Say the poem is a journey
taken with silent walking sticks
on a path strewn with memories
blind & beyond measure.
Its mouth filled with words
its pockets filled with stale bread.
Say it is an elixir derived from chlorophyll
or the royal jelly of expressionistic bees.
Say its stops & turns are towers, shrines
or little discomforts in sleep.
That each of its shafts pierces
a separate element of dream.
That its bewildering sunlight
is a glittering city where ecstasy dances
hand in hand with death.
It was something I went
I was afraid of getting
lost. & so I hid
in the island of branching voices
illuminated by the ubiquitous pathos
of forgetting. Something had
torn a hole in my heart
like a leaf, extended finger,
or bone. & so I stuck
to the honey of something
heavy & eternal--
a breath where celestial light
fell in spurts
dampening the pain
of the infinite unmooring.
Say that it is
or say that it isn’t.
Say that its exhibitions of false skies
are symbols of a catastrophe
at the dead ends of streets.
Say that its arrangement of white
sticky sugar skulls
is the hypnotic process of forgetting former lives.
That its burnt & empty homes
are the paralyzed angels
in the next century’s enactment
of Paradise Lost.
That its black tarantulas are seedlings
or the trials of an affective disorder &
that its iridescent scarabs
are the ozone above a chronic facultative storm.
That its conscience is a giant
in the form of a dragon guarding the treasure
of deceased gods.
I felt my existence
pressed against me
like a heel
piercing the grain
of the bark
of a fruitless mulberry tree.
I remember it from childhood
when its flesh stopped
falling & its leaves
turned a color of brilliant
that blistered in laughter
at the raindrops
which fell from the blue-
silver patina of branches above.
Say so much of its
weight that it sinks
into the river
traversed by smoldering bridges.
& that the ash
of these bridges turns to bone.
& that inside these bones
into the eclipse
of solar meaning.
I looked forward
in the sky
in the form of a hand.
My hair hung heavy
at my side
like the muscle & bone
of a being drawn
on a page outside of time.
My tongue wagged
this way & that
inside the continent
of my mind.
Say it is circle, screen, or vessel.
Or that its round is flat
& drifts in-between
& that clenched idea
of a terrible god.
My arms weren’t what
they used to be. When
I pointed to a star or rooftop
angry dogs barked in the distance
while the shrill whistling
of trains drove me further away
from home. Into the hands
of enemies who advanced
on all sides
light, doors, baskets, empty casements,
hallways, grass, & mirrored reflections.
Or say it is earth, sun, star, or moon
the purple veil between
this realm & the next,
or paralyzed boat adrift upon
the black sea of wintered orphans.
Say it is the alchemical soup
one swims through in a dream.
I saw a light at the end of a tunnel
which grew in distance
the faster I ran to it.
I was in the back seat
& found that my vehicle
drove on faster & faster
completely out of control.
Each of the immense clocks
in my room had turned
an insane color of red.
My heart palpitated
like the motion
of a fish pulled
from lake, stream, or sea.
Say it is the daylight of fissure
or the darkness of
the muteness of moonlight.
I learned to
hunt & play
in the shimmering starfoam
I’ve heard the hyena &
the tokay make noise
by moonlight. In the
circular music of their mouths
my own screams ceased
& I plunged into the depths
of their secrets.
. . . . . . .
[Note. Concerning Stater’s Labyrinth of Vision, the opening of the first section of which is presented here, I’ve written previously: “To say it quickly: Bruce Stater’s Labyrinth of Vision is little short of extraordinary – a work that ties language to a journey truly taken & a mind in extremis that acts to record it. Stater, as I read him, writes with a sense of imaginings that reminds me of a poet like Gerard de Nerval in his visionary prose work, Aurelia, where ‘dream is a second life’ & ‘an overflow’ into the everyday. As with Nerval & a small company of others, then & now, the vision & the language are inseparable: ‘a Journey of remembrance & metaphor,’ as the title of Stater’s first chapter tells us. If you want to take that as merely literature, feel free to do so; it is that & something more: a place where metaphor rings true & is – for the duration of the vision – the only truth there is. ‘It is light, it is dark,’ the old Aztecs said in defining their own labyrinths, & it is also the mark in Stater’s labyrinthine journey of a strong new voice in poetry.”
Or Stater himself in still more specific terms: “Interesting to me that I began A Labyrinth ... in my last & -- I do not hesitate to profess it -- final period of hospitalization. That in a significant way the writing has been a means of transforming this experience -- not simply of avoiding, confining, or eluding it -- but of providing it with a meaning beyond itself -- rewriting it toward some purpose -- allowing it to emerge beyond the familiar cultural meanings & necessary outcomes without falling back into the private meanings of its own delusional system, its fears, its horrors, its ego driven & solipsistic ideas of reference. Refusing to choose between these. I suppose one could say that I was simply unsatisfied with the semantic field of ‘madness’ -- of schizophrenia -- of the terms through which my experience must necessarily be defined & constrained by our cultural paradigms. Of the limitations of such a term's possible or inevitable outcomes. Even within it, ‘the madness,’ I always had a sense of a genuinely ritualistic mode of performing the possibility of becoming -- summoning a sort of transformation. The terms ‘psychological,’ ‘emotional,’ ‘spiritual,’ & ‘cognitive’ do not quite capture it. I could work with these terms, alongside them, at their edges & fringes -- but had a sense in which their fit was imprecise, shallow, & devoid of meaning. ‘Madness’ was not to be purposeful-- & yet mine seemed to be so.”
