Here are a couple amusing quotes from intro to Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, written in 1942:
"It may be said of poets that while their systematic thought is now nearly worthless, their detached insights are priceless."
"In this first half of the 20th century we have acquired a high regard for commentaries, so busying ourselves with what someone else has to say about a work of art that we have no insight left to look upon the work itself."
|What is the meaning of that paisley suit!|
"For years, I've been working toward a situation like the one we find ourselves in now; one where language is purely formal and concrete; like language itself, this essay ["Postlude: I Love Speech" in The Sound of Poetry / The Poetry of Sound (eds. Perloff, Dworkin) is both meaningful and meaningless at the same time. The page is now thick with words posing as language."
- D.T. Suzuki.
Can what is said of the koan be said of the poem?
"Everyday-life is more interesting than forms of celebration, when we become aware of it. That when is when our intentions go down to zero. Then suddenly you notice that the world is magical
- John Cage.
leaf blower car passes rain car passes leaf blower car passes car passes leaf blower rain car passes passes passes leaf blower rain car passes laughter leaf blower rain rain rain car passes rain voices car passes laughter rain plane car passes plane car passes rain voices plane jack hammer plane car passes laughter jack hammer car passes cough voices blender car passes laughter jack hammer car passes plane laughter car passes car passes car passes applause
Kenneth Goldsmith's FaceBook post following his Brown University reading:
The Body of Michael Brown
In the tradition of my previous book Seven American Deaths and Disasters, I took a publicly available document from an American tragedy that was witnessed first-hand (in this case by the doctor performing the autopsy) and simply read it. Like Seven American Deaths and Disasters, I did not editorialize; I simply read it without commentary or additional editorializing. Many of you have heard me read from Seven American Deaths and Disasters. This reading was identical in tone and intention. This, in fact, could have been the eighth American death and disaster. The document I read from is powerful. My reading of it was powerful. How could it be otherwise? Such is my long-standing practice of conceptual writing: like Seven American Deaths and Disasters, the document speaks for itself in ways that an interpretation cannot. It is a horrific American document, but then again it was a horrific American death.
I altered the text for poetic effect; I translated into plain English many obscure medical terms that would have stopped the flow of the text; I narrativized it in ways that made the text less didactic and more literary. I indeed stated at the beginning of my reading that this was a poem called “The Body of Michael Brown”; I never stated, “I am going to read the autopsy report of Michael Brown.” But then again, this is what I did in Seven Deaths and Disasters. I always massage dry texts to transform them into literature, for that is what they are when I read them. That said, I didn’t add or alter a single word or sentiment that did not preexist in the original text, for to do so would be go against my nearly three decades’ practice of conceptual writing, one that states that a writer need not write any new texts but rather reframe those that already exist in the world to greater effect than any subjective interpretation could lend. Perhaps people feel uncomfortable with my uncreative writing, but for me, this is the writing that is able to tell the truth in the strongest and clearest way possible.
Ecce homo. Behold the man.
|Baudelaire sans les mains.|
"From the very beginning I perceived I was not only far from my mysterious and brilliant model [Gaspard de la Nuit by Aloysius Bertrand], but was, indeed, doing something (if it can be called something) singularly different, an accident which anyone else would glory in, no doubt, but which can only deeply humiliate a mind convinced that the greatest honor for a poet is to succeed in doing exactly what he set out to do."
- Baudelaire on his prose poems (in the intro to Paris Spleen).
|Dumb, speaking, or singing?|
-Julian Barnes in intro to Daudet's In the Land of Pain.
