Showing posts with label Archives. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Archives. Show all posts

Friday, June 04, 2010

Once upon a time, the late Gil Ott shared a tree-house in Bolinas with an anthropologist named Kush. Kush, aka Steven Kushner, would go on to teach at the late lamented New College of California & simultaneously begin videotaping many of the poetry readings he attended around San Francisco. As in thousands of them. Some of these events were also taped by others – most often the Poetry Archive at San Francisco State – & there was something of a rivalry over the quality of the work. How accurate this debate might be is impossible to ascertain from nearly 3,000 miles away since both archives – shockingly, to my mind – remain offline. For all I know, Kush’s archives are sitting in boxes in a garage or attic somewhere, or worse. But even if we presume that the quality borders on the non-existent, the reality persists that for hundreds, maybe thousands, of poetry readings in the Bay Area over the past 40 years, Kush’s archives are the documentation, the only remaining evidence of what happened, what was read & who was there.

I thought of Kush a lot when watching Exit Through the Gift Shop, Bansky’s documentary about street art documentarian Thierry Guetta & his morphing into millionaire street artist Mr. Brainwash. Exit is flat out one of the best films I have ever seen on the visual arts, easily the best since at least Basquiat, a film not-coincidentally directed by Julian Schnabel, a major painter before he turned to film (The Diving Bell, The Diving Bell & the Butterfly). Presuming, that is, that Guetta actually exists & is not himself a Banksy art product rather in the way that Kent Johnson produced Araki Yasusada.

Let’s presume here that Guetta / Brainwash are for real. The story, as such, is this. Guetta, an LA-vintage clothing store owner with a Euro-orphan background not unlike that of Andy Grove or Bill Graham, gets a video camera and becomes obsessive in his recording of everything. But one of the things he records, on a family trip back home to France, is a cousin, Space Invader, one of the first generation of street artists, who unlike the graffiti taggers they so palpably emulate appear all to have gone to art school. Film Space Invader in France, and then back on his own home turf of LA, Guetta meets LA’s resident street art hero, Shepard Fairey, pre-Obama image & Time magazine cover (& pre-Associated Press copyright suit over the use of an AP photo of Obama as one source for his iconic poster). Guetta becomes the sorcerer’s apprentice & soon finds himself everywhere, since he has no fear of heights & gets off on the idea of the danger of getting arrested. Fairey, Invader & the other street artists he soon gets know (virtually all guys save for one street-named Swoon) teach him not only the tricks of their craft, making spray art stencils at the local Kinko’s but to film from a distance & in low-light situations so as not to attract the police.

Guetta tells everyone he is making a documentary, but it appears to be one on the order of Kush’s: lots of tapes, but no real archive that can be credibly accessed by outsiders. The artists all seem to value not only his help, but the idea of creating a lasting archive of work that all too often gets sprayed over pretty quickly (tho, and it’s not noted in passing, we do later in the film see one Bansky Andre the Giant disappear as Mr Brainwash himself pastes his own newer work over it).

But as he gets to know the street art scene, Guetta comes to understand that his compulsive documentation has a major gap. He needs to interview Banksy, the “international man of mystery,” who is the Batman to all these various Robins of Street Art. The catch is that it’s impossible. Everyone professes not to know who he is or where he is. He is said not to own a cellphone. However, coming over to the US to do some work in the LA area, Banksy’s assistant is turned back at customs – the cover story on the rationale for the trip doesn’t get him through. So Banksy calls up Shepard Fairey to see if there is anyone who can and wants to help. Why not, suggests Fairey, this middle-aged boutique owner & camera nut who happens to be Space Invader’s cousin. Unable to find Banksy, Banksy comes to him.

Monday, June 02, 2008

From Children’s Tape by Terry Fox, 1974,
a work not on Ubuweb

An Ubu Top Ten (1973 Edition)

Kenny Goldsmith asked me to program a “top ten” list for Ubuweb in June, ten items from its archives that I thought would make a good “playlist” for inquiring minds. The list is up on the Ubuweb site & I thought I’d write a little about why I chose what I did here.