The complete version of Labyrinth of Vision is available as an online book from Ahadada Books at http://www.ahadadabooks.com/content/view/119/41/.]
Ron Silliman talks for six minutes about Louis Zukofsky's “A“ as a useful counterpoint to Rachel Blau DuPlessis's Drafts and the crisis of the long poem that is at the heart of its composition: MP3 audio. Here is a link to the complete talk by Silliman. It was presented as part of a celebration of the poetry and criticism of DuPlessis held at Temple University in 2011.
Not the building of a megaphone for bardic harmonics, nor the people’s microphone, but a dance of many feet...
I'm pleased to present here a statement by John Kinsella and Drew Milne on their forthcoming book-length poem-project, Reactor Red Shoes. The work is being published September, 2013 by Veer: bbk.ac.uk/cprc/publications/veer-books . Below the statement is an excerpt from the poem, reproduced from the typescript.
John Kinsella & Drew Milne, Reactor Red Shoes: A Statement
Here, where two writers sidle up into becoming a third party — a third-party poetics in play and with shared accountability — there is not so much a duet of voices, as a textile of give and take, warp and weft. It could be called an implied dialogue, a process, or a sharing of the soap-box, but dialogue suggests dialectic, or a legislative grind through questions and answers. Such stains of argument are entertained and found wanting here. Not for Kinsella and Milne the liberal idols of dialogue and the performance chatter of radio discussion, nor even the collage of monologues by rival Socratics. This collaborative poem shares more than argument or dialogue, building across seemingly necessary interruptions into an on-going dance.
Reactor Red Shoes is a work of poetry developed out of shared conversations that began in the 1990s, and which were brought into writing during Kinsella’s Judith E. Wilson Fellowship in Cambridge, where Milne is the Judith E. Wilson Lecturer in Drama and Poetry. For Kinsella, this was an act of presence; and for Milne, an act of social being. The writing-together took around eighteen months, from around September 2011 to February 2013. Working through Red-Green and Marxist-Anarchist difference engines, the poets shared a process of verbal and textual conversation.
Recognising that collaboration can mask individual agency, somehow privileging a more collective consciousness, the poets articulated resistances to shared personal, collective and socio-political problems. Nuclear reactors, nuclear weapons, uranium mines and the machinery for enriching uranium, to take one such problem, are omnipresent across the planet and too often silently accepted as givens. The technology of radioactivity extends into the very texts created to resist it. Protest becomes paradoxical rather than successful, a commentary rather than an act of change. This becomes the impasse Reactor Red Shoes seeks to find a way through: how might the poem generate meaningful differences in the process of reacting to the shifts and disguises of collective threats and damages?
In reading poetry that offers itself as the work of a collaborative authorship, the modern sense of private property cannot quite resist wanting to own the differences and alienate them into private arts and copyrights. Scientific papers offer themselves as collectively written proceedings. Almost all the performing arts are collaboratively performed. From the simplest architecture to the writing of our laws, from the building of spirit to the logic of capital itself, the relations of production are social. And yet, the curse of solitary production is wished upon anything called to the barre of poetry, as if even Homer, or song itself, were ever the working out of one mind and not the sociality of a people making it into writing. The fairy story of the red shoes — of dancing our way brightly to death, of treading on the loaves and politics of bread over wastes of annihilation, of the cinematic diegesis of the Powell and Pressburger film of dance, creative implosion, manipulation and cultural tyranny — is more than metaphor or symbol, becoming rather an allegory of production and its political resistances.
To write, moreover, is to enter into the language of others, and almost all forms of writing, even those that treasure hermetic privations, work out towards marks of otherness, hoping to find a collective script or public dance of language. To write as though anything written could be understood as something written by a third party — a third-party made up in the discovery of a friendship and solidarity — is at first surprising and then like a new kind of third-party politics, not least in putting to some kind of music the very differences between socialism and anarchism, or between punk and ballet, that turn out to be shared recognitions. Leaning out from the tracks of familiar treads, then, there are ventriloquised imaginings stumbling over the pulse of shared record collections, films, demonstrations and political vigils. So it is with this choreography, at any rate. Amid the limits of the available dance floor, there is a measure of tonal sympathy that refuses to sacrifice the ethos of the dancer who prefers not to stay in time.
