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A Journal of Contemporary Poetics

Volume IV, Number One                    SPRING 1996



_Grenier's "Scrawl"_ by Stephen Ratcliffe

_Towards a Poetics of Jouissance_ by Carl Peters

_The Coherences of Chaos_ by Andrew Joron

_Poet's Court_ by Douglas A Powell

_The Brawn and the Brain_ by Clint Burnham

Book Briefs by Susan Smith Nash



by Stephen Ratcliffe

Robert Grenier's most recent writing may well be the last word on
what's new in American poetry today. It may also be impossible to
read, since Grenier's latest works are written by hand -- his
hand's own all but illegible "scrawl" -- in four colors,
Faber-Castell "uni-ball" black, blue, green and red -- therefore
impossibly expensive to print, therefore all but unavailable to
anyone who would read them. (The impossibility, or I should say
difficulty, of reading Grenier's works is intentional, though not
"planned" as such, as well as inevitable, since his writing
explores how the physical "dimension" of words on a page might
bring them closer to the volume/mass of other "non-verbal"
things, and how the form of the typewritten poem as a
machine-made product might be broken.) Grenier's book/box _r h y
m m s_ exists in a single copy, 90 (8 1/2 x 11") pages of 4-color
hand-written poems xeroxed from Grenier's notebooks of the last
several years. Without a binding other than the box, the pages
may be arranged in whatever order one wants -- provided that is
one can find the book, which isn't in fact likely. With color
Xerox running $1.79 per page and the covers (box) at $5.00
apiece, the cost of producing a single copy of this book comes to
$161.10; given current practices for publishers' markup, the
retail cost of such a book might come to four times that, or
approximately $650, expensive indeed for even a "rare book" of
poems. Even if _r h y m m s_ were produced in quantity, the cost
of color Xerox at today's prices would go down to no less than
$.50 per page, making the cost of the 90 page book about $50. In
order to get that reduction in cost for Xerox, the print run
would have to be at least 40,000 copies, which would bring the
cost of producing 400 books to approximately $22,000 -- well
beyond the means of any small press likely to be interested in
such writing as Grenier's.

(As an alternative method of getting his text out to the public
[eye], Grenier has enlisted photographer Ken Botto to take slides
of his work; Botto has taken some 500 slides so far, and there
have been some ten "viewings"/"showings"/"readings" of those
images to date, most recently at New Langton Arts in San
Francisco, on November 6, 1995.)


Editor's note: Some of Grenier's work is now online, 
thanks to Karl Young's Light and Dust books site at


Let me move from the economics that has thus far made Grenier's
work inaccessible (to the reading public) to the economy of the
work itself, which is tied to the inaccessibility of what it is
on the page. The form of Grenier's composition -- letters "drawn"
in a scrawling, cranky, idiosyncratic hand; a hand writing words
that "imagine" the fact of the hand writing those words; a hand
that in writing words "imagines" those words, eye/hand
coordination seeking out shapes, following letter "values" as
these reconfigure (as much as Grenier's mind may think) what to
write next -- makes it all but impossible to read: read with the
eye (silently), read with the lips (aloud). Words written on top
of other words cannot be easily deciphered, nor can the overlay
or superimposition of one word upon another be adequately
vocalized in any way that would register the exact simultaneity
of visual/verbal text(s) -- the words "my heart is beating" being
placed, like a palimpsest whose components haven't disappeared,
directly on top of the words "I am a beast" -- a simultaneity
that is in fact registered on Grenier's page.

The visual text waiting to be read/sounded becomes a text of the
world. Grenier's words mean to enact that world in words, make
(see) it happen literally here, on the page. As he writes in a
poem to Larry Eigner (here "transcribed"/"translated" into

not "handicapped" 
empowered by his 
ability to 
tee - pee 
## type --## 
see the world 
shape the page

The shaping of the page in this case fills it, makes a poem that
is itself the place (page) it occupies. A poem that is absolutely
in place and absolutely about/of place:

this tree

is Absolute 
  in its

+ color 
+ color

What is going on is an act of attention by and in writing -- to
the moment in the world the person "sees"/"knows"/"believes" to
be the moment he imagines, which is to say transcribes. (The
title of Grenier's book/box of handwritten -- in black ink --
poems, _WHAT I BELIEVE Transpiration / Transpiring Minnesota_ (O
Books, 1991) suggests something of his epistemological concerns
and his concerns for the practical physics of writing things

Grenier's words make pictures of the things he "sees" in the
world -- the things his words "see", words as figures in the act
of attention he brings to bear (in words) in _r h y m m s_:

    ON TOP OF 
Little Sun Temple 
The Real Sun

which draws the sun ("translated" as oblong circle) setting in
the west over the Pacific near his home in Bolinas, a
western-most point of land north of San Francisco, a place rocked
by earthquake 90 years ago (1906), a place local inhabitants know
to be separate from and separating from the rest of the continent
and country. As a man raised in Minnesota who traveled first to
the east, to school in Boston (Harvard) and later to teach in New
England (Tufts and Franconia), then west as far as it is possible
to go without launching forth into water, he makes the site of
writing (looking west) count both literally, as what is going on
around him, and analogically, as Donne's poem "Good Friday, 1613,
Riding Westward" may be said to stand for a person's own last
forward-looking journey into time. The oblong circle (red) meant
to mark the place of the sun -- "Little Sun Temple" also red/read
-- locates the fact of the world tangible, in ink that is itself
an act of writing, on the top (or left) half of the page. The
other side of his notebook calls physically to mind another
moment of sheer (transparent) perception: 

      A corns 
 what ALONE

-- "Acorns" (red), "What / . . . / Thought / Anyone" (green),
"Alone" (black), "Watercourse" (blue) transcribed in the verbal
dimension as if to make the time of writing equal to the
possibility that writing can be made to register what it "sees"
and is, thus, about.

The "I" ("eye") these poems/pictures can be said to locate is one
the person is/sees as fact itself. We/Words are such stuff, the
things or acts we/they register. "Three" (black), for instance,
means to place "A" (red) "kestrel" (green) underlined (red) "A"
(blue) [space] "seagull" (blue) "A" (blue) "pelican" (red) "fly"
(black) underlined (green) in an arrangement that points to parts
of the world those words imagine. Eight words only in that poem,
three of them one letter only ("A"), three of them the common
names of west coast (shore or oceanic) birds; "three" and "fly,"
both in black ink, as if to state what happens in the poem's
"story" or "plot," being action enough to make the poem "happen"
(though it might well not be enough for the reader who would find
a text like this to be slight, descriptive, "anti-poetic").

Leslie Scalapino, in her introduction to the book/box entitled
_WHAT I BELIEVE Transpiration / Transpiring Minnesota_, writes
that Grenier's work "is drawing which has no other translation
('reading') than its pictorial being ('shape') . . . . Grenier's
poems are drawings which are 'drawn' as if from the other side of
the paper. As if he draws with his left hand." In a 1994
interview conducted in Boulder, Grenier himself says that "the
shape of the letters of the composition is in fact what . . . it
is about." The thingness of his writing -- the fact that it can't
be "translated" into type or "read aloud" (at least not in any
consistent way that would yield "the poet's voice"; it is
possible to read it, first one way, then another way, then
another way, the "thickness" of possible reading senses being one
measure of its interest) or even easily produced as a book --
moves it backward, closer somehow to where it is that writing
must first have come from, as if "the word," as he says, "could
actually be the manifestation, the apparition, of something."
That something is writing (in part), also "shapes" of "something
else," an act of putting hand to paper, physical in the sense
that the body does it at that time, like cutting the tree or
splitting its wood when it's on the ground (sawdust) perfectly
aware that that is what one is doing then, that literalness of
activity becoming here the engagement with verbal process

Grenier's letters are words becoming letters, the hand-drawn "g"
in "light" generated out of the hand-drawn "s" in "Sept 1" or the
Arabic "1" in "Sept 1" echoed in the lower case "l" in "light,"
in this poem:

Sept 1 
dry & 

Although one may think of Rimbaud's corresponding vowels -- "a"
black, "e" white, "i" red, "u" green, "o" blue -- which leads
circuitously to a symbolic equation between writing and the
world, Grenier isn't in any meaningful sense a symbolist poet,
since his writing pictures posit letter values in "living"
transformation, as (in time) life. One would do better to think
of Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Chinese ideogram, pictures on the
wall of a cave in the south of France.

