For some excellent poetry readings, perk up your ears here:
Deborah Poe – http://odeo.com/audio/17981583/view
Megan A. Volpert – http://odeo.com/audio/17981433/view
Laura Mullen – http://odeo.com/audio/17981483/view
Gertrude Stein’s Biographical Body: More Than Remains
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]
Never a more generous man have I met than poet and friend, Matthew Rotando. I take great pleasure in singing the praises of his first book of poems, THE COMEBACK’S EXOSKELETON. I wish you could all know him too, as you will find that once you fall in love with this collection, you will long to meet the person who has such zest for life as well as an eye not afraid to behold our evils. It’s really a lovely collection — and I’m not just saying that because I’ve been waiting for years for it to appear. You should throw caution to the wind and take up this EXOSKELETON! Discover how well dresses up your own worldview!
What others are saying:
Incorporating the density of Spanish surrealism and a sprawling Whitmanesque line, this amazing first book finds Rotando engaged in a poetic biathlon which draws equally from maximal and minimal traditions. There are tight, economical poems, free verse forms derived from the sonnet, poems leaping about the page, but my favorites are the wonderful prose poems tumbling over and under themselves toward gnomish statements that feel both didactic and self-parodying. –Tim Peterson, from the Foreword
The rich, exultant writing in Matthew Rotando’s first collection is both comic and cosmic. Lyrics steeped in the Latin American literary tradition disclose what might be called the surreality of reality in contemporary American culture, while cadences of Stein and Barthelme make the prose poems in The Comeback’s Exoskeleton ring with laughter of great philosophical depth. This is a writer unafraid to love and to err, and to do so with irrepressible grace and humour. To read such unapologetically joyous work is a tonic for melancholy and a prescription for wonder. –Srikanth Reddy, Facts for Visitors
And a few short poems from the collection, though there are many longer ones to gleefully sink into:
THE OCTOPUS MAN, TO HIS SON
Son, watch the way the eaves bend when you breathe.
They move the way a star would
If you could corral water into spheres.
Shadows play in the paint under the floor:
They will hold your cages and laboratory equipment.
Your time as a human is near at hand;
I am repealing all the old regulations
Regarding prostrations and guttural pronouncements.
There will be things called Souvenir Shops;
Bring back an “I ♥ Mt. Rushmore” keychain for your mother.
TOM DEVANEY, LON CHANEY
I snave this heaking suspicion
That the poung yoet, Tom Devaney,
Is really the mold oviestar, Lon Chaney.
If lou yisten to the way they laugh,
Or notice their hartling, storror movie eyes,
You’ll sefinitely dee
That they’re both obvious dasters of misguise.
AMY, I’M GOING TO CALL YOU THE TROUBLE GIRL
I like trouble. I like to shoot watermelon seeds at passing barges. I wanna
put Elmer’s Glue in your hair and make it stick straight up. I wanna go
down to the docks and kick some ass! Your shoes small like skunk. And
so do mine. If we were lizards, I bet we would both be geckoes with
sticky round fingers. A friend is someone who decides to find you out.
Let’s have a broken bottle party! A Chinese dude, Shih-Wu, said, “Pine
trees and strange rocks remain unknown to those who look for mind
with mind.” So let’s not bother. Let’s just walk arm in arm through a
crumbling metropolis, clacking castanets.
–From THE COMEBACK’S EXOSKELETON by Matthew Rotando
In the mood for one more? Try this one, complete with a nearly naked pic!
* 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.
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.
From the “INTRODUCTION” By Michael W. Jennings — THE WRITER OF MODERN LIFE: ESSAYS ON CHARLES BAUDELAIRE by Walter Benjamin:
Yes the ragpicker is also a figure for Baudelaire, for the poet who draws on the detritus of the society through which he moves, seizing that which seems useful in part because society has found it useless. And finally, the ragpicker is a figure for Baudelaire himself, for the critic who assembles his critical montage from inconspicuous images wrested forcefully from the seeming coherence of Baudelaire’s poems. Here and throughout Benjamin’s writings on Baudelaire, we find a powerful identification with the poet: with his social isolation, with the relative failure of his work, and in particular with the fathomless melancholy that suffuses every page.
