Hank Lazer's The People's Poetry

Lazer talks about some good things here, like Susan Schultz, Walter Lew, internet writing and publishing as possibly constructive reversals of globalizing infrastructure. He makes an attempt at addressing rap and spoken word (though in embarrassing uncle mode, ugh!), and goes out of his way to discuss neglected writers like Taggart, Enslin. He talks about Maria Damon! It's clear he's genuinely interested in asking questions about what the present situation is in poetry.

More importantly, he gropingly sees the idea of _dispersal_ as being possibly constructive. He is not even close to understanding the depth of the paradigm shift he is glimpsing out of the corner of his eye. He nervously reverts to mostly giving shout outs to Language poets who are already very well known and widely influential.

When discussing younger writers, this otherwise interesting essay becomes questionable. There seems to be some defensive gravitational impulse that keeps him from escaping triumphalist generationalism, though I would add that he's hardly the only established writer to have this problem:

_A major hazard for this generation is a bland eclecticism, with technically adroit writing that remains superficial because the cultural and historical tension of the formal gestures has evaporated._

If these gestures now lack historical tension (meaning it is no longer the 70s and early 80s?) then he is complaining that young writers sound too much like language poetry and that this doesn't work any more because those gestures only had a political meaning during the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations? Would this mean the Lazer considers himself and his contemporaries to have at some point (in the mid 80s?) to have stopped writing in the present? He would then be advocating completely different gestures (direct contextualizations I assume, and think he's hinting at) that operate in present political context of the 90s and 00s? Gestures that poets of his generation are not making, even though they are working in the same period?

Or does he mean that only work that repeats Language Poetry's formal gestures AND framing propositions is valid? That _their_ work is _pure_ (his word) and that _younger writers_ are adulterated?

This seems like a hasty recycling of statements from Lyn Hejinian's famous Rain Taxi interview. My most cynical read on this is the possibility that this kind of statement is intentionally picking out some Iowa workshop / Jorie Graham imitators (work which actually IS confessional poetry with spray-on coating of Language Poetry) and ingenuously saying _look the kids aren't any good, we're the real deal_ as a generational PR move, ignoring the interesting younger writers. Lazer may actually not know about the existence of much writing by poets 20-40.

Or is this kind of statement just a temporary thing -- a presently incoherent conflicted response to a group artistic mid-life crisis?


Jack adds to his streak of interesting, thoughtful reviews with this take on Mike Scharf's Verite:


The night beacon of the lighthouse pulsating in the darkness. Giant bands of glowing fog-light turning through space every ten seconds.

Pigeon Point. Named for the wreck of the Carrier Pigeon. This was a good spot for shipwrecks and rum-running, for the same reason.

Oil lamps and Fresnel lens -- 1872. 1,008 brass-framed prisms to concentrate the source of light. Joined together to form a six-foot-diameter in a circular frame.

Now a 1,000-watt light bulb.

When the steam whistle first blew, cows from a nearby ranch stampeded to the beach. "The cows must have thought there was a very wonderful bull down there."

1970's, the signal was automated.

The night sky, fog moving under stars.


Butano State Park. Coastal Redwoods. Damp and dark at the stream basin. Areas of thick underbrush and overturned redwood trees. Steep slopes and moist, thin topsoil. Not the tallest redwoods but still big enough to be micro-environments in and of themselves. Ferns growing on branches 100 feet up. Purple Iris'.

An economy of sunlight, with the tallest trees taking the most and the animals and plants who dig moisture and shade thriving at the bottom. Some of the lower areas are only redwoods and ferns. Prehistoric looking. Banana slugs, moss, spiders in rotting, upturned root beds.

Going up the ridge. Small desolate areas of terminal Douglas fir forest. Dead trees that choked off their own light -- renewal cycle sustaining them in the overall balance and long term coherence of the forest's symbiotic mechanisms.

Hot, flat fire road with sunlight enough to sustain poppies. A relief to start back down the trail into the cool, moist air and complexities of the mixed Douglas fur and Redwood areas. Sharp patches of sunlight filtered though branches. Unusually quiet. Recent burn marks around the trees -- everything here evolving around the fires. Improvising to turn destruction into something good.

I love the chaos and order mixed together. Are these state park enclosures preserved areas of nature? Or are they now art?


Pescadero, ala trout fishing spot, classic tiny old west town crossroads but with New England architecture. Used to be a seaside resort on the stage coach route.

We arrive at our resort, Coastnoa, Right up against Butano State Park.
Mix of tent areas, cabins, rooms and common areas. Young couples and families. Lightly streaming tinges of anger beneath the crunchy veneers.

Fire place in the room. Duraflame logs provided. Wax and sawdust. I take an interest in Duraflame as a take on content. Their motto is the secret of fire.
Half Moon Bay. Pleasant small town. Crunchy yuppie stuff and child rearing scenes. Katie's friend Stephanie grew up here, living on a boat.

Picked up, to my surprise, a used copy of Georg Lukacs, The Historical Novel, in the used book store here. Marked up only in the first chapter.

