FOUND! Poems. The arrival of Illiterature 7

An issue of illiturature, the journal of avant-garde work published by Michael e. Casteel’s micropress Puddles of Sky, is, plain and simply, an event. It is up to seven issues, and I have been honourned to be published within the pages of the last two. Number seven, which I will be looking at today, is a collection of found poems from eighteen writers and/or visual artists. Issue six was a collection of one word poems, while issue five was a masterpiece of Casteel’s editing in which the reader finds visual, asemic writing, and textual images of the contributors composed into an abstract graphic novelette.
Of the latest issue, number seven, which collects a variety of different forms and approaches to the found poem, I could comment on each piece within the covers, but will only look at a few pieces which, to my mind, present the greatest challenge to the idea of the found poem, or remark on it, succeeding in sending me further in thought than some of the pieces. And it is not all positive, which is good, as that is too often the case.
The first piece I am commenting on is the one which gives me the most trouble, the one I am least able to read. On page 25 there is a piece by the late David Fujino (January 28, 1945-May 6, 2017), which occupies the upper half of the page, and less than that. A markedly stylized lettering, very scratched, which reads, all in uppercase letters, WE BAD. I imagine I’m not the only one who on first encountering it feels at a loss at how to engage it. The grammar is incorrect, and anyway, it seems more concerned with the visual than the syntactic, yet there is nothing one can gather from the visual qualities besides the description I already gave. But there is more to the issue than the presented pieces. There are descriptions of sources and, in the case of WE BAD, process. But what kind of process can there be when it is a found poem? Fujino’s description reads,

From page 74 of “Lines” published by ee.no books, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1990 ISBN 0-9692715-0-6. The submitted image was re-manipulated. The poem was first imagined as a street poster printed in a book format, then re-manipulated as a ‘found’ or concrete poem, then scanned. 

This description at first confuses me. Are we to assume that “Lines” is by Fujino? Without assumption, it is by anyone. He gives the reader ample information so that we can answer that. Onto google. Yes, “Lines” is by Fujino. But still, no light has been shed onto WE BAD. Reading it, not a visual piece, it is a statement. Are we bad? OK. A moral judgement. Or, bad can be taken as rebellious, or radical (in the sense of extreme, or cool). But even with this, I can engage the poem very little. Back to the description Fujino has given. It turns out that the found poem which Fujino has submitted is his own poem, which makes me curious as to how it relates to the found poem. He found his own work–and then changed it. I am now more confused than ever. To top it off, Fujino seems to equate found poetry with concrete poetry. These two categories are not mutually exclusive. The fact that Fujino encases the denomination found within single quotation marks, and not the word concrete, seems to suggest that he is more comfortable with identifying the poem as concrete. In which case, I agree. Is WE BAD a radical approach to the found poem which affirms that we can indeed rediscover ourselves, and in doing so, approach a former self as an other? Is this the WE? What is ‘found’ here?

While Fujino’s ‘found’ poem led me in circles, circles I appreciate for how lost I have become, and for the questions met on or off the path of his piece, one of Elisha May Rubacha’s (who is part of bird, buried press) contributions, very straight forward, not confusing (when her description is read), continues to hold my attention.
Rubacha’s piece reads, Found between machines, and beneath the text there is an arrow pointing right. Her description goes as thus, Note found to the left of my sock in the laundry room. The arrow had pointed at her lost sock now found (absent in the piece, significantly), the note had been left by a roommate, housemate, family member, partner or stranger in the laundry room of her house, rented or owned, or the common laundry area in an apartment building. How this piece performs pivots on Michael Casteel’s editorial choice of placement. Rubacha’s piece is placed on the left-hand page, while on the facing right-hand page is an envelope, the contents of which are a found poem by Michael e. Casteel, taken from a TV series, so, found presented in a machine, or between many machines. Read in communication with Casteel’s piece, Rubacha’s could be seen as merely an introduction–but, the gutter of the journal saves it, opens another avenue of reading, but again, this pivots on Casteel’s editing, not necessarily on the piece as an independent text. Casteel’s seems to have found Rubacha’s piece all over again. The arrow, pointing to the gutter, points to the space between pages, the space that two pages makes, points to materiality. It references, then, the process of printing, the machines Casteel’s used to produce the journal itself. Also, it suggests the search or chance encounter with material that the writer or artist has experienced to come upon a found poem. While the material has been complied, arranged and printed, between the machines of our lives, there was/is the movement of bodies in the material world that leads to encounter.