|DuChamp's Jeune homme triste dans un train|
"... avant-garde works must remain wild and never neglect an opportunity to attack their trainers; above all, it is the hand that feeds them which must be repeatedly bitten. They have to continue to do what the avant-garde is supposed to do: shatter stereotypes, shake things up, and keep things moving; offer fresh possibilities to a jaded understanding; encourage a new consciousness; revitalize the creative spirit of the medium; and, above all, challenge the skills and ambitions of every practitioner. Such a pure avant-garde must not only emphasize the formal elements of its art (recognizing that these elements are its art); its outside interests must be in very long-term - if not permanent - problems. It may have to say no to Cash, to Flag, to Man, to God, to Being itself. It cannot be satisfied merely to complain of the frivolities of a king's court or to count the crimes of capitalism or to castigate the middle class for its persistent vulgarity. The avant-garde's ultimate purpose is to return the art to itself, not as if the art could be cordoned off from the world and kept uncontaminated, but in order to remind it of its nature (a creator of forms in the profoundest sense) - a nature that should not be allowed to dissolve into what are, after all, measly moments of society."
-Gass (from "The Vicissitudes of the Avant-Garde")
|The Soup and the Clouds|
"There are few vocations (like the practice of poetry or the profession of philosophy) that are so uncalled for by the world, so unremunerative by any ordinary standards, so inherently difficult, so undefined, that to choose them suggests that more lies behind the choice than a little encouraging talent and a few romantic ideals.
"To persevere in such a severe and unrewarding course requires the mobilization of the entire personality - each weakness as well as every strength, each quirk as well as every normality."
-Gass from "At Death's Door: Wittgenstein"
|King actually threw away his draft of Carrie. His wife found it in the garbage can.|
Murder your darlings, yes, but not the truly darling darlings.
"Try any goddamn thing you like, no matter how boringly normal or outrageous. If it works, fine. If it doesn't, toss it. Toss it even if you love it. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch once said, 'Murder your darlings', and he was right."
-Stephen King (On Writing)
|Anne Petty, Sara and Her Dog|
|Cocteau's vision of Stravinsky composing The Rite.|
"Without artists like Stravinsky who compulsively make everything new, our sense of sound would become increasingly narrow. Music would lose its essential uncertainty. Dopamine would cease to flow. As a result, the feeling would be slowly drained out of the notes, the polite drivel of perfectly predictable music. Works like The Rite of Spring jolt us out of this complacency. They keep us literally open-minded. If not for the difficulty of the avant-garde, we would worship nothing but that which we already know."
- Jonah Lehrer in Proust Was a Neuroscientist.
|Fine art by R. Mutt.|
-Tom Wolfe in The Painted Word.
This is Wolfe's epiphany. He finally figured out why he wasn't "getting" Modern Art ... namely because you have to be familiar with the theory behind the painting first. The painting merely illustrates the theory, and is not necessarily meant to be pleasurable, not meant to be whole. It is not the point, but points to the point.
The same can be said of a large swath of modern poetry as well, where the reader/listener feels as if he/she's walked into the room at the end of a rather boring theoretical conversation. Uh, okay?
Here is Wolfe's advice (from the same book, which is a must read) for such encounters, he warns:
"To be against what is new is not to be modern. Not to be modern is to write yourself out of the scene. Not to be in the scene is to be nowhere. No, in an age of avant-gardism the only possible strategy to counter a new style which you detest is to leapfrog it."
|Right brain sandwich left brain sandwich.|
"Perusing all the elements of a vertical row is primarily a right-brain function; following a horizontal line is primarily a left-brain function."
- Leonard Shlain in The Alphabet vs. The Goddess.
- Thomas Merton (in Zen and the Birds of Appetite)
|Roethke cracking up.|
A few quotes from Roethke's book On Poetry and Craft (Copper Canyon Press):
"If a thing fails rhythmically, it's nothing."
"Art is our defense against hysteria and madness."
"Inspiration? The important thing in life is to have the right kind of frustration."
|...that the whole progress of humanity proceeds.|
- Anna Pavlova
|Hugo with imagined bourbon on the rocks.|
|AWP (Where's Waldo Wittgenstein?)|
"I ought to have become a star in the sky ... but instead I've remained stuck on the earth."
You see, Wittgenstein too failed at AWP.