Grenier's letters also become exact (measured) by means of the
color the pen draws each with, another reason his poems are so
difficult not only to read/decipher but to find in print, the
cost of reproducing them being so great --

no arbor          (green) 
________          (blue) 
harbor            (blue) 
hare on           (red) 
  such            (green)

-- where the multiple rhyme-like links (attractions/oppositions
in sound, shape and meaning) between "ARBOR" and "HARBOR" are
enacted visually by the green and blue inks that demonstrate
(schematically) the living color of each "thing" in nature, the
blue line suggesting both horizon and the line words position
themselves in (on the page), the red of "HARE ON" like the red
perhaps of its blood (beating) and the green of "SUCH" such that
it spirals back to where the trees ("ARBOR") weren't. Or to take
another example, how the blue, red and black inks of

drive off          (blue) 
darkness with      (red) 
thunder            (black)

figure the complex of acts (verbal, physical, psychic) caught in
those five words, enacted as it were against the passage of such
time as has in fact taken place, or, in Grenier's act of writing,
as if they were happening in the actual time in which such
"things" are taking place.

Phenomena in the world is what Grenier means to write, unfolding
in such time both as it does and as he notes it. "whoo" (black)
begins a double (facing) page, placing (recording) the sound of
wind as much as letters can, that is. And what follows across
those two pages expands the present fact of that (wind, the sound
it makes) back through time, transforming (by means of echo) wind
itself to the wind Wyatt wrote (felt) in his own hand:

whoo       (black) 
an en      (blue)
dless w    (green) 
ind doth t (black) 
ear the sa (red) 
__________ [page break] 
yle a pay   (red) 
ce off      (red) 
this world  (blue) 
all life    (black)

The page "here" -- I should say "there, as drawn," since one must
engage with the interwovenness of shapes in order to feel it --
is instrument to what it plays, the splitting apart of words
across its line breaks ("An endless wind doth tear the sail
apace" is Wyatt's line) meaning to register Grenier's sense of
the physical and also metaphorical world -- a world "disordered"
by its physics of fragmentation, in which the position of the
observer determines what is perceived, and accelerated falling
apart of our "cultural moment" -- as well as an acknowledgement
of literary influence (the attention to fact of words/world in
Williams, Creeley and Eigner come to mind) and of the
arbitrariness by which letters may be divided into words. Why not
the word "dless"? Why not see and here "ear" in "tear"?

What Grenier hears and sees comes as closely as possible to be
written. One poem is one world only: "crow" (black) followed on
the page with three lines (blue) -- actually the word "by," so
"crow" actually flies "by" -- one a curving as of the body, the
other a trajectory of its flight.

(Grenier's concentration on "one poem"/"one world" may be a
development of the Romantic aesthetic of "moment," or of Pound's
vortex of radiant "gists," "nodes" or "knots," a blowing up of
minutiae through attention to particles (letters) in formation as
these "loop" on the page, as long as one wishes or is able to
attend to what is therein "given"/"said"). Two other poems of
sound perception reduced to its essential components "hear" a
moment in the world metamorphosed into a visual map in letters:


Letters take on a life of their own "here" -- again I should say
"there" since the versions of the poems as I present them here
are typewritten "translations," "inventions" that run the risk of
reducing drawn shapes to their "meaning" "here" -- the doubling
of "o"'s (blue) linking "TWO" and "OWLS" into the two-note chord
their sound plays; the doubling of "s"'s in "O [blue] WL [black]
S [red]" and "STaRtiNG [red]" linking thing to act; "SUNdo" [red]
followed by "WN" [black] registering the leaving of light from
the earth (day) when sun sets. Or take as a final example this
poem about "owls," whose text, which reads (unscrambled) "TWO
OWLS HOOT," is an almost impossible-to-figure-out scrawl of
circles, lines, diagonals in blue, black, red and green, colored
inks marking the territory of the page upon which such event has
been transformed into language whose aim is to know the world
literally, and make it know(n). As Grenier said in his talk
"Larry Eigner and the Task of American Letters," delivered at
SUNY Buffalo in October 1994, the literal (words) and numeral
(numbers) are the same "it": what is "literally" there --
"you"/"this very thing you are" (Olson). Writing is
metamorphosis, a transformation of the physical body and its
experience into the physical body of words -- a body we
experience when we read writing or hear it read. In the act of
reading writing being written, the shapes/"senses" of letters
show Grenier what is thus there to be seen, as if language were,
at times, a "sixth sense" participating along with everything
else in whatever apprehension writing attempts to testify to,
i.e., "contact" with words and world. As such, writing is also a
"graphing-voice" via "breath," a realization of "things"
(letters) on the "discrete manifold" of the typewritten page
(Eigner) -- or rather, in this case, "things" (letters) drawn as
shapes through the "continuous manifold" of the "wrap-around" of
notebook "place."

What exists in that "place" -- Grenier's white, two-dimensional
notebook page marked with blue, red, green and black scrawls --
is an image of what Olson called muthologos, an image of "what is
said of what is said." Words in such a place are more than
"words" -- the article "A," the article "THE" -- because thinking
(in words) and being are the same (and also different): as in
Stein's portrait "Bernard Fay," there is hope in Grenier's "A,"
there is hope in Grenier's "THE," in language in which "A" is A"
and "A is B," not identical but also so. Asking how it is
possible that "only imagination is real," "no ideas but in
things" (Williams), Grenier's work stretches the capacity of
language to invoke an "in-dwelling" apprehension/awareness of
being alive -- by which I mean also to include the capacity of
the reader's mind who perceives that language to enact meaning,
of and in the world, meaning in which "things" are both the same
and different, both "made up" and "literally noted," true.


Robert Grenier. _WHAT I BELIEVE Transpiration /
Transpiring Minnesota_ (Oakland, CA: O Books, 1991). 
--. r h y m m s (unpublished collection). 
--. color xeroxes from unpublished Notebooks. 
--. "Larry Eigner and the Task of American Letters,"
talk given at SUNY Buffalo on October 6, 1994. 
--. Conversations with Stephen Ratcliffe, 1994-95.



by Carl Peters

-- i see myself as a writer who writes about the act of writing
                                                    -- bpNichol

bpNichol's poetry forces us to confront the authorial and
polysemic first person pronoun I. In _The Martyrology_, the I is
used as a kind of metaphysical, transcendental signifier -- it's
position is not fixed. Self here is constantly being
interrogated, re-theorized as language. Paradoxically, Nichol's
idea of the creative and transformative power of the signifier is
commensurate with Lacan's notion of the split subject and
jouissance. I want to examine this relation in some depth, with
emphasis on _The Martyrology: Book(s) 7_ (which includes book 8)
as well as Barthes' adaptation of Lacan's theory to a theory of
the text. Additionally, I also want to point out a possible
correlation between Jack Burnham's semiotic model (the
naturalization of culture) and Barthes' poststructuralist theory
of the text, with occasional references to Duchamp's

Book 7 extends Nichol's deconstructive examination of self
through language: Book 7 -- more so, I think, than the others --
represents the poet's impassioned attempt to expel himself from
his text. The erasure of self progressively builds from beginning
to end where the final texts of Book(s) 7 (and 8) are printed
free of the book's spine. Book 7 is a further articulation and
exploration of one of the most fascinating theoretical projects
of _The Martyrology_: the bond between signifier and signified is
let go in an effort to transcend language and its defining and
descriptive function: "To go beyond THE WORD/ exercise control
over it? no/ NO NO -- BEYOND THE/ WORD. not to merely control/ it
but to overcome it, go be-/ yond the point where it is/ even
necessary to think in/ terms of it." Nichol's Ideal to overcome
the defining and descriptive authority of the word requires the
construction of a substitute language; for Nichol, this
constitutes, in Barthesean terminology, the language of bliss
rather than pleasure.

Book 7 is represented to us as both a text of pleasure as well as
a text of bliss. The former is "the text that contents, fills,
grants euphoria [...] that comes from culture and does not break
with it, is linked to a comfortable practice of reading." The
text of bliss, however, "imposes a state of loss [...],
discomforts [...], unsettles the reader's historical, cultural,
psychological assumptions [and] brings to a crisis his relation
with language" (Barthes 1975, 14). Barthes also notes that
"pleasure can be expressed in words, bliss cannot" (21). Bliss is
formed at the interface between the two edges of a text, the
readerly/ conformist and the writerly/ subversive. The gap, fault
or cut which both Barthes and Nichol celebrate is the nearest
they get to bliss; loss is the signification of bliss reinscribed
as want. "The cut," as one scholar observes, is tantamount to
"the redistribution of language" -- the site of Nichol's "be-/
yond" where "old definitions change as language rearranges all
the nouns and names (Wasserman 101 and Bk 7 respectively).
Nichol's bliss, as indeed the reader's, involves the rearranging
of language, of the text, which, as a result, reconceptualizes
the other.

What is essential in Nichol's attempt to remove himself as
author/ity from the text is his repeated claim that the poem is
unplotted, unplanned. The poem takes on a life of its own -- it
becomes form -- living form, and eventually, "the author is
omitted by his structure" (Bersani, 39): "There is some larger
mediation that seems obvious," Nichol writes. "An inference or
moral perhaps. I only know the poem unfolds in front of me, [...]
more in control than me. It's not that the poem has a mind of its
own but that poetry is its own mind, a particular state you come
to, achieve" ("You Too, Nicky," Bk 7). And, as the poet
recognizes, the real magic of poetry is "partly syntax, partly
mystery"; mystery is a constant presence despite what the poet
himself intended. The text of pleasure is an indispensable
structural component of (the text of) bliss, its prerequisite,
and is formed, in part, by a certain way of reading -- a poetics
of reading; as Nichol puts it, it is "an attitude of reading,"
something "you come to, achieve." Reading as a creative act, at
this level, undermines conventional readerly practices;
multivalency is a fact of bliss: "sure connectives gone/ [...]
you no longer count on/ reference/ poetry's/ its own form of
obscurity/ [...] the problem is/ how to read it." The distinction
between pleasure and bliss, the consistency of self and its loss,
is pronounced and kept intact in Book 7. The gaming or play which
erupts between the two causes "jouissance" -- the "source-re/ the
mystery of poetry/ that i am caught up in/ carried out on/ the
word/ of God/ of mouth/ of honour" (St Anzas V) -- '[Caught] up
in/ carried out on, be-/ yond.'

Consequently, reading is tantamount to divining in Book 7 in much
the same way that the geomancy of the (Toronto Annex) streets in
Book 5, for example, was the basis for Nichol's Martyrology/
mythology. Reading as divining provides a condition for bliss:
"letters of a law/ i strive to learn st/ rive the word apart/
[...]/ the night sky/ 's a page we read from/ like the childhood
game/ 'connect-the-dots'/ and forms, figures, names/ a pear/
[...]/ the fruit of our seeking." Like the Duchampian ready-made,
Nichol's deconstruction of the word forces a break between the
word's signifier and signified; this break or cut opens up the
word to multiple signification and hence bliss. In "striving" to
defamiliarize his text, Nichol "arrives" at an apprehension of
the word's "inner alchemy," (from Hugo Ball), its mystery, the
"source-re," of poetry, which, to carry this idea one step
further, is always aligned, for Nichol, with process, the act of
writing/ reading itself, the act of "wed[ding] letter to letter
to spell anew" (Nichol 1985, 94). The notion of "be-/ yond,"
furthermore, is redefined as a source:

raw puns elevate me 
lift me closer to the mystery 
divine word to divine 
the pen twitches above the page 
dips down 
a flow of language tapping in 
keyed or written as written 
deliberate construction of 
chance, a range meant 
unknown encounted & 
                  ("St Anzas V")

The reader of Book 7 is what Barthes would call an anachronic
reader, that previously mentioned reader who is lifted out of a
comfortable practice of reading and forced to recognize and
confront a crisis in language: its instability. The two edges of
language noted earlier, the conformist and subversive edge, recur
in Nichol's text. The anachronic reader (or "producer" following
Barthes' analogy) performs and creates (within) this edge, this
cut. The anachronic reader is a contradiction; as Barthes
explains, this subject "simultaneously [...] participates in the
profound hedonism of all culture [...] and in the destruction of
that culture" (Barthes 1975, 14): "truths the mouth shapes
despite itself/ [...] we are made new, made over/ even as the old
order falls/ a part a round/ us" ("St Anzas V).

Nichol's linguistic/ grammatical deconstructions in a very subtle
way contribute to the destruction of culture by displacing
reference: poetry "is its own form of obscurity." His relentless
interrogation of the pronoun "i," the assertion that poetry
articulates "the fundamental mystery of otherness" ("otherness
understood in terms of the divine, of "Godness"), is
commensurable with what Jack Burnham has called the
"naturalization" of culture. In regards to this semiotic
operation, the element of "wonder," if not awe ("the shudder of
poetry"), is restored to the text through the (magical) efficacy
of the art-making process -- the activity of language, of sense,
production -- "the immediacy of this ekstasis." What Barthes sees
as the "destruction" (or de-creation) of culture perpetuates the
mystery which Nichol perceives as being crucial to poetry and
inherent in the word itself. Several "stanzas" in Book 7 (and 8)
are worth examining further in order to show how Nichol's
linguistic "rearrangements" (translations) illustrate what
Burnham might see as the naturalization of culture. First,
however, a review of Burnham's thesis is relevant here.

Following Burnham's thesis in _The Structure of Art_, the
survival of the art impulse depends upon what he calls the
naturalization of culture. Burnham's phrase, "the naturalization
of culture," is derived from Claude Levi-Strauss' definition of
magic as "the naturalization of human actions" (i.e., the written
gesture as aesthetic gesture); inversely, "the culturalization of
the natural" is taken from Levi-Strauss' definition of religion
-- "the humanization of natural law." Nichol offers an additional
re-articulation of Burnham's paraphrasing when he asserts that
art renders the unfamiliar (in this case "natural law," the
unknowable) familiar, accessible through ritual, magic, and even
religion. This description is closer to Burnham's notion of the
culturalization of nature. Nichol alludes to the naturalization
of culture, however, when he notes that art also makes the
familiar (the knowable, the ordinary) unfamiliar (extraordinary,

The naturalization of human actions (or the naturalization of
culture) stems from "a work activity [process] or the conjoining
of elements as they appear through a sign" (Burnham 1973, 66).
The naturalization of human actions represents "the humanism we
hold on to so tenaciously" through ritual and process, the
activity of language production; content "is not what we enjoy
about art, rather it is the [apprehension] of ritual superbly
performed" (66). Ritual enables us to perceive in nature "[that]
design of an intelligence" which Nichol re-conceives and
interprets as divine experience: "from as an expression of
dilemma/ conceptualization placing you on the brink of/
dissolution/ [...]/ we are (as pronouns) each other/ nouns
divide/ hide behind that name we are given" ("This is a Love
Poem"). _The Martyrology_, and the kind of reading process it
enacts, is analogous to a journey or quest "behind" and "be-/
yond" the "name we are given."

To elaborate on this, the naturalization of human actions has
"its own sweet logic," which, as Burnham points out, helps to
keep us in contact with our boundaries facing nature ("Monotones
XCVIII"). In terms of reading/ writing The Martyrology,
naturalization is isomorphic with ritual, process. Nichol is
constantly reminding us of the need for "all this talk of doing/
to be included with the doing [...] moments when the reach is the
grasp" ("sun/day/ease"). The naturalization of human actions (the
naturalization of culture) is also attained through the willful
construction of mystery. Indeed, Nichol's recontextualization of
the pre-texts for The Martyrology contributes to Book 7's
resacralizing project: source is made into source-re.

The use of source-re, of mystery, is intrinsically bound to an
apprehension of the plural self -- its many disguises. The
personal pronoun i is the real object of inquiry here. This
examination of self is clearly suited to the poem's open-ended,
"processual" structure; the text's multiplicity "is grounded in
the self and, by implication, in the linguistic enunciation on
which the self relies for its formulation" as well as
signification (Kamboureli, 95): "me-ning is always/ i deational"
("The White Stone Wall"). "Me-ning," self construction, is
achieved in language; we might even say that "Adamically," and
relating to Nichol's conception of the sacred in art, language is
the archetype from which the self is derived and that the
activity of sign production signifies the divine -- is, in fact,
"divine experience."

According to one scholar, Nichol's i is an "elliptical" albeit a
paradoxically "abundant" self (Kamboureli, 96). The fact that
Nichol's i occurs for the most part in lower case is worth
noting; this visualization and apprehension of the pronoun
immediately distinguishes itself from a fully self-present
entity. Further, this deconstruction allows Nichol to manage the
transition or transformation of "the singular i to the plural we"
by foregrounding the question: "vague pronoun reference a life
becomes/ who does this i refer to?" ("Scraptures: 11th
Sequence"). An adjacent text provides this answer: "i am these
words/ these words say so" ("song for saint ein"). Nichol's
insight points to Lacan's theory of subjectification. Lacan
argues that the first person pronoun is realizable only as a
linguistic category -- language speaks the subject. However,
Nichol holds out for some apprehension of a complete self:
"somewhere i exist/ separate from this page/ this cage of sound &
sense." The pronoun i, like the text itself, resists definition;
it adheres to what Lacan calls the system of the signifier.

Nichol's autobiographical writing gives way to the "pataphysical
dimension which informs his examination of self and text. His
recurring i is indispensable to it's/his disappearance;
autobiography is transformed into mythology: "[the] hardest
things about using autobiographical detail in the long poem," he
comments, "is to get the reader to accept it as what it is: words
in a book revealing exactly the amount of information necessary
for that moment of the composition [...]; autobiographical
information changes our reading of the text & thus distorts it
(Kamboureli, 100; my emphasis). Hence Nichol's determination to
"take the time to tell you everything." The conjunction between
"telling" and the act of writing provides the basis for Nichol's
myth-making project, "immediate ekstasis" -- "the shudder of
poetry" ("sun/day/ease"). Writing disperses an already displaced
self; this is explicit in Book 7: "Sometimes i talk too much of
it, like a magician/ explaining/ his best trick [...]/ And the
real magic, which is what the language can/ achieve, remains a
mystery [...]" ("You Too, Nicky"). Here again language speaks,
not the author: "i disappears into the drum of/ consciousness"
and "the point is/ the reading" ("St Anzas III" and "X").

What Jacques Lacan calls the Real resists symbolization in
language; the Real is the register of "jouissance," bliss.
Barthes has shown that the real object of literature's desire is
jouissance; "it considers sane," he comments, "its desire for the
impossible [the Real]" (Barthes 1987, 466). Burnham has argued
that it is the quest for the unattainable (the Ideal) which is
worked into the ordering process of the creative act itself -- in
other words, the ordering process is the creative act. Nichol
raises the crucial question in "Talking About the Sacred in
Writing," and it is appropriate to re-address it here: Why an
emphasis on process? In the following paragraphs, I offer a
definition of Lacan's three registers -- the Imaginary, Symbolic,
and Real -- in order to come back to this question and examine
more carefully the precise relation bteween Nichol's emphasis on
process and the Real.

Key to Lacan's construction (or deconstruction) of the self is
the notion that the subject is a signifier. Before him, Freud
asserted that the subject carries "otherness," what Nichol sees
as "the fundamental mystery of otherness," within itself.
Theorizing primary process, Lacan attests that the unconscious is
constructed at the moment of the subject's entry into language.
This process, Lacan contends, is introduced by what he calls the
"mirror" stage of psychical development. The Imaginary, conceived
in terms of a "spatial configuration," originates from the
experience of the image. This specular image generates the
illusion that the subject is coherent and whole, an illusion,
furthermore, perceived by the subject as an ideal image. Lacan
argues that this recognition is essentially a misrecognition
--wholeness is perceived where lack exists; the self is thus
defined by lack: "its very assertion/ creates distances" ("The
White Stone Wall"). Subjectification, in other words, like
Barthes' theory of the text and jouissance, is contingent upon
the gap or fault between assumed unity and actual lack. In terms
of poststructed texts like Nichol's, lack is a precondition for
multiplicity -- loss is transformed into pleasure, if not bliss,
"showing me this other world/ the landscape lay behind" -- "be-/
yond" ("early morning variation"; my emphasis). The Lacanian
topology of the subject contributes to the apprehension of
contemporary texts, an apprehension primarily focused on the
transformational power of the (self as) signifier, the "i that is
many" ("SLIP").

The subject's existence in language is defined by Lacan as the
Symbolic register. Fredric Jameson, in "Psychoanalysis and the
Problem of the Subject," cautions us against conceiving the
Imaginary and Symbolic in terms of binary oppositions. It is
important to note that both are relational to each other. "The
Symbolic," as Kaja Silverman notes, "establishes the differences
which are such an essential part of cultural existence"; the
Imaginary, on the other hand, makes it possible to recognize
correspondences and homologies (Silverman, 157). The subject is
always a relation in a context, a context constructed and formed
by language. Language production, the activity of reading and
writing, is perceived by Nichol, for instance, as a fundamentally
transformational process; as he so often attests: "I love what
happens in the moment of language" ("SLIP"). An examination of
language is the examination of self. Once more, this assertion is
explicit in Book 7: "the language comes alive as you come alive
and the/ real mysteries remain" ("You Too, Nicky"). His
deconstructions are really constructions -- connections made
between the reader-as-author and the divine, the real mysteries
which Nichol so often relates.

As noted above, the subject's apprehension of its so-called ideal
image at the Imaginary stage of psychical development is a
fictional construct whose "defining characteristics -- focus,
coordination -- it does not share" (Silverman, 158). The
subject's sense of alienation, an inevitable consequence of this
fundamental misrecognition, is compensated for by those objects
"perceived as its missing complement" (158). At the Imaginary
stage, the perceived object stands in for the "absent presence"
of the mother; the Symbolic register, by contrast, is defined and
dominated by the Father (signifying Other). Identity is
provisional: "mother tongue/ everything sprung from you/ [...]/
borrowed language/ body/ time/ [...]/ how much can i claim as
mine" ("St Anzas V"). The Symbolic is structured by (1) the
acquisition of the pronoun I (ensuring the division of the
subject into many -- "i that is many"), and (2) the continuing
alienation of the subject by the Other (which is also language
itself). Writing on the works of Marcel Duchamp, Gianfranco
Baruchello's insight applies equally well to Nichol's text. "Thus
in his works," Baruchello notes, "you find yourself dealing with
an ego that's more or less provisional. It's an I that's not
presented or represented as [...] a part of the person, [...] and
it's not at all the I that defines the person; what defines the
person is his activity to take his distances from the I [...].
[W]hat we see is a whole series of parallel states of existence"
(92-94; my emphasis). Again, Nichol's decentering of the
individual and authorial i provides the basis for the
reader-as-producer to manifest; this represents a radical
repositioning of roles. The reader's repositioning ("activity")
establishes the ego; Nichol's decentering poetics naturalizes the
i rendering it plural: "the mind's struggle with/ ailing mental
realities/ the real i ties into/ faces/ and every one of them my
own" ("St Anzas V"). Nichol's i is a remarkably allusive i: "the
i shared/ its very assertion/ creates distances."

That the unity of the subject is subverted and replaced by a
structure of relations is further articulated in Lacan's graph of
desire, which also best illustrates what he means by the term
Real (Ecrits, 315). The graph of desire is intended to show the
many relations that constitute the identity of the subject; it
indicates that the basic path defining the self follows from the
barred or split subject (signified by the notation S [slashed])
to the "Ego Ideal" (signified by the notation I(O). This
fundamental trajectory is contingent with the subject's
interaction with the Other (O), "and thus represents the process
by which the self takes on an identity" (Lee, 139). The
realization that language structures the self is explicit in
Nichol's text: "words/ [...] as they are/ objects in the world we
live in/ carry us far/ ther/ a/ way/ from/ each/ other/ than/
they/ should (text following "This is a Love Poem"). Once more we
see the pronoun identified as a signifier in Lacan's schema.
"What the eye [i] seizes as real," for Nichol, "is fractured
again and again" ("Scraptures 17"). The real is fractured by the
symbol, by language. Yet, it is this same symbol which we seek to
reconstruct the real. Poetry is the most efficient instrument for

The upper half of Lacan's graph schematizes the dialectic of need
and desire, desire defined as a defence against jouissance and
represented by the notation (small) d (Ecrits, 322). An important
Lacanian insight is that the self "is a subject only from being
subjected to the field of the Other" (Lacan 1981, 188). This
theory of subjectification is linked to the experience of
alienation through lack. Lacan's contention is that [language and
loss] are mutually functions of each other: "except to say this
combination of words is me/ these signs as long as these books
exist" ("Talking About Strawberries All of the Time").
Linguistically contrived, the human subject is a relational and
therefore elusive, provisional self: "changing because you
changes too, me or i,/ assumptions of/ what i knows of i's
itself/ this or that me/ cummulative accumulation of i's dentity"
("Monotones C").

Lacan situates the Real in the realm of jouissance. Language
forces the subject to surrender jouissance; pleasure takes the
place of bliss, pleasure understood here "as the sort of
satisfaction (desire) [...] inseparably linked to fantasy" (Lee,
141). Desire, in turn, is motivated by -- a manifestation of --
fantasy and lack. Any object which is perceived by the subject as
a substitute for lack is defined by Lacan as the objet petit a.
The objet a, as Ellie Ragland-Sullivan attests, perpetuates "a
hole in the middle of perception" which points to loss, lack.
Jouissance thus exists as a relation between the (barred, split)
subject and the objet a; in other words, jouissance exists
between two edges: self and loss. Paradoxically, the compensation
for loss is the person's ability to name; "[the] Real is given
structure by the human power to name" (Bowie, 133). Nichol's
emphasis on process is linked to the creative and
transformational quality of that human power.

