A Journal of Contemporary Poetics

Volume I, Number two                                    FALL 1992

By John High
                When the tanks rolled into the city, everyone was
                surprised. Where had they found the gasoline?
*fates & the kitchen culture*
                        dear nina: in writing do we mean 'fates'
                discovered by the imagination, working without the
                linear boundaries of time & space & genre, until
                the 'good soul' or the 'grand manipulator' or the
                'trickster literati' then bring to bear the
                definition of so-called intention, which in return
                imposes  its own fate & the required poetic &
        Standing at the bus stop in the new snows on the outskirts
of Moscow this morning, the poet Nina Iskrenko scribbled six
words on a piece of scrap paper and handed it to me as we
boarded the crowded bus of seemingly numbed or hypnotized
passengers. Fate, madness, ideas, unity, anonymity,
horizons.  How do your relate to these words? she asked. The
questionnaire, if you will, is actually being circulated
among a number of writers such as Ivan Zhdanov, Mark
Shatinovsky, Vladimir Aristov, Evgenii Bunimovich & others,
the so-called, former 'citizens of the night,' from the
'parallel' or 'underground culture,' as they were once
described in the attacks by the official, 'Socialist
Realist' press. 'Decadent' poets for whom, ironically, not
so long ago large audiences (in the hundreds) turned out to
hear, simply due to word of mouth publicity. When Nina and I
parted near Gorky Park later that morning, I looked over the
list and had time to give it some thought in the bread lines
while listening to the grumbling of those around me, the
sharp exchanges & not infrequent arguments between those
behind and those in front of the counter. (Only the fourth
time during the last few months I've had the patience to
enter the lines. But then one begins to notice one's own
shrinking frame.) All together another situation for those
who really  live here, for the prices have quadrupled over &
over throughout Moscow's hard winter, and there are still
lines, increasing hunger.
        Fate hasn't turned out as most expected. "First you decide
one thing & then God decides another for you," was the way
the writer Mark Shatinovsky put it the other evening after a
'kitchen' reading. "We exist between the worlds of the East
and West." His and other's remarks of this nature during the
past several months have caused me to begin to wonder if
there's not a revived mysticism a foot in Russia, both in
daily life as well as in the arts. The new poetry I'm
reading and hearing indicates that this is at least
partially true. "Contemporary poetry at times reminds us of
a corpse in which everything that's alive and human-like has
disappeared...(but) people who see only its inhuman
deformities and a set of mechanical parts don't suspect that
precisely from this they may hear new words, which
communicate the thought and will of God," the critic,
Mikhael Epshtein has written. And at the moment, I'm looking
out my window at a 16th century Orthodox Church (known as
Tolstoy's church, as he lived nearby) with its five golden
cupolas & massive dome, its stark & almost mysterious beauty
in this surrounding of white & expanding fields of
Constructivist buildings. It reminds me now that angels have
begun to appear in my own writing as well, though as to the
meaning of this I haven't a clue. But at last, I couldn't
bear the wait for bread today, and had to confess my
impatience, though as I bragged over the phone to Vladimir
Druk, I did come home with a jar of mayonnaise, two beers
and a head of cabbage. He agreed to join me for a meal, as
he had bought bread and vodka and received a coveted ration
of butter as well.      2/16
        While from here, at least in the foreign press I manage
to get my hands on, the attitude in the West appears to be
one of cautious condolence for the citizens of a fallen
empire, in the Moscow streets thousands of people line up in
rows (and by nearly every metro stop as well) to sell
whatever goods they once possessed or have managed to find
and steal. The presence of a growing mafia of former rank
and file communist members who have partially begun to
regulate these "bazaars" is one matter. The fact that many
families have found themselves in a position that requires
them to pawn off their belongings is a more disturbing one.
        Responding to a question by Ron Silliman after our reading
at Intersection in San Francisco last year ("How does a poet
get by over there?"), Nina with her typical wit & sarcasm
replied, "We've been learning that the more freedom you
have, the more money you need."
        But with all this freedom everyone is too busy to listen to
poetry. The earlier venues for 'avant-garde," writers that
unexpectedly began to open up during the past few years of
glasnost have recently again closed their doors. So it's
back to the kitchens, the metro stations, the streets where
writers such as Mark Shatinovsky, Aleksei Parshchikov,
Vladimir Druk, Dmitrii Prigov & others, members of the
unofficial club, Poetry, became notorious both in Russia and
in the West during the eighties...a group aptly referred to
in the 90's as those of the "Wandering Dog." The name refers
to the Stray Dog Salon, where poets as diverse as Osip
Mandelstam, Velimir Khlebnikov, Vladimir Mayakovksy, Anna
Akhmatova, etc... read & drank & argued about writing before
WWI. (It was at one of those recitals, during one of
Mayakovsky's notorious declarations as a young Futurist,
that Osip Mandelstam, a shy & withdrawn Acmiest poet, is
reported to have stood up & shouted, "Mayakovky! Stop
reading your poems like you're some Hungarian Orchestra!")
Something I most enjoy about being in Russia is having the
opportunity to hear & experience similar exchanges among the
disparate writers who organize themselves in seemingly
random, yet consistent, monthly gatherings. The euphoria
over the failed coup attempt has passed, and the talk of new
coups continues on the streets and in the press on a daily
basis. Nonetheless, there is an energy and excitement among
many about the possibilities that may be born of this
'corpse' of a culture. Oddly enough I think, one of the
recent readings of the Wandering Dog  took place on the
downstairs platform of the Mayakovsky Metro Station last
week. Since the metro system in Moscow is one of the world's
most efficient (a common joke among Russians that the
regime's most notable architectural achievement took place
underground), the reading was interrupted promptly every two
minutes by the loud arrival of each train, leaving only
fragments & pieces of the poetry & prose floating between
the the few passengers at that late hour of the night,
appropriate in my mindQfor as the former country has been
fragmented & ruptured, so has the poetry.
        I look at you from such deep graves
        that when my glance reaches you it splits in two....
                                                (Aleksandr Eremenko)
*unity & horizons?*
                        dear nina- it strikes me that unity has become
                more a 'horizon' of interactions now, the
                communication between the "things" - the words
                themselves & ideas, this obvious paradox between
                characters & their worlds, the ghosts of each
                history that await one in the writing...so that if
                these "things" are alive-if they're allowed to
                live in the text & its talking, their particular
                (or should I say, peculiar) story, symmetry,
                balance, plausibility - will find themselves.... "
        Today, by a stroke of fate, everything has overlapped," the
poet Evgenii Bunimovich recently wrote in an essay titled,
"Where Has the Space Gone To?" He goes on to say, "As my
generation bids farewell to youth, no single path has
emerged; rather, each writer has found his own...Alas, my
generation is not the first free generation, as it seemed to
us, but rather the last generation of Soviet poetry, closing
the tragic & farcical circle...The aesthetics of (our)
postmodern have been exhausted. "
        Looking over the poems he's just given me and thinking
about a reading Bunimovich and Iskrenko put together (aptly
called, 'Pleasant Excesses') I'm reminded today of an
evening at George Evans last summer in which I found myself
in a discussion with George, Brad Morrow and D.L. Strauss
regarding the relationship between  art & Russia's
unofficial culture. The question was whether or not a
similar phenomenon exists in American culture. Brad argued
that it does indeed, and in many respects, he's right. The
difference as I understand it here however stems from the
history of country's culture itself: writers & artists have
almost always been forced 'underground,' and such meetings
have been crucial to the work as well as writer's survival,
serving not as a product of a given aesthetic, but rather as
the source of its formulation. Kitchen Culture-the
habitation of writers & artists throughout the 20th century
going back to the early beginnings of the Futurism and
        Perhaps this is because in Russia there's never really been
a question about the disparity between the official language
(and its propagandistic portrayal of art) and the actual
reality breaking beneath it. Lev Rubenstein and D. Prigov
along with the other Conceptualists in Moscow developed
their own parody of a poetic based precisely on exploring
that disparity, just as the Metarealists, Alekseii
Parshchikov, Ivan Zhdanov & Aleksandr Eremenko and other
poets alluded to earlier began to deal with space as an
abstract quality where the border between the dream and
waking world diminishes, shedding in the process the
ideological frames of the  hierarchy in official language.
        or if I simply put my foot in the sand
        so that there, where the stone disappeared and was forgotten
        and the flower, unfavorable to God, vanished as well
        - then will my footprint appear
                                        (Ivan Zhdanov)
        The sign over the store reads cheese, but there hasn't been
cheese for years...the customer asks, "Why does the sign
read cheese," and shrugging his shoulder the counter worker
replies,"Maybe they planned for us to sell cheese, who
        There are two statues of Gogol in Moscow. Why? Stalin
thought the first one, erected in the 19th century, was too
'sad.' So he had a more heroic structure mounted on the
boulevard and removed the original to the small courtyard
where Gogol actually died. The paradox evident in such acts
continues today. The dead and the living, the animate and
the inanimate, the past and the present, possess equal
ground. Neither the 'Self's' singular absence or singular
control can populate the corollaries which create an
'arched' dialogue between the mythic and the real. "The
things want to have their say," as Marina Tsvetaeva put it
over sixty years ago. "The universe sleeps, its enormous ear
lying on its paw with claws of stars..the street sat down
and howled, "Let's eat...." (Vladimir Mayakovsky)
        Parallel cultures, the official and unofficial--and what
is interesting is that these frames haven't  really
disappeared. No one knows what 'western capitalism' will
bring, but for now the new propaganda more or less resembles
the old propaganda, though it costs more. The question Osip
Mandelstam proposed to himself a half a century ago is still
relevant in this world: "Which tense do you want to live
in?-I want to live in the imperative of the future passive
participle-in that 'what ought to be...' I feel like
breathing that way. There exists such a thing as mounted,
bandit-like equestrian honor. That's why I like the fine
Latin 'gerundive-that verb on horseback...."
*anonymity & madness*
        And your scream
                falls back into your lungs
                after barely rising
                to your larynx
        (Yuri Arabov, trans. Forrest Gander and Sara Dickenson)
        dear nina- anonymity in the work itself or after its
completion? A crucial difference, naturally. Anonymous, or
perhaps rather, even 'multiple' in the actual act of
writing, as when the intuition spreads & follows the page,
the various planes (even simultaneously) spread as well,
neither restricted nor defined by identity & self while
undergoing the 'passage". Yet the self & identity are always
present & at odds, so in the end, can any art truly be
        In a television interview a couple months back, Bulat
Okudzhava, the revered poet and songwriter, said something
to the effect that there is no new Russian poetry. But is
there anything particularly new about statements of this
kind, whether they're issued in Moscow or New York or San
