On the convergence of war and wedding (PoemTalk #70)

Laura Mullen, 'Bride of the New Dawn'


Amy Paeth, Michelle Taransky, and Steve McLaughlin met up with PoemTalk’s host Al Filreis to talk about one of the poems in Laura Mullen’s book Enduring Freedom: A Little Book of Mechanical Brides (Otis Books, 2012). Enduring Freedom is a coherent project; its poems constitute a series — a number of approaches to the problem of war’s strange but also surprisingly obvious and true convergence with weddings (and wedding planning in particular). The poem we chose is “Bride of the New Dawn.” Our recording of Mullen’s performance of the poem comes from a reading she gave in October 2012, in Berkeley, as recorded by Ross Craig; it was a reading in which she read fifteen of the Enduring Freedom poems.

The poems — including ours, to be sure — strip bare the idea of the wedding as auratic life-moment. This concept — and the book’s subtitle, its allusion to Marshall McLuhan’s 1950s take on industrial folklore, the connection between Mullen’s performance and Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, and much else — suggests a relationship between this poet’s twenty-first-century project and Marcel Duchamp’s modernist “bachelor machine,” The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915–1923). The wedding industrial complex has wrought its lasting post-effect on the home front. The poems in a sense are PTSD sufferers. Is the wedding traumatic? As you read Mullen’s prose poems you become caught in the fog-of-war confusion of lexicons, never quite able to discern, one line to the next, whether the figurative registers come from wedding planning or military strategy (or natural disasters). The wedding ceremony, “a ritual meant to extend a magic present,” can be seen now as a martial quagmire. “Enduring Freedom” is of course the name given to the US war in Afghanistan. “Well, on to the slaughter,” reads the book’s epigraph from the clever Goodrich-Hackette screenplay for Father of the Bride at the time of the Korean conflict, its “well” being a sigh of horrid-yet-plucky inevitability. Typically, in American life and language, bride and soldier complement each other, but here, in Mullen’s performance of cultural languages, romantic and martial, the two roles become strikingly the same. “[H]ere to hear the I do as a couple of hard blows: that flesh-blunted sound of bone on bone dislodging as cough a caught morsel not thoroughly chewed. Back out, back out, quagmire …”

PoemTalk is produced by Al Filreis. For episode 70, our engineers were Zach Carduner and Chris Martin. And our editor, as always, is Steve McLaughlin. Next time on PoemTalk: Salamishah Tillet, Herman Beavers and Kathy Lou Schultz join Al to discuss Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die.” In the photograph above, from left to right: Michelle Taransky, Steve McLaughlin, Amy Paeth.

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Bride of the New Dawn

She appears to be recognized as herself and not herself, new because endlessly recycled, not what she was but not what she will be — see? Not married and not not married, the processional’s a ritual meant to extend a magical present, until the head of this pin is the size of a rented hall and all of us angels stepping out on the long blank train of her on-going gown. To go in single and come married out is easy enough, what matters is to enlarge the interstitial, to live as long as we can in the not exactly no longer and the not quite not yet also. Where organ music drowns the ill-digested vows and the empty stomach growls. Hesitant. The BND goes down slow as a pill we can’t really swallow, stuck chunk in a stalled gulp between yesterday and tomorrow, at one and the same time belated and punctual. It’s the system itself we’ve come to see (open the plug of that rubber-edged rose window), not me and not you, but we: the marriage of church and state made visible, audible, available. Here Dearly Beloved’s an embarrassing gurgle, and the costly gown so much densely crumpled bathroom tissue backing up one overworked way in and out of the usual world. From the mouth to points South, scrawl that in soap on the vehicle? From “will you?” to “why don’t you ever?” on the march to “irreconcilable.” Hey — whoa! Away with you hand-wringing nay sayers: be here now now now now. … Cheeks are flushed and eyes overflow as we grasp her new handle, here to hear the I do as a couple of hard blows: that flesh-blunted sound of bone on bone dislodging as cough a caught morsel not thoroughly chewed. Back out, back up, quagmire, circle: proposed solutions involve the usual budget expansions, extended tours of duty, and additional troops.