Renaming is crucial to Nichol's art, a process, moreover, related
to reading-as-divining. By divining I mean "the attempt to elicit
from some higher power [...] the answers to questions "be-/ yond"
the range of ordinary human understanding" (Niechoda, 151).
Reading, at this level, creates a link between the individual
mind and otherness (Godness, in Nichol's sense of that term). The
spiritual ("pataphysical) dimension of this correlation to which
Nichol refers is realized in the activity of language production
(and is not langauge per se); it is exactly an activity (reading
or writing) which Nichol perceives as sacred (Nichol 1988, 234).
Language's "pataphysical/ sacred reality is inherent in the
materiality and therefore mutability of its form, of the text.
The power to name brings language down to earth: "only the words/
their compressions/ breaks/ like a mind/ adamizes/ brings eve
down" ("Diatribe"). The consequences of our entry -- our Fall --
into language are the distortions we manifest in our reading:
that's our bliss. Nichol's project includes the resacralization
(the "naturalization") of these distortions through naming,
renaming, and invocation the act of writing perpetuates: "these
marked surfaces define, defaced,/ divine presence a pressure/
which the pen's tip'll trace" ("St Anzas IX").

Naming establishes one of the fundamental insights of Nichol's
text; given that fact that the i in The Martyrology is also the
pronoun of the saints -- themselves linguistic constructions,
"rearrangements" -- suggests that the content of the self cannot
be separated from its form. "It is constructed," as one scholar
put it, "the moment it enters the field of [the Other]"
(Kamboureli, 104). The alleatory reality of the self is signified
by the mere proliferation of i; furthermore, this (also signified
by the proliferation of textual form and genre in The
Martyrology) extends the i's signifying power. Once again, naming
gives way to invocation which the act of reading/ diving/ writing
relates, "because to speak the tru names/ presumes the power to
invoke" ("Scraptures: 7th Sequence").

Barthes, in "The Death of the Author," asserts that the author is
at last subverted. Barthes' essay was first published in the mid
1960s. It's clear that poetry is still exclaiming this assertion.
Everything, eventually, comes down to the reader; to paraphrase
Duchamp, it's the reader who makes all the difference in the long

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. "Inaugural Lecture, College de France." _A
Barthes Reader_. Ed. Susan Sontag. New York: Hill and Wang, 1987.

--. _The Rustle of Language_. Toronto and New York: Farrar,
Straus and Giroux Inc., 1984.

--. _The Pleasure of the Text_. Trans. Richard Miller. New York:
The Noonday Press, 1975.

Baruchello, Gianfranco and Henry Martin. _Why Duchamp: An Essay
on Aesthetic Impact_. New York: McPherson and Co., 1985.

Bersani, Leo. "Poetry is Buried." The Death of Stephane Mallarme.
London and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. 25-47.

Bowie, Malcolm. _Lacan_. Ed. Frank Kermode. London: Harper
Collins Publishers, 1991.

--. "Jacques Lacan." Structuralism and Since: From Levi-Strauss
to Derrida. Ed. John Sturrock. New York: Oxford University Press,
1979. 116-153.

Burnham, Jack. "The Problems of Criticism." _Idea Art_. Ed.
Gregory Battcock. New York:      E. P. Dutton, 1973. 46-69.

Kamboureli, S. "'there's so much i': Self and Genre in The
Martyrology." Tracing The Paths: Reading = Writing The
Martyrology. Ed. Roy Miki. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1988. 95-117.

Lacan, Jacques. _The Four Fundamental Concepts of
Psychoanalysis_. Ed. Jacques-Allain Miller & Trans. Allan
Sheridan. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1981.

Lee, Jonathan Scott. "The Impossible Real." _Jacques Lacan_.
Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990. 133-170.

Nichol, bp. _gifts: The Martyrology Book(s) 7 &_. Toronto: The
Coach House Press, 1990.

--. "Talking About the Sacred in Writing." Tracing The Paths:
Reading = Writing The Martyrology. Ed. Roy Miki. Vancouver:
Talonbooks, 1988. 233-236.

--. "The "Pata of Letter Feet, or, The English Written Character
as a Medium for Poetry." Open Letter 6th Series, No. 1 (1985):

Niechoda, Irene. "Entering the Exits: An Introduction and
Selected Annotations to Books 1      and 2." Tracing The Paths:
Reading = Writing The Martyrology. Ed. Roy Miki.      Vancouver:
Talonbooks, 1988. 127-171.

Silverman, Kaja. The Subject of Semiotics. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1983.

Sullivan, Ellie Ragland. "A Writing of the Real." Visible
Language XXII, #4 (Autumn 1988): 483-495.




_Fear & Philosophy_ by Stephen Paul Martin (Detour. $8.95)

Reviewed by Andrew Joron

Stephen-Paul Martin's stories appear to be constructed in the
same manner as fractal patterns: he begins by relating a simple
event whose coordinates are easily locatable on the graph of
everyday life. Processed by Martin's fractal methodology,
however, such ordinary acts and occurrences quickly become
amplified into psychedelic swirls of narrative, unpredictable but
non-random, driven forward by the discontinuous logic of a
media-saturated, bitterly antagonistic society. In "Frame Tale,"
the first story in the book, Martin explodes or, more precisely,
"fractalizes" a banal conversation in an art gallery:

	"I don't like this one very much," he said. "I'm the
	one who painted it," she said. Her words were like an
	abandoned eight-lane highway, like a bear in a small
	suburban zoo in Oregon, like a frisbee floating six
	feet over someone's outstretched hand, a small canoe
	concealing guns on the Nicaraguan border, a robot doing
	someone's job, a box of unsent letters, a fifteen-page
	report that gets a "D" in high-school physics,
	someone's basement filled with bubbling tubes and
	twinkling alembics, a wolf badge kept in a massive
	eighteenth-century carved oak dresser, a labyrinth
	drawn from memory on a greasy luncheonette napkin, a
	sum made from a falsified past, a poplar filmed in
	Paris, nineteen words crossed out in a debutante's
	diary near Annapolis, a baby whale whose mother has
	just been killed, a missing pronoun, a case of
	laryngitis kept in check with homemade soup, a group of
	one-celled animals in a petri dish in Munich, a bayonet
	flashing near the Golan Heights in a beautiful sunset,
	a silhouette of a silo caught in a photograph in
	Kansas, or like the sound of change in someone's
	pocket. "Oh!" he said. "Well, you know, I don't really
	know that much about art. Maybe there's some sort of
	hidden meaning in this picture and I just can't see

No formalist game, Martin's procedure is motivated by a radical
social critique. Here, formal experimentation becomes a way of
both foregrounding and defeating the ideological system's
attempts at self-enclosure. Martin's narrative method, while
"making ideology visible" as engaged writing is supposed to do,
is not simply reflective of social contradictions but ingestive
of them, swallowing reality itself as the most potent
hallucinogen. Martin has, in this book as well as in his previous
collection _The Gothic Twilight_, developed a style of writing
that I am tempted to call "critico-ecstatic."

The tales in _Fear & Philosophy_ are therefore not mimetic but
metamorphic. Appropriating the "music" of political economy,
Martin's fiction is reminiscent of Alfred Doblin's frenetic
stories of 1929 Berlin, in which narrative is structured by
harsh, jazz-like rhythms. Whereas Doblin's prose gathers its
energy from the sound-effects of industrial capitalism, Martin's
prose, embedded in the integrated circuit of the global
marketplace, takes on the structure of tribal-trance drumming.
Narrative events in _Fear & Philosophy_ stand in a relation of
ecstatic intercommunication which, like a fractal pattern, is
self-similar at every scale:

	. . . and for this moment only, passing on to the next,
	and then again for that moment, and that moment only,
	passing on to the next, and then again for that moment,
	and that moment only, passing on to the next, and then
	again for that moment, and that moment only, passing on
	to the next, and then again for that moment, and that
	moment only, passing on to the next,and the words are
	getting softer wandering widely over the world,
	electrical patterns of motion dancing wildly over the
	world, words like waving fields of hands in breeze, or
	undersea plant-life, like fetuses rocking slowly side
	to side like an unborn sea. . . . (from "Feeding on the
	Wind," pp. 62-63)

In the fictions of both Doblin and Martin, the contemporary mode
of production--especially the mode of reproducing
consciousness--is made visible at every aesthetic level,
including the level of character construction. Doblin's writing
belongs to the Machine Age, Martin's to the Information Age.
Whereas Doblin's Berlin-story characters are clangorous collages,
subjects pieced together from jagged bits of industrial debris,
Martin's characters glow softly with virtual light: they possess
the flickering contours of television ghosts, assuming even the
identities of recognizable media concoctions such as Superman and
Lois Lane. Indeed, Martin's people are figures in both the
literary and numerical senses of the term: they behave as
screen-traces, capable of being manipulated by remote control.
This is why, perhaps, they seem prey to an inordinate passivity,
getting hired, getting fired, suffering infidelity and boredom,
falling from tenth-floor windows only to pick themselves up and
return home smiling.

