards lack the passion and shooting spirit of passiflora> so shd stay home and beat their beaks against the oven and rent >their clothes. Their children will become egg whites.
I wish this was the new national anthem. Or call to arms.
Real time measure of time and the times.
Cross-reference, the analyses of ideology and character, not unintentional to place a historical hero next to a villain/demon.
Assertion that, the catalog (Whitman, Waldman, Baraka) that keeping it all in the present and visible, is possible, against the distractions of consumption. Continuing that work of witness, of record. An Ars poetica – Julie Patton's Poetics of Time.
>> Our Sun, who art in heaven, is at its lowest point, on the longest night
>> drive home, the most profound descent into the dark of no globe ball
>> warming, we too, offer to take the time to turn inward, reflect on the
>> nature of existence for all on the farce of the earth, pay our UNION dues,
>> meditate in SOLidarity and stillness with the SOL mysteriously rising and
>> falling in the same SETTING! the same SUNSPOT for a few days.
Instructions, practice, practical means don’t lose sight of body, of ability to do these things, in reference to the south American shamans.
I am thinking about how I want Julie patton to write opeds for the NYTimes.
Here she is talking about her invitation to AWP panel talk proposed by HR Hegnauer on the poet/professor Akilah Oliver, whose passing surprised and devastated us in February 2011:
>Hello! I sure hope you & the teddy bears are hibernating well. >Rest yr sould. Abt Akilah...I found out that one must register & pay!!! I don't live in a >cash economy, travel w/my good gardens (true) and the rest is beans. >But I have an idea which I shared with Tonya who had Akilahs wings wrapped >tight around her...the memory of her loss insuring the care of another. >And so it goes. Lessons learned the yard way of dropping seeds. Anyway, re >past, I imagined we could set a table, serve tea and its cohorts (cookies, a cake baked by Foster asthetics) >and carry on a public conversation dialogue >q&a rhythmics about A. The conversation wd just flow but of course we could have points of discussion> written down her books for readings relative >to & end w/ed. bowes film? Whose on panel? Is it true each must pay $80.00?> Is it true you are sweet' precious and kind? and the devil is a gingrich >newt and we are blacks entitled to subtract a negative from a hole in the ground?> What would Akilah say about this? Having nothing the poor are >entitled to suck even less nothing from zero in a country wealthy off free labor> and land wanting more but not even makes me want to become >religious and rent my clothes as home embodiless mess >sigh a black jewish asian native in dios aboriginal venus de willin to come kick they infernal >blabbermouth gunrighteous ass.
Sent via MOTOBLUR™ on Verizon Wireless
I wish I knew Akilah.
The snapshot is the means of communication through a small phone, no computer. Shooting out into the world of friends, assertion, exists, non alienation, despite odds.
It goes on and on, bounces off the keyboard.
Wait!!! Before we end, I want to point to Julie Patton's wide reach--the way, ironic that she writes on a motoBLUR--her poetics, politics, love, activism, collage, homemaking, community building, gardening, ecotrembling, friendship can never but all be fully intersecting like water hyacinth. Here is Julie writing a massive project, The Salon des Refusés (art gallery/residence and community network in Cleveland's East Side) for About Place Journal, which is edited by The Black Earth Institute Fellows (shout out to LaTasha Diggs, Marcella Durand and Patricia Spears Jones.)
: some sh/email instigations by Julie Patton
This writing on Julie Patton's writing is done from a set of collected but non chronological and selected randomly emails sent or forwarded by Julie Patton to Rachel Levitsky. The emails are various and organized in no particular order here. A more sustained editorial effort by the poet and fiction writer Barbara Henning will support a book length project of Patton's emails, to be published by Belladonna* Collaborative.
Date: August 29, 2013 12:27:51 AM EDT>Rhapsody blue chagrin. on the line music and time. the pattern is justice as measure and >balance, glitz and hallways Send Her Ella and loose lip comedians. Bruce & Pryer must say. >Sammy D would be. Nevertheless reaching for a tango right outside the doors vaudevile and >more. blues in between. Notes, kissing cousins but not one holocaust after another spurred >pilgrimace book bleeding cover to cover mEnding something ancient and lost. Perhaps a split, >Sephardi on the boats to... and more than rumors of slave trader rhythms on the C. lump bus. >Schiz culture dash. jamericas despot queen isabella across the aisle of Liberte' Mist. Torch >songer borscht belting out— a racist's racket, scrunched neck lacing the sea (brought news to >blacks, unwelcome news). They were on their way... To, meet comrades on the other end, link >lyrics, lit, land, lords, Lord, neighbor shoulds, cultural proximity and familarity. When I was a >child, and blacks tended t follow shoes on the way outside the hood fresh en counter Hughes in >relation to Bess's Porgy and all the rest. I can sometimes get inside yr/our brain. As women, >pushy ones at that. Pussy. And on the move.
