Category: Reviews

Lines of Relation and Sites of Refusal: Four contemporary poets writing outside the genre


Lines of Relation and Sites of Refusal:
Four contemporary poets writing outside the genre

Part Four: Harmony Holiday’s Go Find Your Father / A Famous Blues

There is nothing beautiful but what is forgotten.
-Lurine (as noted in The Arcades Project d4,4)

Such is the case with the form-forward Go Find Your Father / A Famous Blues by Harmony Holiday. It is a book that embodies the impossibility of separating legibility from its organization and the composition from which it is made discernable. As such, legibility is the articulation of its attendant formal elements, and an occasion to investigate the very substance and constitution of memory. Go Find Your Father / A Famous Blues makes a case in praxis for the existence of memory in forms, its articulation addresses the practical questions and machinations of memory and its fundamental existence while engaging it through negotiation and poetic construction.

Memory, in the hands of Holiday, is active in an equally dynamic attempt to situate itself, its own conceptions, direction, and the affective ebb and flow of constituent parts, within a context of personal experience. Holiday’s approach to memory and its management is participatory and serves to pursue affective possibilities through articulation, not only as memory takes stock of itself and its own cognitive archive but of the future possibilities of the past. Those possibilities being forms, positions, and affective postures that the past may assume that we might feel them all the more, or again—as memory fades and drifts—even if for the first time. It is an attempt at realizing the full range of human possibilities at the intersection of form and memory.

As it applies to memory, Holiday is unique in her approach to revision. It is not an inherently problematic element but operates as a form of retelling. It’s openly engaged and formally dynamic, and is not treated as a necessary threat to memory, its existence, nor to its record or ability to record, but is an element of its activity that lends vitality to it and to the very life of the past. Retelling is memory’s resource, as it reorganizes itself and keeps itself active and in perpetual relation to not only the subject and focal point of the memory, but those in view of its articulation and recomposition:

The last words I remember him
saying were but if you guys leave me I’ll die. My romance doesn’t have to have a heart.

The book’s fundamental concerns are entirely contingent on and constitutive of one another. That is to say they are wholly interdependent concerns.The nature of memory in Go Find Your Father / A Famous Blues is one of inquiry and transition, and memory’s already fugitive character is cast further afield. Memory then is in constant tension with the impermanence of its own occasional status and fugitivity. This, in large, is cause for its interdependent relationship with composition, and composition’s own perpetual reorganization. The memory Holiday articulates is that of familiar shadows cast by bodies and objects in motion, entities that have no default position or anticipated range or controllable motion. Holiday seeks the memory of her father and so articulates it across a number of forms. Seeking with only a few handfuls of what seem to be distinctive memories, which amount to traces of a her father’s life lived by the genius and nerve of its own convictions.

Holiday’s poetic, epistolary, and supplementary forms articulate the memory of the man and a personal experience as it relates to its own reckoned past. Its modalities of thought, to wit, networks of form and ways of being spring forth from the newly inscribed sentence and form employed to articulate memory, in a hope that it will be sufficient to attend the legacy of a life lived as well as the concurrent authorial life it sustains. Each textual instance and iteration has the pull of a disquieted star and retraces the action of actual human experience. And even the most insignificant iteration is laden with the presence of the past and the richness of the forward looking present and serves as a rearticulation of the history of experience and the harbinger of subjective experience.


Eternity for me has always possessed these immaculate bay windows that look out onto blind alternate takes of the last time I saw my father before he entered that great always on February 15, 1987. A mahogany black man at about 6’3” roused from his habitual afternoon nap for the event: being arrested by a couple of stout white cops at the door of our Iowa home. I had turned him in; I had lied and said it was my brother Percy at our door, my mom’s advice, I was five, I was high yellow and what did he do to be so black and blue. . . .

As a reader, putting the pieces together that constitute memory alongside the author, as one is apt to do given the supplementary organization of the work, one is struck by the real antagonism that was the world for the man that was Holiday’s father, and that world as it’s recomposed by the author remains in racial, cultural, and economic conflict. The conflict is tangible, though perhaps more so for those with firsthand experience with racial and economic violence, and drives the book forward and through the various postures of form it’s necessary to assume when the articulation is true to the scope and character of a life in actual tension with a world where one is made as fugitive as the memory that sustains it.

Such activity is familiarly described as innovative writing. Writing that cuts, as it were, back into writing’s past, enacting an incision and removing textual flesh as if from a living organism. Such removals from the textual past serve to challenge previous accomplishments as well as a challenge to contemporaneity to graft a new syntax onto the textual body. Effacing it while performing necessary infusions. All the while challenging contemporary claims on writing and innovation, proposing in fact the possibility that the advantage of hindsight can be misleading. Perhaps that is the impetus of memory, to organize, and at its most basic level writing is the preoccupation with organization, and more to the point, the reorganization of previously organized.


Thanks. Look out for Sara too, and for Mom, and me and Debby too. We all need you more than we know.


A history cannot be retold without it being contained in some active archive, as well as it being completely struck from its historical context and re-inscribed as palimpsest — at best. A retelling of an individual or focused history is not tantamount to truth. But who can say that it isn’t, and who can say that it isn’t a “schizophrenic clattering either,” (Albon) in need and use of a number of literary forms and iterations as is the case with Go Find Your Father / A Famous Blues.

