Category Archives: Ars Poetica

Gertrude Stein’s Biographical Body: More Than Remains

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Gertrude Stein’s Biographical Body:  More Than Remains

by

Amy King

The test of a “politics of poetry” is in the entry of poetry in the world in a political way.

                        –Barret Watten, “The Conduit of Communication in Everyday Life”

 

As I say all novels are soothing because they make anything happen as they can happen that is by remembering anything.  But and I kept wondering as I talked and listened all at once, I wondered is there any way of making what I know come out as I know it, come out as not remembering.  I found this very exciting.  And I began to make portraits. 

                        –Gertrude Stein, “Portraits and Repetition”

 

            “She has always made her chief study people” (TAAT, 45), and ultimately, transgressed the genre formalization that depicts people within standard biographical terms.  Gertrude Stein divined her own methods for presenting her impressions of others.  Within an increasingly industrialized culture, she considered the attempted representation of people to be a production of personas that risked a formulaic confinement.  Stein’s acute awareness of assembly line manufacturing spurred her to work against the commodification of language – and make language her own, more than ever.  That commodification continues to limit the activity of how we identify and label individuals, so that our pre-packaged culture dispenses rigid versions of people or “types,” thus belying the possibilities language can inspire.  Beyond the obvious cardboard cut-outs of “right” versus “left”, another result of such characterization practices can be seen through the popular trend in memoirs and biographical works.  These books perpetuate the mythos of America:  pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps, overcoming odds, etc. as if there were no other noteworthy ways of living to admire. 

           These “rememberances” at base evidence a historicizing condition.  Someone is remembered within the context of certain circumstances, achieving particular goals, etc.  Additionally, such recollection assumes the rubric of proper grammar and syntax as a prerequisite for comprehension.  The static popular use of words served as “soothing rememberances” for eased consumption.  For Stein and others now, it is the equivalent of being spoon-fed prescriptive paths for life.  Her own biographical notes illustrate her resistance toward the “easy road.”  Stein’s various portraits and biographical pieces ignored grammatical laws and brought language into focus, while bearing no regard for soothing or instructing audiences by example, and thus, her work confounds the commodifying impulse and elevates the “text-as-object” condition.  Industrialized production would lay down for writers the dictates that disguise the materialism of language and obliterate the need for people to actively handle words via their imaginations, and thus, their own emotional predilections.  Readers seek to know the meaning of the story, rather than working with the text-at-hand, infusing, constructing, and enacting meaning  as a collaborative effort, as an action.  Consider the old metaphor of selling a house:  the realtor finds it easier to sell a house under the mythology of “how many good, familial times will be had” through the obtainment of the product, rather than on the actual design or by speculating on the unglossed potentialities of what may happen once you’ve moved in.  Likewise, words were just vehicles, a product meant to deliver an end result, until Stein’s concern with their presence caused unrest among the critics. 

            Comprehension, as based on common grammar and artifice, Stein felt, makes “all novels soothing” because it simply familiarizes the way language is used.  This familiarization produces the desired, prescriptive result.  For the conditioned reader, the stories delivered may resemble the meat of life; they can be the tales that reveal life’s lessons, titillate or make us cry.  However, that conventional writing style does not identify some essential truth ready for us to learn and live by.  Rather, it anticipates a common readerly response and attempts, through rule abeyance and manipulation, to deliver the anticipated story-lesson.  Stein undertook the development of a different science, one that did not divide the intellect from the emotion of the individual.  Wisdom was not to be limited to the reader’s “correct” understanding of the lesson therein.  The molecular structure of the sentence did not belong to a literary science of naturalization but came under the determinations of the individual scientist, philosopher, and person to test their own hypotheses, according to instinct, whim, and whatever other personal calculations might come into play.  In Stein’s work, words were not stand-ins for other realities.  The lines and phonemes became tangible realities themselves.

[To be continued]

 

Daisy Fried’s Poetry Exercises

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Daisy Fried on Poetry:

* I’ve never found an explanation for why poetry, apparently alone among the art forms, is asked to do more than be itself.

* But poetry’s the High Art which is also democratic: inexpensive, portable, reproducible, quickly consumed (except for epic and very difficult poetry), requiring only literacy to participate. So maybe it’s good that poetry carries this extra burden, even if it means that the idea of poetry is more necessary to people than individual poems, and that people tend not to pay attention to what’s happening on the page. But this doesn’t explain why the superfluous demands are often made by educated poetry experts. I doubt most poets, good and bad, political or not, put these demands on their own work. Why should we make them of poetry in general?