If this seems fanciful, it is a fantasy that is not only
permitted, but imposed by endless cycles of media culture. In
these stories, characters are processed -- "mediated" -- through
hyperreality, a commodified version of paradise (one of the
stories is entitled "Falling into Paradise") where the
traditional oppositions between dreaming and waking, past and
future, even life and death appear to have been reconciled.

In hyperreality, as Baudrillard has argued, the distinction
between reality and simulation is no longer relevant. Throughout
_Fear & Philosophy_--a book which might have been subtitled
"Tales of Hyperreality"--Martin is concerned with showing how
consciousness is constructed in a society that, though remaining
exploitative, has somehow evolved beyond alienation, whose
subjects can no longer be dispossessed of their "true" natures by
a dominating power because the subject itself has become a
simulacrum, a copy without an original. Martin allegorizes this
loss of the Original Self in a story entitled "Seven," describing
the demise and rebirth of a character named Donald Storm, who is
struck by lightning. His body is scattered in seven pieces across
the continent, each piece becoming "an all-new Donald Storm, much
in the same way that each part of a severed flatworm grows into a
full new flatworm."

	There was something very ominous about the times, a
	feeling of dread in every aspect of life--personal,
	professional, urban, suburban--that made what happened
	to Donald Storm seem not only possible, but even
	necessary. And so each part of him was all of him, and
	each new Donald Storm knew just what the old one knew,
	but with a crucial difference--each had a memory gap,
	and each was driven to fill it, to find those events,
	perceptions, and feelings that might occupy not only
	the present becoming the future, but the past as well.

Each of the new Storms experiences a series of nonlinear
adventures in his quest to be reunited with the other Storms. Our
identities, in this allegory, are viewed as storm-centers whose
present motions are non-Newtonian -- i.e., unpredictable or
chaotic -- so that they cannot be "played backward" in order to
reconstruct our past. This is, of course, one of the attributes
of fractal phenomena.

"If we totally get rid of the concept of identity," Martin asks
in the novella-length story "Double Identity," "what would take
its place?" The answer is Superman, the archetype of a hyperreal
or media-generated figure. He is the only character in Fear &
Philosophy who "gives the weather back the shape it gives him."
In this story, Superman behaves less as a unitary character --
i.e., the representation of a person, made recognizable by some
positive set of attributes -- than as a character-system, a zone
in which multiple systems of discourse chaotically collide and
reshape themselves. He is, in Martin's own words, "a basin of
attraction, a pattern of motion made from a set of probability

Martin's Superman is a fictional embodiment of what, in
meteorological chaos theory, is called the Butterfly Effect: "the
notion," as James Gleick describes it in his book Chaos, "that a
butterfly stirring the air today in Peking can transform storm
systems next month in New York." Each sentence in the story
operates as a kind of microclimate, a discursive "bubble" of
comedy, eroticism, satire, tragedy, advertising lingo,
journalism, or philosophy. Begin from any set of discursive
coordinates, and, as Martin puts it, the "initial conditions
determined by careful computation soon become chaotic, yet
manifest a pattern of coherence." The name of this "coherence" is
Superman, the populist (anti-Nietzschean) Ubermensch, able to
move with impunity between fragmented levels of language and

In "Double Identity," Superman's powers derive from the fact that
he, or the impossible coherence he represents, ultimately escapes
representation. Martin celebrates here the ironic return of some
form of transcendence, one which can be glimpsed even through the
interference patterns of mass media, the veritable screen of
oppressive social relations.

In "Double Identity," Martin allows us to see through the myth of
self-identity (with X-ray eyes!) to an emancipatory mode of
consciousness drawn from multiplicity, not unity. Similar ideas
-- of a "social mutant" whose identity would be constituted
wholly within difference -- have been posed before, notably by
Deleuze and Guattari in their book Anti-Oedipus and by Donna
Haraway in her essay "A Manifesto for Cyborgs." Martin's Superman
story contributes to this heretical tradition by presenting an
anti-character with the power to reconcile identity and
non-identity (the Romantic/Hegelian version of "double
identity"). That such a reconciliation could occur beyond a
totalistic or unifying schema is the Utopian promise offered by
Martin's writing, which, by breaking through breakage, cancels
the incommensurable by intensifying it, until its feedback squeal
reveals a world of dissonant harmonies -- the coherences of



_Tiny Courts_ by David Bromige

Reviewed by Douglas A Powell

"The State Supplanted Gold," the first poem of David Bromige's
_Tiny Courts [in a world without scales]_, consists of two

'Irony' i read 
but it said 'Money'

Indeed, irony is a primary figure in these poems of Bromige's,
eclipsing with its proper capital 'I' the subordinate 'i' of the
speaker. The figure undermines the authority given to narrative;
so that, while the reader is treated to Bromige's manner of
voice, s/he is never imprisoned by Bromige's relationship to

How you feel about that meadow 
personally will only 
embarrass us

before the planning commission 
The chair drums his fingers 
This is really irrelevant 
                ("Don't drool when you say lot-split")

"Everything I write has happened to me, yes," says Bromige, "I
happened to hear it or read it or mis-hear it or mis-translate
it..."* It is precisely this penchant for the mis-understood that
provides much of the ironic metal of Tiny Courts:

The book was called (she said) 
Civilization and its discotheques
and life was too short to complete it 

but not by those who think 
the immediate is 
Shit, i just ran out of paper 
                            ("So, a poetry of immediacy")

In the audible world of Bromige, puns and slips of speech
substitute for statement--they are more interesting than
statement because they only allude to what is actually being
said; they do not evoke by denotation. If there is reference in
this kind of poetry, it seems to happen by accident; the poet is
correspondingly absolved of bearing "message," he has only
delivered an (albeit thinly) disguised phrase--the reader assumes
responsibility for its decoding. Much of the irony of Bromige's
poems arises from the formal manipulation necessary to produce
such seeming accidents: intentional ambiguities, erasures, lines
broken at audibly awkward moments; theatrical asides which
undercut the verity of events. Furthermore, Bromige demonstrates
a "reliance on a recognizable mode" (Ron Silliman, writing on
_Tight Corners_ in The Difficulties vol. 3, no. 1) which sets
this irreferential voice against a strangely traditional
backdrop. Bromige's employment of regular stanzaic constructions,
justified margins, and hypotaxis provides an ironic framework for
a poetry which questions "language's cognitive domain" (Silliman,
ibid.). This is rather like publishing a Dadaist "non-poem" in a
journal of poetry--the format does not suit the work, but in what
other context is the work as interesting? "We have always made
mistakes, but the greatest mistakes are the poems we have
written" (Tristan Tzara, _Seven Dada Manifestos and
Lampisteries_). Bromige is not unaware of the tension between his
poetic "act" and its outward appearance. Indeed he admits this
inconsistency as a condition of society:

We are nonetheless civilized with a touching faith in reason so a
sense of contradiction goes with me all my days ("Feeling for the

Bromige's poems provide a mirror for the realm of public
discourse. Rather than railing against the panoply of stupid
talk, he mimics in order to provoke recognition. Bromige takes
his precedent from the political arena, although there is little
overt political content to be found in these poems:

	...we who for decades had been attempting to bring to a
	more general awareness the dumbness (Dumheit) of the
	language of political power, its hollow cleverness and
	its low cunning, found in Watergate both a confirmation
	and a renewed injunction to continue and broaden the
	attack. From Watergate on, I have strengthened an
	already existing tendency...in my poetry, into this

This is not to say that these poems serve only to reflect our own
ironies. They are, without consideration of their implications,
aesthetically pleasing and diverse exercises of the poetic
impulse. Bromige is not only fond of misused language; he also
enjoys wordplay, and he uses devices such as anagrams and
acrostics to vary the range of this collection. He is a sharp
rhymesmith, as evidenced in a poem such as this one:

Pomade upon the hair 
and then the promenade 
where the sun like orangeade 
flickers off the waves 
like lemonade and knocks 
your knickers off for foreignaid 
and kicks you knockers off 
                      ("Song: Brilliantly inventive")

The contrast between the pleasant half-rhyme of "pomade,"
"promenade," "orangeade," "Lemonade," "foreignaid," and the
"ick"-y sound of "flickers," "knickers," "kicks" creates a kind
of musical contrapuncto, opposing notes played against each other
within the same melody. Such unabashed lyricism stands in curious
opposition to the controlled speech-based lines of other poems in
the collection. Here is Bromige reminding us that, after all, he
is a poet; and the impulse to create art might occasionally
pre-empt commitments to irony or ideas. As Bromige says:

To read my poetry as ironized is to read only halfway
into it. It is to stop short of the requisite further
step, which is to overcome one's timidity in the face
of an apparent irony and take the risk that the phrase,
line, sentence, piece has more than irony to offer; the
reader is called on the feel this experience

Stephen Rodefer says, in his poem "Plane Debris": "Like history,
a man is a lesson. As soon as you learn it, no need for class,"
By extension, a man's poetry is equally a lesson. If that lesson
is created in such a way that it is immediately consumable and
absorbable, then the reader may as well move on to a more
difficult lesson.