Harmony Holiday:: Go Find Your Father / A Famous Blues:: Ricochet Editions

Lines of Relation and Sites of Refusal: Four contemporary poets writing outside the genre


Lines of Relation and Sites of Refusal:
Four contemporary poets writing outside the genre

Part Three: Steven Seiderberg’s Itch

The Sight of Death is a book written by an art historian and critic, T.J. Clark. It is a book well-known for its engagement with the act of seeing. It’s an example of contemporary art writing that fully immerses itself in the fundamental act of its practice, looking. Clark looks at two pictures for a sustained disquisition, what Rosalind Krauss called “a refusal of media,” and, “an elongated exploration and revisitation of a pair of Poussin paintings, which seeks to see and resee in all the complexity of their compositional resonance.” Clark himself has said that the work attempts to “make time for the opportunity for sustained attention, proposing that visual images carry within them the possibility of genuine difficulty, genuine depth and resistance.” In its refusal of media it also exacts a lesson in the value of sustained attention to an issue and its concomitant provocations and questions, many of which remain unanswered and unanswerable. Refusal as such applies recuperative elements to the discourse it attends.

Itch is a book written by a poet. It’s a book of obsession. Itch. It is a sustained exploration of human endeavor in relation to one’s existence and the possibility of its narration. It mobilizes corporeality in effort to poeticize the trauma of trying with the foreknowledge of perpetual failure. Its formal obsession tests a reader’s attention, threatening, surely, to exhaust the machinations of the author’s self-consciousness while testing the formal durability of a literary undertaking already doomed from the onset. And yet, one carries on. Is there an option otherwise?

Where The Sight of Death is obsessive about seeing, Itch dispassionately obsesses about feeling. A particular feeling, itch, to the point that it reads as irresistible impetus of form and its attendant, if not ambivalent, urge to reorganize itself and its very constitution toward some new end within the bounds it establishes as its realm of narrative. An impetus that gives way to longing, longing for a form via language but that extends the competency of its logic to exceed even its ability to articulate an idea, or a set thereof. Neither language nor its various conditions will suffice to describe the itch Seidenberg is compelled to articulate, and yet there is little other recourse but to mobilize language and the various forms it may be called to assume in order for the author to address the physical provocations he endures under the rubric: Itch.

Many failed attempts. Perhaps this is the first time. Of my many failed attempts, perhaps this is the first. The first in what will soon appear a series of such failures–surrendered, and I say attempt, the language of a game which attempts…I say the saying and the saying say…

Itch embodies a desire to alter and form a less-articulated space that one might inhabit. Whether or not that space is satisfactory or will be satisfactory to the desire is of no real consequence, the logical sequence is not the point. The philosophical concern is that desire to alter, to seek alternative modes of articulation that apply to our lives on a local and practical level. It is hardly a matter of aesthetics or intellectual musing to seek out such modes of transformation. The impetus to transform is a practical concern and its logic is straightforward, while its outcome couldn’t be more non-linear. Nevertheless, to engage such an impetus is a profound undertaking that speaks to one’s sensitivity to the frailties of form and alterations that may follow as impetus inspires and dictates. The impetus to change oneself is not a far cry from the human relationship between articulated forms and the impetus to alter. For instance, one maintains the form of ‘I’ for a lifetime not because one chooses to do so but because one has little choice otherwise, and the great challenge of life is to find the modes of existence as “I” that are less-inhabited and overdetermined. We seek the arts for these sites of relief and vague moments of freedom compelled by something like Seidenberg’s Itch.

The suffering of another. I’m struggling to suggest, is indistinguishable from the character of its expression—its performative effects—and my pain in particular enters into discourse on that very same continuum of impulse and restraint. Here, if nowhere else, we can describe ourselves as creatures of extent, disregarding the persuasive claims to inner…to wholly inner life our doubt seems to adduce. Or some doubt, really, not the same as ours, but not irrelevant to ours, nevertheless…

The idea that Itch can be read as a condition of refusal is worth consideration. Notably it operates as an active and pronounced rejection of prefabricated forms of subjective existence.

It articulates itself against legible modes of linear narrative and the availabilities of its fixed conditions in favor of less-prescribed modes of narrative direction and discourse. They are directions but never dictate, and for that reason in large part, Itch is oriented altogether differently toward narrative direction than other modes of writing. It is a call to reorganize and push back against overly familiar modes of existence, and so demarcates and articulates a condition of isolation, discomfort, and perhaps even discontent. In essence though, it is a condition of humble refusal. Itch then seeks alterity in the shape of other forms. One gathers from Itch that the possibilities of a linear narrative are as debilitating as are those restrictions of articulation that ‘I’ claps on the individual. ‘I’ offers the promise of stagnation while Itch offers one of the unknown–and the grand promise of the unknowable, though not so naively as to believe that it’s attainable. The persistent and perceptible feeling is knowledge enough, though it reveals nothing.

Such pretense aside…put beside consideration, which is not strictly out of…out of reach, beyond regard, I can…I did take the position that you were placed as I am; that if you were, I’d know… I would have known your thinking, what you were thinking of when I first made the claim…

Doubled up in its critical posture Itch exacts a lesson in the value of sustained attention to an issue and its associated provocations and questions, many of which remain unanswered and unanswerable. Refusal and attention as such applies recuperative elements to the discourse it attends. Itch, then, in its numerous refusals, exacts a form of narrative recuperation—a revitalizing of an impoverished field of artistic, literary, and academic discourse—and a practical and useful application of the creative and literary endeavor. Why “narrative recuperation”? Perhaps, writing is poorer than we realize, and requires recuperative attention to remain virile and vitalizing to a literary constituency.

