Monday, October 31, 2005


Scoot’d through the first hundred or so pages of Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude. Spaldeen, play’d in the Brooklyn streets with a pink-color’d rubber ball. Is that a bastardization of Spalding? The ball manufactory? The way Seeburg juke boxes in the south got call’d Seabirds?

Peter Gizzi
Oobleck, a Suess goo. Relationship to o.blek, a journal of the language arts?

(Was it Ken Fifer, whose house in Bethlehem, Pa. burn’d down, who wrote a poem call’d “Me Being Stupid”? I always rather liked that.)

Poking around in a newish Robert Walser thing, Speaking to the Rose: Writings, 1912-1932, translated by Christopher Middleton. Which includes “fourteen translations from what has come to be called the ‘pencil area,’ or ‘Bleistiftgebiet.’

“The ‘pencil area’ was for a long time thought to be a corpus hermeticum, closed to the mortal mind because composed in an entirely private cipher. It was by matching certain strips of script to extant published texts that Jochen Greven first showed that the cipher had been all along an adroitly, if most idiosyncratically, abbreviated script. The 526 packages of this writing now fill 2,000 pages in the six volumes of Aus dem Bleistiftgebiet, 1985-2000, edited by the meticulous decipherers Bernard Echte and Werner Morlang. So here was a real trouvaille: sometime even before 1924 or 1925, Walser had begun to pencil, on the backs of calendars, on blank spaces offered by rejection slips, telegrams, bank statements, and other sorts of used stationery, an immense reserve of stories, feuilletons, sketches, improvisations, from which to extract, at will, fair copies.”

(It’s possible, one thinks, that items—often writing-saturated—gather’d in places like the Prinzhorn-Collection, or the Musée de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, be codify’d awaiting decipherment.)

Walser: “It can so happen that, for example, horses are unduly put to work, because they cannot speak and thus cannot be asked. They are unable to negotiate. No horse can be asked for its opinion, for nature has denied it the ability to pronounce one. It is altogether disgusting the way human beings do not refuse such delicacies as frogs’ legs . . .” Beginning to spiral off into a consideration of war, with the line “who smiles a fine snaky rhetoric out of his mouth,” and eventually ending with the sentence: “With prayer it is certainly not a matter of succeeding, or accomplishing something useful, but first and foremost of its being beautiful.”


Guffaw’d at midnight, reading about Lethem’s nerd white boys, Arthur Lomb and Dylan Ebdus. Arthur, the nerdier, trying to talk the talk: “‘Man, that one guy was trying to act real scary, but I could see his face, he looked like a baby, his lips were all blubbery. Yo, I probly could of taken him if you hadn’t come out just then. Lucky for him I’d say, yo.’ Arthur’s careful slurring of certain words, in contrast to his sharply nerdish pronunciation elsewhere, is wincingly obvious to Dylan, who wonders why Mingus doesn’t just smack him upside the head and command him to stop . . . Arthur turns to Dylan instead. ‘What you think, we could of taken them, yo?’
        ‘Don’t yo me,’ said Dylan.”

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Finish’d The Volcano Lover.

“Passion for S . . . was vehemence, aggression. What he could not understand is a passion that finds happiness in a retreat from vehemence, which makes one self-withdrawn. Like the passion of the collector.”

        “Because an image can show only a moment, the painter or sculptor must choose the moment that presents what the viewer most needs to know and feel about the subject.
        “But what does the viewer need to know and feel?”

“. . . the reigning cliché about the achievement of classical art: that it showed suffering with decorum, dignity in the midst of horror . . . ‘As the bottom of the sea lies peaceful beneath a foaming surface,’ Winckelmann wrote, evoking the standard offered by the Laocoön, ‘so a great soul remains calm amid the strife of passions.”

(The Winckelmann who was murder’d, not unlike Pasolini, by one of ’s lovers.)

The Portland Vase (Copy)

        “One February mid-afternoon in 1845, a young man of nineteen entered the British Museum, went directly to the unguarded room where the Portland Vase, one of the museum’s most valuable and celebrated holdings since its deposit on loan by the Fourth Duke of Portland in 1810, was kept in a glass case, picked up what was later described as “a curiosity in sculpture,” and started beating the vase . . .
        “The malefactor, discovered to be an Irish dainty student who had dropped out of Trinity College after a few weeks’ study . . . said that he was drunk . . . or that he was suffering from a kind of nervous excitement, a continual fear of everything he saw . . . or that he heard voices telling him to do it . . . or that he envied the maker of the vase . . . or that he had found himself aroused by the figure of Thetis, recumbent, awaiting her bridegroom . . . or that he thought the vase’s depiction of erotic longing a sacrilege, an offense to Christian morals . . . or that he couldn’t stand to see such a beautiful thing be so admired while he was poor and lonely and unsuccessful. The usual reasons given for destroying objects of incalculable value, admired by everyone. These are always stories of a haunting. Self-defined outcasts and solitaries, almost always men, begin to be haunted . . . The ravishing object is there. The object is provoking them. The object is insolent. The object is, ah, worst of all, indifferent.”