        In an essay Mark Shatinovksy has given for the _Five Fingers
Review_, he wrote, "Poetry these days is reminiscent of a
rag doll stretched over all five fingers (or even six) of
the hand of that same 'Six fingered falsehood' into whose
hut the poet Mandelstam entered 'with a smoking torch' 50
odd years ago. And no one has come out of it since." That
with few exceptions the much acclaimed Russian poets of the
Thaw (the 1950's & 1960's) have dismissed the younger
writers of today is neither exceptional or unexpected. One
could list examples of many names in that category from both
here and in the United States, but the list would be too
long & boring. (As Aleksandr Eremenko wrote in his now
famous, "Twelve Years in Literature": "Neither now nor later
will I cite their names or publishing houses. It is that I'm
afraid to make enemies. It's rather from fear that I'll
reduce our general misfortune to one or another particular
case.") For the initial few years following glasnost,
readings & publications for the writers mentioned in these
notes were rampant and extensive. There were large crowds
and even favorable reviews between the ongoing, critical
attacks. The 'revised' official response, however, has taken
a strangely similar stance toward the new arts. As with the
former Socialist Realists, the kind of reviews one so
frequently reads today tend to deal more with the writers
'personality' than the actual work-& the chauvinistic,
anti-semitic and overall nationalistic nature of such
articles is particularly disturbing. "Komsomolskaya Pravda"
and "Moskovskii Komsomolsk," two of the more popular and
large print-run newspapers in the country, published
scathing critiques of a November 'Festival of the
Avant-Garde,' in which most participants, including myself,
were not spared. On the one hand, it's rather amazing that
newspapers that print in the millions would even pay  front
page attention to such an event, but the personal tone and
nature of the attacks, especially toward women, would be
unprintable in the West. In this respect, the revised
'unofficial' officials resemble the old adherents of
Socialist Realism, choosing to move against the body, the
race, the sex, the personality, or even the 'politic' of the
writer, rather than confront the writing directly. Perhaps
because the aesthetic is open, aware of formerly censored
traditions as well as the text's sexuality, its potential
"material trappings," yet broad enough in approach to
include dialogues with the world itself, dialogues which,
naturally, rupture and interrupt one another while serving
as signals of communion, attempting at least, to move past
these ideological, propagandistic and often pornographic
"trappings" of the official language.
        Even at the Writers Union there have been recent public
burnings of effigies of Jewish writers by groups such as
Pamyat. A friend, Vladimir Druk, has been physically
attacked on more than one occasion because he is a Jew and
published. A kind of paralysis seems to have settled into
the public mood.
        are you frightened?
        I'm frightened.
                                (Aleksandr Eremenko)
        Mona Lisa falls into a dream with a smile
        in her hands
        waiting for some hard currency.
                                (E. Bunimovich)
        But is there any wonder as to why a paralysis has set into
the public mood? Recently I was struck by the image from an
article published in the Nezavisimaya newspaper about a man
who dropped his kilogram of sausage on the metro track and
jumped to receive it, unable to scramble back to the
platform before the train crushed him. Many people I know
have been sick with a range of diseases stemming from the
city's shortages, the foods' uncleanliness....There are
massive shortages of medicines, hospital beds, basic goods.
Over 90% of the population is suddenly living beneath the
poverty level. At the turn of the millennium, one is struck
by how many parallels can be found today with the Russia at
the turn of the 19th century. Returning to the then Soviet
Union from a festival in Prague last November, Nina Iskrenko
and I were removed from the train, told our tickets were no
longer valid (because the train itself had arrived later
than the date printed on the ticket) and forced to  struggle
through a mob violence before eventually, miraculously,
acquiring tickets for a coupe where whole families were
sleeping on the floor. People were frantic, hungry, cold,
struggling to leave Brest for anywhere, often carrying their
life possessions, often trying, unsuccessfully due to the
guards, to jump the trains as they pulled away from the
        a child in a room
                now he's a boy, now a curtain...
                from his kidneys, an impudent ash tree grows,
                and in his right lung salt begins to blossom.
                he's a complete fragmentation, visible, though muddied,
                the hearing sprouts within him....
                                        (Mark Shatinovsky)
        On the other hand, there's an undeniable excitement & verve
to the possibilites unfolding: "I am happy even standing in
line in a store, and I know that happiness, like truth (they
are identical) is impossible if based on tearing someone
away or leading him beyond his limits....I am fed up with
quasi-scientific texts. Rather than satisfy your hunger,
they just give you heartburn. I love the fundamental sliding
of apparently spontaneous thought, its whimsical design that
implies some fullness (that) does not decompose into
component parts; it will not be easily caught." (M.
        The critical question involving the arts then, among those
I know in any case, issues from this 'sliding' and the
subsequent reach for anchoring in the cultures'
fragmentation of identity-an anchoring located not only in
the materiality of language but its potential for journey
within the momentary ruptures and movement of a world which
is itself fractured, a culture which itself necessitates
some kind of reinvention of itself, and a subsequent
understanding of the changes brought about in the stripping
away of the external fabric, the sham of an entire history,
one which perhaps, evolved out of "the same lack of
judgement, the same superstition if you like, that consists
in believing in a political solution to the personal
problem" (Marguerite Duras). In Moscow, one immediately
senses among writers and artists the need to grapple with
the 'ghosts' of history and memory-not in the grandiose
heroic monuments of Pushkin or Mayakovsky, but in the once
forbidden words and quotes and collages, for instance,
painted on the walls of the apartment building where Mikhail
Bulgakov lived and wrote the once censored, Master and The
Marguarita. ("Then writing would mean opening, with every
stroke, a new day which the worlds take into their
keeping....We will never be done with hope," Edmund Jabes
once wrote. Or from Bulgakov's novel, this line come to
mind: "Manuscripts don't burn.") What connects though, the
subjective and the object, the self and its othering in this
flux of changing contexts? The questions itself becomes a
paradox that evades definition when one goes out on the
streets and with each week witnesses the seemingly perpetual
shifting of the landscape, it's unpredictability. "Poetry
has ceased to be a mirror of the self-loving ego," as
Mikhail Epshtein has written, "and all that remains is a
murky spot left from the last lyrical breath. Now there's
the stone's crystal structure-and its multiple reflections;
perception no longer reflects back on the self...In some
decisive break-down, the "I" discovered its own
unreliability and falsehood, and the structure then had to
take the responsibility upon itself."
        The vastness and pure space of Moscow still awes me.
Seemingly tonight at least, its 'referents ,' its mappings,
are contingent on the constant interruptions of unknown
social and political, cultural and linguistic ruptures which
possess at best slippery meanings, yet ones in which the
various 'selves' of the culture intersect and collide. The
'ego' can't control these worlds, though there's the
constant search to locate their meandering frames and
truths, no matter how fragile.And the sense of urgency that
brings to the new writing is what has fascinated me.
        ...My generation began to write during the death pangs
of the communist myth...when the poetry of Russia was
divided into two distinct currents: semi-official poetry,
which was required to say Yes  to the ideological absurdity
of the surrounding environment; and dissident poetry,
required, likewise, to say No  in chorus...The  New Wave
poets who emerged on the verge of the 80's broke free from
the strong magnetic field with its inevitable " + " or " -
", acquiring a new volume and degree of freedom...It is
difficult to give a pure example of the slippery essence of
polystylistics, the third noteworthy trend in new wave
poetry...for to do so runs counter to the very essence of
the aesthetics... (yet) in the attempt of polystylistics to
construct a new harmony from confusion, chaos, and the
heterogeneity of objects, it is easy to discern a link with
both the Metarealists and the Conceptualists. The link
consists in the conceptual usage of cliches of
mass-consciousness, and the simultaneous appeal to all the
geological strata of culture. However, if the thinking of a
metametaphorist poet is represented in the form of a winding
spiral, compressing and condensing space and time into the
text, then the poetic work of a polystylist could also be
represented as a spiral, but one that is unwinding, seizing
all new shades of thought with each spiral, and expanding
into the entire universe. (Evgeni Bunimovich, trans. Patrick
        The Soviet Corpse? Vanishing histories. Paradox?
                JH: In all of this, in your writing process, where
                        is Prigov?
                Dmitrii Prigov: Prigov is above all the images.
                        He's like the director who directs all the images
                        and gives them the stage where they can meet.
                Lev Rubinstein: In their new contexts all the
                        hidden drama of language is turned inside out, as
                        if revealed.
                        -Why "as if"?
                        -Ideally, this is a linguistic mystery.
                                                (trans. M.Molner.)
                JH: What determines the "order" in your own
                        personal poetic process?
                Aleksei Parshchikov: For me, it's important that
                        one who sees order in things understands that the
                        sequence of these things composes a certain
                Yuri Arabov: One crow/or maybe a flock/But a flock
                        cannot be/a crow/And having pecked the barren
                        field/nearly to ash/we fly off somewhere else.
                Nina Iskrenko: Art provides us with a unique
                        opportunity, first of all to believe in
                        everything, and second, third, and forty-ninth of
                        all to tell everyone about it. What's to be done;
                        the world has to be maintained in some sort
                        of equilibrium, however unstable that may
                        be....Why have the innumerable attempts to narrow
                        the gap between art and life come to nothing?
                        Might not the reason be that we're constantly
                        dealing with a Moving Frame, as well as the
                        gradual, but steady, disappearance of a reality
                        we can only approach at at sufficient distance in
                        order to disappear along with it?
        Now the bells from Tolstoy's church have begun to chime,
appropriately perhaps-after writing out these lines. The
recent snow has turned to hard cubed ice, then full white
snow again. The vastness and pure space of Moscow still
astonishes me.                  2/25
                        #       #       #       #



Editor's Note:  Steve McCaffery is one of Canada's foremost
practitioners of exploratory writing and literary theory.
Based in Toronto, McCaffery is most recently the author of
_Theory of Sediment_ (Talonbooks 1991) and (with bpNichol)
_Rational Geomancy: The Kids of the Book Machine: Reports of
the Toronto Research Group_ (Talonbooks 1992)

CLINT BURNHAM:  To start off, what do you think of the
interview as a text? I'm thinking particularly of the
frequent pretence that a live conversation is going on, and
that it is all spontaneous and natural, not to mention the
dubious value to be gained in going to the author for all
the answers to her texts.

