Forever outside unseeming misdirection parse
un-useable arid Ars. invalid O I exculpate so freely
chusing him by town light. Owning all of the prick
condom petals lite unstable helio, bullet nose dread
from error crank everybody holler seismic interlude
voiding the pops. Mum screws back liniments evilly
No totally no baby endofuck resolute : : he speaka
good Ingrish I love you so hardened quite
sublimely right, I still completely love you so my
febrile waif was ever so just love me please of shit
banana cake, Hippolytus trump the binary gouache.
Or before dawn when they blaze unbelievably bright
with vivid and slowly shifting iridescent colours. They
are filmy sheets slowly curling and uncurling, stretching
and contracting in the semi-dark sky. Compared with
dark scudding low altitude shitcanned tinnitus fire
Is relentless and self-immolating honesty any useful barometer of the immediate, or does it merely slide back into the chasm of colonial lyric desire spreading out from my fingertips? I feel that at the moment, which is really at the very moment, that the only possible ethics of writing is to impale an immediacy into passion that is at least the truth of the next second of writing - is this the precision of mortality I think it is. I want to be utterly definitive this second, to trust the voracious temporal greed that is the only useful form of greed at my disposal. What is honesty in poetry, what is the call to arms, what is the invocation of poetry to do with itself, how can what I write do everything that I do *not* want it to do because *that* in itself would be the only possible realism? But then a poetry such as that would perhaps resemble the most risible chance-based nonchalance. When is a surfeit of passionate response USEFUL to anything other than a lyric demand for clarity of expression? Its vaunted uselessness is not enough, and in any case I am creating poems which are then sent to people to be read as objects of work, any uselessness is quickly inverted even in the moment of its conception. I twist. Is the point, why is love commendable in and of itself - why should it be? How fucked up is your love, see me pirouette and land in flames, can we allow ourselves that much trust? What do I risk by writing that is not just a failure of or in the writing? I want to feel actual movement feeling, real flesh, language conspires in the meaning flesh to alter its state, to elect it, simultaneously grounded in how is your body local to me, how do I keep my skin soft, how do I make my skin shine, how can you love me. That must be the question now, not how can I love you, that's all too easy, I can slam the brakes on whilst loving you to death, but how can you love me if I love you that much? And does it even matter? Do I finally care as long as I can get a poem out of the night? Is the immediacy of experience forever lost through its mediation by exchange and the virtual insistence on an ersatz immediacy of ease and profit? You can make $400 an hour from home! Click here now! It is not enough to hate that, although that must be loved, the hatred of exploitation. Poetry should match the New-Age insistence on the transformation of consciousness but make it work through attention to the particular, and what is more particular than the next second - there must be a social instance, poetry, of the responsibility of denying oneself "the ideological misuse of one's own existence". I will perform this for you now, a remote healing, watch my hands, the contradiction of me helping you the reader to overcome the ideological misuse of your own existence whilst appealing to an ideology of literary trust, how can you love me? From "On the morality of thinking" (MM 46): "Knowledge can only widen horizons by abiding so insistently with the particular that its isolation is dispelled. This admittedly presupposes a relation to the general, though not one of subsumption, but rather the reverse. Dialectical mediation is not a recourse to the more abstract, but a process of resolution of the concrete in itself." Do that. Now get out.
What I come down to is that Maximus is the poetics of temporality, laid bare. I think finally that’s how the poem ACTS, and I think only, or at least certainly by, insisting upon temporality as the primary figure of the poems in particular, can all the booming, phallocentric, thetic rhetoric of the essays be put to good use. But finally, because I always want to skip, to go straight for the jugular with Olson, can there truly be a poetics of temporality, or is such a thing only ever destined to merely describe the passage of time, as Ashbery ends up so pathetically, whimsically doing? But to go back to jumping the gun – I think it’s a real danger in reading Olson, and a fear which seems to have been born out in the whole style of the recent film Polis is This, that if you take any single one of Olson’s theoretical touchstones from Projective Verse, Human Universe, Against Wisdom as Such, or wherever, and you apply it wholeheartedly, and you look at Maximus through that one lens, you end up with just that, the end of the picture you wanted to start with, and that’s when the project segues, not without struggle, but segues relentlessly into a kind of corny mysticism. Olson is not mystic, not in the way, say, Duncan was. He got his theory of myth and muthos from Harrison, and he stuck with that actionable language, as was passed onto Ed Dorn, who has a whole other folk ontology going on. But what still bothers me is the way in. Perhaps this has come about simply because of the historical weight P.V. bears, and that Olson seems only ever to be read as living up to his constructs (which in any case are filled with wild humour, puns, the kinds of twists he practices in the verse). The essays and the poems seem to me to be both purely textual, that he was constantly practicing praxis, and that nothing else would ever do – his letters too, especially to Creeley and Bolderoff.
The hugeness of Olson – that the poetry does deal with the “primitive” (as he had it) condition, the prime conditioning, in the case of the “pejorocracy”, of man, philosophical, economic. But even these categories aren’t somehow sufficient. It’s not that they’re not wide enough, but that to describe the primary writing of Maximus as layered in philosophical, mythical (which is emphatically not mystic, because it obeys rules of perception and history), economic, personal, geographical, I mean, these things are there, but they’re not there for the sake of being aspects of the text. The text does these things, that we can call philosophical, or economic – or it should do, and it doesn’t, not all the time. There is the sense, whenever I approach Olson from anything more than a distanced, tuned imbibing (which in any case always flicks me onto a sharper rumination) of: where to start, how to get to grips with the enormity of these instances of cognitive, etc, perception that are laid out before us. And I think it important to recognize that to a large extent, the poetry itself enacts this same process of finding, exploring, receiving, is itself the taking stock of its own procedure, which is not to say it is purely auto-enacting – cf. Stephen Thompson’s excellent and articulate essay in the Ladkin/Purves Edinburgh Review 14 on American Poetry – and therefore un-usable, but precisely to pinpoint the actual condition of form AS content that so pre-occupied Olson.
The complex simplicity of the Maximus project is that this is process as pedagogy – that the alienation of man/being/breath/muthologos, that for Olson are all part of the same historical schema, the pejorocracy & logocentricism – must be rectified by a poetics of temporality that puts man squarely in the driving seat. Gloucester is not microcosm, but simultaneously micro & macro – “life spills out”, every instance in Maximus is an image of the whole, transcending (but grounding) the lyric condition. It is an instruction manual of how to get out of onself and one’s debilitating culture – by appropriating history as what one does & says – and it is precisely this removal of the pejorocracy, this insistence on distancing oneself from it, which we can probably assert is the point at which Prynne, around 1970, begins to believe that such a project is too top-heavy, that the important thing to do is it collide with the pejorocracy head-on, to no longer avoid it in favour of an appeal to the Polis, which was never quite as dialectical as Thompson almost reads it, in Letter 6.
“For Olson, reality is the missionary position.” – Tomas Weber
The gnostic cartography of desire is: LIFE – which wants to abstract itself out // AND // my LIFE – which wants the particular to stand in for the whole, but stays particular. This is the lyric thrust that Prynne talks about in that most beautiful piece of friendship disguised as pedagogy, his address to the folks at Simon Fraser University in 1971. That lecture is, I know, hugely important to many people writing excellent and worthwhile poetry today, and I think perhaps more so than Maximus IV, V, VI is, or will be. But the image of desire that Prynne traces in that essay is, I think, couched in the temporal hi-jinks of Maximus as text, not as abstractable conceit, or any discourse of historical seismic shift in the space of post-modern American poetry, which I’ve no doubt Olson would have dismissed with some sort of misogynistic disparagement of the progenitors of discourse in general.
