In his dissenting opinion Scalia says that the overturning of the Texas sodomy law will result in:

"a massive disruption in the current social order."

sounds good to me…


Reading report
Jean Donnelly. Ron Silliman, Rae Armantrout.
The Drawing Center, 6/24/03

Acousticly, the Drawing Center is not the greatest space for poetry. It’s as though it was designed specifically to muffle the sound of the human voice. Because of this situation, the room presents a kind of test for readers. Since every reader I’ve heard there struggled against the acoustics of the space, you can see how different readers handle struggling with acoustics, not just with volume.

Jean Donnelly:

Quiet reading style. Made me hear some of the more micro- breath and pitch changes.

The throat, mouth, lips, and tongue are after all a biological envelope filter changing the timbre and articulation of sound. In English all the linguistic information is carried by this filter system, rather than the vocal chords, which control pitch. I can’t help but wonder if the music of a culture that uses a non-tonal language is more likely to have a greater emphasis on timbral variation?

Much about domestic life and children mixing with brief spans of politically suggestive material.

Full of literary references and carefully developed thematics.

Some sharp observations -- "the clicks of an electric meter on the back of a house."

The poetry panned slowly over landscapes -- rural, suburban, mental, social.

Ron Silliman

Silliman at first tried to bypass the mike entirely, which did improve the sound for the first couple of rows, but make it inaudible to everyone else. Katie helpfully stepped in and remedied the situation.

Silliman‘s projection was good and he managed to overcome some of the sonic deadening and get the poetry out into the space of the room.

A chain of observed details with their hierarchy of significance removed.

He has an instantly recognizable take on certain kinds of details -- often trivial things (rather than quadrivial) which are commonly experienced but go unremarked upon, "the pigeon walks up to me and when I move my foot it flies away" / "the unripe banana" / "top of the business card used as a toothpick." In this sense it is a poetry of social commonality, the implicit social commonality of visual perception. It is Eignerian in that the poet observes what is in front of him. At one point he comes out and says "write what’s in front of you."

Mixed with this is what sound like straight-forward autobiographical vignettes and commentary as one would get in a mainstream poem, but without the sentimental inflation, as well as political material -- a story taken from the news, about Serbian torture, for instance. Again, the playing field of significance is totally level, so that a report of forced cannibalism happens in the same register as items about Mike Piatta or mosquitoes. To me it replicates the disturbingly unequal moral simultaneity of the world as well as implying some questions about how we get information about it, through the media, and through our own senses.

I also thought of a late Olson poem -- about watching a fly -- the significance of insignificance.

Observations that could be straight out of his blog are also thrown in: "the expansion of genre has been much faster than the expansion of readers" or "the cast system of literary reputation."

A lot of dream material, all prefaced with "in the dream" or ended with "then I woke up." So despite all this mixing of modes, the categories of experience are not blurred in this work, actually the opposite -- they are carefully delineated.

One of the ways Silliman produces variation in his work is the use of an unusually wide spectrum of ironic distance, which moves from the extremes of irony to total sincerity.

At one point he used the image of an approaching train, which I’ve noticed before in his work. This seems analogous to something central in his process -- things held in an equalized mutual potentiality of imminent arrival.

Rae Armantrout

If Silliman is the potentiality of imminent arrival, Armantrout is the continuously transforming moment of arrival.

Armantrout was able to get the poetry into the sonic space, not with projection, but, seemingly, with personality.

This is poetry that could fit into several "separate" strains of American poetic tradition.

She somehow manages to take energies which clearly have their origin in mentally negative modes and transform the energy to something quite positive and energizing, as well as funny and sharp.

Beautifully developed cognitive movements turning around an axis of humor.

"I was a forwarding address"

"A pun pretends to be a bridge"

Magically transmogrified complaints and fiercely intelligent playfulness.

Not letting anything mess with her, not tradition, not innovation.

Highly compact observational critiques: "a fetish object appears as previous centuries."

Philosophical and even mathematical preoccupations beautifully unwinding in the poetry.

Making poetic use of indigestion. A meditation on the Borg. Making poetic use of anything…


Actually it is a pretty funny typo to point out. But now that I see that Nada's being affable how am I going to take out all my pent up feelings of resentment from the years of having my spelling mocked in grammar school? At least I can still say Dug Rothschild is worse!

I've always wondered what makes a person develop into a "corrector," the kind of person who, when faced with a trivial typo or mispronunciation, will pointedly interrupt someone as though they had committed some profound crime against humanity and correct them with a snotty, condescending tone, regardless of context. I guess it's some inferiority complex. It allows one to feel superior, even for a brief second.