* Words matter. Use is not function. War and Peace makes an excellent paperweight; I’ve used it that way myself, after reading it. The function of War and Peace is greater than its many uses. So too poetry. Bad poems are often more useful for healing, persuasion, and celebration than good ones. They lack that rich ambiguity which Keats called negative capability, and so fail as poems. Take, for example, bad 9/11 poems, at which I do “sniff the air.” There are good 9/11 poems. The degraded Romanticism of the mass of bad ones often amounts to decorative displays of the poet’s own sensibility. Such displays may be emotionally or politically useful, but who needs them? They seem to claim authenticity for individual experiences derived from watching TV—and fail to ask the question, why do these people want to kill us? Good 9/11 poems sustain the possibility that America was both victim and guilty. I believe 9/11 solace poetry has given support, however indirectly and unintentionally, to the Bush administration. Solace poetry is to serious poetry as pornography is to serious art. Sex pornography has its uses, even positive ones, but nobody confuses it with serious art about love. The difference between solace porn and sex porn is that solace pornographers seldom seem aware that they’re making pornography. Shame on them.* Poetry matters. Great poems don’t always fit categories of usage: Martial’s hilariously filthy invectives, Dickinson’s apolitical lyrics, and, despite their stupid fascism, Pound’s Cantos, all function as great poetry. Meanwhile, the four of us write poems. We might begin by intending to be merely useful (I never have). But at some point the poem takes over, makes requirements of us instead of vice versa. That’s the moment of poetry; poems exist to let readers share in that moment. So our focus on mere use strikes me as odd: is this really all we know about our poems? Why exclude ourselves from our own readership?

* Enjoyment matters. Poetry is fun! I mean this seriously. In “Lapis Lazuli,” Yeats insists on the gaiety of human existence alongside its tragedy. Yes, there is terrible suffering; we are all going to die. And when, on the carved lapis lazuli, a man “asks for mournful melodies;/Accomplished fingers begin to play;/…their eyes,/Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.” The gaiety of great poetry reinforces and deepens our humanity. That’s personal—and therefore social. Forget that, and we forget poetry’s true function.

–from “Does Poetry Have a Social Function” @ The Poetry Foundation

Listen in on a conversation I had with Daisy Fried HERE: powered by ODEO

A POEM A DAY BY DAISY FRIED

1. Write a ten-line poem in which each line is a lie.

2. Write a poem that tells a story in 18 lines or less, and includes at least four proper nouns.

3. Write a poem that uses any of the senses EXCEPT SIGHT as its predominant imagery.

4. Write a poem inspired by a newspaper article you read this week.

5. Write a poem without adjectives.

6. Ask your roommate/neighbor/lover/friend/mother/anyone for a subject (as wild as they want to make it) for a ten-minute poem. Now write a poem about that subject in ten minutes; make it have a beginning, a middle and an end.

7. Write the worst poem you possibly can. Now edit it and make it even worse.

8. Poem subject: A wind blows something down. Or else it doesn’t. Write it in ten minutes.

9. Write a poem with each line, or at least many of the lines, filling in the blanks of “I used to________, but now I_________.”

11. Write a poem consisting entirely of things you’d like to say, but never would, to a parent, lover, sibling, child, teacher, roommate, best

friend, mayor, president, corporate CEO, etc.

12. Write a poem that uses as a starting point a conversation you overheard.

13. First line of today’s poem: “This is not a poem, but…”

14. Write a poem in the form of either a letter or a speech which uses at least six of the following words: horses, “no, duh,” adolescent, autumn

leaves, necklace, lamb chop, Tikrit, country rock, mother, scamper, zap, bankrupt. Take no more than 13 minutes to write it.

15. Write a poem which includes a list or lists-shopping list, things to do, lists of flowers or rocks, lists of colors, inventory lists,

lists of events, lists of names…

16. Poem subject: A person runs where no running is allowed. Write it in ten minutes.

17. Write a poem in the form of a personal ad.

18. Write a poem made up entirely of questions. Or write a poem made up entirely of directions.

19. Write a poem about the first time you did something.

20. Write a poem about falling out of love.

21. Make up a secret. Then write a poem about it. Or ask someone to give you a made-up or real secret, and write a poem about it.

22. Write a poem about a bird you don’t know the name of.

23. Write a hate poem.

24. Free-write for, say, 15 minutes, but start with the phrase “In the kitchen” and every time you get stuck, repeat the phrase “In the

kitchen.” Alternatively, use any part of a house you have lots of associations with-“In the garage,” “In the basement,” “In the bathroom,” “In the yard.”