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Laura Mullen has kindly added the following context: My version of “cut piece” (a homage to Yoko Ono – & Helene Cixous) is not directly connected to the book or concurrent with my readings from it. The “cutting of the wedding dress” was done in the context of a multi-media performance (created for AdFemPo in 2009 and done last at &Now in Paris in 2012) which involves a nonfiction meditation on class and race situated in the early days of the Obama presidency. There’s a film of the piece (known as "White Inc.") up on Vimeo:  https://vimeo.com/46107108.   But the “bridework” involves multiple layers: I see that Jacket has posted a picture of the “Trash Bride” piece done for/at Naropa in 2011 (again, not a reading from the book), and there is extensive documentation of the way the “bride of big oil” was mobilized here in Louisiana (2010) as a part of political actions in response to the Deepwater Horizon incident, as well as related videos on my Vimeo site ("The Veil" and "Bride Journal").   While I have read from Enduring Freedom in a wedding dress twice (at the book launch in Baton Rouge, where the wedding cake had soldiers on it, and at Otis, on Halloween), the dress I read in is specific: it's the gown that was cut up in Paris (for "White Inc.") and then, with friends, “up armored” (“up-amoured” is my joke) or “Frankensteined” (as we say of the vehicles which were sent into battle in Iraq with inadequate protection and had to be patched up). The marks of vulnerability, damage, and love are upon it.

Into the Field: Rod Smith

Rod Smith is a poet, editor, and publisher from Washington, D.C. He’s a co-founder of Aerial Magazine and founder of Edge Books, which has published titles by Joan Retallack, Anselm Berrigan, Robert Fitterman, Benjamin Friedlander, K. Silem Mohammad, and many others. Smith, along with Friedlander and Mohammad, is a member of the Flarf Collective. Since 1993 he has managed Bridge Street Books in Georgetown.

Rod Smith’s books of poetry include Deed (University of Iowa Press, 2007), Protective Immediacy (Roof, 1999), and In Memory of My Theories (O Books, 1996). He co-edited The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley with Kaplan Harris and Peter Baker, to be published by the University of California Press in January 2014.

Fierce storehouses of articulation (PoemTalk #69)

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, sections 16 & 29 of 'Draft 85: Hard Copy'

Mary Oppen, George Oppen, Rachel Blau DuPlessis sitting on the deck of the DuPlessis house, 211 Rutgers Avenue, Swarthmore, PA, in 1979. Taken by Robert S. DuPlessis.


In a special long episode of PoemTalk, Ron Silliman, Jessica Lowenthal, Randall Couch and PoemTalk’s producer and host Al Filreis gathered to discuss two sections of “Draft 85: Hard Copy,” which is the 85th “draft” or canto in Rachel Blau DuPlessis's ongoing long poem Drafts.  “Draft 85” is itself a long poem, running from pages 42 to 71 in the book Pitch: Drafts 77-95This big draft was written between February and May of 2007. All forty sections of “Draft 85” were recorded by the poet for PennSound, in our studios, in October of 2007. We decided to focus on two of those forty sections — sections 16 and 29. The forty sections of “Draft 85” are mapped onto George Oppen’s important long poem, Of Being Numerous, a typescript copy of which Oppen in 1965 had sent to Du Plessis, and to which she responded then, and has, in a sense, been responding here and there since, although never more fully than here in “Hard Copy.” Section 16 of Du Plessis’s poem, like Oppen’s 16th section of his earlier poem, deals with Yahweh’s command to Abraham that he sacrifice Isaac. Section 29 of “Hard Copy” responds to Oppen's 29th section about his relationship with his own daughter by retelling the story in Genesis 31 of Rachel’s theft of the teraphim belonging to her father.

This episode of PoemTalk was directed and engineered by Steve McLaughlin, who, among other things, co-produces PennSound Radio, 24/7 curated streaming from the aural treasure troves of PennSound. The episode was edited, as all installments of PoemTalk are, by the very same Steve McLaughlin.

Into the Field: Astrid Lorange and Eddie Hopely

Astrid Lorange and Eddie Hopely are a pair of poets living in Sydney, Australia with strong links to the Philly and New York writing scenes. Eddie has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Temple University and currently works as a freelance editor, research assistant, and independent scholar. Astrid recently finished her Ph.D. at the University of Technology, Sydney and has taken a position as lecturer at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales. Both are members of the assignment-based writing group Collective Task.