Being an atrocious speller, verging on dyslexic, I've had to live with these people all my life. They tend be people with a strong need to have others follow sets of rules or socially mandated guidelines for behavior, or, as is more often the case, people who have these controlling needs but have repressed them, so they balloon out in odd places.


Thousands Count Out Loud, George Albon, Lyric&, San Francisco, 2000

A progression of sonnets in single sentence lines which accrue as separate units but build into a single poetic environment with multiple layers. Almost every line adds something. Very little is wasted.

A greater degree of proposition, critique and humor than in Empire Life.

"They eat as if to hide the food."

Rich phenomenological harmony and counterpoint.

Engaging with overlapping and mirroring systems:

"Social games will function as enzymes"
Crossing Amsterdam at 108th street the other day, I saw a nun carrying the collected poems of Robert Lowell.


George Albon, Empire Life, 1998, Littoral Books, LA.

The first two-thirds of the book consist of a single serial poem composed of eighty-eight eight line poems.

Mental autobiography.

The poems build up in units of scenic, Gaussian-blurred subjectivity.

There is often an implied relationship narrative where only tiny bits of information about the story are shared, though the sensation of urgency in the missing bigger picture is allowed through with much of it's energy. It's as though the poem is stepping back from a setting where a human drama is unfolding, and this backward movement allows in a subtle and odd layer of psychological implication.

Would you find
the country

thru the steel
grasses of

such collision,
the gift of

his knotted
blare & call--

Similar to Creeley in its nuanced pivoting between psychological and perceptual valences, except unlike Creeley it moves strongly away from the dynamics of sentiment.

Very small units of information put together like puzzle pieces which fit perfectly even though they seem to be from totally different puzzles.

A beautiful, tense, odd wholesomeness like Lorine Niedecker.

At one point, he makes a little drama out of the process of a thought's inception, and the relation of the area of that inception to anxiety, complete with harpies:

He reassured
himself with

the smallest,
the almost

unborn thought.
It held a

center that
harpies clawed.

The feeling or pressure of the physical world is strong even within the confines of a fairly abstract and cerebral poetics.

It is going
between (the bus).

Part of me
will actually

miss this

A gust of
wind like gale.

Strong objectivist tendencies-- clarity and precision. Also possessed of Eignerian moments of stationary observation:


& white
shines out

from the blue
sky with

a sound in
it, window.

In fact this work is deeply Objectivist- not only is the poem itself seen as an object, but every element within the poem is treated as an object. The perception, the thought, the word, the observation, the feeling, the self, the person, etc., all have the feeling of assembled objects.

The poems are like carefully improvised beddings make from the gradual accruals of everyday, domestic life.

Some of these sequences seem to be simultaneously asking a question of and depicting a memory and/or a setting:

A couch but
some in chairs-

it goes round-

heard, then in
circle, the couple

singing Working
Class Hero

The other part of book is Cosmophagy, which consists of a sequenced string of short, smooth, one-sentence prose units.

Narrative in a blender, or existing in a suspension of poetic science fiction like Soft Boys mode William Burroughs or J.G. Ballard.

Scenes melting into each other as though seen from a passing car, all happening in a landscape like a post-Blade Runner Gunslinger.

Many images of machines wearing away the earth, as though all human activity were a kind of erosion. The title means world-eating.

Blurred dream material but also metaphoric thought and questioning:

"In vassal-mind an ethos traveling like a geese-V in pinkish dusk to the appropriate host a creature-calling lucidation of lives they stumble into what? From the resulting what?"


Matthew Barney, The Cremaster Cycle, Guggenheim Museum

An expensive Hollywood auction where props and costumes from Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars: Episode One are sold for the price of some countries’ GDP.

Sporty things that are spilling out.

The subject of this art is the individual acquisition of cultural capital, fame and money, symbolized by Barney climbing the wall of the Guggenheim to displace Richard Serra form the lofty heights.

Tomb Raider.

Expensive racing side-car motorcycles with testicles.

Barney’s art is similar to that of the Wachowski brothers in The Matrix Reloaded: a confusing and tedious self-enclosed fantasy world whose primary purpose is to display wealth and status to earn more of same.

Not nearly enough stuff to fill the space.

Intensely inventive, but using the inventiveness in an all-out embrace of corporate art power, hence of trans-national corporate power?

Late 90’s internet bubble capital feeling.

Is it just an elaborate teaser for the movies? Hence the overwhelming feeling of incompleteness?

Hermetically sealed preoccupations siphoned into a franchisable fantasy world.

Creatively blocking social reality as a part of trading up the social ladder.


The beginning of Nick's poem makes me wonder if irony doesn't involve, among other things, a form of linguistic data compression, fitting more meaning (information) in the same amount of linguistic space. Like Stuffit.