I mentioned above that on the page facing Rubacha’s piece is an envelope containing a poem contributed by Michael e. Casteel (The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses, Invisible Publishing, 2016). The found poem is a small booklet which contains within it four images. This poem takes its title, Perchance to Dream, from the title of an animated Batman episode (the writer of which borrowed the title from Shakespeare’s Hamlet), the episode in which the images that make up the booklet were found. Here, as in Fujino’s piece, the found poem is also a concrete poem, while this time is confident within both categories. The first image finds Bruce Wayne reading a newspaper, on the pages of which are a text consisting of letters upside down, right-side up, jumbled, crammed together, rising, falling–a garbled text, to be sure. The following three images zoom in on the text and the text itself intensifies its dramatics. It is really a visual pleasure, and considered as an intentional concrete poem, in the lineage of the concrete poem, it doesn’t skip a beat. This raises some worthy questions. First of all, who created this concrete poem? Not the writer of the episode. It was the illustrator/s. And while the text arrives driven by the narrative of the episode, it is amazing to see how comfortable the concrete poem (certainly not originally presented as such) is on public television during the 90’s. It has already been digested and re-presented as a device. This leads me to think about value. If an illustrator or group of illustrators can whip up a concrete poem, while quite probably not even considering it as such, and if it can rival that which is produced seriously by current and past poets who have championed the form, the poet who tackles the concrete poem better keep in mind how ordinary it now is, more than two decades later, and how invisible it is likely to be. On the other hand it is encouraging to witness the influence of the vernacular of art forms spreading throughout culture at large (i.e. popular), that the strangest language resonates and has an effect, becomes part of the literacy of the general public, when so often is seems so ignored. The yin to that yang is an addition to W. S. Burrough’s famous line: The word is image and the image is virus… and the virus is quotidian.

 

Note: I had mistakenly attributed a poem to Gary Barwin which was in fact by Michael e. Casteel. This had been corrected.

Fan Wu & Fan Wu

Type into google the name Fan Wu and you are, at present, presented with an image of a woman, well dressed, of whom we are told was born in China and is a Chinese-American novelist. I have never read Fan Wu, and perhaps never will. On the other hand, I have read Fan Wu. In fact, I met him a few nights ago at the monthly Hamilton based reading Moon Milk where he was the featured reader. I will not describe Fan Wu, except to say he was kind and seemed a sensitive listener, which is to say something, but nearly nothing at all. If Fan Wu was an asshole I would still write, probably, this. No, if he was an asshole I would not write that he’s kind, but instead that his writing is good–very good. So, Fan Wu is not an asshole–and his writing is good–very good.

I believe it was, at the very least, a month ago, but more likely two or three months back, that I picked up a beautifully crafted chapbook entitled Hoarfrost & Solace (espresso, 2016) by one Fan Wu. While I was attracted by the quality and beauty of the publication in and of itself, it was the high recommendation from James McDonald, owner of The Printed Word book shop, that ultimately propelled me to buy the chapbook. That is what a good book shop owner can do–and does (unlike my experience today in Hunter Street Books in Peterborough, where the employee seemed oblivious to names and titles).l

Having purchased the book, I took it home and put it on a shelf. Then, when the right time presented itself, I read it. James recommends good books.

