The very last bit of text left on my bookshelf.
My poem “(Be)labored Posterities,” which draws on a variety of source texts, is now in “Capital P,” a special section of The Recluse, edited by Simone White. Thanks to Simone for asking me to contribute. Here’s a description of the feature which comes from her introduction:
This section of The Recluse comes out of hearing poets read here at The Poetry Project and my own response to the work I hear and read and the desire to share that work more widely. Capital P is, in a small way, an attempt to distribute an energy that seemed, this season, to keep coming and coming into the Parish Hall. I wanted to share and print what is “in the wind.”
I asked contributors (roughly) for work “involving matters of capital and class,” and I was — I am — surprised and thrilled by the various ways in which the work collected here “involves” thinking poetically about how and why humanness is violently stripped of its particularity, and by what structures, how those structures change and are changing. (Involve: this is a word that covers all ways of relating and is a vestige from legal writing, the writing of interrogatories, itself a very low form of legal writing, the writing at the barest bone of fact gathering. “Involve” implies a lowest common denominator of relation and therefore tends to strategically blanket a category or idea so as to cover everything from a certain perspective. Involve is a false clue.) That is what I mean by “capital and class”: systematic dehumanization of the human into laboring factions.
I was thrilled to receive for The Recluse each of these thoughtful and moving anti-manifestos. By which I mean thanks to Commune Editions, francine j. harris, Fanny Howe, Blunt Research Group, Michael Leong, Robert Kocik, Keston Sutherland for answering this call in the spirit of the work in poetry that they are doing, different work; work that, nonetheless, seems to share a longing for comradeship and an end to exploitation where it is found.
This is “The Glass Larynx,” which, in opening Silent Anatomies, acts as a kind of proem, an announcement of articulation:
In a brief interview, Ong explains the importance of “The Glass Larynx” as the first piece in the book and provides some useful context:
“The Glass Larynx” is a contrapuntal poem between Medica, the narrator, and the philosopher Chuang Tzu. She is challenging the idea of silence as the Way. Chuang Tzu’s lines are from “Action and Non-Action,” where he posits silence and stillness as the “root of all things.” Perhaps that is nice if one lives alone on a mountain. Yet we live in an age where “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter,” as Dr. Martin Luther King said.
What if attaining the Way is not silence but in our refusal to be silenced? “The Glass Larynx” is Medica’s invitation to the reader.
I also read “The Glass Larynx” as a nod to Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s groundbreaking Dictée (1982)–in particular this diagram, which occurs in the middle of Cha’s book, right after the suggestive lines “Void the words. / Void the silence”:
I’ve been working on a piece on Nathaniel Mackey–who just published the excellent Blue Fasa (New Directions, 2015) earlier this month–so I had recently gone through some scholarship on his poetry to make sure I’m caught up with the secondary literature (which I haven’t taken a look at since I was in coursework as a grad student.) There’s some interesting new criticism out there–I especially enjoyed Anthony Reed’s treatment of Mackey in Freedom Time: The Poetics and Politics of Black Experimental Writing (JHU P, 2014)–and I’m pleased to see more people writing about Mackey’s work.
But while reading through various articles and book chapters I was surprised to see the way in which some of Mackey’s poetry was visually presented (and misquoted) in long quotations. For example, this comes from a book chapter in a 2014 volume published by Ashgate:
I agree that “several fields of action seem to take place at once” as this author is suggesting, but, for Mackey, the page itself is a field of action: his visually distinctive poetry isn’t left-justified, giving it a dynamic look as his heavily enjambed lines snake down the page. “Song of the Andoumboulou: 1,” quoted above as a flush-left construct, actually looks like this in Eroding Witness (1985):
Besides missing the irregular indentations and the unmistakable shape of Mackey’s strophes, the chapter’s author misses the capitalization in the word “Sea” and the line break between the words this and thirst in the phrase “Tutor / me, teach me this / thirst.”