“that we act somewhere / at least by seizure, that the objective (example Thucidides, or / the latest finest tape-recorder, or any form or record on the spot / - live television or what – is a lie / as against what we know went on, the dream : the dream being / self-action with Whitehead’s important corollary: that no event / is not penetrated, in intersection or collision with, an eternal / event
The poetics of such a situation / are yet to be found out”
Which is Maximus finding them out, not on the spot, but through the course of the epic. Now this passage throws up any number of concerns, not least the phallocentric cosmic boner of the reading of Whitehead, and of course mythic genealogical penetration is everywhere in Maximus, and also that “self-action” is dangerously un-coupled from Polis, so that here it is assumed that if everyone had the Polis in their eyes, then Polis is this, that segues uncomfortably into tautology, unless we keep reading, unless we keep wanting it, which is the poem’s real beauty. That it only makes sense in the actual act of reading it is both Maximus’ supreme achievement and also its galactic faceplant. It’s no good making language ACTUAL if it only appears actual when you’re reading it? (I get a similar feeling from some of The White Stones, another whole schooner of fish, right, but just the hell of it). But then how else might a poetics make sense, how else can life spill out of a poem? How else but by the spillage from percept to example, by how you take literature to act in the space of LIFE. That is, if you define them separately as such. Because if you stick with it, Maximus nearly actually becomes LIFE, it’s grandiose colonial projections unstick because the condition of colonialism is to subjugate and condense, to temper the environment and to make it micro, whereas Olson is continually opening it all up, including himself, especially including himself. It is the most generous un-auto-biographical use of biography, because, Letter 27 [withheld], he does propose a dialectical relationship between the lived experience of a personal history, the eternal event crossing him like a secant, and the instances of time that budge a life into itself continually to form the ever-present tense within which Maximus operates, nudging it forward, “than that which is, / call it a nest, around the head of, call it / the next second / than that which you / can do!”.
This is the sense in which, for me, Maximus is not like life, is too particular to be anything so grossly universalized as “like life” – “I am a ward / and precinct / man myself and hate / universalization, believe / it only feeds into a class of deteriorated / personal lives anyway, given them / what they can buy, a cheap / belief” – but rather, as the 3rd Letter on Georges has it, “makes it with me, and I want that sense / here, of this fellow going home”, but as I compare my feelings, or write my feelings on this poem by putting a line in my mouth from a unwritten poem, from the “sense” that Olson could not write himself, of this fisherman, “of this fellow going home” that he was not, I seem to trip across the whole metonymic twist of the poems and get lost. If the best I can do (which it isn’t, in any case, but let’s investigate this for now) is allow my appreciation of the poem to rest in a sentiment that Olson wanted to express himself but could not, is that the most personal commitment to home as the condition that any one of us has access to, on Earth, or is that too much like Battleship Earth? “I want that sense / here, of this fellow going home”. Desire and deitics headbutt as Olson demands that we make it with him – I want that sense too, but “here”, slammed across the enjambment’s wet deck, is already out of the picture, is already moving off out of our reach, and we have to keep running the course of the want itself to get there, as the cadence does not slow but similarly slams into the italicised square bracket, making us instanter stop still wanting. Not much more good may now come of this tonight, but hopefully this’ll run on further. This is still the best tattoo ever:
o kill kill kill kill kill
who advertise you
More great material from Jock. Seriously, everything this guy says is absolute gold. Remember when a few more civilians were blown up in Helmand some time ago? No? Me neither. But Jock comes out with this beauty:
Is Chris Morris secretly controlling his mouth from a tiny remote control lodged surreptitiously in the pituitary gland? He is called SIR JOCK STIRRUP. As the gasp of obsoletist irony falls way off the map of southern Iraq, what is left of this actual and blankly honest, utilitarian rhetoric that can be of any use? "You don't protect them when you kill them". It is the sufficiently self-admonishing and repulsively bureaucratically correct language of military PR, impacted to its absurdist zenith, that injects the notion of foreign death into the invading population to produce the desired level of middle-class frowning and sighing whilst simultaneously wiping out any question of the validity of the military presence in the first place, indeed, the validity of military presence itself .
Foreign death is our mediation of state-instructed murder that attempts to bear no resemblance to innocent death from terrorist attacks in the West, removing death even as a right of the invaded population and placing it squarely in the sights of the precision bombers which are the grisly chrome hallmarks of modern abstracted warfare.
Mention country second point command help one swerve gallant into prosody, on second thoughts pursue this hetero-limb back to basics yeah thanks for that. X has said nothing like that. Where unskilled workers ratchet up to fire love so stupidly, it is a bit like
Sitting in the best internet cafe in the world.
That theme song from Dawson's Creek is ringing out over the bass-heavy speakers, eliciting just the right balance of lonesome proxy nostalgia and practical revulsion to keep me going through this letter. I mean, Solo is always Solo, and we just seem to collide in the nicest possible way, with the added paranoia over leaking rooms and typhoid-ridden towels. I'm staying in the same room I lived in for a year, and pretty much staying put in this town, and doing the things I used to do when I lived here - sleep a lot, eat a lot of rice, listen to and play gamelan, hang out with friends, buy my ticket out. It's a strange sort of dialectical relationship whereby I'm constantly glad of the fact that I will be leaving, which reflexively makes my time here even more precious. I'm reading Adorno in a mosquito net (I mean generally, not right now), going to the Mankunegaran Court Palace to practice gamelan whilst the rains smash the ground around us, hanging out with my neighbours' kids, watching Yojimbo round a friend's house whilst fending off the mosquitoes. It's a life I both crave and crave to dissect from afar, conceptually proximal but physically remote, I get here and I feel completely gluey on the inside, malleable, re-workable. That fluidity of purpose and self is massively important to cultivate, as I try to, but without any pride in doing so - I also seem to be exactly where I was with the language when I left, which has made re-unions all the more palatable. I'm not really saying what I want to say. Which is strange, because here that's all you have to do, and it works. I mean, there are codes, like anywhere, there are behavioral codes and dress codes and holding hands codes, but once you have these you know how to bend and break them, and getting on in the world is as easy as ordering a taxi in a foreign language in a city you don't yet know very well because you get taxis everywhere. Ease is not a component I trust - it emphatically isn't easy to live here, but the day-to-day transactions require a modicum of love and surface-feature interiority (which the dictionary wants to "correct" to inferiority, which isn't a bad pun) that bring certain selves to the surface almost without any actual volition. I find myself deep in conversation with one of my friends about the nature of what I can say in their language, and how that defines my capacity for truth.
It is also, in many ways, a very funny place. I have never laughed harder in my life than with David, here attending the same university I went to, but what we laugh about is couched in such particular experience the transfer of the joke is always at our expense - we effectively laugh at ourselves laughing, which I suppose could get dangerously solipsistic, but that I think is the necessary corollary to being so constantly outwardly exposed, at least superficially. I still find the music pathologically beautiful, and yet last night at the court palace practice, round the back, on the old gamelan, where it leaks and the foreigners and kids practice, I wasn't struck with the same magical charm I used to be - or maybe I was and I just took it for granted because I was concentrating on playing so much. Like the music, life here consists in expansion and contraction, tightening up and widening out, speeding in and rolling away. I found a dead wall-lizard in my toilet this morning.