Astrid’s books include FOOD TURNS INTO BLOOD (Gauss PDF, 2013), one that made it alike (Vagabond Press, 2013), Eating and Speaking (Tea Party Republicans Press, 2011), and Minor Dogs (bas-books, 2011). You can find more publications, videos, and recordings on her website. Eddie’s works include SNUG (2013), Power Move (Gauss PDF, 2011), RUDE DOOR (Trees + Squash, 2011), and many more. Together they run the SUS chapbook press.

Perhaps a new optimism (PoemTalk #68)

Ray DiPalma, 'It makes / of nonsense'


Aaron Shurin (then just in from the Bay Area), John Tranter (visiting from Australia), and Charles Bernstein (coming in from New York) joined Al Filreis for this episode of PoemTalk to discuss a poem by Ray DiPalma, “It makes of nonsense.” The poem was written in 1976, and first performed, we think, in 1977. Our text of the poem comes from the poet, and is reproduced below. Our PennSound recording of the poem was segmented from a longer tape of a reading DiPalma gave, along with Michael Lally and Bruce Andrews (quite a threesome in those years), at the Ear Inn in New York City on November 10, 1977; the tape-recording itself was made by the aforementioned Charles Bernstein, one of this episode’s interlocutors.

When the group encounters this passage — “the basis / of this world / the failure / of causality / common / sense is not / what hat / we find there” — we focus on “what hat,” that which we find there once cause-and-effect relations have been deemed to fail. John suggests that a reading of the passage can be straightforward, that hat is a role (as in what hat you wear to signify a job or assumed identity). Thus a “new optimism” augured by this poem might derive from a fresh sense of “common / sense” that does not make identity a function of put-on role. Charles agrees. Aaron and Al suggest a second reading, in which “hat” emerges out of “what” as language, suggesting an alternative to the traditional causality in which a word rather than a thing (“what”) can emerge from a thing, a hat pulled (as it were) out of the poem’s hat. Al and Aaron see the poem as, perhaps only in hindsight, a programmatic poem for L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, and begin to make a list of aesthetic ideas and practices the poem recommends in very the way it is formed to say what it says. Whatever doubts about this Charles and John share, all agree that when the poem turns to cause and effect it offers a radical alternative for “it” (it being the poem or poetic project, the it that the poem makes of nonsense), so that “instead of / basing it / on cause / and effect // they built / it on cause / and perhaps.” Not cause and effect but cause and perhaps. It’s that embrace of perhaps — key to the poem’s open-endedness — that leads to its new optimism. What Deleuze and Guattari call “a concerted deconstruction of the signifier, non-sense erected as a flow,” can a positive step in our efforts to understand how language creates connection. Indeed, Ray DiPalma came across a passage from Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze & Guattari that, he feels, bears special relevance of the poem: "But through the impasses and the triangles a schizophrenic flow moves, irresistibly; sperm, river, drainage, inflamed genital mucus, or a stream of words that do not let themselves be coded, a libido that is too fluid, too viscous: a violence against syntax, a concerted deconstruction of the signifier, non-sense erected as a flow, polyvocity that returns to haunt all relations."

Pictured above at right, from left to right: Charles Bernstein, Al Filreis, Aaron Shurin, and John Tranter. This episode of PoemTalk was directed and engineered by Steve McLaughlin, and edited, as always, by the same talented Steve McLaughlin. Al Filreis is PoemTalk’s creator and producer. Special thanks to Nuria Sheehan and Cathy Halley of the Poetry Foundation for their collaborative efforts and support; to Jessica Lowenthal, Andrew Beal, Lily Applebaum, and others at the Kelly Writers House for space and logistical help; to Chris Martin for his constant technical acumen and fast keyboard fingers; to the thousands of people of ModPo, who generously created a fund to support digital poetic outreach and who tend to listen to the whole series of PoemTalks as if they constitute a survey course introducing contemporary American poetry.

Here now is Ray DiPalma’s poem:

It makes
of nonsense
the full we
put into
they are
in under
the same
seem to
do so
the difficulties
in following
are not
it is that
one art
and science
was enough
while microscopic
has now served
the basis
of this world
the failure
of causality
sense is not
what hat
we find there
once it keeps
still and into
instead of
basing it
on cause
and effect
they built
it on cause
and perhaps
a new
but whose
boundaries are
uncertain in a

         — Ray DiPalma (1976)