I had thought that perhaps this was an isolated incident–maybe a simple copy-editing oversight. But then I saw this chapter from a 2009 study published by Palgrave:
Again, “Song of the Andoumboulou” is presented as if it were a conventionally left-justified poem. The visual shape of “Song of the Andoumboulou: 7″–like “Song of the Andoumboulou: 1″–has, in fact, a jagged left-hand margin:
Could it be coincidence that two critics were not being faithful to Mackey’s mise-en-page? I began to think that perhaps they were looking at a different edition of Eroding Witness. Indeed, there is another edition, which is available as an e-text in ProQuest’s Twentieth-Century African American Poetry and Twentieth-Century American Poetry databases. I checked the former, which presents “Song of the Andoumboulou: 7″ as such:
Here, too, we see the removal of all of Mackey’s expressive spacing and deliberate indentations. While I can’t be sure that the two critics I mentioned above relied on this electronic database, it seems like a reasonable possibility. Eroding Witness is currently out of print and the value of having a digitized version that can be readily accessible to scholars and students is clear. But, in any case, I believe that this version of Eroding Witness is severely flawed as the look of the page is a crucial component to Mackey’s poetics.
In a craft essay I wrote called “The Poem and Mise-en-page” I quote from an interesting and relevant response Mackey gave to an interviewer. In talking about how he embeds a sense of the performative within a literary work, Mackey calls attention to his practice of “sculpted inscription”:
The uniform spatial arrangements that most poems are put on the page with—uniform except for the ragged right margin where you have the line breaks—impart or imply a uniformity or a homogeneity to the space the words occupy that is not really there in the way that we speak words and not there in a poem when we hear a poem read or hear a poem spoken, so one of the things going on with the way I put the poem on the page is an attempt to give the sense of a visual dance, a visual rhythm or rhythmicity on the page, and a sense of the poem as it appears on the page as a sculpted inscription.
In ProQuest’s version of Eroding Witness the sense of visual rhythmicity is completely lost; indeed, the transcription and transmediation impose a uniformity or a homogeneity that Mackey so carefully tries to avoid. According to ProQuest’s editorial policy, “The complete text of each poem has been included, and any integral textual images and illustrations have been scanned.” I argue that Mackey’s poetry on the page constitutes an “integral textual image” in its own right–a sculpted score for what Ed Roberson might call an “integral music.”
I just published a review-essay in Hyperallergic Weekend that covers three recent (and very different) books about or inspired by the Oulipo, Daniel Levin Becker’s Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature (Harvard University Press, 2012), Lauren Elkin and Scott Esposito’s The End of Oulipo? An Attempt to Exhaust a Movement (Zero Books, 2013), and Louis Bury’s Exercises in Criticism: The Theory and Practice of Literary Constraint (Dalkey Archive, 2014).
Here’s a brief excerpt from a later section of my piece:
“The underlying belief shared by the Oulipo and the legion of Ou-X-Pos,” says Levin Becker, “is essentially that any enterprise or discipline can be treated…as an experiment we can tweak and tinker with.” Louis Bury’s Exercises in Criticism intervenes within the discipline of literary criticism by adding Oulipian inspired and performative methods to its repertoire; the book is “an exercise in applied poetics, using constraint-based methods in order to write about literary constraint.” So in an array of short chapters Bury, for example, engages with Gilbert Sorrentino’s Gold Fools, a boy’s adventure novel consisting of only interrogative sentences, through an essay built entirely of questions. He analyzes Doug Nufer’s Never Again, a 200-word novel that, to quote Nufer’s book, uses any given word “once…then, best of all, never again” through a critical text that doesn’t repeat any words (and, thus, is compelled to “go anywhere new.”) He responds to the conceptualist gambit that reading conceptual poetry is secondary to appreciating its animating idea by writing about Kenneth Goldsmith without reading him. Such an interpretive approach, which Bury manifests in sharp, clever language, shows the “many subtle channels” between literary scholarship and creative writing. This collection of experiments consistently surprises and delights, never resorting to the mere gimmick, and lends credence to Elkin and Esposito’s point that there is cutting-edge Oulipian work being done outside of the group.
Also of interest is a new special issue on constraint by Anomalous Press.