The sound-world here is like nothing else - at any given point in the city the melange of characteristic sounds is remarkable. From my bed I get the panoramic call to prayer from 10 different mosques, some using ancient cassette tapes on maximum gain, the sound of the gamelan cassette from downstairs with Marseno singing along, doors slamming from the building behind my bed, and the occasional train horn from across town. Pop up to the roof of the outhouse and the sound of the mosques beaming out the Word is a totally different beast. I feel composed here as nowhere else. Passively, made-up, created, re-created, but also with dignity some way off the map, present but hardly that important.
But what better role for anyone to aspire to than hero? Hang on, hang on. Real life is like a photo but it moves, all 3% and climbing.
Tonight there's a latihan at Pak Panggah's house in Benawa. The old village dudes that practice there are some of the best people in the world, and I love them. My teachers from last year will also be there, see below for Pak Kamso and Pak Pardi, plus some londo. Budget capitalism is cuter / the image of the advertisement on the surface of the advert / capital as a diluted reflection of itself / disparity of the Jakarta-set soap operas where literally everyone lives in a huge clean house and is even whiter than me.
Last week Harry Sanderson asked me if I wanted to collaborate on a set for Primitive London's Saturday night exhibition // show // party - hell yes says I, and hell yes it was! I don't think any of it was recorded, of which I'm glad, I was rather thinking to enjoy the process of working with Harry after 2 years on respective bronze // beats, and there we go, the beats were lovingly submerged in a syrupy destructo-hedon-blitz, peaking tenderly at the roof of the railway arch, we got a fractured spleen / brain thing going on that I haven't heard this side of either Caboladies, Axolotl or BWH, not to mention the useful plugging in of the ephemeral to the necessary. Plus it's been a while since I've seen actual dancing. Everyone was there. Thanks Harry x
...Child comments that “The conceit does not overwell suit a popular ballad”, presumably because the corrupted broadside influence, filtered down through the centuries from Martial’s epigrammatic eloquence, does not to his mind cohere with the oral-poetical tradition from which the ballads spring. But it is the transcription of Greek [epic] tragedy into the local and contingent ballad form through the lens of Jones’s strident, literary revivalist musicianship that secures this sentiment all too suitably in the song’s structural dialectic. William has got his mother’s malison and knows that he must drown in the Clyde – the impossibility of his love’s fulfillment is at once both his cursed fate and that which impels him to take to his horse and seek out Margaret’s bower in the first place. The very doubt that is the originary impetus for the ballad’s narrative and structural irony is also the impacted self-knowledge of failure that drives William to live as best he might, as within the laws of the ballad universe he must, before the night comes on. Jones’ treatment of this particular facet of Clyde Water’s historical patchwork of narrative influence is therefore couched in the same humane contradiction in which the song itself is drenched; his placement of the Make me a wreck couplet as the framing element and crux of the first stanzaic unit serves to both unite the structural elements clearly under a banner of a resolute pathos (over-burdened by an overwrought tragic sensibility which it cannot sustain) as well as obscure the subjective agency of the individual actors, leaving us thus emotionally localised but lacking the precise co-ordinates of blame, themselves abstracted out to the banks of the ballad’s historical mytho-functionalism. This is a lot like life.
...The song of the lover is at once the lover's other lover. The substitute is total and cannot be compromised, say, with the other lover. The other lover is not composed of the same desires as the lover, whose song, whether his or another's, is the other in rapid oscillation between presence in the mind of the lover and absence in the traditional sense. The song and the other lover are never coeval, but displace each other and cancel each other.
I need more. Open site proves access non
obstreperous financial poon gross abject tang
re-living in a space provided, mono-sensual, graft
escalope of belly four-eyes parcelled up to Saigon
flapping wildly please don’t prick me with the
remote. Eventually we rest. Concoction filial
but pure, gastronomically entropic to a wilder suit your main could be your starter if you eat faster
but the guilt is timeless, passing into humoral
abstraction like the Jimmy in a text goes fallow
on the surface plop shiny blow-holes into, after.
Do you like me like this? I can do better. Pink-eyed
Icarus storms the lock, a crass retaliation, no-one
needs that many apples let me tell you how I got here so it clicks: First spot: child of pasteurization
champ of the lakes, grimy cumshot baked on between
the breaks to make objection better, more than I can
crossbow fake duality inflicted on themselves
behind a chocolate landslide tasty as the day breaks
fall guy. Court me lately. Call off your frogspawn.
Organic re-lives splice the danger in a fixed limb our
manageable distance long, smooch also by the tracks
an awesome wind farm co-op debarred from conversation
fool hardy Tom likes his uncrusted I like mine on top
on fractal fiction loophole going back into the Truth
like a steady gong too soon. I could show you that I mean business if you like. Then fake is fine, pharaoh
magic fits the bill for anyway & anyone encounters
dead forever, no-one needs him in their lives at least camomile beefsteak menagerie, upshot frugal down
loading progress will aptly name apply new skin
detects an extra blowjob or its post-Earth equivalent
bartered so in meatspace revealing not 1 not 2 but
.3 recurring, tonight’s injection sprayed into a fault
less blanket. Re-set. Moon is time regained, disport
new sizes grappling with the big fat robot of the future
which I’m driving now & lastly on the range, to test
the general limits of detection. Aft. Access on the sly.
TRANSPOSE THE VITAL SIGNS INTO A LEMON TWIST
AWAY ARC UP IN AIRBAG SPREE CONFLATED INTO BLISS
SEE THE CYNIC POSTURE BY THE BLADE OF HIS OWN KNIFE
IRONICALLY ENGENDERED BY A FIELD OF MEASURED SPIKES
Who’s yr daddy, caddy? After all we pass the buck on
to a silky rejection, if that, painstakingly reviewed, like,
Dude I’m having sex but better! Africa comes to life
in front of us, it’s great! Fuck Montaigne! I’m not
hang on, extravagance is a phantom wheelie bin
the blare of my laptop fan denies and I relinquish
all the fassy shit for one thing least of all – brick it
run the caramel midnight off in deep-space seclusion tearing beta versions of the limbic stem grown thinner.
"We might begin with the hypothesis that the encounter with literary greatness - the so-called rhetorical sublime - is structurally cognate with the transcendence, gentle or terrible, excited in the encounter with landscape, the "natural" sublime...our hypothesis commits us to a search for a structure beneath the vast epiphenomena of the sublime.
It is not, however, possible to write completely exoterically. Philology teaches, or used to teach, that the history of ideas is a history of metaphors made and remade; so, too, the history of criticism. It is difficult to be wholly clear about the logical status of the metaphorical moment we seek. The conflict subsumed in a major metaphor may only be inferred, but to take the metaphor for the lived reality is to neglect the presentness of the past, the fact that it too was once a moment of origin, an instant before the metaphor crystallized. Or was it? The image of thinker or poet standing as a third term in triangular opposition to discourse (language), on the one hand, and experience (sensation and its unconscious derivatives), on the other, has an impossibly abstract look. It may be that the original moment is always just next to us, but it cannot be definitively specified or pinned in a temporal sequence, except hypothetically. For the historian, the moment of macro- or micro-origin is usually a retrospective construction designed both to secure and to assuage a necessary alienation from the past. Throughout the analytical tradition the sublime moment tends to have a typical or fictional status. The dialectic of continuity and originality can only be resolved in a fiction of some kind, and it may be that the origin, like a screen memory, is a compromise between what we cannot fail to know and what we need to believe - the latter usually a mystery to ourselves. We write, in short, about modernism from within some version of it."