The Cavaliere, that is, th’aristocrat: “The first principle of the science of felicity is not to succumb to indignation or self-pity.” (A man unable to speak the word happiness.)

The five renamed months of the short-lived Republic in Naples: “Piovoso (rainy), Ventoso (windy), Germile (budding), Fiorile (flowering), and Pratile (meadowed) . . .”

Cartolina francobollo annullo postale: a memoria del 1779 (Commemorative stamp).
Sontag offers the last word to Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel, publisher of the principal newspaper of the Republic, executed: “I was born into that world, I belonged to that class, I experienced the charms of that very agreeable life, I rejoiced in its unlimited vistas of knowledge and skill. How naturally human being s adapt to abjection, to lies, and to unearned prerogatives. Those whom birth or appropriate forms of ambition have placed inside the circle of privilege would have to be dedicated misfits—disablingly sanctimonious or bent on self-deprivation—not to enjoy themselves. But those whom birth or revolt have cast outside, where most beings on this earth live, would have to be obtuse or slavish in temperament not to see how disgraceful it is that so few monopolize both wealth and refinement, and inflict such suffering on others.”

And: “I cannot forgive those who did not care about more than their own glory or well-being. They thought they were civilized. They were despicable. Damn them all.”

Saturday, October 29, 2005


Most refreshing reading attended: Kate DiCamillo reading a few chapters of her newest: Mercy Watson to the Rescue. Mercy is a pig. No windbag introduction full of flattery, self-flattery, and lies. No third party digs. No self-important asides by the Q & A crowd (though one self-identify’d “teacher” did hint at possible fraud in DiCamillo’s notion of writing somewhat blindly, that is, WITHOUT AN OUTLINE). No fashion-preening by the crowd, no putting on the trappings of the indigent, the trappings of the crazed. Attention honed to the point of one boy—following along in the book—’s blurting out “Crack!” just when “Crack!” happen’d. DiCamillo recount’d rather ruefully how, after a twenties spent sitting in coffeehouses in a black turtleneck, she determine’d to write two pages a day (“That’s a novel a year”) and ’s stuck to it. Recount’d her dead-end job history: at Disney, an eight-hour day of saying, “Look down here, look at your feet.”

Latest most favour’d blog: Aphidhog’s Georgia Sam. (“He had a bloody nose.”) A free-floating terror-humoresque attach’d to a juicy succulent or a poet’s feedbag somewhere in the British Isles.

Revery-report: Trying to do the layout (involving a piece of posterboard the size of two storefronts, text blocks of roughly one storefront-dimension each, an intermittently taut piece of twine stretch’d out by two cowboys, numerous ladder-straddling and roof-perching helpers, me on a ladder with a hammer and a mouthful of tacks) for what I suppose one’d call the elephant (wooly mammoth?) edition of Ted Berrigan’s Collected. Nobody’d work together, everything kept coming up crooked. All of it taking place against the pots and pans and sundries-hung façade of a “Wild West” general store.

And, intermingle’d with th’above, the tiniest conversation. Ange Mlinko: “You put my constellation up,” pointing to a perfect row of four stars with another, a fifth, just akilter. Me: “Yeah, what a terrific alignment.” (So Starred Wire gets acclaim’d by the dream-mould.)

T. E. Hulme, attaining the rank of Spicerean real lemon in “Notes on Language and Style”:
It is seeing real clay, that men in agony worked with, that gives pleasure. To read a book which is real clay moulded by fingers that had to mould something, or they would clutch the throat of their maddened author. No flowing on of words, but tightly clutched tense fingers leaving marks in the clay. These are the only books that matter—and where are they to be found?
And, some stray lines:
[Defining language.] Large clumsy instrument. Language does not naturally come with meaning. Ten different ways of forming the same sentence. Any style will do to get the meaning down . . .

[Under Prose.] A sentence and a worm are the most stupid of animals and the most difficult to teach tricks. Tendency to crawl along requires genius, music to make them stand up (snake charmer).

[Earlier.] The poet makes it stand on end and hit you.

[Last remark.] All theories as toys.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Out late listening to Mark O’Connor in a “hot swing” Django Reinhardt / Stéphane Grappelli configuration: Jon Burr (bass), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Howard Alden (seven string guitar) and Roberta Gambarini (vocals). Mostly I admired the way the bassist threw himself like a rag doll dangling down off the top of th’upright, and work’d ’s mouth as if it were full of jawbreakers. That and Roberta Gambarini’s scat-quotations of Sonny Stitt, Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins renditions of “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Incroyable.

Stumbled into a little book publish’d by Archipelago Books, Julio Cortázar’s Diary of Andrés Fava, translated by Anne McLean:
Poetry wants to be metaphysics and sometimes achieve it with Lamartine or Valéry. English poetry does it without trying, it emerges on the metaphysical level, which is its firmament and its grace.

        Where Mallarmé arrives with his last exhausting wingbeat, Shelley is already naturally up there like a treetop. There is nothing restrictive in this differentiation I amuse myself with pointing out. In essence the achievements are no different, but the French poem emerges from the forge like the diamond from the stone cutter; the English verse shines with that ease we admire in the fish, or in the tennis player who returns a shot almost without moving.
I note that Archipelago Books (a terrific list, authors René Crevel, Novalis, João Cabral de Melo Neto, Georg Büchner, Witold Gombrowicz, Mahmoud Darwish, and Francis Ponge, among others, translated by Robert Bononno, David Hinton, Richard Howard, Ralph Manheim, Ezra Pound, Richard Sieburth, and Richard Zenith, among others) lists “Book Design by David Bullen Design.” Former designer of those old covetable North Point books.

Aboard H. M. S. Victory and patrolling the Mediterranean in order to “contain” the French fleet, Admiral Lord Nelson (first name Horatio, daughter with Emma Hamilton named Horatia) writes to Lady Hamilton (busy furnishing the estate at Merton—outside London—that he’d bought):
I agree to African parrots on the veranda.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Recalling, late ’seventies, my allegiance to Régis Franc’s “Le Café de la Plage,” publish’d daily in the (short-lived) newspaper, Le Matin de Paris. More animals talking A brief appearance by Gertrude Stein, talking excruciating French, portray’d as a pig. More often, Little Nemo ’scapes, and voices carrying in off the miles, a distant ship-speck, a distant Saharan caravan-speck. Lots of “Courage, mes enfants!”

Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858)
The heart of décor is what. (How I want it to be “heart,” knowing in advance that it is not. Décor is what is pull’d (like an eel out of a horse’s water-sod head) out of the heart. The root of ornament is . . .

Samuel Johnson:

DECO•RUM. n.s. [Latin.]

Decency; behaviour contrary to licentiousness, contrary to levity; seemliness.
If your master
Would have a queen his beggar, you must tell him,
That majesty, to keep decorum, must
No less beg than a kingdom.
        Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.

I am far from suspecting simplicity, which is bold to trespass in points of decorum.

Beyond the fix’d and settled rules
Of vice and virtue in the schools,
The better sort should set before ’em
A grace, a manner, a decorum.

Gentlemen of the army should be, at least, obliged to external decorum: a profligate life and character should not be a means of advancement.

He kept with princes due decorum;
Yet never stood in awe before ’em.

Clark Coolidge: “To create is to make a pact with nothingness.”

Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Oh to feel that peasant (out of F. peser, to weigh, Melusine, ‘I shall gyue hym hys pesaunnt or weyght of syluer.’) veerage toward little & ungaud’d nothings. A desire to slot words into a tiny armature, care-burden’d. No more frivolous slinging.

See Lorine Niedecker:
Asa Gray wrote Increase Lapham:
pay particular attention
to my pets, the grasses.
(In New Goose.) Why? Because it makes me happy, a small kernel of delerium fire’d by a banderole of short a’s. Because it raises the minuscule up to the eyes of a man call’d Increase.

See Vuillard (Lady of Fashion, c. 1891-1892)

Rhyming with Rothko (Red, Orange, Tan, and Purple, 1949)

(Vuillard + Malevich = Rothko)

When the community wants to fix infinity, or trace its frontiers, it has recourse to conventions. That is why life takes on the aspect of . . . a huge nursery in which children play every possible sort of game, full of imagined rules; and in these games they live reality, build towers, castles, forts and towns, then demolish them, then rebuild them all over again . . .” (Kasimir Malevich, God Is Not Cast Down, quoted in T. J. Clark’s Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism)

Is today’s conventional fix un-undoable: the rules no longer imaginary? Infinity fix’d for an infinity. “We swivel benign in seats of mildew.”

La Sontag notes:

“The Cavaliere has returned to his study and reads, trying not to think about what is going on around him—one of the principal uses of a book.”

“Although no revolutionary voices were yet audible, the look of fellow travelers had already arrived: shorter hair for women, longer hair for men. Watch the evolution of hair styles among the educated class!”

“Who, other than the naïve or benighted, felt they must put into practice what they had enjoyed in a book . . . No, to read was precisely to enter another world, which was not the reader’s own, and come back refreshed, ready to bear with equanimity the injustices and frustrations of this one. Reading was balm, amusement—not incitement.”

“. . . the hero is a romantic: that is, his vanity was matched by an inordinate capacity for humility when his affections were engaged.”

“. . . the Romantics inaugurated the modern cult of thinness . . .”

A castello in Sicily: “. . . the horse with human hands, the Bactrian camel with two women’s heads for humps, the goose with a horse’s head, the man whose face sprouted an elephant’s trunk and whose hands were vulture’s claws.”

“. . . the impression of the grotesque was replaced by the impression of an immense sarcasm . . . the prince’s temperament was a demented variant of the collector’s . . . To piece together fragments of costly porcelain with chunks of kitchenware—was this not merely a mocking echo of the democracy of objects . . . [The objects] did not say . . . look at all the beauty and interest there is in the world. They said: the world is mad. Ordinary life is ridiculous . . . Anything can turn into anything else . . . An ordinary object can be made from . . . anything. Any shape can be deformed. Any common purpose served by objects balked.”