In Hoarfrost and Solace, Fan Wu translates a number of Chinese poems written by Tang poets, such as Li Bai (Li Po) and Wang Wei. But this is no ordinary translation. It is said that poetry cannot be translated, to which I would add that if much is lost from one romantic language to another, much more is lost from an Asian language into a romantic one, i.e. Chinese to English. And so, Fan Wu uses the original Chinese poems (given, in the book, in Chinese, so do your research) as a site of departure, expanding on each poem, introducing improvisation into translation–to re-present the texts, perhaps with a greater fidelity than a straight forward translation. Each of the original Tang poems are expanded into sets of three English pieces each. Not three versions, mind you–each translation comes out a triptych, to be painterly about it.

I cannot read the Chinese poems, but I was able to find more or less standard translations of each of them online which I could use as reference. In retrospect, they were unnecessary. The point is, to my mind, that, re-presented as they are in Hoarfrost and Solace, perhaps we can arrive.

Standing in the Courtyard of Tanggu Yi Zhong: Lu Xun and Einstein

Results of the 2017 Blodwyn Memorial Prize have been released! I am not a winner. I am mentioned, though, honorably, for my poem Standing in the Courtyard of Tanggu Yi Zhong: Lu Xun and Einstein. The poem was written mid 2011 while I was teaching in Tianjin, China. While I eventually taught for a private institution, I began in the public schools. Tanggu Yi Zhong, mentioned in the title of the poem, was a high school around the corner from my apartment, and the poem focuses on that location and the surrounding area. Also in the title, two figures are mentioned. Einstein, of course, needs no introduction, while Lu Xun is likely almost completely unknown to Western readers. Excerpted from a brief biography of Lu Xun on Columbia University’s Asia for Educators website,

Lu Xun (or Lu Hsun, pronounced “Lu Shun”; 1881-1936) has been considered China’s greatest modern writer for most of the 20th century. Many of the other authors of fictional works of social criticism popular during the 1920s and 1930s have been at least partially discredited or criticized during the various political movements in China since 1949, but Lu Xun’s reputation has remained consistently distinguished. Mao Zedong (1893-1976) called him “commander of China’s cultural revolution.”

Perhaps it was because Lu Xun died relatively early in the Communist movement that he has not been criticized for making the kinds of political “errors” for which his colleagues have suffered. But the sophisticated complexity of his writing style, which lends itself to various interpretations, is also an important factor in his achievement of a position of preeminence.

I encourage you to read some of Lu Xun’s work. Here is a link to his famous story Diary of a Madman.

And here is my poem:

 

Standing in the courtyard of Tanggu Yi Zhong: Lu Xun and Einstein

I

There is Einstein.

A bending of the neck allows me to look up into the eyes of a statue of Einstein. Asking, Who is Einstein? whose answer would be Albert? And who would believe it sufficient to posit the equation E=mc2? Or just to say he was Jewish? German? Genius?

Does the scanning of a biography result in acquaintance? Does a lackadaisical spin of a globe make one worldly? Is a statue flesh? But is it presence? It is living                   memory where it is more than mineral and chisel. Just a rock: outside the conversation with the persistence of impression, could this sketch be said to be indebted to it:

  1. Though he is technically dead, the water, which nourishes the earth, is not alive.
  2. That there was ample room for God is evidence that science, far from trump (closer to trumpet,) is a brilliant facet of the imagination:
  3. Systems and equations depending on laughter and the playful rolling of the colour wheel, behind speculation, with a stick.
  4. A perceived thing will not be still—and so the field of physics is swept by the wind that carries the inaudible distortions of prayers—and a statue converses with a man.

 

II

Lu Xun stands opposite Einstein. Pursuing medicine, Lu Xun was horrified while watching a beheading caught on a red reel, and turned to the medicinal word. The Diary of a Madman revisits fragmentary entries written in a delirium in which the writer is convinced that all the villagers down to his very own brother are cannibals. We follow the progression of his growing delusion that villagers and family alike are conspiring to eat him. Did they, or did they not? What is it to be eaten?

