I listened to a 2004 Segue reading where Rodney Koeneke read with Sharon Mesmer on PennSound to prepare for writing this introduction. I don’t think I have ever heard so much laughter from the audience at a reading. I then had a fantasy the laughter from Koeneke readings could provide laugh tracks for TV. Each poem could be the sounding of the person who is invited to object at a wedding right before the ceremony reaches its conclusion. Rodney is agile and friendly in his poems. The poems are calming, while at the same time being a disrupting voice at the volume of acute social criticism. This produces what he names in his poem “The Real Aeneid” a “winkingness,” at and with the system of happiness, while also performing an exegesis of the accumulations or simultaneities that don’t make sense. Instead of sense for Keonoke the import is an itch. (more…)
I wonder how Uroyoán Noel collects so much excited, resistant, and varying language. His poems reveal a hyper awareness or as he calls it in his 2010 book a Hi-Density Politics. As if a walking spam filter, Noel takes the viral detritus of late capitalism, of insistent colonialism, of ruins from resorts to craft his poetry. He riffs on the booming voice of the car salesman on the radio with generous satire. Noel describes the poet as “the bookworm who sings like an owl atop this underarm unreason.” Oh, the underarms of cities or sites, solidified in that public bench that endangers you with its “c” encased in a circle of copy-written CEO beggars. (more…)
While at a flea market or on a city street, a thing might stick to your eye. Perhaps its memory makes you lonely. How do you “open” this interest, like the “old purse”? Coultas’ “tatters” in the raw accumulate like an aged clump of receipts inside a family’s home. The scope of all the histories one might carry around with them emerge while looking at the future of a melting glacier, a fracked piece of land. The sold sign is jabbed into the front lawn of the house of nature. What is unsolved, what elemental fires burn for a narrator on this earth, or as Brenda Coultas calls it, the “eyeball of the galaxy,” where a detail, never too ordinary or layered in someone’s else’s code of garbage, is ever too small. Coultas collates the tatters through concerns: “Who holds the crystal clear machine guns?” (more…)
Eleni Sikelianos is capable of great disorientations, which is a skill we need in a time of replica strip malls. “Words bird the zone” so we can fly around the different entrances of language when heated up and bent into new tools under Sikelianos’ pulse and pacing. Everyone has their “own inside feeling of of” so no small piece in the ensemble is taken for granted. There is no dry repetition only how to surprise functional or empty words like of, which leads to a great deal of expectation on the reader’s part for “old ideas to be transcendent.” (more…)
Yvonne Rainer’s 1996 film Murder and murder is the story of courtship, growing intimacy and small arguments in a middle aged lesbian relationship. There is only metaphorical treatment of murder in relation to visibility and illness. In one scene, where Doris and Mildred are together on a spring afternoon in a park, Rainer collages multiple instances of overhearing outlandish homophobic comments in public. The language gesture is exaggerated, so everywhere Doris and Mildred sit they overhear another discriminatory spurt until the scene ends with them overhearing another lesbian couple’s banter. There is an ear like a stethoscope in Rainer’s dialogues, a joy in confrontation resurfacing.
In a 1968 tribute to the writer Jill Johnston, originally published in the newspaper Culture Hero, Rainer reflects not only on her relationship to Johnston but on the relationship between confrontation and writing: “I get very mad at Jill when she repeats something I say in her column or when I find out she’s mad at me through reading the vv. She avoids direct communication. That’s her trouble, that’s my trouble, that’s everyone’s trouble. End sermon. Sorry Jo.” (more…)
“Sometimes you are afraid to listen…” : A Tribute to Amiri Baraka (1934-2014)
“Nothing was more perfect than what she was. Nor more willing to fail,” begins Baraka’s “Dark Lady of the Sonnets,” a tiny piece on Billie Holiday that looms large in what we now recognize as a massive body of great work. Not perfect, Baraka leaves thinking about the music and art of black people totally changed: his “changing same,” his “fuck poems / and they are useful,” his “was we always… surrounded by the worst negroes in this nightmare”— these are not phrases, but forces with which all of us must grapple/struggle in our dealings with the confounded overdetermination of blackness. “Say you might have some problems /
but ain’t none of ‘em bad as the ghost.”
Some day, I will really understand the poetic space that is occupied by Baraka’s “gray” and “dead.”
It is impossible to replace or follow him. “Emotion, is wherever you are.” We have, now, his recorded theory of the world. Sometimes it is hard to listen…
Please join us in celebrating Baraka’s life, work and legacy on Saturday, April 5, from 2-4 pm in the Sanctuary of St. Mark’s Church. Featuring readings and performances by Ammiel Alcalay, Steve Dalachinsky, Toi Derricotte, Latasha Natasha Nevada Diggs, Cornelius Eady & Rough Magic, Thomas Sayers Ellis & James Brandon Lewis, David Henderson, Bob Holman, Oliver Lake, Tracie Morris, Julie Patton, Greg Tate, Quincy Troupe, Anne Waldman & Ambrose Bye. Copresented with Cave Canem, Cosponsored with St. Mark’s Church.
In Joan Retallack’s new manuscript, we are led with a firm hand through conundrums of time. In listing short and infinite variables of time we are warned “Don’t let any of this distract you.” THE REINVENTION OF TRUTH Fables, Moral Tales, and Other Awkward Constructions is an indulgence in the irony of how poetry could be, a supreme form of distraction, of swerving away from whatever is locked in view, (in time). (more…)
Juliana Spahr tells us, with gusto, “poets need to know the names of things.” This comes from a preface to a poem on the isolation of nature poetry and the emergence of ecopoetics in her book well then there now. Juliana’s expectation for micro actions in language to have major consequences challenges what coalesces under the sign of poetry in our times; “it is as the problems of analogy.” (more…)
I tried to summarize this moment in Samuel Delany’s 2012 novel Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders but I couldn’t. I find a deep resistance to summary in the essential matter of Delany’s work because all the details seem so important. My effort is more of a sports radio play by play of two pages than a summary.
Eric and Shit are life partners in an open relationship, which is also a narrative structure of interrelated paths in this novel. Shit is intent on trying to withdraw money with his ATM card from a bank far away from home, something he thinks should be illegal because the ATM machines, don’t know him. Shit asks Eric to do the transaction, and confirms his pin. They stop at a Sovereign. What’s that Shit asks. It’s a bank, Eric answers. Shit, in a childlike but philosophical way, illustrates how we could glide through this absurd electronic network of data storage, automation, and money. Shit doesn’t need the money; he just wants to see if it works.
I peered through a steamy window of a Lower East Side gallery last winter, barely able to get in through the door, being in the audience’s non-space. A submissive performer was receiving commands from Marissa Perel’s feather, which moved like an erect wand.
Marissa Perel is always expanding what one might assume queer work to be. She is a defender and an explorer of this word so that it is expanding, untrackable almost. Perel’s instinct is one I trust. I think she is truly up to something. Her performance piece from 2012 Yentl unleashed all the repressed sexploits of Isaac Beshevits Singer and Barbara Streisand’s girl turned yeshiva boy. She has taught me that it’s not what the word queer means but how it is moving presently among us.