And for those of you who did triumph, congratulations! Lao Tsu says it best:
"Triumph is not beautiful
He who thinks triumph is beautiful
Is one with a will to kill
Conduct your triumph as a funeral"
|AWT 2013 (Boston)|
"Publishing a book of verse is like dropping a rose petal in the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo."
Coincidentally, AWT (The Association of Writers with Tourettes) will also be having its annual conference next week. This event is sure to include many of the exciting phenomena AWT has become famous for: coprolalia (spontaneous cursing), echolalia (repeating the words of others), and palilalia (repeating one's own words). There will be a veritable epidemic of readers, all of whom will be mostly talking to themselves surrounded by others also mostly talking to themselves. You may find yourself unknowingly involved in one of their readings, as they will be taking place at innumerable restaurants and bars throughout the city. If you find yourself having a relaxing dinner one minute, only to be surrounded by raving lunatics the next, do not panic! While stopping, dropping, and rolling may be effective, quietly removing yourself from the situation is probably best. Do not give them money! as this will only encourage their behavior.
To be sure you won't find yourself in such a situation (or if you are curious to see them in action), we've provided a link to their list of events here: AWT.
At no point in the history of the human race have there been more writers and writing programs in existence than at present. Enjoy the show!
"...the author who attempts to organize space while neglecting time is venturing into a field in which materials and the tools - paint, canvas, stone, metal, wood, and camera lens - are more effective than language. He is working in two or three dimensions instead of four and is thus evading what seems to me a more difficult challenge and a greater opportunity for innovation."
This is Malcom Cowley's (one of Malcom Cowley's) attacks on the avant-garde, and specifically Robbe-Grillet's idea of the "new novel" and Andy Warhol's a in Cowley's essay A Defense of Storytelling.
It seems to me that he has a point, though a decidedly conservative one - for after all, a writer must be able to write whatever a writer wants to write, right?
But it's true, one must admit, that one advantage writing has over, say, painting, sculpture, music even, is time. The writer has the ability to lead the reader through maze after maze, the seeing forest and the hearing field, across the street and up the stairs, to open the door, to enter the room, to walk over to the window, to open the window, to step out onto the ledge, to look down, to sigh, and then, perhaps, to go back in or to jump or to fly.
|Cuetzpaltzin after having his poems misunderstood by Cortes.|
He goes his way singing, offering flowers
And his words ring down
Like jade and quetzal plumes
Is this what pleases the Giver of Life
Is that the only truth on Earth?
- Ayocuan Cuetzpaltzin (Nahuatl poet, 15th century)
The tlamatinime people of precolonial Mexico suggested that immutable truth is by its nature beyond human experience. Their philosophers believed that, because we are mortal, we cannot know Truth. If we cannot grasp eternity, then we cannot grasp eternal truth.
The passage above is a kind of poetics solution to this riddle. We cannot know truth, but we can sing the things around us. And through singing gain access to truth.
The poet continues:
From whence come the flowers that enrapture man
The songs that intoxicate, the lovely songs?
Only from the innermost part of heaven.
Through art we access grace, or other, or truth. Perhaps this seems obvious, or cliche now. But it strikes me that this was a realization of an early 15th century poet from subtropical north america, one of millions doomed by the fast approach of material Europe.
|Arreguin's The Bull Got Into the Flower Garden|
Issue VI is now available via this website (see "Buy a Copy" button), with work by Jeff Encke, Annie Chou, Greg Bachar, Nadine Maestas, Fred Sasaki, Rachel Kessler, Greg Bem, Marissa F. Baum, and Simone Sachs. Art by Alfredo Arreguin.
Please buy a copy! All proceeds go to the next issue of struggling literary magazines based in Seattle that rhyme with 'crazed goy.' You're gonna love it!
"A poem often becomes a kind of commodity in the competitive literary world of curriculum vitae, though I deplore the fact. I would be very sorry if either this mischance, or your numerous recognitions, were to get between you and the life of poetry, which is an art, not a competition, an art demanding self-discipline and apprenticeship, often through very unencouraging circumstances, for stakes which have nothing to do with the market."