The instant Kenny asked, I knew three works – the first three below – that simply had to be on my list. For personal reasons, they’re my favorite items in the entire Ubu archive. When I realized that all three were from 1973, I decided to look more closely at that year, to test – so to speak – just how good an archive Ubuweb actually is. I decided that I would list those items that spoke to my own work both then & now. What could I find that related to my world from 1973? Ubu’s search feature turned up 149 possibilities, tho there does seem to a certain amount of duplication, multiple ways to getting to certain files. Some of the folks from that larger list that I didn’t include here would be Guy Debord, Vito Acconci & Jacques Lacan. Their absence has more to do with who I am than the Ubu archive itself.

On the other hand, this slice of the Ubuweb pie made me painfully conscious of just how few early language poetry resources can be found here. And how very few women. (Basically I put in every one I could justifiably include, and there are only two, both of them collaborators with others.) The list below includes a Jackson Mac Low gatha for Kathy Acker – then using the public persona of the Black Tarantula – but relatively little by Acker & none from this important period of her work is available on Ubuweb. I also wished that I could have found more performance art from the West Coast from that same time frame. You can find Terry Fox or Tom Marioni, but not from that year & only a few items. Fox was the closest thing to a performance art superstar I ever saw in the context of the Bay Area, & Marioni’s Museum of Conceptual Art (MoCA), the ironic name he gave to his loft above the fabled Jerry & Johnny’s tavern – all now gone & replaced by the Marriott Jukebox a block from the Moscone Convention Center – was an important antecedent to all things conceptual, including Ubuweb itself.

In 1973, Richard Nixon was still president, the Paris Peace Accords were signed in January. The mayor of San Francisco was Joe Alioto, the second in a string of eight consecutive Democratic mayors. George Moscone, who would be third, was still a state senator, a solid liberal but a man known often to be bleary-eyed after lunch. Harvey Milk owned a camera store on Castro Street. Tho he’d only lived in San Francisco for a year, Milk first ran for the Board of Supervisors in ’73. The Oakland A’s, led by Reggie Jackson, who led the American League in homeruns with 32, defeated the New York Mets in the World Series in 1973.

I was living on Sacramento Street near Laurel on what is now shrink row, paying $67.50 for my half of a three-bedroom flat. A few blocks down Sacramento was Rae Armantrout & her husband, &, two doors off Fillmore, Ronald Johnson, who lived in a household he referred to as the Vinyl Vatican. Barrett Watten had just moved back down from Mendocino, where he’d been living after graduating from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. David Melnick may have still been in graduate school in Berkeley, but many of the poets now routinely associated with San Francisco in the 1970s – Steve Benson, Carla Harryman, Bob Perelman, Lyn Hejinian were just arriving or not yet on the scene. The only ongoing reading series in town were at SF State out in the fog mid-day (I was working in San Rafael & could never get to those) or at Intersection in North Beach on Tuesday nights, save for a short-lived series in a bookstore/print shop high over Noe Valley called the Empty Elevator Shaft. Barry & I gave a reading at the Shaft, our first reading together, and The Black Tarantula came up afterword to give me the latest chapter of her work-in-progress, I Dreamt I Was a Nymphomaniac Imagining.

Over the next half dozen years, that world would change entirely. This list is a blast from that past.