“The prince had taken the curiosity and avidity of the collector to its terminal state, where the attachment to objects releases an ungovernable spirit of raillery.”

Or the attachment to words.

How come vocabulary’s always got semantics—that tagalong!—nipping its heels, juicing it for all its worth? I say vocabulary’s like a blab, a bitten off, behove’d, unthawable, and barnacle’d stench. Singe’d with ball-heyday’d monkeydom. Scorch’d with excrudescence & damascene’d with twang. Go sing a ruthless meaning if you’d ruther. Meaning’s anybody’s guess. It rides a tippy sidecar, is lucky to make it home.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Sentimental Nod

To John Berryman, born John Allyn Smith, Jr., in McAlester, Oklahoma (October 25, 1914):
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatedly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,

Who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.


Mostly not writing my words here, too concern’d with making chords, little daily piles of images and words. Borrow’d. Stack’d conglomerate metaphors. Items in a minor viscosity. Historia copulatoriae. Combo ruts.

Empty-head’d and august August (Surely, tu blagues.) leading to what? Shrill tangents of late October? I refuse to mimic Montaigne. « Que sais-je » est un piège. Is a sledge. Hammers unpardonably at . . .

The twenty-first century barges in en forme de a telephonickal recording ascertaining with certainty that I have glean’d off big hazard a prize: two free airline tickets. Round. Trip. There is only one of me. There is only my entire brainpan (unreachable) to inhabit, or foot-storm with my Minolta (a reference that shows my age). And if I ever got there (fat chance, gros hazard), I would not be likely to return. And then itemizer number one is interrupt’d by itemizer number two who says (familiarly) “John, were you pleased with the politesse of itemizer number one?” And I say: “Yes, yes, of course, because itemizer number one is a recording!” Downhill après.

Maybe the dirty word of contemporary American poetics is not syntax. Maybe it’s vocabulary. Anybody’ll (can, does) mix things up. “Crazy, man.” Who, though, ’s got the words that’ll fetch the gods. Pasty-faced and bloat’d, the dying Jack Spicer didn’t say “My syntax did this to me,” did he?


Sontag (The Volcano Lover): Goethe call’d the slabby perch whence he saw Vesuvius’s entrails heave “the lip of an enormous mouth,” and determined later that the sight was “neither instructive nor agreeable.”

“. . . the collector, like the impostor, has no existence unless he goes public, unless he shows what he is or has decided to be. Unless he puts his passions on display.”

“. . . unslakeable . . .”

“It is the function of art to conceal the difficulties of its execution.” (Sontag?)

“. . . the notorious lachrymose novel about the lovelorn egotist who shoots himself . . .” (The Sorrows of Young Werther, “notorious lachrymose” Goethe, who never witness’d a self-transformation he didn’t record, writ, aged twenty-four.)

Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s painting of Emma H. as Ariadne, treacherous Theseus (whom she rescue’d) sailing off into the distance, the speck! Vigée-Lebrun: “I am also painting a very beautiful woman, Mrs. Hart, who is a friend of the English ambassador. In a large painting I have made her into a cheerful Ariadne, her face lending itself to this choice.” In a letter to Mme du Barry, 2 July 1790.

And Vigée-Lebrun’s Emma Hamilton as Bacchante.


An obituary post’d by cris cheek to the UKPOETRY list led me to Ian Breakwell’s Diary 1964-1985:
12.2.1974 London: Smithfield Market

A man strides out of the main entrance of the meat market, wearing a pair of pig’s ears fastened to his head; he walks across to his parked car, whistling loudly.

24. 2.1974 Leeds

A man in a new overcoat and an astrakhan hat, the weekend shopping in his arms, walking along the pavement barking loudly like a dog.

17.3.1974 7.25 p.m. Leeds-London train

The woman in the corner seat wears a green velvet coat trimmed with imitation fur, and knee-length maroon suede boots. She falls asleep, sinking into the corner of the seat. Her red velvet skirt slides up around her thighs; her mouth falls open and is reflected in the window, superimposed on the night landscape outside. The train runs parallel with a motorway: cars and lorries rush into her mouth, their headlights on full. She wakes up, coughing.
Introduced by Nick Kimberley (author, too, of the obituary):
The diary can be seen as a latterday extension of the work of Mass Observation, that collection of artist-anthropologists who set out in the late 1930s to document a ‘real’ Britain by observing such ‘mass’ phenomena as ‘Behaviour of people at war memorials, shouts and gestures of motorists, funerals and undertakers, the private lives of midwives’, etc.
Here politics is approached tangentially, revealing itself in a phrase let slip, a chance encounter. Yet the purpose of the diary is wholly political, in the same way that the surrealists’ project of permanent revolution took for granted that a transformation of the imagination would equally change society. The diary simultaneously demystifies the human condition, and reinvests it with mystery: there is a reality parallel to the one we know.
What I am reminded of: Katie Degentesh’s carefully observed writings here. Also inform’d by politics. The slightly (and moreso) askew city.

Ian Breakwell’s “Study For The Last Gasp,” 1987, mixed media collage.
William Shakespeare:
How loud howling wolves arouse the jades,
That drag the tragic melancholy night.
James Thomson:
But absent, what fantastick woes arous’d
Rage in each thought, by restless musing fed,
Chill the warm cheek, and blast the bloom of life.

Monday, October 24, 2005


The Coal Cart, New York, by Alvin Langdon Coburn (1911)
Sontag. The Cavaliere (William Hamilton, British envoy to Naples) in Pompeii:
. . . it would have been he who had recalled the line from the Aeneid the excavators found that someone had written on the wall of his house: Conticuere omn . . . (“All fell silent”). Gasping for breath, he had not lived to finish it.
He was waiting for catastrophe. This is the corruption of deep melancholy, that its sense of helplessness reaches out to include others, that it so easily imagines (and therefore wills) a more general calamity.
        . . . Every visitor wanted the volcano to explode, to “do something.” They wanted their ration of apocalypse.
(See Bernadette Mayer, in “On Sleep”: “I worry about why the masses sort of love disasters”)

And, the Cavaliere’s “savory discovery of traces of an ancient priapic cult still existing under the cover of Christianity”:
There he was taken to a festival in a nearby village honoring Saints Cosmas and Damian which culminated in a church service to bless a foot-long object, much revered by barren women, known as the Great Toe.
The Last Days of Pompeii, by Karl Briullov (1833)
Learn’d that my hero-auspice and adversary Pliny the Elder “succumbed to the noxious smoke” of Vesuvius, researching no doubt.

And that the philosopher Empedoclus “jumped into the boiling crater [at Etna] to test whether he was immortal.”

And that Goethe got snooty, bestaked himself high above the frivolity, at social gatherings chez the Cavaliere. No monkey he.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Received: Wherever We Put Our Hats, No. 2 (Fall 2005), edited by Jon Leon.

Writing by Tyler Carter, Ken Rumble, Kate Schapira, Jon Leon, Ange Mlinko, Kent Johnson, Heather Brinkman, Jen Hofer, and Jess Mynes.

The Heather Brinkman pieces, tough and immediate, apparently out of an abecediary:
h h h

asphalt working worker boys
I gun giver asphalt
fucking working boys on glittering
black top

like inside trolley cars from
this side of town to arcane

city organ pipes, the clockwiser
album of clove leaves
where you and I will remain bound
in Ricard’s Flowers, blood jewels

i i i

time’s beard grows off
your maxilla & I, the pricker
take nothing back
as you the rattler

will continue inside me

& Elvira, let’s throw her
to the cooker & douse her in
a bastard’s game of chips

j j j

if we could only rowboat 1
to grey light 1
Also: a generous wad of Kent Johnson’s epigrams out of the forthcoming Epigramititis: 111 Living American Poets (including one for one “John Latta”—“For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses”?) All’s I can say is: That book’s going to burn some not-so-negligible (that is to say deserving) asses when it comes out.


Padgettesque typo: Look! I typed blook for blood!

Clyde Embree, bicyclist, Burns, Oregon, circa 1900
Greyly overcast Sunday, a bicyclist fleet in empty streets lowing out Dylan’s “Mississippi”:
City’s just a jungle, more games to play
Trapped in the heart of it, trying to get away
I was raised in the country, I been workin’ in the town
I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down . . .

Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long.
At the Friends of the Library book shop (I continue to trudge there, pickily, yea, contemptuously, avoiding th’effing dealers with their under-table caches and dishonest breezy patter), I found something call’d America & Alfred Stieglitz: A Collective Portrait. “Edited by Waldo Frank, Lewis Mumford, Dorothy Norman, Paul Rosenfeld & Harold Rugg. With 120 Illustrations.” The Literary Guild (1934). “This book is an attempt to express the nature of the career of Alfred Stieglitz by being, itself, in spirit and form, a communal work, a work organic with its subject.” Besides the editors, pieces by William Carlos Williams, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, Charles Demuth, Victoria Ocampo, Gertrude Stein, Paul Strand, Jean Toomer, Sherwood Anderson, and others. Jam-pack’d. Here’s Lewis Mumford waxing lyrical on “the pinnacle of animal achievement”:
While the tree and the sky are dominating symbols in Stieglitz’s work, brought to sharper focus by their steady exclusion from the urban landscape [Humph. I thought it not possible to make a picture of something’s absence. I thought that was the happy onus of words, the not.], there are two others that were important, both in his personal life and in his vision: the race horse and the woman. The thoroughbred horse, quivering in every muscle, nostril open, eyes glaring, hooves delicately stamping, ready for the race or the rut: symbol of sheer animal vitality, bred and nurtured with a single eye to that final outburst of speed which carries horse and rider down the home stretch to victory. From the black heavy-flanked Waterboy or the low-slung, short-legged chestnut Sysonby, to the great Man o’ War and his present-day successors, these horses represent the pinnacle of animal achievement: proof of man’s skill and intelligence in alliance with the world of life, symbolic of those new strains of wheat, those new hybrids or sports in flowers and fruits, whose conquest was ultimately more important to man than were half the mechanical contrivances on which the metropolitan mind doted.
Mumford saves less vigor for Stieglitz’s women— (“. . . if the horse was animal vitality, woman was—if one may combine the words—animal spirituality . . .” O dear.)

James Linton, New Haven Scotland, 1845, photograph’d by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson
Paul Strand, arguing that technology determines output, after favorably mentioning the Sotsman D. O. Hill and the Frenchman Eugene Atget, “who died in relative obscurity in Paris but a few years ago”:
For the history of photography . . . is almost entirely a record of misconception and misunderstanding, of unconscious groping, and a fight. The record of its use as a medium of expression reveals for the most part an attempt to turn the machine into a brush, pencil, whatnot; anything but what it is, a machine. Men and women, some who were painters, others who were not, were fascinated by a mechanism and material which they unconsciously tried to turn into painting, into a short cut to an accepted medium. They did not realize that a new and unique instrument had been born of science and placed in their hands; an instrument as sensitive and as difficult to master as any plastic material, but requiring a complete perception of its inherent means and of its own unique approach, before any profound registration was possible.
The arguments for sui generis Internet’d Gesamtkunstwerk forthcoming (pitch to all fronts).

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Out of Campi Phlegrae, by William Hamilton
Sontag notes (The Volcano Lover) “. . . the hyperactivity of the heroic depressive. He ferried himself past one vortex of melancholy after another by means of an astonishing spread of enthusiasms.”

“. . . the collector is a dissembler, someone whose joys are never unalloyed with anxiety. Because there is always more.”

“A . . . collection is a material concentrate that continually stimulates, that overexcites. Not only because it can always be added to, but because it is already too much. The collector’s need is precisely for excess, for surfeit, for profusion.”

“. . . monkeys, even more than people, are social animals. One monkey can’t express a monkey’s nature. A single monkey is an exile—and fits of depression sharpen his innate cleverness. A single monkey is good at parodying the human.”

Out of Campi Phlegrae, by William Hamilton
“. . . the volcano, Vesuvius was once a young man, who saw a nymph lovely as a diamond. She scratched his heart and his soul, he could think of nothing else. Breathing more and more heatedly, he lunged at her. The nymph, scorched by his attentions, jumped into the sea and became the island today called Capri. Seeing this, Vesuvius went mad. He loomed, his sighs of fire spread, little by little he became a mountain. And now, as immobilized as his beloved, forever beyond his reach, he continues to throw fire . . . Capri lies in the water, in full view of Vesuvius, and the mountain burns and burns and burns . . .”

“As sound decays into inaudibility, euphoria decays into indifference, and that is always unexpected, the way exalted feelings are weakened, undone by time.”

“. . . spoke, jubilantly, gratingly, of a future . . .”

“. . . little protuberances of old angers and longings . . . You think of what you have done, done with brio—great slabs of actions . . .
        “Surfeited, his appetite for surfeit . . .”

Bernadette Mayer (Scarlet Tanager):
what it means to be human
i can walk around with a hole in my brain
(avec cavum dans ma cervello)
on simplicity
scarification seems more like
crenellation than heron
is like guest
And isn’t there one here that calls a poem an amuse-bouche? Not in the one with the line “i kept thinking teletubbies was a demanding french form”? No.

My sister J. repeat’d how—during a southerly haul through Morocco, driving some unnamed “blacktop diminishing” in an attempt to find the beginnings of the Sahara—how kids, apparently desert-dwellers, though there’d be no sign of habitation, would come trickling up to the car whenever they stopped, asking invariably for stylo, bonbons, argent (pen, candy, money), always in that order.

Friday, October 21, 2005


Susan Sontag (The Volcano Lover): “Perhaps every collector has dreamed of a holocaust that will relieve him of his collection—converting all to ashes, or burying it under lava. Destruction is only the strongest form of divestment. The collector may be so disappointed with his life that he wants to divest himself of himself, as in the novel about the book-besotted reclusive scholar with a legendary hoard of twenty-five thousand necessary, irreplaceable volumes (that dream, the perfect library), who pitches himself into the pyre he makes out of what he has most loved. But should such an angry collector survive his fire or fit, he will probably want to start another collection.”

Roberto Calasso on Kafka’s minimalism (a lack of “pyrotechnique”), how he’d “sensed that . . . only the minimum number of elements of the surrounding world ought to be named. He plunged the sharpest Ockham’s razor into the substance of the novel. To name the bare minimum, and it is pure literality. And why so? Because the world was turning back into a primeval forest, too fraught with strange noises and apparitions. Everything had too much power. Thus it became necessary to limit oneself to what lay closest at hand, to circumscribe the zone of the nameable. Than all that power, otherwise diffuse, would be channeled there, and whatever was named—an inn, a file, an office, a room—would fill with unprecedented energy.”

Thinking of George Oppen, and Objectivism. That dual surge: to diminish everything down to “first principles,” the vague, the churn of one wave, one cloud (one trouser). (Calasso begins th’above with Kafka’s K. lifting eyes “in die scheinbare Leere. Literally: ‘toward the seeming emptiness.’”) So seemingly opposed to the plenty. That exfoliating of all things, that indiscriminate cornucopia, the fire-horn conflagration of naming all things simultaneously (a kind of “pyrotechnique”), the over-dub, the sur-pizzazz, the ultra-freighting. Out of which encumbrance: a similar vague, wave, cloud (trouser): a pair of pants.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Romare Bearden in Albert Murray’s “Bearden Plays Bearden” (The Blue Devils of Nada):
You have to begin somewhere . . . So you put something down. Then you put something else with it, and then you see how that works, and maybe you try something else and so on, and the picture grows in that way. One thing leads to another, and you take the options as they come, or as you are able to perceive them as you proceed. The fact that each medium has its own special technical requirements doesn’t really make any fundamental difference. My point is that my overall approach to composition is essentially the same whether I’m working with . . . collage, or with oils, watercolors, or tempera.
And (moment of organicist beginning moving into mystical “possession”—or mud, that key pivot-point in any art):
Once you get going . . . all sorts of things begin to open up. Sometimes something just seems to fall into place, like the piano keys that every now and then just seem to be right where your fingers happen to come down. But there are also all those times you have to keep trying something over and over and then where you finally get it right you wonder what took you so long. And of course there are also times when you have to give it up and try something else.
Which idiotically triggers the O’Hara that vamps in my blood (“For Grace, After a Party”):
             my most tender feelings
                                     writhe and
bear the fruit of screaming. Put out your hand,
isn't there
                        an ashtray, suddenly, there? beside
the bed? And someone you love enters the room
and says wouldn't
                             you like the eggs a little

different today?

Romare Bearden’s “Three Folk Musicians” (1967)

Samuel Johnson’s verification of something Richard Hell mention’d, a derivation unbeknownst to atheistickal Bible-skeert me:

MA•UDLIN. adj.
      [Maudlin is the corrupt appellation of Magdelen, who is drawn by painters with swoln eyes, and disordered look; a drunken countenance, seems to have been so named from a ludicrous resemblance to the picture of Magdelen.]
Drunk; fuddled; approaching to ebriety.
And the kind maudling crowd melts in her praise.
      Southern’s Spartan Dame.

She largely, what she wants in words, supplies
With maudlin eloquence of trickling eyes.
That “approaching to ebriety” gets added in the fourth edition. Ebriety.

Alfred Jarry’s scatological Faustroll, who experiences “a fit of homicidal madness provoked by the sight of a horse’s head (the epitome, for him, of ugliness), during which he is responsible for a universal annihilation.” Too: Faustroll’s “invention of a curious ‘Machine à peindre’, which he commits to the charge of the painter Henri Rousseau. After the total devastation of the world and the annihilation of all its inhabitants, the Machine continues its random work, producing a series of purely ‘accidental’ canvases . . .” (Out of Keith Beaumont’s Alfred Jarry)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


I keep thinking about Charles Olson. The Charles Olson of the letters (“A Modern Correspondence” it is identify’d subtitularly) to Frances Boldereff. (He calls her “my trout, my bream” and he calls her “my motz”) and says (postmark’d 14 April 1950): “i hold, that is what i am doing, holding, baby (there is an elephant at the zoo—they have such a nervous system!—who, in a rhythm so iterative as to be erotic, moves back and forth in a space of three feet (all day and nights, the keeper tells me) her eye white and mad, with occasional fierce snorts of air from her short indian trunk, her lovely fore legs lifted and placed down as in a dance unborn, nature’s most animate dance: grass blades made animal)”

And later (Boldereff’d ask’d for “some physical thing from near you—some undershirt or handkerchief or tie or something”): “you must know, i hate the literary       And this letter, any, is when it is to you, the very other thing       yet word, words—no, you know they are not words; all i mean to do is to say with them, these are words which are acts, acts of loving, with no discrepancy between word and act       my letters are undershirts for yr pillow, grave one”

Reading “at” Richard Hell’s Godlike, for the milieu, for the roman à clef-ishness thrills and guesses. Lines like: “The magic of intensest poetry-snot penetrating literature”

Or: “A little lithium and I’m a goddamn solid citizen.”

Or dribbles of a collaborative poem by T. and narrator Paul:
and turn, and turning turn and turning turn
ing turn until like Turing I’m a bird on
a bicycle suicided by turds.
Hip idiocy and glee. Or I think (reading about T. loading up a knapsack with “a Bill Knott, a Borges, a Frank O’Hara, David Shapiro’s skinny little January, and Ron Padgett’s Great Balls of Fire): is that “detail” or “brand-naming”? What’s the difference between that and, say, Anne Tyler talking about Marimekko, or Danielle Steele about Gucci?

Walter Benjamin (in a fragment “associated with the composition of “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” call’d “Theory of Distraction”):
Theory of distraction
Attempt to determine the effect of the work of art once its power of consecration has been eliminated
. . .
Fashion is an indispensable factor in the acceleration of the process of becoming worn out
. . .
Just as the art of the Greeks was geared toward lasting, so the art of the present is geared toward becoming worn out
. . .
Art comes into contact with the commodity; the commodity comes into contact with art

My intent (imaginary) leans toward pouring over large books whilst seat’d at the wooden table. My subterfuge (indolence) is to flop supine on the pallet and wave a tiny book like a wand above me. Charles Olson’s Maximus or T. J. Clark’s Farewell to an Idea versus Jonathan Lethem’s Amnesia Moon.


