San Diego Poetry Guild

notes on guild, poetry, and San Diego



New pubs from Factory School, including a reprint of Ron Silliman's Xing. Do please check it out and buy lots of copies for Valentine's Day.

SDPG Winter Showcase, Jan 16, 2004

The first thing to know about the San Diego Poetry Guild (if you don't know it already) is that, in fact, it has very little to do with poetry. We've talked about this a lot over the past year-and-a-half or so and have yet been able to escape that strange little nagging (maybe healthy) paradox. We all write or read poetry to some degree (and did so, on and off, that night), so it's funny or potentially unnerving that we can't seem to make our little Guild project more "about" poetry and poetic activity, poetry sharing, poetry building, breaking, bartering, etc. We still call it a "poetry" guild, though, and I think that minor caveat is starting to drive a few people (inside and out) crazy.


Bruce Andrews: Thinking System

Hopelessly remiss in my blogland duties of late -- reading little and writing less -- but I think of all of you often. Most likely no one's reading this either, so I'll cry tears of guilt by myself and be done with it.

I caught Bruce Andrews reading at the Vis Arts space on UCSD campus last week, and that was fun, especially when Sally Silvers got up and started moving to the atomized rhythmic "media bites" (as Michael Davidson introduced them) of Andrews's documentary deluge.

In the end, Language Poets are fun because they perform language as differential information, as "difference that makes a difference," which is I believe the way Gregory Bateson (Steps Toward An Ecology of Mind) defined information a few decades ago.

Language Poets -- and maybe all poets for that matter, big or little 'p' -- are not poets but rather "thinking systems" or networks -- and I take that from Bateson as well:

The total self-corrective unit which processes information, or, as I say, 'thinks' and 'acts' and 'decides,' is a system whose boundaries do not at all coincide with the boundaries either of the body or of what is popularly called the 'self' or 'consciousness'; and it is important to notice that there are multiple differences between the thinking system and the 'self' as popularly conceived:

(1) The system is not a transcendent entity as the 'self' is commonly supposed to be.
(2) The ideas are immanent in a network of causal pathways....
(3) This network of pathways is not bounded with consciousness but extends to include the pathways of all unconscious mentation....
(4) The network is not bounded by the skin but includes all external pathways along which information can travel....

Information traveled up out of the podium and through the microphone out the speakers and into/through Silvers's gestural signings / contortions, then I guess through the sensory pathways of a packed audience and out somewhere into the darkening night sky.

Rothenberg and Antin asked questions afterward about 'translation' and 'word strings' respectively, and I had the rare urge to ask a question myself -- about Andrews's work not as poetry or even writing/language in the sense that both those initial questions were couched, but rather as documentary evidence (or difference that makes a difference) for a specialized mode of communicative interaction, as a kind of training or lesson maybe in rituals of coding and decoding. I wanted to ask: What difference does it make?

I didn't know how to read Silvers's movements and that was probably the point -- dissonance as antidote to embedded habits of sense-making and reference-hunting. There was a pulling and pushing against speech rhythms, puffing up pauses and silences, sometimes in synch with the words/phrases but again not in any direct relational way.

I had the impression, in fact, that I was watching two "language poems" unfold before me, not one in stereo, for example. Two language poems that were in a way identical even in their obviously different modes or occupations. Each performed the other, I guess is one way of looking at it.

But I was wondering while watching if this was a kind of sameness that makes a difference -- a dis-information or in-communication. While the dance and the word-strings were somehow the same they were also incommensurate -- I couldn't watch "it" but could only bounce back and forth between "them." Seeing/hearing that segment of the reading as one performance, that is, would have been like trying to hit two pitches (one a golf, the other a bowling ball) at the same time.

Well, like Bateson said, anticipating L.P.: "You can't mix thoughts, you can only combine them."

I would have asked the question, too, but I had to duck out early because the reading lasted for over an hour and I'd put only 50 minutes worth of change in the meter, and the parking vultures at UCSD are just that.


SDPG Winter Showcase

When: Friday, Jan 16, 7pm
Where: J.R.'s house, Normal Heights
Who: Bobbie, Ricardo, Bill, Octavia, Jenifer, J.R., Jingle, and a host of participatory others
What: Poetry, real-time text assembly, video interlude, "lecture," haiku bingo, slide show, and more
Why: Because "the imagination is more restless than the body."

Email for directions.

Stay tuned for report.


Poker Ante [concluded]


I just got back from Barbara Kruger and Jerome Rothenberg discussing IMAGE & TEXT over at the Vis Arts building at UCSD. The question of categories, as you'd expect, held fast as a centerpiece of conversation.