 

III

A sociological vertigo deterritorializes the subject… causing rapidly increasing panic, cold sweats, nausea, and in some cases the urge to violently retaliate against the “over-curious.” Due to racial isolation in much of the expansive country, foreigners do in fact meet with a population both xenophobic and xenophile in turn. Extended exposure to the unyielding scrutiny of the general population can result in the development of depression, alcoholism, paranoia, and chronic isolation to name but a few possible symptoms.

 

IV

Forty actions/spectacles executed by a Caucasian living in Tanggu. The audience consists of the public who chance to be in close proximity to the events. Unlike traditional audiences the spectators come and go as they please. This is akin to a happening, the major difference being it was never intended as performance.

  1. breathing
  2. buying water
  3. walking
  4. smoking cigarette
  5. turning head right
  6. turning head left
  7. crossing street
  8. stumbling on uneven pavement
  9. scratching arm
  10. wiping sweat from forehead
  11. talking on phone
  12. sneezing
  13. sitting on bench
  14. drinking water
  15. humming
  16. biting thumbnail
  17. watching being watched
  18. reading book
  19. adjusting hat
  20. coughing
  21. throwing empty bottle in trash
  22. looking at watch
  23. picking wax from ear
  24. patting stray dog
  25. talking to stray dog
  26. yawning
  27. blinking
  28. dropping piece of paper
  29. bending down/ picking up piece of paper
  30. entering restaurant
  31. looking at menu
  32. pointing at menu
  33. waiting
  34. saying xie xie
  35. picking up chopsticks
  36. eating
  37. drinking
  38. watching TV
  39. paying
  40. leaving restaurant

 

V

Locked within the gates of Tanggu Yi Zhong: Lu Xun and Einstein, teachers and students, janitors and groundskeepers, guards. Locked out: any semblance of stranger, outsider, alien. Family needs be familiar, trusted, part.

But, it is family, as the closest communities will attest.

***

It is something very intimate, from a distance,

to grow a family in a year,

living in classrooms negotiating the amorphous

state of education. First attempt:

connection. Severed, standing behind a computer

partition as if afraid of being seen

naked against a landscape of blackboard –

forget a language, the foundational

smile might just manage a binary

transfer, reduced to information.

Beyond the idea of teacher and student,

human and human, invariably put together

with air, tissue and imagination

could never survive term or season

without the addition of friend, compassion,

and the million millisecond attributes

which, lasting, defy job description, salary and curriculum,

for a circuitous notion of we.

 

VI

 There is Einstein.

Happy there is, once and a while, light on this earth. One only ever hears of brilliance. Rolling the toxins of public transportation and congestion in my mouth, the students of Tanggu Yi Zhong in their ticking leisure volley birdies in a numberless badminton making use of no nets. Others run to run and others chase to chase, some laugh to laugh, and all breathe to breathe. Some dance to win, some cry to gain, some just walk it off – and passing me where I stand next to Einstein (flashes of blinding Nagasaki, Hiroshima) or tearing past, they call out Hello!

These are my children?

It dawns on me, belatedly: the sun is up, an aspirational direction, and the idea of family doesn’t want blood (anymore).

 

VII

Look:

Untitled

 

 

From Theory to Practice: What Really Happened to Criticism (Hiccup!)

On the night of Thursday May 25th I attended a discussion focusing on the state of criticism held at The Staircase in Hamilton. The discussion, as described on The Staircase‘s website

…titled “It’s Great and I Like It: What Happened to Criticism?” [was] moderated by Quill & Quire‘s reviews editor, Steven W. Beattie, and the panel include[d] Gary Barwin, writer, multimedia artist and composer; Emily Keeler, VP of PEN Canada and editor of Coach House Books’ Exploded Views series; Graham Rockingham, Hamilton Spectator music editor; Naben Ruthnum, writer and critic; Stephanie Vegh, Executive Director of the Hamilton Arts Council, visual artist and critic; and Gena Zuroski, McMaster University English professor and editor.

