My review-essay “Testing Form: Novels by Alejandro Zambra and Matías Celedón,” which analyzes Zambra’s Multiple Choice (Penguin Books, 2016) and Celedón’s The Subsidiary (Melville House, 2016), is up at Hyperallergic Weekend.
“Thinking of writing a poem is not a poem,” says Maurizio Ferraris in Documentality: Why It Is Necessary to Leave Traces, tr. Richard Davies (Fordham UP, 2015).
On the other hand, Darren Wershler-Henry’s conceptualist classic The Tapeworm Foundry (2000) is a prose poem that consists of a relentless stream of robust and fecund thinking about various poetic, literary, and artistic projects. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:
compose a love poem called charged particles in which each line consists of a single word ending in the suffix ion andor stick a stamp on your forehead and then pull a mailbag over your eyes before you begin to recite andor work on a poem attempting to emulate gansers syndrome wherein a person responds to emotionally difficult questions with evasive answers andor address the united nations with your intentions andor write an encyclopedic novel about a whale but maintain throughout that the whale is a fish not a mammal andor write a series of haiku about barrett watten and bruce andrews and lyn hejinian but sign it using the pseudonym lang po
The Tapeworm Foundry is a brilliant book that, indeed, presages my 2012 Cutting Time with a Knife: “write a prose poem for each element on the periodic table and then assemble more complex texts by combining them in a manner analogous to the molecular structure of your favourite compounds.” I could have used that quote as an epigraph.
Wershler-Henry also presages Christian Bök’s The Xenotext Project, surely one of the most rigorously interdisciplinary poetry projects in recent memory: “scrawl graffiti all over someone elses liberal utopia andor encode it in a helix of dna.”
“Poetry for the Apocalypse,” my review of Bök’s The Xenotext: Book 1 (Coach House, 2015) has just appeared today in the digital edition of the July/August issue of American Scientist. This is how it begins:
Affectionately nicknamed “Conan the Bacterium,” Deinococcus radiodurans, a so-called polyextremophile, has an uncanny ability to rapidly repair damage to its genome. As a result, it can resist the most hostile conditions, from drought to radiation to acid baths to a Martian atmosphere. And if Canadian conceptual poet Christian Bök has his way, it will compose verse that will outlive our Sun.
Bök has earned a reputation for conducting extremely difficult poetic experiments and executing them with technical wizardry. In his award-winning 2001 bestseller Eunoia, for example, he uses only a single vowel in each chapter, a constraint that produces a form known as a univocalic. The first section is composed of words that include no vowels other than a, the second includes no vowels other than e, and so on. To build an appropriate lexicon for this demanding work, Bök read through Webster’s Third International Unabridged Dictionary five times and spent six years writing. His latest poetic challenge takes him into trickier and more technically specialized territory. Taking on the very perishability of text, Bök has devised a novel solution: In composing his verse, he is employing the medium of life itself.
My review of Dorothy J. Wang’s Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry is in the latest issue of Contemporary Literature.
This is from the beginning:
There is a curious scene in Scott Derrickson’s 2008 remake of the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still in which issues of race, foreignness, linguistic difference, and the extraterrestrial entangle. The newly arrived alien Klaatu (played by Keanu Reeves) visits a McDonald’s restaurant in human guise to meet alien sleeper agent Mr. Wu (played by James Hong).The conversation begins in Mandarin as the aliens discuss humans’ destructive and stubborn nature; they decide that their mission to save the planet by exterminating humanity should proceed. “Any attempt to intercede would be futile,” says Wu, who has been living on Earth for seventy years; “they won’t change.” The dialogue shifts into English as Wu announces—against Klaatu’s protestation—that he prefers to remain on Earth and die, as he has come to love humanity despite its shortcomings. The racial and linguistic coding of the scene is unmistakable: for Wu and Klaatu, who are phenotypically legible as Asian and Eurasian, Chinese is the uncompromising and bellicose language of alterity, while English, as a discursive medium for reflective, even poetic, sensitivity, humanizes them. “Human life is difficult. But as this life is coming to an end, I consider myself lucky to have lived it,” says Wu in his final lines of the scene.
Derrickson’s film underscores the fact that Asianness in America, whether manifested racially or linguistically, has been, and still is, associated with the threatening, radically distant, or duplicitous, a point that recurs throughout Dorothy J. Wang’s important book Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry…
An excerpt from my manuscript-in-progress “Disorientations” just appeared in Jim Goar’s excellent e-journal past simple.
“Disorientations” collages together—and so “disorients”—two postmodern Orientalist texts: Kent Johnson’s Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada, a yellowface simulation of hibakusha literature, and Roland Barthes’s Empire of Signs, a semiotic treatise based on an invented system Barthes calls “Japan.”
My co-translation (w/ Ignacio Infante) of the avant-gardist Vicente Huidobro has just appeared in the Boston Review. The BR is posting great new poetry content every day for the month of April. The translated excerpt comes from Huidobro’s long prose poem Sky-Quake–and it directly follows the beginning portion of Sky-Quake, which was recently published in Asymptote.
Every day this month The Found Poetry Review is posting an experimental writing prompt by “some of the most forward thinking poets, writers and critics.” It’s part of a National Poetry Month project they’re calling “Impromptu.”
My prompt (on experimental translation) is being featured today. Here’s an excerpt from it:
When we speak of “translation” we usually refer to the process of turning a text that is written in one language into another language. But if we think about translation more broadly, we can imagine a diverse range of experimental processes that can spark new writing. All you need is to find a source text and invent a method of transforming, altering, or changing it.
To use a very recent example—Paul Legault’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror 2 (Fence Books, 2016) is an English-to-English translation of John Ashbery. The book is “a memory translation” in which Legault attempted to recreate Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror—a volume renowned for winning the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1975—by “writ[ing] down each of Ashbery’s original poems, from memory.” Ashbery’s “Grand Galop,” for instance, begins, “All things seem mention of themselves / And the names which stem from them branch out to other referents. Hugely, spring exists again.” Legault’s “Grand Galop 2,” in turn, is a kind of branching out from the original: “Everything seems to mention itself / The way people are trees of people / Connected through days as if by a force / Of some huge version of spring let out / That held us there.” Legault’s book follows the cultural logic of the sequel and the remix in order to pay homage to an influential American master, to acknowledge the extent to which contemporary poetry continues to translate Ashbery’s groundbreaking writing into a myriad of afterlives.
In terms of experimental translation, the practice of “homophonic translation” is well-known: it is translating a foreign language text by loosely imitating its sound rather than by following its sense. In homophonically translating Rimbaud’s famous sonnet “Voyelles,” Christian Bök turns the line “A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles” into “Anywhere near blank rage / you veer, oblivial.” But there are many other methods of transforming a found text.
This weekend’s edition of Hyperallergic includes my review of Joseph Donahue’s recent books Dark Church (Verge Books, 2015) and Red Flash on a Black Field (Black Square Editions, 2014). Both are beautiful volumes worth owning and reading. Last Sunday, I heard Joe give a brilliant paper “Acousmatic Orphism: Sounding Out Susan Howe” at the Poetics: (The Next) 25 Years Conference at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. I will certainly be looking forward to his collected book of essays.