- Sontag (from "Against Interpretation," which is required reading!)
|Rodin's Poet and Critic.|
"There is no reason ever in the world for the critic and poet to be at odds, and for the following reason: the primary motion of the poet is to put things together and touch a source that feels like life, at times even more powerful than life. It is a synthesis of analogies and associations that promotes, in the best hands, and even when disjunctive, a sense of renewed vitality. That is what one feels. That is a fact whether noticed by poet or critic. The critic makes another kind of synthesis; his or her synthesis comes as a result of what can be added up after taking things apart. What is added up, as in dissertations and works of critical discourse, is thought to be subtler and finer than the work that gave rise to it. But that cannot be, because the two modes of thought, the creative and the analytical, are not comparable; they are apples and oranges."
"Thousands of papers may be written about Rodin and many of them may know more about Rodin than Rodin did but they will not resemble sculpture. Rodin made the sculpture. No one else did."
"We will dance and sing. Sometime later we will talk about singing and dancing, and in that effort, we will need all the help we can get from the critics or anyone else."
"The logos of a bad writer throws words together in no order at all, perhaps beginning at the point where it should end and wholly ignorant of organic sequence. You can enter this logos at any point and find it saying the same thing. Once it is written down it continues to say that same thing forever over and over within itself, over and over in time. As communication, such a text is a dead letter."
Anne Carson (in Eros the Bittersweet)
|Baudelaire with dog hidden in shirt.|
Come here, my dear, good, beautiful doggie, and smell this excellent perfume from the best perfumer of Paris.
And the dog, wagging his tail, which I believe is that poor creature's way of laughing and smiling, came up and put his nose to the uncorked bottle. Then, suddenly, backed away in terror, barking at me reproachfully.
"Ah miserable dog, if I'd offered you a bag of shit you would have sniffed at it with delight and perhaps devoured it. In this you're like the public, which should never be offered delicate perfumes that infuriate them, but only carefully selected garbage."
|The thick smear of a blue spot.|
- William Gass
|Who knows why or should|
Steinbeck goes on to answer this question in his introduction to Cannery Row. But what good are answers? (If you're curious, find it in the Bantam edition ). We all have to all of us be grateful for the question.
Of course the book itself, Cannery Row, is an attempt to answer the question. What isn't?
... Incidentally, Steinbeck waxes Steinian in the same edition when he dedicates the book (without punctuation):
who knows why or should
|The, um, frosting on the cake. aka 'Looking Inwardly Serious.'|
"If it is with outer seriousness, it must be with inner humor. If it is with outer humor, it must be with inner seriousness. Neither one alone without the other under it will do."
But then again, either one alone with the other over it will do as well. As will one or both with the other under it, or over it. And neither one not alone without the other under (or over) it. Any of these is fine ... seriously.
|Nietzsche, moments after God shouted "Nietzsche is dead!"|
-Robert Corrigan in Comedy; Meaning and Form.
One might add equally 'good' or equally 'bad,' in that there is no longer one accepted perspective to judge these things by. This is, of course, both a good and a bad thing. In relation to poetry, this is why nothing is no damn good nomore and everything is often always bad. And if you think otherwise well then you're right too!
|Sartre seeing against himself.|
If you apply the same approach to writing, you get "I write against myself." If you are suspicious of that which comes easily, too easily, you might arrive at something outside yourself, larger than yourself. You might. You might not, but you might.
It's recognizable at readings when a poet/writer is comfortable writing in some certain way. The poems are difficult to distinguish from each other, difficult to distinguish from the poems he/she read at their last reading, or perhaps they've been reading the same poems at successive readings, for successive (gulp) years even. Not only is this a creative bog for the writer, but it's also a wriggling morass for an audience, who can't possibly be expected to be surprised by the same thing again and again and again ad nauseum.
Or, as Frost says: "No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader."