Elsewhere (Japanese Notebook), Gary Sullivan, 2005

Elsewhere is a poetic comic art essay on the blurry boundaries of subjectivity, individuality, context and the space between cultures. It is composed of remixed snapshot-based visual travel notes and notebook entries of odd, translated phrases rendered into a truly fused form of poetry/comics. The vibe, scale, pacing and continuity of the book is close to avant-garde film. It’s as if the Kuchar brothers were making art composed of comics, flip books, poetry, and Flickr blogs.

Sullivan uses a lot of humor, and embraces the weirdness of an unfamiliar cultural environment, as well as the oddness of seeing another culture’s interpretations of yours. There is a sense of balancing the discomfort of unfamiliarity with it’s charms.

Much of the material at play in Elsewhere is composed of material taken from the public surfaces of Japan, and then remixed: signage and advertising art. In this sense the book is close to a straight-forward travelogue addressing a public space in which one is an outsider. These materials are remixed into a poetic fantasy-space, as if Little Nemo In Slumberland was addressing issues of cultural context rather than the daily, dislocating experience of dreaming and waking.

There is an indirectness of relation between the text and art which is not at all a disconnection. They are like two simultaneous layers moving intriguingly out of phase, but the phase patterns add harmonic depth to the overall effect, as in Steve Reich. There is space allowed between the images and the lines that allows for breath in the overall coherence of the art.

A feeling of balanced elements which might seem to be inherently in conflict is constantly maintained. For instance, there are moments when a cute quality and a disturbing quality are perfectly fused. The book adjusts to accommodate such combinations. Details which can be dizzying, beautiful, funny, nightmarish, infantile, and strange are fused within the space of a few panels.

The panels work individually and in groups, and this creates a feeling of integrity on the micro and macro scales. There is a strong overall sense of rhythm and build-up that rewards multiple readings. Sullivan also allows the material to have a certain diffused or relaxed energy despite considerable wackiness and strangeness.

There are certain challenges and stresses that come along with using multiple art forms, and I can only hope these don't slow Gary down too much. I doubt they will. Considering the amount of talent in evidence in this book, I look forward to seeing a full-length graphic novel-type project.


John Godfrey, Private Lemonade, 2003, Adventures in Poetry

“the azure is shatterproof”

Ruminations on time, place, body, memory, and the intersections of these at particular instances.

The lines in the book are like a metal grating through which thought and sense pour. They are mostly paired-down to single word and two-word movements, a condensed economy of vocabulary, like Eigner, but heavier.

"some/ sunset / thing / Cocktail / fill / moves / three / blind / mice"

Crypto-amorous mood-thought assemblages.

These poems have an certain force of generosity, in that one can feel in them the assumption that the reader is capable of intimacy and complexity, as well as the assumption that the reader is capable of being curious, and of understanding. Godfrey is not selling any of this.

At moments, it feels like a memory of lost love overstepping the proprieties of immediate perception.

Rhythms like: mood / environmental detail / thought / atmospherics / object relation / dream / attachment / social observation / proposition / relaxation / visual observation -- a swing pulse of transient consciousness and transitory existence.

"Print of rattan on your calf / Succinct and nearly cruel"

Sparse, staccato, percussive paratactic line groupings, harmonized with thematic scaffolding.

Constant change-ups between sensation and memory.

Complex mediations which are cerebral and tactile.

Concision and the refusal to encapsulate.

A herringbone pattern of hinting/hiding/saying.

Little bits of personality, personal history, and environment fused together into some other substance that isn’t any one of these things.

Commentary on people, and, more so, people’s situations. A nurse’s-eye view? Observing symptoms?

The physical feeling of Godfrey's line produces a certain buzz, “I have always had here with me here.”

The lines always feel like parts of information, never abstract. Though sometimes inscrutable, the poems are never trying to be mysterious.

Particular, bodily instances, “sweat under sweater”

In the midst of a highly disciplined paratactic linguistic space, Godfrey sometimes drops dauntingly perfect-sounding transitive sentences: “Night briefly unwraps / inevitable hallways”

Self-locating images: “Holiday lights reflects you / on windowglass / at bar's end”

Staccato associational fluency.

Overlapping layers of weather, setting, mood and memory are temporarily allowed to eclipse other things in the space of the poem -- they are given a social space via the poem where they would otherwise only exist in a private burst of neuron firings.

An undertow of unrelieved amorous distance.

Sometimes I feel he is withholding too much. But withholding too much is part of his art.

The poems are short and pleasurable, and also demanding.

Complex mixtures of back-story and proposition in particulate form.