And so when the issue of transformation and refusal is broached, it is an opportunity for narrative to explore the forms it lends to philosophical investigation, but hardly can resolve the questions that commence the endeavor. Itch is aware of this and mindful of its limited scope and reach, the prose stammers and staggers at times, feeling its way through iterations. The author makes plain his own limited ability to transform and escape the constraints of narrative. Itch is an attempt at improving the subject position but it is not naive in its undertaking and articulates itself with reserve, hesitancy, and cautious creative ambition. For as much as Itch is an attempt at a condition of resistance it is a lament for what it will not be able to achieve despite its most concerted efforts.

The success or failure of the endeavor is hardly the reason to engage with Itch. One may glean any number of engagements from this book as it is philosophical as it is ambitious and as literary as it is vaguely forlorn. Regardless, it’s a human narrative of form and failure, and in that regard it succeeds as an achievement of intellectual inquiry and human will. It’s an example of contemporary writing that fully immerses itself in the fundamental act of its practice, feeling.

Steven Seiderberg:: Itch:: RAW ArT Press

Lines of Relation and Sites of Refusal: Four contemporary poets writing outside the genre


Lines of Relation and Sites of Refusal:
Four contemporary poets writing outside the genre

Part Two: Lisa Robertson’s Nilling

I would like the work to be non-work. This means that it would find its way beyond my preconceptions.
What I want of my art I can eventually find. The work must go beyond this.
It is my main concern to go beyond what I know and what I can know.
The formal principles are understandable and understood.
It is the unknown quantity from which and where I want to go.
As a thing, an object, it accedes to its non-logical self.
It is something, it is nothing.

-Eva Hesse (1968)

It may seem odd to say, “Form does not define,” though form does determine the particularities of its own activity. The relationship between form and its articulation cannot be overstated and can hardly be imagined as an activity of two entities, for where form is concerned there is only the activity of articulation. Articulation can be said to be form in action, and an inevitability, as there is no way to be truly static, despite appearances. Form’s articulation is in perpetual trajectory but in no way unilateral.

Lisa Robertson’s recent collection of essays, Nilling, initiates with an epigram by Stacy Doris that’s largely concerned with form, its relationship to poetry, and the role poetry has historically and aesthetically maintained as a beacon for formal innovation.

Form means we keep changing our minds, at every velocity, due to life; poetry is that fact’s lucidity.

Doris provides ground for a balanced and indirectly subversive argument in favor of formal innovation. Suggesting that the relationship between poetry and formal innovation is not exclusively philosophical or aesthetic, but is, too, the result of the elements that organize cognitive space and influence the ways individuals think and live out their lives on a local level. Similarly, Nilling, embodies such an endeavor of inquiry and dissidence as it applies to the organization of a margin shared by poetic and philosophical discourses, bringing a number of wide ranging disciplines into relation and under mutual scrutiny and celebration.

It’s a scrupulously appropriate epigram for a book of essays so eclectic and productively self-determined that they seem outside of a customary literary tradition, one without explicit historical or ontological specificity. And yet, Nilling is most definitely a contribution within a Montaignian trajectory of writing and doing: essaying; as it’s the prototype for an atypical tradition (with many starting and stopping points and bounding with traces), forming a situation where the aesthetic arc of essaying has no dictatorial linearity to it but is more open-ended and inquiry based. Most likely the trajectory from Montaigne to Nilling is one of irruptions, interruptions, digressions, and departures that negotiate such comparison. Surely Robertson shares certain obvious concerns with Montaigne, but more to the point is a similar approach marked by non-academic artistry of intellectual inquiry, matched with a humility evidenced in a willingness to attempt unsure footing.

My conceptions and my judgments move only by groping, staggering, stumbling, and blundering; and when I have gone ahead as far as I can, still I am not at all satisfied: I can still see country beyond, but with a dim and clouded vision, so that I cannot clearly distinguish it. -MONTAIGNE

Mostly I seek the promiscuous feeling of being alive. Across a topography of tonalities, the codex amplifies an access. Within its discrete shelter, I move freely among new sensation. -from Nilling

The first essay in Nilling, “Time in the Codex,” sets course with an epigram from Deleuze’s The Fold that addresses the very subject of form. It’s a course that also announces the non-linear directionality of the essays that follow it and the internal directionality with which the writing is powered. For Deleuze, the fold was the thing, the modus of affective Form articulation, that very operative frisson that writing is capable of and that determines unique expressivity within the very familiar, perhaps even, against the very familiar. And what can be more familiar than writing? Its numerous forms (historically experimental and innovative) despite rigorous and concerted effort, inevitably familiarize themselves to a literate constituency and become readily synthesized. And so the fate of all form is synthesis, making the fold and its manifold activity crucial and doubly-inflect in its appeal to articulate and render void.

Form is active as writing is active—the articulation of form bears such burden. The crucial aspect, then, is to fold, to proliferate productively toward an end that goes through the ceiling, as Deleuze has it. But that is one thing. Another is the critical paradox that is posed by the very act of writing in this vein, for to write is in fact to purposefully obscure legibility (an endeavor which bears no end in sight). The writing hand is often thought to bring ideas to light when in fact the opposite may better describe it, the writing hand renders opaque that which is salient, so to speak, and so productively obscures ideas that may or may not be illuminated by future texts. Writing then, with its Deleuzian folds (not to belabor or overemphasize the Deleuzian contribution), makes the future of writing illegible if it is in fact successful, and so it challenges the very ontological security of the endeavor.

