Unpacking My Library

•July 30, 2015 • Leave a Comment

…and making sure that my books are stamped.


Douglas Luman on Cutting Time with a Knife

•July 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Douglas Luman has a great review of Cutting Time with a Knife as part of the Found Poetry Review’s Book Review series. Here’s one of his nice insights:

Though the conceit of spontaneity can only go so far in a text, Cutting Time with a Knife straddles the line between the entropic and procedural, introducing a tension that many attempt in vain to capture with a strict focus on a single strand of language rather than engaging in the many various literacies that we all have.

Packing My Library

•June 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The very last bit of text left on my bookshelf.



Capital P

•June 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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.

Monica Ong’s “The Glass Larynx”

•June 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been enjoying the two poems from Monica Ong’s new book Silent Anatomies (Kore Press, 2015) which were featured yesterday in Hyperallergic‘s excellent poetry series (edited by Joe Pan).

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”:


Quoting Nathaniel Mackey’s “Sculpted Inscriptions”

•June 2, 2015 • 2 Comments

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:

Nathanial Mackey's 'Song of the Andoumboulou'

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):

Song of the Andoumboulou 1Song of the Andoumboulou 1_2

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:

Nathaniel Mackey's Agnostic History

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:

Song of the Andoumboulou 7

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:

from Twentieth-Century African American Poetry

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.”

Oulipo in the Twenty-First Century

•May 17, 2015 • Leave a Comment

download 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.


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