STEVE MCCAFFERY:  The pragmatic benefit of the interview is
that of catalysing thought into areas that the safety of the
monologic essay might not take. In this sense, the interview
differs from the footnote. Where the latter draws off
digressionary matter from a main text, the interview is a
constant digression, meandering though questions and
response and sustaining a dynamic which contains, yet
similarly unsettles, the monologic momentum. I value the
risk of the interview's unpredictability, but I ought to
draw a distinction between its written and oral modalities.
The interview as the exact transcription of a taped exchange
is often lauded for its "truth" to the "spontaneous
occasion" but a certain speciousness is involved. There's an
aura that obtains to transcriptions such as "well eh, it's
like, kind a Modernism puts it best" precisely because the
written here establishes a focus on a permanence never
intended, nor experienced, in the primary oral transmission.
I prefer the edited, written interview whose contractual
agreement accords with the temporal dynamics of writing.

But Elias Canetti offers a more pessimistic assessment of
the question-response relation. In the chapter "Question and
Answer" in his book _Crowds and Power_, Canetti writes: "All
questioning is a forcible intrusion. When used as an
instrument of power it is like a knife cutting into the
flesh of the victim. The questioner knows what there is to
find, but he wants to touch it and bring it to light" (CP

Canetti's Kafka-like response is to a deeply pragmatic area
within interrogation and intersubjectivity; an area whose
modus operandum is agonistic. His thesis seems to be that
questions do not primarily elicit answers, but rather
establish a power relationship over the questioned. As
Jean-Jacques Lecercle puts it "it is a striking feature of
questions that he who asks them establishes, by the very act
of asking them, his right to question, his expectation of an
answer, and his power to elicit one." (VL 46) In the light
of these somber considerations of the inherent violence
harboured inside all linguistic interrogation, it might be
fruitful to return to a work such as Ron Silliman's "Sunset
Debris" which, as a vast accumulation of unanswered
questions, a text constructed entirely in the interrogative
mode, begs reassessment by way of basic pragmatics than by
means of structure.

CB: Your work frequently transgresses boundaries:
particularly those between poetry and prose, or poetry and
criticism/philosophy. And Marjorie Perloff recently wrote
about "Lag" that it is really poetry: "To call this text
'prose' rather than 'verse' is thus not, strictly speaking,
accurate, the text being made up of equal line lengths." Do
genres and their specificities possess any positive value
for you?

SM:  The problem is we tend to think in genres rather than
think genre through. Today in Canada, genres have a
significantly institutional determination, which is itself
symptomatic of bureaucratic rigidity and inertia. Cultural
awards are based on generic distinctions, as too are the
channels for federal and provincial funding. Anthologies
tend to follow this same partition. The larger issue, of
course, is the extent to which such institutional caveats
actually determine the types of contemporary writing.

Genres function to impress a unity upon a multiplicity of
different works and this should be taken as cautionary
knowledge. A genre links to power via its taxonomic
methodology to establish rules and vectors of compliance. In
their favour I'd argue that genres provide a rhetorical and
historical ground against which specific writings can be
figured, as class to member or more dialectically as rules
to interruptions. Most useful to me is to situate genre in
relation to strategies and tactics. My own work is always
produced with the profound awareness of genres and of their
potential disruption. To read "Lag" as prose is certainly
permissible but will lead inevitably to a reader's awareness
of its deviation from several prose rubrics. That awareness,
however, can be invested into considering the work's
"uncertain" position within existing literary taxonomy and
in that way can call back scrutiny to the possible
insufficiencies in generic thinking itself.

CB:  In an essay in _North of Intention_ ("The Line of
Prose"), you write that prose features a "non-appearance of
the value of the line" - not so much a negation of the line
(as "prose poetry" might constitute) but a negation of that
negation. Given your interest in the aleatory aspects of
text, do you read prose as texts with line breaks?

SM: We need to remember that the reader is not a subject but
a functional role demanded by any text. The empirical
subject will assume this role with contingent competence and
indeterminate motives. (There can be deliberately heretical
as well conventional readings.) Several texts impose a
passive role upon the reader, but this required model can be
ignored or subverted.

I don't have a single formula for reading but rather bring to
the task different intentions and desires. I recently read
Scott's _The Fortunes of Nigel_ for its sheer transparency
as plot. Obviously, I wouldn't read Levinas that way. On a
more general note, there is a way in which certain
grammatically under-defined prose works do yield non-prose
qualities. I'm thinking of works such as Karen Mac Cormack's
_Quirks and Quillets_, Fred Wah's _Music at the Heart of
Thinking_ or my own "An Effect of Cellophane" in which the
unpunctuated nature of the prose, suspends genre and creates
a temporal continuum that elicits, of necessity, a
biologically determined phrasing within the durational
expenditure the reading involves. Such phrasing is
indeterminate, will vary from reading to reading and yet
will be unavoidably present. In all these works it's the
withheld assertion of the line-break (which I call phrasing)
that's returned to the reader-function as an unpredictable
effect modified by the empirical accidence of breath,
attention and the intersection of reading (as a psychic
activity) with duration as its temporal condition.

CB:  Do you think that avant-garde or experimental poetry,
with a dialogic focus on issues of language, foregrounding
the signifier, and rendering the text one less "authored" by
a subject than constructed by a reading, that this would
also constitute a genre in terms of a contract with the

SM:  As argued earlier, genre is a coercive concept that
suppresses multiplicity in favour of a taxonomic oneness,
and so to answer your question affirmatively would be to
endorse that coercion. What characterises formally
investigative writing is its tremendous variety and ability
to both enter and destroy generic constraint. Ron Silliman's
writing that utilises the "new sentence", for example, is
simultaneously prose and not prose. I would also caution
against erecting a similar contractual agreement with the
reader-function as a genre. Certainly, Silliman's, like
Charles Bernstein's or Lyn Hejinian's texts return the
reader to a more productive, less consumerist relation with
the sites of meaning, yet this is insufficient to warrant
the category of genre, as that same reader function striates
texts to their's that exist within stable genres like
"prose", "poetry" and "play." The contract with the reader
you refer to is pertinent to the sociological and political
spheres (in the sense that the material form the writing
takes is in itself political) but not the field of genre.

CB:  The past couple of decades have seen the emergence, on
the Canadian literary scene, of what appears to be a new
genre, a form for experimental and discursive poetry and
poetics: the "long poem." There have been conferences and
issues of journals devoted to it, anthologies have been
published, it is taught as a form at the university-level,
and a literary magazine has a long poem contest annually.
Such very different writers as Michael Ondaatje, Margaret
Atwood, George Bowering and Daphne Marlatt all have worked
in the form. And yet within this nascent genre, already a
canon is being formed, one that favours thematics of
identity and loss, so that the long poems of writers like
Jeff Derksen, Christopher Dewdney, Stuart Ross, Karen Mac
Cormack, or Dorothy Lusk is marginalized. What do you think
of the processes at work in this "genre on the edge of
genre," as Smaro Kamboureli puts it in her suggestive

SM:  I think it was Victor Shklovsky who said that "new
forms of art are created by the canonization of peripheral
forms" and I'm optimistic about the validity of this
contentious claim. Certainly, it would be refreshing to see
the work of many of the writers you mention receive the
critical attention due to them and if the fabrication of a
new genre would help promote such study then it's a tactic I
would wholeheartedly support. I disagree, however, with the
specific term you present. "Experimental" suggests (perhaps
implies) a scientific model and an enterprise based on trial
and error. This metaphoric implication further allows the
disvalidation of works as "having failed." But trial, error,
failure and success are totally inappropriate to these
cultural productions. A better term might be "exploratory"
evoking a spatial rather than scientific metaphor, whilst
"alternative" would allow the genre to articulate
disjunctively with say "canonic" and "norm." To realize a
genre of this kind then, I believe has a tactical validation
in the ongoing struggle of cultural remapping. It would, of
course, involve a taxonomic grouping validating generic
principles (similarity, homology etc.) but at the same time
would involve a cut across existing genres. Gathering prose,
poetry, collage, surrealist and Language texts together it
would be a genre that repudiates genre, and I'm not
convinced that such a situation would be a significant
advance upon the notion of the conventional anthology. The
presence of this hugely disparate group of texts by writers,
some of whom have frankly adversarial opinions regarding the
others' work seems to me to pose a major obstacle to
achieving generic cogency. It demonstrates, however, the
larger issue of the ways cultural ideology articulates onto
economic factors, producing dichotomies along the line of
major-minor, popular-elitist, proletarian-academic,
high-brow/low-brow literature. These seem to me important
social indicators to patterns and habits of reading. In fact
it would be interesting to re-vision genre as pertaining not
to texts but to readers.

CB:  Your work, in common with current poststructuralist
theory, distrusts the idea of the subject as a origin or
centre. Thus at the conclusion to "Deliberate Follicles" (in
_Theory of Sediment_) you write, "The Characters we are
compare the foliage to a frozen cipher that speaks. From the
system of latent quanta everything postulates its own
advance. The water is grey at the moment the Subject
discovers the water to be blue." (178). Instead of seeing
literary characters as some version of "people" (the
humanist/Forster paradigm), we "people" are ourselves only
characters - frozen ciphers that speak. And then, what the
subject "discovers" is a mistake. Do you agree with this
interpretation - or is it a further mistake to allegorize
your work's thematization of language and philosophy?