What flashes up
a full portrait sustained
in the deeply specific
telling me to watch
what is knowing (someone will read something.)
The email is encasing the tenderness of the struggle. It’s part of the form, for convenience to connect, for connecting to not just one person—I'm an outsider to the email chain, tacked on for purpose of further unfolding these as a text, but not as a thing, also it’s own non-critical jump cut. So how do I comment (such a meager term) on an email about being beside your mother as she may be dying (too crude a word). All that can be is silent empathy?
Material makes action possible. Mother's mural physically makes her as person real, makes the doctors care, fight, holds the space of living and dying. The writer, Julie, too, is held by the fact of her mother's painting.
Remembering also makes material. How to slow down, pause a word as strategy.
I fixate on how the email to one person is an email to multiple versions--dead and old email addresses, when someone wants to find you they send to all your versions.
Word mutations are similarly little dictionaries for the context, personally.
Date: October 6, 2009 6:19:05 AM EDT>At least I hope Solanum geni us bookended by U queen of cups>justice wants to say how eye'll always member that conference womb at>CUNY—cunt'n forget impressions of the leafier bodies swell enough to>turn inside out sex revulva reading wall panels a gain in my socket>or jes glad to seize ya boldly sit'n us down (big babes that we are)>and wowing us with brains brawns beauty and booty—don't>know how you pulled it off——was like being at the (old) Oscars, all those>smiles, zip and celebrittle read carpet for what was herd but never>scene (so many donnas on the rag, beachy clean) cun't quantify o very>rare egg supplanted minds abreast each other (men inclouded too>considering they start out flowering like us, then chain their minds)
Breasts and flowering for all, he/she, black/white, other dichotomies torqued, tweaked to be inclusive while in space of language, which also provides edge/edges, challenges, figuration by negation. Julie is not afraid of language. Meaning not afraid of its fissures, failures. Utopian.
Stay Tuned. More Julie Patton to come!
for Yankev Beri
Translation from Yiddish by Merle Bachman
[NOTE. Bachman’s translation from the experimental Yiddish-American modernist poet Mikhl Likht is forerunner to a project now underway by Ariel Resnikoff & Stephen Ross toward a complete translation of Likht’s long poem in nine parts called “Protsesiyes” [Processions]. The (re)discovery of Likht, a contemporary & probable acquaintance of Zukofsky, whose work compares favorably to Zukofsky’s “A” and Pound’s early Cantos & may even be a forerunner to both, seems to me to be a notable event in mapping the full story of experimental American modernism, albeit in another language or possibly just because of that. In subsequent installments of Poems and Poetics I’ll be posting excerpts from Resnikoff’s comparative study of Zukofsky & Likht; & other selections from Bachman’s earlier writings on & translations from Likht can be found here & here on Poems and Poetics. The present excerpt of course is only part of “Procession Three,” which is itself only a small part of the entire Protsesiyes – originally published in Bachman’s Recovering Yiddishland, Syracuse University Press, 2007. (J.R.)]
Whereas a great world-willfulness
fences in dismal lives infringing on their inclinations
in a skeleton of inflexible bars
I hereby give a signal to the Master
to the Overseer : “Stop tormenting!”
I grabbed satisfaction nourishing myself on nutshell-fat
made cages from wilted mouth-emanations
gathered treasures in meanness from ecstatic apocrypha:
enough! (or should I better say: “Go further?”)
Only: just as a bit of darkened sky starts to clear
in earlymorning East of sunrise-willfulness
so a part of my own word-chaos couples
with the clarity of unambiguous meaning
And: the newborn that is maliciously stamped “hypermodern”
is yesterday dressed in the present’s bonnet
tripped up through the tress of a head-nod
woven and interwoven in a list of tomorrows
from the old Jewish harp
to the Ukrainian lute
with bloodshot eyes
a fence for a hat
UZYALI BRATYA YAWSEFA
HAWTILI YAWKHAW ZABEETI
groshns hail down
with yellow rust
breadcrumbs in pants pockets
through the enormous fairs
gathered through lice-infested clothes
filthy with blood
the seller to the buyer
with a spit on the hem
a copper coin
“it should all go well!”