"Kaku," J.R. noted toward the end, is the Japanese word used for both "writing" and "drawing." He wondered aloud how things might be different in the West if we likewise only had one word for that activity of moving the hand across a surface with a marking implement.

Jerry evidently spent a few of his twenty-odd years at UCSD trying (unsuccessfully in the end) to get "creative writing" moved from the Lit to the Art department. The disciplinary walls, he said, were just too hard to "punch through." (He did himself , however, have a joint appointment (Lit/Art) throughout his tenure at UC.)

As his anecdote suggests (if obliquely), absent typically from discussions of "IMAGE & TEXT" (or choose your favorite binary) is the effect of institutional / administrative (even architectural) logistics on the ways we make sense of our various "kakus." I approached J.R. afterward to get the right spelling for this Japanese word, and he asked in passing if I was in Lit now and I had to confess that, no, I was in Communication, another disciplinary demarcation adding another piece (corner?) to the image/text puzzle.

Because, as Lev Manovich rightly pointed out in Q&A, it's not just about image and text but also motion, and yet it's also not just about image, text, and motion but also action or interaction. Communication is interaction is art (and this in reverse), meaning there are ways to think about art (and art practice) as communication that go beyond the justifiable claims made by Lang Pos, among others, that poetics has suffered over the years from implicit and explicit reliance on the communicative fallacy -- basically that good poems communicate their meanings in the way good pipes pump hot water.

I don't know quite where to go with "poetry as action-as-interaction" (anybody have a suggestion? reading list?), but meanwhile:

"Half with loathing, half with a strange love," The Poker (3) communicates (partial list) Fanny Howe from On the Bus ("Turn back time!"); Dale Smith from Notes No Answers ("Shall we make it perfect?" and other moistly poignant rhetorical questions); Dan Bouchard from Evensong (ratcheted-up intertext, pieces of which I also heard read in NYC last year at the Subpress reading); Durand interviewing Kevin Davies; Alan Davies (from This Is Thinking, which it is: "A good poem deflates the ego. It breathes out."); Fanny Howe again on music, religion, poetry, and Henry Hampton's "Eyes on the Prize" and the camera as "social animal."

In the call for work at the back: "Essays by poets will be prized." (!)

Antennae (5) is one of those nicely conceived mixed genre journals that pushes at some of those real/imagined boundaries separating poetry, art, performance script, document, lecture and musical score. That really compelling examples of each are included is impressive enough, but also the works tend to start looking like each other, or maybe unlike themselves, as the thing moves along. That was the message I got, at least, as I paged through: Ridrigo Toscano, Dennis Barone, Sawako Nakayasu, Steven Timm, Matthew Goulish (whose "microlecture" is f---ing astounding), Keumok Heo, Leslie Scalapino, and Patrick Durgin, among a bunch of others.

Antennae has something like an "aura of occasion" to it that I really like. I want to write something specifically for it, in other words, whereas on other days I'm wondering whether something I have might fit a particular journal or zine. Maybe the latter approach is wrong-headed anyway, but I wonder if there's something to the journal/zine itself (its size, shape, texture, print run, smell, font, focus, etc.) that either attracts or repels active-interactive response of this kind.

Anyway, I'd like to see more of these kinds of operations where what seems to materialize, in the end, is a sense of invitation to communicate with the people and projects happening in the pages of the zine/journal occasion-object. Maybe that's what all of them are doing, in theory anyway (and some obviously print that invitation on the inside cover), but I'm starting to find that some do it more generously (even if not explicitly) than others.

And for the record I think these three -- Submodern Fiction, The Poker, and Antennae -- come packaged with really nice, effective invitations.


Poker Sub Fic Ant [cont.]

All of which (please see 1.2.04) brings me to what I wanted to write about in the first place -- these three zines and their object or artifact or pseudo-artifact status in a communication framework, assuming that's even a fair place to start.

Editor Mark Wallace, for example, introduces the first issue of Submodern Fiction with a call for "alternative fiction to go sub-modern" -- his rally cry concluding an editorial that lays out the journal's purpose and makes some rather bold (if sweeping) statements about the current state of fiction publishing in the U.S. as well as the prevailing relationships between a "non-mainstream" poetry crowd and their fiction-writing allies.

SMF, Wallace writes, is "devoted to alternative forms of prose narrative" or a non-traditional narrative typically passed over by major publishing outfits due to its "postmodern" bent. Two forces conspire, namely the prevailing interest in (due to marketability of) realist/magic realist strains and what Wallace characterizes as the avant-garde rejection/anathematization of narrative as the "essential enemy of socially engaged writing."