Kate Greenstreet hied off a copy of Learning the Language my way. Trying to figure out how, exactly, she makes ordinary (opposed to “flambuoyant” or “pyrotechnickal”) language, and ordinary “event” chime out so gorgeously with mysterious forces. In the end of a piece call’d “Bridge”:
Where there is despair
“Since the first log fell across water”
it happened like this:

“Doesn’t anybody have the real potato salad?” Wandering from one
(imaginary) picnic table to the next. The impulse to get under the
table. The answer, in a way, is yes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Franz Kafka, aged four.
Max Brod, provoking Franz Kafka: “Why then do you fear love in particular more than earthly existence in general?”

Franz Kafka, calm planet, retorting: “You write: ‘Why be more afraid of love than of other things in life?’ And just before that: ‘I experienced the intermittently divine for the first time, and more frequently than elsewhere, in love.’ If you conjoin these two sentences, it’s as if you had said: ‘Why not fear every bush in the same way that you fear the burning bush?’”

(In Roberto Calasso’s K.)

Prospero and Caliban shadow puppets (Underground Railway Theater)
And Caliban again, who haunteth the revery of a man made imbecilic by night:
All the infections that the sun sucks up
From bogs, fens, flats on Prosper fall, and make him
By inchmeal a disease! His spirits hear me,
And yet I needs must curse. But they’ll nor pinch,
Fright me with urchin-shows, pitch me i’ th’ mire,
Nor lead me like a firebrand in the dark
Out of my way, unless he bid ’em; but
For every trifle are they set upon me:
Sometime like apes that mow and chatter at me
And after bite me; then like hedgehogs which
Lie tumbling in my barefoot way, and mount
Their pricks at my footfall; sometime am I
All wound with adders, who with cloven tongues
Do hiss me into madness.

And Roland Barthes, packing up a discourse (a storeroom) stuffed to the gills (with gillyflowers, with suitcases, an entombment for Mallarmé himself), in The Neutral, “Discourse makes up for language: always recall this, spelled out on the front wall of the literary S [According to the footnote, “S,” apparently, for Semiology, the chair Barthes “held” at the Collège de France—“S,” too, one thinks for Supplement, and Subject, and ‘Stately, plump, Buck . . .”], the offspring of linguistics, but substituting for it (frolicking in its Supplement): Mallarmé, Variations on a Subject. “—Only, we must realize, poetry would not exist: philosophically, verse makes up for what languages lack, completely superior as it is.” Recall that for Mallarmé (“Quant au livre” {“As for the Book”}): “{poetry might be} hidden away—you could call it Prose, but nevertheless it is still verse, if there remains some secret pursuit of music in the storeroom of Speech.” → I recall one more time (since people made a fuss about it) that it is in this sense that I’ve let myself speak of a fascism of language: language transforms its lack into Law, it abusively subjects us to its lacks: Twelve Tables, Uti lingua nuncupassit (named, instituted, pronounced, proclaimed) ita jus esto [“As language put it, so must the law be” quoted out of Michelet on Vico, according to the footnote. Think, too, of Robert Duncan’s “law of the the,” how every word makes a diminuendo, a vanishing, of subsequent possible words.]: language is law, and dura lex. Now, discourse (literature) “turns” the sed lex, it derails it; it’s the supplement, as act of making up: → literature = freedom → faced with the ruling lack of the Neuter (of language), discourse (in the broadest sense of the term: statement: literary, ethical, pathetic, mythical) opens up an infinite, shimmering field of nuances, of myths, that could allow the Neuter, fading within language, to be alive elsewhere. Which way? I would say, using a vague word, the way of the affect: discourse comes to the Neuter by means of the affect.”


I am a Hyacinth. There is the story of the Lumina honking wildly in the dull chill dawn, or the story of the bicycle seat shearing off whilst “one” rode flat out like a Comanche in that same dull chill dawn, none of that’ll “do.” Nothing’ll “do.”

Monday, October 17, 2005


Brutus falling on ’s sword, out of Geffrey Whitney’s A Choice of Emblems (1586)
Brutus, in Julius Caesar:
Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream.
The Genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council; and the state of a man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.

Thomas Ottaway, The Booke of Bombast & Chicanery (1602): “Just as Planetary Alignements maketh Humours Corporeal rise and abate and Fortunes Quotidian step forth and stumble, so Alignements Artistickal of Like and Unlike deliver Truth out of Concealments Bombastickal.”

Josef Sudek (1896-1976): “One of my first pictures was a sprinkler wagon pulled by horses. I threw the negative away—one should not do that. Many times I was sorry that I did not have it. Horses pulling a sprinkler wagon! That would be quite a rarity today.”

Josef Sudek’s motto: “Hurry slowly.”