  1. Frank Film (1973), Frank and Caroline Mouris. An early & great anticipation of animated vispo that actually received the Academy Award for Best Short Subject. Seeing this in a festival of short subjects showed me just how easily the mind can hold onto multiple trains of thought. Ketjak and the other works that flowed from that would not have come into being without this example.
  2. The Name (1973), Robert Creeley. Creeley read this poem at the First Unitarian Church in San Francisco on August 31 during the very first poetry reading I ever organized, a benefit for the Committee for Prisoner Humanity & Justice (CPHJ). I have no idea who made this tape, nor the one following, but I’m grateful that they did.
  3. Recollections of Grande Apachería (1973), Edward Dorn. Dorn, who insisted on arriving late so that he would not have to talk to either Creeley or his other co-reader, Joanne Kyger, closed the same evening with Apachería. It was the first time I’d seen the book or heard the work. And, tho I wouldn’t actually meet her for another four years & 28 days, one of the 400+ people who attended the reading was Krishna Evans, now my wife.
  4. Reading at Goddard College (1973), Robert Creeley. Creeley gave this reading three days before his 47th birthday. With the death of Charles Olson in 1970, and of Ezra Pound in 1972, Creeley was now unquestionably the dean of post-avant American poets.
  5. Carnival The First Panel: 1967 – 1970 (1973), Steve McCaffery. Even more than bp Nichol, Steve McCaffery is the writer who brought language writing & what was then being called concrete poetry together. Carnival was the first major statement of this intent that I ever saw right back when Steve & I were first getting to know one another.
  6. Black Tarantula Crossword Gathas (excerpt) (1973), Jackson Mac Low. Mac Low’s reputation had taken a great leap forward with the publication of Stanzas for Iris Lezak in 1972. The Black Tarantula was the name then being employed by San Francisco novelist, Kathy Acker. It was Acker who first got me interested in attending performance art events around town.
  7. A Vocabulary for Sharon Belle Matlin (1973), Jackson Mac Low. Other voices include Susan Musgrave, George Macbeth, Sean O'Huigin & bpNichol. One of Mac Low’s more famous works – you can see the text here. Caroline Mouris & Susan Musgrave (presumably the Canadian poet) are the only two women on this list.
  8. Heavy Aspirations (1973), Charles Amirkhanian. In 1973, Charles Amirkhanian’s music program on KPFA radio was a staple of everyone’s morning – and everyone’s music education. I’d actually taken a wonderful class that Amirkhanian team-taught with choreographer Anna Halprin & poet Brother Antoninus at San Francisco State in 1967. I knew Amirkhanian best as a composer, but his polymath ways took him also to sound texts such as this.
  9. Armand Schwerner (1973), Phill Niblock. Schwerner reading in an orange windbreaker on a blustery day (Staten Island?). Schwerner was part of the scene around Jerry Rothenberg & Jackson Mac Low, a connection to the important journal Caterpillar. His Tablets are a fun moment in the use of satirical palimpsests to construct authorship. I think of them, along with Ed Friedman’s Telephone Book, and the early works of Bernadette Mayer as being important antecedents to conceptual poetry. Niblock I knew principally as a composer, part of the larger scene I came into contact with through Kathy Acker, Peter Gordon & Chris Berg (Clay Fear).
  10. High Kukus (1973), James Broughton. Filmmaker & poet Broughton, seen here in both roles, was one of the few presences of the old San Francisco avant-garde that existed immediately after World War 2, before the Berkeley Renaissance took the F Train across the Bay & the Beats came to town, still active by the early 1970s. Broughton taught at the San Francisco Art Institute for years (the same job Bill Berkson has today) and did much to bring those art worlds together. In 1973, Broughton was younger than I am today.

So I think the question of Ubuweb as an archive is mixed. What’s there is actually pretty terrific. What’s missing is large to the point of disturbing. That’s probably to be expected from what amounts to a one-man operation, and it suggests that a major future question for Ubu, as well as for other similar archives, such as the Electronic Poetry Center, Eclipse, PENNsound, or Modern American Poetry, just to name a few, will be how to institutionalize (and thus make systematic, complete – whatever that might mean – and permanent, or at least long lasting) the riches they do hold.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Tottel’s is now online. At least partly. Craig Dworkin’s Eclipse archive, which, in its own words, is dedicated to “digital facsimiles of the most radical small-press writing from the last quarter century” is in the process of making my 1970s ‘zine its 100th collection. JPEG photo files of every page of all 18 issues are now available. “Reading copies” of each issue in PDF format will follow shortly. This feels particularly amazing to me since no issue of Tottel’s had more than 150 copies and some of the early ones may have had as few as 50. Two libraries – NYPL and SUNY Buffalo – took out subscriptions early on, but their collections may be the only other complete (or near complete) sets in the world.