the shul pulls with leaky walls
prays the Afternoon Service
multiplies, praying singing
blesses God for surviving
for misfortune’s fortunate outcome
arm in arm with his God
(churchbells from mountain steeples)
stretches out hands
gropes in the dark
Jew where are you going
where does the Jew go
somewhere echo nowhere
(somewhere) with 36 righteous volumes
crammed with hints one and zeroes in number
with astrological sign-shrouds
the whole kit-and-kaboodle in-the-beginning things
with pure reason thoroughly explicated
with history (the Rebbe with his leather whip)
with samovars ships
telephone and radio
your hand brother misfortune (and how much have you collected already for the Keren HaYesod?)
the heavy doing-hand writes prescriptions chips away quartz
plastered about somewhere echo nowhere
me to you entirely equal: somewhere-in-nowhere
child with mother-nipple in mouth
old man with pipe-stem in mouth
old man dies
the young one hopes to educate death
to die to leave forlorn
the wormy raw earth
come come weak eagle come
wrapped in periphrases, rags
hand over the mothers and fathers
conceal for a minute
a gas-bill demanding cents
Atlantic? fine Pacific? good
any new ships?
I’m guilty one sin:
bathing in Tuneyadevker gossip
not my neighbor’s wife not his ox
do I long for in my prayers
a bird firedove where
is Mother Rachel’s grave?
Shabbes without delight no weekly rest
the body’s mystical members one member
the poor man by the door
must wait long hours
I am busy one thought
lies in my head: customers bringing sales
my head lies in a caress
not on the Shekhine’s but foolish on my beloved’s breast
a shatnes pants-belt no pretty ritual sash
divides heavenly from earthly
folds of scabrous night-nap
on a pillow white as down black as pitch
ah! I know my desolate offering
my bulgar-with-beans feast
my beloved little old village on a rolling hill
of the nearby Carpathians
a fatal handful of your poor clay huts
like a small bunch of horse-trampled field-flowers
now (no longer hearing) I see your stillness that trickles echoless
across the little river of the priest’s orchard
across the school up to the mountain with the spacious Christian cemetery
like a pointed yarmulke on the mountain’s head
now I see the little street where one Pesakh eve at dusk
the urge seized me to pluck hair
from a horse’s tail for a fiddle-bow
and I succeeded in getting my brow
into a sudden, bloody kiss with a horse’s hoof
and spoiled my whole people’s holiday
now the old priest’s burial comes back to me
his heirs came running together from the ends of the earth
seeking a share of the poor village diocese:
the son from a great city with paved streets
in a godforsaken village rainstorm
one daughter the wife of a high-placed official
who lives off a great income
in a miasmatic village bureau
another from somewhere else “a greater more beautiful life”
after a share of the village diocese inheritance
and Vasil rascal:
wretched blundering thief —
(caught him red-handed, she did, the Bilizerker storekeeper, with a bit of unpaid-for soap
in his goyish hairy bosom he didn’t
argue too much answered back: “the demon
tempted me the cursed spirit not my fault
dear Hinde not my fault blame the devil”)
ah buried priest!
ah rare still nights with shikse-song
with sheygets-whistle in my poor exotic wild
pray for your “prosperous” “all achieving” countryman
. . . . .
The bookworks of Ragnhildur Jóhanns
READING AS TOUCH
Icelandic artist Ragnhildur Jóhanns’ work exists in the liminal space between book and art, between reading and looking, but perhaps, most significantly, because much of her work is so tactile, between looking and touching.
But doesn’t the experience of reading books always involve touching? We touch with our eyes. We look with our fingers. Books are also anthologies of touch. Their bindings, pages, paper, print. Holding a book. Turning its pages. We feel the paper – its texture and thickness. As my niece once exclaimed, “Wow! Its pages are paper thin.”
When we engage with written language, we feel each curve or angle of letter. Some books are the size of a sparrow, some are eagle-sized.
READING AS AMBIENCE
In Jóhanns’ work, we examine text, reading the words, but also looking at them and not searching for each individual meaning or the relationships between them necessarily, but as a collection of words. A collection of tones and modalities of language.
The little strips of paper drawing the voices out of the book—the crowd of words speaking. And like listening to a crowd—are they saying ‘watermelon, watermelon’ or reciting their own Ur Sonatas—we listen to the overall profile rather than the individual words. We don't listen to each cicada, but rather the swarm.