Bromige's poems are not difficult to approach, as would be, say,
a lesson in medieval Chinese history--in such a lesson we would
have to learn far more than the subject at hand; we would need
lessons in geography, language, customs, etc., in order to
prepare for the history lesson. Bromige's poems are more like a
lesson in contemporary history--we already speak the language,
know the customs, are familiar with the topography. But there is
still much we cannot know. This is not a poetry which gives
everything of itself on the first or even the fifth reading. Some
of the poems are downright enigmatic; others, so subtle that the
return to them opens new levels of meaning which might previously
have been missed.

A partial reason for this resistance within the poems is
Bromige's wandering 'I':

i keep recurring 
to that design. 
And i can't mean me 
                   ("On going on")

In much narrative poetry the 'I' is fairly consistent. In Gary
Soto's or Lucille Clifton's work, for example, we can assume
fairly accurately that 'I' means the poet. Robert Peters dons a
persona in his 'I," and that persona carries us through an entire
book. But Bromige keeps us guessing. In Tiny Courts he dons
various personae, including inanimate ones, such as a clock or a
layer of pond scum. He invites the reader to inhabit the 'I' as
much as he does, so that the poem becomes an event outside of
either poet or reader:

	...my pre-biographical experience can never be used to
	explain away or fully account for any but the weakest
	of my writings; such an approach neglects the very
	thing that counts most, art, the transforming power of
	the imagination.

This provides for the final irony of Bromige's poems, that the
poet does not presume to know any more about the poem than the
reader knows. The poet here is only one more reader of his own
work, while the reader, inhabiting the 'I,' becomes the true
creator of the poem. This fusion of identity blocks the
possibility of anyone becoming the "authority." And so we may
never completely understand these poems. But as Bromige says,
"There's nothing like reading except reading."

*All Bromige's remarks quoted here are found in an interview with
Tom Beckett in The Difficulties, volume 3, number 1).



_Asphalt Cigar_ by Kevin Connolly

Reviewed by Clint Burnham

"Junkmale," a poem in Kevin Connolly's new collection _Asphalt
Cigar_, ends thus:

I've just spent the whole fucking night 
playing pool with Bob on a threadbare, 
half-size, buck-a-play table.

"Research," I call it. 
Bob calls it "Thursday," 
and he's right.

Connolly has characterized his own work as epistemological, and
it is evident that here the work is confronting the Lukascean
question of proletariat consciousness. For the male intellectual,
participation in male rituals is suddenly problematic; this
problematic, brought about by the rupture in the working class
intellectual's masculinity, makes its effect as lack of
knowledge. What's interesting about Connolly's project is that he
conducts it within the parameters of the conventional
voice-driven, anecdotal lyric. Or so it appears:

I think Connolly's lyrics are closer to George Bowering's
anti-lyrics than to James Tate or James Merrill's refined takes.
But yeah, and there's some documentation on the matter in the way
of Steve McCaffery: "Connolly's poetry can be described primarily
as a practice of the sentence, a stanzaic prose pitched at a
rhetorical minimum," he writes in Open Letter. Yet at another
point in the same essay, McCaffery notes that "the refusal here
to attach an additional similitude provokes a loaded
interstitiality ... where there is equally a feeling of a
dissociation of the signifieds as a cumulative comparison of
terms." So to rephrase McCaffery, Connolly's work constitutes a
negative critique of meaning within a more conventional frame.
Sort of like early Adorno: the thorniness of the philosophical
question here in some ways demands the pretence of a transparent

But what interests me here is a kind of political reading of
Connolly's work, that is, a way of seeing how it comes to face
the brawn versus brain question. For what that question means, to
my way of thinking, is the quality of mediation. First of all,
this means that the poem confronts the bad faith felt by
intellectuals, the existential angst that being a writer or
intellectual entails. The writer makes the classic mistake of
being removed--mediated-- from a quintessential male activity:
shooting pool. The writer calls this "research," thereby
revealing his inability to enjoy an event for its own sake. When
Bob says that no, it's "Thursday," his literally everyday common
sense wins the day. Bob is right because he knows what day it is:
the bedrock of male proletarian thought. Yeah, you can go back to
the 10 Hour Committee in Victorian England and Marx on the
working day for historical arguments on why time figures so
largely in proletariat consciousness. This is a different
tradition than Heidegger, but only in some ways. While basic
struggles were carried out to limit the amount of work in the new
industrializing factories (since the machine represented frozen
capital), the historical working class was born to a "knowledge"
that time was up for grabs. But as Marx pointed out in Capital,
the working day was itself variable, not a fixed constant. This
is why, I think, there has been such concern paid to notions of
time and the everyday in such writers as Gramsci and most of all
Henri Lefebvre.

This take on time, masculinity, and class is a contested struggle
in Connolly's text, one full of contradictions in the way that
poetry is supposed to be. The attempts at transparency in the
diction of the poetry are apparently linked to this bad faith
over the status of the intellectual: a desire to reach "back" to
the masses equates some success in that endeavour with an
aesthetic choice. Here's a comment on lines from a Talking Heads
song in another poem: "The song at least makes sense/and pays for
its own lunches." "Making sense" is linked, if not causally, with
economic self-sufficiency. This success in the market is then
seen as the ultimate success, instead of merely one form of
economic success. The texts in Asphalt Cigar pose these
questions, framing discussions in densely layered "persona" and
"voice". This poem, "Twelve arrests, no convictions," may be
uttered by a convict-poet or may eschew any stable narrator (even
while retaining a sentence structure of punctuation and

This is Connolly's largest collection so far-- he has half a
dozen chapbooks from the most important small presses in Toronto,
and he edited for a number of years the literary mag What! But
it's also part of an aesthetically militant tendency in Canadian
letters, in a continuation of 1960s early postmodern formalism
via such questions as visual poetry, self publishing, mimeo and
now xerox - the whole gambit. This generation in Toronto included
such heavyweights as bpNichol, Victor Coleman, Steve McCaffery.
In the 1980s and on, small press exploded in such a way that
publication form outstripped poetics as a field of
experimentation, so that it seemed natural that in Vancouver, the
reverse should be true.

One of the constitutive elements in a lot of the Toronto writing
of this community, I think, is a tendency toward minimalism of
various sorts: minimal presentation sometimes (tiny chapbooks,
two pagers, rubber-stamped); what McCaffery called the
"rhetorical minimum" of linguistic register (although sometimes
also a borrowing of NY school-like ironic yelling - more O'Hara
and Padgett and Berrigan than Ginsburg or Ashbery); and a
tendency to visual poetry that acts to strip the text (although
there's also plenty of over-the-top work like and beyond
McCaffery's Carnival series); and most importantly, a critical
minimalism that enforces itself in opposition to theoretical
arguments carried beyond a certain level.

As a part of this larger discourse or scene, then, Connolly's
work is in a dialogue with it. Two of the book's sections were
originally chapbooks and one was a graffiti project; the topics
appropriately mix the high-low thang: Canadian supermodel Monika
Schnarre quotes Sartre and Paul Virilio, Nietzsche ends up on
stickers, Christopher Columbus does velvet paintings and sings
karaoke. These "surface structures" provide a grid as determinant
as those posited by my reading earlier in this article; it is the
number of readings possible, through any of various cultural
entry points and in many registers, that maintain my interest in
Connolly's work.


Book Briefs By Susan Smith Nash

_Stromata_ by David Miller (Burning Deck, Providence, RI, $8).
Five longish prose poems that engage the reader's sense of
narrative inevitability. The first, "Stromata," is divided into
Book One and Book Two--the first involves looking outward ("The
eye sees stone and sees nothing. The wall is quite literally a
wall, to which the young woman presses her face, her body shaking
as she weeps") while the second involves looking inward
("Misery's singular, however many the lives it possesses; and
though assigned to marginalia, its images impoverished,
powerless"). Miller heightens the ambiguity in each thought,
line, and image so that they glide together in non-hierarchical,
energetic ways.