There’s a very interesting compendium on experimental fiction now out from Verbivoracious Press. My contribution is a short appreciation of Graham Rawle’s collage novel Woman’s World (2005), which I reviewed for Hyperallergic in 2012. It looks like I’ll have much to learn from The Syllabus.
Here’s some detailed info about the collection:
A monument to our insatiable verbivoracity, The Syllabus is an act of humble genuflection before the authors responsible for those texts which have transported us to the peak of readerly nirvana and back. The texts featured, chosen in a rapturous frenzy by editors and contributors alike, represent a broad sweep of the most important exploratory fiction written in the last hundred years (and beyond). Featuring 100 texts from (fewer than) 100 contributors, The Syllabus is a form of religious creed, and should be read primarily as a holy manual from which the reader draws inspiration and hope, helping to shape their intellectual and moral life with greater awareness, and lead them towards those works that offer deep spiritual succour while surviving on a merciless and unkind planet. Readers of this festschrift should expect nothing less than an incontrovertible conversion from reader to insatiable verbivore in 226 pages.
“The Syllabus, as a third volume of Verbivoracious Festschrift, is a celebration of reading. It’s a great literary feast for the true readers, for all the verbivores around the world, a feast consisting of hundred delicious meals. I am honored to be a part of that unforgettable menu.” — Dubravka Ugrešić.
A Modest Proposal — The Avignon Quintet — The Comforters — Finnegans Wake — In Partial Disgrace — Impossible Object — Wittgenstein’s Mistress — The Freelance Pallbearers — Foam of the Daze — Between — Darconville’s Cat — Thru — Terra Amata — Poor Things — Pack of Lies — Amalgamemnon — Anonymous Celebrity — The Stain — Palinuro of Mexico — Miss Herbert — Tristram Shandy — The Mezzanine — White Noise — Glyph — The Twits — Woodcutters — Erowina — Chromos — A Day at the Office — Darkmans — The Evadne Mount Trilogy — Mobile — An Attempt to Exhaust a Place in Paris — The Trick is to Keep Breathing — The Great Fire of London — Thank You For Not Reading — Exercises in Style — Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books — B.S. Johnson Omnibus — Six Memos for the Next Millennium — Sixty Stories — Requiem — Mrs Caldwell Speaks to Her Son — The Atrocity Exhibition — Walking to Hollywood — At Swim-Two-Birds — Only Joking — Dot in the Universe — Eco: On Literature — Dictionary of the Khazars — The Novel: An Alternate History — Varieties of Disturbance — Mr. Dynamite — The Blue Flowers — Portrait of the Artist as a Domesticated Animal — The Tunnel — Oulipo Compendium — In Form: Digressions in the Art of Fiction — Take it or Leave it — If on a winter’s night a traveller — The Information — Double or Nothing — The Hypocritic Days — Berg — 2666 — The Inquisitory — Woman’s World — Museum of Eterna’s Novel — The Blaze of Noon — Musrum — Island People — Take Five — Death on Credit — Three Trapped Tigers — Cain’s Book — Invisible Cities — Out of Sheer Rage — Log of the S.S. Mrs Unguentine — The Room — Revenge of the Moon Vixen — Mulligan Stew — Ice — Red the Fiend — Urmuz: Complete Works — Ada — Taitlin! — Celebrations — The Figure on the Boundary Line — City Silver Sister — Nazi Literature in the Americas — The Emigrants — Other Stories and Other Stories — The Third Policeman — Antonello’s Lion — Cloud Atlas — Imaginary Women — The Museum of Unconditional Surrender — Eden Eden Eden — Quiet Days in Clichy