Fraught with theoretical and historical implications, writing in this mode, what Robertson calls “a general truncation of language – a set of avoidances dictated by history, not by a game of aesthetic affiliations,” makes a partial text of the world, fragmenting, both retroactively into the annals of legibility, and proactively, that a future might in fact be made available for writing. For what does writing require more than the possibility of a blank slate—or if only a blank space, even a margin? (Won’t even the smallest scrap from an envelope do? As was the case with Walser and Dickinson) It stands to reason that the principal activity of form is an undoing—an unwriting—and challenges certain conceptions regarding the unity and historically linear trajectory of writing, and might be considered the paradox of writing:

Pour avoir des soulers, elle a vendu son âme

In her essay on Eva Hesse and the sculpture Sans II, given as a 7.5 minute museum talk in San Francisco, Robertson hashes out the operative relationship of space as it relates to an art object and text, and how both can be encoded with an actively tense discourse between seemingly oppositional forces. Robertson observes, in a moment of particular brilliance, that both “presence and absence” are operative as it relates to these questions, making the case for absence not as an opposition to presence but more accurately, its theater. Robertson continues, “Form – it’s because there are consequences.” Presumably consequences of the exercise of a frame of appearing. In the case of Hesse, the relationship of form and consequences are the activity that might open space or create “negative space,” a mould, as associated with Hesse’s sculpture, is one such active frame, which precedes and annuls productively rather than simply working as form’s envoy and in opposition to shape. Mould, too, is an active theater.

“Uncertainty is free. I can’t predict its tangent.” –Nilling

Uncertainty indeed, and that of moulds, frames, and negative space and its possibility articulates over a textual body to include the hierarchically slippery modes of writing into and away from the textual archive’s availabilities; both absences and presences loom and unfold in manifold directions. Negative space, the many threads of which may never intersect or interface in any significant or legible way, is offered in profusion and operates as a refusal to be defined according to codes of state authority, active as a legitimate gesture of liberation. The force and impact of such gestures should not be minimized. Robertson states, again with reference to the work of Hesse, that such active gestures are refusals themselves, “this refusal opens a fantastic negative space — the not-yet, which rests beside and other than the question of an identity designation, without entirely eclipsing it.”

And perhaps that is it, or perhaps that is enough for now, to open negative spaces with the forms and moulds available that the not-yet might hatch out of seeming oblivion and provide further scope and purview not necessarily outside of or even in contradiction to but simply other than legible modes already operative. The question of otherness however is not particularly the point here, I’m more interested in Robertson’s not-yet, as it attempts to locate and articulate a form of lack. A form of lack as an absence of desire, though desire may in fact remain present and palpitating for its own sake, seeking no resolution or legible outcome. That is to say a desire that’s non-linear. “Lacan: Desire is lack.” In many ways it can rightfully be understood as a case of form’s lack of ambition that breaks down and reads as an emptiness of form, a form of emptiness that’s capable of anything or nothing as form might have it, further problematizing and enriching contemporary conceptions of form and frame.

Lisa Robertson:: Nilling:: Book Thug

Lines of Relation and Sites of Refusal: Four contemporary poets writing outside the genre


Lines of Relation and Sites of Refusal:
Four contemporary poets writing outside the genre

Part One: George Albon’s Aspiration

It’s known that Cezanne worked from nature and that doing so was not simply his approach but was his life’s work. Critical of himself, Cezanne lamented his need to work in that fashion, somehow imagining it to be an inferior mode of painting, and by his own admission, and simply put, he strove to paint pictures that made art and nature one and if he could have done it another way he would have. That his work was not only unique as a critique of the pictorial function but also innovative in its ability to apply pressure to stable representations of nature is all the justification one might ever need for methods utilized. Cezanne was methodical and a perfectionist, characteristics that may seem counterintuitive to his expressionist style, as it’s come to be known. At minimum, he required a hundred sittings for a still life or five hundred for a portrait, and yet there’s a sense in his work that a picture’s organization came by intuition when in actuality it came by careful calculation, effort, and applied acumen. To assume he arrived at his style and technique as an organic mode of self expression or subjective viewpoint is wrongheaded, when it seems he obsessed over every brushstroke despite what a textbook reading of his active, bold, and decisively evocative hand might suggest.

A work like Cezanne’s that openly invites the constructed nature by which it has come into existence relies on the strength of its own arranged composition to accomplish the feat it sets out to achieve; the feat of composition, which might be the challenge par excellence in art and literature. In essence, and along with the complete embrace of its artifice in relation to writing, poetry operates similarly, as the active arrangement of elements and perspective are organized and elaborated within a text (musical and otherwise), along with the extended field that a particular text may engage by relation or disassociation. And just as poetry results from such arrangement of compositional elements and emotive dimensions, so too does productive affectivity in Cezanne. It’s not a question of passion, but of formal language and the placement of elements in a picture plane in accordance with compositional harmonics, or in contrast, that afford conceptual pressures and emotive experience.