SM:  The passage you quote is constructed upon several
semantic ambivalences that must be encountered before a
cogent "allegorization" can take place. A key aspect in the
quoted passage is the function and value of the pronoun
"we." In linguistics this is termed a "shifter" and
Heidegger calls it a "dasein designator." It's worth
reminding ourselves of Roman Jakobson's discovery that
pronouns do not enjoy a primordial status but should be
treated as pragmatic indices whose meaning is strictly
determined by the linguistic context. Pronouns are also the
last linguistic acquisitions of the child and one of the
first language losses in aphasia. Bearing this in mind
should complicate an innocent allegorizing of the passage. A
second point is the double meaning of the word character.
The word refers not only to a human figure (real or
simulacral) but also to written marks and by implication to
writing itself.

It should be clear then, that the phrase "The Characters we
are compare the foliage to a frozen cipher that speaks" is
irreducible to a monosemic, semantically unproblematic
level. The reader might treat "we are" as a substantive
modifier of the plural noun "characters" and invest this
reading on a literal level in which case the "we" might
refer to either humans identified as characters or to the
written marks of writing itself (the "we" being the
letters). Whilst wishing to decentre the subject I'm also
insisting on the subject's partly linguistic constitution,
alluding to a belief I share with Heidegger that language
speaks through us and not us through language.

CB:  Okay, well, what about Emmanuel Levinas's work, which I
know you're interested in? Levinas's philosophy of infinity
and expression seems to offer a version of the "subject"
that is neither Freudian nor essentialist; for him the face
is the "epiphany of exteriority, which exposes the
deficiency of the sovereign interiority of the separated
being," and yet "does not situate interiority, as one part
limited by another, in a totality" (TI 181). So you have an
almost postmodern sense of the surface as vertiginous and
multiple. Is this your take on language as constitutive of
the subject?

SM:  It's a daunting question and I should say at the outset
that my interest in Levinas is neither as a peer in, nor a
student of, philosophy, but as an artist open to the
"writerly possibilities" of his radical alteration in the
direction of Phenomenology. Currently, Levinas is
instrumental in helping me work out, and theorize through, a
Poetics of Alterity that takes up his arguments for the
irreducibly ethical foundation of human existence and the
grounding of all theoretical subjectivity in a resolved
responsibility for the Other. This Poetics is far from
resolved in my mind but as it presently exists, announces
itself as "the expiation for the object as another;" it
positions proximity as paramount and explores the
ramifications of the important question of what it means to
approach? Surprisingly it brought me back to reconsider
Keats' notion of negative capability and the entire corpus
of Objectivism.

On the subject of the face; it's by means of faciality that
Levinas grants priority to the Other over the subject. This
face-to-face relation is epiphanic and primordial; it is
situated "philosophically" prior to either act or gender.
The facial epiphany is also prelinguistic but in the very
precise prelinguistic sense of summoning to language via the
ethical responsibility to the Other. Significantly this
ethical imperative does not support, but immediately
compromises subjectivity; it contaminates the normative
notion of a purely subjective condition by its dual
commitment to both the realms of consciousness and of
concrete data. But this summary is oversimplification; its
value to me - as a writer - is in the implications of
positioning the ethical relation prior to writing which
transfers additional implications onto the writer-reader

My disagreements with Levinas are several. His is a
philosophical appropriation of the physical which is then
annexed to serve a calculated moment in the narrative of
philosophy viz. the reversal of the ontological relation as
defined by Heidegger and the devaluation of Dasein. In this
intellectual gesture we see the repetition of antecedents,
most clearly that of Marx's reversal of Hegelian dialectic.
What I find lacking in Levinas is the face's link to power,
the face's part-production and exploitation by historical
conjunction. It might be useful then, to contrast the
Levinasian with the schizolinguistic face (as formulated by
Deleuze and Guattari.) For the latter the face is conceived
as a white wall-black hole system, less a unity than a
multiplicity (of cavities, creases, apertures, pores,
follicles) linked as requisite to certain assemblages of
power. They further suggest that a primordial violence is
entailed in the decoding of the face away from the body, a
violence that would find itself prior to any facial
epiphany. "The face is produced only when the head ceases to
be a part of the body, when it ceases to be coded by the
body, when it ceases to have a multidimensional, polyvocal
corporeal code." (TP 170) This renders the face both product
and close-up in its origin. For Deleuze and Guattari
moreover it grounds the face in the inhuman. (Racism would
be one such power-product.) Their speculative theorizing at
the end of this splendid chapter leads them to a replacement
of the face by the "probe-head."

I believe Deleuze and Guattari to be correct in their
"reclamation" of the face from the pristine, primordiality
accorded it by Levinas. Implicit in both approaches,
however, is a decidedly non-Saussurean sense of language.
Saussure, we recall, inaugurated the now normative view of
structural linguistics (adopted by Levi-Strauss) with its
binary terms of Langue and parole. The former comprises the
abstract system of rules, grammatical permissions and
semantic differences that find pragmatic application in
speech acts. Saussure offers a non-historical and non-social
system of language with an attendant concatenation of
privileged terms: synchrony over diachrony, Language over
parole, value over signification, schema over actual usage.
The subject is constituted in such a Language through the
constrained replication of linguistic, rule-governed
phenomena. In both Levinas and in schizolinguistics, we find
a shift in emphasis from Langue (i.e. abstract system) to
parole (i.e. pragmatic linguistic occurrences). My own
belief is that the subject's constitution is simultaneous
with its linguistic productions and abuses. Against
Saussure, but in agreement with Deleuze, Guattari, Lecercle
and the Soviet linguist Nicholas Marr, I would argue that
language "exists" not synchronically, but predominantly in
motivated linguistic occurrences (of both speech and
writing). Marr (who was the object of Stalin's 1950 attack
in Pravda entitled "Marxism and Problems of Linguistics")
postulated that language is a superstructure, its relation
to revolution thereby is interactive rather than reflective.
This is a postulate with which I agree. Language is not
Saussure's abstract, autonomous system, but a material,
non-autonomous, socially invested, intensely combative
activity and produced by way of interacting historical
conjunctions. Given that language is neither neological nor
private, but a cultural, symbolic Capital, it might be
argued (as Heidegger does) that language speaks through the
Subject, in the sense that the subject's access to
linguistic practice is always via the replication of (which
homologizes obedience to) the rules and regulations of the
non-historical abstract system of Langue. But this is seldom
the case. The fact is that communication frequently occurs
successfully, when the linguistic rules that govern its form
are profoundly violated. Ambiguity floods the sociolect. An
example I read this morning at breakfast appeared on the
label of a jar of mayonnaise which read "less fat and
cholesterol free." There was no attempt (because no need) to
disambiguate this phrase which can be read to render several
different meanings. Here are a few: 1. this product is free
from (i.e. does not contain) less fat and cholesterol. 2.
this product contains less fat and is free from cholesterol.
3. this product gives you less fat and also cholesterol at
no extra charge. 4. this product gives you less fat and less
cholesterol for free! Everyday linguistic life is saturated
with such semantic ambiguities which violate the rules and
synchronies of Language. According to this version language
is governed by a dialectics of both excess and lack; it is
both beyond the mastery of the speaking subject and at the
same time it is constantly compromised, overturned,
"violated" and modified by that subject's usage. This moves
away from a competence paradigm (as in Saussure and Chomsky)
to a law of inevitable transgression (demonstrated by
pragmatics). At which point Language can be theorized as the
figuration of clinamen; as an abstract system whose purpose
is to be transgressed and abused at all times by inevitably
aberrant usage.

To return and focus on the subject-as-such and the
compromise of subjectivity in the epiphany of the face. I
feel a need to extend the notion of subject beyond Levinas'
philosophical purism to more complex discrete social forms
(the Sartrean "group" would be one and discrete discursive
formations like medicine, the Law, feminism and the Gay
movement would be others) in order to bring the subject into
line with what Deleuze and Guattari term "a collective
arrangement of utterance." Such an arrangement, grounded in
socio-political contingency, frees up meaning from
individual subjective intentionality and serves to
articulate the latter onto a collective agency and will,
whose status is not that of a subject but of a
non-subjective composition of discourse(s).

That's my take on the face. But did you know that human
cells have faces? In "The Cell Cycle," Daniel Mazia
describes the active nature of the cell membrane, which is
neither skin nor wall, but rather a "face" that allows cells
to "recognize and influence one another." This returns us to
the initial question but on a radically different order than
either Levinas' philosophizing or my ripostes.

CB:  One of the most successful theoretical implications of
Language writing in the past fifteen years has been (roughly
speaking) the aligning of realism and referentiality with a
Marxist critique of the commodity-fetish. This realignment
has been in no small part because of the efforts begun by
you in the "Politics of the Referent" issue of Open Letter
(3.7, 1977). Is realism discredited? It seems also apparent
that realism will still have importance for various
subaltern groups - women, gays and lesbians, workers,
postcolonial peoples - both to document their oppression &
to create a subjectivity for the reader.

SM:  Narrative, as de Certeau pointed out, is a device of
continuity that legitimates established forms and norms. In
its modus operandum, narrative realism produces "stories"
which serve to order and severely limit the field of
experience. This innate conservatism incriminates every use
of narrative. But you articulate quite rightly the practice
of narrative onto the non-theoretical domain of concrete
social groupings, and this naturally requires a
qualification to which I've just said. Narrative is not the
cultural property of any one group: neither subaltern nor
imperial. Yet its conservative production is invariant and
that "surplus value" needs to be assessed in any specified

I'm in agreement with Laclau that "the struggles of the
working class, of women, gays, marginal populations,
third-world masses, must result in the construction of their
own reappropriations of tradition through specific
genealogical efforts." Yet such struggles are less
consolidated than competing struggles whose multiple
sovereignties reflect the very groundlessness of our
society. My own inclination is to disclaim a happy pluralist
equation ("I'm okay because you're okay too") and petition
something like Lyotard's judicial concept of the differend.
The dispute (over realism) is presented as a dispute between
two groups and can't be settled by appeal to a higher,
transcendent arbitrator. Additionally, I would present as
evidence the fact that some gay and lesbian writers have
turned to Language Writing through their own serious
misgivings with narrative realism. They realize that to
adopt a narrative method is to deprive their writing of the
possibility of presenting cultural difference by way of
concrete, embodied form.

Is realism discredited? I think not. But its range of valid
application is definitely questioned and its absolutist
nature is extremely weakened.

