San Diego Poetry Guild

notes on guild, poetry, and San Diego


Excential Texts 3

How America Works
[for Labor Day]

Hi! I'm George Washington. I was the first president of the United States, and I'll be your guide on this tour of How America Works.

Here are some of the many ways the government connects to your daily life (in no particular order):
LOOKIN AFTER THE ENVIRONMENT (Wow! Isn't this duck a bit too big? Maybe. But governments must try to balance all interests, and the environment is a very important subject.)
The U.S. government is a democracy. But wait, what's a democracy? Good question! The word comes from two Greek words, meaning "people" and "authority." In a democracy, we the people are responsible for electing those who will govern us (that's why it's important to vote!).

In other parts of the world, there are different kinds of governments.... For instance, in a constitutional monarchy, such as Great Britain's, the head of the government is a king or queen. Queen Elizabeth II of Britain's reign will last until her death, when the crown will pass to her son, Prince Charles. But, as in the U.S., there are regular elections for political office. The leader of the party that wins the election becomes prime minister and is in charge of running the country. By tradition, the prime minister consults the queen every week. A totalitarian government is one in which the ruling party imposes its ideas on the lives of the people. The leader of this kind of government is called a dictator. No opposition is allowed. Ordinary people have no say in the way the government is run. Adolph Hitler was a dictator in Germany from 1933 to 1945. Life under a totalitarian government is very different from that in the U.S. Every aspect of life is controlled, including what is printed in newspapers and what is shown on TV.

The Pledge of Allegiance
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The pledge was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892. Congress added the words "under God" in 1954.

The flag is flown at half-mast to honor the dead.
On Memorial Day, the flag is traditionally in the lowered position until noon to commemorate U.S. Veterans of war. Then it is raised to the top of the pole again.

How to Display the Flag

There are some very important rules about how to display the flag. People often forget that when you hang the flag on its side like this, on a wall, the blue area with the stars must be on the top left as you face it. Another rule is that the flag should never touch the floor or ground. Oh, and you're not supposed to make it into clothing, either!

Getting Elected: How You Become President

Suppose you want to run for president. What do you do? Here are the steps you'll take on your way to the White House.

1. Travel the country discussing things on people's minds. You might discuss the economy: Do people have enough money? Do they have jobs? You might discuss the environment: Are we polluting the air? Is our water clean? Your ideas about these topics will get you noticed by TV and newspapers.

2. Gather a staff to help you write speeches, arrange TV interviews, research the issues you are discussing on your travels, and seek support from other politicians.

3. Raise money. You'll need a lot! You need a huge amount to compete with all the other candidates. In the 2004 presidential campaign, some candidates are expected to raise $200 million.

4. Make a formal declaration. This lets everyone know that you are officially in the election.

5. Take part in the primaries--and win some!

6. Get your party's nomination at the national convention.

7. Now it's a race to the finish. Be seen everywhere, especially in states where your opponent has a lot of support. And be prepared for tough questions on live TV debates.

8. It's Election Day (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November). You hope for a landslide (big win), but you must wait until all the votes are counted. If you are the clear winner, you'll be called the president-elect.

9. A new home. You and your family will move into the White House two months after the election, in January.

Note: You may get more votes than your opponent and still not be the winner. How can that be? Here's how: The president is actually chosen by the electoral college. Each state has the same number of electors as it has members of Congress. A state's electors generally cast all of the their votes for the candidate who got the most votes in that state. So even if a candidate wins by just one vote in that state, the candidate is still supposed to get all the state's electoral votes. That's why states with big populations have more influence over an election than smaller states.

Well, I'm safely back home on the $1 bill. Don't forget to say hello whenever you see me! And watch for the new colorful design of the U.S. dollar.

[excerpted from Kids Discover, Vol. 13, #9, Sept 2003]



The iron cynic strikes again: Experimentalism is a structural function whose purpose is to open the way to the emergence of new emotions through language. That’s what Stein, Spicer and Hejinian did. So if new emotions don’t come after experimentalism, something went wrong. And American contemporary poets didn’t find new emotions. They only found new careers.


Excential Texts 2

Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality (1973)

from Chapter II. Convivial Reconstruction

The symptoms of accelerated crisis are widely recognized. Multiple attempts have been made to explain them. I believe that this crisis is rooted in a major twofold experiment which has failed, and I claim that the resolution of the crisis begins with a recognition of the failure. For a hundred years we have tried to make machines work for men and to school men for life in their service. Now it turns out that machines do not "work" and that people cannot be schooled for a life at the service of machines. The hypothesis on which the experiment was built must now be discarded. The hypothesis was that machines can replace slaves. The evidence shows that, used for this purpose, machines enslave men. Neither a dictatorial proletariat nor a leisure mass can escape the dominion of constantly expanding industrial tools.

The crisis can be solved only if we learn to invert the present deep structure of tools; if we give people tools that guarantee their right to work with high, independent efficiency, thus simultaneously eliminating the need for either slaves or masters and enhancing each person's range of freedom. People need new tools to work with rather than tools that "work" for them. They need technology to make the most of the energy and imagination each has, rather than more well-programmed energy slaves.

I believe that society must be reconstructed to enlarge the contribution of autonomous individuals and primary groups to the total effectiveness of a new system of production designed to satisfy the human needs which it also determines. In fact, the institutions of industrial society do just the opposite. As the power of machines increases, the role of persons more and more decreases to that of mere consumers.

Individuals need tools to move and to dwell. They need remedies for their diseases and means to communicate with one another. People cannot make all these things for themselves. They depend on being supplied with objects and services which vary from culture to culture. Some people depend on the supply of food and others on the supply of ball bearings.

People need not only to obtain things, they need above all the freedom to make things among which they can live, to give shape to them according to their own tastes, and to put them to use in caring for and about others. Prisoners in rich countries often have access to more things and services than members of their families, but they have no say in how things are to be made and cannot decide what to do with them. Their punishment consists in being deprived of what I shall call "conviviality." They are degraded to the status of mere consumers.

I choose the term "conviviality" to designate the opposite of industrial productivity. I intend it to mean autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment; and this in contrast with the conditioned response of persons to the demands made upon them by others, and by a man-made environment. I consider conviviality to be individual freedom realized in personal interdependence and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value. I believe that, in any society, as conviviality is reduced below a certain level, no amount of industrial productivity can effectively satisfy the needs it creates among society's members.

Present institutional purposes, which hallow industrial productivity at the expense of convivial effectiveness, are a major factor in the amorphousness and meaninglessness that plague contemporary society. The increasing demand for products has come to define society's process. I will suggest how this present trend can be reversed and how modern science and technology can be used to endow human activity with unprecedented effectiveness. This reversal would permit the evolution of a life style and of a political system which give priority to the protection, the maximum use, and the enjoyment of the one resource that is almost equally distributed among all people: personal energy under personal control. I will argue that we can no longer live and work effectively without public controls over tools and institutions that curtail or negate any person's right to the creative use of his or her energy. For this purpose we need procedures to ensure that controls over the tools of society are established and governed by political process rather than by decisions by experts.

The transition to socialism cannot be effected without an inversion of our present institutions and the substitution of convivial for industrial tools. At the same time, the retooling of society will remain a pious dream unless the ideals of socialist justice prevail. I believe that the present crisis of our major institutions ought to be welcomed as a crisis of revolutionary liberation because our present institutions abridge basic human freedom for the sake of providing people with more institutional outputs. This world-wide crisis of world-wide institutions can lead to a new consciousness about the nature of tools and to majority action for their control. If tools are not controlled politically, they will be managed in a belated technocratic response to disaster. Freedom and dignity will continue to dissolve into an unprecedented enslavement of man to his tools.

As an alternative to technocratic disaster, I propose the vision of a convivial society. A convivial society would be the result of social arrangements that guarantee for each member the most ample and free access to the tools of the community and limit this freedom only in favor of another member's equal freedom.

