San Diego Poetry Guild

notes on guild, poetry, and San Diego



Should I worry when a maddenly reflexive, opaque film like Derrida feels like comfort food to me?

Tenets of my film education: honesty in filmmaking. Honesty about the limitations of representation, the presence of the camera, the prickly filmmaker-subject relationship. The times when the filming goes wrong often interest me more. I suspect that within the footage for Derrida was plenty of material for a traditional documentary, one that was not about its own making. But the filmmakers chose this. They chose to expose themselves and allow Derrida to hide himself.

For me, the entire film hinges on the scene in which the filmmaker questions Derrida about his relationship with his sister. The filmmaker contradicts Derrida's account of that relationship, and Derrida laughs. The cranky philosopher amused by his student's teasing barb. Without this scene, I might have hated the film. It might have been a film about Derrida annoyed by cameramen. But this glimpse of friendship negates that reading. The film becomes about how Derrida talks in front of the camera, how the filmmakers want him to talk, how he refuses to talk. Which is what all documentaries are about.

Does this mean that all documentaries are only about themselves? Sure, but that doesn't mean that they aren't about other things too. "All documentaries are about the relationship between the filmmaker and the subject." So documentaries are about people, how they relate to each other, and cameras. That doesn't sound so bad to me.

Parenthetical I.D.
[more team blogs?]

Blogs are about people, I guess, or at least, in most cases, portals of personal identification. Else why the preponderance of blogs parenthetically identified as the write-space of an individual?

Examples: Chaxblog (Charles Alexander), Elsewhere (Gary Sullivan), Ich Bin Ein Iraqi (Camille Roy), jill/txt (Jill Walker), lime tree (K. Silem Mohammad).

Obviously not the case in all cases, but pretty common all the same -- perhaps just another formatting convention finding its way, wormwise, into the structures of an incipient blog world.

Or does it mark something else? A recourse to the safe zone of individuation, perhaps, or a fallback to familiar ways. I remember the early days of personal websites, so many of them self-identified as "X's Home Page." The P.I.D. strikes me as the same sort of thing, a move toward radical personhood against an otherwise rampant atomization and anonymity. And like many, I see this as not such a bad thing (personism, of a sort). More practically, I like knowing people and having friends and knowing that they are out there and visible (readable). So the P.I.D. does some much-appreciated work.

But there might also be something of scene-building in the gesture -- an inclusionary who's who hiding out (germinating, growing) between the "(" and ")". To be part of the party, once again, is to make the list. I don't think that's a healthy way to look at it, but the argument could be made....

Anyway, an argument for more team blogs is maybe just another way to argue for more teams (and therefore fewer P.I.D.s).

Sure, a table full of cells full of links to other blogs -- not bad for an international post-avant, post-mediatic assault on the reigning conventions of authorship and sociopoetic interaction. But there's more to do, I believe, at the site of composition itself. Rewriting at the point of construction. Or at least, working within a team as well as working between and among individuated writing spaces.

It's utterly USian, I guess, to want to congregate and join existing forces, at which point the communicative challenge always falls somewhere between the needs/aspirations of the 'one' and those of the 'many' (Superbowl post-game interviews are a good example of where this kind of communication breaks down). It's a little harder to imagine a team-life from the get-go where there are no pre-established (individuals (indiblogs)) in search of community or interconnection. As hard as it is to imagine, I wonder if it's even possible to realize.

A fancier and more formulaic (and more evangelical) way to put it would be: INTRA-link as you INTER-link. And ask, always, Who has access to your "Edit this Post" window? The SDPG, for example, seeks team life, but even that, I'm afraid, doesn't make it a team (just yet).

21st century poetics could probably do with less Parenthetical I.D. and more team blogging, although, in this waxing age of total surveillance, the P.I.D. might be the only way to avoid detention, incarceration, or long waits at the border. To be recognized, that is, as recognizable -- that may be the only ticket around (especially now here in SD).

The question remains, though, and remains radically familiar: How do we want to be seen by others (in-scene or out)?

I'm not sure, but I dream the team while trying to figure it out.


Only Non-Authors Plagiarize
in defense of guerrilla plagiarists

Plagiarism is the corollary of the idea that ‘literature’ itself exists only as an aesthetic judgment. What is being judged is not an inanimate object, the text, but rather the agent of a criminal or immoral act.

In contrast to the particular author that Barthes sees as having died, the function of authorship is a historical constant that refers to the capacity of particular writers, or perhaps designated communities in historical contexts, to appropriate the attributes of authority, authenticity, and originality – a capacity that varies and is displaced over time.

Whether invested in the authority of the ancients or the Church Fathers, or reappropriated by avant-garde revolutionaries such as Montaigne and Kathy Acker, the original and authentic expression of authority has always characterized the ‘author.’

Plagiarists are essentially failed or false authors – those who are seen to have transgressed or left unfulfilled the cultural function authorship defines for them.

Plagiarism is seen as a positive antidote to the evils of cultural imperialism. And the spirit and practice of plagiarism as reverse imperialism extends in postmodern times beyond national or ethnic imperialism into a general critique of power and property in diverse contexts.

‘Plagiarism’ might be the necessary or logical form of aesthetic production available to an author who has been deprived of the attributes of subjecthood: in short, only ‘non-authors’ plagiarize.

The self-consciousness of contemporary appropriation differs from previous artistic imitation principally in that, like the plagiarist who knows what he is doing and that it is wrong, the post-Romantic appropriative artist knows that copying others is not the proper way to be creative, original, or perhaps even legal.

What is explicitly being claimed through this practice of ‘aesthetic appropriation’ is that some form of ‘plagiarism’ is the natural or necessary mode of production of the artist as ‘non-subject.’

Self-conscious plagiarism is a guerrilla tactic of a subversionary movement whose value lies in its pure oppositionality to dominant power – in other words, whose importance lies in the pressure it exerts against the institutions it attacks, but without which it could not exist.

The principal strategy of postmodern ‘guerrilla plagiarism’ is to confound the aesthetic, ethical, and legal dimensions of originality, undermining the accusation of ‘plagiarism’ by an outrageous degree of explicitness, achieving ‘originality’ by an excessive degree of imitation, and slipping through the hands of the law by out-of-court settlements and legal exploitation of the public domain.

In the end, guerrilla plagiarists are not real plagiarists, but they might be real revolutionaries.

Authors may or may not be dead, but the space of authorship is impossible to maintain as a vacuum: a signature will always fill it up.

Lifted and slightly adapted from Pragmatic Plagiarism (2001), by Marilyn Randall, and non-authored and signed by


Why Blog?
participant observation in blog-space

It's okay to be trendy sometimes, as long as the mood is right and the infrastructure remains visible. The earliest bloggers no doubt didn't worry about trends or scenes or fads but just went about their incipient blogging with, maybe, some sense of the impending digital unseen, seen again in slightly different form. Why blog=Why website=Why email?

Fear of a 'blog scene' is probably unnecessary if maybe because 'blog+scene' is what the literary-minded might call an oxymoron. Scenes are identifiable. Manageable. Blogs are not, so there's no need to worry. Or, if manageable, they don't congeal, don't meet on Tuesday nights, don't regenerate each other's tried and tired poetics, don't institutionalize trends, don't inhabit single cities, and probably don't find their ways into history books.

Or do they?

Blogs, like all trends, invite the perpetuation and routinization of conventions, and at all levels of production--from "template" to "safe mode" to "publish." And of course these conventions reach into the writing itself. Seeing what I see, those who might dismiss the web as a world-wide self-publishing mechanism would point readily to current blog practice as (yet another) case in point. Such an argument would miss the point that self-publishing is, indeed, the point, but to a different degree and perhaps toward a different kind. Publishing on the web (as blog as website as email, whatever) takes a concept like 'self-publishing' and blows it irrecoverably into a swampy wetland of recursive, unmanageable, ephemeral, and ultimately unreadable (entirely) self/other-webishy-writing that can only survive because the so-called publishing cannot, even if it wanted to, stop with the so-called self but must venture out into larger contexts and bigger problems.

So, a more disordered exchange of signs indeed. And, within that growing exchange, the question is not one of scenes but of social worlds.

I think there's something to the idea that writing here is like writing in two spaces at once. Or at least, for one who is new to it (as I am), there's a sense of not just preparing a writing--as one might for posting to a discussion list--but of being there (inside/outside) at the moment of preparation. Tricky ontology, that, and hardly worth pursuing. More importantly, I think, that sense of participant observation prevails, of witnessing your own and others' writings materialize in that slightly different setup known (now) as the weblog. Writing as participant observation, then (which is not the same thing as observational writing), and finding connections through that participation.

(And for that reason, good for the guild and for guild work.)

Brian Stefans I believe wrote somewhere (on Poetics list) that the blog can (or might or should) replace the writer's journal. Time and history may not order things so conveniently, but it's a good idea regardless, and precisely for this now familiar reason: The web's only hope lies in an activist, interpersonal, transnational, multilingual, and polynucleated orientation, and whether your average blog-space is filled with somebody's daily workout routine or the wise rants of a bigtime New York poet, the space (decidedly and significantly a writing space) is there for the taking--viewable, readable, transcodable, and, as with the connectionist platforms that came before it (email, IRC, newsgroups, MOOs), the windows don't close on anyone's respective self but open out to find others.

But, let's face it, blogs are about writing and so, regressively, a writer's dream come true. The little orange button below says "publish" and I, raised on the fetishistic juissance of that agonizing process, want in, want out, want to be read and relished. And of course, as a blogger with space and time, I'm not beholden to the disc-list protocol, don't have to weigh in on a topic, need not fear the icy chill of the next day's response. With each click on the keyboard, I imagine myself (here, now) writing more daringly, more impossibly, more readily, and so I wonder why in other spaces I've felt, to the contrary, shut down, disemboweled, nonessential.

So, maybe, the involutions and implosions of the captive audience of (really) just one. Which would only be true if it were not true--and this makes all the difference--that the lines in this very blog were the lines of follow-thru inspired by other lines whose spaces are available with one click of the mouse up above. In other words, I only write because others are writing. I'm not sure if that's good poetics or not, but there it is.

Blogs, then, are not scenes but inspire a sense of scenic possibility. Yes, checking on X today to see what's on her mind, setting Y as homepage so there is no missing the Tijuana update. But also seeking out the eventual absorption into the busy work of external connections, becoming just another node in the link repetitions propagating as fast as the packets are switching.

Blog is biography, true, if not individual or personal--and knowing the difference is perhaps what separates blogging from blustering.

But blogging is also ethnography: participant observation and explicit attention to social worlds and one's membership in them, as well as to the objects (boundary objects) in play between them, the blog being one of them.

Thus the importance of blogging, perhaps, to a 21st century ethnopoetics or, for the sake of adventure, a sociopoetics, where poetic assembly meets transnational world-building and glocal economic collaboration. (For more on that, read the message below about the guild.)

To blog is human, which, while it may not have much to do with blogs per se, has a lot to do with blogging.


Why a Guild?

Nowadays there seem to be a lot of readers of poetry, and a whole lot of writers of poetry, but very few members of poetry guilds, and of course not too many guilds out there for the joining should anyone care to. So the SDPG got together for that reason, to join forces and assets, to share resources and ideas--if not to monopolize poetry like the Medieval craft guilds did with baked goods and masonry and shoes, etc., but rather to provide the 'rights and privileges' that go along with working toward common goals of poetry production and distribution.

Why a guild and not a collective or council or group? Good question. There's something in the basic idea of guild association that seems necessary for poetry today, particularly in a region such as this one (San Diego and its surrounding villages) where it's too easy to get lost in the slowly smothering density of southern Californian commerce and culture. Here, there are dozens of poetry workers scattered around the county (as well as on the other side of the fence) all doing excellent work who otherwise have little chance to share their wares, talents, and technologies with a wider multi-politan audience. We associate, then, in order to consolidate what we know for the sake of a better life and better poetic work.