CB:  Do you think that changes in literary style or themes
signify a progress or merely a change in historical
conditions. That is, is Language poetry "better" than TISH
or Objectivism, more historically engaged, or merely
articulating a more properly late-capitalist shift to the
signifier and the simulacra?

SM:  Historical change does not imply "progress" but
frequently entails access to previously unavailable data.
The Beats, Projective Verse and TISH did not have that
horizon of texts with which to interact as are prevalent
today in the nineties. So Henry Corbin, Alfred North
Whitehead and Carl Sauer are eclipsed by Habermas, Foucault,
Kristeva and Levinas? This is certainly not progress but it
is reactive and does involve a radical paradigm shift. The
sixties' writers thought in terms of the word, modified and
enriched through organicist and biological models. This
produced (among other things) projective verse and
proprioceptive poetics. It allowed Allen Ginsberg, for
instance, to adopt Blake's bardic stance as relevant and
amazingly contemporary. To write "Howl" today would be
otiose and ridiculous and would indicate a thorough
insensitivity to societal operations. Contemporary writing
works by way of the sign and not the word and via social
textural discourses not a unitary voice.

What this marks is a different access to the political; one
that encounters politics in its structural and sedimental
furtiveness and not via individualist narrative scenarios of
social disaffection.

CB:  You often couple a mischievous interest in
chance-driven composition/scholarship with a tremendous
resource of erudition. I'm thinking of the essay on Fred Wah
where, in a footnote, you see as an Ur-text of bpNichol's
_The Martyrology_ a passage in Victor Hugo's novel _Les
travailleurs de la mer_ (in which the hero swings on a giant
H). Are you saying, then, that the momentary lapse of a
romantic novel into concrete poetry really casts doubt on
the entire realist-narrative project? (Is the critique of
realism also a fetish of the letter - language as some
absolute ground of discourse?)

SM:  It's interesting the way your question engineers a
footnote into some major statement. The information you
decant should not be granted the weighty value you ascribe,
and probably is best read as a slightly humorous digression
from the main argument. However, the question does provoke a
response to the precise status offered to the single letter.
The strategic use of the letter as a method for narrative
generation deserves separate and detailed consideration and
I would suggest the interested reader turn to the novels of
Raymond Roussel (1877-1933), the theoretical writings of the
Lettriste Movement and Michel Pierssens' excellent study of
logophilia _The Power of Babel_.

I accept the Freudian notion of a "split" subject, one
divided into conscious and unconscious orders. The basic
lesson Freud teaches in his theories of dream-production is
that the letter frequently enjoys an autonomous operation in
the unconscious, where it detaches from binding signifieds
and transforms according to the two rules of metaphor (i.e.
substitution) and metonymy (i.e. contiguity). This operation
of the single letter beneath the signified is vital to any
articulation of the unconscious motility of language onto
its conscious operations. The unconscious though must not be
taken as some primordial, hypoconscious organism but
considered solely and precisely as a linguistic disposition.
This unconscious insistence of the single letter lies at the
core of this footnote you quote. I should only add that all
of this is to theorize not fetishize the letter. As a
critique of realism it would function to question the
ideological grounding of narrative on a unitary, rather than
a split subject, and would offer itself to a project of
writing grounded in the unconscious disposition.

CB:  One of the great limits of Saussure's work on hypograms
is the inability to find some origin for the presence of
formal rules of combination in Vedic and Latin texts - if
the origin is religious, then it certainly is assignable to
a socially-constructed intent; if the origin is poetic, then
intent is not negated, but rather assigned an aesthetic
function (as in rhyme or assonance: Starobinski, _Words Upon
Words_). In commenting upon Saussure's problem, you remark
that he "evades the issues of a general economy" - do you
see the abundance of "paragrammatic moments" in texts as an
indication that the structure - Bataille's general economy -
is the ultimate agent of discourse?

SM:  No. Not an agent but rather a disposition in discourse
and one that's unavoidable in any extended alphabetic
combinant arrangement. And there's no hierarchy involved
which would facilitate appeal to ultimates and penultimates.
The paragramme, as a non-intentional disposition within the
written, helps constitute the paralogical and contradictory
nature of the intentional. Moreover, it is usually
transphenomenal and not experienced as such in conventional
reading habits. Yet a perspectival readjustment allows the
reader to write these multitudes of slippages and losses; to
recover them to non-paragrammatic writings that inevitably
contain new ones. The paragramme of course links to entropy
and the general drift towards randomness and like entropy is
a non-perceptible disposition, a production-as-a-loss
outside of conscious intentionality.

CB:  You've been criticized (by Alan Davies, "Steve/steve"
in _Writing 25_) for your appropriation of Bataille's
vocabulary of rupture, transgression, excess, and libidinal
- all as metaphors for writing. Do you still see Bataille's
work as a useful source (among the many you exploit, of
course) - I'm thinking of recent criticisms of Bataille as
coming dangerously close to a kind of occult fascism in the
30s (Anna Boschetti, in _The Intellectual Enterprise_), or as
"transgression" as a bourgeois attempt to come to terms with
one's privilege (Bourdieu, _In Other Words_)?

I'm struck by the enormous disparity between Bataille's
radical ideas and their tame embodiments in his fiction.
Bataille "writes theory" but also enacts the theories as
aspects of plot in orthodox and unchallenging novels.
Bataille never risks his texts by staging the general
economy as an intrinsic poetic governing the writing's
production. Rather than appropriating Bataille's language
and ideas I've tried to take on the blind-spot frontally and
apply the theory of loss and waste to the actual formulation
of my writing. I should add that I do not believe a writing
can be based exclusively on the general economic operation.
As I've argued elsewhere, inevitable waste and the loss of
meaning occur as interruptions within its closure and are
felt as slippages outside of the semantic. My own interest
in Bataille's theory of general economy came directly out of
my rethinking the nature of "open" and "closed" poetry. The
former, promoted by Charles Olson, dismissed devices of
closure but never tackled the implications that without
constraint loss is inevitable.

I'll not comment on Bataille's proximity to fascism but I
will remark that I find a distasteful sexism pervades his
narrative writings. But my interest has never been in
supporting Bataille the person, nor with the entire corpus
of his writing. Rather with working through and testing
selected theories as a base for an operative poetics.

CB:  For the longest time, you were the most prominent
Canadian in the Language school - but in the past five or
six years, magazines like _Writing_, _Raddle Moon_, _Motel_,
and _hole_, as well as the concrete activities of the Kootenay
School of Writing, have created a poetic/critical climate
quite open to your work - do you find this changing the
conditions (audience, colleagues, the idea of "being an
influence" on younger writers) of your own work?

SM:  I've long felt something fundamental to writing that
withholds reciprocity and thwarts the social gratification
of tangible response. This is the fundamental solitude that
underlies my most "social" texts. A work's written,
completed, then published, and apart from the few reviews or
essays that appear, that's that. So to speak of "influence"
strikes a novel note to me. Certainly the younger writers in
Vancouver (Jeff Derksen, Nancy Shaw, Lary Timewell among
others) impress me by their successful fusion of formal
innovation with a strident commitment to place as social
space. I see this more a working through of the
socio-topical issues in Charles Olson and TISH than as a
direct influence from me. What we share is a belief in the
inherent politicality of linguistic form. Not emerging (so
far) in their writing is a collateral corpus of theory,
without which their writings could be criticized as
"derivative" from older writers like myself. I personally do
not hold this objection and feel that the marked absence of
theory is index to a deliberate disinterest in it and
perhaps a feeling of its ultimate irrelevance.

The conditions of my own work have certainly changed since
the early seventies. Especially the amount of critical
attention it's been given by recognized academic critics.
This, of course, is always a mixed blessing, but it
certainly hasn't affected my writing. My own tendency has
been to treat each new book as a totally new project.

CB:  What is the relationship between the collaborative
"labour" between yourself and bpNichol that instigated the
Toronto Research Group (the dyad as origin of the
collective) and, on the one hand, the materialist
textuality pursued as theory, or, on the other hand, the
fragmented "form" of the book, of Rational Geomancy, a text
that "performs" its own theory? I'm thinking, finally, of
the wonderful and Utopian moment of Report 3, "The Language
of Performance of Language," and its "The Body: In Darkness"
section (RG 229-238) where the "reader" must decipher the
hand-drawn panels that "scrawl out" theory.

SM:  As artists we responded to both writing and theory as
adjacent territories, to be explored, delighted in and
modified by their staged interaction. We deliberately
blurred the boundaries between the two "disciplines" and
avoided, for instance, the use of theoretical apparati (be
it deconstruction, Lacanian analysis, Marxism) suspended
"over" a text which then receives its application. Rather
than the production and/or curation of meaning in works
fixed in an object field, we tried to concretely embody
certain theoretical positions, apothegms and dexterities
within the writing of primary texts. (This occurs in many of
the individual reports which indicate an extreme
self-consciousness about their form.) It was also true of
our individual writing outside of TRG. For example, the
Lacanian "presence" (especially Lacan's notion of the
slipping of the signifier under the signified) in The
Martyrology, or my own use of Lyotard's differend and phrase
dispute in _The Black Debt_. Such texts (or such aspects of
texts) seem to be a blind spot in much contemporary critical
writing. A critic or theorist will point to the "presence"
of Nietzsche or Levinas, or laminate such a reading on a
work, but will fail to account for the material embodiment
of specific theoretical facets in the primary texts. My
feeling is that such "imaginative" writings have the effect
of short-circuiting or blocking the theoretical distance
required to "theorize" a text and render such applications
or readings redundant.

Much of the work of TRG was expository and even
anthological. Beyond "theorizing without theory" we felt the
urgent need to make available the works of others. Obscure,
scarce, undervalued works were a major target for retrieval.
Equally we felt it imperative to democratize the generic and
hence our inclusion of reports on the comic strip and
children's literature (with a focus on the structure,
materiality and semioses of these forms and genres). Much
about the reader-subject was theorized from these intensely
material groundings in the book-as-machine.