At present people tend to relinquish the task of envisaging the future to a professional élite. They transfer power to politicians who promise to build up the machinery to deliver this future. They accept a growing range of power levels in society when inequality is needed to maintain high outputs. Political institutions themselves become draft mechanisms to press people into complicity with output goals. What is right comes to be subordinated to what is good for institutions. Justice is debased to mean the equal distribution of institutional wares.

The individual's autonomy is intolerably reduced by a society that defines the maximum satisfaction of the maximum number as the largest consumption of industrial goods. Alternate political arrangements would have the purpose of permitting all people to define the images of their own future. New politics would aim principally to exclude the design of artifacts and rules that are obstacles to the exercise of this personal freedom. Such politics would limit the scope of tools as demanded by the protection of three values: survival, justice, and self-defined work. I take these values to be fundamental to any convivial society, however different one such society might be from another in practice, institutions, or rationale.

Each of these three values imposes its own limits on tools. The conditions for survival are necessary but not sufficient to ensure justice; people can survive in prison. The conditions for the just distribution of industrial outputs are necessary, but not sufficient to promote convivial production. People can be equally enslaved by their tools. The conditions for convivial work are structural arrangements that make possible the just distribution of unprecedented power. A postindustrial society must and can be so constructed that no one person's ability to express him- or herself in work will require as a condition the enforced labor or the enforced learning or the enforced consumption of another.

More from this chapter.
A worthwhile critique of Illich and Tools.


Excential Texts 1

from CrimethInc's D.I.Y. Guide II:

D.I.Y Spelling & Grammar

Here's a guide to a few often-used and often-misspelled words.

Bourgeois (pronounced something like "boojwha"): No wonder you can't spell it--it's French. Try remembering it in pieces: "bourg" means town (just like the -burg or -boro ending on a lot of city names) and "eois" means of or having to do with. Put together it means a dull, respectable, materialistic middle class town-living kind of person, neither peasant nor aristocrat, neither millionaire nor bum.

Distribution: The short form may be "distro", but the full word is still "distribution".

Existence: There's no logic to this one, so you'll just have to memorize it. Existence is spelled with an E and Resistance is spelled with an A. it helps if you get used to the slightly different pronunciations and say them bouth in your head ("exiSTENCE, resiSTANCE, exiSTENCE, resiSTANCE.") Good luck.

Grief (also "thief", "relief", "siege", "belief", and "chief"): Remember this little rhyme: "I before E except after C or when sounded like A as in 'neighbor' or 'weigh'." Foolproof with one exception, to be explained later.

Hierarchy: Another I-before-E word. Even easier if you remember that hierarchy is spelled the way it is pronounced--"higher-archy". The adjective is "hierarchical"--it's a little confusing, since the adjective for "patriarchy" is "patriarchal", but that's just one of those inconsistencies you have to live with in the English language. Hierarchical. Hierarchical.

Hypocrite: This word comes directly from the ancient Greek for actor, "one who pretends to have virtues he doesn't possess." The "hypo" part indicates under (as in hypodermic=under the skin)--in this case it means "underhanded". If you remember the root it's easier to remember the spelling. As a bonus--even good spellers get this one wrong--its companion word is spelled "hypocrisy", with an S in front of the Y, not a C.

Independence: like "existence" it ends with an ence. Tell yourself (Emma Goldman, of course, would disagree) that "there is no dance in independence."

Insurrection: Two Rs. Pronounce it that way in your mind: "Insur Rection", not "Insur Ection".

Pervert: Each syllable has a specific meaning in Latin. "per" means thoroughly, "vert" means turn aside. Put them together and it makes sense. The common misspelling "prevert"--if it were actually a real word--would mean something like "turn aside before." Probably not what you had in mind.

Prejudice: Prejudice means to pre-judge something; if you remember the root of the word it's easier to spell. For some reasons the J and the D often get reversed.

Privilege: This one trips up lots of people. Pronounce it in your mind as priVILege, not priVALege or priVELege. And remember, there is no D in "privilege" --don't spell the last syllable as "ledge".

Tragedy: Say it in your mind as you spell it--"tra-je-dy". People often mistakenly reverse the G and the D.