The Romantic Sublime: Studies in the Structure and Psychology of Transcendence, Thomas Weiskel (John Hopkins University Press, 1976, pp. 11-12)
Jonny Liron’s poetry is activated by desire. His writing strokes a queer trajectory that moves from Shakespeare’s walking wounds to Acker’s Rimbaud’s precocious, transcendental masochism, tenderly inverting the traits of private longing into the honest myths of localised, de-privatised bodies, advancing a zealous campaign for the dredge of all our nightly lust to be converted through the slipstream of convertible language into fecund methodologies for examining subjectivities. Here the vicariousness of the imagined sensual body is exploded in favour of a hurt directly responsible to desire, and desire that responds directly to the hyperbolic positioning of sexuality as radically un-assimilable by the predations of robotically functional capital; at least seemingly so, as the work deliberately manoeuvres itself into wranglings within both the body and the body politic, a self explored in all its flesh and letters. Hetero-throats vomit back the urgent constituting gaze in a queer cartography of gregarious delight & ethno-babes take the fervent soundscape of the succubus’ phallic intransigence and fuck with it in pertinent, esoteric song.
The activation that I nudged at formerly is part of Liron’s wider praxis of theatrical desire, or desirous theatre, one that stems from the usefulness of place demolished of its private assumptions and invigorated by desire in place of stultified communicative models of interaction, a responsive erotics of occurrence, where that desire “is always political” and trained to invert the voyeuristic mode of awkwardness and discomfort into fertile ground for performative modes of connection. Liron’s poetry seems to me part of both the elicitation of that response and the response itself, as in,
see the meaning fall off like so much gravy
down the sluice you testified my testicles drooped off
into the home alone hell hole of rhyme and
syntax you cannot leave me with this butcherdress
of un living in the cattle prod of disneylanded squash the ch
christ push my face further in the shit so I can't breathe
kill me or set me free, fuck me or fuck me up,
but here god damn it no knife for us now in the
60's self referencing bitterly ironing automobile
of my reading infested with the clot of cliche drizzling
out the stigma of my earnest urge, this form is barbed
wire to be left and caught in a wing of distaste
where the incessant, barely sadistic self-harm is the index by which the poetic voice can feel again for the first time, completely wounded, real and shivering, a post-modern arsehole sonnet of failed affection but secure desire. How seriously should we take this urgent, unsimulated rhetorical demand to “fuck me or fuck me up”, and where do the ethics of this eroticism stake their claim? In the guts of poetry’s designs on a passive other, forever loved in silent sequence, the exhortation to be not only the loved one instead of the lover, but the fucked instead of the fucker, is in the poem a superfluity of “earnest urge”, however painful, in the face of what is denigrated as the “self referencing bitterly ironing automobile / of my reading”, where I take “ironing” to be a facile piss-take of “ironizing” and the general mode to be one of hope rather than despair, despite the self-satire of “my reading”. The danger implicit in a violently sexual encounter makes the body realer than referencing the self’s own desires, and thus the body needs only to be desired upon or in in order to accumulate the subjectivity necessary to make fucking vital life. The desultory and denigrating “un living in the cattle prod of disneylanded squash” makes the only viable response a mass onslaught into the fleshy processes of real life which must be accessed from a state of wanting to be transformed, to see the meaning of our bodies re-applied, not through the identity politics of straight or gay, but by queering the lover’s gaze to make the constitutive act less important than the desire behind the desire to be so constituted, the bloody real-time catwalk sped to a hurricane of lust to pump more blood through the veins than they could possibly handle, a cry against the “ironing” out of desire to the mass entrainment of normative beauty and pre-packaged, glossy, textiled love that is the very place of the poetry’s ecstatic insurgence.
Undoubtedly there are problematic points in a poetry of this kind – radical subjectivity was and never is a generalized prerequisite for fucking, although I am certain that Liron’s pornographic tendencies are aimed at re-appropriating the body from its image and re-investing it with the truth of desire whilst jettisoning exploitation. Pornography is an industry that has hi-jacked sexual desire, both gay and straight, for its own billion-dollar profits, and language that can attempt a reversal of the balance of power into the hands of those real human peoples who love & fuck in equal measure serves only to wrest influence away from pornography as the teleological arbiter of discourse on modern sex. Nonetheless, a Bataille-shaped transcendental shag is hard to pull off without sliding into exactly that kind of bathos or cynicism – the word “fuck” itself is a violent sound of attack, loaded with discrimination: the language itself is complicit. “Degradation”, notes Bataille, “which turns eroticism into something foul and horrible, is better than the neutrality of reasonable and non-destructive sexual behaviour”, because that neutrality, where too little is at stake and too little risked, is too distanced from the original taboo on violence and death that for him effectively invests eroticism with its transcendental power to glimpse the continuity of death and to burst through the barriers of our bounded subjective lives. And yet this reasoning predicates suffering and hurt, even if only for the rhetorical self declaiming the violence of desire in such a fashion. Desire is constantly co-opted. How can the poetic voice regain from corporate co-option the ability to conceive of itself as a desiring subject without itself performing those same hollow acts of appropriation that turn real love into the fantasy parameters of plastic souls? How much of that hurt can be re-invested into the work of a poetic language swimming in the erotics of theatrical desire and how much ends up superfluous damage in a subjective body already all-too wounded by commodification and cashflow? When can love corrupt capital? These are questions undoubtedly being raised (and answered) by other voices in the current poetic climate, and I submit this perky stub in the spirit of friendship and excitement about Jonny’s (and others’) continued investigations into the praxis of desire.
Jonny Liron is reading & performing in Cork at the SoundEye festival next week. Read his poetry here.
It's just not fucking fair, is it? Like, one minute you're coming-to after being tasered twice in the butthole by some faggot LAPD ne'er-do-well, the next some crackpot's writing you illegitimate fan letters begging for nostalgia to be relinquished up to the youth who did begot them, those perky dreams of suicidal catch-ups, your comic / cosmic double. What was so great about the fans was that they knew they all existed. It's sickening that we end (or lose an eye, lol), but if the Prime Evil wanted you to be doing meet-and-greets at $75 a pop then fuck that, it's just not fair. What the hell is representation without trust? A fucking Hellmouth, that's what. Open mine and smile.
