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A Journal of Contemporary Poetics

Volume IV, Number Three                    FALL 1996



_Anarchism and Culture_ by Jefferson Hansen

_Assembling: A Review_ by Loss Pequeno Glazier

_Journey to Hoboken_ by Henry Gould

_Singing Contradiction_ by Noah de Lissovoy

_Our Theories, Our Selves_ by Daniel Barbiero

_The Multiplied Faces of One-On-One_ by Stephen Ellis

Edited by Christopher Reiner




The definitions are provisional and highly volatile. They will be
revised and reformulated as this essay moves. I am, right now,
highly skeptical of the linearity underlying my initial

If "culture" is taken to refer to accepted standards of taste in
the arts, where conventional notions of beauty flit across the
stage and poets ask questions about the meaning (or
meaninglessness) of war and the necessity of seizing the day,
then "anarchism" refers to that edge of the so-called "cultural
world" where the questions and standards are unsettled. The
unruly questions and sulfurous motions and shocking techniques of
anarchism are form finding itself rather than replicating

In political anarchism, according to a chief theorist, Peter
Kropotkin, consensus is obtained "not by submission to law or by
obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded
between the various groups" (229). This political theory suggests
for art the active searching for and development of creativity
rather than just accepting previous notions of good taste.
Anarchism explores new questions and evolves new standards,
thereby exposing "culture"'s assumed standards and opening
possibilities for new ones.

This essay locates itself in the shadow of Charles Olson's famous
statement, "Projective Verse." Perhaps this is a reinterpretation
of that essay in the light of current poetics, poetries, and the
varying vectors of so-called everyday life.

Assume that "culture" and "anarchism" are two poles on a
continuum. No poetic act of any value is wholly anarchistic or
wholly cultural. Every poetic act embodies elements of both
"culture" and "anarchism".

There is no one, underlying continuum. Every poem is produced
within a poetic network (or as it is more popularly known,
"community" or should we be honest and just call it a "cult"?)
with its own calcified "culture" opening onto various anarchistic
possibilities. At the moment of composition a poem is at the
nexus of four forces: the writer, the assumed audience, potential
publishing venues, and potential performance venues. Each of
these forces contains elements of anarchism and culture.

Wholly anarchistic works are not capable of being read
(consumed?) in any meaningful way within any existing poetic
networks; though it is possible that a future network may be able
to provide just such a context, thereby making the work
meaningful. Think of what happened to Melville, Whitman, and
Dickinson. Since the audience and publishing and performance
venues precede the writer, both temporally and logically, I will
discuss them first.

The "audience" is the segment of the reading public that
purchases, discusses, and consumes the type of poetry being
written. (The audience may, in turn, be further subdivided into
general readers, critics and other poets, but such subdivisions
are beyond the scope of this essay.) This audience has a general
preference for certain poetic forms, for certain techniques, for
the expression of certain sensibilities, and for certain ways of
reading. I leave these preferences ill-defined because they must
be. For the poem to be written they must not be strictures, but
guideposts; not definitive, but provisional and flexible. The
cultural element of the audience is these preferences; the
anarchistic element is their lack of definitiveness. On the one
hand, a poem that invokes no preferences currently at play among
a network is to create poetry unable to be consumed because it is
outside any audience's practices of reading. On the other hand,
if these preferences have become too well-defined among the
audience, or, if the writing is too sensitive to some of the
audience's demands, then the writing veers sharply toward the
"cultural" end of the continuum and, whatever its reception in
the chaotic realm of public culture (where a bad, calcified poem
may be taken up by a pop star and suddenly turned into a big hit
that generates a lot of money), becomes calcified. The anarchist
impulse is lost. While the artistic value of the work diminishes,
its possibilities for use as an emblem of "culture" are sometimes
heightened. Accepted art is not art; it is the reiteration of the

All networks have a cultural pole. Certain "avant-garde" networks
may dispute this claim, but a close look at the exclusions and
inclusions in such networks' journals, anthologies, and reading
series reveals accepted preferences. However, because of the
small size, lack of institutionalization, and love of novelty
characteristic of such networks, they tend to be more volatile
and anarchistic than more traditional networks. (Sometimes,
however, an "avant-garde" network's strictures become incredibly
demanding, perhaps as a result of feeling embattled after a
disappointingly indifferent or hostile response by other
networks. They feel the need to keep the ranks pure.)

Any act of writing, if it has value, will be met with disdain by
a portion of the audience because it is either too "cultural" or
too "anarchistic". (Dear poet, if no one hates your poem, give

If the dissenting voices are few, yet strident and clear, it may
be a sign that the work is safely cultural (i.e., BORING).

Performance and publishing venues are similar to the audience in
that they exhibit certain preferences, but differ in that only a
few people, namely editors or curators of reading series, decide
on these preferences. The exact "taste" of these editors and
curators can be more easily established than that of an audience.
In my experience, the challenge for these workers is to remain
anarchistic enough to avoid calcified editorial and curatorial

The audience and the potential public venues for the poem being
written usually act upon the writing moment as mulch, as
subconscious assumptions about poetry and its possibilities that
the poet has developed through his or her participation in a
network of publishing, performing, writing, and reading. The
study of and general exposure to the poetic assumptions and
characteristic techniques of this network has a cumulative effect
on the poet, who now puts them into play as the poem is written.
*The good poet has learned the assumptions and techniques so
thoroughly that they "naturally" flow from the fingertips onto
the computer screen.* The poet may agonize over words and
combinations, but in general these words and combinations are a
logical possibility opened by the network. The more this poem can
locate and use previously unexplored possibilities of this
network (i.e. push the network towards anarchism) the more
original the poem seems. Such a poem slightly and subtlely
deforms (anarchism) a way of forming poetry established within a
network (culture).

This should not in any way be taken to claim that poets
prostitute themselves to publishing opportunities. Poems usually
fall from the poet's fingertips with little or no consideration
of publication. But poems that the writer has absorbed inform the
writing, and after writing the poem the poet decides on which
journal in his or her network may be most likely to accept the
finished product.

The writer is the final, and most unpredictable, force that
impinges on the writing of a poem. While the general outlines of
audience and, to a lesser degree, publishing can be discerned,
the writer's very individuality makes this force impossible to
precisely pinpoint. Every writer has a unique relationship to the
general poetic tradition and to the specific emphases of his or
her particular network. There is no such thing as a writer
"mastering" the poetic tradition in the same way as a literary
critic. Influence is nebulous and unequal, flowing as much from
minor writers as from major. Indeed, a writer may be as
influenced by extra-poetic material--pop culture, politics,
domestic relations--as by strictly poetic sources. Granted, these
materials will be refracted and reflected by the writer's
favorite poetic techniques (provided by one or more networks) but
the source is outside poetry proper. The writer is a wild card.