Weird: The major exception to the I-before-E rule. Pretty easy to remember if you tell yourself that "weird" is weirdly spelled.


PERSONAL PRONOUNS: No one gets he, she, him, her, me and I right all the time, but for some people misused pronouns can be as grating as fingernails on a chalkboard. It's actually not that hard to get it right if you think it through. Look at the sentence "She handed the balaklavas to he and I." Now strip it down to the "She handed them to I." Sound right? Of course not. It should be "She handed the balaklavas to him and me." ("She handed the balaklavas to him. She handed the balaklavas to me.") It's the same with "her and me went dumpster diving." If you wouldn't say "Her went dumpster diving," or "Me went dumpster diving" don't say "Her and me." The right sentence would be "She and I went dumpster diving." It gets easier the more you try it.



A lot of white/empty space showing up lately ragged right margins evenly spaced lines blocks of lines matched sets of lines. Blogs are starting to look like a country broken up into several smaller countries smaller sovereign entities swaths of corn and wheat field across the midwest and what's up with that?



A vortex forms at the intersection of lines leading to and from Mills College, San Francisco, Australia, and a bunch of kittens. The United States, once a country, is now a node for which "us" stands in as equivalent. Once there was a time when to live somewhere meant something, now there is only blogging.



Nihilism is an import in the U.S. and makes most sane people laugh when they see it. No one takes nihilism seriously except nihilists. But we have pragmatism, Peirce to Fish, which maybe is a kind of nihilism. I like my optimists medium rare.


Report on Reports and Letters

I think by Friday I'll have the first round of DEAD LETTER GAME wrapped up, and so taking the opportunity to put that little gig on ice for a few days (weeks, months, whatever) and focus my energies here and here and maybe here. Fortunately, or perhaps not, the title requires that I try to keep it alive as long as possible, so watch for "future" developments. Dead letters live forever.

I'll also probably have to stop with FIVE (not bad I guess, considering the heat this summer) field reports for now although I had originally planned on doing at least ten by season's end. Having overdosed on theory/crit this summer, I'm rather fed up with metacommentary anyway, and besides, a zillion other things to do including trimming the trumpet vines and painting the bathroom. So, let the winds blow where they may.

I just reread Lyn Hejinian's My Life (Green Integer edition) and am tempted to start a blog by that title and post each sentence in order one per day for 2025 consecutive days (would take about 5.5 years). Is that plagiarism? At what point, I wonder, would I be approached for copyright violation? Anyway,, predictably, is already taken, but is not, should anyone care to steal My Idea.

Too late, I already did it and here it is.


Field Report #5: Texture Notes

The texture inside the mouth, inside the nose, the texture of an earlobe, of strangers, air, cookies, performance. The texture of the sound of the wrong band warming up.

"Remove the artifice" (05.27.03), but really it's artifice top to bottom, side to side, toe to earlobe. The artifice of texture, sure, and a steady preoccupation with density, weight, thickness. The strain is lovely: heavy touch, light touch. Sense choreography in the streets of Blogopolis (in this case, in and around Tokyo).

It's been recently suggested that what a blog needs in order to avoid anemia or obsolescence is a "mandate." The word is a bit heavy, asks a lot (official command or instruction by an authority) and invites some easy puns, but I wonder about the possibility of a kinder, gentler mandate, a sort of mandate-light issued not as "command" or "instruction" but as appeal or query, as invitation, as open line of action or communication, as commitment or recourse to a given set of concerns, themes, preoccupations, textures, as a "breath of fresh air that arrives too late" (05.27.03) but still delivers the message in time:
Thickness, bare slightness, of contact. Physicality of intelligence, and an active negative space in the space. A pass, contact preceding contact. The weight, of and on each surface, the look on someone's body when awake. When speaking. [05.24.03]
A mandate, maybe.