George Albon’s Aspiration, recent from Omnidawn, is a self-proclaimed meditation on the lyric that affords an encounter with the perceptible world, “where one object reflects the other,” and not unlike Cezanne’s meticulous need for calculated brushstrokes, its organization is careful and hard won. Albon, a poet’s poet and author of numerous titles, sets out to further elaborate a poetic discourse, both personal and technical, attentive to the past, present, and future possibilities of the lyric as form and eloquent subject; a subject spiritually, psychologically, and sensually charged as any poetic undertaking.

Aspiration, as offered in the volume’s brief prefatory note, “is the first published part of a four-part section about the lyric,” and part of a larger, ten-part, work-in-progress titled Café Multiple. In this first iteration, a svelte volume, Albon considers a multitude of artists, writers, and concepts; those in pursuit of the lyric that constitute a literary sub-space that skim and plumb the surface of appearance and relation; elaborating a text that brings its contents into unlikely relation. Albon makes a number of original readings legible while bringing the lyric’s tactical interplay into social interaction and discursive proximity. The fluid, factual, and anecdotal inclusions and transitions of Aspiration call to mind the hyper-connective work of Walter Benjamin, Clark Coolidge, and even David Markson.

Fundamental to Aspiration is Albon’s sensitivity for the oblique logic in any seemingly static bit of lyrical writing or tangentially relevant subset of the lyric. “Alongside the connective synthesis of flows and cuts, the lyric is a disjunctive synthesis of routes and permutations.” And again, “The lyric is a relatedness backward and forward.” Aspiration addresses the lyric as discourse without ‘advancing’ the dialogue in a reductively linear mode, and even without saying or contributing something ‘new.’ To read Aspiration in such hackneyed terms would be to underestimate the arc of its trajectory, as it mulls the intimate relations of the lyric—it dispenses with the notions of continued, or a progressive dialogue along with its own indispensable attention to the formal and conceptual limits and possibilities of the lyric, while articulating a purview of the world through the lens of the lyric and providing a lyrical experience itself.

According to the meditative array of information in Aspiration, to examine one is to examine many, “a unit is a unit composed of many things. Interest signaling among the aggregates”. And so what is the lyric if not that unimaginable plural of I! as Creeley put it. (Is not the lyric a part of We?) But not only, for that is far too pithy a summation and, ultimately, toothless on its own. The lyric is conjoined to both forms of such existence as much as it is anything.

It cannot be presented directly, or re-presented; but its very indeterminacy is a perfectly positive, objective structure which acts as a focus or horizon within perception…something that makes itself known but conceals itself in the appearance.

Pertinent to Albon’s meditation is the subtle attention paid to formal architectural units (such as walls). Walls, much like the structure of any given space, construct a multiplicity of availabilities, both social and practical, and constitute the very social spaces of intellectual life, while too, designating and determining interior from exterior. Serving to include and exclude in order to preserve particular participation for some while others not so much or at all. The lyric, much like the primacy of walls, sets limitations and enables productive interplay for the intellectual and creative enterprise that is Aspiration, and is simultaneously the topic of examination while operating as a modality of organization for its own examination; operating as a structural (formal) provocation for thought and the organization of thinking, inevitably lending practical shape to creative and intellectual pursuits that surely lead elsewhere.

While Albon considers the lyric as it takes shape in its incalculable iterations and manifestations, an arrangement takes hold as a seemingly spontaneous grouping is initiated, sustained, and brought into appearance. There’s surely a spontaneous feel to the organization of Aspiration but that can be misleading. On close examination an attention and discipline to that perceptible spontaneity is legible, and that, in the final assessment, is the difference that elevates this work and shows the hand not simply of a deeply engaged mind but of a poetic craftsman. Present is the genius of Cezanne, that is a genius for composition, and that is the trajectory that Aspiration has initiated, bearing in mind that this is but the first iteration of a very ambitious work. That being said, the attention to the “dream of meaningful placement and the open-set,” that Aspiration openly engages, is not a promise to fulfill or even to continue. It is an open-set and remains entirely undefined except in the practice of its own articulation. It is as likely that the full-set meditation, or mediations, of Café Multiple will come to fruition just as likely as they will be abandoned for other endeavors of arrangement and lyrical formation. The dream of the open-set does not distinguish between the senses, experience, and intelligence—such partitioning occurs outside of the realm of the open-set and its dream to perceive and organize non-hierarchically.

George Albon:: Aspiration:: Omnidawn

Miniature Joys

Miniature Joys

I love a present that is lots of little presents, a mix of new things to open, mini joys, extending the feeling of surprise. In the spirit of the hodgepodge, here are some suggestions for some nice bundles.

The Zine Box from Nieves

Nieves is publishing some of the best weird art zines around, and sometimes it’s hard to know which ones to buy: get the box of all 12 published in 2011 and have no regrets. Includes zines by Noritake, Dennis Tyfus, Stefan Marx, Beni Bischof, Samuli Blatter, Misaki Kawai, Harsh Patel, Ken Kagami, Masanao Hirayama, Christoph Ruckhäberle, Patrick Graf and Miranda July.

I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women

This book is something to live with for a while. It unfolds with seemingly-endless surprise in the best possible way: exactly what literature is supposed to do. Read my extended review here, and see others reviewers’ takes on it as well.

Joseph Cornell’s Manual of Marvels

There are a lot of Joseph Cornell books out there, but this one is unique: it’s a facsimile of one of his most unknown works—a deconstructed French farmer’s manual, reproduced with hand-colored engravings, cutouts, lift-ups, and overlays so the experience of the book is as close to original as possible. Accompanied by a volume of essays and a DVD.