A writer must balance the demands of culture and the demands of
anarchism. A poor grounding in a network dooms a poet. (The
criteria for good grounding, like everything having anything to
do with the peculiarities of an individual poet, is nebulous.
Some writers may gain an intuitive feel for the basics of a
network after reading only a small selection of poets and poems.
Others may need years of study. The key, it seems to me, is the
proven ability to apply and transform the network's techniques
and assumptions in a manner that works.) Similarly, a stifling
grounding dooms a poet creatively, though it may prove helpful
for short term career moves. There is no program that, if
implemented, would give the precise measurements of culture and
anarchism necessary to create good poets. The form must find

Sometimes poets feel themselves coming upon assumptions and
techniques expressly forbidden by a network. They may respond by
pushing ahead and ignoring the strictures, thereby alienating
some of the audience and perhaps dooming the poem's publication
or performance prospects. (In which case, the poem may be a
private one, which does not concern me here since private poems
do not circulate within a network and need to be understood
somewhat like private letters.) Or this poet may bow to the
network's strictures by altering or abandoning the poem. I
recently heard of a poet working within a network highly
skeptical of traditional narrative techniques. When he found
these techniques creeping into his poetry, he quit writing. In
this case, the culture of his network overwhelmed the anarchistic
impulse. Perhaps if he had allowed himself to move into narrative
he would have come upon possibilities between his former network
and traditional notions of narrative still operative in other
networks. Or he may have written himself into obscurity, been in
at the founding of a new network, or switched into the more
"traditional" network. But at least he would be writing and
exploring rather than letting the audience and publishing vectors
overwhelm his writing.

This example shows that even "avant-garde" artists can be
overwhelmed by culture. The sole difference between "avant-garde"
culture and more traditional or mainstream culture is that the
techniqes informing and assumptions underlying the mainstream are
generally taken more seriously by the mass media and the
university system.  Nothing is out in front any more.

There is no longer an edge to cut.

There is no such thing as the arts community. Art is factions.

It is impossible for a poet to follow a personal vision. Poetry
is irreducibly social, like language itself. There is no such
thing as poetry of value operating outside a network of audience,
writers, and publication venues. Therefore, a poet can never
write with no reference to an audience. The notion of audience
often operates at a subconscious level. If wanting to believe to
write only according to the dictates of individual vision, a poet
may repress this audience and pretend it has no bearing on the
act of writing. But it does. Reading precedes writing. The act of
reading introduces a poet to the assumptions and techniques of a
network. From where else can a poem be written? The poet's inner
being? What does the poet's inner being have to do with French,
English, or Swahili poetic traditions?

Presently in the U.S., poetry happens within a number of highly
specific networks. Various networks, therefore, compete for
attention and funding. This seems obvious: If four poets deeply
committed to confessionalism manage to get seated on a committee
deciding on a major award, you can be reasonably sure that a
confessional poet of some sort will win.

The more visible networks are those whose cultural pole is found
congenial by the mass media.

For most people in the general public, poetry, if they pay any
attention to it at all, is a single network, not a number of
competing ones. It is therefore to every poet's advantage,
regardless of network, if another manages to interest anyone in
any poetry whatsoever. The more people browsing the poetry
shelves of libraries and book stores, the better. It may rankle
some poets in less visible networks that their work is less
likely to be available to this poetry browser, but it may at a
later date if the right moves are made.

Poetry's best chance for attracting more readers is to offer a
diversified product. (When considering distribution, poetry is
most effectively thought of as a product, not a vision. Sorry.)

While the frustration expressed by poets in less publicized
networks is understandable, I feel that the wholesale dismissal
of networks by other poets is counterproductive to poetry as a
whole. Such dismissal tends to harden and cement the cultural
ends of all networks involved, both those being attacked and
those doing the attacking, by forcing poets to proclaim or defend
fundamental allegiances. While such explicitness is valuable
because it opens poetic assumptions and techniques to scrutiny,
it ultimately hurts because poetry, as such, is not an
explanation of itself nor a justification of itself. And if a
poet spends a lot of effort defining, in explanatory prose, a
poetic, then deviations from that poetic will be problematic. The
gap between the poet's "theory" and "practice" will unsettle and
even turn off some readers and perhaps confuse the poet. Unless a
poet has the courage to change in mid-stream and alienate
readers, it is likely that he or she will become more and more
programmatic as time passes. In the end, the poems may become a
monument to their cultural base.

Instead of defensive or proclamatory poetics, I prefer any number
of exploratory poetics. Such writing is more anarchistic in that
it uses explanatory prose (usually) to search for new poetic
possibilities. It offers a different angle on the poetic
process--more explicit and more clearly referential--that may open
new avenues for poetry per se.

If forced by a competitor to defend some poems, I would hope to
first point out that all my poems are not like the specimens
being attacked, then I would hope to explain the value of the
attacked poems, then I would hope to emphasize that in the future
I may be writing very different kinds of poems. But, then again,
we poets are an emotional breed. I may scream, yell, and kick.

Implicit in the above discussion is a deep skepticism about
committing oneself to the assumptions and techniques of a single
network as poetry networks are now formed. Commitment to a
specific network often entails a reification of the cultural end
of its continuum--a belief that this way of reading and writing is
one of the few or, more extremely, the only valuable way to read
and write. (However, it is likely that I would fight hard for
so-called "avant-garde" work if I ever find myself on a funding
committee because poetry in general loses so much by the economic
marginalization of one of its most innovative and surprising
factions. I am committed to giving this poetry the most exposure.
Poetry politics, though, will not dictate my own poetics.)

Restricting the repertoire of poetic assumptions and techniques
impoverishes poetry by limiting its possible connections to other
poetries and to aspects of the world outside poetry. What we need
is more connections, not fewer. We need more surprising and more
eclectic connections, not reified ones.  I do not like attempts
to banish figures of speech, techniques, forms, sensibilities
from poetry.  How do I know that these tools are wholly

Unfortunately, a poet may reap many rewards by working out some
logical possibilities opened by a network.

This essay is highly skeptical of the American poetry industry
where MFAs are cranked out on a yearly basis. This
institutionalization is the height of calcified culture, where
poets are rewarded for imitating and brown-nosing, like business
students. Such culture needs to be virulently attacked. Yet, in
spite of these problems, some good poetry manages to be eked out
of this process, but these few successes occur in spite of
institutionalization and show, thankfully, that the anarchistic
spirit of poetry is not easily broken.

I heard that Harvard University, after a long battle, forced its
business school to stop offering a class entitled "How to Lie."
How long until universities must do the same to classes offered
by MFA programs? Simultaneous Submissions 101.

This essay is skeptical of the avant-garde notion of artistic
progress where specific artistic acts explore territory that the
mainstream has yet to encounter. I do not believe that there is
any "in front of"; there is "next to," "around," "about," "with."
Poetry networks exist in the wider field termed "poetry." This
field is not linear, but spatial. Various networks take up
various positions, each with its own culture-anarchism continuum.
There is some overlap. There are some open spaces in between
networks. Some networks hearken back to centuries-old techniques.
Some use techniques first developed only a decade or two ago.
None is out in front.

I like to think I write in the anarchistic tension opened by the
techniques and assumptions of a variety of networks. Such
eclecticism, I feel, opens more possibilities than it shuts down,
helps me to avoid writing more and more refined versions of a
single network's blueprint for poetry, and gives me more tools
with which to work.

If I am successful, such writing takes place not on a continuum
running from culture to anarchism, but in the anarchistic spaces
between cultures or at the interface of cultures. The poetic
field is filled with various forms, techniques and assumptions,
all with a history which is a part of their meanings, but only a
part, and with plenty of space where the possibilities are open
and where various forms, techniques, and assumptions can be
stretched, rearranged, overturned, and otherwise played with.

It bears repeating that no valuable poetry is purely anarchic.
Valuable anarchism in poetry is the ability to rearrange,
reorder, transform, and/or recontextualize received poetic tools,
no matter from which network they are taken. I do not believe
that Coleridgean "imagination" exists; I am a man of wit.
"Anarchy" is chaos; "anarchism" is form finding itself within the
cultural materials at hand rather than obeying outside dictates.
(In a future essay, I will consider the various sources of the
creative impulse. Here, I am concerned with the social forces
that give it form.)