More than one writer, then, sharing a shifting platform, rather than staging two voices constrained to become either private or public. And writing with a sense of choric plurals, a choreographic making in which a shared voicing is not about building a megaphone for bardic harmonics or the people’s microphone, but a dance of many feet, a detachment of red shoes. The dancers cannot stop to look too closely at the give and take of the floor, though they are forever pointing to the cracks evident in the grounds on which we would be standing, if we were not dancing. This dance is ghost-written too by other shifts against the accommodations of present pressures and crimson enchantments. Life rushes by, but the red shoes go on, plunging headlong into the tracks of the engulfing ecopolitical disaster melting all before our damaged eyes and ears.
Chinas Comidas: Live and Studio Recordings 1977-80
One the real perks of living in Austin is the live music, and in April, I was fortunate enough to see Patti Smith in concert— and even though she is 66 years old now, she was spectacular. After a two hour set (including an encore), I was floored that the original punk-poet-goddess could still embody so much of the artistic anti-establishment energy almost forty years after she first came on the scene. But it also made me reflect on the long relationship between poetry and punk music, and what their intertwined history in the 1970's could mean.
This image of William Burroughs, which comes from the back pages of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, always stood out to me as the best example of the intersection of the literary and punk. Burroughs' work combines a number of avant-garde compositional techniques (Surrealist automatic writing and Dadaist cut-ups, for example) with extravagant yet realistic drug use, a strong anti-authoritarian stance, the perspectives of outsiders (in the vein of Jean Genet, homosexuals and thieves dominate Burroughs' worlds), and a straightforward “tell it like it is” view of the world—all of which are critical nodes of the music and culture of the early days of punk in the 1970's. “LIFE IS A KILLER” sums up the simultaneous despair and triumph not only of Burroughs' own Naked Lunch, but punk albums such as Richard Hell's Blank Generation.
And, of course, William Burroughs served as a mentor to many of the young punk musicians in New York, and the intersections between poetry and punk were not just artistic, but personal. Allen Ginsberg has his poem, "Punk Rock You're My Big Crybaby," and a humorous story about meeting Patti Smith, and serves as a testament between their crossed paths. The poets and the musicians were moving in similar circles in lower Manhattan, and the resonances are still felt today, as the recently-defunct Bowery Poetry Club described its location as being in the shadow of the former location of CBGB's.
So why meditate on punk music? Because one of the real treasures in PennSound is the full album recording of Chinas Comidas: Live and Studio Recordings, 1977-1980, which was published by Exquisite Corpse Records in 2006. This album consists of 19 songs by the little-known Seattle punk band consisting of Rich Riggins, Brock Wheaton, Mark Wheaton, Dag Mitskog, and the titular vocalist Chinas Comidas—a pseudonym of the poet Cynthia Genser, who has also published since the 80's as Cynthia Kraman. Kraman's fourth collection of poems, The Touch, was published in 2009.
Chinas Comidas combines some of the best sounds of hard/loud/fast punk music (it's obvious why they opened for The Ramones and toured with The Dead Kennedys) with the intense poetic lyricism of Patti Smith. For example, here are the printed lyrics for the opening song on the album, "Isadora":
The song eschews the more simple and repetitive song writing of "Blitzkrieg Bop" for a more complex contruction of setting and dialogue that reflects the urban despair of some of Burroughs' work. The anguish of waiting for the lover's return is textured with cocaine, modern commerce through cigarette branding, hopes of international travel, and murder—the great pulp crime of 20th century metropolitan intrigue. Kraman considered the album its own sort of complete publication as well—one that intersects with literary culture. As she says in the liner notes:
I want the CD to have a sort of sound trajectory, regardless of when or how it was recorded. —it's more of a semiosis of language and sound — moving from one sort of drama rhythmically and texturally to another that offsets it, enhances it — I was always big on order. So it's “the many moods” and sounds of Chinas Comidas, interwoven. For me Isadora is very personal and intimate...then we move into dance rhythms with Sweeter, then keep the dance thing but in darker tones with Criminal Cop, goes back to traditional dance, goes back to the long poetic riffs of Isadora with Johnny Guitar and then bang, the whole heavy Peasant/Slave chorus. So that's one cycle for me. Then we go back to pogoing with Big Ideas, back to the long poetry riff with Pride and Joy and For the Rich completes another cycle with another kick ass song, That's sort of Part I; Protection Racket/Stroke/Further Lines for Pretty Boy Floyd/Cowboys is Part II which for me is all Wild West youth sex taking acid that whole thing. Part III is my poetry work with Rich, Rich's musical work with the band, and then a sort of coda with Dag singing the Sonics classic The Witch. then wrapping it up with B side of the first single Lover/Lover, and then a little dance tune that celebrates the fan as a closer: “Snaps.”
My hope is that this underappreciated album will give you something to rock out to over the week. There are a number of complete albums on PennSound that originally were published on LP/CD. The most famous of these is Allen Ginsberg singing The Songs of Innocence and Experience, which was profiled by PoemTalk in episode number 4. I will feature more of these full albums over the course of the summer, so stay tuned.