Chapvelope Bundle

Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this amazing bundle of bundles from The Offending Adam’s own Chapvelope series. Three bundles of bundles of poetry exist in this world and they should be given to people you love, because this is what love is.

AND while you are busy baking and wrapping presents, you will want to keep handy this page from the music blog Gorilla vs. Bear for a mix of the best mixes from 2012. They are all good and interesting but I especially love the Nicolas Jaar BBC Essential Mix and the Peaking Lights Lucifer Mixtape.

Two Books and a Recipe

Two Books and a Recipe

Those holiday gift guides that just smoosh anything shallow and fancy together aren’t much use to anyone who has a more thoughtful approach to giving things, so I thought I’d try to put some good things together with that in mind. A book couple, one thick and one thin, below, seemed to match perfectly with the the spirit of the recipe I’m offering too—a balance of substance. I like gifts that matter. Gifts that change lives, imagine that! Next week I return with the spirit of the hodgepodge

The new Agnes Martin retrospective, Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances is the best one yet—or ever probably, the most complete and in the nicest physical form. If you know anyone who feels an unshakable imperative to make rather than just consume this book is essential. Beautiful, makes an impressive gift, but also useful, memorable. Martin was an underrated late-midcentury minimalist painter, who (as a testament to her own strange subtlety) considered herself an Abstract Expressionist. Her eerie, pale, gridded color fields have startling conviction, the best kind of minimalism, absorbing and diffusing; Rothko if he had any guts at all. For the last ten years I’ve had a dogeared copy of her book Writings near me, which I occasionally open, even if just to find my all-time favorite sentence in it, “We need more and different flags.” Martin’s writings, especially paired with her clear and direct paintings, are inspiring beyond the regular little (or overblown) urgings of manifestos and craft lessons, actually agitating at times: they make you want to make.

Watch this interview with her for an example. She’s wrong about some things, sure, but she makes making feel important again.

This book’s counterpoint is Louise Glück’s new collected works, Poems 1962—2012. Maybe you are the creative person, maybe even a poet, and there is that supportive family member/spouse/friend who is sort of interested in reading more poetry? For me this is my mom; she loves Mary Oliver but doesn’t know where to go from there. An anthology or small bit of someone is not helpful, I think; a whole scope of poems rattles them all together for a kind of depth and sense that can’t come otherwise. Glück is personable but also says big things, big real ideas that lesser poets seem to avoid only because they have given up on them. This range of work proves how a poet might not give up, and we are richer for it.

And for this aesthetic pairing, here’s a recipe for you to make. Listen to me: this is how to make fudge. It’s such a perfect, stunning and simple gift, so do it up; any recipe that calls for marshmallow fluff or condensed milk is not actually fudge, just sweet firm goo.

The problem with fudge, I have discovered after much testing, is the chocolate. It interrupts the bond between the pure fat of cream and the suspension matrix of sugar heated to soft-ball stage. The wrong humidity, or slight temperature changes, or particular mix of ingredients in the chocolate you use, and your fudge is runny, or chalky, or grainy or flakes up. So, make vanilla fudge. It’s foolproof. It’s fantastic. In a lot of recipes, using a real vanilla bean can be a huge waste if the flavor is going to be lost under a lot of other stuff, but this is the perfect use for one—the flavor and even slight texture of the vanilla beans will be appreciated. Top with all the chocolate you want and have the best of both worlds.

Tuxedo Fudge

Tuxedo Fudge Recipe by Molly Brodak

1 ½ c. heavy cream
3 c. sugar
¼ c. light corn syrup
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp cold butter, sliced into thin pats
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, scraped
4 oz semisweet chocolate
1/3 c toasted, salted, coarsely chopped hazelnuts

Line a 8×8 or 9×9 square pan with nonstick foil. When the fudge is cool, you’ll be able to lift it right out of the pan to cut neatly.

The best nuts for this fudge are hazelnuts, and the best hazelnuts are the ones you toast yourself. Test for yourself the difference between raw and toasted hazelnuts—the flavor is unbelievably different, so don’t skip this step! Toast them for about 25-30 minutes in a low oven, 275, stirring often, then peel skins off immediately by rubbing the batch in a clean dishcloth. Chop very coarsely and sprinkle with sea salt while still warm.

Mix together the cream, sugar, corn syrup and salt in a heavy saucepan and cook, stirring constantly over med-low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 10 minutes. Increase heat to a boil, stop stirring when mixture boils. Reduce heat to low and cover pot with a lid, allow to boil for 3 minutes. Remove lid and clip in your thermometer. Boil until temperature reaches 237 degrees (or 239 if it is extremely humid/raining out). Turn off the heat, do not move the saucepan. Once the boiling has died down, place the thin pats of butter on the surface so they will melt and prevent the surface from drying out. Allow to cool to 110 degrees, which can take up to an hour and a half. Do not move or bump or touch the pot as it cools.

Once at 110 degrees, stir the mix as fast as possible with a wooden spoon, slowing after a few minutes. When the mix turns thick and less shiny, add vanilla and vanilla bean scrapings, pour immediately into prepared pan. Allow to cool completely. Chop and melt the chocolate and spread over the cooled fudge, adding hazelnuts immediately. Cut when cool and store in an airtight container.