What distinguishes this essay from Olson's "Projective Verse" is
my insistence that form, as it interpenetrates with content,
always occurs within a poetic field littered with various forms,
techniques, and assumptions. Olson implies that poetry can burst
beyond this poetic field into a form entirely specific to the
moment of composition. For Olson, poetic history, ideally, does
not mediate between the poet and the poem. For me, poetic history
always mediates. Poetry cannot simply present perception; it must
poetically present perception. The important distinction for me
is not between closed form, which is mediated by history, and
open form, which is not; but between excitement and
calcification, between rigidity and the thrill of creation.

The Olson I feel closest to is the one who writes, "Limits are
what any of us are inside of."

Poetic tools such as rhyme, meter, dialect, collage, obfuscation,
and non-transparency, to take examples of both traditional and
non-traditional techniques, are not in themselves ideological.
Only their implementation is ideological. How a poet chooses to
use rhyme is the question, not the nature of rhyme. Rhyme has no
more of a nature than does a wrench.

But doesn't rhyme have a history that overloads it with meaning
in a way that a wrench does not? Or is the history of a device
itself a tool, to be used in an infinite number of ideological
directions? I am only certain that this history cannot be

A poetry network often becomes creatively moribund when it begins
to establish publishing and conferencing institutions,
retrospective anthologies, and awards. Yet, I applaud such
institutions, anthologies and awards. Rather than letting the
techniques and assumptions used by a network disappear along with
its most creative moment, they put forth and codify its ways of
doing poetry, ways now more available to the rest of us because
of this codification (as distinguished from cultural
calcification.) People most upset by such institutionalization
are poets in the network left out of anthologies and other
official representations, and poets in other networks who feel
their established territory is being invaded.

Almost every network has at least one window of opportunity
through which to establish itself as a cultural product dispersed
into the wider reading public. Such opportunities usually occur
after the most interesting work has been written. Such
codification necessarily reduces the complexity and diversity of
the network's production. Of course life is not fair!

I write in order to be surprised at what I find language can do,
to untangle an emotional knot, to find out what others may
perceive and feel, to learn, perhaps about consciousness in
general. Procedural limits on this searching only weaken it.

I write in order to be surprised.



(Assembling Alternatives, an international poetry
conference/festival held at the University of New Hampshire,
Durham, 29 August-2 September, 1996.)

The New England Center sits like a nest on a boulder-spattered
wooded hillside on the edge of the University of New Hampshire
campus. Assemble: "to bring or come together"; Alternative: from
alter "one or other of two," etc. (noting also assembler: "a
computer program that translates")--well, here it was: "Assembling
Alternatives" sang like a bird's egg, snug in the downy center of
its forest loft. And what could be more to the point? Robbin'
these words from all points of the compass… Like the Vancouver
conference of last summer, this conference enjoyed not only
splendid weather (made even more delicious by the
impending--though never arriving--sledge hammer of Hurricane
Edouard aka Hugo Ball rolling up the coast) but a similar (though
not author-based) focus and an exhilarating sense of
multi-Englished poetries (avec un peu de Quebécoise) as in, "note
that U.S. poetries are not the only poetries in English". For a
brief few days, New England became New Englishes, words steady
under clear blue skies.

Unlike larger conferences (and the word "conference" shouldn't
even be used here) where words tend to sediment into a drone,
Assembling Alternatives offered a gourmet feast of language
leaping electrified across continents, seas, and islands. The
talks were terrific, the readings offered one after another
exemplar of how experimental writing (also sometimes called
"linguistically-innovative" writing--among other terms) might
propose itself--and how also it might NOT be limited. Despite the
wide range of pronunciations, dialects, sets of vernacular,
tropes, themes, perspectives, and forms, Assembling Alternatives
allowed a multi-voiced rendering of innovative language--languages
that never once sat still nor relented on their challenge to the
gourmet-fed, sleep-deprived, conversation-charged, tone-ecstatic,
grammar-declining "assemblers".

As I mentioned in the talk I gave; a taxonomy [French taxonomie:
Greek taxis, not like New York taxis; see TAXIS + -nomie, method
(from Greek -nomia, to meter)] of linguistic predecessors to
electronic poetries might go something like this:

Following World War II, the examination of system in Olson,
Duncan and Blaser's serial works, Creeley's numeric
determinations, Bernstein, Silliman, Grenier, Howe's radical
typographies, the explorations of language by Maggie O'Sullivan,
Karen MacCormack, Joan Retallack, and Hannah Weiner--in fact 
almost all the names listed on this program figure in this
"tradition"--and the alleatories of Mac Low and Cage point in
different ways to various forms of nonlinearity.

In effect, present in New Hampshire was a regiment of innovators
that pointed in all these ways (as Gertrude Stein puts it: "a
spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an
arrangement in a system to pointing.") There could hardly be a
better assembly in this day and age to put forward what I wanted
to say. It is hard to mention any specific participants without
doing disservice to the fact that the quality and strengths of
nearly all of those present, were almost uniformly strong.
However, evening readings through the penultimate night alone
offered the likes of Maggie O'Sullivan, Kathleen Fraser, Ken
Edwards, Joan Retallack, Tom Raworth, Pierre Joris, Leslie
Scalapino, Allen Fisher, Catherine Walsh, Steve McCaffery, Robert
Sheppard, Karen MacCormack, Charles Bernstein, Bob Perelman,
Denise Riley, Abigail Child, Barrett Watten, and Nicole Brossard,
among other great readers.

	place a small pale-cream bowl (to signify abundance) on the
	table-top in front of you. 

What, beside this extraordinary talent, made the conference so
useful? One fact was the significant presence of women poets.
(Out of 39 evening slots, for example, 16 were occupied by
women--not yet representative but a sight better than most
events.) Further, typically marginalized areas of working were
brought straight onto the stage.

One of these was performance poetry. The wide participation by
performance poets was inspiring--and the final night's reading
turned out to be a state of the art fźte, gala, grand … FESTIVAL
(after all, this word was right on the conference program!) on
how experimental poets might perform the word. In one evening, in
a sticky Portsmouth theatre briefly stolen from the Rocky Horror
Picture Show, performance/artists/poets such as David Bromige,
Fiona Templeton, cris cheek, Paul Dutton, Caroline Bergvall,
Hazel Smith, Christian Bok, and Sean OhUigin each took to the
brightly-colored, multi-leveled stage. David Bromige's physical
explorations of the many theatre stage levels fit well his wry,
intelligent probing of language. Sound poets Dutton and Bök
performed at the apex of sound poetry's possibilities. Dutton's
presence was that of a maestro: his vocalizations, physical
manipulations of voice, and multiple word plays grounded a
specific and necessary dimension of the evening's activities.
Bök's energetic involvement with a range of performance and vocal
sound works was stunning, full of youthful vitality, and charged
and compelling. In his performance on a single mid-level portion
of the stage, cris cheek spread his "instruments" on a long
table: various texts (including a collaborative text composed as
a side project of the Poetics list) and a tape player with
remote. The way he moved, his immersion into the physical
possibilities of the instruments at hand were a part of the text.
His "reading" of the materials at hand provided a multi-voiced
tour de force. Bergvall may have stolen the show--"This excitement
this sudden rash this unexpected full view. As we slowly turn:
from sleep to motion as we come to pass: from semi-visible to
nonchalantly here."--with her understated style, her poignant
delivery, her arched body which seemed to act as a catapult
hurling her taut, multileveled sensual incantations sizzling into
the top rows of the Seacoast Repertory Theatre.