_The Rosy Medallions_ by Camille Roy (Kelsey Street Press,
Berkeley, CA, $10). Narratives of desire that confront the reader
with the realization that some of the urgency of innovative
writing lies in the encryptedness of knowledge, and that what is
understood viscerally is not necessarily worked through in the
conscious braid--ever. This is the language of the
socially-constructed (or deconstructed) self bared naked so that
you're forced to see your own violences: "I liked the closed-in
feeling--relation defined through position and abandonment, the
meaning of fix. So the streets were deserted after dark and any
stranger carried death!" If Henry Miller were a smart, funny
lesbian and he were rewriting The Rosy Crucifixion, this is what
might result. Brilliant insights into the savage dynamics of

_Ants Dissolve in Moonlight_ by W.B. Keckler (Fugue State Press,
NY). Stunning cover art of a neon electric pink ant fuzzed in
radioactive or hazardous waste larger-than-lifeness opens this
collection of fluid, thoughtful, gorgeous poems. Some connect the
reader with the challenge of re-perceiving everydayness, such as
"The Donut Shop"--"Blue reflection, a fat lady's/behind in
Plexiglas before me./Now she sneezes. She has/bright Fellini
hair./Is hers September's first cold/Words must rely on their
marrow." Others recall the perverse ironies of Emily Dickinson,
such as "Mikado" and "He vomited stars all night./Tiny girls
pulled at silk tethers,/Jumbling him to shake demons out." Subtle
wordplay and quick intelligences recall Stevens, but updated and
more fleshy and playful.

_Bread and Water_ by Alison Knowles (Left Hand Books, Barrytown,
NY, $18). One of the most fascinating experimental, visual works
in recent years by Fluxus artist Alison Knowles. The technique
used consists of photographing the cracks on homebaked bread,
correlating them to rivers found in world atlases, and then
constructing poetry from the random happenstance of coincidences
and language. This is an exciting work from an influential writer
whose contributions to experimental writing were featured in a
show at the Guggenheim last year. A map of the mind's hemispheres
in the form of a global trek, Knowles includes "The Amazon at
Belem," "The Hudson at Jersey City." "Lake Como at
Bellagio,""Overview of Shikoku," "River Stour from Pegwell to
Canterbury," "Santa Clara River at Oxnard (Los Angeles)" and
others. It is simultaneously a geography, a mindscape and a
bestiary: "Honey sucker cockatoo and brush-tongued lorie /
bandicoot and kangaroo / bat tribes and flying foxes sixty sorts
of parrots"; this one from Deaf Adder Creek, but the others
contain similar populations of energy and life.

_Strictly Confidential_ by Bruce Andrews (Zasterle Press, Grand
Canaries). More of Andrews' non-hierarchical, all-inclusive,
catalogue prose poems, which, upon first glance, seem to be part
of a larger project which includes Mobeius, Tizzy Boost,
Divestiture--A, and others. However, Strictly Confidential
differs from other works in several significant ways. Here,
Andrews' narratives construct a pseudo-confessional form which
pushes the boundaries of realism by mapping perception--"Red is a
color. Until 1687, clocks had no minute hands. They're not
qualified to treat females? Finger licking good, OK?" Andrews'
random-text generator has the musicality of a Kronos Quartet
experimental piece.

_Ex Why Zee_ by Bruce Andrews (Roof Books. Segue Foundation, NY,
NY, $10.95). In Ex Why Zee, Andrews gives the reader access to
the techniques of innovative writing, the praxis of
experimentalism. Drawn from live multi-media performances and
collaborations, this book is energetic and down-to-earth.
Collaborations with Sally Silvers are a stand-out--"Eagles Ate My
Estrogen" is truly hilarious send-up of stage directions and
choreography. The movements depicted are random, jerky, and
spasmodic; a perfect counterpart to the script: "Eagles ate my
estrogen / Serum party / Scalpel the herk's hump / Dead woman
kept alive to save fetus / Farmer gives birth to his pail / The
is a tooth fairy / You either want to fuck it (?) or drain it
(?)". Ex Why Zee explores the limits of the sign and sign
(meaning) construction through gesture and word.

_Numen_ by Cole Swensen (Burning Deck, Providence, RI, $8). Cole
Swensen's ethereal, subtlely nuanced words suggest that existence
is a constructed perception. She emphasizes the representation of
light, shadow, and shading in the series "Numbers": "a simple
decision / and all colors / as if they/ And we climb / in
rainstorm formation / separating / lines / and for a moment /
lines." Swenson positions herself within the world of phenomena
with a mindfulness and clarity. In "Garden" the identity of the
person comes through means of connecting to the world around one:
"Water all oer this world, dripping the sound / Something you
could love / Where the sky descends in sheets how they / sway
where there is no / wind like you and I."

_All Acts Are Simply Acts_ by Edward Foster (Rodent Press,
Boulder, CO). This collection of essays, poetry, experimental
fiction makes a significant contribution to the understanding and
appreciation of how poetry and poetics are changing in the
fin-de-millennium times we live in. Foster, whose journal,
Talisman, is one of the most innovative, exciting, and
non-partisan literary journals in print today, is simultaneously,
an insightful critic and a challenging poet. In the first essay
in this collection, "Poetry Has Nothing To Do With Politics,"
Foster debunks the notions of Stanley Fish and others who suggest
that texts are simply social acts. In an imminently quotable
line, Foster says, "Poetry is a way of knowing; criticism is a
manner of speculation." The section, "The Space Between Her Bed
and Clock" compels the reader to look at all writing in the
context of an aesthetic position. "The Understanding" explores
how one know oneself by means of mythological personae. "All Acts
Are Simply Acts" explores the way poetry represents or allows one
to know the warmth of human connection.

_Khawatir_ by Jim Leftwich (The Runaway Spoon Press, Charlotte,
FL, $4). A small chapbook of mystical intensity which counters
the impulse to categorize and reduce all experimental poetry to
footnotes and exempla found in a dull book of literary criticism.
Leftwich's work is passionate and alive with the collaged
experiences of language, sight, and perception. "Night's spiral
satellite, riddle fish. Curved fish, webbed language flowers,
muscles' eloquent thought." Leftwich achieves a gorgeous
impenetrability here, and the words are dense, layered, evocative
of a mood, a state of mind, an accident of perdition: "Lapsed
frivolous Shinto traffic, lacquer votive words, airt opaque
time's item, as time emits its site, authority forgotten, surreal
minority accented, selling Chevrolets. Coffin and sympathetic
corpse, bet on scent, rescue cond, morse biopsy mode, tongue
fingers soil's permission. Skin ankh atavistic." A true joy to

_A Clove of Gender_ by Sheila E. Murphy (Stride Publications,
Devon, U.K., $15). A stunning collection of poems by widely
published Murphy, whose poetry consistently contains a whimsy
which is rare in experimental writing. A Clove of Gender is an
unusual collection for Murphy in that it contains her ideas about
writing poetry: "A I am supposed to be intelligent but content
bores me. Only form is worth. The rest unhinges any certitude.
For instance look at this free space and measure its dimensions.
Is freedom really four feet deep or are we lying with discovery
unclothed." My favorite section is "Desert Wildflowers," a
bouquet of 20 varieties of plants assembled by Murphy, a resident
of Arizona. "Desert Mariposa" is a good example of how, in
Murphy's hands, the botanical becomes an analysis of the
processes of earth and how one comes to understand oneself in
relation to the world: "Wind lily of desire infrequently appears.
Bulb pushes the earth open, pressures daylight to receive
vermillion. Centered gland anchors the smooth pressed flower...Do
I touch unscented cloth with lips that learn infinity."

_Skyblue's Essays_ by Dallas Wiebe (Burning Deck, Providence, RI,
$8.95). These fictions have the self-consciousness of
Robbe-Grillet and the urgency of new French cinema which tracks
the lives of people lost in the surge of new political
configurations, transparent prejudices, and a requestioning of
social hierarchies. Wiebe works these out in the arena of
aesthetics, so that the protagonist of the stories, Skyblue,
enacts and performs the figurative language. The resulting essays
are fascinatingly lucid--like watching a performance piece and
reading a critical essay on it at the same time. The collection
is somewhat uneven, which, surprisingly does not detract from the
book. Although the other essays are mildly ironic cultural
critiques, which do not have the impact of his more experimental
pieces, they are amusing and insightful, and an enjoyable read.



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

The contents of this issue are copyright (c) 1996 by WITZ.

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