Representative of a Collective Body

Representative of a Collective Body

Remica Bingham's WHAT WE ASK OF FLESH

About three weeks ago, I received a review copy of Remica Bingham’s What We Ask of Flesh; however, given the constraints of time, I was not able to read the book until my school’s holiday break. What a treasure! First of all, let me say Bingham exhibits an effortless language while confronting issues of womanhood coupled with spirituality and religion, which Bingham queries in fresh and neoteric ways, presenting myriad scenarios/situations, allowing the reader to process the information howsoever she chooses. The female body becomes instrument/foci, a way of navigating What We Ask of Flesh. As Patricia Smith notes in her amazing introduction, “Her voice rises, sole and singular, above the fray as she conjures a soundtrack for the wife, the mother, the sister, the daughter, the colored girl who has quietly preserved while resisting attempts to change her beliefs, her history…” Perhaps the idea of an “everywoman’ is more adequate with these poems as they mirror the “ever forming” [body].

“The Body Speaks,” which is a long poem in various aesthetic movements, appears first in the collection, echoing Smith’s observation perfectly, as Bingham begins to lay a foundation around the body. The body, for Bingham, acts both as literal and metaphorical. The epigraph connected to the poem is biblical and is taken from Judges 19:29, 30. The premise of the epigraph centers on a woman taken as concubine by a male conqueror, and when they are lodged for the night in a foreign land, the woman is taken out of the house and ravaged/raped by local male villagers. Her owner/conqueror receives the woman back in the morning “damaged,” and when he gets her home, he cuts her body up according to her bones into twelve pieces, sending the bones out into the land of Israel. What’s interesting in Bingham’s poem is her analogous comparison to the fragmentary as part of something parenthetical, as in (us), as if these parts of the woman are representative of a collective body. She writes, “torches/by being sole/points of light/become stars/in the process of being broken/this sum becomes every broken body.” For Bingham the fragmentary functions as foundation for the whole, and the body (literal and metaphorical) operates from a point of language rooted in the traumatic—the echo of the unremembered. If we can agree violence is at that core of (us), perhaps through dichotomy/dualisms’ friction, then we have to acknowledge language, in all its contradiction, transmits this violence.

The culmination of this bodily experience is realized through what I call the Mt. Rushmore of African America Women Poets (minus Gwendolyn Brooks): Lucille Clifton, Ai, and Carolyn Rodgers, all who passed within the last year, but whose work embodies not only what it means to be woman, but to be human as well. The poem, “How I Crossed Over,” echoes Roger’s National Book Award Finalist’s how I got ova and Clifton’s Blessing of the Boats, encompassing aspects of the female and the [body]. In the final section of this three-part poem, the section that echoes Rodgers, Bingham says:

So I become
my blinding self:

black bird

home, free

I would like to think this is the fragmentary that is woman, a subset (along with man) of (us), multiple bodies forming the [self), a sort of aesthetic/human freedom. What We Ask of Flesh explores these possibilities along with many others. This is the gift for the upcoming holidays that will keep on giving.

Remica Bingham:: What We Ask of Flesh:: Etruscan Press

A Multilayered, Sequestered Event

A Multilayered, Sequestered Event

Christopher Stackhouse's PLURAL from Counterpath Press

Adequately titled Plural, Christopher Stackhouse’s first full collection of poetry is a mellifluous explosion of language and connotation, intersecting at the point of meaning. Plural is a long awaited full length collection since Stackhouse’s joint collaboration with poet and literary scholar John Keene which produced Seismosis (1913 Press, 2006), a book that “penetrates the common ground between writing/literature and drawing/visual art, creating a revisioned landscape where much of the work is abstract or abstracted or both.” Plural then becomes an extension of Stackhouse’s aesthetical progression, which is steeped in art, philosophy, poetics, and critical discourse, even turning satirical at times.

The poetic work of Stackhouse is a multilayered, sequestered event insomuch as “events” are how we give valuation to language and perhaps aesthetics as well. Plural, which appears this November from Counterpath Press, “is an experiential immersion in the daily life of an artist, arts critic and poet who weaves and juxtaposes aesthetic ideas, personal circumstances, philosophical questions, and societal situations while aggressively experimenting with poetic form and content.” The collection is impressive as a whole, often exploring the ordinary through a set of aesthetical ideas, perhaps a math equation, or the discrepancy in language itself.

In “Notes from Lecture/The Subject of Art: A Lacanian Ink Event April 1, 2005” Stackhouse uses an Alain Badiou lecture to intersect narrator and “subject (Badiou)” into an aesthetical investigation. For instance, the idea of an artistic event becoming “form” from something that it was not:

     [I like his illustrations]

[achieving the dignity of a work of art.]

name as body, to new something new in the
work which events itself in the world of art
this could be new experimentation, [a] new tendency
of artistic creation – comes in this subjectivity
is the immanent infinity – infinity of form itself
[perception] – new form is new access –

In many ways the poems in Plural exhibit philosophical tendencies drawn from theorists such as Badiou, hinting at Kant, Adorno and perhaps Derrida to name a few others, offering “new accesses” through poetic investigation. However, the ideologies are many, and one can’t just peg a distinct poetic lineage of work from say a Whitman, a H.D. or a Duncan, but they are there, as well as many others.

