Monday, October 29, 2012
This Can't Be Life
Purchased online directly from the publisher, Edge Books.
I've met Dana on two occasions. The first time he came to a reading I gave at Xavier in Cincinnati in early 2009. Dana, myself, Norman and Alice Finkelstein, and Tyrone Williams went out for food and beers at a local pub afterwards. Dana and I sat next to each other in the booth and we hit it off instantly, gabbing away most of the night about everything from all the poets whose work we admired to living in older cities that have seen better days.
We got into a long discussion about a few lines in my poem, "A Crowning," which go like this:
Beneath the paving stones
More paving stones
To be pulled up
Into a version
The lines play off a Situationist slogan popular during the May '68 demonstrations in Paris. The original goes, "Beneath the paving stones -- the beach!" We had an interesting discussion about the meaning of both the original and the more world-weary twist I'd given it.
Dana conjures this conversation in a long poem from this book titled, "Typing Wild Speech." In his version, the conversation was not about the line in my poem so much as it was about me being critical of the youthful, utopian dreams buried beneath the stones in the original slogan. He claims that I called the slogan "frivolous."
It's interesting how two different people remember the same thing. I don't doubt that Dana heard something to this effect coming from me, but neither do I recall having said or implied that meaning. And there is a key omission to his version of the events which I think calls into question the recollection: the poem.
When Dana says, "the violence required to effect a wished-for sea-change & the violence used forever to maintain the status quo," this seems to me a reading of these lines, yet he never lets the reader know that we are actually talking not about my ideas in relation to Situationism, but rather about the meaning of four lines in a poem I'd written.
In the absence of the poem and also of the context of the complex relationship between the words on the page and their author, it leaves one with the impression that I am being critical of Dana's "frivolous" love of the Situationists' famous slogan.
But how do you argue with someone's subjective impression of an event?
Ultimately, his is less a poem about ideas than it is about the speaker's attempts to understand the suicide of a close friend. In the same passage, he uses a line from another poem of mine, "A Note on Utopia," that reads, "it/burns a deep hole/inside me that is all," as a springboard out of our conversation and back into mourning the loss of his friend. Ultimately, our meeting plays a small part amid the larger concerns voiced in the poem.
The second time we met also makes an appearance in the book, this time in the opening poem. A month or so after my reading in Cincinnati, someone, possibly Anselm Berrigan, was supposed to have read with Tisa Bryant in the small press poetry series in Buffalo, but had to cancel at the last minute. Dana agreed to come read in his stead.
We spent the afternoon of the reading following the familiar visitors trail to Niagara Falls and Robert Creeley's firehouse, ending up at a sushi place on Elmwood. Having done this tour so many times with other writers, I don't really have a clear memory of much of the day other than that it happened in much the same way it did a hundred times before.
"Habit is a great deadener," says Beckett.
In Dana's memory, the scene at the Sushi place was a site of humiliation. Apparently, he didn't eat sushi often, so I helped him order and showed him how to use chopsticks more effectively. Nonetheless, he says, "I ended up sneaking it into my mouth with my fingers when I thought they weren't looking. It occurred to me that this part of the reading was about improvisatory parenting."
There seems to be a pattern developing here. In the first poem I "unwittingly scolded" Dana when we discussed the Situationists and now in this poem I am "unwittingly" engaged in "improvisatory parenting." Tisa collaborates by helping Dana put on his seatbelt.
In both cases the speaker sets himself up as a child or innocent "unwittingly" thrown into a world of adults who want to disabuse him of his illusions, what he calls in the first poem, "the silvery lights." I have no truck with holding on to one's childhood, but I am less keen on being set up as the scolding, possibly even abusive, parent, who tries to take it away.
But how do you argue with someone's subjective impressions of an event?
Here's a link to a recording on Dana reading "Typing Wild Speech" in its entirety.
Monday, December 28, 2009
The last of three books (inscribed) given to me by the author when I visited Cincinnati last February. My brain is not really awake yet, so I'll just post an excerpt this morning.
from Lyrical Intereference
Postscript to the essay "Pressing for the End"
Once I thought that our most sublime moments, the moments when we are most in touch with ourselves and all that has produced us, could be rendered into art when, out of our desire, we gave ourselves up wholly to the "voice of language itself." But there is another voice we must sometimes heed, and that voice never utters a word. We speak, and in speaking create endless models of discourse that echo back at us and bid us respond. One great model, the model of Messianic discourse that through both art and religion was once heard so plainly, is now so distant from us that it returns only as silence. Sometimes it bears down upon us, and we rush to welcome it, receive it with open arms. And in the extremity of its embrace we too fall silent.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Given to me (inscribed) by the author when I visited Cincinnati last February. I remember that the reading I gave was a fun one. It took place in some kind of an athletics department lounge on the campus of Xavier U. There were only about 6 or 7 people there -- Norman & Alice Finkelstein, Tyrone Williams, Dana Ward (who I met for the first time), and I think two students. One of the students, a young man, wanted to talk about "The God Poem" after I read. He was definitely a young person in search of something and as such I felt a great sympathy for him. We ended up having a long, very sincere discussion about belief in God and so forth. I kind of wish all readings would end up in long sincere discussion about something -- wouldn't that be nice?
After the reading, all of the non-students went out to a bar, where we talked about poetry mostly. Dana and I got to talking about chapbooks and how they are often considered subsidiary to the perfect bound book, how people consider them stepping stones to "real" books, he said, thus diminishing the value of the chapbook, both as container of poems and as art object. He explained that he was trying to use his own press (Cy Press) to counter that -- he said he wanted to publish works that were written as chapbooks, and which stood alone as complete, autonomous works on a par with perfect bound books.
The next morning before I left, Norman and Tyrone took me to breakfast at an old time Cincy diner called Sugar and Spice. Large murals depeicting stacks of pancakes and bacon and eggs and waffles and cups of coffee covered then walls. They looked like they had been done in the forties. You could barely find a table it was so crowded. Norman ate a Cincinnati German favorite called goetta, which is a combination of ground meats and oats. I can't remember if I tried it or not.
from Passing Over
the this and that together
like all of his commandments
like all around the table.
after all else is consumed.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Powers: Tracks Volume Three
Given to me (inscribed) by the author, along with two other books, when I read at Xavier University in Cincinnati last February. I had been invited to read there by my friend, Tyrone Williams, who it happened had a class the night I arrived. Norman and his wife, Alice, graciously agreed to entertain me my first night in town. They took me to a hip new Mexican place called "Nada," which was managed by one of Norman's former students. The food was delish -- we even got to try some new dishes they were considering putting on the menu. I also got to drive in Norman's Toyota Prius -- I had never been in a Prius before and I kept thinking the car had stopped running because it didn't make any sound at all!
from Powers: Tracks Volume Three
The myth a record
of translation or transgression
A scandal among the scribes
translating the myth
Recording the transgressions
of the schools and parties
Here the record
is broken and lost.