The advantage (and one of the joys) of reporting on Sawako Nakayasu's blog now is that it is relatively new, so not all the evidence is in. Where the texture notes have come from, therefore, may not be as interesting as where they are going next. Still, since May 2003, the notes have been sometimes funny, eerie, scary, disturbing, exciting, and even nauseating:
Start with the stuff on the ground I mean start with the nasty, then get very very good, the process of getting very very good. See, notice, witness that pile of puke over there in that corner and pick up a spoonful of it and shovel it in. Swallow. A few minutes and it shall return, now a pile of pleasure, some of us call it dinner. [06.17.03]
But note, like all good textures the proof, if not in the pudding (yuk), is in the combinatory accrual of surfaces and substances, the long play over days and weeks, the subtle switches (often on the train) from light to heavy, pull to push, pleasure to pain, thinness to thickness.

Objectivist in the sense that "shapes suggest themselves" (Zuk), Texture Notes also makes room for a new poetry of reportage and field documentation in the tradition of the Situationists and gonzo journalism. The blog I think in general is more report than personal diary or journal, inherently public and newsworthy even where most committed to the solitary and/or autobiographical project. Maybe what's most compelling about this one is the play on documentarist exposure and the framing of scenes at once personal (in some cases literally self-probing) and social. The private/public divide is unnecessary here except to point out the way "clarity" in this kind of writing/posting/reporting works in several directions simultaneously. Yes, blogs like love letters are windows into the souls of bloggers, but they are also samizdat perjuries, plagiarisms, postcards, and pressworks, instant pubs for the daily news archive, textures in the underpublicized sense of representation of the structure and detail of objects.

The goal is clarity but of a special kind:
Things are clear enough,
and thick enough,

If clarity is it, all that it's hyped to be,
And to be in the thick of it, this.
In other words: No ideas but in blogs.

For many the blog is a self-publishing forum. The very concept of "self-publishing," though, is outmoded, worn out, food for the worms, so perhaps we can address the way blogs and digitial distribution technologies more broadly change relationships between writers and readers (producers and consumers) without recourse to what is basically a print metaphor and one whose emphasis, even in the print world, is way off. On the other hand, what are blogs if not self publications, or, more kindly/gently, self publics, shared processions at the door, open parties (if not texts), love-ins, orgies, flea markets, raves, poetry readings, emergency rooms. The point is they're neither "self" nor "public" but something in between, sassy entities that drive and ride shotgun at the same time, seam sutures and binary busters, mixed mediators.

So I go into Texture Notes with this kind of rhapsodic unwillingness to pin it down or uncover its "mandate" but still willing to name it for what it is: the arrangement of threads etc. Or, for clarity's sake (all that it's hyped to be), the going public of an existential condition "in which a life is caught in time" (B. Kimmelman). All blogs, I dare say, should be so caught.


You Say You Want a New Emotion

I take issue with the claim that emotions are damnably fucked up things like sentiments tend to be. That theory is perfectly emotional is also a fucked up claim with which I take issue. The truth of emotion is compelling. The best part of intellect is forthcoming. I don't like the needling interests of happy people. I can't stand the front end of domestic wrangling. When is a sad song a missed opportunity? Where do the seasons go? I cry when the carry-on bags don't fit. I think all emotions should be criminalized and then sold on black markets. This argument makes me want to puke and then wallow in it. Oh, silly rabbit. I anxiously defer the real work of reporting because my home life is in the toilet. The non-seasonal-summer of San Diego is holding at 95 degrees. Gawd, that's good. It tastes like Chekhov. I laugh thinking about all the email I should be checking. Historicized poetry regimes are damnably funny, eh? Dems fightin woids. Oooooooooooooh, love to love you baby. When I listen to Negativland's Helter Stupid I say, "Now that smarts!" I think I'm having an emotion is a line I once used to start a poem. I feel anxious and somewhat depressed about those early poems. The desire to have it out with them once and for all inspired me the other morning to take them down from the attic for just one more look. Theoretically predisposed to tantrums, I have to watch my step with the little ones. I'm not the jealous type, but I secretly wish I were ______ _______ _______. The kids are ready to go to the gym. At first, this made me mad, but then I remembered it was I who said we were going to the gym. I will miss this paragraph. Love, Bill.

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