Another marginalized area brought into the spotlight was
witnessed by the inclusion of electronic media in the event. For
once, not stuck away in a time slot in a dark corner but as a
prominent event, a plenary session no less! (Note even the
mention of the computer in the program epigraph.) Though this
conference was not about electronic poetries let me congratulate
Romana Huk for recognizing, by including such a panel in the
discussion of issues about innovative writing, that the formal
issues about writing at the heart of experimental poetries ARE
THE SAME ISSUES being explored by the literary electronic media.
This is the first time I know that in a literary conference this
kinship of language concerns has been addressed. This plenary
session on electronic media included John Cayley, Jim Rosenberg,
Chris Funkhouser, and me. An interesting range of technical
approaches was evidenced. Cayley discussed his kinetic writings,
words that fade, move, animated and motile, while Rosenberg's
texts are archaeological sites: layered, intricately woven and
superimposed verbal and calligraphic conglomerations ("fields and
planes of word clusters associated in a non-linear spatial
prosody" – Cayley on Rosenberg) for which the computer provides
not only a reading path but an apparatus for excavation.
Funkhouser, demonstrating the CD-ROM issue of The Little
Magazine, showed the range of ways technology and writing can
converge, or overlap--or how intermedial composition is writing
(see for example Lee Ann Brown's contribution to the CD-ROM). My
paper was an effort at providing documentation that the issues
involved in electronic poetries fall in a straight trajectory
from specific investigations of experimental writing in this
century. The question period for this morning plenary session was
extremely animated. The main question: are the electronic media
torturing the word by their hidden codes? Or are they providing
tools to be used in an exploration of the possibilities of
language? How can we trust tools of writing that we don't
understand? (As an aside: I never understood how all those levers
inside my first Olivetti worked, but I carried on anyway.) Though
this matter wasn't brought to a final rest, the list of poets in
the afternoon readings that day included some asterisked (my
spell checker just suggested "ostriches" or "austerities" here)
names, that is, "poets working in electronic media". I felt that
the electronic readings contributed much, for those who attended,
to the conversation about questions of technology.

The book exhibit for "Assembling" is itself something that
lingers in the imagination. Try cris cheek's Skin to Skin CD
(samples of which, for sound card carrying Web users, are
available in the EPC author library,
http://writing.upenn.edu/epc/authors). On auditory artistry, hear
also Paul Dutton's Full Throatle (Underwhich). Of books relevant
to such an assembly there are many. Anthologies you say--beyond
the _New British Poetry_ (Allnutt, et al., Paladin)? How about
_Floating Capital_ (Clarke & Sheppard, eds., Potes & Poets),
_Conductors of Chaos_ (Sinclair, Picador), _Future Exiles_ (Fisher,
Griffiths, Catling are the poets, Paladin) and the new and very
exciting _Out of Everywhere_ (O'Sullivan, ed., Reality Street aka
RSE). Individual volumes? Bursts of incredible energy can be
found in _Mop Mop Georgette_ (Denise Riley, RSE), _The Flashlight
Sonata_ (Robert Sheppard, Stride), _In the House of the Shaman_
(Maggie O'Sullivan, RSE),  Catharine Walsh's _Pitch_ (Pig) and
_Short Stories_ (North & South), Ferguson's _The Relative Minor_
(Tsunami), and Allen Fisher's _Stepping Out_ (Pig), _Breadboard_
(Spanner) or _Dispossession and Cure_ (RSE). Ongoing projects which
are well worth following include cheek's compact and vibrant
journal, _Language Alive_ and Fisher's _Spanner_ (see the EPC for
address information). As final note on the setting chez eux of
some of the British poets present (Bernstein: "Types of class
antagonisms and gender prerogatives are played out in the
alternative poetry scenes in the U.K. in ways that are more
marked, and dispiriting, than in the U.S.") you might want to
also have a look at the interviews in Prospect Into Breath (North
& South), the essays in New British Poetries: the Scope of the
Possible (essays by Mottram, Middleton, Sheppard, et al,
Manchester UP), or the article "Leaking Truth" (quoting Barry
MacSweeney's "I leak truth like a wound") by Charles Bernstein
(Sulfur 35) for the low down on recent events, current trends,
and a heap of good reads.

What was really assembled here was a range of possibilities. It
is even more helpful I think to view this gathering as a
beginning of a view of such possibilities (an ear to the
multiplicity of sounds and an eye to delight). To this modest but
crucially important end, the conference was a huge success. This
is, of course, a poet's perspective. Events such as this can
always, in hindsight, be found to have shortcomings. But as a
venue for listening to such poets reading and talking, the
conference was an intense aural glee over too soon. And now? Many
more books (and writing in other forms) to read. Edouard?
Extratropical to the south of Nova Scotia, so says the Florida
State University Meteorology Department. Thankfully, I can still
envision New Hampshire pines and can now more vividly sense
"other" intonations as I read. And there is that port city in
Ireland that I heard so much about.  I will not rest until I see
it with my own eyes.



Hoboken, New Jersey is what is known in biology as a salience, a
kind of protuberance or growth with characteristics of an entity;
an appendage of Manhattan, crossing state lines.  Layers of
sedimentation (technical college, gentrified commuter haven,
industrial ghetto echoing back through the decades) produce an
impacted image of America--especially for certain Russian poets,
planed over here briefly from their own continent, at the end of
May 1996, to attend a conference.  A kind of empyrical model,
though not as dazzling as that Potemkin village panorama one
beholds from the campus ridge, there, across the Hudson.

*    *    *

Temporary bivouac in Penn Station.  Heavy book-filled bags.  The
directions say: "Take the PATH train to Hoboken." Shouldn't it
read, "train PATH"?  Has a conspiracy of Russian syntax invaded
New York?

*    *    *

Huffing with my bags up college hill to Stevens Institute of
Technology.  Suddenly hailed from behind by a Russian accent, a
piercing timbre.  It's Irina, the blonde and druzkeskii
journalist from Astrakhan, on the Caspian Sea--recent transplant
to Hoboken.  She wants to know where is Peirce Hall (pronounced,
in English, like "purse"--Charles S. Peirce, inventor of
semiotics, one and only black-sheep American philosopher, taught
here briefly before his academic casting-out. . .).  Irina wrote
a dissertation in Astrakhan, on Anna Akhmatova.  Her mother and
father are philologists.  We xerox the conference schedule--she
serves me tea and grapes, a Crimean meal.  This confab is off to
a good start. . .

*    *    *

What's it all about?  Well, frankly, it's a conspiracy, hatched
by a cabal made up of Ed Foster, poet, editor of Talisman,
publisher of Talisman House books, and Vadim Mesyats, Russian
poet and musician currently on the humanities faculty with Foster
at Stevens.  This second Festival of Russian and American Poetry
and Poets is just one cog in an ongoing multivalent cultural
hob-nob cooked up by these two, and their friends there in
Hoboken, which includes readings, lectures, films, and a number
of translation activities, including bilingual anthologies of
Russian and American poets, and a series of contemporary Russian
poetry in English translation (the first volume, by Ivan Zhdanov,
is at the presses).