Of supplemental importance was our exploration into the
various forms and formats the expository essay (or "report")
could take. As a consequence Rational Geomancy avoids formal
consistency. Theory gets couched in comic strips, charts,
banded pages and photo-narratives. Additionally, we made a
conscious attempt to utilise performance art for
theoretic-investigative purposes. This gave birth to the
"performance essay", twenty or so of which comprise Report
3: The Language of Performance of Language. Our plans had
been to complete this report as a video documentation but
barrie's death forestalled the enterprise. Judged
academically TRG would have been an impossible high-risk
endeavour, but our approach was not a scholar's approach and
our investment in the theoretical was not institutionally
based. As we proclaimed in 1972 in the first point of the
TRG Manifesto "all theory is transient and after the fact of

CB:  Finally, what links do you see with your theoretical
enterprises and progressive politics-do you agree with the
Jamesian view that the "prison-house of language," while
offering useful critiques of bourgeois ideology, cannot in
the end offer a sufficient theory for social practice? The
relationship of theory to praxis is extremely complex and is
certainly not a structural issue. The effectiveness of
theory's application is totally dependent on the
hierarchical placement of the theoreticians in the dominant
ideological apparatus. Where theory radiates from a position
of power then its application is simple and efficient. The
two best examples of this would be the biological racism of
Hitler's National Socialists and the elimination of the
intellectual class in Pol Pot's Cambodia.

In less totalitarian contexts the official promulgates its
power through its own phenomenological reticence. Power
moves invisibly in capillary fashion; its intersects with
bodies at its weakest points (traffic wardens, tax
collectors) and power never settles on a symbolic focus (the
Fuhrer or the Sun King). Accordingly abuse of power is
detected not confessed, it manifests as leaks in systems and
is remedied by replacing the human conduits by less faulty
ones. We "plug the holes in democracy" but never replace the
entire system. A political poetry should be committed to
this detection, to making overt the covert workings of power
and its abuse. One way is to defamiliarize the orthodox and
to confront all habitual modes of thinking, reading,
working. Another is to engage innovatively the sociological
implications of address and readership. All of this involves
a radical address of the political as immanent in poetic
form and style. These answers to your questions in their
phraseology and vocabulary make a class statement (without
the writer necessarily belonging to that class). Certainly,
I'm in agreement with Jameson that poetry alone can never
offer a "sufficient theory" for socialist practice. Yet such
a practice manifests not only in grande histoire but also
through petite histories. These latter need not be
narratives but can be transient social acts within the
contracts of literature, in reader-writer relations. It
should be stressed too that a critical discourse need not be
confined to the textual or linguistic but can manifest as
one of several performative implications in the written.


CP Canetti, Elias, 1975. _Crowds and Power_. Harmondsworth:

TP Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix, 1987. _A Thousand
Plateaus_. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press.

VL Lecercle, Jean-Jacques, 1990. _The Violence of Language_.
London: Routledge.

TI Levinas, Emmanuel, 1969. _Totality and Infinity_. Trans.
Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Dusquesne University Press.

CC Mazia, Daniel, 1974. "The Cell Cycle" in _Scientific
American_, 230 (1).

NI   McCaffery, Steve, 1986. _North of Intention: Critical
Writings 1973-1986_. New York: Roof Books.

TS D, 1991. _Theory of Sediment_. Vancouver: Talonbooks.

RG Nichol, bp and McCaffery, Steve, 1992. _Rational Geomancy:
The Kids of the Book-Machine the Collected Research Reports
of the Toronto Research Group 1973-1982_. Ed. Steve
McCaffery. Vancouver: Talonbooks.

                        #       #       #       #
Steve McCaffery's "After Basho"
(Restricted Translation with Imperfect Level Shift)


                After Basho
                By Steve McCaffery

                Upon a time this frog meets an unwed mother.
                Plot starts rain.  A consideration of one
                pond that makes this possible. The proper
                name (multiplied + sterile) indeclinable in
                speech (momentum x sonority) expressing time,
                manner, condition and cause (reader =
                vehicle) result: degree through means.
                Our man in the novel.  Familiar protagonist,
                the tragic hero and the methodist in Jesus
                Christ. But also oyster in the subordinate
                system.  Counts them: sanctuary season
                deposists on rock.  In a sense then
                artificial this perception of a pond.
                Midnight plus the dice-throw and some
                ordinary rules.
                Compare the fact our president has hiccups.
                The retinue cough in the sentence describing
                how the word Oesophagus resettles to disclose
                midphrase "these ripples are an absolute
                dominion." The circles mean sovereignty but
                disappearance where the logic of frog
                disembarks among its divisions. The surface
                norm is "plop" at least three facets swap (as
                stress + weight) two insects that collide.
                Not a fairy tale, not metaphore, not history.
                Just a moment on page a hole can crush.
                Something is happening to the word endless.
                Its anarchy is changing, its notice gloats
                but then retires.
                Application of advancing premises to indicate
                a waiting. Caught like the egoist if it jumps
                immovable to a colored otherwise.  This was begins.
                                                        --STEVE MCCAFFERY
                        Restricted Translation with Imperfect Level
                        Shift (After Basho) from _Theory of Sediment_
                        (C) 1991 used with permission

"Upon a time this frog meets an unwed mother."

This represents the narrative of refusal, the precondition
for a frog's leap.  This deconstruction is tantamount to a
denial not the least of which is demonstrated  at that
moment in which the frog enters the pond.  The hidden
narrative here is political in the sense that it sets up a
false start.

"Plot starts rain."

on the pond          unlit dorm room
bubbles surface      in the mirror
skimmer dragonfly    winter rain

There are numerous possibilities for interpretation which
diffuses the intentional meaning of what this pond is or has
been.  For example: the pond as an artificial man-made
stagnant body of water; the pond as  a low tech aquatic
environmental centerpiece;  the pond as a place for lilies;
the pond as a nitrogen-fixing biological filtration system;
the pond as  " a thing of beauty," and so on.

"A consideration of one pond that this makes possible."

Here one pond is an artificial balance.  A stagnation which
is not without its ripe moment.  We must follow living
things if we are to understand nature.  But nature changes
in front of our eyes:

mime's face:        pruning trees
two hands           poison ivy & sumac
four masks          invite a touch

Depending on the nitrogen cycle the pond may be polluted as
a consequence of conditioning.  The bacteria of sanity in
the temporal sense.  6 to 8 weeks for a breakthrough and
take over!  (mass + volume =  bioload).  The alternative is
complete.  An unrestricted balance - ammonia  and nitrite
levels.  The cycling period is important for the sound.
Window into another world.

listening to the wind
he cuts his lip
on rye grass

Ax and pail by David Henry!  As Susan Howe says the
'defenestration,' --a deconstruction of the surface myth.
The biological filters are important for balance and a
recreation. This again is a false start.  Acid rain is
everywhere.  How could this fragmented pond be the reality
of sound. The other dimension, non-attitudinal, accepts

in layers of ice
pond bubbles
float free

Therefore, the pre-elements of sound:   H O (solid @ 1') +
CH  (pond gas) - vibration + H O (liquid @ + 4')  - O, +
half-light, - air currents = a ceiling/floor . The
"between life & death,"  difference.  The motion float
paradox imbedded in ice as gas, carp, whatever.  Below this
in four inches of soft mud 'on hold' Basho's frog, the
afterthought of a critique labeled historic period.  This
space-time blob as a visual analog comes back to life
(defined as eating  & breathing).

leap year
the pond frozen over

"The proper name (multiplied + sterile) indeclinable in
speech (momentum x sonority) expressing time, manner,
condition and cause (read = vehicle) result: degree through

This being the strict limitation of the term. The nouns
"pond," "frog," and "water," which are the contents in
things, but do not in themselves express sound movement in
and of themselves.  The modifier "old" begins to create the
ripple, the verb "leaps" or "jumps" gives the action which
adds both the momentum and a certain mystery, but to be
subdued in "the sound of water."  One here might want the
actual sound of the action to be concrete i.e. "splash"
"plop."  The reader makes this all happen.  The final result
of course is that there is so much confusion, mystery if you
will, that the reader conjures countless imagings in order
to arrive at some peace of mind as a landfill.  The history
of the frog is not important.  There is no need for a
narrative.  Is the sign to the referent important? McCaffery
would say no.  We then return to the existential moment--SO
WHAT!  We can stop the frog in mid-air, i.e. make it a
proper noun, "leapfrog."  We can interpret the 'so what'
state as the "suchness" of Zen.  "(reader = vehicle)" This
is how it should be.  For the translator the  nuances of the
language, the sound and meaning must be close but not
necessarily grammatically correct.  As Louis Zukofsky said
in his preface to his translation of the Latin poet,
Catullus..."the translation follows the sound, rhythm, and
syntax of his Latin--tries, as is said, to breathe the
'literal' meaning with him."  One example then: realizing
that the "ya" sound at the end of the first line is a
'kireji' and therefore is in and of itself a sound--a suffix
which for emphasis is used as we would use a semicolon or

Fu-ru (old) i-ke (pond) ya,
ka-wa-zu (frog) to-bi-ko-mu (jumping into)
mi-zu (water) no o-to (sound)

furuike ya          old pond
kawazu tobikomu     frog jumping into
mizu no oto         water sound

                 --Fumiko Saisho

"Our man in the novel.  Familiar protagonist, the tragic
hero and the methodist in Jesus Christ."

spring thaw     a cloud passes      wildlife sanctuary
on ice alone    Sobi-Shi            homeless man
a sparrow       amid oakbuds        with tree swallows

"But also 'oyster' in the subordinate system."

Here, I believe McCaffery is dealing with his imperfect
level shift.  If level is to mean another tense,  or that
aspect of translation/action which is incomplete.  The frog
has a dormant state which is almost sub-aquatic in the sense
that in winter it rests in soft mud at the bottom of the
pond.  Is this then the oyster simile or the substitution of
the actual sound  'splash'  when in the original we just
have the 'sound of water' or 'water sound?' Here the
subordinate system can mean many different concepts for
experimental or investigative translation procedures.

"Counts them: sanctuary seasons deposits on rock. In a sense
then artificial this perception of a pond."