The untitled poem for “John Cage” uses quotation, the idea of temporal space, and the connection time and space have on “being” to create a new subject of discourse. Consider:

“Chance operations.”
                                 —John Cage
“Based on the question . . . ”
                                 —John Cage
“Coming from the nature of . . . ”
                                 —John Cage

Obviously, sound is important and acts metaphorically to create aftersound, which creates afterimage, which becomes image. The subject is given valuation through temporal placement. This is just a small sample of what can be found between the pages of Plural, a book that will keep giving long after the last page has been turned.

Christopher Stackhouse:: Plural:: Counterpath

A Door to Another Ending

A Door to Another Ending

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs' TWERK

When Cathy Park Hong’s Dance Dance Revolution came out in 2007, I marveled at not only Hong’s word play, but also how she married languages and dialect to create another language. The book, which reads as part poetic sequence, part science fiction, offered a blending of genres and how we even imagine a poetry collection. Hong’s book became groundbreaking more than anything because the author was not afraid to take risks. LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, author of the upcoming poetry collection Twerk from Belladonna* Books, deserves as much initial fanfare as was given to Hong. Making its debut in February of 2013, Twerk is an experimental phenomenon in that each poem stands at the precipice of a new beginning, ready to leap into neoteric meaning, sounds and symbolisms. I call the reading experience an explosion of sound.

There is much to like about this work, how the language gets in your bones, and your insides start doing the happy feet. The integration of languages, of idiom and vernacular create myriad avenues. For instance, the poem “gamab click the bedouin remix ii” which includes lines in italics come from Aimé Césaire’s Notes of a Return to my Native Land, exhibits some of the range of Diggs:

                                                                                 light up di egrets plumage
                           dey sky needles di record on dey turntable of epiphany proudfoot
blazin’ pele’s bass line over runneth di clouds wit kravitz’s arrows

                       in di rain di blanc-mange seeps from dey dirt
                                  in di mountains maestro spare a seed n sow in peyote stitch

ink loves dey ache; loves dey gamab magma
    so listen sparrow hawk who holds the keys to the orient.

Within the same section of “no me entiendes,” which wonderfully plays off the unknown in Diggs work, are what I call bilingual contrapuntals, allowing the reader to marry language into another language. Within this structure Diggs plays (as in Derrida’s play) with the idea of the freeing of constraints through the villanelle “¡cucumber!”:

Lucid to ‘awapuhi que ósa bautizaba ngahuru
           Lucid and ginger like lagoons baptizing autumn,

Que tanja iglú flirtatious – corría
           like tangerine igloos flirtatious – flowing,

te llama pikaka loli, tu eres onaona ni nalu
           your name is jasmine cucumber. You are fragrant like waves.

In Diggs’ work, there never is a complete ending, only a door to another ending. This is not a drive by book where you think you are going to read it in one sitting. Oftentimes I found myself caught in another world, a world authored by a poet unafraid to mix languages for the sake of something new and indeterminate. This book is a giver, it keeps giving.

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs:: Twerk:: Belladonna* Books

To See the Earth Before the End of The World

To See the Earth Before the End of The World


Throughout his writing career, Ed Roberson has remained committed to the deconstruction of dominant linguistic/poetical practices for the sake of language and the ever-forming body it encompasses. When I speak of the [body] I am referring to that collective which operates through what Kant would term “phenomena.” I first became aware of Roberson through his book City Eclogue, which was commissioned by Atelos, whose main mission is to publish “writing which challenges the conventional definitions of poetry, since such definitions have tended to isolate poetry from intellectual life, arrest its development, and curtail its impact.” The book seemed to be a collision of language in collision with itself. The multiplicity within one poem impressed me so much that I went back to his first book, When Thy Boy is a King, and then traced his writing trajectory. In that first book, he writes: “To dream is not to dream if waking up is never finished.” This is the feeling I get when I come out of an Ed Roberson poetry collection. I never finish waking up inside of Roberson’s poetics.

With that said, To See the Earth Before the End of The World could be considered Roberson’s magnum opus, a masterful practice in the pursuit of aesthetic freedom. Perhaps my favorite section of the book, “Chromatic Sequences,” offers a complex look at history, the fallacy of skin color, and the social construction in a language that always seems to be in state of becoming. Consider Section i:

The colors of light
arrived as a time of day
sat in the whites only.                Formal or not

the torch of film caught up with changes and American
color           photography was invented with blood.
everything turned golden brown done        in a low sun. The cities burnt.

Roberson uses photography and the idea of manmade images that get up caught in the silent frame, the shutter. The poems fill in the silence or erase the erasure as Roberson has said on numerousness occasions. The dexterity of language and double jointed meanings offer the reader an experience rather than a simple reading. In this book there is a language that keeps on giving long past the exit of the poem.

I would call Roberson’s work controlled distraction capable of stepping outside that control to chaos language into exposing itself as flawed. What remains pleasurable in this book is the one-on-one relationship with words, with language. He asks the reader to do a little work while he is investigating the idea of human/humanity. Further along in the sequence, Roberson critiques the human race in “What The Tree Took, on the Table” as he writes:

we don’t get away
we don’t get off         race
though we know genetically does not exist

does not erase but is
enacted as our history in us is enacted as
American        the tree

While this section draws on history and that which defines humans (for good or bad), whatever the subject or non-subject matter Roberson addresses in To See the Earth Before the End of The World becomes a multiplicity of myriad meanings, each connotation building on an idea that crumbles into another idea. Roberson is always at the edge of the world—always seeing.

Ed Roberson:: To See the Earth Before the End of the World:: Wesleyan University Press