Peter Gizzi, talk on Jack Spicer. Poet's House 5/6/04

I came in late to this talk as Peter was discussing After Lorca. It occurred to me that having Lorca introduce you is a great deflationary comical rearrangement of Whitman's "stealing" his introduction from a private letter of Emerson's without asking him for permission. Could Spicer be considered a negative or reversed transcendentalist? My mind kept going back to the arena of poetic social manifestation were the poet attempts to associate their work with artistic status figures…. what is this process? What does it reveal?

Gizzi in this talk made a pitch to see Spicer as a traditional poet in the good sense, that is -- keeping basic poetic gestures alive (by morphing them) in one's time and according to the demands one's experiences in the world call for. Great to have Spicer described not as some magically depressed hermeticly private crank, but as a reflection of the larger history happening around him.

Discussion of basic Spicer moves -- puns, degraded sources, etc., leading up to a comparison of Spicer with California funk art and assemblage, and, in particular, Bruce Connor.

Gizzi showed the Connor film Report, which was totally riviting. Repeated (sampled you could say) news images of the Kennedy assassination that never get to the actual moment of violence, but seem to be infinitely approaching it. Against this disorienting permanent deferment of the moment of truth a news voiceover continues uninterrupted, the temporal continuity of public language seeming to flow and change even as historical meaning is frozen. I thought more than once of Sept. 11th, and the nightmarish media repetition than followed.

I felt in the audience a fascinating rift between the older audience members who had lived through the assassination and the younger ones to whom it is all more distanced media and myth. The older man sitting in front of me kept shaking his head and quietly saying, "why…why…" not understanding what this has to do with Spicer or why a filmmaker would do such a thing.

More than once I thought of JG Ballard during the course of this film, and I realized there may be strong connections between Ballard and Spicer… the use of repeated media/myth images and their fetishistic aspects, the deflationary use of this material which also invokes the dynamics of individual fixation that these myth/history/image systems involve.

Talking with Steve Evans afterwards we both agreed that the deflationary power of Spicer's work is one it's most valuable qualities.

The poetic movement not from unknowing to knowing, but from believing to not knowing? Not art that destabilizes myth but art that reveals an unstable reality from beneath a myth, or, one could say, a wish for stability.


It's hard to imagine that the patriotic denial of national guilt is stronger anywhere in the world than in the USA now, esp. relative to the ostensible level freedom of speech we're suppose to have here. And esp. considering that we could just be getting started with this neo-imperialist shit. This is something traditional that happens in all countries with power, because patriotism, along with it's sibling, religion, are the primary ways leaders switch off the critical thought of the population in order to exploit them, and to use them to exploit others. (my thoughts return to the obvious again!) So it's been for 2000 years with empires, but I do think the USA has cornered the market!

Our corporate media broker state apparatus themselves broadcast these picture of war crimes day after day and Bush's approval ratings stay the same. Rumsfeld's defense is basically that war crimes are no big deal, and people should shut up about it -- he should be able to do as he pleases without the interference of "the world" knowing what he's doing. As if we could hide the meaning of our actions from anyone except ourselves!

There must obviously be guilt in the population (of the paralyzing variety not of the "okay now how are we going to make it right" variety), but it goes with an equal helping of denial. Paralyzed /unprocessed guilt and denial, those are two great American tastes that go great together. The current leaders are clearly beyond the reach of guilt feelings -- these people are expressions of narcissistic tendencies so extreme that guilt is no longer a possibility.

Our guilt about the history within the USA, which is about genocide against Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, and the cast system and repression of our underclass, all operate here in a strong but deeply sublimated domestic guilt/denial system. The powers of denial here are ten times stronger than the powers of guilt as conscience. In the USA, morality operates as an opinion you have about others, it's not something you would apply to what you actually do, or to what "your country" does.

Americans, on the surface, are infantile in their understanding of what it's leaders are doing and why. We look for images of fathers in a president, trust our government, and we "get mad" at people in other countries when they "don't like us." That's how many Americans think. We're not stupid. This is a tactical suppression of intelligence.