This of course is Basho's depth.  That from the simple
elements of life and the recording of a commonplace action
we have a puzzle that at one point mirrors this very
happening and simultaneously deconstructs it.  We can stop
time/space and be in this suspended state if we are able to
forget the thought immediately after its utterance.  This
would be tantamount to not seeing the frog after its
disappearance. Whether we consider this hyperreality or
non-existence either spiritually, existentially or for that
matter phenomenologically, it's there.  McCaffery is saying
then that Basho's haiku allows, or maybe not, any or all
interpretations and translations.  In one sense it rescues
translation from itself by not presupposing that meaning is

"Midnight plus the dice-throw and some ordinary rules."

With each translative exposition the risk begins.  Starting
in complete darkness you set your parameters.  For example:
I would not approach it  syntactically, but rather
paragrammatically. That is  following an unprescribed use of
words, that allows me infinite possibilities  for  phonemic
variation and linguistic experimentation  to form clusters
of meaning and create new reading approaches for textual
material.  Fumiko Saisho's translation I read a  few
minutes' ago approaches this.  For example:

water old                   water frog sound
pond sound frog    or       jumping into
jumping into                pond

"Compare the fact our president has hiccups. The retinue
cough in the sentence describing how the word 'oesophagus'
resettles to disclose mid-phrase 'these ripples are an
absolute dominion.'"

What McCaffery is doing here is focusing our attention away
from a narrative declaration in order to frame a comparative
possibility with the use of certain 'catch' signifyers, i.e.
cough, oesophagus,  and ripples as one set.  To paraphrase:
cough settles in the oesophagus (hiccups), president
dominion to dis-close (oesophagus)  absolute fact
re(settles).  A translation might be: 'the power of a
president to resettle certain disclosures over which he has
dominion relates to the opening and closing of the
oesophagus either producing or stopping the cough or hiccups
at any given moment.  The ripple effect can be dictatorial
or benevolent depending on the nature of the geopolitical or
sociopolitical situation. These of course may have been
important considerations in Canada at the time of his
writing this cluster of phrases. This seems more procedural
transliteration than investigative translation.  However,
the 'ripples' could be 'haiku.'  They could also be
differences in temperature, though minute, in cosmic
background radiation present in the origins of the universe.
There can be nothing that denies the haiku moment.   The
shapes of 'virtual reality' of primeval explosions are not
inconsistent with what produces the implosions of conscious
orderings, hence the haiku. First form among many first
forms in verse.

"The circles mean sovereignty but disappearance where the
logic of frog disembarks among its divisions."

This simple Taoism is the order of implosion and what lies
beneath the surface layer of the liquid medium which now is
not a sealer.  This issue was engendered with the double
burrowing vortices of the Poundian, Yeatsian, and Joycean
manifestos in the earlier part of this century with one
difference, and that is, there is no unending continuity to
the subdivisions once a certain depth is reached in the
frog's descent.  This would be the 'wordless' moment of the
unseen  and reintroduces the "so what," idea of the Zen

"The surface norm is "plop" at least three facets swap (as
stress + weight) two insects that collide."

Here the three facets are: (1) the image of the frog to
itself reaching the surface; (2) the frog's entry where the
above and below surface stresses allow the volume
differential to both implode and explode; and (3) the eddies
created after the frog has disappeared below the liquid
surface and the currents shift function.  The "two insects
that collide," is and I quote McCaffery here, that the "word
can never be reduced to a single signification.  There will
always be a threat to any word's or phrase's supposed
semantic stability, a possibility of loss, of a scramble
into something else." (North of Intention: Critical
Writings, 1973-1986 Nightwood Editions, 1986).

"Not a fairy tale, not metaphor, not history.  Just a
moment on page a hole can crush."

I think Eric Amann takes the lead here.  In his book, The
Wordless Poem,he tells us there is "nothing special," about
the haiku.  the wu-wei of Taoism, the "So What," as Miles
Davis would say of the jazz idiom, in that what is out
there, takes a moment to experience.  But don't make too
much of this.  Don't apply the intellect or try to explain
what is seen.  Don't do what I've done in this paper.
Because every explanation is an afterthought away from the
importance of the moment experienced.

A one-foot waterfall:       The old pond:
it, too, makes noises,      a sandal sticks to the bottom
and at night is cool...     the falling sleet...

               --Issa                  --Buson

"Something is happening to the word endless.  Its anarchy is
changing, its notice gloats but then retires."

I think there is an interesting relationship here between
the antecedent "Just a moment on page a hole can crush," and
"Something is happening to the word endless," as a reversal
of the intent.  This is also possibly what Hiroaki Sato is
saying in Chapter 7 of his book, _100 Frogs_.  This might be
analogous to the "black hole," in astrophysics, in that to
try to understand its dimension only leads into the chaos of
understanding, which now is explainable as a new
science--McCaffery's investigative translation approach.

"Application of advancing premises to indicate a waiting."

early spring shadows        in the puddle
bare branches               the evening clouds
creak in the wind           stop moving

"Caught like the egotist if it jumps immovable to a coloured

The frog does not disappear in the pond but is seen resting
on  driftwood of some kind, or on an aquatic plant.  This
might be the boast by David Attenborough, in his book, _Life
on Earth_, that the first sound heard on the planet was the

"This was begins."

The last statement in McCaffery's "after Basho"  completes the
quest for the meaning, wherever it might be, where both
verbs achieve the 'time' link and continue the search.


*All haiku in this paper are by the author, unless indicated

Paper given at Haiku Canada Weekend May 1st to 4th, 1992,
Alymer, Quebec.

#    #     #



Reviewed by Karl Young
        On the back of this book there is a statement that reads,
in part, "Anne Tardos was born in Cannes, France, and grew
up in Paris, moved to Budapest at the age of five, where she
learned Hungarian, and at thirteen she moved to Vienna,
where she learned German but went to a French high school.
She has been living and working in New York since 1966. She
found the four languages she knows . . . evenly present in
her mind and often mixes them in poems." If I'm not
mistaken, most people have one base language, and, if
they're fortunate enough to know others, they make awkward
transitions into the others, transitions that often involve
rhymes, puns, malapropisms, and strange polyglot
configurations. In speech, this can be amusing. When I
attempt to speak French, it initially comes out with bits of
Spanish, Latin, and Italian. I lived in Germany for a couple
years as a child. I cannot consciously speak or read German.
However, if I overhear people speaking German in some
circumstance where I'm not trying to understand, I know what
they're saying. If I then try intentionally to follow the
conversation it becomes gibberish. I assume it's the same
with most North American who are not fully multilingual.

        There are probably few North Americans who read all four
languages in which this book is written. In my case, English
is my basic language; I don't have much trouble with the
French; have difficulty and need a dictionary for the
German; while the Hungarian is completely opaque -- even a
dictionary would be of little use since my ignorance of
Hungarian grammar is complete. But knowledge of all four
languages is not necessary to appreciation of this book.
Instead, the four languages act as difficulty levels between
which the reader switches while reading. Passages in
unintelligible languages act as sort of sound poetry, and
the text as a whole moves from clarity to complete
abstraction at varying speeds. Here is a lyrical passage:

        Rossignol of the
        woods, your soft
        voice, puts nos
        coeurs en emoi, laBt
        uns traumen. Enn,
        inni, tuz. Water viz.
        (When all is quiet
    under the *ramure*.)
        Tardos tends to make transitions on puns, on rhymes, on
cognates false or true, and on words that more or less gloss
each other. This can't help but create a playful base for
the text but Tardos can be deadly serious in places, as in
the plea for vegetarianism that runs through the book and
ends it in large and (for Anglophones) unambiguous terms.

        Along with the text (sometimes covering parts of them) are
images of Tardos herself, of her husband Jackson Mac Low,
and of buildings visible from their loft. The self portraits
were taken in a mirror some time ago, but through the book
Tardos's face is a mirror image, while Mac Low's and those
of buildings are not: in other words, all images are
presented as Tardos would naturally see them in the course
of a day. Tardos first video taped images, then digitized
and manipulated them with computer programs. The distortions
introduced by Tardos make the images echo the work of other
artists, including El Greco, Picasso, Duchamp, Leger, Ernst
-- perhaps you can even see a correlation between the
computer pixels and other atomized forms, such as Seurat's
pointillism. I don't know how many of these artists Tardos
was thinking about when she did the images -- a complete
list compiled by her and any reader would probably not be
identical. But this graphic translation is mirror of the
process of verbal resistance and transformation throughout
the book. "Morte" can turn to "More" in much the same way as
a Picasso frontal profile can face and draw significance
from an Ernst-like frottage across an opening of the book.
That "Morte" to "More" transition could be read as
serendipitous detail or as a summary of the work as a whole.

                        #       #       #       #

Reviewed by John Tritica

                Even the most perfect reproduction of a
                work of art is lacking in one element:
                its presence in time and space, its
                unique existence at the place where it
                happens to be. --Walter Benjamin

Things can suggest where an absence collapses.  Or so we
might think.  Presence and absence seem to be demonstrable,
but the interplay between the two in this visual language
collage is complex. Stephen-Paul Martin refers to
historically empirical facts, such as genocide of Native
Americans, in a way that makes the absence present.  Later
in the text, he refers to the postmodern sense of the"'self'
/ as a dated fiction, / vanishing / into / the noise, / a
burning / rock in northern / Burma" (35), as if to write of
a strategic absence (or decentering) of the unified self (or
center) in narration.  Thus Martin dismantles any conception
of a unified voice, and posits a narration conducted by
polyvalent selves that inhabit Things.  What we encounter in
Things is a whole panoply of literary art and discourse in a
form that marshals diverse materials.

Techniques of reproduction make present an absence.  From
OF SYLLABLES" (3)--Things is Martin's exploration of a
crisis in representation framed in a form of reproduction
itself. Just as the syllables shift, the objects--a rubber
band, paper-clip (intact), pencil, and paper-clip (bent into
a new configuration), a penny, a nickel, and sugar
packet--are also in mction, interacting visually with bits
of text over the eye of a photocopy machine.  The text is
composed of a poetic series of torn observations, political
stances, frayed fictions, scientific probings, and satirical
commentary.   What we see is an ironic self-reflexive
critique of high technology which makes this (reproduction
possible:  "Having killed the Native / American with
advanced / technology, we are there- / fore doomed to kill
our- / selves through similar / means" (4).  But one of the
attractive features of Martin's visual writing is that it
doesn't give way to cheap cynicism.  Martin measures up to
history in a darkly humorous form that faces the complexity
of the contemporary situation through means of a plural
procedure. According to Walter Benjamin, plurality, in any
form of reproduction, substitutes for uniqueness, which can
be oppressive.  Plurality, in its intermedia construction,
acts as a critique of forced homogenization in history and
literary culture.