Come to think of it, they still have us running circles around those motherfuckers in space, how’s the line developed through first to Death and then Eternity, without whom our lives would mean as little as, say, that bucket of used pointy sticks. I mean, to prick the relative corners of our pubescent cosmographia is the medium incarnate, the acquisition of universe plugged into millions of wounded eyeballs whereby your indiscretion you both move and are the movèd; what impresses me is that you knew enough about Euripides to keep that shit in the can until such time as we could manage their despondent doom-rattle with the appropriate sardonic aplomb. When was the last time Joss called? He owes you more than this, we all do – there was no hope devoured to the last abstraction that we couldn’t squeeze into allegory, aye Xan man! Popping the fortunate foreskins of the adept! To rule without complicity the bastard lobbyists of distant galactic colonies! To lick too late the arc of desire stretching from my shuddering wrists to that barely permissible fake moustache you were sporting on YouTube last week! But I hear the people there are good, and you’re getting the attention and commitment to relinquishing reality that you need – & the point is, as you sagely put it, that you haven’t killed anybody yet, which is perhaps the most tortuous aside since that devilish honky asked the audience if they could tell when he was lying. Hetero-throats and death-breath. I for one always understood this to mean that I, specifically, but also generally and politically, was charged with planting all the seeds in the inter-personal underbelly I could manage before the curtain plunged us all into the deluge of perdition, and that my bit-part in this role of citizenry would give me unparalleled insight into the functioning of the aforementioned Prime Evil. Secure the perimeter, head straight for the jugular. Alas, the guest spots dried up, but you know what I mean, right? That little conniving cunt got his, our ambivalence diluted any sense of Furor Justitae we had thus far managed to wring out of such vampiric morality, and now we chill in orbit and play Spot the Spin-off just to get through the frontispiece.
Look, the idea that montage was in any sense a contribution to a poetics of radical economy as the merely opening credit sequence makes your best expressions promo for a horny fess-up, the facial muscles roll D12 to determine the shareholder’s delight. You needn’t feel threatened by day if your heart secretes the bliss of the undead, the immortal youth of language at a summer camp in Maryland. Our polis was defined in darkest shadow, through the scree of necessary love, the lone voice-over spiralling joylessly across the firmament, O resplendent chronicle! In both human life and inanimate Orbs of Thesulah the one presence of the Buffyverse felt & seen! It’s like that with us Nicky, it’s the terrible burden we bear as progenitors of lost innocence, the onward rush of teenage fatalism draining quicker than the blood from Giles’ ruptured scrotum in the Season 9 finale.
Bollocks to that. Although I suspect that’s exactly the kind of sentiment that’s gotten you stuck up in Alphaville over there. I know you don’t need me to be the raw, reviling demi-god you always looked up to on set, I know you’re past that, and tbh when I found out James was getting hitched to that Slayer from Ohio I realised how gravely I’d misled the lad, taking him out for week-long benders filled with knock-off Campari and House of the Dead IV, when what I should’ve been doing was teaching you how to love yourself. I’m sure those patronising cunts in Malibu are telling you the same thing, but listen to this, Nicky: it is the same thing, and precisely therein lies the fucking Queller Demon masquerading around campus channelling the shade of John "Planetary Pissflaps" Donne, OK? Block them out. Yes, we are the song of the stars, and I carry my feet with Adam’s errant backbone slung to my side, being entirely there for myself and my co-stars from the thin end of the vas deferens right through to our collective epididymis. I swear Nicky, the moment you kicked in your neighbour’s door to get your mutt back the whole constellation began to topple like a disco suffering troll-damage. Can you send me the name of your sponsor so I can make sure he’s not some wide-boy in it for the action figures? I’ve got your back, comrade, remember that.
Remember also that the traitor’s reticence is his final trump, despite the lovely recourse to a just and hopeful torture - the death of one is forelock to the life we dream would yet be parted. When you’re out we’ll get back on the coke and chilli sauce and stay the fuck away from anyone who doesn’t believe in cultivating dianetical consciousness. Enclosed are some aesthetic-resistant earplugs and a pint of my own recalcitrant sperm; use them wisely, child, and know that I’m thinking of you always, especially at night.
Just to let y'all know I will be reading with the ESTEEMED Mr. Josh Stanley & others, w/(at least more than) performance from the EXCEPTIONAL Jonny Liron, all happening this Saturday 5th at the Sit Room in 7 Sisters (check link for directions and line-up up-up updates). This will be the first time I've read since the last time I read. There will be no free wine. The co-ordinates are as follows:
Title: Manifesting on a Sunny Wednesday Afternoon, or, Hey come back here with my monk!
Prologue: The subject is fundamentally jealous of the contemporary. That's the starting point from which the pivot kind of flows down into the range of the viable. Temporally speaking, natch. Nay, not for nothing the fluxus fluxeth.
[...] - some meat-space exhortations, followed by the back-up plan: I've got two swords in one scabbard / They cost me deep in my purse / And you shall have the bestest one / And I shall have the worst - [...]
Wrap-up: Some of us will make it; some will end up naming their first-born "Zephyr".
"The songs are sung outdoors. They are sung in daylight only. They do not exist in the dark. But it is darkness or absence or lostness or vacancy or deprivation that they are about...The constraints...are the most obvious: the guards, escape, sentence length, geographical places remembered or longed for or heard of, sickness, death, guns, the work itself. The songs concentrate on the devices and forms of control and the manifestations of impotence. The language is...highly concrete, but the themes are not; the themes are negatives: things like unlove and unfreedom and unimportance..."
-Wake Up Dead Man: Afro-American Work Songs from Texas Prisons, collected and edited by Bruce Jackson (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972), p. xvi. See Rounder Records 2013. As quoted in Rounder Records 1715Prison Songs: Historical Records from Parchman Farm 1947-48.
Questioner: Now these entities incarnate into a third-density vibratory body. I am trying to understand how this transition takes place from third to fourth-density. I will take the example of one of these entities of which we are speaking who is now in a third-density body. He will grow older and then will it be necessary that he die from the third-density physical body and reincarnate in a fourth-density body for that transition?
Ra: I am Ra. These entities are those incarnating with what you may call a double body in activation. It will be noted that the entities birthing these fourth-density entities experience a great feeling of, shall we say, the connection and the use of spiritual energies during pregnancy. This is due to the necessity for manifesting the double body.
This transitional body is one which will be, shall we say, able to appreciate fourth-density vibratory complexes as the instreaming increases without the accompanying disruption of the third-density body. If a third-density entity were, shall we say, electrically aware of fourth-density in full, the third-density electrical fields would fail due to incompatibility.
To answer your query about death, these entities will die according to third-density necessities.
Questioner: You are saying, then, that for the transition from third to fourth-density for one of the entities with doubly activated bodies, in order to make the transition the third-density body will go through the process of what we call death. Is this correct?
Ra: I am Ra. The third and fourth, combination, density’s body will die according to the necessity of third-density mind/body/spirit complex distortions.
We may respond to the heart of your question by noting that the purpose of such combined activation of mind/body/spirit complexes is that such entities, to some extent, conscientiously are aware of those fourth-density understandings which third-density is unable to remember due to the forgetting. Thus fourth-density experience may be begun with the added attraction to an entity oriented toward service-to-others of dwelling in a troubled third-density environment and offering its love and compassion.
Questioner: Would the purpose in transitioning to Earth prior to the complete changeover then be for the experience to be gained here before the harvesting process?
Ra: I am Ra. This is correct. These entities are not Wanderers in the sense that this planetary sphere is their fourth-density home planet. However, the experience of this service is earned only by those harvested third-density entities which have demonstrated a great deal of orientation towards service-to-others. It is a privilege to be allowed this early an incarnation as there is much experiential catalyst in service to other-selves at this harvesting.