Computers make it very clear- that
everything in life can be reduced to
a simple yes or no. Humans have
never stood for this. After centuries
of solemn obedience to the rules of language, we
created the yes that is no and the
no that is yes.
The linguistic birth of irony.
Craig Watson, True News, Instance Press, Santa Cruz, CA, 2002.

Loosely propositional abstractions centering on the inadequacies of human response to existence. "Infinity of the under-imagined"

Watson laments the menu of categories our minds like to present us with, and uses the shapes of these categories as a negative template for an assemblage arraigned heavily around issues of artistic process, representation and thought.

He takes on issues of poetic self-consciousness, the undesirability of a unified subject, the ambiguity of representation etc., and crisscrosses back and forth across their implications with persistence and patience.

He explores feedback loops of ignorance, not through a celebration of word/reference disconnection, but through a quiet indictment of systematically self-perpetuating veneers which operate at the service of seriously out-of-balance competitive mental and social ecosystems. The subject of the poet's inherent involvement and investment in these systems is never far way in this work, esp. on the cognitive and creative levels.

Wry crypto-Taoism?

Complaints against the mechanisms of inheritance, biological, mental, social.

Somewhat vague? What is the difference between ambiguity and vagueness this kind of poetry? How exactly does one identify vagueness when it becomes a drawback?

Thought morphs into thought via analogy and vocabulary juggling.

Consistently responding to issues of social and bio-political productive force.

Lightly encrypted.

The things in Home Guard are presented as props in a kind of off-Broadway theater of mediation. The poem is a modular stage where this drama takes place.

Figure B starts as a mediation on an image -- a plane landing -- and then branches out by analogy to mental processes. The intentionally self-halting rhythmic accretions of Ron Silliman's new sentence are fused with complex analogical mechanisms like those of Jack Clarke.

Mellifluous critique: "theft always comes easier to a man of faith and taste"


If you tell poet A you don't like X or Y's poetry, esp. if it's a writer who turns out to be a personal (and almost always public) sacred cow, you can see them seethe with rage. They hate you.

When the name of a poet that they dislike comes up, poet B says aggressively- they suck! That's as much information as you can get from them about how they feel about it.

Poet C might indicate they dislike something and you might actually manage to get into an exchange about why, but all you hear is a list of unmet preloaded expectations rather than a take what the poetry is doing and why it is bad.

Is it just the problem of communicating difference in a competitive space that makes poets defensive in a way that seems to drive them away from their own critiques? Or are the critiques privately worked out and unspeakable in public?

This negative framing works in a similar way on listserves but the protective glass of the computer screen obviates this problem of instant freeze. Instead the "critique" is expressed by some kind of outpouring of abuse from younger male poet D and the distrust that follows chokes off the conversion on the list, often for good.

Poet E and F, both of whom are friends of mine and both of whom are intelligent and sensitive people recently had an argument about a recent critical book on a listserve. Neither was able to communicate or describe their position or what they really thought the thing was or what the problem was exactly. They were two muffled walls politely grinding past each other. Is it the unprocessed quality of our competitive relations to each other that freezes this stuff out? Or is it just the result of a general context of being spectacularly unwanted by our society?


Elizabeth Robinson, Pure Descent, Sun and Moon, NPS 2001

Intimate domestic spaces opening internal dimensions of meaning.

Highly controlled yet relaxed synaesthesia.

Corporealizing issues of language / cognition.

Spiritually charged adventures in everyday living.

Food / body / language.

The fissures and shuffling multiple connotations grow inconspicuously, though with a certain amount of stability, like plant growth. Pastoral then in the sense of an affinity with plant life but operating on the level of thought. Plants can break up concrete, right?

Rain takes on human proportions.

Cooling soup enacts questions of the verifiability of experience.

There seem to be interpretations of dreams intermixing with interpretations of daily life. Interpretive processes fuse to altered and pulled apart narrative gestures and speculative processes in interlocking shapes.

The part of the mind that wants to learn, that is hungry for meaning, is active in the foreground of the work.

Lots of sleep and wake up stuff -- oblique diminutive self-renewals.

Playing off of the ambiguous psychological dynamics of attachment to words / names -- our need for them and our outright suspicions of them.

Simultaneous questioning and celebration of everyday spaces and objects.

Subtly suggestive details pivot in the ambiguity, forming patterns around a dynamic of wish fulfillment? A primal relationship with language and fantasy. Like Coolidge in this respect, but with less narcoleptic intent.

The use of enigmas and contradiction in the tradition of wisdom literature -- Dogen, Alan Davies, Rumi…

A folding of perception and thought into a song-like story laying open and hiding the layers of thinking and playfulness.