The schedule of events reads like a roster of the American poetry
loft (I lean left.  I mean lift), with some Russian, Chinese, and
Turkish poets thrown in for good measure.  Three full days of
three-ring readings, scholarly paper-deliveries, films (on
Brodsky, Akhmatova, and a number of less well-known-in-America
Russians), two massive evening poetry songfests, a staged reading
of a parlor-piece masque by Robert Duncan (complete with stylish
Akhmatovian feathered headpieces), roundtables on translation,
the state of Russian and American poetry, little magazines,
Chernobyl and Gertrude Stein (in the same roundtable). . . and
more, and more.  Here's the catalogue of ships: the Americans
include John Yau, David Shapiro, Leslie Scalapino, Eileen Myles,
Bruce Andrews, Jackson Mac Low, Juliana Spahr, Barret Watten, Ron
Silliman, Kristin Prevallet, Leonard Schwartz, David Rosenberg,
and many others I should name; the Russians include some of the
most interesting and important contemporary poets, including Lev
Rubinshtein, Elena Shvarts, Arkadii Dragomoschenko, Ilya Kutik,
Maria Maksimova, Vadim Mesyats, and Ivan Zhdanov.  It's an
intense gathering--and it costs, yes, thirty-five dollars.  It's a
conspiracy!  Imagine all those people in one place for three
days, talking, reciting, discussing, laughing, vodkayaking,
vodkayaking etc. . .

Now I'll tell you what it all means.

*    *    *

At the "tail end of the 17th century", the "vast Russian
Empire"--"ancient, Orthodox", "xenophobic, hidebound"--had but one
seaport: the "little town of Archangel", on the Arctic Ocean. 
Then "Peter the Great" built "St. Petersburg", modeled by himself
and "his French architect" on "Amsterdam and Venice".

Meanwhile, "America" was "colonized"; Salem had its "witch
trials", and "Anne   Bradstreet".  The "first American sea-going
vessel" was built in "Portland, Maine"--while Peter ("deeply,
steadfastly in love with ships and the sea") was doing the same
(while torturing and executing the "mutinous Streltsy"--an
"endless" bloodbath).

*    *    * 

Saturday night.  The endless reading in the dingy
chemistry hall, seats slanting up like some very provincial
Coliseum over the blackboards.  While the Americans read, the
Russians go out into the spring night to smoke (not wanting to
offend).  They are our guests--we translate their readings (as
best we can); it doesn't work the other way, unless some upstart
(like Eileen Myles) jumps out of her poems to address them
directly.  But then, it doesn't have to work the other way!  The
Russians, unlike us, understand us already! (They speak

Along the Coliseum aisles, Leslie Scalapino encounters Elena
Shvarts.  Two shy poets, circling each other hesitantly, wary as
a pair of songbirds in the jungle of tongues.

*    *    *

Ivan Zhdanov.  Tom Epstein, one of the few Americans here who
actually knows something about Russian poetry, calls him "one of
their best, a force of nature." He looks like a thoughtful
lumberjack, sparse jet black hair slicked down, glasses, rangy
strength.  In fact, his translator, John High, looks like a
lumberjack too.  Maybe they met in Alaska.

Zhdanov, like the other Russians, doesn't read.  He recites. 
Recites from memory.  They know their poems by heart.  The
Russian language has some similarities to English--it beats,
iambic, trochaic, unlike French--but the differences are also
great.  English smoothness accents the rough chewing of
consonants, like a chard clarinet; whereas Russian is more like a
caged animal, a bear, trying to tame itself.  Everything would be
full-throated--if the vodka-inflamed, heart-swelled throat would
only permit such a thing. . . if only a bear could sing.  (But
you know this is stereotype.  Russian is actually a lot like
Latin or Hindu--an oratorical, ceremonious organ-voice, given to
verbal and nonverbal festa, hilaritas.)

*    *    *

Jackson Mac Low and Bruce Andrews.  Like father and son, a pair
of riders.  "Language Poetry."  Finally, I'm starting to
understand something, because I'm hearing it, out loud.  These
are the angels, pouring out their vials of wrath and glee and
remorse at the apocalypse of syntax.  Glee and wrath and remorse
are all that remain when the bridges to Disney World are burned,
and the enlightened conscience. . . flips: the craziness of pure
American products.  But under the tongue the individuality of the
verbum replaces the commodious self, and syllables wrap around
alpha and omega of each blip with a kind of loving farewell.

*    *    *

It's Sunday morning, lovely.  I decide to take a walk, clear my
head of the vodka and mistakes of the previous 3 am.  Down
through the seemly garden-walks below campus, Hoboken. Across the
street, a shy small Russian, head down, glancing furtively from
one eye, bangs over her forehead, eating her constant cigarette
(the Russian's best friend).  She's taking a walk, too.  It is
Elena Shvarts.

We walk together.  Finally I get a chance to talk to her (today
is the last day).  She understands, speaks English.

Yesterday, during a roundtable discussion focusing on her work
(she is the most prominent contemporary poet in Russia), Shvarts
launches into a long provocative harangue (in
Russian--translated), the gist of which is, that the poetry of the
West, and especially the United States, lacks the essential
rhythmic quality of poetry--Dionysian fire, she calls it.  The
Americans (including Leslie Scalapino, who's borrowed my book of
her translated poems) stir uncomfortably, shake their heads.  She
reads some more poems. The moderator of this particular
roundtable never appeared.  Tom Epstein does his best (and it is
very good) to fill in, giving us a brief, incisive overview of
Shvarts's labors.  The roundtable breaks up--time to move on. . .

She says to me (roughly translated): Americans use the poem to
find out what they're going to say, and they take a long time
getting to it.  The Russians wait until the whole poem is there,
and then they commit it to memory.

It is the difference between comedy and tragedy; opportunity and

*    *    *

Eileen Myles is the most Russian American poet here. Also the
most American.  She speaks from herself.  In spite of her
politics.  Or, that is, you can't see where they divide her up. 
It's all one.

What's it all about?  Personism (Pessoa?)? Personalism (O'Hara?)?
 Peronism (no. . .)?  Eileen Myles is the only American to shout
up from the podium--hey, you Russians, where you going? (or
something to that effect) as you leave the room. . .

*    *    *

Let's try to be incisive too, as you leave the room. Here are two
big empire-countries, once the rivals of the earth, now like two
paired lungs or windbags (Clinton & Yeltsin) breathing heavily
out of sync almost.  On either side of. . . the "old" West.  The
very old West, almost as old as the East.

At a certain salience sometimes, upside Manhattan, antennae try
to touch.

*    *    *

Craft and personality (passion) have always been rivals,
variables.  Now toss in another variable--history. Enlightened
America protects the Individual proper (properly tied), to the
"detriment" of State and Religion.  Russia experiences the
reverse.  In America, the Individual, so glorified, becomes
commodified; in Russia, the Individual, so abased, becomes a cog.
 The old East/West yeast. . .

Modernism, experiment, avant-garde. . . these in the West mean
subsuming the Individual to Craft, for the sake of utopia. 
Postmodernism, in the West, is only blurredly differentiated from
the above, a reaction. Modernism, avant-garde, etc., in Russia
mean the same thing: subsuming the Individual.  Now refer back to
paragraph #1 (history).  So postmodernism means. . . something
very different, in Russia.  It strongly opposes modernism and the
avant-garde from beforehand.  It means the tradition of the
human, the primordial, the transcendent--a utopia beyond
"utopia"--and beyond the reach of power, force, and will.  Only
miracle and grace achieve utopia.  This is the Russian

Everything is reducible to Futurism vs. Acmeism.  Miracle and
grace have aesthetic implications.