What is the scope of our insistence on the plurality of address in contemporary experimental poetry? What are the implications of articulating, either by direct or inverse means, a polis whose basis is the entrainment of a readership into a productive and necessary milieu through which to act, to respond, to engage? How does this process relate to poetry’s designs on the folk, the people of which a community of poets is always a slight but inevitable instance? What are the designs of the people upon the poets? What are the ramifications of the activation of space in a play called The Reading for, in the first instance, the people who were there and for whom that space becomes radically theirs, and in the second instance for everybody else? How much does everybody else even matter, or do they remain a they, a kind of vaguely intimidating, abstractly regressive and unproductively somnambulistic Das Man until entrained into the utopian projection of our superabundance of desire? What, in any given reading or performance, can possibly be said to be assumed?
There are two things, I think, to come to terms with before attempting to untangle this deafening masque. The first is that in order to bridge the void between subjectivities the social space which subtends, contains and often undermines those subjectivities must be addressed holistically as well as fractally, preferably at the same time, or at least in the same breath. The second is that the notion of “preaching to the converted” is nonsensical when applied to the Arts, and poetry in particular, first because it assumes that there are only two possible states of play at stake, those of pre- and post-conversion, after which the infinite variety and radical potential of language slides like dribbles of iced latté down the polyethylene meniscus of the initiate's perception; second because “preaching” re-enforces a performer/audience dichotomy that is far less interesting than the active listening which is the axis of social space and of which both speaking and remaining silent are variegated articulations. This is to say that the potential for “creating culture” as opposed to, or perhaps parallel with, “reproducing it”, in Marianne Morris’ terms, are not diminished or somehow reduced in power or scope because the same people go to the same readings all the time. This is not a memorandum to my friends in the business, and I am not advocating an insular and reductive micro-dystopia of writers and performers selected for their collective genome’s compatibility with the esoteric knowledge of experimental poetic technique. Rather, I mean that the very cognizance of friendship, our ability to know each other and to express that knowledge, to work and thrive in the sun of it, is what could be at stake at readings and performances that enact certain desires and put such forces into play. The important question is not how to get more people interested in experimental poetry, but what to do with the ones that already are. In any case, I don’t believe that the same people do go to the same readings all the time; but I do believe that it is a certain quality of poetic disclosure that enables access to that “we” I want to talk about, as well as to its constituting subjectivities, whoever comprises and constitutes “us”, all of whom “I” desire to know as far and as productively as possible.
This then, is a political activation, however we qualify the instance of polis. What we can do to activate the space we inhabit. “My true readers”, says Dorn in the foreword to his Collected Poems, “have known exactly what I have assumed”, and Morris makes a similar, collectively appropriate point:
“a poetry like ours – that’s mine and my poetic colleagues’ – in fact relies on shared experience, both in criticism and engagement with performance as well as in a tacit understanding that a way must be found in poetry of speaking with more than one voice. This is why you see the first person plural pronoun in so much of this poetry – my own included: the ‘we’ that creates community, even where there is none…”
Morris, writing in the face of a deeply cynical, throw-away attack on the Infinite Difference anthology in the TLS, is keenly aware that the views expressed in the “review” were not meant to engage in debate or productive discourse, but simply blank and irreproachable, a derisive snort in the direction of a casual public whose proxy nostrils are cleared by the chummy, hairless tone of arrogant condescension, and as such her comments on the work to be done are directed to her poetic colleagues – Know your enemy is less useful didactic knowledge here than Know your friends, and less important. What then, should we assume? I said just now that it is a certain quality of poetic disclosure that enables access to this “we”, and stopped short of defining poetry as a constitutive force of the reflexively defining first person plural as Morris does. This is because I believe that whilst poetry can give ourselves to each other more truthfully than the static notion of self could bear, the skin-line not a burr thrown up against the world but finally a series of valves or ultra-porous access points through which we contain, refute, are filled and desired by the world, the potential for affinity must surely be pre-requisite for a community to come together and to effect that constitutive “we” in the first place. Community cannot just be created “even where there is none”, but only where “we” desire it to come into being by knowing each other more profoundly than we could by merely having similar preferences for original modes of language use? First of all, we must desire it. We must desire the dialectics of difference to be put to the use of poetic knowledge in order for our capacity for love to be more fully realised. The point is perhaps pedantic and in any case may be elucidatory instead of contradictive. And the first person plural pronoun can of course be put to other uses than those of highlighting our particular historical and collective endeavour, not least to worry that conception and keep us wary of complacency, to indicate other, perhaps more subtly mendacious and illusory methods of collective identity that the widest “we”, the human race, are constantly compartmentalised into, whether productively (not to mention usefully, willingly, falsely or painfully) or not.
Posie Rider & Jow Lindsay’s reading on Friday night assumed much less than it would perhaps be safe to assume a Cambridge Reading Series night of experimental avant-garde poetry would assume, but by this very play was able to open up a space in which the performance of the reading constantly flirted with, insulted, disparaged, castigated, comforted and barely became a means of effecting a communitas based upon what was already there, what we already have, and what we might possibly become. Recent national political discourse was both appropriated and mocked, but also re-constituted into the political space of the reading, tracing a line of constant watchfulness over the machinations universally predicated upon and in the name of the folk whilst at the same time tragically powerless to prevent those machinations from organising/mobilising satirical negations & refutations of constructed collective identity. The creation of the radical experimental “we” through such a gathering was tempered with a dangerously isomorphic “we” of satirical invective and absurdist comedy, the laughter of the audience perhaps the most realistic effect produced by the Wagnerian, mythological, polysemous diatribes flitting between the two barely realistic personas of the poets. The potential for a delineation of a universal WE to be reductive and obscurantist is enormous, and these are the precise means by which corporate advertising and party political affiliation seek to homogenise humanity into demographics and target audiences destined only for differences in the vagaries of their consumption and tactical voting preferences. To say, as I believe I heard Posie Rider say, that “we are the poets laureate” in the midst of an exhausting and increasingly overwhelming dialogic code is a re-appropriation of a political right and the creation of, or at least the exciting image of, a fragile community existing, fleetingly, in the heart of the multi-national flux of assumed identity. What is “assumed”, that is, taken as given, a priori, implicit, hereby becomes inverted to be that which is passed over in haste, ignorance or ambivalence, and what must be attested in the act of the reading is the (newly) human capacity for engendering caucuses of radical community so that we may attain enough trust to assume in the positive sense once more. The figures of Jow Lindsay and Posie Rider are mythological tricksters, ever playing with our trust in assuming that we are assuming the same thing/s as the poets we heed. We are not simply given to assume that we can all trust each other and can therefore sing together the firmament of the new world, but rather the intimidation and awkwardness these trickster aspects produce in the audience (for example, naming specific people in the audience, something I’ve seen Lindsay do a number of times both in improvised performance and in published work) work to make the sense of place more malleable in order that we may mould new ways of listening to and being with each other. Those moments of joyous augmentation, (self-)plagiarisation and re-organisation result in a mixtape-like quality that presents not only a plurality of voice, but voices of real collective experience and instantaneous memory.
Only by carving difference into the universally reductive notion of humanity itself can we become truly human, and by dint of this, humane. That is the axiom at work on the macro-level of experimental poetry communities and the micro-level of the individual reading.