Scott Beauchamp — Kim Fay — Igo Wodan — Fionnuala McManamon — Eric Lundgren — Shiva Rahbaran — Joseph McGrath — Tosh Berman — Katarzyna Bartoszyńska — David Detrich — Ellen Friedman — Steven Moore — Keith Moser — Rodge Glass — Michelle Ryan-Santour — Jack Ross — Silvia Barlaam — Tom Conoboy — Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado — M.J. Nicholls — Barbara Melville — Nate Dorr — Sam Moss — Kinga Burger — Manny Rayner — John Trefry — Lauren Elkin — Gillian Devine —Ian Monk — Peter Blundell — Ana Stanojevic — Geoff Wilt — Nicolas Tredell — Daniel Levin Becker — Lee Klein — Lance Olsen — Trevor Dodge — Rosalyn Drexler — Rick McGrath — Richard Strachan — Edwin Turner — Ali Millar — Alec Nevala-Lee — Nathan Gaddis — Alberta Rigid — Jarleth L. Prenderghast —Inez Hedges — Juliet Jacques — H.L. Hix — Jason Graff — Tom Willard — Steve Katz — Anthony Vacca — Ammiel Alcalay — Lee Rourke — Alex Cox — Michael Leong — Eric Byrd — Steve Penkevich — Kenneth Cox — Gene Hayworth — Paul John Adams — Pablo Medina — Gill Tasker — Kathleen Heil — Georgina Holland — Stephen Sparks — Anonymous — Melanie Ho — Jenny Offill — Kristine Rabberman — Eddie Watkins — Rob Friel — Joseph Andrew Darlington — Alex Zucker — Ben Winch — Alex Johnston — W.C. Bamberger — Stephen Mirabito — Michael Westlake — Peter Bebergal — Jasmina Lukić — Nadine Mainard — G.N. Forester
Release Date: May 11th, 2015. ISBN: 9789810935931. 237pp. Available from all booksellers and usual online retailers.
Paperback: GBP9.99 + postage GBP2.00 within UK, US, AU, CAN, EU, ZA, NZ, IN and SG.
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Thanks to the great people at the Belladonna* Collaborative for publishing my latest chapbook, Li Po Meets Oulipo, which is #177 in the Belladonna* Chaplet Series. Here’s my introduction to the chap:
Li Po (701-762), also known as Li T’ai-po or Li Bai, is one of the most renowned poets of the High T’ang period, the so-called Golden Age of Chinese poetry. Translated by such illustrious poets as Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and William Carlos Williams, Li Po’s writing—however mediated and refracted—exerted a considerable influence on American modernist poetics, and the early twentieth-century reception of his poetry helped pave the way for Imagism’s anti-decorative compression and minimalism. Yet how much do we really know about Li Po and his work? According to translator David Hinton, Li Po is “as much unknown as known, as much legend as history.” Out of the several thousand poems that Li Po supposedly authored, only about a thousand remain and many of the extant poems are of questionable authenticity. In the face of such loss and uncertainty, Hinton suggests that we, in fact, “re-embody the legend that Li Po is…even if that legend has little to do with historical fact.” “Li Po Meets Oulipo” explores other forms that this re-embodiment might take by appropriating translations of Li Po’s surviving writings by using a range of Oulipian procedures. If, as Michel Foucault provocatively stated, “the author is the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning,” then legend, by contrast, is a privileged conduit for proliferating significations. I wish to bring together the poetry of Li Po and the procedural ingenuity of Oulipo to create a provocative proliferation of meanings that can stand in—however incongruously—for the enormous amount of Li Po’s writings that have been lost. The Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature potentielle [Workshop of Potential Literature]) is a neo-avant-garde group founded in 1960 by former surrealist Raymond Queneau and mathematician, engineer, and pataphysician François Le Lionnais. Oulipo members included such luminaries as Marcel Duchamp, Italo Calvino, and Georges Perec. As a conglomeration of mathematicians and writers, the still-active Oulipo group is interested in both theorizing and engineering literary forms based on extreme restrictions and rule-bound procedures. For example, the basic algorithm “N + 7”—perhaps the most famous of all Oulipian constraints—involves replacing each noun of a source poem with the seventh subsequent noun in a specified dictionary. What follows are the results of my experimentation with N + 7 along with eight other constraints, part of my ongoing search of how one text can lead (in)directly to the next. Queneau famously described Oulipians as “rats who build the labyrinth from which they will try to escape.” This chapbook begins and ends in the labyrinth for it is, to quote Chinese fabulist Can Xue (who has written a book on Calvino), “an experiment without an escape route.”