The construction and articulation of _Things_ is quite
different from Martin's Invading Reagan (1990), but like
this earlier volume of visual writing, _Things_ provides a
range of social commentary and disturbing wit:  "he had only
begun to till the soil / when his hoe hit a Claymore mine
that / blew him to pieces" (30).  Martin uses
poetic/visual/fictional combinations and recombinations that
investigate varying tones and densities that push the
signification of his language into heterodoxical and
gymnastic positions, thus cracking open narrow ideological


Just when we think Martin is on the verge of the didactic,
he defers judgment in a serial manner that keeps the central
nervous system charging.

What maintains the riskiness in _Things_ is Martin's
willingness to record the baldly hypocritical rhetoric of
the status quo as it collides (bleeds) with (into) the
testimony of the victims of CIA-sponsored torture squads
that were (continue to be) so horrifically commonplace in
Latin America in the 1980s:

They put pins under
my fingernails. The
y attached electrod
es to my ears, my t
ongue and my penis.
They forced soapy w
ater into my mouth,
tramping on my stom
ach when  it became
bloated with water.
They then hung me f
rom the ceiling and
extinguished lighte
d cigarettes on  my
nipples  and penis.

The formal density of the block, as it spills over into each
unhyphenated line, is a common device of _Things_, as well as
nearly all of Martin's body of visual writing.  The line in
this block of writing can't contain the misery it posits.
The capitalized shard of contradictory but forceful rhetoric
of the status quo provides dramatic contrast with that of
the victim.

Any commentary on _Things_ can only be partial.
To reproduce the entire context of a page in this review
format is impossible. The production resists easy
consumption.  Because Martin opens up fissures between
presence and absence, and because he pushes the limits of
visual writing as he interrogates the production of meaning
in literary representation, _Things_ is predicated upon reader
mobility, just as the physical objects on each page change
places.  The last line of Things reminds us that:  "ALL IS /
THIS" (39).  Not only is this reflexive of Martin's serial
procedure, it also demonstrates his interest, expressed
throughout his writing, in particle physics.  Martin's work
as editor of _Central Park_, fiction writer, poet, and critic
reveal an historical and social awareness that is grounded
in form-breaking experimentation.  Such a commitment makes
Things a challenging contribution to the contemporary world
of art, poetry, and social discourse.

                        #       #       #   #

Reviewed by Thomas Taylor

                ". . .image of a whipped and crucified
                woman/her iron-gray braids hanging" the
                now-familiar moribund state of American
                poetry is old international news: Dead
                white guys rule anthology pages, writers
                surge into questing for "bloody wind no
                sound no sound" what's new inside the
                body, where poetry occurs "crossed lines
                of pain lines cross/recross the

Rochelle Owens _black chalk_, publisher Susan Smith Nash's
strong first chapbook in a series to follow; cnalk being
white powdery marks on blacl\ (green) ground, on the cover
is a cornerpost, a definition, a location, a spot from which
to begin, the photograph of barbed wire between the posts
has been gone over with felt pen, power lines also, black
lines on white paper, (the photograph is black gradations on
white paper) negative of blackboard implication is still
here. Reversal.

Owens divides the space: "lines cross recross circular
pulse". It is poetry. I will tell you why later. It is
non-narrative narrative: Is there a story? I'm located in
the body "skull neck you traced a scaffold", "analyzing
death patterns blood segmented/cell by cell/deep-pink plague
slicing bright-red stems" divided space by syntax or a
non-continuous present. Is this the new?

We are brought up close. The late Rico Lebrun, painter,
draftsman, sculptor got in your face with an update of Leo n
a rdo (Owens spells it) and Rembrandt, perhaps, and divided
space for the eye within the frame of, uh, verisimilitude.
"used nails every inch death patterns" Is it Indian? "held
her whitish bones high in air" is that close. We are
familiar by now with the grid, the net, the veil, what hangs
between us and our unknown present. Painters grid it out and
then paint in the squares. The stanza or the line used to
fit that purpose. Here we have the words "circular spirals
cross recross every inch nearer and nearer into heat" which
are space. A word is a thing and has its own life. Forster's
tired old "willing suspension of disbelief" is perhaps more
unwilling than we'd thought: We must respond to the
pictures, where they lie behind the language which gives
rise to them: "smoke from a burning cross spreads over/you
looked at a photograph miles of/cracked clay walls..." as
context and style mingle, producing effect, as 'effect
rehearses back to cause' (Chris Boyd, 1971) and 'a style is
also a behavior'.

This is the new. "every inch lacterous mistrusts" but why?
If it's narrative, is it poetry or what? Why is it poetry?
It invades a space, my own, wherein "circles widening faint
until her body/until her body hung wounded and bloody/gouged
walls crust soaking/you light a match calculate weight of
carcass" has discontinuous present, implied syntax, spaces
moving behind the perception of them. "her saliva pools
behind her teeth" a phrase at the start and again at the
end. There is no continuous movement from beginning to
middle to end, no it is mandala-presentation of deepening
image drawn from the inside, too close you might think, like
the by-now well-documented man from one world who stands too
close for the man from another, and as one moves in the
other moves back, each of them trying to feel "comfortable",
this is what is happening here, and the words hung on the
screen of the page document a texture behind which this
crucifixion takes place, "her body hung wounded and bloody",
the crucifixion of an Indian woman by the Spanish some time
in the past of the mind which is yet the present of her
language, "red stems protruding from black clay/burns in the

Words remind the body. They plunge, excrete, "And if you
shake leaves feverish master/skin paint/surgical scar
riddled/bright-red stems freezing paint//freezing urine
blood segmented cell/segmented cell by cell
prototypes/saturated he then looked at a circular//looked at
a circular house..." and define by omission a rhythm which
is the body's: The unbroken flow of consciousness broken by
the unitary juxtaposition of the elements of the unspoken
sentence, the implied sentence which departs from within to
celebrate the force which puts them together, in the blood's
body beating from the heart, no simple systole/diastole, but
the light from within by which "fingers crusted fibrous
entrails" the continuous is divided, "dark ridge of lava to
north parched/halves of skulls placed one by one" as the
earth's own myth regenerated in blood sacrifice, a theater
of cruelty divined by the one who sees.

Repetition is the teacher. If phrases reoccur within the
line within the line, it is not for the author's pleasure,
nor is it because if it worked once it will surely work
again, no repetition is a time retardant, it throws you back
even as you must go on, into the poem "multipiying ar,cient
writing gouged in/gouged in the gourd..." Nor a recollection
of a past which never occurred in the present of the poem,
the present of the poem is a moment in the blood by which
the past might be recovered, not made of a nostalgia for the
present, nor by the recollection of a future which contains
the blood and lava of the past, but in the discontinuities
by which the present comes to exist in the blood of the
moment, beating unmercifully not released but "burnt leaf
white hearts of incense/palms arched pierced bleed names".

I am caught in the name of the act, "measuring skull scalp
parchment" without the detail of some hypnotic calculation
of sound made syntactical, the double bind of meaning (is it
here? or there?), derived from the monument of my own
reading, made into the poem of blood described as "discourse
on life and death" where there is no redemption "used nails
every inch death patterns" mark me out as one of the select,
she says: "Tell me who assures you that this/work ever
was//black stems sticking out letters planted..." in the
soul of what exists. It is here that Owens' style quickens,
details the "smoke from a burning cross".

"You lower your wrist plagued by doubt". Have I been left
alone? By whom am I entered? And at what cost? "...begin
searching photographs crossed/recrossed you stare down your
neck/to the side plagued by doubt". Entered by language,
"veins and tendons drawing nearer and nearer", are they hers
or mine? Perhaps it's not invention but discovery that's at
work here, and in what is exact, that would be the new. Not
in what's "poetic" but in the poetic of what's not, there's
a flood of omissions which leave you "showing lines crossed
recrossed". That's what I pick out of _black chalk_; I am
brought into her lines by my own need to complete them.
There are no implications within signification, this
'signing' is too immediate for reflection to un-piece it
from what gives it rise: The seen and the unseen commingle
within the shape of the discourse, reminding me that there
is no escaping the work. I am left within the confines of
the poem, seeing my own way out into a brightly lighted
space in a landscape which is not from anywhere, nor
cinematic, nor imagined but felt within language and the
ability words have to work on the body, my own in this case,
driving me outward. "...black urine runs through silt ash
clay" and we are brought out of history and the mind into
the realm in which poetry can become the body's own style to
itself, reminding the reader of his obligation to the text,
that it must become complete and final in feeling.

                #       #       #       #


Reviewed by Alan Davies

                Peer Pleasure

Harryette Mullen's Trimmings are just that. The delicate
effects around the edges after the effluvium has been pumped

"Becoming, for a sont." at the very beginning.

These poems are quite simple and very sexy and the implied
and obliqued pummish (sic) metaphors don't have to strain to
keep them that way.

It's rare to find words this tramped into place that don't
bely it.  I mean even nature seems to be natural again.  And
the nature of human foibles and clothing and love and lust
most natural of all. A trubadour.

Every  line has not so much a subtest (though not to deprive
of intention) as an undercurrent.  An undergarment.

And.  And a nice coolish humor.

Humor being the body fluids.  No?

"A name adores a Freudian slip." Since Sappho in prose or in
verse who has done this much for girth and mirth?  It's a
way of whipping the senses back into the body. One of many.
Maybe the best. Surely not the last?

And the simple shallow sensible uttering of it.  I mean that
the words rise only to the occasion.  Not through or beyond
it by happenstance or ego as happens elsewhere. This voice
shuts to doors.

The puns level the words as a whole.  They bring in nothing
extraneous and so do more than merely posit a lowest common

There is a perfect rapture and it has nothing to do with
anything else.

No glitch in the eye.

"Suggestively, a cleavage in language." We're animals in our
hair and clothes.

And we're animals in those of another. It's the shrill
thrill. Of it all. It's how we know who we are. And that's
all there is to it.




                        W I T Z

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