I got the idea of trying a magazine in the fall of 1968 while I was a student in the creative writing program at San Francisco State. My linguistics professor, Ed van Aelstyn, one of the founding editor’s of Coyote’s Journal, argued that if I was a poet, I should have a magazine – it would give me a chance to contact all of the poets whose work I admired, sharpen my own critical thinking about poetry, and even give me the chance to print my own work. The late d alexander helped immeasurably when he heard from mutual friend Clayton Eshleman that I had embarked on this venture & showed up one day at my door with his address book in hand. d – his full first name – had been editing Odda Talla for a few years at that point & knew the whereabouts of just about every living New American or otherwise post-avant poet in the U.S. And Canada, as it so happened – the subsequent appearance of Daphne Marlatt in Tottel’s was certainly his doing. d hosted Marlatt at his home in the hills behind Stanford & persuaded me to screw up the courage to ask Ken Irby to let me ride along with him & David Bromige – in those years, Irby was the only one of us who even knew how to drive. On our way there, we stopped at a liquor store near d’s to pick up a six pack only to find ourselves standing in line behind Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Ted Enslin, John Thorpe & Chuck Stein were other names that emerged from d’s address book, as were some folks who don’t appear in Tottel’s, most notably Armand Schwerner. I accepted some of Schwerner’s Tablets for my embryonic journal, which I was calling Alpha Sort, but by the time the initial issue of Tottel’s showed up, Armand’s work was already widely available in his first Black Sparrow collection of those poems.

As the hand-scripted logo from the first issue above may attest, one thing I clearly didn’t have a clue about was the production of any publication. I was also living on little more than $100 per month in those days, which didn’t leave me much in the way of resources to pay for printing, let alone typesetting & design. So I found myself for about two years with a stack of work that just sat there as I felt more & more guilty & confused about what to do. Even now, some three dozen years later, when somebody asks me for work for a something that never emerges – where is Leslie Davis’s anthology, Poetry and the Year 2000? – I always keep in mind that I’ve been there too and know precisely what that’s like.

What finally go me going was an unsolicited submission from David Gitin that I felt was just too good not to publish – the work’s neo-Objectivist impulses totally persuaded me – but that brought me face-to-face with the nasty reality that soliciting work & just sitting on it wasn’t “publishing,” but quite the opposite – I was keeping what I felt was significant work from getting out. So I finally went for an option that at the time I thought was inventing on the spot – I trundled down to the local Krishna Copy shop in Berkeley and had the first five-page issue photocopied. I chose a different title, that of the first anthology of poetry in English, both to connect what I thought I was doing to the larger stream of literature and to separate it out from what I thought of as the debacle of Alpha Sort. Gitin’s poems actually turn up in the second issue.

I was very much interested in defining this project as new. I didn’t even know enough to date the first issue, but it was probably December 1970 or January of 1971. I had separated from my first wife, Rochelle Nameroff, in late October 1970 after a five-year marriage & was living in a backyard cottage in North Oakland. At some level, finally getting off the dime on a publication helped to mark the difference between my former life & the one towards which I was optimistically plunging ahead.

Tottel’s has sometimes been referred to as the first language poetry journal &, in the narrow sense that it beat This magazine to print by a few months, this may be true. In 1969, David Melnick & I had co-edited a selection of “Fifteen Young Poets the San Francisco Bay Area” for the Chicago Review – it appeared in the summer 1970 issue, not long before I took the first Tottel’s to the copy shop. We had had the opportunity at the time to include the writing of Rae Armantrout & Robert Grenier in that selection, but for different reasons failed to do so. In Rae’s case, I think we just lacked self-confidence that one of our fellow students at Berkeley was “ready” to publish. In Grenier’s case, I think we worried that Chicago Review would reject the entire project if we tried to include something like



in our manuscript. I’m not persuaded even now that the latter fear wasn’t reasonable, but I was determined not to make the same mistake twice and included five poems from Grenier’s Sentences in the first issue – possibly the first appearance anywhere of that seminal work. The third issue was devoted entirely to Armantrout’s poetry, and the fifth to Grenier’s. Two of the poems in the Armantrout number have survived all the way to her selected poems, Veil. So much for her not having been ready. Other single-author issues included David Gitin (#7), Thomas Meyer (9), Clark Coolidge (11), Ray DiPalma (12), David Melnick (13), Bruce Andrews (14), Larry Eigner (15) and Steve Benson (18). That’s a pretty good line-up after all these years.