One of the interesting things about Mark's intro is the use of "alternative" about five or six times to mark this "non"ish (non-realist, non-mainstream) kind of writing. It's a tough job, obviously, to classify and label (for purposes of editorial framing) the kind of writing one is looking for particularly when the commercial activity of labeling and classifying is one of the things one hopes to resist/undermine/avoid in framing an "alternative" work. What transpires, it seems, in trying to open up a space for work typically rejected for not being "X" enough is the dialectical call for "anti-X" to fill up its own (alternative) space. What makes something "alternative," however, is not all that clear, aside from its "non"-ness. An old problem.

Mark does suggest some positive values, such as "radical cultural critique" and (as above) "socially engaged writing," and I'm not too concerned about this problem of (non)definition because fresh journal efforts like this are fun to watch precisely because they risk communicating their own otherness in this kind of subtle maneuvering around (evasion of?) the self-replicating trap of main/alternative. What's "non" is what's there, I guess, between the lime-green covers, and for the record those who have so far answered the call for "alternative fiction to go sub-modern" are Susan Smith Nash, Cydney Chadwick, Joseph Battaglia, Jefferson Hansen, Anne Bogle, Stephen-Paul Martin, and Harold Jaffe.

So, maybe these are some of the "natives" of this particular sub-set of alternative writing, and they know who they are and know (they know) the particular genre knowledge required to identify oneself and one's work either in or outside the range of this somewhat vaguely stipulated "alter." Again, that's cool. Communities, maybe, should know theyself, and that self-identification work is enough to both float the project and keep the "realists" out, which is obviously part of the project as well.

[ be continued, again..]



Happy BD, SDPG.


The Poker Sub Fiction Antennae

At the recent MLA conference, I split my time between roughly literary and roughly communication oriented panels. Highlights on both sides included Jena Osman's visually-aided presentation on journalistic found poetry and Peter Jaszi's rather gloomy predictions for copyright and IP law. It was my first time at the MLA, and I went primarily because it was here, in SD, and because I had a chance to meet and reunite with some cool poetry people, particularly the hordes on hand for the Harryette Mullen reading and (refreshingly un-mic-ed) follow-up panel discussion and Q&A. I left that particular event feeling good about poetry.

But left the building feeling pretty shitty about "lit" in general -- a rather sad academic discipline that can't get over its obsession with the literary artifact, be it book or poem or even authorial biography (or maybe "psychography"). I gave up on lit (and in some ways, poetry) and took up "communication" a few years ago in part because I'd had enough of literary artifacts, or at least the production and study/fetishization thereof, even those artifacts produced by artisans whose literary agenda speaks to a deliberate dismantling or troubling of the categories and processes typically responsible for the fetishization of literary objects.

The field/discipline of communication has its obsessions too, among them the rarefied "object" of sociological or historical interest, but in general these objects add up to a much bigger, and I think more interesting, set of things, procedures, policies, dances and moments, and rarely look like artifacts in the way an Elizabeth Bishop or even WC Williams poem can to a lit professor. The difference in disciplinary focus might come down to that rather simple matter of range of coverage.

I know there are some in lit working to add a little range (movement, plasticity) to the hardened categories of literary practice and criticism, and granted the MLA, let alone the conference industry in general, is hardly the place to look for even the "discipline" of literary studies, which even as discipline has its more reLAXed, flexible trench-workers doing their best to keep the concrete soft before pouring (a few of them on hand at the MLA). But building the monument is always the endgame of literary studies, so even the more wily experimental lit panels can end by offering up the same ritual of publicly witnessed foundation-setting. Okay, but that's the business of lit so why rehearse the knocking of it.

Lit/poetry journals are mostly epiphenomenal non-artifacts that live pretty short, snappy lives on the borders of literary studies and monument building. I spent the weekend packing old ones into a box to be stored with other boxes of old journals on a high shelf in my garage. It felt good to purge my already (and sadly still) overpacked bookshelves of these ephemeral beauties, making way for new models (new issues, new efforts) arriving weekly in vacuum-sealed bubble envelopes.

Great resources for watching the great work of literary communication transpire, lit/poetry journals give up the artifact in search of the fact. Evidentiary objects -- things in the Heideggerian sense of gatherings -- lit/poetry journals are great documents in search of dedicated readers-qua-researchers. The good-time of poetry and poetics, let's say, transpires in the pages of good poetry zines.

Journals communicate, then, in ways that books do not and cannot. At least that's how I'd like to go about reading them from now on -- as communiqés from the wilderness of poetry production which inherently resist the hardening effects of artifact-obsessing and the broader regime of literary studies.

In that spirit I was happy to receive last month Submodern Fiction 1, The Poker 3, and Antennae 5.

[ be continued...]

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