This is also how readings act theatrically without becoming theatre. The creation of such communitas is contingent upon its only lasting as long as the reading itself, its durational nature perhaps the key to the feeling of common endeavour, even if only articulated negatively. Lindsay’s exhaustive prose performances are, I think, a beautifully doomed attestation of the occasion of the reading as the productive mechanism by which communities are made, defining themselves against both an undifferentiated humanity-at-large replete with built-in sensors to detect love, companionship, truth & beauty as well as by more positivist means declaring a space for the activation of radical subjectivities inexpressible within the nexus of the everyday uses of language. The temporality of the reading as play is therefore the crux of the meaning of the performance in terms of its delineation of our time, our language, our wound, our response. It is the proper occasion of song which frames and therefore reveals the event itself as constitutive of a collective grand narrative forged from the desire of those for whom pre-packaged national, gender, ethnic or sexual identities have become useless and restrictive.
How might all this relate to wider conceptions of the people, the folk, the inhabitants of Universe City? I’m as yet unconvinced that it does, or even has to. I am convinced, however, that these trousers somehow contain the answers we all seek.
"...when Dante insists on describing the quality of the musical performances of damned, penitent and blessed souls, he does not do so out of mere aesthetic interest. Music is an agent of divine grace and its use is consistent: Dante employs music in Paradiso as a rain to bless the souls and as a mystical means of expression in order to circumvent the engulfment of poetic language, while in Purgatorio plainchant provides a means for purging sins. By the same token, music in Inferno mocks the damned and reminds them of the salvation they will never reach, in a consistent parody of sacred music. Ironically, the same tool is therefore employed both to fulfill the desire of eternal happiness and to frustrate it.
Dante introduces into his poem the different styles of music of his time, showing an impressive knowledge, if not of the compositional techniques, at least of the repertory and its liturgical uses. He makes music the language of the spirit and incorporates this art into the monumental construction of his other world. References to polyphony are neither accidental nor decorative, but constitute a complex architecture, whose inherently musical meaning mirrors the reconciliation of multiplicity and unity. It is Dante's solution to the age-old problem, of reconciling the multiplicity of individuals with the unity of the Creator. The chants of the Commedia are therefore not a mere accompaniment to the pilgrim's voyage, but an essential component of it. Harmony, in a political, spiritual and musical sense, becomes the end of Dante's journey to polyphony.
The transition from monophony to polyphony accompanies a cathartic progress toward the spiritual union with the Creator. There is a specifically musical quality to this purification process: for the penitents, monophonic singing is the tool of purification as the individual struggles for harmony. The songs in Purgatorio therefore constitute a pharmakon, a remedy to heal the soul from sin, which seems to revive the Pythagorean notion of music as medicine. The change to polyphony in Paradiso reflects the harmony with the Supreme Being, realized, spiritually as well as musically, through the simultaneous resonance of the souls' melodies within the music of God."
Containing some scattered and some more delineated thoughts on failure, O'Hara, theatre, folk song & the faux-pas. The continuation of our grand narrative.On the way back from a Chinese traditional music concert in Oxford at the weekend I mentioned to my housemate that I could quite easily have sat through two hours of solo qin music without the modern recapitulations of sung poetry, to which he responded tetchily "not everyone's you, Joe"; a valid point, but doesn't my desire to expand my self into everything subtend and undermine that protest? I love harder than you, I will encompass your desire and you will see. Love as the great colonizer; the reflexive machinations of Wilkinson's Proud Fleshattempt to dislodge these anxieties but ultimately reinforce and re-inscribe them. Do I drown in this gross superfluity of desire or revel in it?
Letter to Luke Roberts, 14.5.10
Great to hear back from you, and glad to hear you're having a hectic, if not entirely healthy trip. I recently read your Terraform Lecture Notes (long overdue, I know) and was particularly struck by your:
"What fails but this, the failures I love, into the earthquake shortened day where for milliseconds we might have done something special"
Which at the moment of writing, shot-through with totally contingent personal lyric from where I sit in the computer room of the Taylorian library on a lunch break, sounds like the fallout from a rebuff, and then after the comma, the interrogation of the validity even of THAT as feeling or (responsible) response. I was looking at Yves Klein's Leap into the Void again for the first time in a long while, and reveling in the pathos and awfulness of the whole endeavour - Klein in some dirty Parisian back street wide-eyed and flapping around, it's all so utterly tragi-comic, leaping into the great Void whilst a disinterested lady cycles down the street with her groceries, completely oblivious, the sincerity of Klein's action just segues into ridiculousness. His imaginary "architecture of the air" becomes a vaguely phallic gesture of pre-failure into which he can throw himself but nothing else. Perhaps, finally, that's where his personal vision of transcendence fails, but fails beautifully. The world accepts and absorbs his passion but then immediately and imperceptibly becomes brittle and dry, leaving him hanging in photo-montaged air, a idiot grinning in the face of the love that he loves.
That's the discrepancy in perception when desire falls short, that the primary result is a feeling of being incommensurable with the world, discontinuous and dis-contemporaneous. This is true whether the subject is a particularly unobtainable Laura or Beatrice (longing - distending - stretching), or video footage of an American helicopter killing Iraqi civilians (impotence - weakness - horror). It's the time dilation involved in the inevitable alienation from the common ground of language, which is possible only thanks to love's greivious machinations. And through that alienation we desire all the more, we're then able to produce the necessary superfluity of desire that could subtend a poetics of the impossible made, if not possible, then at least (mostly) manifest.
Failing beautifully is something I know a few people in our ambit are interested in - Chris Goode is the primum mobile here, who got a lot out of a blog-piece that Matt Trueman wrote, and I've talked with both of them about notions of failure in performance, or perfomative failure, or performing failure, which I think for Chris always needs to orbit an axis of vulnerability and weakness (see his blog post on the matter, which you have probably already done). I wanted to ask you what ARE the failures that you love, and why? Is there something bigger going on here? I mean Keston's working through his tripartite thesis comprising the cardinal points of WRONGNESS, BATHOS and STUPIDITY, which seems to have some parallels with Chris' aesthetics of failure. I don't for a minute want to suggest that Failure and Wrongness are isomorphic, because they're patently not, and anyway Keston and Chris have massively different praxes. But I think there is a more general thrust here towards embracing these antitheses of literature and performance and re-appropriating them in order to re-infuse them with the passionate arguments needed to keep us all afloat.