One non-contributor whose presence in Tottel’s I also enjoyed was Phil Whalen, who can be seen climbing atop & then jumping from a large rock at the San Francisco Zen Center on the cover of issue 17. I forget how exactly I came by that selection. Somebody gave me the photos as a lark at some point & I recall writing away for permission to use them & waiting anxiously until I got a note back that said, basically, “Sure.”

A more ominous cover ran on the 16th issue, which made use of the execution record form from San Quentin, at the time the only document used by the California Department of Corrections that actually called a prisoner a prisoner rather than a resident or a client. This was something that I picked up on the job during the years I worked in the prisoner rights’ movement.

The sixty real contributors to Tottel’s included each of the following:

Keith Abbott

Tom Ahern

d alexander

Bruce Andrews

Rae Armantrout

Barbara Baracks

Steve Benson

Charles Bernstein

Ted Berrigan

Harvey Bialy

David Bromige

Robert David Cohen

Clark Coolidge

Alan Davies

Lee De Jasu

Raymond DiPalma

Mike Doyle

Lynne Dreyer

Larry Eigner

Theodore Enslin

Seymour Faust

Curtis Faville

David Gitin

John Gorham

Bob Grenier

Lyn Hejinian

Joyce Holland

William B. Hunt

Ken Irby

Robert Kelly

Michael Lally

Iven Lourie

Jackson Mac Low

Lewis MacAdams

Paul Mariah

Daphne Marlatt

David McAleavey

Brian McInerney

David Melnick

Thomas Meyer

Rochelle Nameroff

Opal L. Nations

Bob Perelman

David Perry

Jim Preston

Margaret Randall

Jerome Rothenberg

Dennis Schmitz

Ron Silliman

Charles Stein

Richard Tagett

John Taggart

John Thorpe

Michael Torlen

Keith Waldrop

Rosmarie Waldrop

Barrett Watten

Hannah Weiner

Michael Wiater

Karl Young

Not a perfect list – I’m appalled to think I never printed Kit Robinson, Carla Harryman, Tom Mandel, Ted Pearson, Alan Bernheimer, Beverly Dahlen, Leslie Scalapino, Steve Ratcliffe, Erica Hunt, Aaron Shurin, Bob Glück, Norman Fischer, Kathy Acker, Steve Vincent etc. etc. etc., all of whom I knew in the 1970s – but a decent one overall.

Eclipse, the host institution, so to speak, is becoming one of the major archival sites for poetry of the last half century. Tottel’s is my third item in the Eclipse archive, as my issue of Stations dedicated to the work of Clark Coolidge and Legend, the booklength collaborative poem I wrote with Charles Bernstein, Ray DiPalma, Steve McCaffery & Bruce Andrews are already there. But I’m also in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, whose complete archives are here, and the index to This magazine. The archive also has some 15 books by Clark Coolidge, the complete books of David Melnick, Rae Armantrout’s first book, nine books by Bruce Andrews, five books by Lyn Hejinian, four by Robert Grenier (not including, alas, Cambridge M’ass, the giant poster of a book), all of the important early works by Bernadette Mayer, and all manner of really rare items, including books by N.H. Pritchard, the African-American avant-gardist, Peter Seaton’s great Agreement or Alden Van Buskirk’s Lami, one of the lost works of the Beat generation. I keep hoping that Dworkin eventually will add all of the early volumes of Coyote’s Journal, or Caterpillar, or Yugen or C. But like such sister sites as UBU, EPC & PENNsound, I’ll wager that Dworkin is doing this on a shoestring, sweat equity all the way beyond, perhaps, storage on a university server somewhere. It’s ironic that the Poetry Foundation, with its endowment of $100-plus million, or even the Academy of American Poetry, have done so much less with so many more resources.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Archive of the Now is, on day one, the most significant new site for poetry I’ve seen in well over a year. It is a perfect complement to the Archive of the Then, Andrew Motion’s slick gathering of so much that is kitsch, the Bathos of Britain into which he & his colleagues have dropped a few token gems to dress the dross, with its megalomaniacal “world's premier online collection” claim on its home page. Mostly it’s a shill for hawking some old CDs, containing only two-thirds the number of poets available for free already, and in much greater depth, at PENNsound.. In unmistakable contrast with Motion’s slickness, Archive of the Now simply seems intent on becoming