Meaning is ambient. Perhaps reading is ambient, also. We often read without really noticing. Words surround us, like leaves surround squirrels as they go about their daily leaps. (I think of a conversation I had with derek beaulieu about his notion of ‘ambient poetics,’ though I’m not sure if this is what he means.)
COPY/ PASTING THE PHYSICAL WORLD
Jóhanns’ bookworks often feature little strips of paper sprouting from the book, the words, like plants growing through cracks in the sidewalk, escaping, seeking the outside. Instead of “Copy/pasting” the digital representation of the words, the actual physical contents of the book were moved. We feel the tactility of the book. Its objectness.
What is the sum of a book, what is its content? Its paper, its lines, its words on paper and lines? Our usual notion of a book is that it is one imaginary long paper segmented then bundled into the separate sheets of the codex.
In Jóhanns’ work, the words on distant pages can speak to each other across pages like residents in an apartment building on their balconies looking up, looking down, passing grammar between them.
Jean Cocteau says, “The greatest masterpiece in literature is only a dictionary out of order. And what if that ‘out of order’ masterpiece were itself out of order? And what about the dictionary or the book considered as a form in itself, as a ‘masterpiece’ of its own? What happens if you take apart the book itself? When we read a book, we read so much beyond the words. So much beyond the grammar that the author presents.
WAITING FOR THE ELVES
I’m particularly intrigued by the presentation of these bookworks.
Framed photographs of images of books.
Photographs of treated books themselves pictured on a page within a book.
Shelves of books.
And in the image at the top of this post (Book II – Vulcano), the moody grey texture of the photography. A romantic image of a treated book. The gloaming light of reading. We don’t need Heathcliff glowering over the moor. We have this dictionary of English to Icelandic.
Northern. Fur. Petal. Piety. Harum-scarum. Through his sleeve. Glove. Pour.
æ ligatures and eths.
Does that say “waiting for the elves?”
And we can look things up on the internet:
Sterkur. Strong, as in strong coffee or alcohol. And this: “Sterka. You have strong arms, girl.”
GB: How do you imagine someone 'reading' your work? How would they engage with the text as text, or the relationship between the printed word and the book object? These texts are not collaged, but instead their usual relation to the page and to the book has been changed. They still are connected to their source: the book and page. And the texts have different kinds of belonging. To the source book, to the language, to the tradition of books. To the narratives or poems that they create together with the other fragments of texts.
RJ: I always like the fact that there is no narrative in these texts and it challenges the reader to find a different way to read. One of my most favorite parts about people reading my work is the fact that every reader reads a different story because they grasp a sentence here and there and make up a new feeling for the text.
GB: These texts and the little blades of paper that they are printed on seem to me like they have grown from the books. Or that they are escaping. Or are they are somehow the books' (or the text’s or story's) auras, its energy. They bring out the sensory nature of the book as object. There is movement, rhythm, and tactility. They recontextualize words and printed material. The books become sculptures. They become three dimensional objects-in-the-world as opposed to books that can only be open or closed. And these altered books don't appear on shelves, but in galleries. (Unless, like in Semsé, the books appear in another book.)
How do think of these works in relationship with the traditional book and with the readers’ traditional engagement with reading a book?
RJ: I love the object book, it´s such a beautiful thing and since I was very young, I have read a lot so it has had a huge impact on me. I liked the idea of turning the books in a different way and making the text sort of like growing out of them because that is sort of what normal books can do for us who read. It´s also a way for me to make up a new poem and to transform old objects that are not wanted any more into something completely different. It might something like a homage to the book.
GB: How do the texture and design of the original book relate to the chosen text and to the 'readers' experience of your work? You seem to choose a particular kind of book—older books of a certain size. What are your thoughts about such books and the reader/viewer's experience with your work?
RJ: I started out with working with books that the owners didn´t want to have any more, so they were being thrown away, unwanted. At first I wasn´t thinking about the size that much but they do come in different standard sizes so they can easily be matched together.
What I was aiming for is to make a romantic poem out of the books and what interested me in this is the fact that you can pull out certain sentences and when you take them out of context you can make a new context and that means that whatever kind of a book you have this is still possible, even if the book is a children’s book, autobiography or a novel of whatever kind—they don´t have to be romantic novels for this to be possible. So what I try to create is this feeling of a romantic/erotic poem with carefully chosen words and sentences and form my experience [so] the reader gets this feeling.
More about Ragnhildur Jóhanns and images of her work can be found at her website.