The guild convenes not to share experiences and their related expressions, nor to sponsor the perpetual marketing of individuals and their activities, but rather to conspire toward broad-based poetry work that exceeds that which we could do as a collection of writers, let alone by ourselves working toward our own ends. In a sense, the guild protects us from the scourge of exploitation that befalls so many engaged in this business. This exploitation comes in many forms--from the absorptive forces of local organized performance and its associated celebrity cults, to the dominating and exclusionary practices of institutional (academic) reading series. The SDPG does not position itself in opposition to these (and other) forces, although much could be gained perhaps in just such opposition. Rather, the guild explores new and existing channels for poetry work that feeds a glocal poetry economy, seeking always to forge connections across divides of territory, language, and prevailing aesthetic.

We profit by the proactive gathering of minds and materials, fostering collaborative interchange and the free exchange of trade secrets. That's really it, then, and in the spirit of the guilds of yore and some out there today: mutual protection and aid, sponsorship (fiscal where necessary and possible), technical assistance, educational resources, networking, and collective action. And all centering on the idea that poetry is work and not a luxury and should be recognized, and compensated, as such--if not in cash, then at least in the skilled reciprocity of a few committed members.

Poetry needs more guilds--and fewer scenes, discussion lists, reading series, cafes, and writing departments. That's pretty much how I see it, for now.


Winds of Change In Border Town

The winds are blowing (as they sometimes do) from the southeast, and word has it that the trees are toppling in LA, as reported on NPR about an hour ago.

Here, in San Diego, where the winds gust strong but the trees are still standing, we continue to wonder what it means to live and work and write and dream in a so-called 'border town.' So-called because we're actually two towns, San Diego and Tijuana, separated by a fence that stretches all the way down to the coastline where, if you visit on a warm, sunny day you can find little Mexican children and little American (sic) children joining hands through the rusted girders while the foam laps doggedly at their feet (same bubbles, different world). Of course, anyone who's ever visited these parts might understand why SD and TJ are, in fact, just one town, regardless of the fence and the languages and what the border patrol and folks like Gray Davis might say to the contrary.

One town, big and sprawling and bifurcated in the moist tropical desert of northern Baja. Let's call it, for now, Tia Diego, and imagine, for now, that all the flows of money and misery that fuel a border economy are rather the undercurrents, or post-currents, or anti-currents, of another kind of flow--of ideas, art, language, music, friendship, kinship, interest, curiosity, love. The daily work of entry and exit underwrites that flow, and to live in these parts is to be part of that flow, whether you're fully aware of it or not. To write poetry in these parts is, for some of us, to be at all times a writer divided and seeking, at every turn, some manner of recovery and completion, in language and languages, in the folds of variant speech, text, form, argument, assembly--the hybrids of poetic life, of language intensity, of persuasive song and sense articulation (etcetera). To work writing here is, then, to participate willfully and readily in such acts of recovery/completion, and to do so not alone but with others doing similar kinds of research.

Tijuana--not so much a sister city as a twin accomplice--pulls and pushes, seeking its own level, while a hump-backed and bloated San Diego holds a shoulder to the wall. There are elements up on the bluffs overlooking the bay who might, in all seriousness, be true residents of "San Diego" and who, in that palm-sweet realm, wake up and go to sleep every day looking east and west (and sometimes north) but never south, and who in that way become, despite even the best of intentions, builders and maintainers of walls. We at the Guild choose to turn our eyes and ears southward, or rather to imagine several directional vectors all of which intersect in the heart of downtown Tia Diego. Finding that point of intersection--that nexus--is a difficult challenge, indeed. The maps have not yet been drawn, and toward that end (geoliterary cartography) there is much work--and some serious blogging--to be done. In the meantime, we begin as most writers do, with acts of imagination.

To work writing as a San Diegan is not, finally, to be border-bound. The border, really, is that unfortunate unavoidable that, like the derelict cousin, must be mentioned at every family reunion if only to put the subject to rest, once and for all, until the next gathering. And so, having mentioned it, we can choose to move on and imagine a Tia Diego free of the border and its regulated flows, a region where a guild-full of practicing artists, writers, dancers, videographers, ethnographers, reporters and spiritual healers can meet (on either side or in between) to forge connections which, while perhaps too late for us, might help future generations find a way. We're here to work with our neighbors, so understanding exactly where we live is the first order of business. So look around, take note, listen well, and imagine. Then, let us know. We're all ears.............

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