American guilt is a guilt that makes us more violent. We think -- what if somebody tried to do this shit to US? We'd want to kill them and torture them. So then we have to be more violently repressive towards them because we're afraid they would want to kill us as much as we'd want to kill them in the same circumstances. That's how the real white guilt works.

It seems that only in academia is historical guilt allowed to be a topic of conversation for extended periods. Because it is contained there, like a protest march route set by the NYPD is contained. When Goering has his own show on Fox the topic is not going to be historical guilt. "You're just having white guilt" means shut up. It's a reactionary statement. I have to admit, though, that saying "we are all complicit " and just leaving it at is a drag and rings false. If it's not elaborated on it can come off as saying "please watch me wringing my hands."

The guilt incurred through imperial repression of other countries is not quite on the mental radar of Americans yet , though I think we project our domestic guilt onto foreign others. The Abu Ghraib prison pictures are reminiscent of American lynching photography. Think of the treatment of Aber Louima got in jail after being falsely arrested in New York City.

Will these fragmented country/ gulag zones be allowed to flourish? Will they grow? The pictures show a tiny sliver of what's going on over there. They also show just a tiny lighted corner compared to a lot of the things we know about foreign policy/CIA/MI history and what it was done over the past 50. America has been such a quick learner. We were able to learn so much from the Nazis and their innovative ideas about counter-insurgency, and to make sure that that Nazi culture didn't die out, didn't go to waste after WWII.

When Rumsfeld was questioned on the armed services committee was very angry about digital photography, and how easy it is to distribute. He was complaining about this when he was being questioned about why 60 minutes was asked not to show the pictures. This was his main concern.

Funny, I remember all these newspaper articles about the digitizing of photography when it was just starting years ago, how it would mean that no one will be able to believe media or history anymore. Looks like it (combined with networking of computers) is going to have the opposite effect. Information leakage may be a lot harder to contain than the Bush team thought. You can bet they will now redouble their effort to control it now.


5/1/04 4:30

Deirdre Kovak, Kamau Braithwaite, Bowery Poetry Club

Deirdre Kovak

Strong sound-based orientation. Dense, meticulously controlled phrases and sentences carefully smashed together, operating in a intentionally attenuated spectrum of variation, not unlike Bruce Andrews in these respects.

"love it or leave with it"

Much deadpan humor and riffing off of self-discomfort and social discomfort in a look / look away pattern.

"The lack of siblings has contributed to my lack of emotional growth."

"Smoking is not speech."

It feels as if the negative psychic energies of living on this side of empire are being transformed into something constructive, a persona processing system mowing itself down in a sequence of downwardly curved starts none of which, in and of themselves, are allowed to develop, but which nonetheless build into larger thematic images. Information, energies and structures emanate as this system is pummeled with gobbets of decaying contradictory truths.

"like your hand against the squeamish of history"

"tomorrow is touching itself in public

"heaven is a do-over"

Kamau Braithwaite

The excavation of history from one's present moment is epic poetry is it not?

"it it it is not. It is not enough to be. To be free of the red white and blue."

Drumming lightly on the table. Half sung.

"to be semi-colon, to be semi-colony"

"95% of my people poor. 95% of my people black. 95% of my people dead."

This poetry moves beautifully away from mysticism. The necessary opposite of mystery. The articulation of why we have trouble understanding.

"there is an absence of truth, like the good tooth drawn from the skull"

"out of the Coney Island of our mindless architects"

"this perturbation that does not signal health"

Halfway through this increasingly riveting reading, Braithwaite went into an extemporaneous explanation of the origins of the Limbo dance, that it comes from the torture of the middle passage, the vertical space of the slave ship decks. How during the dances the tourists always bend over forward, the easy way, not understanding. Braithwaite's reading was so patiently developed that his story telling skills snuck up on me at this point in the reading, before I even realized what was happening. The story and improvised explanatory information fused beautifully and powerfully with the overall body of poetry being read. It felt not like an interruption of the poetry, but like the opening of a related dimension.

"to negotiate this passage and rise on the other side,
rise like the sun to the wonderful glow of the drums."


5/1/04, 3:00

Sound Cube, Charles Morrow, The Kitchen.

Short pieces by Olivia Block, Nicola Green, Shelley Hirsch, Martyn Ware/Vincent Clark, Miya Masaoka, Steve McCaffrey, Charles Morrow, Phill Niblock, Michael J. Schumacher, Scanner, Stephen Vitiello, and Pamela Z .

A sound cube is a three-dimensional multi-channel surround sound system, a frame holding eight speakers. There were two separate cubes here, one with enough room for about 15-20 people, another smaller one, with room for 6 or so. With this system, the sounds can be positioned and moved anywhere within the cube, vertically and horizontally. The larger cube made for a more communal listening experience, and the smaller one had sharper sound images, because there was less reflection. The best possible position for clarity of image was for a single listener sitting on the stool in the center of the smaller cube. The tension here between clarity of sound image and space that allowed for social listening was interesting. The social connotations of reverb….

Phil Niblock
Beautiful, thick, undulating drone. Slow microtonal variations in the drone layers. This piece was ending just as I came in, so I didn't get a sense of the how the sound cube and 3-D positioning was interacting with this signature Niblock sound.

Charles Morrow
Not surprisingly, this piece best captured the feeling of object three dimensionality the sound cube is capable of representing. Sawing wood, tapping sounds. Vivid feeling of the substance of wood.

Shelley Hirsch
A kind of sound theater/installation poetry. Back yard sounds, connotations of suburban childhood. Mouth sounds.

Also used backyard sounds. Riffing off remembered suburban sound space. Yard/space art/space. containment. Birds / synth tones.

Stephen Vitiello
Mesmerizingly beautiful organ tones mixed with particle movement sounds. Gravel sliding off a metal surface. Tonality and texture mixed, as with many of these pieces. The sound of tarps being pulled over wood. Digital delay.

Miya Masaoka
Sounds recorded from a three-dimensionally mic'd koto, as though the listener were inside a giant koto. Eight microphones on a single instrument. Texture sounds, scrapes and taps. Small-scale timbre sound events and drone.

Steve McCaffrey
A marvelous digital arrangement by Charles Morrow of McCaffrey's poem Cappuccino, in which words are taken from mathematical language and given Italian suffixes. Here his voice has been multi-tracked, spacialized and looped -- a single voice recording made into a percussion orchestra, Varese-like rhythmic structuring and development.

Nicola Green
Layers of laughter panning around. Most interesting when there was a overlapping of several layers of laughter. The decontextualization of laughter from the source of humor created an odd drama. Are we being laughed at? Is the laughter sincere? What made this person laugh? Who are these people? Henry, Katie's parrot, almost always considers laughter as a musical event worthy of a response, even laughter on the television or radio. He can imitate it quite well.

Had to leave before I got a chance to hear all the pieces. Adeena and I bumped into Charles Morrow on the way out, said hi, and jumped in a cab to go hear Deirdre Kovac and Kamau Brathwaite read at the Bowery Poetry Club.


Breeze, John Latta

Themes and thoughts in a connective tissue of images. Closely controlled almost formal feel. Frank O'Hara / Robert Duncan echos.

Latta gives equal importance to following perceptions and to following the shapes of the poem's construction and associative turns, even when these elements come into conflict.

"rhythm, unavoidable, makes a ratio"

A few separate modes at work here, I prefer the lighter poems that juggle particulars, rather than the ones that come to conclusions.

Interestingly uncomfortable and distinctly crafted rapture-textures.

At moments the poems push into an almost mystical over-expansiveness as a way of resolving tensions, just when I'm wanting him to go deeper into the tensions....

"lines of distress and conjecture"