Benjamin concludes this first constellation by contrasting Baudelaire with Pierre Dupont, an avowed social poet, whose work strives for a direct, indeed simple tendentious engagement with the political events of the day. In contrasting Baudelaire with Dupont, Benjamin reveals a “profound duplicity” at the heart of Baudelaire’s poetry–which, he contends, is less a statement of support for the cause of the oppressed, than a violent unveiling of their illusions. As Benjamin wrote in his notes to the essay, “It would be an almost complete waste of time to attempt to draw the position of a Baudelaire into the network of the most advanced positions in the struggle for human liberation. From the outset, it seems more promising to investigate his machinations where he was undoubtedly at home: in the enemy camp … Baudelaire was a secret agent–an agent of the secret discontent of his class with its own rule.” … By the late 1930s Benjamin was convinced that traditional historiography, with its reliance upon the kind of storytelling that suggests the inevitable process and outcome of historical change, “is meant to cover up the revolutionary moments in the occurrence of history … The places where tradition breaks off–hence its peaks and crags, which offer footing to one who would cross over them–it misses.” … Benjamin thus seeks to create a textual space in which a speculative, intuitive, and analytical intelligence can move, reading images and the relays between them in such a way that the present meaning of “what has been comes together in a flash.” This is what Benjamin calls the dialectical image.
In the central section of “Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire,” titled “The Flaneur,” Benjamin turns to an extended consideration of the reciprocally generative relations between certain artistic genres and societal forms. In the crowded streets of the urban metropolis, the individual is not merely absorbed into the masses: all traces of individual existence are in fact effaced. And popular literary and artistic forms such as physiologies (literary and artistic exemplifications of physiognomic types) and panoramas (representations of “typical” tableaux in Paris) arose, Benjamin argues, precisely in order to quell the deep-seated unease that characterized this situation: through their “harmlessness” they suggested a “perfect bonhomie” devoid of all resistance to the social order of the day, and in so doing contributed to the “phantasmagoria of Parisian life.”
…Physiologies are in this sense deeply complicit with phantasmagoria, in that they fraudulently suggest we are in possession of a knowledge that we do not in fact have. As Benjamin says, physiologies “assured people that everyone could — unencumbered by any factual knowledge — make out the profession, character, background, and lifestyle of passers-by.” …
If Baudelaire’s poetry is neither symptomatic of social conditions (as were the physiologies) nor capable of providing procedures for dealing with them (as did the detective story), what exactly is the relationship of that poetry to modernity? Benjamin champions Baudelaire precisely because his work claims a particular historical responsibility: in allowing itself to be marked by the ruptures and aporias of modern life, it reveals the brokenness and falseness of modern experience. At the heart of Benjamin’s reading is thus a theory of shock, developed on the basis of a now-famous reading of the poem “A une passante” (To a Passer-By). The speaker of the poem, moving through the “deafening” street amid the crowd, suddenly spies a woman walking along and “with imposing hand / Gathering up a scalloped hem.” The speaker is transfixed, his body twitches, wholly overcome by the power of the image. Yet, Benjamin argues, the spasms that run through the body are not caused by “the excitement of a man in whom an image has taken possession of every fiber of his being”; their cause is instead the powerful, isolated shock “with which an imperious desire suddenly overcomes a lonely man.”
This notion of a shock-driven poetic capability as a significant departure from the understanding of artistic creation prevalent in Benjamin’s day and in fact still powerfully present today. The poet is, in this view, not a genius who “rises above” his age and distills its essence for posterity. For Benjamin, the greatness of Baudelaire consists instead in his absolute susceptibility to the worst excrescences of modern life: Baudelaire was in possession not of genius, but of an extraordinarily “sensitive disposition” that enable him to perceive, through a painful empathy, the character of an age. And for Benjamin, the “character of the age” consisted in its thoroughgoing commodification. Baudelaire was not simply aware of the processes of commodification from which the phantasmagoria constructs itself; he in fact embodied those processes in an emphatic manner. When he takes his work to market, the poet surrenders himself as a commodity to the “intoxification of the commodity immersed in a surging stream of customers.” The poet’s role as a producer and purveyor of commodities opens him to a special “empathy with inorganic things.” And this, in turn, “was one of his sources of inspiration.” Baudelaire’s poetry is thus riven by its images o a history that is nothing less than a “permanent catastrophe.” This is the sense in which Baudelaire was the “secret agent” of the destruction of his own class.