I've come to think that the tragic is the only true, or perhaps the truest, measure of life. That we have to come at it from that angle. How the tragic opens up a wound in perception that is productive and powerful, both alienating and universal at the same time. I love how "tragic" in common parlance has become a byword for social or artistic failure or faux pas, marking the instances of our descent. On the other hand, how foreign death is immeasurably more powerful when couched in indignation, as opposed to tragedy - "a tragic loss of life" now sounds the hollow apolitical horn of cowardly complicity. Here the tragic is co-opted into the foul and evil-smelling mouth of Brigadier Major Sir Jock Stirrup as a means to dodge & obscure a measure of human life in fact brutally defined by SMART bombs and surgical strikes; this he has to do, because to admit of an adversary's humanity is the first step towards pacification and negotiation, obviously anathema not only to military operations in general but also to the language employed to present such operations as necessary and urgent. Letter to Y.S., 5.5.10
I hope you don't mind my writing to you - I'm sorry I had to rush off after the seminar & I would've liked to talk more about O'Hara and your paper, which I really enjoyed. It was rather depressing, in one sense, to encounter a rather regressive streak in the audience that still clung to the idea of art for Art's sake as some kind of tautological and self-referential institution that runs like a parallel line alongside life, culture and politics, as if such a discourse hadn't worn itself out over the course of the entire gamut of twentieth-century acts of embedded, contextual, engaged and active art & performance. Still, I don't want to get bogged down in refuting such a concept - we might just quote Oscar Wilde or Guy Debord and be done with it - but at the same time it mirrors an argument that still to some extent plagues any work, particularly poetry that is self-avowedly or even critically referred to as "political"...You were totally right to say that everything is political - at least any art that engages with human relationships, as all human experience is conducted & mediated in liminal zones whose boundaries and limits are themselves defined by the given cultural and political rules of engagement. Of course a poem is not a sit-in, or a march - and I wondered what exactly was the point of labouring this issue, especially given the fact that the questioner had already decided that art is to be referred to and thought about Artistically in light of the Canon. A manifesto is as inert as a poem on the page if it is not taken up and given a social role, and surely readerly practice has as much to do with how far a work can be "politically effective" as the agency, or lack thereof, of the (debased and outmoded idea of) "art in itself". What I find striking about O'Hara's work, and this is inevitably coloured by the kind of criticism I read around him, especially Malcolm Phillips', is the the fact that the interstices and rivulets of interaction and time that he works in create fragile and transient occasions for being together, moments of engagement that are not transcendental or escapist (the major difference for me between O'Hara and Ginsberg) but actually fully committed to working in the gaps and fissures of the urban consumerist absurdity that characterises New York in so many of his poems. Now, that kind of work is political on a more complex and deep level than the gapingly large definition I provided just now because it figures out the various spaces in which thought and love and motion can be processed in the glaring mass of the city - these moments of extreme and often all-too-tender intimacy are conditioned by the melee that goes on around them, the flux that is constantly tearing O'Hara from one party to the next. I think there's a reason that O'Hara and Berrigan talked about Coke and pills all the time, and I think it has a dark side to it, that it reflects negatively the positions these poets had to adopt to stay both committed to lived reality and create instances of new forms of engagement within that reality - to whit, they must have gotten pretty tired being so various. The tone of quiet resignation that pervades poems like Having a coke with you and Aus Einem April I think bears this out.
But to be more specific, I think a poem can be politically just as much, if not more than, it can mean politically; the latter category segues all too easily into a position of reflection and critique, which is not what O'Hara does to my mind - or if he does, it's constantly his self that is being critiqued for staying in the same place for too long, and thus missing out on something going on down the street. The denial of national identity in Grand Central is a wound almost protected by the breezy tone of the way "love" is bandied about immediately following this statement (even that I find slightly disturbing - as if he didn't quite trust love enough and felt more comfortable using it as a kind of human shield, using a part of himself to defend another, wayward part that won't play along), but finally left open to the machinations of the reader - the self from which the poetic voice is reconstructed is ALWAYS to some extent created by the readerly act, and that's a kind of political manoeuvre that bleeds out frequently from O'Hara's more naked poems. What is more political than manipulation at the hands of a distant other? This is what I mean by the poem acting, or being political more than meaning someTHING political, in that narrow sense that politics sets up for itself when being referenced in those terms. Is the faux pas in O'Hara a radical wound through which the poet allows the reader a glimpse into their own manipulative designs upon the body of the other? Letter to Jonny Liron, 9.5.10
So, the terms of engagement. After spending the last couple of days with some sort of letter sploshing around in my head, I'm not even sure any more of the points I was supposed to make, or even if they need to be made. What am I trying to do comparing Poetry and Theatre when what I should be doing is getting on with making poems? I remember reading about Yves Klein and his entourage, that Klein was approaching Art through his painting, one of his friends through poetry, another through music, etc, but the point seemed to be that they were all looking for the same essential fix, they just differed on their respective ways in. I don't think that sets up our terms very satisfactorily, because I wouldn't presume to want the same thing that you do, and I think to assume that is arrogant and stupid. There isn't just some great big Art that we're traveling towards through our different praxes, no point at which we can all say - we've arrived, Jonny get here through theatre, Joe through poetry, that's just too universalist and ultimately bland and reductive.
Nor do I want to "defend" poetry - it's failures and limitations are what interest me most. Have you seen the recent discussions on the List about sestina form and wrong poetry?
But I am interested in the form an event takes. The liveness of any art is contingent on the act of its occurrence - any given performance of a composed piece of music or a written poem is an instance of a singular thing that acts to transform that thing - it is no longer inert but performative. In some musical cultures the idea that there is no such thing as a piece of music outside of the act of its being played is more explicit than in others, and only relatively recently have Western musicologists questioned the superiority of the idea of the "Great Work" that exists before and after any of its articulations in performance, and subtends those individual instances within some grand structure of meaning. That's obviously not how we encounter art in our lives - meaning is totally contextual, delineated by the subjective and the communal, and tied up with culturally ingrained responses. Theatre brings these things to the forefront of the stage, as it were, as it is. The continuing and responsive present moment of being, distended indefinitely. The ultimate mode would of course be Chris's utopia of ever-on-going theatre that the public would and could encounter at any point - the never-ending present distended indefinitely in actual praxis. I don't know, maybe this stuff is just so totally intuitive it doesn't need pointing out, and the dialectic between a work and its articulations in lived experience is just something that hovers at varying radii from any practice. This is why I'm so fascinated by folk song - it is constantly dealing with this dialectic (or what in the essay on Dorn which I attach I call a trialectic, because you have to take the singer into account as well) at the forefront of its practice. That discrepancy between the artwork and its articulation in performance, whether what is being performed is the same essential THING or whether it becomes a new phenomenon each time, and the discrepancy between the artist and the historical context out of which she arises, are isomorphic. I'm building patterns of reality in the hope that they'll break down and split. An act of tuning. The history of temperament.
From a letter to Neil Pattison, 1.5.10
So, enough quotation. I want to address folk song in Olsonian terms, especially the sense of the phylogenetic in the ontogenetic, which is something I reference above when talking about Jonathan P. Stock's response to Victor Grauer's article on the evolution of musical forms in the journal World of Music, and then move onto talking about the use of song in modern poetry, specifically with reference to Ed Dorn's Geography. One of the key elements of folk song, as I mentioned at the very beginning, is the position of the singer within the song. When a folk singer sings, is she singing "the song", her "version" of the song, or something else entirely? Cecil Sharp tries to pin down the question of the authorship of folk songs in his English Folk Song: Some Conclusions, rejecting both the idea that the folk song has no author and simply arises out of an anonymous collective tradition, and the super-relativistic conception of there being no such thing as "a song" and that each interpretation of such a phenomena is a new song in itself. His compromise is to cite a constant development of the body of song in which the songs are transformed over the course of generations to mean the particular version that is sung at any given time - in other words, that each articulation of the body of song will occur in an environment in which that song's status is always already assumed. The divergences and discrepancies between "different" versions of the "same" song is a paradox that is contained within the legitimacy allowed to such "versions" within their communities. Nonetheless, always with folk song there is the looming sense of the singer coming out of and returning to a wider tradition that both authenticates and subtends her voice - that determines its variation and encompasses its scope. Always in folk song there seems to me that essential ontology of being one amongst many, how to determine the scope of one's voice. The dialectic can be disturbing - folk song, in any culture, is a closed system, or cosmology. It prescribes and determines the limits of one's capacity for love.