*    *    *

Still--who or what is this mysterious Person, this Personality,
this Personalism?  Are we to fall back into the blasted
ego-poetries of the seventies, into the nightmare of pale baby
Shakespeares, the filigree of greed and self-promotion? (Have we
even awakened yet?)

Once, in the nineteenth century, there was a Russian thinker
named Chaadev, a bold explorer, akin perhaps to Emerson.  He
journeyed into the West, but then returned, called back to his
homeland by a sense of duty; bringing with him, like an unwelcome
prophet, a Western lesson--the gospel of moral freedom.

What is this moral freedom? A word, a phrase-capsule, for a
concept of the basic dignity of the human spirit--resting on the
human being's capacity to dedicate herself or himself--out of love
and piety (in its full uncanniness) and daring--to something
better, something beyond self, some One, some Other, some others.
 The vanishing point where "moral" and "freedom" fuse.

Part of the artistic and identity crisis of the West has been the
fracture of the Person: the demand, the pull from both Right and
Left on behalf of either autarkic or subliminal--either nostalgic
or futuristic--concepts of justice and the good.  Like mirror
images, Right and Left command our allegiance with the full force
of both rhetoric and experience.

Yet perhaps--perhaps by some strange grace, it is Russia--that
great animal, that evil empire, beyond the pale of enlightened
democracies and the full birthright of humanism--impoverished
Russia, suffering Russia, Potemkin Russia--that will return the
gift of Chaadev's moral freedom to the West.  Mandelstam wrote
that in such times as these (speaking of his pyramidal, "Assyrian
age"), Man must become the hardest thing in existence, harder
than diamond.  The free, loving gift-of-self is the essence of
art and the limit of artistry: but it is another step to
recognize it everywhere as an ontological fundament of reality. 
Mandelstam again (trans. Robert Tracy):

It's not Rome the city that lives through the centuries 
But man's place in the universal scheme.

This is the voice one hears in the strange, ceremonious finality
of Russian recitation; it is an echo, the curve of a shell, the
arch of a wave, a ghost dance, washing up in Hoboken.



(Review of _Outside_ by Todd Baron, Avenue B, 1995)

_Outside_, by Todd Baron, is a complex work that depends on a series
of inner contradictions to propel it forward as poetry.  These
contradictions surface in a formal diversity that points in turn
to a tension in the attitude of the work, and to a purpose that
heads in two directions at once--not by accident, but
deliberately.  This tension constitutes the value of _Outside_ as a
book of risk, that is prepared to acknowledge the extent of the
conflict that characterizes the literary moment, and even to hear
its music.

Formally, this book aims for a continual unsettling that must
upset any assumption of consistency.  It clings at all times to
the most unpredictable unfolding.  The work moves from couplets
to three-line stanzas to rough paragraphs to verse units of
variable numbers of lines.  Any easy continuity is broken at each
level of analysis.  Syntax is perplexed into discontinuous
phrases that crumble into isolated words only to reformulate
themselves into new gestures that refuse to complete.  The
exigencies of sound bend reference into some unanticipated
shapes, and then back off, without allowing the music a
consistent patterning.  An uneasy intention proposes sentiment,
but won't say how exactly, the reader is supposed to get there:

	undisclosed or resignation fixed 
	frail & ephemeral focus
	the music before it gives
	fathers fragility
	feathers initial disclosure

One has the sense at times that the book might be governed by
some chance procedures, except that it cannot allow itself even
this hidden consistency: it brooks no system.  (The result is a
chance-procedure flavor--a happy oxymoron that is emblematic of
the contradictions that this work is aiming for.)

This insistence on interference, in addition to operating
separately at each level of the writing, also operates between
levels. Thus the phonetic disrupts the referential--an easy
one--but also vice versa: the thought in referring violates
incipient sound schemes. However, it is pulling things apart to
look at the writing that way; it is better to observe the
collision of all the elements of the work on their varying
trajectories, as they come to form some very unusual kinds of
statement and meaning:

	that plain double-
	jointed so backwards
	film of hot water
	some/how in a loss of
	name naming the names
	on a tape of dry season, "I've
	entered the cast off engraving as solitary singer"

Here, a lot of individual machines (alliterative machine, lyric
machine, machine of the measure, etc.) operating with and against
each other create a total statement that cannot be reduced to a
single analysis.  The statement is more than the sum of its

The formal variety of the writing in Outside corresponds to its
attitude as well, which is ambivalent--and honestly so.  It makes
a virtue of detachment, of confusion.  What is disguised in this
stance is a strong antipathy to the programmatic.  This is an
anti-programmatic book. In its very abundance, heterogeneity, and
self-contradictions, this book means to fly in the face of the
authority of any single poetic.  Almost as if stopping would be
to fall prey to some oppressive singular position, the lines,
even, are irritable with any moment of termination:

	..."now I'm just
	a site-specific mirror,
	everything I've said has
	just been said & I still
	won't shut up."...

In this regard _Outside_ is accurate also to a particular
literary-historical moment.  With the attack beginning in the
seventies on many of the lyrical economies inherent in the
writing of the New Americans, the ground of U.S. poetry began to
shift dramatically.  However, the new avant-garde did not so much
succeed in defeating the old as in casting the whole territory of
poetry into a kind of doubt.  Writers beginning to work in the
middle of the eighties and into the nineties have thus been left
with a somewhat foggy landscape in which there is little
consensus as to what constitutes the starting-point for poetry,
even within the avant-garde. Baron's work makes its way through
this realm, and accurately reports on the strange and
contradictory concatenation of poetics that exists there.  The
writing even uses that doubt itself as a positive principle.

There are times when the resistance of this writing to being
pigeon-holed becomes problematic:

	A song in which I turn & stare
	the noise of the street immobile
	That means I picture the night out towards land
	everything the way it seems
	What matters is moment as moments are long
	coming up off the bed reflects the nature of light
	A certain music plays the single sound of more than one bird
	inside the cover of leaves  branches

Night, land, light, music, leaves, branches. One has the feeling
that the poetry is attaching itself to such images as convenient
signs of the lyric.  There is a reluctance here to undertake an
investigation of a more concrete outside.  (This is, of course,
not a fault of this book alone; one could trace the same tendency
from Baron back through Palmer and Duncan to Pound.)  The writing
has a penchant for settling on images as final inaccessible
monads, avoiding an interrogation of them that would reveal a
more determined content.  This tendency is congruent with the
refusal of the writing to take any one side: as if to deploy a
more specific language would be to risk being localized, and
thereby pinned to one position, as perhaps it would be. But don't
we in fact occupy particular positions?