"Shorten my shrift / Expunge the retinal soup // Without cunning, with posture / Let alone a fallow lie"

“Time hangs in braids”

Playfulness set against elegy.


Separation Sunday

The Hold Steady makes a unlikely combination of elements work. The music is composed almost entirely of rock clichés -- though they are played with a lot of life. Not everything is about originality. The songs manage to activate the information in these clichés, releasing a superficial but real quality of feeling. That's one of the main powers of pop music. The band is tight, and all the instrumental timbres work well.

This music is combined with a singer who does not sing, he vocalizes like a guy alone in a car, yelling the lyrics of Born To Run over his cassette player in an earnest, woozy monotone, but landing right on the bar and capturing something essential about the rhythm and vocal timbres. Incredibly -- this also works. There are only a handful of bands that can pull off a yelling/talking approach-- The Fall, Can, Slint, This Heat....

If you removed the music and left the vocal track it would sound like a recording of high-level slam poetry. There are moments where I'm like, "Man- would you just sing already, "but the Dylan-quality lyrics occupy the space where my brain is crying out for vocal melody. There's also a rock-theater, Frank's Wild Years-like unity to the character portraits of fried rockers at various parties and underpasses.


I was following Ron Silliman while he was walking around in a suburban area at twilight. He was urgently exploring people's backyards, following odd private and public-seeming paths between houses, pushing through hedges, taking notes about how everything was arranged and what it meant about how people were living. It was hard to keep up with him.

I couldn't help admiring his curiosity about people, that he was so energized about exploring all these mundane, but very real territories of people's lives. At the same time I was unsure if this was the best way I could be spending my time.

Just then he stopped and asked me, "So, Drew, when are you going to become something?" I smiled, nodded and said," Yea, I guess I better get started on that." He suggested I begin working for the Democratic party. This seemed like a good idea.

By that time the setting had changed, and we were sitting in the cab of a moving truck just before it crashed through the wooden garage door of a closed mechanic's shop. After the accident Ron was gone.


John Stewart is one of the only sources of sane political discourse on TV. It's frustrating to see him stumble in the face of a double-speaking Rick Santorum. Brian Lehrer also blew it this week when Santorum was on his show. Both hosts spent way too much time being gracious during the interview and not nearly enough in preparation for interviewing a guy who is a disturbingly well-prepared and reasonable-sounding generator of reactionary disinformation.

Both Stewart and Lehrer have a literary bent, and some of the limitations of this showed in their encounters with Santorum. When an inane conservative essayist is on the Daily Show, Stewart reads the book and tears him to shreds in a hilarious and affable way. Faced with a well-prepared figure with real power, taking the host seriously by appearing on the show, and repeating discourse that a team of people came up with, both interviewers crumble. Stewart similarly crumbled in the face of Colin Powell, for the same reasons.

Despite this one weakness, the show is great. Maybe the success of the Daily Show could signal the beginning of more cultural phenomena where, in the face of the current overwhelming abject inversions and denials of fact from the public sphere, some people turn to truth-telling by using the power of sarcasm for good rather than evil?


Cape Cod notes

This is very new land -- less than 20,000 years old. It was created when a mile-thick sheet of ice scraped and melted away, dropping tons of glacial drift, which became the materials for the sandy, ever-changing landform we have now. Mastodons hung out here back in the day.

The area around Falmouth, where we were staying, is peppered with kettle ponds, formed when the receding glacier left giant ice blocks that gravel and sand settled around. When the blocks melted, the negative space these reverse-ice molds created left bowl-like forms in the earth that became these present day ponds, which are also exposed parts of the water table. Large, beautiful dragonflies and damselflies kept themselves busy around the edge of the pond near us, and tree swallows swooped down over the open water to grab some insect lunch.

The porous nature of the glacial drift makes it easy for the aquifer to become polluted, since the pollutants move through it as easily as the water does, as with the soil in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. One of the biggest sources of pollution on all of Cape Cod is the MMR -- the Massachusetts Military Reservation, which has been dumping military waste in landfills for years with little accountability. We could hear the menacing roar of military aircraft once or twice a day from the otherwise extremely peaceful cabin in the woods where we were staying.

We got out to the National Seashore for some hiking in an area on the west side of the Wellfleet Harbor. The landform there is gentle and ever-shifting: dunes anchored somewhat by spare pitch pines. The Cape loses about four acres of land per year from water and wind erosion. Millions of tiny hermit crabs live in this area. If you gently pick up on of these crabs, they will fiercely menace you with their claw, though they are only about the size of your thumbnail. That's the spirit! Otherwise the land was notable for it's unassuming, curving dunes and beaches, watched over only by a few cormorants.