25. Write down 5-10 words that sound ugly to you. Use them in a poem.

26. Write a poem in which a motorcycle and a ballerina appear.

27. Write a poem out of the worst part of your character.

28. Write a poem that involves modern technology-voice mail, or instant messaging, or video games, or… 29. Write a seduction poem in which somebody seduces you.

30. Radically revise a poem you wrote earlier this month.

Not Thinking Alike

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“It is not best that we all should think alike, it is differences of opinion that make horse races.”

–Mark Twain

~~

A few new poems written by my non-pseudonym in Jacket Magazine:

* The Arm of Eden
* Where Bullfinches Go to Defy
* Two if by Land, I Do
* A Martyrdom Should Behave Us All

This is an early appearance as Jacket #35 is still under construction though you’ll find a little action there already.

Please enjoy!

~~

4 Responses to “Not Thinking Alike”

  1. Jim K. Says:
    January 31st, 2008 at 5:55 pm eLooks like Mark Twain has anxiety…
    …but wait, that’s correct.
    Love those, esp. the last two.
    The face is bold, looking in and out. -)
  2. Amy King Says:
    February 3rd, 2008 at 4:05 am eYay! I’m glad you liked them, Jim! It’s funny – Ana also said she liked the last two best too.
  3. ashok Says:
    February 4th, 2008 at 8:12 am eAll your poems are amazing, but “Two if by Land, I Do” has me reading and rereading and wondering. It’s probably no stretch to say it is an important poem, where you’ve gotten at the cosmic through the personal, all by one little twist – changing “do you want” to “do you believe.”It is really astounding to me how nuanced your political views are, how they comprehend so many issues most of us would abstract from the realm of politics.I sound nuts, don’t I.
  4. Jim K. Says:
    February 4th, 2008 at 9:08 pm eheh…not at all, Ashok. There are political, personal, and
    philosophical nuances swimming in that ocean. Your
    language and cultural tuning is astute.

Kiss Me With the Mouth of Your Country

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I have just finished sending out my chapbook copies for the DUSIE Chapbook Kollectiv.

The title is this post’s title. I have a few copies left over, so if you’re interested in receiving one – freely and imminently – please drop your snail mail address to me at amyhappens @ gmail . com – I’ll post it to you before the holidays.

My DUSIE chapbook from last year can now be viewed online here, “The Good Campaign“. Read a review of it by Chris Rizzo here or read another review of it by Fionna Doney Simmonds here.

5 Responses to “Kiss Me With the Mouth of Your Country”

  1. Jim K. Says:
    December 9th, 2007 at 4:00 am eI got it. I read it.
    The sound and touch are great. It’s beautiful!

    A leedle revu, all true: http://jimk-eclectics.blogspot.com/2007/12/kissed-into-another-country.html

  2. Gina Says:
    December 19th, 2007 at 4:41 pm eOh hey, if you still have copies, hook a sister up! xoxo
  3. Amy King Says:
    December 19th, 2007 at 9:01 pm eI got you, lady!
  4. Indran Amirthanayagam Says:
    December 19th, 2007 at 10:59 pm eI would love to read the poems if still available. cheers. Indran
  5. Amy King Says:
    December 20th, 2007 at 3:37 pm eIf you send me your snail mail address, I’ll send you a copy!

O Review!

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Alexander Dickow reviews my book, I’M THE MAN WHO LOVES YOU, in the most recent issue of Jacket Magazine. A few excerpts:

… King displays her taste for paradox, conceptual knots and conundrums:

[…] I named my dog for the future except
I couldn’t remember what we’d all been calling her by then […].

My own preference for the baroque attracts me to these occasionally excessive verbal ripples and folds (is excess a negative quality?). Only Lautréamont’s contorted syllogisms can compare: they are never opaque, never senseless, but disfigured just enough to provoke a double-take:

What comes now? None of us died
the very moment that so many of us are still alive. … (‘La Vie Quotidienne’)

Amy King’s lexical palette is enormous, but her language remains economical to the extent that it evacuates the flabby redundancies and laziness so common in everyday speech (and in the poets that adopt a related esthetic). King is aware of the artifice at the heart of her poetic idiom, an artifice rare and refreshing in the thoroughly colloquialized landscape of contemporary American poetry. …