…Baudelaire’s spleen–that is, his profound disgust at things as they were–is only the most evident emotional sign of this state of affairs.
–From the “INTRODUCTION” By Michael W. Jennings — THE WRITER OF MODERN LIFE: ESSAYS ON CHARLES BAUDELAIRE by Walter Benjamin
I’d bet my next check that this election is only going to get a whole lot dirtier than we can even imagine yet. The Bushs aren’t going to give up the Strict-Father family model of government without some hardcore down-and-dirty tactics, and I’m not so sure the Dems have the properly “dirty” arsenal to fight back. “The Left must get much better, not just at placing its issues in a compelling moral frame, but at exposing and holding the radical Right accountable for its lies and deception – without, and here is the tricky part, making those who have been manipulated feel ridiculed and put down” [Frances Moore Lappé].
–Excerpts below from “Black Man vs. White Woman” by Drake Bennett in The Boston Globe
“Gender stereotypes trump race stereotypes in every social science test,” says Alice Eagly, a psychology professor at Northwestern University…
As Clinton has discovered, gender stereotypes are stickier. Women can be seen as ambitious and capable, or they can be seen as likable, a host of studies have shown, but it’s very hard for them to be seen as both –
…When psychologists talk about bias, they use three technical categories: stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. Stereotyping is cognitive bias, the tendency to ascribe people a set of traits based on the group they belong to (e.g., “black people are good at sports,” “Jews are cheap”). Prejudice is an emotional bias, disliking someone because of their group identity. And discrimination is how we act on the first two.
…”We’re finding that racial stereotyping and prejudice are extremely contextual,” says Correll. “You can see real reductions in prejudice, and sometimes it actually reverses,” crossing over into a sort of stereotypic affinity.
And this, Correll argues, works to the advantage of someone like Obama. “You look at Obama, and he represents himself incredibly well,” Correll says. “There are a whole lot of contextual cues that tell us this is someone you don’t need to worry about.”
…The researchers didn’t see a similar effect for gender. According to Tooby, “People can cease to notice ethnicity as a factor in how they conceptualize somebody in a way that they don’t seem to be able to with gender.”
…Women in these studies are typically judged to be less capable than men with identical qualifications, but it’s not impossible for them to be seen as competent. The problem is that if they’re understood to be capable, the majority of respondents also see them as less likable.
“The deal is that women generally fall into two alternatives: they are either seen as nice but stupid or smart but mean,” says Susan Fiske, a psychology professor at Princeton who specializes in stereotyping.
And unlike racial bias, there’s little evidence that these attitudes are softening.
According to Eagly of Northwestern, the problem isn’t that women aren’t traditionally understood as smart, but that they traditionally aren’t understood to be “assertive, competitive, take-charge” types. More than intelligence, she argues, this “agentic” quality is what we look for in leaders, and, as both surveys and experimental studies have shown, we find it deeply discomfiting in women.
“That’s what Hillary Clinton is up against,” argues Eagly. “She’s had to show her toughness, then people turn around and say she’s too cold.”
BEST SECOND BOOK
(One time the singer Seal said something about how you have your whole life to write your first album, so people shouldn’t expect greatness out of a second attempt. These five say “go back in the water, Seal.”)
OTHER CATEGORIES COVERED at COLDFRONT:
Best Book of New Poetry Published in 2007 ** Best First Book ** Best Second Book ** Best All-New Collection by a Canonical Figure ** Best Selected/Collected ** Best Poem in a New Collection ** Best Author Photo ** Best Book Title ** Best Book Cover ** Best Long Poem ** Best Book-Length Poem ** Best Opener ** Best Closer ** Best First Lines ** Best Closing Lines ** Technical Awards ** Best “Thirteenth Poem” ** Best Response to Coldfront **
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