It was an engaging discussion, to be sure. As to answering or exploring the question What Happened to Criticism? very little time was spent. Much of the discussion found the various participants engaged in a dialogue on what they thought criticism should be–a guiding through work, providing of a lens to improve readers’ toolbox–a constructive practice, I believe, they all agreed uponBut, if the question, going into the discussion is What Happened to Criticism? what did happen to criticism? This might have been a solid point of departure. Instead, much of the first half of the discussion revolved around vague definitions which were never clarified. What is the difference between criticism and a review? And if it is supposed to be obvious, why was it tripped over?20170525_193127

Near the conclusion of the panel discussion, to be fair, the question proposed in the title of the event was touched on. The answer to what happened to criticism seemed to be that… it’s disappearing due to a lack of interested parties: reader/viewer and media. Lament. With arts staff cut to a bare minimum, panelists agreed that faced with the job of criticizing (or reviewing?) so many different events with an emaciated team (of one), it was really only possible to tout the best, ignore the bad, and suggest the rest.

Finally, worthy of note, was Stephanie Vegh’s desire (and call) for Hamilton to be a city where serious criticism could be found among the living arts scene which gets its exposure via the SUPER CRAWL each year, but fails to blossom (or so Vegh was suggesting) otherwise.

That was the theory portion of the night. Then, next, into the night. From my jacket pocket my phone relayed directions from The Staircase to L’estranger, a bar I have mentioned in the past. I headed over to this bar to listen to Klyde Broox and Kelsey Knight sing their poetry.  This they did–plus a poem and two songs a cappella by Jack Blackmon who got the bar singing  the chorus of I Just Don’t Give a Fuck, which was… I just don’t give a fuck. The majority of the performance was Klyde Broox’s material–the audience participated in chorus chanting, and they laughed, clapped and whooped. Until the drunk owner shut the whole thing down in a jarring turn of events. Claiming the poetry was shit and stupid, and in direct contradiction, that he didn’t understand it, the owner turned on the music as audience and performers stood momentarily stunned. The owner then went on to claim that Klyde was preaching and that that kind of stuff could turn him into a racist. Here was practice following the theory. I am not saying that all of Hamilton has as little potential as this unfortunately event, but it was undoubtedly a poignant contrast between the controlled discussion of earlier that night and the vulnerable reciting of poems later.

It can be difficult to find an appropriate place to flood with unapologetic poetry. If the owner of L’estranger didn’t know what to expect from Klyde, if he expected muzak and whispers… one easily thinks of the poetics of intervention and the reactions which such interventions can engender. Klyde Broox is no stranger to poetry in strange places. He tells a story about a poetry gig in FORTINOS. It also did not end well, not surprisingly, especially if you’ve heard the power of Klyde’s voice, how far it reaches. But, expectations aside, there is no excuse for the imbecilic behavior of the OWNER. Of course, he’s lost a number of patrons, rightly. Goodnightly, stranger.

 

Mayakovsky Frank O’Hara Mayakovsky John Donne Frank O’Hara

On May 11th I was sitting with a number of animals in a room listening to Vannessa Barnier read. She read some of her own work, some of which was fashioned after the style of Gertrude Stein (formally) and read at an incredibly rapid pace, contrasting greatly with the steady, strong movement of Stein’s own style of reading (hear Stein read her work Matisse on the PennSound archive). Also, Barnier took a break from her own work to read a piece by Frank O’Hara, curator and poet of the New York School. I wouldn’t be remarking on this event except that Barnier read, out of all the O’Hara poems she could have read, Mayakovsky.

vladimirmayakovsky

Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893 – 1930)

When Barnier began reading O’Hara’s Mayakovsky two questions immediately surfaced, First, I wondered who in the room had heard of Mayakovsky (read a brief biography of him on Poetry Foundation), and second, I was curious as to how Barnier came to this poem. There is a reason I was curious how she found this poem and poet, and it is the origin of my own introduction to these.