Nevertheless, this book is also, quite deliberately, an
enterprise within the lyric, and at this level too it struggles
with an incompatibility that is the source of its tension and
value.  The dilemma is this: in insisting on the primacy of the
material, language, the writing risks abandoning the writer.  But
if the writer is indulged in the fulfillment of an impulse toward
an expression at some level of self, then the work would seem to
do some violence to language, closing its possibilities in a ring
around the writer. It is therefore the tension itself, between
these poles, that becomes the basis of its lyricism.  Even more,
the writing aspires to a kind of total musicality--of sound,
concept, even affect.  This musicality appears not only on the
surface of the poetry, but invests the shifts between couplets as
well. The writing is very skillful at the level of sound, but it
is at those moments when that skillfulness coheres with the kind
of gesture particular to the book that it is most successful. 
The gesture to which I refer is a cleaving away, a tearing from
continuity, which shocks each new line off into a clean space,
keeping the statement alive:

	Spread out like comparison's edge 
	an engagement to be held 
	where pointing is the finger down
	or up into "not knowing, past" my
	small & sturdy bird whose covenant is mourning
	like a want or need again
	this is what comes to pass
	letters to myself or god with the small g gone
	and so near the phone called voicing

Here there is an open economy that allows the writer's
subjectivity to be loosely contellated, but not totally
determined.  There is tension in the sense that this subjectivity
is reconstituted with each new line, and that these lines are
motivated by the syllables themselves.  It is precisely that play
between open and closed that is the music of the poetry.

In its rhyme between the syllable, phrase, and subject, and in
its alternate restriction and dilation of their field of play,
the writing hints at the theatrical aspect of language.  Or to
put it another way, the rootedness of drama in language.  Once we
hear it, the interrupted clause becomes poignant in itself.  And
conversely, at the macroscopic level, the dramas of the personal
lose their mythological character, considered as characteristic
expressions of a molecular fluid mechanics.

Baron's poetry in _Outside_ refuses to allow any easy singularity,
tending at all times toward a complexity that will accurately
correspond to experience.  If no resolution is proposed for the
contradictions that the book engages, it nevertheless honestly
and fully enacts them. The accomplishment of this writing is to
show how form, feeling, sound, meaning, and drama are not
analogous but conflicting and interlinked in a continuous and
asymmetrical unfolding. Zukofsky's "desire for what is
objectively perfect" in poetry is here further ramified to
include the hard and sometimes tentative explorations that
characterize the ongoing searching of the post-postmodern. 
_Outside_ articulates that difficult desire precisely, and in so
doing draws it out into its own distinctive music.



(Review of _In Memory of My Theories_ by Rod Smith (O Books, 1996)

To begin at the end, the title poem closing this book in many ways
sets the tone for the entire collection.  Almost immediately, the
poem's speaker declares that

...it is the experience of being powerless amidst people, not
against nature, that generates the most desperate embitterment
against existence (67)

The social alienation embodied here is expressed under different
circumstances elsewhere, as when in an untitled poem from the
book's similarly untitled third division we read of:

an increased
analysis of horror
where the scramble of lives
is an etude (37)

The connection Smith draws between the detached analysis of
mundane horror and the role of ideology is one of the defining
motifs of this book.  In fact much of _In Memory of My Theories_ is
ideology critique carried out by other means, and as it turns
out, the memorial to one's own theories is a requiem for an

of _their_
system's belief  (69)

It is thus possible to read this book as being offered in memory
of "their" theories, which have been laid to rest unlamented.

Accordingly, a point Smith keeps returning to throughout these
poems is that the solidity of "their" theories, ideologies,
frameworks of analysis, etc., is ultimately illusory.  Smith
emphasizes the contingency and relativity he sees not only in
social arrangements generally, but in the specific
"self-explanatory movemented informational context[s]" --frames of
reference, in other words -- he sees them undergirding.  Like
Wittgenstein's "forms of life," these frames of reference may be
(or may appear to be) holistic and organic, but in fact they are
more or less plausible conjectures about the world that, given
the proper motivation, can be played with, poked at, and

Smith illustrates this by taking ostensibly disparate belief
systems and interweaving them or placing them side-by-side.  In
the title poem, for instance, an embittered social unmasking
segues almost imperceptibly into an outlook informed by the
existential humor of an oblique Buddhism:

I am currently serving a sentence of natural life for a crime of
which I have no knowledge.  (70-71)

(This passage gives a hint of the deadpan humor, frequently based
on semantic and phonological dissonance, that is one of the
defining constants in this book.)

In a similar spirit, the sequence "For Loss" is given a
vocabulary -- and consequently a conceptual repertoire as well
--that is limited to words found in an old translation of the Lao
Tzu.  By restricting the sequence's vocabulary in this way, Smith
creates a closed circuit of systematic self-reference, and with
it a parody of the immunity to refutation too often encountered
in belief systems of all types.

Parodied or not, contingent or not, our theories continue to
define us and to mediate our contact with our surroundings. As
Smith puts it in "The Latest Attempt":

	Are not our feelings, as it were, inscribed
	on the things around us. sandwichman, promotor, publicist, 
	wellspring, coxswain.

In the end the following lines, from "Your Group Insurance
Benefits," can stand as Smith's epitaph not only to "his"
theories, but to theory in general:

	its use of I
	as a tentative, fluid collection of
	trembling amounts --
	_Only the elements tremble 
	Only the false_
	But there is no false....



(Review of _Fields_ by Don Wellman, Light & Dust, 1995)

O.ARS editor Don Wellman's _Fields_ opens, like those well-known
works of his poetic "fathers" Pound and Olson, at the shore, on
the border between land and sea, nature and culture, in media

	Small horses tow the skiff 
	outward / Eyes 
	watch the coast recede...yet
	the landmark only seems less ephemeral 
	than manes
	swimming on the wake 
	The impossible is known in the familiar 
	Not myth / mouth 
	("Beginning at the Shore")

But in Wellman's poem readers aren't sure whose eyes watch the
coast recede (the status of whoever mans the craft is
unmaximized), nor why the skiff has set out (this is, like "The
Seafarer" of which the text reminds us, both ancient and
postmodern quest into the "impossible," not the unknown).  The
opening observations take us as readers, quite literally as well
as figuratively, out to sea, but not to drop us off with poetic
feet made of (the) concrete so that we sink, cleanly, straight
down into the depths of authoritative truth or the collective

Rather, Wellman cannily resists a myth-making (mystifying)
defamiliarization of the everyday concrete by materializing "the
familiar" in and of language.  The transformations Wellman's
poems achieve are linguistic, verbal, oral: Not myth / mouth. One
thing (image) becomes another; words mutate--throughout this
collection--into other words.  Sometimes the verbal shifts result,
oddly and even unpredictably, in an erupting awareness of the
materiality of language's form, as in the following passage from
an untitled poem:
	Elegant bracket, minus the substantive 
	An empire leg

As "empire" suggests in the passage above, moreover, Wellman's
awareness is often politicized, at the border between language
and lyric poetries, with a lyric ear for language's music.  The
changes that words Emersonianly store are explicitly historical,
geographical, as in "St. Sauveur," in which the language traces
America's colonizing history and leads us back through layers of
place(names) to the root(s), etymological and otherwise:

	Small holdings have English place names 
	Mountains and rivers are French and Indian [...]

	In 1613, English burned the Jesuit mission of St. Sauveur [...]
	Massacre is French for slaughter 
	Strike is from stria--furrow, verse 
	The plough turning in the field 
	Distances in Russia
	St.-John's-wort, words are roots 
	The Flower goes before 
	("St. Sauveur")

Like nature, which knows no borders, crossing boundaries that
language (i.e. culture) attempts always to confirm, Wellman's
verse is remarkable for its nimble poetic reversals, its
border-crossings: lines turn like ploughs turning up a field for
planting, but what turns up in the furrows unearths, in the
poetic field, the violence of which the geographic field was the
scene (rendering it visible, imaged: that is, seen).  Hence, I
take it, the collection's title, _Fields_:  Wellman striking in
multiple ways the Olsonian soil.

