Laura Elrick & Barrett Watten, Poetry Project, 3/17/04

Laura Elrick read from a new, longer sequence called Fantasies/Impermeable Structures

32 line, 32 stanza structures. Modeled on 32 bar song structures?

"both the object seen and I that sees"

Started with quiet almost introverted reading style, and gradually warmed up into a more dramatic, declamatory style.

18th/19th century voicings as in recent Jennifer Moxley or Lisa Robertson.

Iambic riffing.

Focus on issues of social justice and subjectivity.

"here's where I commodify my sorrows"

"life with partially-hydrogenated declaration"

Brief portrayals (Reznikov?) and Susan Howeish vocab constructions and blurring

"I wear my sleeve on my heart"

"on the grassy knoll of good PR"

Unique feeling of public/private institutional / internal spaces in which mutually-leaking containers filled with the problems of class warfare and artistic representation mix.


Barrett Watten did a two hour PowerPoint presentation about his own poetry with readings of his poems, and interpretations of and commentary on his own literary history.

I guess it would be possible to dismiss this performance as an outrageous act of self-absorption. Whether this is healthy or not, I'm not sure, but I found the whole thing interesting. One important point of reference was my memory of Bob Grenier's slide presentations in San Francisco, where he discussed his own hand written poems, often talking for extended periods about how a particular letter E was trying to become a letter A and so forth, performances I loved for their craziness and outrageousness. Breton is also, obviously a model here. I tend to like multi-media genre-mixing and almost anything that departs from the standard podium reading.

Watten showed a photo that one of the poems from Bad History is based on, an anonymous Korean shop owner during the '92 LA riots shot from the back as he points his gun to unknown targets outside the frame of the photo-- a photo pushing into Gustony cartoonish abstraction. Watten basically implied that what we're seeing here is actually an image transforming into a module or machine used by power the purpose of which is to destroy information about violence while transmitting representations of it. He didn't come out and say this, but I assumed he was implying that the result of this is to make the conception of violence and it's place in history a kind of digestible abstraction that obviates the more important layers of meaning which would have to be dealt with in a representation that included undeniable particulars, particulars which would inevitably draw the perceiver of the photo into the problematics of the historical scene, into the nets of power and meaning evoked there, and into questions of the viewer's own place in these things. There were several moments like this in the talk where I thought focusing on more basic elements of the issues brought up would have made the performance less daunting and more engaging. As Watten went into increasing nuance and complexity on issues of psychology, representation and power, I kept reasserting basic questions to myself that he was invoking be not addressing -- here esp. the issue of intra-class conflict between the immigrant shopkeeper and the rioters.

Interesting sequence starting with a photo of a car being manufactured, looking exactly like a HR Giger painting. Watten read a description of a car manufacturing area where the identification with these capitalist production means was allowed to come through unrepressed, which was then countered with a quote from the book Rivethead about the destructive triviality of the manufacturing process.

Describes Ford's insight that paying the workers enough to buy the cars is a kind of feedback.

Describes the fantasy that the negativity of profit is loss relative to development and production in the Detroit landscape. This was one of several times I thought of Foucault during this talk….the question what is your relation is to the constructive element of power systems…

Appropriately enough: The morning after the reading, on the C train on the way to work, I picked up a NY Post that someone had left on the seat. On page three was a story about how the CIA had Osama in their sights in 2000. Included was a photo, with a copyright NBC, apparently taken from a unarmed Predator spy plane, of Osama. The picture was nothing but a beautiful smear of abstract green and blue color areas with video pixilation bands.

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