an online and print repository of recordings, printed texts and manuscripts, focusing on innovative contemporary poetry being written or performed in Britain.

What a breath of fresh air! And what resources already in place. The Archive already has in place some materials on the following 44 poets:

Tim Atkins

Andrea Brady

Ceri Buck

Stuart Calton

Vahni Capildeo

Adrian Clarke

Kelvin Corcoran

Emily Critchley

Ian Davidson

Andrew Duncan

Ken Edwards

Kai Fierle-Hedrick

Allen Fisher

Roy Fisher

Harry Gilonis

Chris Goode

Bill Griffiths

Alan Halsey

Robert Hampson

Michael Haslam

Ian Hunt

Elizabeth James

Tom Jones

Christine Kennedy

David Kennedy

Michael Kindellan

Tony Lopez

Peter Manson

Tim Morris

Geraldine Monk

Peter Larkin

Redell Olsen

Maggie O'Sullivan

Out to Lunch

Ian Patterson

Neil Pattison

Reitha Pattison

Simon Perril

Peter Robinson

John Seed

Simon Smith

Keston Sutherland

Lawrence Upton

John Wilkinson

For someone who has been complaining, as have I, that I have some difficulty hearing the work of many British authors, this site is a patent & blunt challenge to me to put up or shut up. If I want (need) to listen, it’s right here. In fact, I shall. Roy Fisher’s poems here have already sent me out to find the one lone bookshop in Chester County that had a copy of his collected poems, The Long and the Short of It, but I’ve done so & thus I’m diving in.

Is the site perfect? Hardly, but this appears to be mostly because it’s just getting under way. It has, as of this week, 44 poets in contrast with the Archive of the Then’s 133 & PENNsound’s 196.. So the obvious immediate need at Archive of the Now is for more authors. Some of the obvious enough omissions at present include Thomas A. Clark, Lee Harwood, Drew Milne, Tom Pickard, J.H. Prynne, Tom Raworth – Raworth, in fact, can be found on Motion’s site, which is selling a CD of him reading.

Like the Electronic Poetry Center, the British Electronic Poetry Center, Ubuweb, the Academy of American Poets, Modern American Poetry, PENNsound, & even Motion’s slickness, Archive of the Now is part of the new encyclopedic impulse on the web itself, poetry-specific offshoots of the same impulses that lie behind Wikipedia and Google. Further, zines & reading series themselves are beginning to understand the value of same, for example Jacket, How2 & MiPoesias. We stand at the cusp of a period in which an enormous number of resources for the enjoyment & study of poetry over the past century, especially the last half century, are about to explode exponentially. Indeed, we are rapidly approaching the moment when some smart person is going to start pulling together an index of such resources, thus noting, for example, sites concerning Allen Ginsberg (often with sound files) on

The Academy of American Poets

Archive of the Then

The Electronic Poetry Center


Modern American Poetry



Not to mention Ginsberg’s own home site. Just multiply that level of detail for each of the 10,000-plus English language poets now publishing – not to mention those who, like Ginsberg, have come & gone before – and you begin to get a sense of simply the scale of what is out there already. And what should be out there (and will be, soon enough).

Thus, to Andrea Brady, who appears to have done the bulk of the work in getting Archive of the Now up & running, we can only say welcome & huzzah. May the project live long & prosper.