Onto this field Wellman has strewn Old English "Legends" (literal
translations of a passage from Beowulf, as well as the full text
of "The Seafarer," which has, however, been relineated) among
Rilkean signs ("Elegy"); (male) feminist ruminations of gender
identity at once characterize and question what's "normative"
("Men Make War"); choral performance pieces ("Lines Removed")
juxtapose lineated quotations from the anthropology of liminality
(to be exact, Victor Turner's Forest of Symbols).  In this
volume, discourses formally, substantively, humorously mingle and
mix: "Amor roma [...] Eia popeia [...] Boogie-woogie" ("Men Make
War").  Time is visually, not chronologically, demarcated, past
coinciding with future in the present poetic field as if "in
windless waters--wedge that divides / time past from time / to
come" ("The Maelstrom").  If Wellman's project builds smartly on
Pound's and Olson's, his cultural and historical (feminist)
sensibility is as sophisticated as Susan Howe's, of which Fields
may remind us. But in his quirky fusion of pure lyric pitch,
linguistic and literary attention, and intriguing, daring poetic
invention, Wellman makes it new.



For love or money, the world turns, and turns on itself.  That's
the tone of Harry Polkinhorn's _Mount Soledad_.  The writing is
heated, sometimes surreally "stream of consciousness" in its
continuous read-out.  The book is comprised of three sections,
"Mount Soledad," "Money Shadows" and "Sao Paulo."  The movement
of the three sections involves the relationships between love and
money, and the valorization of the two in the form of a specific
relationship between two lovers; the frustrated intimacy of the
relationship is expanded into examinations of the nature of power
and need in terms social and fiscal as well as personal.  The
failure of the relationship leads the narration from the
passionate and personal terms of the first sections ("I was the
dreamer, you my dream.  I dream you were inside me.  When I
touched you doves cried in the evening," through a synthesis
involving the socialization of personal desire into a
functionally narrow concept of identity, and the narrator's rage
at--and within--it ("...to mete out and play their roles
accordingly which contains melanoma and sarcoma as per your
invoice offered by fax sets out under full sail into tropical
disturbance hired gunmen since we've brought up rear as alpha
data machined to a T...") to, in the last section--the only one
written as dated journal entries--a sequence in which the moral
outrage most evident in the second section is ameliorated by--if
not synthesized with--memories of the ‘purer' beginnings of the
relationship, and an at least partial acceptance of the
relationship's failure ("...I've come to to realize a polishing
steady against all these abrasions of history and police violence
that produce not a song or picture of her face in profile but the
feeling that remains after she has left...."

Soledad = solitude. It's also the name of a prison: a proper
noun.  Mount is both noun--mountain, from L. mons, which might
also imply the female pubic ‘mound'--and verb--to ascend, to mount,
to increase, to prepare (as a skeleton for the purpose of
display), to place an object on a glass slide for microscopic
examination, or to post as a means of defense or observation. 
Mount Soledad is an angry book full of the terminology of love;
it deals with power in terms of a double deal: desire and money. 
The connections between the two are seen to be unbreakable yet
unworkable, much like the narrator's difficult--and ultimately
failed--relationship with a Cuban-American woman, the source of
the text, which winds itself around the implicit frustrations of,
not only this specific relationship, but equally, the
more-or-less latent dissatisfaction that is woven throughout the
social fabric wound like mummy-cloth around the icon of endless
‘possibility' that defines the dead weight of an unassimilateable
power-base.  The impossible double-bind the narrator feeds off
of--in this case, intense feeling that has no place in daily life
to be witnessed by an other (the woman in question)--produces an
incendiary lyric that ascends into solitude, a position of
advantage from which to consider the ultimately disadvantaged
(i.e., disaffected) position of being in exactly that elevated
context: no way to ‘get off' without causing an inflationary
spiral--emotionally, and analogously, socially and fiscally--that
would damage the status quo.  No moral participation is useful,
or even plausible, in those terms.

The book is a subtle mix of the social and personal, and develops
through this tactic vectors of inquiry that reveal the ley lines
along which the social need for power erupts within the personal
desire for intimacy.  Desire thus inflated beyond the actual
limits of intimacy--the person of it--becomes inverted to the need
for a fetish object; the narrator's rage is against his being put
into that kind of receivership by his own personal needs as
placed in contradistinction to those, societally, being given
more credence in terms of equivocacy rendered as numbers in a
ledger.  His view of her lips is not the wealth she uses them to
speak about; while they may share each other as objects, each is
yet marked and limited by the fantasies of the other.  They
fumble, expectantly with the the under-parts of each other's
culture; certain kinds of familiarity, learned early and assumed
later, seem unlikely to extend.

This socializing of personance, a generalizing away from specific
persons produces an emptiness out of which the narrator's anger
produces an equally self-defeating ascent in terms of a victory
cognitively; the photograph at the end of the text of Perseus
holding the severed Medusa's head aloft is indicative of the
power the narrator accrues: an objectified image of distorted
power, which would turn the proponents of such power to stone, if
they were caught eye-to-eye with it.  The soaring/searing quality
of the writing (the ‘poisonous head' lifted; the auspice of power
displayed) shifts almost magically (‘blackening'--making clear--its
objects as it goes) across the doubled and criss-crossed lineages
of number and language in the applied forms of money and
desire...she frowned in language her shoulder muscles tightening
into stones she spun her own axis I couldn't understand her
immaculate makeup a Medusa that froze the world through which she
then moved freely and pointlessly in control...).  The book is an
attempt to posit value in terms that cede both money and
desire--the societal and individual--a place, yet this valorization
can only occur at the cost of the narrator's removal (a defensive
ascension) to a linguistic sphere; the acknowledgement of loss in
terms of the woman produces a critical and poetic text in which
the narrator's subjective love for her is objectified--by his
interceding on her behalf, morally, for himself.  She becomes--by
her absence--the abject powerlessness of unresolved contradiction
the narrator uses to fuel his rage, not so much against her as
person, but against the impingements of the social she has
allowed--in his view--to corrupt her acceptance of his intimate
imprecations: what he cannot tell her, she will not hear.  The
ascending anger of the text reduces her to an absence that is
heraldic of an equally empty social conceit, which would produce
pain at the cost of relief in order to insure the stability of
exchange on the monetary (social)--but not the seminal

_Mount Soledad_ speaks against this torpor to the extent that it
maintains a self-reflexive critical stance in terms of the
language employed to ‘unwind the mummy cloth' from around the
emptiness of the power base that in fact is the motor of the
redemptive aspects of the text itself. This leaves the narrator
loyal to a split conflation of love's object with power's
subject, applied in the moral choice between being the person of
either.  That one needs both--the feeling of increase in the
ceding of power (that most recongizeable of exchanges)--puts the
purpose in Polkinhorn's narrative skew; the shifts are
restorative of feeling, though the restoration is in no way
final. The first and final emptiness of the power base--both
personal and social--as it incurs via language, cognitively, back
into the language, and thus into each of our lives, is the
primacy Polkinhorn is out to deliver via Mount Soledad; as each
of us must, perforce our reinhabitation of the language as
indispensibly common: to climb that mountain, and mount whatever
distortion the simulacrum of the common has allowed the singular
to become, in order to see otherwise, one on one, one in one, one
from one, in steadfast count among the many.



WITZ is a journal of critical writing edited by Christopher
Reiner (creiner@crl.com). It is published three times a year.

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