… I would suggest King should be read first of all as an unequivocally committed feminist: she often lampoons our inherited 19th-century conceptions of gender (see for instance, ‘This Is an Acting Marriage,’ quoted below, or ‘The Monster Within’). However, if she feminizes the internal storyteller, she by no means exclusively addresses a female audience (in other words, she feminizes your internal storyteller: yes, you). One of the collection’s most persistently recurring motifs is the inherent reversibility or interpenetration (!) of gender and sexuality …

King relentlessly flirts with her reader: eroticism is a privileged mode of interaction between reader and poem:

I know we can live without love from the waist up
and the kind that flows from up above, even horses
that speak our language, but the rest remains
a place we frequent with panty-laced desire and rely upon
for everywhere with bonus scenes as yet in production,
postoperative and pre-season. Like an apricot foam,
the hand that strokes a felt-like rose stem assumes
where it’s moving and when it’s moving in. (‘Mildly Free’)

Here as elsewhere, King’s poetry accomplishes a paradoxical synthesis of the cerebral and the sensual, viscera and intellect, summed up by the expression ‘scientific copulation in / religious veils’ (‘The Marriage of Birthdays’). Sex always involves an ironic ingredient, suggested here, for instance, by subtle comic allusions to the sexually ambiguous, male-and-female rose stem of the Romance of the Rose, not to mention Mr. Ed and Swift’s Utopic land of the Houyhnhnms. Such allusions suggest a sexuality filtered through layers of literary representation, complicated by culture, but no less invested with desire (indeed, all the more so).

–Alexander Dickow (Please go to Jacket Magazine #34 for the full review!)

6 Responses to “O Review!”

  1. didi Says:
    November 5th, 2007 at 7:54 pm eThis is a wonderful review. Congratulations.
  2. Jim K. Says:
    November 5th, 2007 at 11:41 pm eNice clips, Alexander. Cool review!
  3. Sam Rasnake Says:
    November 6th, 2007 at 12:30 am eA fine review, Amy. Insightful. Congratulations to you.
  4. Alexander Dickow Says:
    November 6th, 2007 at 1:20 pm eMay it bring you many more readers, Amy!
    And thanks to all for the kind remarks!!
    Amicalement,
    Alex
  5. Ana Says:
    November 6th, 2007 at 7:02 pm eAmy/Alex, rock’n’roll!
  6. Amy King Says:
    November 9th, 2007 at 7:24 pm eThanks to all of you kind folks!

Arrivederci, Tenore Matrice

“I don’t classify myself–I let other do that. If you sing all the roles put in front of you, you are a tenor [as compared to a lyrice tenor or a light lyric tenor]. Punto [period.] If you are also an actor, or a good driver of your voice, if you have personality and a stage presence, personality in life, you become something more than a tenor, more than just a voice.” –Luciano Pavarotti

“People think I m disciplined. It is not discipline. It is devotion. There is a great difference.” –Luciano Pavarotti

“I’ve been buying the same lambrusco from Correggio [a town between Reggio-Emilia and Modena] since 1965.” –Luciano Pavarotti

Luciano Pavarotti (October 12, 1935 – September 6, 2007)

5 Responses to “Arrivederci, Tenore Matrice”

  1. Jim K. Says:
    September 6th, 2007 at 6:17 pm eDevotion: posessed of the spirit.
    “It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it”..
  2. Gary Says:
    September 7th, 2007 at 5:14 pm eBeautiful. Thanks Amy.
  3. Amy King Says:
    September 7th, 2007 at 9:17 pm eWhy it makes me cry, I haven’t figured out.
  4. Jim K. Says:
    September 8th, 2007 at 3:17 am eLook how it posesses even him at the end.
    He has trouble stifling your reaction himself, and he’s sung it so much.
    A moment of emotional transcendence….just from the tone.
    Pretty amazing. (gets kleenex)
  5. SarahJ Says:
    September 9th, 2007 at 1:45 pm elove the quote about devotion.
    nessun dorma is such a gorgeousness

Morgan Lucas Schuldt Appears

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Morgan Lucas Schuldt appears ON THIS RECORDING in ode to Elliott Smith a la Billie Holiday. Sort of. An excerpt:

“Charles Wright ends one of his poems on a line that goes something like “. . . and God knees our necks to the ground.” Not that God figures conspicuously – or even copiously – into Elliott Smith’s songs; the knees keeping Smith’s ear to the ground were always addiction and depression.

Still, there’s a ferocity churning just under the lilting surfaces of his music that’s both bodily and spiritual. Smith’s songs speak almost always through the urgency of nothing more than a whisper, as if had he raised his voice any higher the songs would tremble apart in their playing.”

Get there now. Before it’s too late. And enjoy a song and a poem or two.

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