Excellent, strong coffee available every ten yards. Why did the culture of strong coffee never develop in the East? Must be the French/Italian take on eating, which involves taking time to enjoy one's food, never happened in the East, esp. New York City, where food is quickly shoveled into one's mouth as you earn money or race toward the next marker. That, or eating is an excuse to be seen in a status-generating/reinforcing room, where one waits to enter, and is then rushed out like an item in a factory.

NYC has a dispiriting, corporate-dork Starbucks every two blocks, but does not have anything like the coffee culture of the west coast. The East Village has many small coffee shops that survive, not one of which has coffee one tenth as good as an average place the Bay Area. Not exactly about coffee. It is about whether there is an expectation that one is ever suppose to feel that they are abiding within their own duration, even for a small stretch. In the culture of NYC this feeling would be taken as a sign of weakness.


Space of pacific coast highway 1, the realized dream of Dr. John L. D. Roberts. An incredible artwork, though one build by prisoners etc. 1919-1937. Pacific ocean and lush farmlands right up against each other, flowers and vegetables. Limestone cliffs.

The total lack of commercial signs. No McDonalds. No Billboards. Because of policies. Ecologically unsound road repair methods let in destructive nonnative plants, Pampas Grass. Unbelievable feeling of freedom and space on this road. Curving and extending. And the air so full of information -- compared to the unbreathable stuff we use for oxygen in NYC.

San Gregorio State Beach, south side. Old Ohlone village. Estuary and freshwater marsh. No egrets today. Crumbling cliffs and expanding views. The combinations of types of erosion here, sea water, creek water, wind, create a particular variety in the contours of the limestone and shallow topsoil. I remember seeing humpback whale flukes come out of the water right at the beach here years ago. A little girl pointing and screaming in delight and fear.

The cliff line looks like a turkey on a slicer. The Red-winged Blackbirds doing legato notes with a curious timbre. Bright orange shoulders. The sound a combination of machine and cat. Excellent group riffing.

Sparkling early evening sunlight on ocean waves.


California Notes

Flying into SF at night. Black area of bay water. The negative space of man-made light. Water, not development.

San Bruno extension of airport. Connecting transport structures imposed over older small CA town.

San Bruno Regency Inn motel, the room smelling faintly of melted plastic. The details, a perfect piece of installation art about accommodation and alienation, a space created for people to not actually be there, but to be contained and seen to, a bit like the alien studio suite at the end of Kubric's 2001, A Space Odyssey, but of course without the appropriated poshness. The awkward attempts of the aliens to provide a living space, the subtler connotations of which they wouldn't be concerned with. The class implications of the expensive furniture transplanted onto another planet creating much of the alienating upper-class human-pet-hospital-through-the-eyes-of-other-beings vibe.

Low flying airplane sound at night. Amazing bass and treble layers sliding away from each other in the sustain. The depth of the partials. The implied power of the engines a bit too close. Nervousness charged into the sound, beautiful.


Will Alexander, Bowery Poetry Club, 4.3.04

Missed Harryette Mullen, but arrived in time to see Will Alexander's whole set. He read with an electric guitar player, who improvised with loops and textures.

Alexander read with the same style and pacing as he normally would without the music, so the overall arrangement was in the free jazz tradition of streams of separate things happening at the same time in phenomenological polyphony. The poetry was read blastissimo, without breaks or pauses, and the guitar player essentially took a supportive role. The music added a lot to the overall performance energy, and I thought there could easily have been a whole band here, at least bass and drums in addition to guitar.

Alexander's poetry is thought provoking and extremely vertical, with vocabularies building and massing into color areas. You could think of this performance a duet for two harmonic instruments. I experienced it as a movement through space, with cloud and particle formations of vocabulary spiraling past. The guitar player also implied movement through a sound space that could have been considered very small or very large, esp. in his loop sequencing.

Alexander's syntax is fairly static, with constructions that fall into an elevated surrealist argument / description voicing. This static syntactical element is a stable structure around which the vocabulary structures are built dynamically (though this dynamic quality happens within a fairly controlled set of registers). The word groups tend to fall within several sets of concerns -- environments, animals, minerals, elements, and mental states. The words pile up with only ostensible syntactical exchange. The vocabulary sequences, and their implied subject matter, linger way past anything suggested by the actual sentence structures, like:

levels / vertigo / hummingbird / omniscience / nostalgia.

Almost any of the words from these concern-sets can be and are plugged into the syntax grid, and this comes off almost as a proposition about ranges freedom within agreed-upon formal arraignments.

It is impossible to even scratch a doodle onto a scrap of paper without invoking the question of what identifiable parts of the past still have a claim upon us. Alexander addresses this question by actively joining in dialogue with the works of Aime Cesaire. I guess it could be argued that anything identifiable as a claim from the past that one could pick to attend to on the basis of one's own tropisms is already more of a function of what we think of as the present, and the more crucial aspect of the past are those things which also have some kind of claim on us but which we are incapable of seeing at present.

Alexander's work also operates as a perpetual motion machine whose function it is to reject any external definition or limitation of identity or experience while refusing to posit an alternative except the ambient motion and particle phenomenon that seem to go along with and exist as the very substance of this rejection. It felt like the embodiment of the wish to be completely uncontained, hence the impact of the work feels ambiant and spatial. The rebellious, speculative, and of course, impossible quality of this embodiment are so obviously related to the work of Sun Ra that I won't belabor the obvious here.