 

Sadly, my introduction (along with much of North America’s, I assume) to Frank O’Hara came via Our Great Teacher, Television. <<In any case, thank you, Television, for turning us away and into a book.>> In 2008 the series Mad Men aired an episode with the title Meditations in an Emergency, which is the title of a book of poems by Frank O’Hara. In the episode, the protagonist Don Draper performs a dramatic reading of Mayakovsky, the closing poem in that book.

So what? Why does it matter how one comes across such and such a poem? Why do I think it is sad that it was through the medium of Television and from the mouth of a dramatic character from a mediocre series that I first experienced this poem? Because they are now married. I was never able to experience O’Hara’s Mayakovsky without the now embedded experience and knowledge of Don Draper uttering feelingly the words of O’Hara. Now, of course, nothing is experienced in a vacuum–we are introduced to everything in some kind of context. It could have been in the university classroom or lecture hall, or (romantically) drunk under a bridge. We don’t usually get to choose the time and the place. That’s life, unfolding. What am I getting at…

Well, it’s not likely that any popular show will, in the near future, engage with the work of Mayakovsky. But, just in case the producers of My Little Pony are planning to have Twilight Sparkle recite Vladimir Mayakovsky’s A Cloud in Trousersread it yourself, first.

Oh, and John Donne… It has come to my attention (though the sources are weak) that O’Hara derived the title of his book Meditations in an Emergency from the metaphysical poet John Donne’s own work Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (which is a collection of prose meditiations). Perhaps it will be Deadpool who reads from this?

 

April is the cruelest (National Poetry) month.

I fully expect that nobody will sympathize with my distaste for the concept of national poetry month. After all, what is disagreeable about bringing poetry to the forefront, highlighting it, giving people a greater opportunity to engage with it, especially when you are a poet who desires a readership? And in truth, I can hardly explain the recoil I experience as April begins following the online whispers of national poetry month national poetry month national poetry month… Perhaps it is the fungus of cynicism which finds apathy in the center of so many when, on any given day, they are faced with poetry. National poetry month… is it an appeal? Like other day and month designations it activates the precarious tension of both raising awareness on the given subject and also, in legitimizing the subject in question within a given time frame–stationing it, and containing it within (the tupperware of) the bounds of the specific given time. And when April moves into May… is there room in the fridge?

People love poetry–as long as you shut the fuck up.

One month.

An allowance.

A consumable.

 

The Pencil Remembers (2 Poetic Events)

The word is image and the image is viral… so I always find myself conflicted when at a performance I’d like to share, with a poet I’d like to others to hear, I do not have my camera. I have a phone, that is a camera, true, but I do like to capture images with a light box that’s only purpose is to capture light really very well. Conversely, it is nice to be free of the snap snap snap so the ears can focus on tIMG_4242he words at hand. Last night, another fucking Thursday (I am the only one who works on Friday as well as every other day of the week), I made it out to two excellent poetic events without my camera. I thoroughly enjoyed both events and listened well as I could.

In lieu of photo documents, I decided this morning to reach into my body and pull out images of last night. They happened to fall on discarded Thank You cards intentionally.

IMG_4245First event of the night was the recently established monthly open mic reading, Moon Milk, which, if you are in the area for the next one, I highly recommend you check out at Casino Gallery. Every month they have a featured reader–this month Edie Roberts came up from Detroit with a pile of publications from his own press, Bathmatics, where he is investigating the role of editor and attempting to disrupt the traditional editorial role and functioning largely as a facilitator, pairing visual artists with poets, and spreading the means of production into a more communal event.

At the reading I picked up a one of Edie’s self-published chapbooks, The Heel and the Face, and a little production by my friend Kathleen Hughes titled, Bloodlust & Dream.IMG_4241

IMG_4240

After the reading, a group of us hopped over to L’etranger on James St. where Kelsey Knight performs, every Thursday, her POEM OF THE MOMENIMG_4244T. Visit–and sit with her and her typewriter. Vulnerable conversation of intense one on one. Facing each other. Just radically speaking everyday connection that is rare. And a poem written literally between you.

This little object that you take away, ash dancing from fire.